How much does it cost for a Cinematographer?

It’s easy to talk about the art, the passion, and even the hardships but what about the money?

Some DPs get into making movies expecting zero fame, recognition, or financial gain. However, those who decide to make their passion a career definitely expect to get paid for their work. But how much can a cinematographer expect?

In the video below, Matt Workman of Cinematography Database provides a very informative breakdown of typical day rates of a DP at different levels of production, based on LA and NYC commercial standards.

Workman describes four tiers or levels of production: solo, indie, industry, and high-end. Solo DPs will get paid $0 to about $500/day for a project, while a DP who doesn’t work with a production studio may make up to $1,500/day for their work on, say, a music video. Once you get into the industry and work for a production company that has a consistent flow of projects, DPs could be looking at making about $3,500/day. Finally, if you’re one of the lucky (and very, very talented) few who actually reach the high-end level of production and work on Hollywood movies and huge projects (i.e. the Super Bowl or the Olympics), Workman says you can make upwards of $20,000/day for your work.

Clearly, there is going to be a lot of variation depending on a wide array of factors such as location, type of work, and experience level. If you live in larger cities and/or film industry hubs, like LA or New York, you can expect to earn more than a DP working in Pie Town, New Mexico.

If you want to make cinematography your career, the best thing you can do is get some money, buy some equipment, and start putting yourself out there. Work for free if you have to (you will have to). Start getting some experience under your belt so you’re ready when your next opportunity comes knocking.      

This brings me to the next subject …. What is the difference between a videographer and cinematographer? 

Historically, cinema meant film and video meant video

The term “videographer” came into common vernacular as a way to describe an individual who works in videography or video production, as opposed to film production. This means that a cinematographer works with film stock and a videographer works with video. However, the line that distinguishes videography from cinematography has blurred with the advent of digital cinema. Since many (possibly most) major motion picture cinematographers have made the transition to digital cameras, does that make them videographers? Not exactly.

To be a cinematographer is to be part of a large crew

A cinematographer, also referred to as the director of photography (or DP), is the individual in charge of the camera and lighting crews on a movie or other production. It is the responsibility of the cinematographer to realize the vision of the director by making technical and artistic decisions in regards to lens choice, exposure, lighting, composition, filters, camera movement, color-grading and more. To put it simply, the cinematographer is the person accountable for a film’s cinematography, the art and science of motion picture photography. Every decision the cinematographer makes must also service the director and the story. On a large production, it is unlikely that the cinematographer operate the camera. That’s usually the job of the camera operator, who works under the cinematographer

Why are videographers calling themselves cinematographers?

If the distinction between cinematographers and videographers is fairly clear, why all the confusion? Since the defining lines have blurred with the advent of digital cinema, videographers have taken the opportunity to either use these titles interchangeably or create a false hierarchy. Another major contributor has been the popularity of DSLR video cameras, which create a more film-like, cinematic image. This, in combination with the public’s perception of videographers, have led many companies and freelancers to differentiate by categorizing themselves as cinematographers rather than videographers.

A cinematographer is NOT better than a videographer

Professionals differentiating themselves by use of DSLR videography are aiming to create a false hierarchy between a videographer and a cinematographer. As just explained, when a video professional defines themselves as a cinematographer or their work as cinematography, it more-than-likely means they’re using a DSLR, nothing more. They’ll tell you that a cinematographer creates art, while a videographer simply records an event. They’ll tell you that a cinematographer captures a feeling, not just a moment; or that videography isn’t creative and doesn’t involve storytelling technique. This is all nonsense.

A videographer is just as focused on all the qualities that make compelling video. Having a camcorder vs. a DLSR doesn’t make one a lesser professional. Sure, DSLRs have made way for more cinematic imagery, but the qualities that make a great videographer have little to do with equipment. When shopping for video professionals, don’t let cinematography weigh heavily on your decision. More than anything else, cinematography simply a marketing term.

Sources – VanillaVideo  &  NoFilmSchool