What Does a Director of Photography Do? The director of photography is responsible for highlighting and imagining a film (cinema, television, etc.). It contributes to creating the aesthetic aspects of a film, its image rendering, and enhancing the subject and the actors. He designs the images based on the script and in exchange with the director. During the shooting, his work remains focused on highlighting the shots to be shot. At the end of the shooting, the director of photography follows the film’s calibration and can intervene in the finishing work.
Description of the job
(Director of photography, cinematographer, image director)
The director of photography intervenes during the preparation of a film. The choice of a cinematographer will be based on his or her professional experience and previous achievements. Together with the director, he determines an aesthetic charter (coloring, optical treatment, shading, and lighting) to translate the staging best’s intentions. Once the aesthetic approach has been established, the director of photography will propose technical choices: cameras, optics, range of projectors. These choices will be fine-tuned according to the preparation, the technical breakdown, the locations, and sets selected. During the preparation, the director of photography meets the film’s other artistic collaborators: the chief decorator, the costume designer.
He also thinks about the visual tricks prepared during the shooting and the possible post-production treatments (grading, …). They may have to travel to the selected sets (especially natural sets) to evaluate their usability for the shoot.
As the shooting approaches and when most of the technical choices have been made, he or she proceeds with camera tests to test the exposures, the “renderings” (sets, costumes, make-up), and to perfect the visual effects (inlays, specific lighting, etc.).
He also establishes, with the chief electrician, the lighting plans for the different scenes and sequences in the script.
During the shooting phase, the director of photography establishes the lighting for each set in close collaboration with electricians. He determines the data essential for a good exposure during the shooting (exposure latitude, contrasts, diaphragm, filters …) and communicates them to his team.
After shooting, the director of photography, as the person in charge of finalizing the image, collaborates with the colorist who intervenes on the film’s aesthetic parameters (colorimetry, textures, etc.).
Main Areas of Activity for Director of Photography
Conceive an aesthetic and artistic style of the image of a film, based on a scenario and the intentions of the director
During the meetings with the director, the director of photography tries to grasp his aesthetic intentions to translate them into image rendering and luminous atmosphere. This collaboration is essential in determining the image choices for the future film: the camera and associated optics to be used: the lighting systems to be provided: the visual effects to be integrated from the start of shooting. The financial factor also comes into consideration.
Very often, the choice of a director of photography is proposed by the director to the production. Meetings with the other prospective cinematographers (chief decorator, costume designer, etc.) can also occur.
At the end of this preparatory phase, an agreement is reached on the technical choices. These choices can be a compromise between creative wishes and choices and the economic realities of production.
- Imagining the creative and technical treatment of the image and the shots, based on the wishes expressed by the director
- Selects the technical means of shooting and lighting up to post-production.
- Perfect knowledge of film history, and in particular of cinematographic photography
- Good knowledge of the history of painting and aesthetics
- Perfect knowledge of the optics and shooting tools on the market (cameras, optics, accessories: machinery)
- Reading and exploiting a scenario from the angle of cinematographic photography.
- Translating staging wishes into technical specifications for shooting and lighting
- Great ability to listen and understand the aesthetic wishes of the director
- Understanding of artistic and economic data in the context of the development of a film project
- Ability to defend one’s choices
Prepare the technical choices and carry out the tests before a shooting.
After determining the aesthetic and artistic style of a film’s image, the director of photography finalizes his choices and technical wishes for the shooting. In addition to the selection of a digital camera, the director of photography makes sure that he or she has a team to manage the technical part of the shoot and a laboratory to manage the post-production.
Together with the production team, he determines the human resources needed for the shooting. He often suggests the professionals he is used to working with: cameraman, chief electrician, chief machinist, and their assistants.
As the shooting approaches, the director of photography will make tests that will allow him to know the rendering of the chosen supports, according to their exposure, the rendering of the sets (selected paintings, finishes…), the rendering of the costumes in light, the rendering of the make-up in light.
For the camera’s use, the director of photography is assisted by a 1st assistant operator and a 2nd assistant operator who carries out all the necessary technical tests.
He will also establish – with the chief electrician – the list of projectors to be used, particularly for shots or scenes requiring the use of unique means. For all his decisions, he must cooperate with the production manager and the 1st assistant director who establishes the work plan. For complex shots to be lit or with the use of machinery (e.g., construction of a dolly), he or she must estimate the work time required.
- Determine a choice of cameras, accessories, and other tools for the shootings
- Establish a list of the lighting required for the different decors
- Advise or select a post-production laboratory
- Preparing and carrying out complete preliminary tests for a shoot
- Perfect knowledge of the market’s shooting tools (cameras, optics, accessories: machinery)
- Excellent knowledge of available lighting ranges
- Excellent knowledge of the work and constraints of other artistic contributors (especially decoration, costumes, makeup, hairdressing)
- Understanding the artistic and economic data of a production
- Listen to and understand the arguments of other trades contributing to the image and aesthetics of a film
Taking the shots
The director of photography’s activity during the shooting consists of determining the lighting and illumination of the shots to be shot, according to all the parameters that will influence the exposure.
His work adapted to the technical characteristics of the shooting equipment used. He can have immediate control over each shot before it recorded (framing, exposure, contrast, colorimetric parameters…). After the shots, the recorded digital files are regularly sent to the post-production laboratory to be saved and release the recording media used for the shooting.
- Carry out the lighting of the plans with the help of a team of electricians
- Make the technical choices necessary for the recording of each shot, according to the wishes of the staging (focal length, frame, exposure, aperture)
- Excellent knowledge of the processes of shooting with a digital device
- Excellent knowledge of the entire production and post-production chain
- Operate the different types of cameras used for digital shots
- Set the main camera parameters
- Good relations with the imaging team
- Excellent understanding with the chief electrician, the chief machinist, and their crews.
- Working in harmony with the director
- Constructive exchanges with specific technicians in charge of post-production.
Intervene in the post-production of a film
As the cinematographer is the guarantor of the film’s image quality, he also intervenes during the post-production of the film, from editing to digital color grading. The cinematographer works with the color grader who intervenes shot by shot to balance the color differences. Image processing can be very sophisticated and bring a creative dimension to the image of a film.
- Calibrate color differences with a color calibrator (complete image, parts or areas of the image, etc.).
- Creatively rework the images of a movie.
- Excellent knowledge of the technical possibilities of calibration
- Establish a creative exchange with a digital calibrator
To carry out the shots of filming on silver support
Since the beginnings of cinema, the recording medium was a silver film exposed to light. The art of the cinematographer consisted of a way of imagining and predicting the results of exposure. Today, even though most cinema films are now shot digitally, some productions are made with silver film.
The preparation phase is essential to determine the type of silver camera, the type(s) of film to be used, the choice of a photochemical laboratory. As in digital photography, the director of photography determines the quality of light, colorimetric dominance, the contrast of the scene, and field depth.
It establishes the value of the aperture of the lens diaphragm, the use of filters, etc.. The shots exposed during the shooting day are sent to the laboratory in the evening and generally developed during the night. The chemist in charge can then communicate the results to the director of photography. This makes it possible – especially in case of a significant problem – to resume shooting “failed” shots. The “rushes” are viewed daily.
- To carry out the lighting of the shots of a film, with the help of a team of electricians.
- Make the technical choices necessary for the recording of each shot according to the staging (focal length, frame, exposure, aperture …)
- Prepare, highlight and determine the framing of moving shots.
- Check the catches developed by the laboratory and, if necessary, make adjustments.
- Mastery of the ranges of optics used.
- Know the range of correction filters, diffusers, and gelatins available: know their impact on the rendering of the film used.
- Perfect knowledge of photochemical processes
- To be able to visually assess the quality of the lighting
- Know how to measure light incidence, contrast, etc.
- Good relations with the imaging team
- Very good understanding with the chief electrician, the chief machinist, and their crews.
- Working in harmony with the director
Terms and conditions of exercise
The cinematographer is one of the essential frames in the production of a film. The choice of a director of photography is often made before the film’s pre-production, at the suggestion of the director or producer.
Travel is frequent (location scouting, shooting). He or she is an employee of a production company.
He works with the director, producer and production manager, chief set designer, chief make-up artist, costume designer, top electrician, and the imaging team.
The director of photography is responsible for the quality of the image, which must be following the wishes of the realization. An essential part of a film’s technical quality depends on his or her work, skills, and experience.