Filmmaker Vs. Cinematographer

Filmmakers and cinematographers work together towards a similar vision for a film, but their key responsibilities, salaries, and career outlooks tend to differ. Explore these two movie careers in detail.

Comparing Filmmakers to Cinematographers

The images that capture audiences on big and small screens are created by both filmmakers and cinematographers, among other professionals. The focus of filmmakers, however, tends to be much larger than that of cinematographers, encompassing producing, directing and even small details about the design of the film. Cinematographers, meanwhile, are chiefly involved with the camera work and the artistry of shooting the film.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Filmmakers Bachelor's Degree $70,950 (for producers and directors) 12% (for producers and directors)
Cinematographers Bachelor's Degree $59,040 (for all film and video editors and camera operators) 16% (for all film and video editors and camera operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Filmmakers vs. Cinematographers

Filmmakers, including directors and producers, are responsible for deciding on the look and tone of the film. Cinematographers, however, make the filmmaker's vision a reality by actually filming the elements and ensuring each shot fits that vision. It is important to note these artists often work together, with the producer giving cues to the director and the cinematographer working under the director. It takes all these professionals to ensure costuming, lighting, sets, and sounds are all suited to the film.


Producers and directors steer a filming project by overseeing every element. Producers raise money for the project and hire the director, while directors work with cast members to get them to convey appropriate emotion. Every project begins with filmmakers finalizing the script and agreeing on schedules and budgets. As they add their interpretation of the script, they also audition actors to choose the best fit. From lighting and costuming to props and music, filmmakers have final say on every detail. They even sit in the editing room as the computer-generated images and sounds are added.

Job responsibilities of a filmmaker include:

  • Overseeing the sets and scenery to ensure these fit the atmosphere
  • Approving spending by all departments
  • Endorsing the film through radio and television interviews
  • Working with cinematographers to frame shots


Cinematographers work closely with directors and assistant directors. They are responsible to capturing the movie on camera, which includes choosing the proper equipment. They gather cameras, film, tripods, tracks, and lighting for shooting. Additionally, they may go to a proposed location ahead of time to determine what equipment is necessary. Based on the script and schedule, cinematographers build a shot list. They then communicate with the director or assistant director to plan each day. During filming, they angle the shots and move the lighting in order to convey the tone of the film and capture the subject of the shot.

Job responsibilities of a cinematographer include:

  • Determining artistic choices for the film, including whether to film in black and white and when to focus the shot on one character
  • Fitting shots to the plot of the script
  • Supervising grips and other camera operators
  • Creating lighting to establish mood and time of day

Related Careers

If a career as a filmmaker interests you, a job as an art director may also capture your imagination, since both design the look and feel of visual art. Similarly, if you're curious about a career as a cinematographer, it may be worthwhile to research a job as a photographer, because both capture visuals to evoke thought and emotion.

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