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What is the Average Salary for Movie Cinematographers?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 6/2/2011

Here is a look at the "average salary" for cinematography, which has a huge range depending on projects.

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    Professional Cinematography

    Professional cinematographers have shifted from being purely in the feature film business to a more diverse market now dealing with television, web video, corporate videos, commercials, and a whole series of different options. Today, movie cinematography till tends to make the most in terms of finances because of its financial backing and need for proven skill sets. The the movie production world is quite diverse, as is the professional cinematography world, and because of that there is a large range of salary possibilities for those working in that position. Here is a look at what the approximate average salary for movie cinematography is in today's marketplace.

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    Basic Salary Averages

    Professional cinematography is almost always a freelance position, so the average salary for movie cinematography is going to be determined both on how much they are paid and how often they work. If you are new to the cinematography position you may only be able to ask for a couple hundred dollars per shoot day, and these days will likely go far beyond the simple eight hour day. If you are working with your own equipment, know how to use a unique format, or can integrate other skills into the process then you may be able to demand more out of your salary. Once you make your way into a more well known position in your specific local market you can really demand between five hundred and a thousand dollars a day, but you have to remember that this is going to depend on productions that will be able to hold this kind of payment in their budget. If you are working in a smaller market and with smaller production companies who have less profitable client work then your credibility will not ensure this payment.

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    Feature Film Cinematography

    The average salary for movie cinematography has to be derived from the range of budgets in different film productions, and with the increase of the digital video independent film world there is now a huge rift between the lowest and highest budget productions. Union scale for payment will be around $5000 per week on a film set, and this could run anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The big name Directors of Photography are going to be a great deal more than this as one of the most important creative below the line positions, often making over a million dollars for a single film. This is not average by any means, and you can expect to make quite a bit less than this unless you are in the very top of your profession. You are also going to find that in the feature film business you will not ensure an increased salary because you hold multiple positions, such as being both the Director of Photography and the camera operator. The same is true of providing your own equipment since most high end DPs will be hire on for their creative skills, not their technical benefits.

    What you should expect is to focus in on creating a portfolio of work at a lower level, and even you can begin demanding over a thousand dollars a day on different productions. Once you have a track record for working on film and broadcast television you will be able to create a string of jobs on union scale, and this is going to be your safest bet for making more than the average salary for movie cinematography.