What does a Director of Photography do?
The Director of Photography, commonly referred to as the DP, is responsible for fulfilling the director's visual design of the story through motion pictures. The term cinematographer is used interchangeably with DP. The DP is the head of the camera, lighting, and grip departments.
The DP works closely with the director and production designer to establish the film's look, style, and feel. They start by breaking down the script. Next, they think of ways to enhance the storytelling through lighting, camera placement, movement, and shot composition techniques. They then research how to emulate a desired aesthetic for the film. Along with the director, they create shot lists, storyboards, and previsualizations to help bring the story to life before heading into production. From there, they can determine what they would need in terms of equipment and crew to achieve their goals.
After they receive approvals, the DP works out what they need to purchase or rent. They create a budget for their department and submit it for approval from the line producer. Once the budget is approved, they hire a team and schedule purchases.
During production, the camera department arrives early on set to set up and rehearse blocking with the director and actors. They decide the exact movements the talent and cameras would make. They also discuss lighting requirements with the gaffer and grip, as well as focus and framing with the camera department. It is the DP's job to make sure the footage is usable.
On smaller productions, this position is usually combined with the Camera Operator position.
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What does a Camera Operator do?
Camera operators are responsible for recording live-action, visual images with a digital or film camera for television shows, news broadcasts, movies, music videos, documentaries, concerts, sporting events, and bite-sized new media content for the web.
During pre-production, the camera operator will review the shot list, storyboards, and previsualizations with the Director of Photography and Director to grasp the vision. They make sure the cameras and rigs are set up and ready to use for each shoot day during principal photography.
When it's time to roll, the camera operator handles the camera and captures the shot composition of the moving images. They also maintain constant communication with the DP throughout the shoot using a headset or walkie-talkie.
Many camera operators will develop specialty skills such as Steadicam, aerial or underwater photography.
Their responsibilities also include:
Plan, prep, and rehearse scenes
Follow camera script, shot list, and storyboards
Creatively frame and capture live-action
Respond quickly to directions given by the Director of Photography
Coordinates with Grip and Electric.