cinematographer * noun

When I tell someone I’m a Cinematographer they usually cock their head to the side like an innocent puppy and hope that I’ll quickly rescue them from the deafening silence by providing a quick and painless definition. It seems that the definition of cinematographer is a bit slippery even for people who watch piles and piles of movies. So in the interest of education (especially for people who know me!) I thought I would shed some light (pardon the pun) on this most mysterious profession.

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

A cinematographer is one photographing with a motion picture camera (the art and science of which is known as cinematography). The title is generally equivalent to director of photography (DP), used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image.

What this doesn’t make clear is the fact that while the cinematographer can and does operate the camera him/herself, the cinematographer often times does not actually operate. The camera operator usually takes that responsibility so that the cinematographer can focus on creating a better image through lighting.

Wikipedia continues;

The cinematographer typically selects the film stock, lens, filters, etc., to realize the scene in accordance with the intentions of the director.

An elite group of American cinematographers are members of the American Society of Cinematographers (A.S.C.); this organization represents the upper echelon of talent and is dedicated to the advancement of cinematography. Membership is by invitation only.

The ASC defines cinematography as:

A creative and interpretive process that culminates in the authorship of an original work of art rather than the simple recording of a physical event. Cinematography is not a subcategory of photography. Rather, photography is but one craft that the cinematographer uses in addition to other physical, organizational, managerial, interpretive and image-manipulating techniques to effect one coherent process.

So, at the very least a Cinematographer is someone who operates a camera. At his/her best the Cinematographer is someone who uses light and shadow, gels and filters, film stocks, lenses, cameras, camera support and movement to craft timeless images that help tell a story.

Now… I bet you want me to explain what a Gaffer does!!!!

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~ by Michael Lang on December 1, 2009.

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