Director vs. Cinematographer: Definitions and 4 Key Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 11, 2021

If you're interested in a film production career, consider pursuing a role as either a director or cinematographer. A director manages the creative process of the entire production, whereas a cinematographer focuses more closely on the visual aspects of a film. While both roles share similar responsibilities, they can differ from each other according to factors like responsibilities, seniority and salary. In this article, we review the responsibilities of each of these roles and key differences between a director vs. cinematographer.

What is a director?

A director, or film director, oversees the creative aspects of a film, television show, commercial or video to ensure the cast and crew deliver a high-quality final product. They typically hold creative control over different departments and film elements, giving them a wide variety of responsibilities. These can vary from reviewing or updating scripts to assisting in the editing process to instructing the placement of actors on set. Directors may also scout film locations and review prop decisions to ensure they match their desired styles and themes for the production.

Common responsibilities a director typically holds include:

  • Offering notes and suggestions to actors regarding delivering lines and blocking various scenes

  • Editing, updating and developing scripts to better match their artistic visions and goals for the production

  • Assisting in casting actors for different roles based on their talents, abilities and characteristics

  • Finding locations to film certain scenes and obtaining rights to film there

  • Collaborating with the film editor to cut and edit different scenes

  • Providing direction to the camera crew on how to shoot certain scenes

Related: How To Become a Director: Education and Training Requirements

What is a cinematographer?

A cinematographer captures and creates the visual effects of a film, television show, commercial or video. They're typically in charge of the visual aspects of a film to ensure the final product looks impressive on screen. Cinematographers typically collaborate closely with the director, lighting employees and camera crew members on a set to ensure the film's picture has the right lighting, angles and shot sizes they aim to capture for the final product.

Common responsibilities of a cinematographer include:

  • Visiting the selected locations before filming to ensure they meet the sound and lighting requirements to create a strong final product

  • Ordering the lighting, camera and sound equipment needed for the production

  • Testing the camera, sound and lighting equipment before filming to ensure they operate properly and to avoid any technical difficulties while on set

  • Overseeing all filming that takes place on set to ensure the camera crew members capture the correct angles and shot sizes

  • Operating the camera if any camera crew members are unavailable for filming

  • Collaborating closely with the lighting and sound teams to communicate any key techniques or visual effect notes

Related: How To Become a Cinematographer

Director vs. cinematographer

Key differences between a director vs. cinematographer include:

Variety of responsibilities

While both roles have a wide variety of responsibilities, a director has several duties throughout different departments and various areas of a film. A cinematographer typically holds responsibilities related to the visual aspects of the production. Directors may spend time on set working closely with actors to block and instruct them. On a different day, they may dedicate time toward scouting locations or editing a film.

Cinematographers work solely on the visual elements of the film to ensure it's shot properly and is visually appealing for viewers. They may collaborate closely with the director to select the right locations, angles and lighting to create the final product they both envision for the film.

Related: 15 Filmmaking Jobs in the Entertainment Industry

Seniority

These positions both hold significant seniority status and control of the film's creation. Cinematographers are typically in charge of the entire camera crew and provide direction for proper shots, angles and lighting. Since the director often oversees the entire artistic direction and image for the film, cinematographers may work directly under the directors and receive approvals on certain decisions they make. This typically depends on the project they're working on and the relationship between these employees, as some directors and cinematographers choose to work on equal seniority levels.

Experience requirements

Most cinematographers and directors may hold extensive experience related to their roles for many years before working in these senior-level positions. A cinematographer should typically hold several years of experience working on a camera crew as a camera operator, lighting designer or sound engineer. This gives them the knowledge needed to instruct their team on the best angles and shots to create an attractive final product for the audience.

Directors should hold advanced knowledge of all aspects of a film, including acting, editing, film shooting and casting. They can use this extensive experience to provide guidance, expertise and advice to all cast and crew employees. Holding several years of experience managing a budget is also important, as directors are often responsible for creating a quality film within their proposed budget.

Related: 15 Jobs You Can Get With a Film Degree

Salary and job outlook

The national median wage for a film director is $76,400 per year, whereas the average salary for a cinematographer is $61,900 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The amount you earn for either of these roles can depend on the size, type and budget of the production you make. For instance, directors or cinematographers that work on an independent film may earn lower wages than those create a blockbuster or feature film.

The BLS also projects the job outlook for a director to be 10% over the next decade. This is typically due to the increase in the demand for more videos and motion pictures from both national and international audiences. Because of this, the demand for cinematographers and other camera crew employees should grow significantly as well, as the job outlook is 18% over the next ten years.

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