Cinematographer Career Information
What a Cinematographer does
In the autumn of 1894, the Lumiere Brothers invented the Cinematographic Process and made the first movie of sorts using their 'Lumière Cinematograph.' Over a hundred years later we still use their main idea to capture moving images.
A Cinematographer is the person who has expertise in the art of capturing images either electronically or on film through the use of visual recording devices. You will be responsible for the camera. You will zoom in or zoom out, mount the camera on a crane on a helicopter depending on the scene. You will compose how a certain frame is to be shot.
As a Cinematographer you will also be responsible for the way an actor or an actress looks on screen. You will decide the angles that make them look their best. This does not mean that you are just restricted to the camera. Cinematographers set the tone of a movie. Lighting plays an important part. You will select and arrange the lights. Shading creates the sense of space and defines its depth and volume. Hard lighting produces clear shadows while soft lighting and its direction creates the mood.
Warm or cool colours will affect our emotions, while the setting will affect our acceptance of the plot. The originality of the camera techniques used by the cinematographers ties every element together and directly affects the feel of the movie.
In a way, a cinematographer is like the umpire. After watching the game, you realize you haven't even noticed their presence. Their job is to support the game, to make it greater without the viewer noticing it.
Initially you will have to approach cinematographers and directors to show them your work. You must grab any opportunity for hands on experience be it a documentary or a music video.
Cinematographers are employed with production houses that make movies and television serials. As a Cinematographer, you can also approach Films Division for grants to produce documentaries and short films. You can also freelance for advertising commercials and music videos.
But it will be a long winding road before you reach top. As a Cinematographer, you will most certainly start off as an assistant unless your dad's making a movie! You will have to move through the ranks to become a cinematographer and then the ultimate goal - director of photography - the movie's chief Cinematographer.
Later on you can move on to editing and directing on your own.
Indian satellite television has proved to be a big boon to cinematographers. With a wide variety of content required for innumerable channels from mega serials and cook shows to short films and documentaries, cinematographers haven't had it so good before. Hollywood too is taking note of Indian talent in this field and it is just a matter of time before cinematography too becomes an export item to the west. You can also jump into direction be it ad films, music videos and movies.
Abilities & Traits Required
You need to have:
• An interest in photography including composition, lighting, movement and fine arts like music, painting, and even sculpture
• Strong visual sense
• Good hand-eye coordination
• Ability to work with tools
One of the most important quality for a cinematographer is the ability to visualise the whole story. Often an entire movie is shot over a long period of time in short snippets and at the end of the project the whole movie has to blend in. You will be the one who has all this in your head at all times.
For this, as a Cinematographer you need to be seeing, analyzing and discussing films, reading books on film craft, and observing film and video productions. Attending professional exhibitions, seminars and workshops also helps.
There are not many institutes that teach you cinematography. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has a three-year diploma course in Film Direction, Motion Picture Photography and Audiography.
You will learn techniques of shooting by candlelight, morphing, shooting in confined spaces, stretching daylight, using practical light, etc. Besides this you will learn about international cinema and get a bigger picture of film making.
Alternatively you can start as an assistant to an established cameraman. You can get to learn a lot of the practical aspects of cinematography. But there are strong chances that you might end up being just a good assistant!
Initially there is none! You will be lucky if you manage a humble existence. But with experience, you will get opportunities and with it money. As an assistant, you will make anywhere from Rs 20000 - 25000 a month.
As your reputation grows, so will your paycheque. If you prove yourself you will be sought after by film stars. If you make them look good, they insist on you being behind the camera. You can then call the shots. Adding a few Filmfare awards to your list of achievements will help too. You could then easily command as six-figure salary per project.