Director of Photography
- Personality type:
- Creating the visual identity, or look, of the film
- Working with the Director, camera crew and lighting department to achieve this
- Managing all aspects of filming: from ordering and overseeing equipment to recces to reviewing footage
Is this role right for me?
To do this role, you will need to:
- have good technical knowledge of photo-chemical and digital processes
- know all about camera equipment
- have in-depth knowledge of lighting techniques and how to achieve them
- have considerable industry experience
- be flexible in order to adapt ideas instantly
- be able to take decisions quickly
- know about photography, painting and the moving image
- have artistic vision
- be creative
- pay precise attention to detail
- have good colour vision
- be able to give and accept direction
- have excellent communication skills
- be diplomatic and tactful when working with cast and crew
- know about health and safety legislation and procedures
What does a Director of Photography (DoP) do?
Directors of Photography (DoPs) are key Heads of Department on film productions and theirs is one of the major creative roles. They provide a film with its unique visual identity, or look.
DoPs must discover the photographic heart of a screenplay, using a variety of source material including stills photography, painting, other films, etc.
They create the desired look using lighting, framing, camera movement, etc. DoPs collaborate closely with the camera crew (Camera Operator, 1st and 2nd Assistant Camera, Camera Trainee and Grips).
During filming, DoPs also work closely with the Gaffer (who runs the lighting team), the Production Designer, Costume Designer, and the Hair and Make-up Department.
After reading the screenplay, DoPs meet with the Director to discuss the visual style of the film. They conduct research and preparation including carrying out technical recces of locations. They prepare a list of all required camera equipment, including lights, film stock, camera, cranes and all accessories etc., for the production office to order.
During preparation DoPs also test special lenses, filters or film stocks, checking that the results fit with the Director's vision for the film.
On each day of principal photography, DoPs and their camera crews arrive early on set to prepare the equipment. During rehearsals, the Director and DoP block (decide the exact movements of both actors and camera) the shots as the actors walk through their actions, discussing any special camera moves or lighting requirements with the Camera Operator, Gaffer and Grip.
Each shot is marked up for focus and framing by the 1st AC, and, while the actors finish make-up and costume, the DoP oversees the lighting of the set for the first take.
On smaller films, DoPs often also operate the camera during the shoot. At the end of each shooting day, DoPs prepare for the following day's work and check that all special requirements (cranes, Steadicams, remote heads, long or wide lenses, etc.) have been ordered. They also usually view the rushes (raw footage) with the Director.
During post production, DoPs attend the digital grading of the film, which may involve up to three weeks of intensive work.
Most DoPs work on commercials and promos as well as on feature films. Although the hours are long, and some foreign travel may be required, the work is highly creative and very rewarding.
Will I need a qualification?
You could take a degree in stills photography to gain a good, all-round understanding of composition and light. However, a drama, art or a film/media studies degree all provide a good grounding.
If you are considering taking a film production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the film industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a career in film:
Although you do not need to have an electrical qualification, you will need to understand the functions of a variety of lighting equipment and to have thorough knowledge of cameras, lenses and film stocks.
What's the best route in?
You can expect to start your career in a junior capacity, e.g., as 2nd Assistant Camera on short films or promos and progress through the Camera Department.
If you work as a Camera Operator, you could become a DoP by carrying out second unit work. It’s also possible to make the transition to DoP from the Lighting Department.
Although experience of working on short or student films can provide a good introduction to feature film production, you will need to work as part of a camera crew to fully learn the on-set hierarchy and traditions of working.
Becoming a DoP can be a long and arduous process but the eventual rewards are great.
Interested? Find out more...
- The British Society of Cinematographers
- BECTU trade union represents camera personnel
- The Guild of British Camera Technicians aims to further the professional interests of technicians working with motion picture cameras Guild of British Camera Technicians website
- The Moving Image Society (BKSTS) organises events, courses and demonstrations of new equipment, and publishes Image Technology