What makes a good cinematographer?

István Kovács

Active member
Even though I mostly work as a photographer, in the past years, a growing percentage of my work is creating wedding short films with my customers. I am trying to capture their special day and use those little moments to tell a beautiful and emotional love story. Of course, it is a major difference between capturing the moment in photos and making an actual short film. The process is completely different and so is the technicality.On the other hand, I can use my creativity in different ways and I love it so much that I'd love to make short films with professional actors, which are not related to weddings.
And this makes me question myself: what makes a good cinematographer? Is it having the latest gear? Great communication skills? Or visualizing the scene in a creative way?
 

Maura N.

The Last Black Unicorn
Staff member
The cinematographer (also known as the director of photography – DP or DoP on short) is the one who turns the vision of a movie into reality. This person needs to take care of the camera, he needs to work together with the Gaffer in regards of lights and with the rest of the crew. If you do not have a big technical crew and you are a bit of a one man show, I believe what can make you a great cinematographer is your vision and technical knowledge. You need to get creative and work with what you have. Make the most of what you have
 

Oskar Kuusk

Active member
You need to have experience with the gear that you will be using. You need to know how to manage your crew and what to ask them. You also need experience and the only way to get experience is to make movies with what you have :)
 
Everyone has a great point on what makes a good cinematographer. What no one mentioned is the importance of a good script. You can work hard on a movie but if the script is bad, it will be a lot of hard work for nothing. You don't have to be a cinematographer and a writer. You can always work together with someone that is very talented at writing.
 

donstarnes

New member
I believe that the title Director of Photography originated in labor unions, which define the term pretty explicitly. A DP is as an artist, a scientist, a manager, an employee, a student and a leader: each of these in about equal measure. I find that most people often disregard most aspects of the last five jobs when they think about or work as a Cinematographer-- which is a bad idea.

A Cinematographer should not be thought of as some sort of lone artiste who bought a trendy camera and then made an awesome reel. Filmmaking is best as a team sport; diversity of ideas and bonds between people tend to make any endeavor much better. A Cinematographer, even with a small or even non-existant crew, has to work with other people to get anything good done. Hence the term Director of Photography-- it's a management job. Frankly, the gear, which most people focus on, is much, much less important than the people.

A good cinematographer is a designer, who helps the Director and the production design the cinematic storytelling, in very practical and specific terms, beforehand. This requires the cinematographer to gain the trust of these people early on and to make sure that this happens. You have probably found this in your wedding films: it's the same on Hollywood movies.

A good cinematographer is a scientist, who experiments beforehand to find out the best technical practices, and an engineer who knows how the gear actually works. Also a student, who constantly studies everything about filmmaking (and everything else). I've been a DP for decades, and I still study every day.

A good cinematographer is a responsible manager: the buck stops with you.

Last, and not at all least, a good cinematographer is a good employee who helps his or her employers make money (or, in the case of wedding films, enjoy their wedding).

YouTube, film school and making your own films are great, but filmmaking cannot be adequately learned from any of these. After you start making your own films, find a way to get on the most professional sets that you can; try to learn how professional films have been made for the last 100 years-- not just how student / indie films are currently made, which is not at all the same thing. Working as a background actor or publicist are two great ways to do this (see How to get trained).

Don Starnes
Director of Photography
IATSE Local 600
donstarnes.com
 

Olivia Perez

Active member
Aside from what was already mentioned, a good cinematographer never gives up on his movie! He works hard, day and night, until he gets the result that he visualises.
 
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