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Cinematographer’s Career Path: Ten Years from Now Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 5th, 2021


There is no denying the shift toward how people consume content and what attitudes their hold toward various media. Today, cinematography has a lower barrier entrance, making it possible for more people to find their creative voice in the realm of movies and series. At the same time, the market is remarkably oversaturated with content, and big players and independent creators fighting relentlessly for the viewer’s attention. A sea of opportunities, high stakes, and intense competition is what makes the field of cinematography exciting for many people who are in the process of deciding on their career paths.

The director of the production, or cinematographer, is probably one of the most coveted positions to have in the field. Making this dream a reality takes skill and determination but first and foremost, careful research of relevant information on the topic. Being knowledgeable about a particular profession allows an individual to be more realistic about their ambitions and settle on an appropriate roadmap toward the goal. This paper revolves around the opinion that it takes both hard and soft skills to make a good cinematographer. Besides, it discusses the possibilities of branching out after gaining some experience in this position.

Job Description & Prerequisites

In North America, film and television are one of the fastest-growing industries with the demand for film directors increasing by 5% every year. On the job, a director of the production has a lot of responsibilities that include but are not limited to the following:

  1. studying a script and settling on the best way to communicate its message for entertainment or education purposes;
  2. auditioning actors and selecting cast and crew members;
  3. deciding on settings and film locations;
  4. deciding on the time and manner of shooting scenes;
  5. ensuring that the idea realization does not exceed the budget;
  6. coordinate and supervise the camerawork, lighting, and sound;
  7. being the mediator between managers, technical directors, writers, and other staff;
  8. planning the framing and composition of scenes and making sure that the implementation adheres to their vision;
  9. working closely with sound designers and components.

Typical education requirements include a four-year Bachelor’s degree. It can be a BA (Bachelor of Arts), BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), BSc (Bachelor of Science) in film production, or a related field. However, it should be noted that formal accolades such as college degrees are not as appreciated in the field of cinematography as work experience. Even A-grade students should not expect to land an excellent position right after graduation.

On average, a cinematographer’s career path includes working one’s way up to the top – slowly but steadily. Probably one of the best choices a recent graduate might make is becoming an assistant for an experienced screenwriter, film director, or film editor. This way, they would be able to look behind the scenes of the industry and see the processes up close. Overall, success is often tied to choosing the right projects and gaining the support of the community.

Personality Skills

Hard skills are not the end-all-be-all of making it big in cinematography. In today’s world defined by cut-throat competition and emphasis on communication, soft skills are an important prerequisite insofar as relevant education and work experience. Now, working in cinematography comes with a unique set of challenges, some of which are only surmountable if a pursuer has the right type of personality, or in other words, “cut for it.”

In this section, I would like to avoid the debate as to whether certain personality traits are inherent or subject to change and, therefore, development. What I aim to do is put together a comprehensive list of qualities that would definitely be of great importance for anyone wanting to achieve success as a director of the production. I would like to highlight the point that many of the traits that are described below seem to be mutually exclusive at first glance. Yet, they are not – one should think of them as inter-and intrapersonal conflicts to overcome to become a bigger person.

Creativity and discipline

There is no doubt that the field of cinematography is inherently creative. To be able to make it as a director of production or cinematographer, one needs to have creative powers. This entails being able to come up with new ideas, ride the “inspiration wave,” and be always on the search for something unique. It should be noted, however, that no matter how creative and talented the person is, the industry has its standards that he or she needs to adhere to. Creativity should be accompanied and moderated by discipline, which may be especially difficult if a person is used to waiting on the bout of a creative muse. Yet, being disciplined helps to meet deadlines, being precise and thoughtful about decisions, and taking full responsibility for one’s actions.

Uniqueness and ability to appease broader audiences

According to recent scientific research, creativity is largely associated with divergent thinking. Thinking divergently means pursuing an off-beat path and finding unique solutions (Baer, 2014). In the field of cinematography, a divergently minded director of production might mean someone who is not afraid to break the mold and surprise the viewer. By doing so, a cinematographer might be able to become a trailblazer and raise the bar for the entire industry. At the same time, even the most unique and outstanding project may fail and end up in huge losses if it is not backed up by the audience’s appreciation. Therefore, a cinematographer needs to know how to balance the pursuit of the novel and consideration for other people’s opinions.

Being visionary and detail-oriented

A cinematographer needs to be a big picture thinker and have a foregoing vision for each of their projects. For instance, when a director of the production decides on what to do about a compelling new movie or series pitch, they should be able to tell exactly what prospects this idea has. This is especially true when it comes to series – maybe the most beloved cinematographic form nowadays. Yet, even as a big picture thinker, a director of the production cannot and should not ignore the little things. Refining their mastery entails paying attention to detail on par with envisioning things on a large scale.

Possible Pitfalls

As much as working in cinematography can present many opportunities for career growth and be an outlet for creative expression, it also comes with a set of its own challenges. Probably, the most challenging part is entering the industry, and newbies should not raise their expectations too high during this time. Even though the entrance barrier might have been set lower, it does not mean that it does not take effort and the right number of personal connections to get in.

Social media and the world of the Internet as a whole have given many talented young people enough exposure to make the first steps, which has made the competition especially tough. Apart from a large number of contenders, a newbie should be expecting working long hours. Creative processes are often not confined to the usual working hours, especially when the team is trying to meet a deadline. Thus, an inexperienced cinematographer should expect a skewed work-life balance and be ready to commit to the trade.

Another possible pitfall is the human factor: as in any other industry, the people around an individual can make it or break it. First, a cinematographer should be aware of how much publicity comes with being successful. Any public person has loyal fans and rabid haters, with the latter having the potential to put a strain on the creator’s mental health and self-esteem. Second, working in a creative field often implies interacting closely with some of the most eccentric people in the world. Human communication is difficult as is, and it gets even more challenging when one has to come into contact with someone quirky and mercurial.

Lastly, success in cinematography is often tied to luck and meeting the right people. For example, one cannot pitch anything to Netflix without having some kind of representative, even if the idea is stellar. All in all, having good people skills and finding a community that would help one grow is crucial.

Branching Out

At some point in their career, a director of the production might feel that they need a change. If they are unwilling to quit the field altogether, branching out might be the right decision. A career change may be good for a person’s mental health and quality of life as it helps to escape the routine and highlight the sides of personality that have not yet been in the spotlight. Branching out as a director of the production includes but is not limited to the following options:

  1. narrowing the focus and concentrating on one part of the process: writing, producing, or script development;
  2. passing down knowledge and teaching cinematography;
  3. becoming a film critic or reviewer;
  4. opening a business such as a casting agency, lighting rentals, and others.

To sum up, the experience of working as a director of the production is so multifaceted that it allows for entering other fields. Over the course of their career, cinematographers gain a variety of hard and soft skills that may be transferable to other industries.


A director of the production, or cinematographer, is a dream profession for many young specialists. In recent years, film and television have become one of the fastest-growing industries, demanding new talent and offer opportunities galore. The profession of a director of the production is multifaceted and includes a plethora of job duties that concern each and every aspect of film-making from auditing actors to post-production.

Typical education requirements include having a four-year degree in a relevant field; however, education is not the end-all-be-all of becoming a successful cinematographer. To do that, a person needs to gain experience, attune their personality to what the field requires, and surround themselves with the right people. Common pitfalls of the profession include working long hours, being exposed to public opinion, and having to maintain communication with unconventional personalities. A career change within the field may include branching out to screenwriting, teaching, film review, or starting businesses.


Baer, J. (2014). Creativity and divergent thinking: A task-specific approach. London, UK: Psychology Press.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Cinematographer's Career Path: Ten Years from Now." July 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cinematographers-career-path-ten-years-from-now/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Cinematographer's Career Path: Ten Years from Now'. 5 July.

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