The Difference Between a Camera Operator and a Director of Photography

by Johnny Kilhefner
Cinematographers and camera operators both handle movie cameras but have completely different roles.

Cinematographers and camera operators both handle movie cameras but have completely different roles.

The director of photographer (commonly called the cinematographer or "DP") serves as the director's eyes. He works with the director to set up the shots according to the director's vision. The director or the DP rarely touch the camera when it comes to filming, as the DP supervises a team of camera operators who actually film the movie.

Main Duties of a Director of Photography

The immediate duties of the director of photography include coordinating with the director on whether to shoot in film or digitally, how to compose the shot, how to light the scene, which lenses to use to manipulate the image and camera placement. Sometimes the DP will operate the camera, but most do not. This is where the camera operator comes into play.

Main Duties of a Camera Operator

The director of photography relies on the camera operator to film the shots the DP and director set up. Camera operators should be more than familiar with the camera equipment used during production to best meet the vision of the DP and director. The camera operator takes instructions from both the director and DP and relays them to the camera crew, creating a plan of execution that uses technical skill and style to get the shot needed.

Director of Photography Qualifications and Skills

Aspiring DPs usually attend film school or major in a field related to film. From there they may find work as an apprentice with a camera crew where they learn the duties of an assistant camera operator and work with the lighting department. The skills of a cinematographer are honed by shooting films (either their own or others') and improving technical expertise, from focal lengths to lighting setups.

Camera Operator Qualifications and Skills

Camera operators also usually attend film school or receive a degree related to film. They also have technical expertise of film or digital cameras and computer programs for editing. Camera operators typically start out as production assistants for the camera department of a studio where they receive on-the-job training needed to become camera assistants and eventually camera operators.

About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

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