A lot of work and creativity goes into making a film or tv program. Whether big or small, everyone above-the-line and below-the-line plays a vital role in filmmaking production. Many of these integral parts of the storytelling process help bring the magic of cinema to life for audiences to consume, dissect, and share with others. In addition, the Director of Photography is critical in obtaining a specific cinematic look or style crucial to the moviegoing or television-watching experience.

The Director of Photography (DP) is the person who captures the Director’s vision on camera. These creative individuals help determine a film’s visual style by demonstrating expertise in camera and lighting technology and attention to detail. Some of the most well-known DPs have worked with the great directors of our generation like Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Ethan & Joel Coen, and Martin Scorsese.

For example, Roger Deakins has been the DP behind The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old, and The Shawshank Redemption to give the films an everlasting and memorable look. Likewise, Robert D. Yeoman, Matthew Libatique, and Ernest R. Dickerson have become household names in the film world. Yet it’s essential to break down precisely what a DP does during preproduction, production, and post-production to understand their role and importance better.

What Does a Director of Photography Do?

Part technician, part artist, a director of photography work with the film Director and are responsible for a film’s visual ingredients. Also known as the cinematographer, they are in a hierarchical role. A DP or cinematographer is a similar umbrella term for those employing specific camera techniques for a film’s look or tone. The DP is the most senior officer at the top of the cinematography department, managing equipment and crews.

They are closely involved during preproduction and active during the production stage but become more limited in post-production. Though the DP has a management-type role, there are steps to get to that position.

How to become a Director of Photography

A person would need deep film and photography knowledge, including composition, lighting, cameras, editing, and film history. Film school gives a robust introduction to filmmaking and the technical skills needed to work with lighting and camera work. In addition, formal education provides an invaluable method for finding creative partners and a significant first step in becoming a DP. However, a BFA or MFA is not the only way to achieve the knowledge needed in this field.

A director of photography is not an entry-level position. Many aspiring DPs start as lighting technicians or camera operators. They eventually become camera assistants and work directly under a director of photography. Over time, apprentice DPs transitioned to the role of cinematographer and onto the many stages of production.

Preproduction: On Your Mark

A director of photography work begins as soon as their brought onto a project. In the preproduction phase, the DP brainstorms how to visually interpret the script with the Director. They also work with the production designer and art department on a unifying understanding of the film. Many DPs have built a trustworthy team through past projects and often work with the same camera and lighting crew.

Preproduction duties also include choosing the right equipment with the aid of the Line Producer, scouting locations, and even designing the light setup for every scene. Before transitioning into production, a DP break down the script and help create or supervise the storyboarding process.

Production: Get Set

During the production of a film or tv program, the Director of Photography continues their crucial role by blocking scenes with the Director. DP directs the camera, makeup, and lighting crews, paying attention to composition and framing, exposure, lens and filters, and camera movements. There are many times when the DP will have to make further and more precise tweaks to the camera. Their experience and vast knowledge help to amplify the scene during shooting to maximize the vision and tone of the film.

Another vital responsibility is going over the dailies. Dailies are raw and unedited footage shot that day. The DP and Director review these to ensure everything is aligned with the planned vision. When principal photography ends, the Director of photography duties becomes less involved during the post-production phase.

Post-production: Go!

Post-production responsibilities further adjust and help edit the movie’s visual elements. The DP focus is more on the color grading of the project. Their responsibility spotlights on the film’s color palette. The DP takes this opportunity to advise the colorists on how the color palette should appear if their consulting is needed. Although experience and training are necessary to accomplish all these feats for an aspiring director of photography, there are still some essential things to remember.

The Essential Skills of a DP

Cinematographers (or DPs) must have an artistic vision and an eye for photography. The individual must know how to tell a story through a shot with the aid of suitable composition. This task can be achieved by understanding camera and lighting techniques. In-depth technical knowledge of cameras and experience will help the DP evoke the correct type of emotions from the audience. However, being the right leader on set is fundamental too.

A DP works with many of those behind a production scene. They are essential in helping the workflow and are often seen as guidance. Positive interpersonal skills, leadership, communication, organization, and time management become part of a director of photography duties. These tasks work in tandem with good judgment and efficient decision-making that’ll help the Director focus on their vision and smoother production.


A director and DP’s relationship is profoundly collaborative and often spans multiple films. Many of these cinematographers recognize the importance of the Director’s concept and what a movie should look and feel. Working as a collective mindset for the sake of the production is vital in translating the magic of cinema to the audience. Their hard work will hopefully inspire and further progress the art of film for future generations to learn and innovate.