In the April 2015 Presidents Desk column for American Cinematographer, I wrote  that we were living in a post-truth, post-common sense world.  A more accurate description today would be a post-reality reality.  Though objective truth never wavers, it’s scary when a willful ignorance of it has hijacked the culture.  The mainstream media is much to blame for the situation, bereft as it is of decency and responsibility.  Hollywood is also party to the decline, but out of necessity most of us have come to peace with that.  Nonetheless, a new misconception is catching on that’s so far off the mark, it won’t show up on your GPS.

            Some within the industry are claiming that what cinematographers do isn’t as thought-through and controlled as it used to be.  To them, the digital camera is just a capture device that delivers flat, shapeless data that’s given its final look by other people – editors, post-supervisors and so on – after we’ve left the party.

            This is nonsense.  If we had an appreciable number of responsibilities during the film era, they’ve grown exponentially over the past twenty years.  We’re coming aboard projects earlier and leaving later; the in-between is more intense and demanding than ever.  Our spot in the pecking order has evolved, but the cinematographer’s primacy over the image remains unchanged.  Every person on the crew somehow contributes to what we do; we’re fortunate to have their support.  Film timers and digital colorists are also tremendous allies.  But none of these talented, creative individuals are charged – as we are – with conceiving and executing the director’s vision for the story.  Only one set of eyes can guide the image from prep through delivery – and those eyes belong to the cinematographer.  To say anything else is a lie.

            Many tech websites feature the ramblings of “geniuses without resume” who pontificate on cinematography while understanding nothing about it.  Others are familiar enough with the calling to seem like they know more than they do. In any case, they’re not helping us.  At this most dubious time in history, the need for truth has never been more urgent – and our biggest challenge to date may be in holding the industry accountable.



  1. I sense that we have lost control of some aspects of cinematography.And it’s all about the money and/or some way of speeding up post. Producers have violated clauses in my contract, stating I would do the final color grading. What do I do? Sue? I’ve been at the final color grading session only to see blowups by the editors to my frames, making it dancing balls of digital noise. I re-corrected the frame. I know what I’m getting in “log”. I know what the rendering should look like. To save a buck, some would sacrifice my vision. As DPs we must strive to protect the image, sometimes they even manage to involve the Director.

  2. Hey Ken – Right you are; what you describe has happened to all of us at some point! The denigration of our craft has been happening in dribs and drabs for a very long time (similar to what’s happened to society at large). I don’t know that there’s any solution apart from being hyper-vigilant and making ourselves indispensable to the production in every way we can.

  3. The youtube University Graduates are hilarious with their “Knowledge Bombs” yet have never once set foot on a real show.

    My Only concern about them is the “Education Packages” they offer and the poor souls that believe their crap

  4. Eric – I wasn’t aware of that stuff but it sounds hilarious. Students need to make informed decisions but at that stage they don’t even know what they don’t know…

  5. If I see one more demo where someone takes a standard log gamma original and adds the correct viewing gamma LUT to it and then claims that they “saved” or “fixed” the cinematography…

  6. Hear, hear! The director and I were just discharged from a small film in Yorkshire in part due to–very badly graded dailies (difficult finding a good DIT / Colourist when it’s so busy) and because of the production’s disorganisation–no dailies for the editor or producers until Day 3.
    The Executive Producer see’s two roughly cut scenes that day and does not like the coverage and a Pub Scene that looks murky, dark and unusable. He wants his DI Colourist–“The Head of Imaging” as he is referred to on the Crew LIst to check the Pub footage.
    I try to make everyone understand that everything is on the negative.
    I was working at 1600 ASA, T2.8 and exposing slightly under key.
    Day 4 – On the way to work, even my director thinks I have messed up. After nine hours of shooting and damage control I look at our Unit Stills Photographer’s Images. She shot at the same stop and ASA, and her stills were nicely graded and rather bright !
    I feel relieved and then get “Pinged” by the NHS Covid App telling me to Self Isolate for six days. A birthday spent… I’m already laughing about i.
    “Head of Imaging” ? I thought that would be me.

  7. David – this’s part of the problem. We know the truth but a lot of people don’t. We have to keep educating everyone we come in contact with.

  8. Peter – ‘Head of Imaging?’ OMG, that’s a new one. I’d venture that if this individual showed up on set they wouldn’t have the first clue about what to do. I’m very sorry to hear this story…we all have something similar in our experience. I send you my best and hope we can meet up soon!

  9. It would be nice if you could put together a team of like minded
    people and produce your own film. Taking control of the entire
    artistic creative process. Maybe if only on a very small
    independent level. You have the passion and proven skill.

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