What Skills Do You Need to Become a Cinematographer

A film shoot on location with the outlines of a boom mic operator, a camera man, and an actor on an open plain to help illustrate what skills do you need to become a cinematographer.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Cinematographer

Do you ever find yourself watching a film or TV show and being more interested in how it was filmed rather than what is being filmed? Either that’s the work of an amazing, award-winning cinematographer–or you have the eye of a filmmaker yourself. And if that’s a career you’re thinking of pursuing, you’ll want to know what skills you need to become a cinematographer.

As a cinematographer, also known as a Director of Photography (DP), you’ll work closely with the director on the film set to bring their vision of the movie to life. It requires a combination of technical expertise, artistic sensibility, and effective communication skills. You will be taking cues from the director and bringing that information to the rest of the staff (assistant cinematographer, camera and lighting crews, and on down the line).

Adaptability, problem-solving, and attention to detail are just as important, if not more so, than knowing your f-stop from a dolly rig. You’re responsible for how the movie will look on the screen and creating continuity throughout. By understanding how the camera angles, lighting, and other visual aspects of a shot work together, you’ll create a specific mood for film and television.

The best way to learn those skills is to dive in and get your hands dirty. With the Film Connection Cinematography Program, you’ll see how cinematographers work in today’s world with today’s gear. Instead of a classroom, we’ll place you inside a professional production company. Instead of a teacher, you’ll be working one-on-one with your mentor, a film industry pro.

And while there will still be required reading and blog entries (this is a school after all), you’ll spend the bulk of your time on the set or in the field. You’ll be making connections within the business that can help you with your career down the road. And you won’t have to take on massive student loan debt or sign away years of your life.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Cinematographer?

Here is a list of some of the skills you’ll pick up when you get your career started with Film Connection. Whether it’s a feature film, short film, music videos, or even a commercial, you’ll see it’s a mix of technical, interpersonal, and managerial skills with a touch of working on the fly.

Technical Skills

Camera Operation
You’ll need to know how to operate different types of camera systems, including their features, settings, and controls. There are universal features all cameras should have, but knowing those extra features and when to use them will help you get that perfect shot. Beyond knowledge of the camera, understanding the different lenses, sensors, and exposure settings allows you to achieve desired visual effects.

Beyond the Camera
You’ll need to know when to use natural and what to do when that natural light isn’t cooperating–weather be damned! Knowing how to use both natural and artificial lighting techniques to create desired moods, enhance scenes, and control shadows and highlights is critical for a cinematographer.

To achieve the desired visual effects in a film, cinematographers have to master various camera movements as well. The right choice of camera movement can help to create a particular mood or convey a specific message to the audience. Dolly shots, for instance, involve moving the camera closer or farther away from the subject while it is mounted on a wheeled platform.

This creates a sense of depth and allows the audience to feel like a part of the action. Steadicam operation, on the other hand, provides smooth and stable footage even when the camera moves around quickly. Even handheld techniques can be great for capturing the fast pace of action scenes or giving the audience a sense of disorientation.

Setting The Scene

When it comes to filmmaking, understanding the art of film composition is essential. To tell a story effectively, you must not only capture the essential moments but frame them creatively. This means understanding visual balance and depth and using them to your advantage. Knowing how to set up a shot and use the camera to enhance storytelling is what separates a good filmmaker from a great one.

The use of color, lighting equipment, composition, and other visual elements can convey emotion, tone, and meaning in a way that words simply cannot. By harnessing the power of visual storytelling, you can create a world that feels visceral and immediate, drawing audiences in and keeping them invested in your story. Precise focus, framing, and consistency ensure seamless continuity in scenes.

You must develop your artistic eye to evaluate every aspect of a shot, from the framing and lighting to the colors and textures. Additionally, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of post-production editing and how different shots can be seamlessly integrated to produce a cohesive final product.


As a cinematographer, collaboration is key to bringing the creative vision to life. Effective communication with directors, camera crews, and production staff ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands the vision throughout the film production process. It’s important to build strong relationships with your team to promote collaboration and brainstorming.

Understanding the grammar of film (shot types, angles, transitions) to effectively communicate with your crew ensures everyone is on the same page. When everyone in the crew is working towards the same goal, it leads to a more seamless production and a better final product.

Quick thinking to address unexpected challenges on set, and finding solutions that maintain visual quality and storytelling is absolutely necessary for success. You must have the ability to work in diverse shooting conditions and adjust techniques for different genres, styles, and environments.


Efficiently managing shooting schedules is one of the crucial aspects of filmmaking. It requires a significant amount of planning and coordination from pre-production to the length of shooting. To adhere to deadlines while maintaining quality, proper strategies must be executed.

It’s not just about getting things done as soon as possible, but rather focusing on delivering the best outcome possible while considering safety on set. Shooting schedules may involve challenging shots and stunts that require the use of camera equipment. Hence, it’s equally essential to ensure the safety of the cast and crew involved.

Proper equipment usage, safety protocols, and a competent crew can help mitigate risks. Waiting for the right moments and taking the time to achieve the desired results may test your patience (and the patience of everyone else), but is so important. You want the right shot, not the right now shot.

You must also be willing to get out of your comfort zone, too. Experimenting with new techniques, styles, and approaches to push creative boundaries is how the very best cinematographers make a name for themselves. Even then, keeping up with industry trends, attending conferences, and refining skills to stay competitive is a career-long endeavor.

Learn the skills you need to take your idea from paper to the big screen.

Real world film education by filmmakers for filmmakers, optimized for today!