How to become a cinematographer
It safe to agree that taking pictures and film making differ but the term “motion picture” is somehow strongly related to photography.
In other terms, we could say that making films is taking pictures with a motion camera. This art is also known as Cinematography.
What difference is there between the term “cinematographer” and “director of photography” often abbreviated in DP or DoP ? To many, both terms seem quite interchangeable. Some insist that a cinematographer is a DP sitting behind the camera, but this is far from being universally accepted.
Definitely, a Director of Photography is the one person skilled in terms of lighting, how to light a scene and not necessarily how to frame it. He or she can indeed sit behind a camera and operate it but as a general rule of thumb, this goes along with the budget involved in the production. If the budget is consistent, each role will be normally separated bringing higher professional value to the production.
The hierarchy between the roles of director, DP and camera operator depends also on where you are. In the English system, a Director consults the DP on lighting & filtration but the operator would have the last word on lenses and framing. Instead in the American system the DoP had the last word on both lighting and framing next to the film Director.
It would be natural to wonder how the cinematographer fits in all this scenario. The cinematographer has to translate the particular vision of the Director in terms of decisions about film stocks, lenses and filters. Simply put into practical terms his or her role might be seen as being responsible to supervise the photography of the entire film.
It takes a lot of time to become a Cinematographer. The visual art of Cinematography is complex as it involves other arts related to Sound & Vision mixed with motion. Although they equally important and a cinematographer has no decision-making involvement in the field of audio, it’s quite commendable to have a good understanding of it. Should you ever try to watch a movie with no sound you would notice how deeply it influences the footage; whilst the audio can survive in itself motion pictures would today struggle to do so.
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In the specific case of DSLR film making there is no film stock involved, but it would be replaced by the camera choice. It’s pretty clear that DSLRs have strongly influenced the market and major makers with the likes of Canon, Sony, Nikon and Panasonic have acknowledged with their market offers these change. Each product has its own specifics and produces a certain look in the footage along with the lenses of choice.
These days most DSLR shooters are as a matter of fact cinematographers and relate to all the traditional phases of film making.
Film production occurs in three stages, pre-production, production and post-production. Most of the DSLR shooters are although in the independent film-making meaning that the production takes place outside of the mainstream.
HDV was the first step in technology development that allowed consumers to film with higher standards initially offering in HD ready resolutions (720p) and later on full HD outputs (1080p). Since the advent of better codecs like AVCHD, ProRes and RAW film makers can conceive a full movie in their home studios.
Same happened to Audio few years back in time. Initially, there were few studios backed by huge investments in equipment and later one with the technological happening of digital systems the recording industry got democratized, and a lot of people could express their talent with professional results conveniently at home.
The drawback of being independent is that it’s difficult to succeed outside of the traditional industry. Remarkably, the internet has become a platform to show your art but at the same time the market is flooded. A quick look at Vimeo or other dedicated professional results will clearly prove that there is much talent around and to cut through good skills are not simply enough.