Filmmaking is a collaborative art form and one that requires the skills and talents of many individuals. One only has to read the production credits for a film to realize the number of trades and professions involved in filmmaking. Each professional contribution that scrolls by on the screen represents a career opportunity in the film industry.

One profession, of particular interest, is that of Director of Photography (DP). The great film director Cecil B. De Mille wrote:

"The Director of Photography is the custodian of the heart of film making.. as the writers are of its soul.. his tool is a box with a glass window, lifeless until he breathes into it his creative spirit and injects into its steel veins, the plasma of his imagination....the product of his camera, and therefore of his  magic,means many things to many persons - fulfillment of an ambition...realization of dreams." Source: Rajeev Jain

The Director of Photography (DP) is head of the production unit and is directly responsible to the film's Director. During the pre-production phase, the DP works with the Director on the visualization of scenes that involves issues related to framing,camera angle and movement, lighting, and the technical requirements to translate a script and storyboard into images on film.

If the film has a large budget there may be a Lighting Director who works with both the DP and film's Director. Sometimes, it is the Director of Photography who will be directly responsible for lighting a scene and working with technicians on indoor and outside shoots. In this capacity the DP determines the look, feel, and mood of a scene through lighting. This may include the use of table lamps, candles, lighting fixtures as well as movie stage lighting.

The Director of Photography often operates the camera as a cinematographer unless the budget is sufficient to hire a camera operator. Operating a camera requires composing the image,adjusting focus, exposure, use of filters, and when appropriate audio level settings if not done separately by a sound person.

As a professional, a DP keeps informed of the latest research and development in the areas of film and video technology. Some directors are actively engaged in the innovative evolution of camera equipment and lenses and share their work through professional associations such as the American Society of Cinematographers. This experimentation is evident in the work of Willy Kurant (Sous le soleil de Satan, Le jour et la nuit, The New Swiss Family Robinson, Delivering Milo, and PC and the Web)

"I think of filmmaking as a collaborative art form. Cinematographers play first violin in a symphony orchestra with the director conducting, but it has always been a very interpretative role. I experimented with using contrast to affect the look on my first film, Les Creatures, and before that I experimented on short films. I learned that when I was working in that research lab which was experimenting with creating color by combining three strips of black and white film. I learned how to read and manipulate a gamma curve. It's like a painter understanding how to use your brush. You don't have to be obsessed by technique, but you have to understand what sensitometry is and how to use that knowledge to get the colors and contrast you want."

Some directors work exclusively with a Director of Photography who shares the same vision of filmmaking. An example is Eduard Tisse (a.k.a. Edward Tissé) who made visual the ideas of the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein.

Tisse was known for his carefully-composed, classic, black-and-white frames. Not only was Tisse able to capture the image Eisenstein desired, but also contributed much to the director's knowledge about film technique. Some Directors of Photography become as famous as film directors with whom they work. Among these are Billy Bitzer, Laszlo Kovacs, Gregg Toland, Vittorio Sotraro, and Haskell Wexler.

The Director of Photography is the person who gives a movie a certain visual style throughout. It is this style that viewers often recall about the look or feel of a film. Dutch-born cinematographer Theo Van de Sande (De Illusionist,De Wisselwachter,and De Aanslag)writes about this role as Director of Photography:

"Movies are reflections of light coming from a two-dimensional screen - just static flashes of light and color interrupted by short moments of darkness. These impulses manipulate the brain to experience the emotions of a story and its characters, and that's a form of magic. Every time I set up a shot, I'm making a moral commitment to the director and audience. The subtlest things can influence the perception of the audience. When people start telling me how wonderful the first dailies look, I feel a bit sad because the emotional experience of the audience has now become a reality. It takes the place of the magic - the imaginary world I created in my head."

Filmmaking requires many talented and skill artists and technicians.The role of the Director of Photography is key to making visual the ideas of the director and screen writer.

References:

A Conversation with Willy Kurant, ASC, AFC "Everyone thinks of me as a French cameraman, but I was raised in Belgium and was influenced by the Dutch master painters and the metallic blue light in the Northern sky."

Kodak on Film: Featured Cinematographers

What is a Director of Photography? By Charles G. Clarke, ASC A veteran cinematographer defines the duties of the artist most directly responsible for the visual style of a film.