How To Become A Cinematographer: All You Need To Know

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how to become a cinematographer
9 min read

Do you love shooting things? Sorry, let me rephrase that. Do you love shooting things with your camera and wish to make a career out of it? If you love movies and know your way around a camera, there’s a place for you in the film industry. 

Let me guess – people keep telling you that it’s a difficult industry and that it’s no place for a woman to work in. Well, they could not be more wrong. In this blog, I’m going to tell you how you can become a cinematographer and kick start your career in cinematic arts.

What Is Cinematography?

Before we get into how you can become a cinematographer, it is important to know what cinematography is. The dictionary defines cinematography as “the art and science of making motion pictures and telling a story visually by recording moving objects in a camera.” 

But in a more artistic sense, cinematography doesn’t just give visuals to a story but also gives a unique style and voice to the film and makes the storytelling experience an immersive one for the audience. 

Who Is A Cinematographer And What Do They Do?

We’ve all heard the popular filmmaking phrase, ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’. Well, the ‘camera’ bit in it is what the cinematographer is responsible for. 

A cinematographer is someone who oversees all the video recording aspects of a film and is responsible for bringing the director’s vision to screen. They determine how each scene of the script is going to be filmed, what type of lens, camera, lighting, and shot angle is going to be used, and more. They do not usually handle the camera but direct the camera crew on how to shoot certain scenes, which is why they are also popularly known as the director of photography (DOP). 

Here’s How You Can Become A Cinematographer

If this has caught your eye, then you’re going to love the next bit. Keep reading as we get into how you can begin your career in cinematography and make your way into the film industry.

Start By Learning The Elements Of Cinematography

Cinematography is both an art and a science, which means that it has more to it than just hitting the record button on a camera. Anyone can operate a camera;  it takes a creative mind to create a narrative out of a series of shots and give a unique look and feel to the film.   It is important for any aspiring cinematographer to have a working knowledge of all the major elements in this field. 

Here are the four important elements of cinematography: 

  1. Lighting 
  2. Shot size 
  3. Shot composition
  4. Camera placement and movement

Pro Tip: If you’re just starting out and want to learn about cinematography and its various elements, I recommend you to read “Cinematography” by Blain Brown. It covers all the major aspects of cinematography and might just be what you need to start your career. Alternatively, you can read blogs by StudioBinder, which has extensive resources related to filmmaking.

Get A Camera And Practice

Practice makes perfect. Now that you’ve read books, blogs, and watched YouTube videos about cinematography, it’s time to put all that theoretical knowledge to practice. Get a basic DSLR camera or camcorder and start filming and experimenting with different types of shots, camera angles, and lighting. The more you practice with your camera, the more you will understand the device and its creative potential, and discover your own style.

how to become a cinematographer
Snapshot from The Fly 1986

If getting a camera isn’t something you want to commit to just yet, then your smartphone will do just fine. 

Do A Course In Cinematography

In the line of films, a fancy degree is never a compulsion but is quite beneficial, especially with cinematography as there are a lot of technical aspects to it when compared to direction or writing. 

A proper course in cinematography will provide you with a better understanding of all the technical knowledge you require. Here, you will be trained by industry experts and will also get a chance to network with professionals and like-minded people. Moreover, you will get to practice your skills with industry-standard cameras, lights, and other necessary equipment. 

Tip: If getting a dedicated degree in cinematography from a film school isn’t an option for you, then you can choose to pursue a traditional degree course in mass communication and media studies, where photography and cinematography are a part of the curriculum alongside journalism and various other subjects. 

Watch Films And Learn From The Best

Being an aspiring filmmaker myself, this is one of the ways of learning that I believe in the most. There is no better way to learn cinematography than watching the work of other established cinematographers. While you’re watching, learn to notice subtle things like the camera shots, angles, and lighting, and ask yourself, “How did the cinematographer take that shot?” “What would I have  gone with?” Try to pick your own brain; this will help you expand your creative intellect. 

I highly recommend following the work of Roger Deakins, Rachel Morrison, and Emmanuel Lubezki; their films have been a huge inspiration for me and I’m sure they will be for you too. 

Assist Cinematographers On Film Sets

Nothing can compare to learning on the job. Assisting a cinematographer on a film set will provide you with a lot of exposure and will also give you an inside look into what a career in this discipline looks like. 

As a beginner, you can start off as a production assistant and shadow all the key members on set and keep learning while you work. With time, dedication, and hard work, you can slowly scale your way to the main camera crew, work side by side with the cinematographer, and go forward. 

Collaborate With Other Aspiring Filmmakers 

Making a film is not a one-person show, whether it be a feature or a short film. It requires long hours and collaboration between various people from different backgrounds. 

how to become a cinematographer
James McAvoy

That is why collaboration is key if you want to become a cinematographer. There are a lot of amateur filmmakers just like you who are trying to get their short films made and are looking for cinematographers. Collaborate with them, even if it means doing the work for free for the first few projects. Free work might not sound very good, but it will help you build your portfolio and establish yourself as a professional cinematographer in your city. From there, you can scale as high as you wish to go. 

Tip: If you’re working on a short film project, try to encourage your crew to submit that film to film festivals. This will help you get recognition not only from industry professionals, but also from the rest of the key crew involved. It might seem like a long shot, but people have gotten lucky in these festivals and have made it big in the industry. 

Build Your Showreel And Start Networking

Now that you’ve done some work, it’s time to showcase it. Many entry-level filmmakers simply paste their YouTube or Vimeo channel link on their resume, which is a really bad way to showcase yourself and your work to potential producers or clients. 

Showreels are nothing but portfolios and they can be easily designed on free portfolio-making platforms. Showreels are very important for any artist aspiring to work in the film industry as they not only help you land new gigs, but also help you network. You can send in your showreel to other cinematographers and filmmakers, and who knows, they just might offer you your next big project. So keep networking!

As a bonus, here are a few frequently asked questions I came across about cinematography while writing this blog. 

FAQs

  • Is Cinematography A Good Career Option?

It’s a great career option; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing about it! The film industry is expanding every day and the need for new content is growing exponentially. This has resulted in high demand for cinematographers, writers, and directors.  I will also go so far as to say that there has been no better time to start a career in the film industry. 

  • What Are Some Important Cinematography Skills?

The following are a few desired cinematography skills:

  • An eye for detail
  • Knowledge of camera operations and other related equipment 
  • High understanding of colour and lighting 
  • Team management 
  • Communication skills 
  • Creative thinking 
  • Result-oriented
  • What Is A Cinematographer’s Salary In India?

The income of a cinematographer depends on a lot of factors such as the nature of the work, the budget of the film, and the level of experience they have. According to PayScale, The base cinematographer salary in India is around 3 – 4 lac per annum, and with experience, it can rise up to more than 10 lacs. Once you have made a name for yourself in the industry, you can negotiate your own fee. 

That’s it – Now you know how to become a cinematographer and you’re ready to go out there and begin your career in the film industry! 

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.

Siddhesh is a dreamer living in his imaginative world filled with drama & thrilling action. In the real world, he is a digital marketer by profession and a filmmaker, writer, dancer by passion. Being a man of the arts, he is always dabbling his feet in anything that interests him and is constantly on a quest to learn more. He loves watching films and reviewing them and believes cinema to be his one true love.

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