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How to Get a Job in Cinematography

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Cinematographers make the decisions regarding the camera and lighting affecting the tone and mood of movies. Sometimes called the director of photography, the cinematographer works under the film director, bringing the director's vision to life through film photography, and employs a team of camera operators and assistants that shoot landscapes and other material. The cinematographer chooses where to place cameras, how to light the scene and what type of camera makes the best shot.


Cinematographers usually have degrees such as a bachelor of science in digital cinematography but can also get by with an associate of arts in motion pictures. Aspiring cinematographers are knowledgeable in a range of artistic and technical skills, such as directing, editing, lighting, production preparation and animation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, camera operators need a bachelor's degree related to film or broadcasting. They must know how to operate film and digital cameras as well as have an understanding of computer technology to engage in editing.

Experience in the Film Industry

Having prior experience on a movie set is a stepping stone to a job as a cinematographer. Many cinematographers begin as production assistants in the camera department. Production assistants receive the hands-on training necessary to move up to camera assistants, who eventually can become camera operators and then cinematographers.

Important Qualities

Becoming a cinematographer requires creativity and visual skills, as the cinematographer (and on a lesser level, the camera operator) must be able to visualize the result of filming and editing techniques from the perspective of the audience. Cinematographers must be detail oriented, as they will look at each frame of film for inconsistencies and how the lighting affects the tone of the film. Having good hand-eye coordination is important for cinematographers, as holding the camera steady and moving in and out of frame without ruining the tone of the scene are important.

Career Outlook

Although the movie industry brings in billions each year, job growth is expected to slow over the next 10 years. This is due to the motion picture companies hiring less as more work occurs digitally. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 10-year job growth of just two percent.


Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

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