5 Tips for Becoming a Cinematographer

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An eye for the way shadows fall in a quiet room, for the way a lush forest looks after a rainfall, for the way characters move in and out of frame telling their story: if you have a knack for lighting, movement and composition, you might be a cinematographer. 

The cinematographer, known professionally on set as the DP (Director of Photography), is essentially in charge of the way a film looks. This is the person who, in dialogue with the director, decides the angles, lighting and artistic vision on screen, pushing the story forward visually. 

If you’re a still photographer looking to make the leap to motion pictures, or are simply someone who has always been interested in visual storytelling, here are five tips you can use on your way to becoming a cinematographer. 

Understand the Fundamentals of Visual Composition

There are a couple ways you can go about this. If you have the access and means to attend a program for visual elements, it certainly helps you learn quickly. You can also learn on your own, watching video tutorials on YouTube or reading through books on the subject. This will help you form a base knowledge of the craft, upon which you will continue to build. 

Seek Out Mentorship From an Established Cinematographer

This is the fun part. Once you have a basic understanding of visual elements and a keenness to learn more, you can start seeking out a mentor. Mentorship is so valuable in a craft like cinematography, since it affords you both the invaluable knowledge of an industry veteran, and the real world, hands-on experience that you need to learn. 

There are mentorship programs out there where you can get paid to brush elbows with Hollywood fame and learn cinematography – not a bad deal. 

Develop a Personal Style According to Your Tastes

Once you start finding your confidence behind the camera, you can start injecting something of yourself in the visual style. Are you a playful person? An austere person? A person who values symmetry, or someone who prefers a more roughshod visual journey? Developing a personal style doesn’t need to happen overnight; for many, it takes years of camera operating and is influenced by colleagues and mentors. Again, YouTube tutorials can help with this. 

Watch a Lot of Movies, & Take Copious Notes

One of the best ways to become a stronger DP is to watch a lot of movies. Watch the classics and take note of what they have to offer – watching those trailblazers of cinema can help you understand the why certain compositional tropes continue to be used. And while you’re at it, why not watch a so-called “bad” movie, and try to think what you would have done differently?

Don’t Stop Learning

Finally, never stop learning. Never rest on your laurels and believe that you know all there is to know about cinematography. After all, the job is liable to change a lot, as technology shifts and progresses. Just ask those staunch film cinematographers that had to adapt when digital became the norm. Always remain curious about the craft!

If you’re ready to “roll camera” on a new career in cinematographer, start today. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be creating something you love.