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What Does the Director of Photography Do?

written by: Kumara Velu•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/17/2010

A director of photography is the person who gives a film the visual signature it deserves. Learn more about what a director of photography does by reading this film production article.

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    Visual Stamp

    In film production, the director’s role is an important one. He (or she) is the one who makes a film possible. The director is the one who turns the static pages of a screenplay into a lively film. In order to successfully translate a screenplay into a movie, the director would need to collaborate with a number of film production professionals.

    Chief among them is the director of photography. If you’ve watched a movie and come back impressed with the lighting, the composition of the shots and even camera movements, then you’ve been looking at the handiwork of a director of photography.

    In other words, the director of photography is the one who gives a film the visual stamp with the help of the director’s artistic vision.

    So, how does a director of photography go about achieving the visual stamp the director desires for a film or movie?

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    Discussion

    The first thing a director of photography does is read the screenplay. If he’s an experienced director of photography, he would have an idea of the visual stamp he would want to give the movie.

    The next step after reading the screenplay would be to have a discussion with the director. They would share ideas on how to make the film visually pleasing. The director may not accept all his ideas, but an experienced directory of photography knows that his ideas are only secondary to the director’s.

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    Preparation and Research

    Once the director of photography has finished his discussion with the director he would be ready to carry out the necessary preparations and discussions with the director. On the technical side he would need to ensure the right filming equipment, film stock and other accessories are available before shooting begins.

    He would also need to research the locations where the film would be shot. In most cases he would take still shots of the locations, or video footage using camcorders to explore the visual possibilities of the locations.

    If it’s a period film, he may need additional research like studying paintings or photographs and reading to get a feel of the era.

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    Production and Post Production Work

    Once the director of photography has done enough preparation for the shoot, he would discuss his ideas and vision with the director and the production designer. Once the director of photography has a clear idea of the visual style of the movie, he would then move on to next step of the production process.

    The next step would be to brief his camera crew – assistant camera person, gaffer and grip - as to what is required of them during the shooting of the film. He would also ensure that special requirements are taken care of – cranes, Steadicams, lenses and the like. On the day of the shoot, they would arrive early to set up the equipment and get ready to receive the director’s instructions.

    At the end of the shooting day, the director of photography would prepare for the next day’s shoot based on the instructions of the director.

    In most instances, the director of photography would also view the rushes with director and take note of the director’s feedback.

    In the post production process, the director of photography has to be involved in the digital grading of the film he has shot. It’s a process where film is transferred to computer for color manipulation, where visual inconsistencies are ironed out before the final print is made.