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Cinematographer: Educational Requirements & Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cinematographer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and coursework to find out if this is the career for you.

Cinematographers often need a bachelor's degree to begin work, but certain certificate and associate's degree programs could also be accepted. In these programs, you'll learn the basics of lighting and camera techniques. Keep in mind that gaining experience through making your own films may be just as important as formal education.

Essential Information

Cinematographers play a crucial role in the development, feel and look of movies and television by leading the lighting and camera crews. While educational requirements in this artistic field are not set in stone, earning a bachelor's degree in film or cinematography is typical. Cinematography programs may also be found at the certificate and associate's degree levels. Aspiring cinematographers should start accumulating film experience while still in school.

Required Education Bachelor's degree is typical; certificate and associate's degree programs are available
Other Requirements Film experience
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% for all camera operators and film and video editors
Median Salary (2016)** $49,232

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Educational Requirements

Community colleges, vocational schools and art institutes, as well as colleges and universities, offer education in camera operation and videography, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Education specific to cinematography is growing, with degree programs and courses developing to support a growing need and desire for this creative endeavor.

While no set educational path for becoming a cinematographer exists, employers look for experience, in addition to education. The experience doesn't necessarily have to be from an employer, but should include something on a video reel that can be used to demonstrate skill and artistic ability. Activities including joining film clubs or taking photos and making short films offer good experience. Some clubs and non-profit organizations, including Film Independent, offer education opportunities and the chance to communicate with experts in the field (www.filmindependent.org).

Cinematography Certificate

Through these accelerated learning programs, students work in labs and learn filmmaking technique necessities. Common learning areas include:

  • Understanding film stocks
  • Cinematography techniques
  • Role of cinematographers
  • Cameras, lens and lighting
  • Using exposure meters

Associate of Arts in Motion Pictures

These 2-year degree programs offer students the opportunity to learn the basics of film and television, often while gaining knowledge from working industry professionals. These programs can aid graduates in landing entry-level employment while they learn how to launch careers as cinematographers. Common course options include:

  • Cinematography
  • Directing
  • Sound design
  • Editing
  • Screenwriting

Bachelor of Science in Digital Cinematography

As part of these programs, students learn about film production and shot framing in hands-on learning environments. As part of these programs, students produce a project that showcases the skills and methods they have learned throughout their coursework. Common courses include:

  • Lighting techniques and types
  • Production preparation, line production and post-production
  • Film crew
  • Shooting and editing effects
  • Animation

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide career data specifically for cinematographers, but it does report on similar fields. For example, the BLS reported that film and video editors and camera operators could expect a job growth of 11% from 2014-2024, while television, video and motion picture camera operators could see a projected increase of 2% during the same time. As of 2016, PayScale.com reported that cinematographers earned a median annual salary of $49,232.

It generally takes a mix of formal education, such as a degree in videography, along with amateur film making experience to get started as a cinematographer. College programs generally require a final film project. Job growth for cinematographers is expected to be about average through 2024, with a median salary of nearly $50,000.


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