Lessons of being a professional Cinematographer

This week in Zeferino Professional lighting we want to get a closer look on experienced DPs and discover their personal insights about the job.

Working as a cinematographer is definitely a worthwhile aspiration, but how much do you really know about the daily life of a professional DP? It’s certainly an important piece of the puzzle when deciding on the career path you’re going to take. In the following video from Film Riot DPs like Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later), Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), and Paul Cameron (Westworld, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) share tons of insight on what life is like as a cinematographer, as well as advice for younger DPs interested in going professional.

They were asked a few questions and here are some points we took from these wise men:


What’s the hardest thing about the job?

Every profession has its difficulties, and being a DP is no different. It basically means being a nomadic artist who must learn to roll with the punches. The toughest parts of this job are basically politics, from balancing crew budget to managing people or dealing with egos. Also the fact of being away from your family and your life. You try to do something you had amazing expectations about and very often doesn’t turn out exactly as you wish. So it’s important to cope with frustration sometimes in this job.


With a very funny anecdote Michael Chapman reveals how much this life can affect something so simple:

“I can remember being on location and having to just buy new clothes because I didn’t have time to get the laundry done, I had to buy more, more new clothes”

Paul Cameron sums it all up nicely when he says:

“I think the hardest thing about being a director of photography is eating most of your lunches and dinners in parking lots around the world, sitting in vans for more time than you spend in your bed, and being away from your wife and your family for greater periods than you think.”

What advice, tips or valuable information would you tell your past self?

Each DP had a lot of great tips, and again most of them agree on the basic ideas. Fight for what you believe in, don’t give in to many times when you are told that something can’t be done or that there isn’t much time. Defend your point of view and prove it right. Showing your colors is a positive factor because this is a team work, sharing your ideas, ambitions and basically communicating is the only way to achieve the common goal.

One more thing to bear in mind is that as a DP you are interpreting someone else’s vision of a story. Therefore if you offer up a different idea and they don’t quite love it, that’s not something to get stressed out about.


Paul Cameron shares a very valuable piece of advice, not only for cinematographers, but also for life in general:

Do the work you really want to do, focus and go after the work you feel is appropiate for you. So, if you want to do dramatic films, do dramatic films. Be careful of what you take, what jobs you take that will take you off that path, because it ‘ll take you off that path. Like any industry, the more peope that are doing this craft, the more the people are going to look within the craft to find out specific jobs that people are good at. So you’ll get labeled as an action DP or as a comedy director of photography and that’s what you’ll end up doing.”

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