When watching the credits of a movie or TV show, you’ll see two different names for the director and cinematographer.
Considering that both the director and cinematographer have responsibilities that have to do with the look of the video, you may think that they’re the same thing.
There are a few aspects that distinguish the two roles.
Here are the main differences between a cinematographer and a director.
Cinematographer Vs. Director (8 Differences Explained)
1. Creative Process
Both a cinematographer and director play roles in the creative process of the film.
However, the roles that they play are different.
A director, for example, has complete creative control over different areas of the film.
They can decide that they want part of the script changed.
They can give notes to actors to suggest a certain way they should perform the role.
They also help come up with blocking for actors to determine how they fit within the camera shot and the scene.
They’re even involved in costuming and prop making.
While they don’t make these assets themselves, they’re the ones who give the final approval.
As such, the director has the final say on all creative ventures in a film while also implementing their own creative decisions.
A cinematographer’s role is smaller in scale.
Their primarily creative process relates to visuals.
They’re in charge of handling lighting, camera operation, and helping directors set the scene by blocking out actors and using props.
Their primary goal is to capture the right tone and mood of the movie while also making it look like a high-quality finished product.
A cinematographer might go into the editing room, for example, and decide to increase the color saturation of a certain scene to set the right tone.
They may reduce the saturation in another scene to set a new tone.
While cinematographers work closely with directors, camera operators, editing staff, and lighting staff, they’re the ones who drive the creative process to look the way that the director wants it to look.
One might see a director as the head of the creative process while a cinematographer is one of the cogs that helps create the finished product.
Both directors and cinematographers have a great deal of status in a film crew.
However, they’re not exactly on the same level as each other.
Directors are, without question, at the top of the pyramid.
The only ones above them are the executive producers.
Even still, famous directors can often stand above executive producers, too.
Some directors will also pitch in money to become executive producers as well.
This gives them even more creative freedom for the film.
Since they’re at the top of the pyramid, everyone else answers to them.
That includes the cinematographer.
However, the director is also like a manager.
They have to make sure that all the different parts of the filmmaking process are coming together.
This is why many directors end up having assistant directors to help manage certain departments.
In filmmaking, the director is the lead.
Cinematographers also have a lot of seniority, but it tends to be within their own department.
Some consider cinematographers right below directors since they’re in charge of important aspects that can make or break a film.
Cinematographers are in charge of the camera crew and lighting crew.
They also work closely with the editors.
Because of this, they often discuss ideas or suggestions with the director to capture the kind of feel that they’re going for.
The director gives the command to the cinematographer who then relays the command to the rest of the crews that they manage.
In terms of seniority, the director is at the top with the cinematographer just below him.
The amount of experience between a director and cinematographer is also different.
Since both positions are high in seniority, both do require a lot of experience, but the director position sneaks out into the lead.
As a director, the individual needs to have experience with several different things.
At the forefront, they need to have experience in managing people.
Their role, besides directing the creative process, is to ensure that everyone on the team is okay and a part of the game plan.
If one crew member is off, then it can affect the entire day.
Besides managing people, the director also needs experience in each department if they want to be effective.
They need to know how the costume department functions, how their actors function, and how the editing and lighting processes work.
By understanding each of these departments and having experience in them, the director can get the most out of each.
That’s a lot of experience that a director needs to have to do their job well.
Cinematographers, on the other hand, still need a lot of experience, but their experience is specific to their job.
They don’t need experience handling actors or in the costume department.
Their experience should draw directly from the sources that make up the visuals in a film.
That means they have experience with lighting, sound, editing, and camera operation.
They also need to know how to manage people and have experience with that.
However, because they’re not involved with every single department, the amount of experience they need is smaller than a director’s.
It’s a bit easier to get a job as a cinematographer than it is as a director because you need a little less experience.
Cinematographers also only need to show experience in one particular department to get a job.
For example, many cinematographers worked as camera operators before advancing to cinematography.
Directors often have to come directly from school after studying film or have had to work in the field as an actor.
The amount of experience someone needs to become either a director or cinematographer is vastly different between the two fields.
Another major difference between a director and a cinematographer is the amount of money that they make.
Directors tend to make $76,400 a year.
Assuming a 40-hour workweek, that comes down to $36.73 an hour.
Some directors may make more.
For example, those who have a deal with the studio to earn a certain amount if the film grosses past a certain box office amount might get a bonus.
Besides the initial release of a movie, they often sometimes get paychecks from royalties for their films.
The more successful movies that a director makes, the more likely they are to have a higher income each year.
New directors likely make a lot less.
They’re usually working with a shoestring budget.
If the movie isn’t successful, then they might end up getting less than they thought if the contract dictates it.
Regardless, the average director makes about $76,000 a year.
A cinematographer makes less.
The average cinematographer makes $61,900 a year.
That comes down to $29.76 an hour if they are working 40 hours per week.
Clearly, they make a lot less than a director.
That makes sense since they have fewer responsibilities.
However, while the director might be able to rely on royalties, a cinematographer might get a set check and that’s it.
They won’t be able to live off royalties for the rest of their life.
Because of that, cinematographers usually have to keep working jobs to make an income.
They’re unable to rest on their laurels.
When it comes to income, directors earn a higher amount than cinematographers.
5. Job Growth And Outlook
The job outlook also has slight differences between the two, but both are positive.
Directors have an expected outlook of demand increasing by 10%.
That means, in the coming years, there will be a 10% increase in demand for directors.
This is likely due to the number of new streaming platforms that have developed over recent years.
As the competition between streaming platforms heats up, one of the ways they’re looking to get more people paying for services is by delivering more content.
To make more content, they need more directors.
They also need to make various genres of content to ensure everyone in their audience has something to watch.
If they only make content for a particular audience, then they run the risk of losing them to another streaming platform.
Since some directors specialize in certain types of films over others, they need to hire a larger selection of directors to cover everything.
Cinematographers also have an expected increase in demand.
The job outlook has increased by 29% over the next few years.
That means that the demand for cinematographers is going to increase by 29%.
This makes sense, too, since cinematographers play an integral role in developing a film.
One reason cinematographers may see more demand than directors is that directors are able to balance a few different projects at a time.
Cinematographers can only work on one or two projects at a time.
Since they’re not able to spread themselves around as much, crews need more of them to fill the position on new projects.
Platforms and studios also like to use some of the same directors over and over again.
They know that those directors can produce high-quality content that their audiences enjoy.
Some fans also tend to associate directors with success.
If they see that a particular director is a part of the film, then it might increase the chances they will watch it.
Because of this, many studios end up cycling through a few directors throughout the year but primarily stick with a few big names.
This makes it harder for new directors to get started in the industry.
There’s demand for new directors but not as much as there are cinematographers since studios tend to play favorites.
The amount of education that directors and cinematographers need is also different.
Both need at least a bachelor’s degree to get a job.
However, a cinematographer usually only needs a bachelor’s degree.
Because cinematography covers everything from lighting to an actor’s position on set to even the angle of a camera, their education is a bit more specific.
They tend to take classes revolving around camera technology and editing.
Once they receive their degree, they don’t need to worry about getting higher-tier degrees to prove their worth.
Experience is going to be the most important thing for them.
After graduating with their bachelor’s degree, cinematographers can get started in the business immediately.
That isn’t always the case with directors.
While some directors can get away with just a bachelor’s degree or no degree at all, most of them usually need a master’s degree, too.
The more advanced degree makes them better hires.
Since many directors settle for a bachelor’s degree, it means there are tons of them out there.
Directors who want to stand out get a master’s degree.
Their degrees are also different from a cinematographer’s degree.
While cinematographers focus on technology and engineering, directors are studying film theory, storytelling, people management, and history.
Their scope of education is wider since they’re responsible for more things.
While both cinematographers and directors need at least a bachelor’s degree to get hired, directors tend to need a bit more education to get started and beat the competition.
7. Hiring Privileges
The degree of authority when it comes to hiring is also different.
Cinematographers can hire their camera crews.
They might know a few people who they believe are perfect for the job.
While they might hire the crew, the director has the final say.
More importantly, the director can fire a member of the camera crew if they’re not up to their standards.
The director also has more hiring privileges.
They’re essentially able to hire anyone that they can afford.
They’re given a set budget from the executive producers and have to find a cast and crew willing to work for certain salaries.
Now and then, a director will push the executive producers to increase the budget to let them hire a certain actor.
Directors have the final say on who they hire for the film.
That all said, even directors are subject to the approval of executive producers.
Both cinematographers and directors can hire people, but the cinematographer hires the camera crew only while the director hires lots of other people—including the cinematographer.
8. Production Meetings
One part of the filmmaking process that few probably enjoy is meeting with the executive producers.
During these meetings, the producers will list the requirements and expectations that the studio has.
The studio, which is beholden to shareholders, wants to ensure that they’re creating a product that will make good on the money they’re investing into it.
The producers are basically there to ensure the studio is getting what it wants.
One of the differences between directors and cinematographers is that cinematographers don’t have to take part in those meetings.
Unless the director specifically needs them, it’s really only the director that meets with the producers.
They then relay the producers’ wishes to the cast and the rest of the crew.
While cinematographers miss out on meetings with executive producers, directors have to go toe-to-toe with them.
What Are The Similarities Between A Cinematographer And A Director?
While there are a few differences between a cinematographer and a director, there are also a few similarities.
Here are some similarities between cinematographers and directors.
Both the director and cinematographer focus on visuals.
While it’s the cinematographer’s sole concern, it’s also a primary responsibility of the director.
The director usually has a certain visual in mind for the movie or a scene.
They work with the cinematographer to ensure that visual happens.
Because of this, both play an important role in establishing the visuals of a film.
Both directors and cinematographers are also managers.
While directors manage a large number of people, cinematographers manage their camera crew.
They’re both responsible for setting schedules and ensuring that their crews are healthy and focused.
If a problem arises with someone, then they handle it.
They’re similar because both positions rely on managing people.
Are Cinematographers And Directors Of Photography The Same?
Both cinematographers and the directors of photography have similar roles, but they are not the same thing.
A cinematographer handles aspects like lighting, editing, and camera setup.
They work with the director to establish shots and the overall visuals of the action that takes place on set.
Directors of photography take the finished scenes and then edit them in certain ways.
They usually work with the director and cinematographer to determine if a scene needs more contrast, saturation, or whether a filter should be applied to it.
One can think of a cinematographer being in charge of the mechanical and technological aspects of a visual scene.
The director of photography then adds flair to the scene to set tones and moods.
Directors and cinematographers both play important roles in filmmaking.
Without them, films, TV shows, and ads would be a mess.
Although they often work together, each has their own responsibilities, which ultimately makes the two roles very different.