What Is Cinematography?

In 1903, the first silent movie, The Great Train Robbery, was introduced to the world. Since that time, motion picture technology has advanced significantly. However, cinematography is still one of the most important aspects of making any motion picture.

Cinematography involves the use of special cameras to capture moving images. When these moving pictures first captured the world at the beginning of the 20th century, this was accomplished by capturing several different still images and showing them in rapid succession. Today, however, the majority of cinematographers rely on digital technology. Some cinematographers do still use physical film, though, but usually only when they are trying to create a certain look or mood for a motion picture.

Work Environment

Cinematographers are probably the most important people that work to create motion pictures. Without these professionals, moving images would not be captured, and there would be no motion picture.

These professionals, however, never work alone. Instead, they collaborate with several other motion picture professionals during the filming of a movie. For example, they are constantly communicating with the director, who gives instructions on what he envisions for each scene. It is then the cinematographer’s job to capture the perfect shots.

A cinematographer will also usually work with lighting technicians and set designers as well. The lighting technicians will manipulate or adjust the lighting to ensure that the cinematographer is able to capture each scene perfectly. In some cases, heavy camera equipment must also be made very portable. Cinematographers will often work with set designers to build contraptions to hold cameras that glide on rails.

In many instances, a cinematographer will also work with several other cinematographers as well. This is especially true of larger productions, such as major motion pictures. Smaller budget projects, on the other hand, may only require one cinematographer.

While shooting a moving picture, a cinematographer will usually need to work out which angles will work out best for each scene. Typically, the angles that a cinematographer shoots from will be determined by several different factors, including lighting and action, along with the director’s vision. In many cases, a cinematographer will shoot the same seem from several different angles.

Cinematographers are not only needed to shoot motion pictures. Some cinematographers might also capture moving images for television shows, documentaries, and advertisements as well.

Education Requirements

Although certain cinematography skills can be learned by watching award winning movies and experienced professionals at work, most successful cinematographers choose to earn relevant degrees.

A two or four year degree in film can be an excellent way to start a cinematography career. Many traditional universities offer these types of degree programs. However, technical schools and film schools typically offer more specialized training in this field.

While earning a degree in film or cinematography, students will usually take a variety of different courses that focus on many different aspects of film. For example, students will usually learn about the different types of camera equipment, like lenses and film, as well as how to use all of it.

Read more about how to become a cinematographer.

Salary and Job Outlook


According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, cinematographers made an average annual salary of $58,210 in 2017. A cinematographer’s salary, however, will often depend on a number of factors. Talented and experienced cinematographers, for instance, will usually be able to command higher salaries. A cinematographer’s salary will also usually be determined by his location as well as which industry he’s in. Cinematographers in California typically have the highest salaries, with the average annual salary of cinematographers in this state was $75,030 in 2017. The average annual salary of all motion picture photographers was $67,850 in 2017.

Job Outlook

The majority of cinematographers start their cinematography careers at the bottom and work their way up. For example, they may start working as an assistant to a more experienced cinematographer or director of photography. Some may even be able to land a gig as the primary cinematographer on low budget motion picture productions. As they gain more experience, directors and producers may start considering them for positions with more responsibility as well as higher budget productions. Working on a motion picture isn’t the only option for those interested in a cinematography career. Television studios and advertising agencies, for instance, might also hire cinematographers.

Helpful Resources

Cinematographer Jobs