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Cinematographer Vs. Cameraman

Working as a cinematographer or a cameraman requires an ability to focus on the visual aspects of live action. The work setting may be different for each profession, but there is also plenty of overlap. Read more to see why.

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Comparing Cinematographer to Cameraman

Visual skills for translating real-world images to film are important to both cinematographers and cameramen. One major difference is the audience for those images. Cinematographers work mainly with the motion picture industry, while cameramen can also work with news or sports organizations, TV shows, advertisers and even scientific studies. Cinematographers are also higher-level professionals and may lead a team of cameramen.

Job Title Minimum Education Required Median Salary Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Cinematographer Bachelor's degree $50,769 (2017)** 6% (camera operators, television, video and motion pictures)
Cameraman Bachelor's degree $55,080 (2016)* 6% (camera operators, television, video and motion pictures)

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

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  • Cinematography and Film Production
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Responsibilities of a Cinematographer vs. a Cameraman

Both cinematographers and cameramen consult with directors and producers to bring to life the production's artistic goals. This requires an understanding of how lighting, camera angle, lens and film options affect the look of images captured. To be successful at either of these professions, individuals will need to be proficient with appropriate technologies. For a cinematographer, this means working with tools such as cranes and tracks to follow action shots from the air or alongside moving vehicles. For studio cameramen, the technology may include software that allows them to manage multiple fixed cameras at once. For both jobs, collaborative skills are important because the number of people working on a production can be very large and may include assistants to index, categorize and organize your video segments.

Cinematographer

A cinematographer may act as the director of photography during the filming of motion pictures. They work with camera operators, lighting technicians known as gaffers, computer animators and green screen technology. While freelance cinematographers may work with clients in businesses to produce in-house training videos or advertisements, the largest employer is the motion picture industry. The skills required to be a successful cinematographer start with understanding how to maintain the equipment. As a cinematographer progresses in their career, they will also gain experience with the technical aspects of lighting and develop their own unique artistic style. The organization of duties varies from set to set, but the cinematographer is always right in the middle of all the action.

Job responsibilities of a cinematographer include:

  • Working with the grips to arrange equipment necessary for specific camera shots
  • Verifying that the focus and exposure levels adhere to storyboard requirements
  • Operating video equipment according to the director's specifications
  • Modifying camera angle to fit the needs of the client, director or producer

Cameraman

The job of cameraman may take you to very dynamic environments, such as conflict zones or the playing field of sporting events, along with the standard studio environment. You may operate a camera from a tripod or your shoulder. Whatever the setting, a cameraman is responsible for capturing action as directed by a predefined script or as the event unfolds. Robotics and digital equipment have made this job less demanding physically, but a cameraman must always be prepared for adverse weather or dangerous conditions when shooting on a remote location. In addition, the ability to respond quickly and effectively to changing conditions is required for live broadcasts.

Job responsibilities of a cameraman include:

  • Adjusting the camera angle to get footage for broadcasting
  • Editing video footage prior to television production
  • Working with the production team to setup electronic-news-gathering (ENG) vehicles
  • Labeling and archiving video footage for future broadcasts

Related Careers

Other jobs that require artistic talent using a visual medium include an art director and a photographer. An art director's job is similar to a cinematographers because they manage other members of the visual team, while a commercial photographer usually works independently like a cameraman.

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