Cinematographers are artist\scientists, with the emphasis on artist.

            Every ASC member is an expert who can create appropriate moods for any type of production.  Though the craft relies on technology, command of the tools is only part of our brilliance.  History shows hundreds of examples in which refined practice has resulted in artful images – and they’ve lasted for good reason.  What we do is more about the application of taste than anything else, and that comes from the heart.

            This means we’re not interchangeable.  Our talents and sensitivities are as peculiar to each of us as our handwriting.  Just imagine a hundred cinematographers tasked with shooting the same scene.  There will be a hundred different results, all of them correct.  Any preference for a particular version proves the point: How we use the medium is what matters most.

            Our job is to get inside the director’s head and render their vision of the story in concrete terms.

            Cinematographers turn thoughts and feelings into something real that others can relate to.  Rather than impose our views, we collaborate with our directors from prep through final color correction.  While every relationship is unique, communication is vital to them all.  Under ideal circumstances, we help discern and combine ideas that lead to something better than originally imagined.

            Toward that end, we manipulate light, composition, color and movement.  We also supervise delivery of the final look in the lab or digital mastering suite.

            Though the director’s role is often compared to that of an orchestra conductor, only one set of eyes can guide the look of a film from start to finish.  With so many post-options available, it has never been more important to protect the integrity of the original intent decided on with the director.  Producers should demand our participation during post-production – and show how important it is by paying us full-rate for the effort.  The time and budgetary savings will make it well worth the outlay.  To not do this trashes an essential part of what we do in its most critical – and vulnerable – moment.  It disrespects the work of everyone involved.

            We are also leaders and business people…producers, in a sense.

            Beyond the obvious duties, cinematographers carry an enormous fiscal and managerial responsibility.  The quality of the work depends on how well we balance the money-time-equipment-crew equation.  Regardless of budget and length of schedule, the challenges are similar every time out.  It’s in our interest to set a good example, treat people decently and work with production to solve any problem.

            I’m sure there’ll be more to add as comments come in.  Until then, for those who should’ve known but didn’t…consider yourselves informed!



  1. Another amazing post, Richard! One truth after another. Working a lot in the indie world, I’ve seen several movies I lensed with a specific mood and color in mind (that was discussed and approved with the director beforehand) changed during the color correction. I’ve seen digital zooms added where I carefully planned a composition on sticks using prime lenses and refusing the zoom for aesthetic purposes. I always thought that forgetting the cinematographer after the principal photography was a problem of the indie world, but I guess it’s common even at higher levels.

  2. Love this post Richard. It get’s me fired up! I have found myself saying “In my heart I see…” when talking with directors and designers. Your post gives me courage to keep on trusting my instincts.

    Your points regarding production and technology ring true here Sir. Often it feels as if my job is a mix of engineering and wedding planning. Trying to bring resources and people together in a way that will create the right mood and be well remembered by all. What a way to make a living!

    Thank you as always for helping to shine some light along the path.

  3. Sadly, it happens at all levels, Luigi. It’s just a reminder of how tenacious we need to be in order to protect our interests.

  4. As DP of numerous indie films, I’m sometimes asked to help budget all 3 of my departments – camera, lighting and grip. I’m expected to source gear, figure out how to maximize how many days we can use specialty items such as jibs and steadicam, and get gear at the cheapest price possible. Yet I don’t get a producer credit. Your point is very well made. We live in a time when the DP role is taken for granted and watered down by those who own gear and willing to give it away for virtually nothing.

  5. Josh – Check out the post I put up on April 13th that examines the issue of cinematographer as producer more deeply. In the meantime, my best advice would be to continue to make yourself indispensable to production. Yes, our position has been diminished since the film era ended. But the cinematographer remains the most informed, widely skilled individual on most any set.

  6. Richard- As an architect (self employed) I can relate to what you
    go through in your profession. I’m hired for my design and artistic
    talent in designing a home. You try to carry out the wishes of the
    owner while applying your own vision for what the end product
    will be. There are so many back and forth meetings, presenting
    drawings, dealings with the site constrictions, city codes and
    zoning ordinances, budget concerns. Not to mention the questions
    that come up during construction. Many times extra hours with no
    compensation. It can be a very frustrating process.
    Sometimes the contractor as does the director of a film get all the
    credit. No one sees the behind the scenes work on your part.
    In the end you are still the driving force behind the project.
    You have to hold your head up and be proud
    knowing you have put your heart and soul into your work.
    It is still what you have artistically created.
    You also put your heart and soul into the production of a film which
    no one can ever take away. I admire you for that!

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