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Cinematographer Job Description, Duties and Education Requirements

Cinematographers require some formal education. Learn about the degree, job duties and additional skill requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Cinematographers need a bachelor's degree, and can attend technical schools or fine arts programs offering cinematography techniques and theory. They also need good vision, strong eye-hand coordination, an artistic sensibility, and an understanding of digital cameras and technology.

Essential Information

For movie fans with an interest in capturing the shots that make up films, working as a cinematographer might be the perfect job. Cinematographers operate the cameras used to film movies. They may specialize in areas such as special effects or cartoons, or simply manage the multi-camera rigs required to film entire motion pictures. A post-secondary degree is typically required to become a cinematographer.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Required Skills Digital camera and computer skills, artistic ability
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% (for all film and video editors and camera operators)
Median Salary (2015)* $49,080 (for all television, video and motion picture camera operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Cinematographer

There are many different types of video camera operators. A cinematographer is simply one who films movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to documentary shorts. Because making motion pictures is so complex, some cinematographers specialize in one area, such as filming special effects or animation.

Physical requirements for cinematography include good vision, strong hand-eye coordination and the ability to hold a camera by hand for an extended period of time. Cinematographers should also have artistic ability and an eye for detail and composition, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

Job Duties

Often working with a director of photography, cinematographers prepare the cameras for each scene in a movie; this often includes multiple mounts so that they can get shots from many different angles. They may also use stationary cameras in one area and moving cameras in another in order to get multiple views of the action taking place in the scene.

Digital cameras have become more common in the industry, which makes it easier for cinematographers to get multiple shots with greater clarity. On large movie sets, some cinematographers sit on cranes, having crane operators move them into position as they track scenes with their cameras.

Education Requirements

The BLS states that a postsecondary degree is typically required to become a cinematographer. Programs should cover camera equipment and operation, as well as cinematographic processes and techniques. Because of the growing prevalence of digital cinematography, it's important that students also gain an understanding of digital cameras and computer technology.

Students may focus on the techniques of cinematography at a technical school or vocational art school. Those seeking a more well-rounded education may choose to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Art in Film, which usually includes coursework in cinematography. Both professional art schools and bachelor's degree programs often also explore the artistic and theoretical aspects of cinematography. Courses from an undergraduate film program may include pre-production visualization, cinematography lighting and 3-D cinematography.

Cinematographers prepare cameras for and film movies, using stationary cameras, multiple mounts or digital cameras, and can specialize in areas like special effects or animation. Demand for camera operators, or cinematographers, is strong, with an expected 11% growth in job opportunities from 2014-2024.


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