Cinematographer Job Description, Salary & Benefits
Job description and job specification

Cinematographer Job Description, Salary & Benefits

Cinematographers are also known as directors of photography are professionals who work alongside directors to give TV shows, movies, music videos, and television commercials a certain personal unique aesthetic style. They’re burdened with the responsibility of managing the camera and lighting crews, they spearhead the selection and manipulation of technical equipment to project striking images on the screen.

The visual impact of a movie is driven by the creative decisions made by a Cinematographer. These guys are responsible for making the big decisions about the use of varying lenses, filters, lighting techniques, and camera movements to create that dramatic, mind-boggling effect to stimulate different emotional responses from the viewing audience. They’re also charged with the making of decisions as regards aspect ratio, image contrast, digital effects, and frame rates.

Cinematographers could be called the blood-life as they get involved in the entire production lifecycle of all projects. Prior to filming, they would dissect the screenplay, carry out extra research into different styles and motifs that relate to the subject matter of the script, while liaising with the director to extensively discuss their creative ideas.

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The next step that follows involves the meticulously planning of the technical execution of every shot. They also find out which equipment and staff would be required for each shot. Then, they are now charged with the handling of the procurement of both the equipment and the recruitment of needed camera operators, grips, gaffers, and other technical production specialists. Throughout this process, cinematographers need to pay attention to budget restrictions and time constraints.

During shooting, cinematographers run the show while directing the technical production crew and simultaneously ensuring that the correct lenses, cranes, filters, dollies, Postsecondary Lou Steadicams, and lights are used for each shot.

Sometimes cinematographers have to operate the camera equipment themselves, although this mostly happens on low-budget movies with tiny crews.

Cinematographers work alongside directors and editors during post-production to ensure the colour grading of the movie or TV show is perfect.

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Salary & benefits

Cinematographers’ annual salaries can be anywhere between £50,000 and £300,000. But, most cinematographers begin their careers as junior camera operators, where their annual earnings fall around £15,000.

After obtaining lots of experience, a camera operator’s salary could grow to as high as £35,000 annually, but it takes dedication and hard work before the step up to earning the big bucks can be made.

Salaries in this career path fluctuate massively, as many cinematographers work on a freelance basis, consequently, their wages are dependent solely on how often they manage to secure a job.

Also, the size and budget of each production that the cinematographer works on having a great effect on the take-home salary.

Working hours

Cinematographers don’t work the conventional 9 to 5. Instead, they work long, irregular and unsociable hours. The nature of movie production means that filming sometimes can happen at any time of the day. They are even sometimes required to work on the weekends from time to time.

Naturally, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that cinematographers usually work in a variety of different places, such as studios, offices, and on-set in remote locations. They also travel, both domestically and abroad for shoots.


Lots of cinematographers pass out from film school before landing their first break in the movie industry. However, this is by no means a necessity!
Admittedly, holding a degree or diploma in a relevant subject, like film production, cinematography, film studies or media studies, would help you hone your craft and give you excellent insight as to how a movie is made. Nonetheless, you can pick up a degree in any discipline whatsoever and still make it in your career as a cinematographer.

This career path is one you can even enter without any sort of degree or diploma, as the only paramount entry criteria for this career path are a passion for the movies and expert knowledge on how to use cameras and other movie-making equipment.

Whatever route you choose to take, you would most likely begin your career as a runner, photographic technician, or camera assistant, and then you’d have to work your way up through the ranks for lots of years before finally gaining the status of a cinematographer.

Factually speaking, the most important ways to progress in this industry is obtaining work experience, learning from the best, and building up a network of valuable industry-specific contacts.

Training & progression

The majority of the training cinematographers undergo happens whilst on the job in a lower-level position. As they gain more experience and establish themselves, experimentation becomes the key to continuous development. They would have to push themselves and try out different things to achieve the desired result.
They would also be expected to keep up-to-date with the most recent advancements in technology and filming techniques.

Truly cinematographers are at the top of the career food chain and they tend to work on a freelance basis. As a result, there isn’t really a real chance for upward career progression. For anyone who gets to this level, their next thought would be all about building their reputation, raking in more money, and gaining recognition from ‘the Academy’.

The only way to achieve this is via working hard, personal endeavour, and networking. The British Society of Cinematographers offers an excellent opportunity for people to develop their network of influential contacts.