What Does a Cinematographer Do?
Have you ever watched a movie and stumbled upon a shot that was so breath-taking you thought to yourself, “Wow, that was gorgeous!”? Well, behind that gorgeous angle was a cinematographer. Perhaps not necessarily operating the camera but at least “painting” the look. Here’s what the cinematographer does.
The cinematographer or director of photography (DP) is the person in charge of actually shooting the film. He is the head of the camera and lighting departments, and as such he has a big role in the making of any movie. As early as pre-production, the DP has to make some crucial decisions about the look and feel of a movie: is it going to be color or black and white? Are they shooting digital or film (the latter is becoming rarer and rarer)? If color is used, will the colors be vibrant and saturated or faded and “dull”? Is the camera going to be omniscient and be wherever it needs to be, or is it tied to a character, always showing their POV? Are they going for a more realistic tone, or a expressionistic one?
These are just some of the questions cinematographers have to deal with, and usually they don’t ‘t make these decisions alone. The Director is still the “creative tyrant” who has to oversee and approve of any aspect of the production. But on a set, director and cinematographer are like best friends. One supports the other, and together they should be a well-oiled machine, so efficient that they can, when the planets align, read each others’ mind.
Let us remember that movies are not plays. The power of cinematography consists of evoking emotions of delight, sadness, humor, and fear through the mastery of a cinematic syntax that has been developed for more than a century. Shot sizes, angles, and movements are the heart of an exceptional camerawork, which, combined with a lighting crafted to enhance emotions, form the essence of cinematography.