What is a Director of Photography?

Posted on December 27, 2013 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS

Malcolm Ludgate, United Poto Press director of photography for Hidden Universe, filming ALMA in Chile's arid Atacama Desert.
A Director of Photography is someone who supervises the filming of movies, commercials, television series, or any other sort of filmed production. 

It is common to see the terms “Director of Photography” and “Cinematographer” used interchangeably, although this usage is not acceptable in all regions, as sometimes these jobs are actually quite distinct from each other. Essentially, the Director of Photography is responsible for the look and feel of a piece on film. Three things are necessary to become a good Director of Photography: training, experience, and a good eye. Many people interested in careers in cinematography go to film school, where they learn about the mechanics of the work and have an opportunity to participate in internships on set to get a feel for the work. 

Then, they work their way up through the ranks on set, often working in a variety of positions to learn more about the business, before finally becoming Directors of Photography, in which case a good artistic eye becomes crucial. 

On set, the Director of Photography or DP supervises the camera and lighting crews, and he or she will work closely with the set designers, costumers, and makeup artists. Often, the Director of Photography and the Director both have final say over which cuts will be included in the finished piece, and the two work closely together to achieve the desired look. 

The Director of Photography will use lighting, filters, and a variety of camera techniques to shoot a scene in accordance with the wishes of the director. A Director of Photography may also be involved in post-production, working with the sound and color artists to develop and reproduce the film. The DP often works closely with the editing staff as well, creating a consistent look throughout a scene, even if it was shot over the course of hours or days. 

The relationship between a Director of Photography and a Director can vary. A really talented Director of Photography may require minimal direction, as he or she instinctively understands what is needed. Other Directors prefer more control, and they may go as far as to specify particular settings on the camera, especially with new and unfamiliar Directors of Photography, to ensure that the piece turns out as they envision. 

Some DPs become quite famous for producing distinctive, high quality work with incredible artistic vision, and they may be offered awards or invited to join elite societies. For people interested in cinematography careers, a chance to work or train with these leading lights in the field is a great honor.