I'm a filmmaker in Austin, TX, but spend most of my time these days triathlon training.

Blog: Why Hire a Cinematographer?

What is a cinematographer?  Even the job title isn’t agreed upon.  The most common credit on video and film work for the person responsible for the look of the image is Director of Photography.  Very few DPs actually prefer that title, though they are perfectly happy to take it and not argue the point.  I think directors and producers assume it is the proper title because it has the word director in it, and surely everyone on a movie set wants to be a director.

Lighting Cameraman is an older title that has fallen out of usage, but I think it best represents what other people think the job is.  The title covers the departments that fall under the DP: electrical, grip, and camera, and it favors the technical aspects of the position.  Lighting Cameraman suggests the level of expertise required, both of techniques and knowledge of equipment.  It is a term which most embodies a sense of the craftsman that a good DP must be.

That is how I feel the DP is looked at by everyone else in a production, as a craftsman.  There is a misconception that a great DP should have no style, that their mastery of craft allows them to be a conduit for the vision of whatever director they are working for to flow through.

This is the notion that I would like to utterly reject.

By the way, most of them like to be called cinematographers.

There is artistry involved.  A good cinematographer, like a good production designer, costume designer, makeup artist, and actor, is a master of their part within the larger whole.  An actor brings something unique to their part as an artist, an approach that would not be the same if any other person in the world had that roll.  You hire a cinematographer for the same reason, because you believe that what they will bring to the look of the project will be unique, even if subtly so, to what anyone else in the world would bring to it.

A cinematographer is hired for their taste.  Hire a cinematographer because they can approach the project with their own vision.  Because their ideas can be better than the director’s.  Part of that is certainly their craft, and that they know how to achieve that with the tools and the budget available.  But the first question for a cinematographer who is an artist is not how to achieve a shot, but what should the shot be and why.

Which is also why cinematographers do not like being measured by the list of equipment they have.  A big part of being considered for your taste is to not be judged by what gear you can provide.  The question, “Can I see your reel?” should come before, “What kind of camera do you own?”

Being a slave to your tools is a deathtrap for the artist and the craftsman alike.  And it is an inevitable trap for someone who is forced to look at the question HOW with no larger artistic sensibility.  HOW can be a fun creative bit of movie making problem solving, but the greater questions that make work that is great are WHAT are we doing and WHY.  These are the questions all the artistic collaborators should be asking each other before they get sidelined into the HOW.

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