What Is a Photography Director? (Plus How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 30, 2022 | Published May 3, 2021

Updated March 30, 2022

Published May 3, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Behind every film production is a team of directors who work together to create an inspired vision. A photography director is one of these film leadership positions that is both technical and creative. Learning more about this specialized role may help you determine if it could be a good fit for you. In this article, we explain what a photography director is, their responsibilities and the requirements for becoming one.

Related: 35 Careers in Film and TV That Can Inspire You

What is a photography director?

A photography director, also known as the DP or cinematographer, is the person on a film set in charge of supervising the filming of movies, television series, commercials or other filmed productions. They interpret the script in a visual format, ultimately giving the film its look. The photography director decides the tone of the script and uses cameras, lighting and best techniques to capture that vision. The visual tone can determine the overall direction of the project, so a photography director has a vital role in the outcome.

What does a photography director do?

Depending on a project, a photography director can be in charge of many aspects of visual production, including:

  • Interpreting storyboards and scripts: The photography director works closely with the director to interpret the overall tone of the script and storyboard. The storyboard acts as a visual representation of the director's vision, which the photography director helps depict on film.

  • Gathering equipment: The DP is responsible for gathering the proper equipment for the film shoot. This can include things such as cameras, lenses, lighting, tripods, film stock and filters.

  • Assembling the camera crew: The photography director takes control of the recruitment process for the film crew, including camera operators, gaffers and key grips. Many DPs work with the same camera and lighting crew from film to film, but they can work with a producer to fill out their team on each job.

  • Performing location scouting: They help the location manager search for areas to conduct filming. A photography director helps find locations that match the tone and style of the director's vision and have the correct lighting and space.

  • Shooting scenes: The DP directs the shooting of film scenes, including details such as exposure, composition, lighting and camera movements.

  • Checking dailies: At the end of every day, the director and DP review the unedited footage that was shot that day. They check the film for quality and overall vision.

  • Editing film: Sometimes, a photography director works on post-production with sound and color artists, or with other editing staff to create consistent scenes from mixed days of shooting.

Requirements for being a photography director

Photography directors can either work as freelancers or with a film company. Here are the basic requirements for becoming a photography director:

Gain expert knowledge of film equipment

Understanding equipment such as cameras and lenses is integral to becoming a director of photography. Continuously practice by trying out new compositions, exposures and lighting. Learn all you can about camera equipment, the advantages of different types of cameras and lenses in different situations and how to alter your techniques.

Some film companies or sets offer volunteer or observation opportunities. This allows you to gain valuable hands-on experience or observe how a set operates. You can reach out to local film sets and news sets to see if there are any similar opportunities.

Obtain training and education

Many photography directors attend a university or art school to complete coursework in filmmaking, photography and cinematography. These classes can help you better understand the technical details of taking pictures and recording scenes. You can learn more about composition, lighting and how to position the camera for the best angle.

Related: 15 Jobs You Can Get With a Film Degree

Gain experience

Experience is a valuable asset in pursuing a photography director career. Hands-on experience working on small films or internet projects can help get your name in credits and give you portfolio footage. Directors and filmmakers notice experience and the artistic sense that develops alongside it.

Diversify your skills and experience

One of the best ways to increase your experience as a director of photography and gain new skills is to diversify your portfolio. Expanding to other genres can help you learn different equipment and techniques and gain other perspectives. For example, a commercial can require different camera work than a full-length feature film.

Related: How To Get Into the Film Industry: Steps, Benefits and Typical Jobs

Study the great films of our time

Make a list of great photography directors and examples of their best work and then study these films. Observe what lighting is effective, how different techniques may change mood and how camera movements follow the film's vision. Look for the concepts you've learned on the job or in your classes and study how these great photography directors have applied them to their films. You can also study new techniques, which films have used them recently and how certain techniques have revolutionized the film industry.

Related: Learn About Being a Film Producer

Tips for becoming a photography director

Here are some tips if you want to become a photography director:

  • Learn more: Take advantage of opportunities to learn more about your position or innovative techniques in the industry. Work for directors who you know are mentors and good communicators. The more skills and diverse experience you bring to the job, the more likely you are to be hired consistently.

  • Embrace your creativity: Photography and cinematography are creative fields that thrive on originality. Being creative can help you show your unique talents and contribute more to various films.

  • Invest in your own equipment: If you can, try to build your photography inventory early in your career, which can help you consistently practice and build your portfolio.

  • Reach out to people in the field: Seek an internship, entry-level position or camera operator position to gain experience. You can also look for freelance jobs with film student groups, agencies and local creatives and on job boards. Make connections as you gain experience and build your professional network.

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