What a DP does

I'd like your help.

What does a DoP do. . .i.e. what are the duties of a DoP?

Thanks in advance

Geoff Boyle

Doesn't it change with every Job, or job level?

I just shot something where I was Everything: loader, Grip, Gaffer, Food stylist, ETC. (however this was something for me, so I was also the director).

I will not shoot without an A.C., it is necessary to have one.

I wonder if your question isn't broad enough though. besides the duties :

Preproduction planning, scheduling, Choosing equipment ( on my level I tend to be the one writing the order for Grip/Electric, as well as Camera, I'm sure that there are many who D.P.'s who work bigger budgeted/crewed jobs who discuss the job with their Keys, and let them take care of the specifics, such as how many C-stands and sand bags), color timing ( either TK, or Print {with a colorist}). I've gone on location scouts alone and ended up having to secure the location for production ( being grilled by a member of the Judiciary is not fun), and I won't do that again.

It seems to me, that the D.P. is also Management ( when looked at from a labor stand point). Although it is not always the case, certainly there are crossover aspects from each side. Besides asking what a D.P.'s duties are, should we also ask over which "things" (for want of a better word) a D.P. has absolute control over, and cannot be overidden?

It is a tough question, I've gone from one shoot that was so badly organized by production that I had to do the Tie in, run the cable, and hang most of the lights ( as well as share A.D. duties with the Sound man and the KEY P.A.). To two days later Working on a great shoot that All I had to do was talk with the director, and operate the Camera. The A.C. and the Grips did all the technical work I asked for( NO lights). It really changes on a job to job basis ( for me), sometimes what I do changes in the middle of the Job, especially if the Director becomes a jerk, and I am working way too hard for no reason ( at that point SUPERHUMAN Steve goes away).

Steven ( well that's my view of it, You must have a reason for asking this Geoff) Gladstone - wow I even worked a little ranting into my answer

Having been blessed with the opportunity to work in a wide variety of types of production, eg.16,35,IMAX docs, ride films, corporate, industrial, medical, political, commercial, broadcast sports, brroadcast news, broadcast magazine, broadcast dramatic, music video, indies, and big studio pictures and in many different countries under different types of systems, I would try to define the DP's role using those horrible Venn diagrams of the "new math" era, a dark period in US public school education.

There is a core set of responsibilites which is, I think, shared by DP's in all types of production (except perhaps non-dramatic and "soap opera "multicam studio TV work which has Lighting Directors and operators but often no DP).

Those responsibilites would include the aesthetic decision-making for lighting, exposure, and filtration and the choice of camera, lenses, and camera support equipment. Past that core, the additional responsibilites seem to depend on both the general type of work and on the specific project team and relationships between them. It seems that in addition to the core responsibilities, the DP will also handle at least one, generally two or three, and sometimes all of the following additional duties: (not ranked by importance)

Timing/grading of images

Decisions concerning camera placement and movement (sometimes but not always shared with the Director)

Operating camera (often delegated to an operator and sometimes usurped by a director)

Technical decisions concerning lighting (often shared with the gaffer & key grip, and in a few cases the Director - eg.Stanley and Ridley )

Technical decisions concerning equipment used to move and support camera (often shared with the Key grip)

Actor movement and blocking (shared with some directors)

Aesthetic and technical issues concerning set painting and treatment ( in concert with prod designer, art director, director, and in commercials- client)

Choice of locations and their proposed use

Editorial decisions concerning scene coverage and/or documentary content (my late mentor Burleigh Wartes was famous for cutting films in the camera, leaving the editor of record tiny little handles)

Supply of camera, lighting, and grip equipment, and transportation thereof.

Choice of crew
Contracting and payment of crew (this seems to be diminishing in our liability loaded world)

So the diagram which would show all this would have a bunch of amoeba-like figures encompassing various combinations of these responsibilites but with all of them including the aesthetic lighting, exposure, and filtration area.

I'm sure I missed a bunch, and I know a list is not a definition, but the specifics seem to vary so much.

Mark Weingartner

To the incredibly extensive and comprehensive list I would add, simply, that the Cinematographer (I still prefer that title, as opposed to the Director of PHotography, which underscores the Manager aspect of the job, but not the artistic) is the visual author of the film. Yes, much is decided by the director, etc., but if the director's job is to tell a story on film, it is our job to become the audience's eye, to lead or retreat, hide or reveal visual elements of the story. To this end, we have the technos of our craft at our disposal, but without a POINT OF VIEW, the technique is empty. And it is this Point of View that makes us the visual author of the film.

Vittorio Storaro has said this all very eloquently before, to which I'd like to add a quote from Degas: "One reproduces only that which is striking, that is to say, the necessary. Thus one's recollections and invention are liberated from the tyranny which nature exerts." Even when we approach existing light circumstances, the way in which we find and linger on specific details is an authoring of the visual world, which is where the art begins.

Thom Harp

I had (another) day off today so tried to answer this rugged little question

A Director of Photography's duty is to;

1. Design the photography to serve your director's plans and answer the stories purpose- both in fidelity with the best traditions of the craft and your own artistic convictions. Learn the directors personality as best you're able and establish a common photograhic language with him. Understand the script and the proposed style of editing.

2. Collaborate with fellow dept. heads from the first meeting possible. Stay apprised of the developments in all the depts. that will directly or indirectly effect photography, set function and set efficiency.

3. Pre-demonstrate the photographic style(s) conclusively from film tests whenever possible. Assess that the photographic design equates with a pragmatic shooting schedule. Be abreast of the release plans of the picture, of likely contingencies and plot the technology routes so principle photography best complies with the final release objective(s). Integrate a plan of quality control and consistency with the lab.

4. Sign on, fit out and command the camera dept. Be accountable for all action within the dept (camera, lighting and grip crews) Be satisfied that all crew signed on to the production within these depts will answer to the skill level required. Oversee the logistic preparedness of these depts.

5. Establish the tone on set that best fits your working style. (i.e.insisting that the set is turned over to you after blocking or that the set is quiet when you work or that The Clash is always played while you work). Lead the crew by example and ensure a healthy work place that is safe, respectful and professional (encouraging some esprit d'corps is a valuable service to all). Back up the crew and if needed, demand the above conditions prevail. Likewise demand that the crew back you up with performance.

6. Meet the schedule. Come prepared to supply the celerity and raw ingenuity demanded to satisfy your artistic want of truth and accuracy. Be flexible to the rapid changes of physical enviornment and/or the director's priorities. Manuevre the mechanical apparatus and personel involved to keep hitting a moving target.

7. Maintain yourselfself physically with rest, diet and regimen to keep up your stamina. Be attentive to the effect of the schedule on your crew and represent their health and safety conditions to production if neccessary.

8. Make do with what you have.

9. Walk your pictures through the post production phases with care - or as arranged by contract and schedule.

In the severe words of The Admirality of The Royal Navy when issueing orders to commanders at sea --> " Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail or you will answer the contrary at your peril."

Caleb "do or die" Crosby

To me it boils down to this :

The role of the Director of Photography in audiovisial production is to assume the full responsability of the image of the project. This includes two main resposabilities/tasks:

1. To be the first man next to the director in interpreting his story and wishes into concrete projected moving images, as an interpretor, as close as possible matching the CONTENTS of the message the director or author of the project wants to communicate. (this is the creative, artistic part, this takes feeling and talent to accomplish)

2. To assume the full reponsability over the technical quality of this image (upto final screening if allowed to) (this is the techinical; quality assurance part of the job)

The D.P., in order to achieve these goals, executes concrete tasks described before in this thread, and the actions to take may vary considerably depending on the needs and nature of the project and the D.P. and crew themselves. They always boil down to achieving the above 2 goals however.

My 2 cents.

Kind regards,

Kommer Kleijn

A question: What's the difference between a DoP and God?

Answer: God dosen't think he's a DoP

OK, OK, OK - don't flame me. It was a joke told to me by a producer friend of mine. It could just have easily been a reference to a director, producer, editor, etc.


it seems everyone is defining a DP by his or her job duties and not by their artistic role. as pretentious as it might seem, I see the DP (I personally like the term cinematographer better, though I dont know why) as an artist --the image designer in a shoot. He is a collaborator with the director (among others) and an unseparable part of the final product. think of any film and it would be very different if it had another cinematographer. (I know im preaching to the converted here.) a cinematographer is more than a technician or a crew boss, those are just the skills needed in order for he or she to make their talent into a reality. some directors are highly visually educated and talented and some directors are backseat drivers without a license. the longer I am in this field, the more im encouraged to direct again --and do my own cinematography. sometimes it makes no sense to me why the jobs are separate (specially in music videos where often the creative input shifts towards the cinematogapher). a bad director can stiffle a cinematographer's talents.

In many of these low budget features and gigs I get hired on I do exactly as the director tells me to do (they are usually director/producer) and I end up so dissapointed with the results i dont even put them on my reel. the auteur theory shifted too much emphasis to their importance that many think it is their duty to run every department, stiffling the art director, the stylist, the cinematographer, even make up and --im not exageratting here, the catering. a film project is a collaboration, a group project --not one megalomaniac's tunnelvision.

I understand that i'm talking about a certain breed here, but the younger they are the more I see this occurring.

A cinematographer is the artist in charge of the photographic design, lighting and capturing, who in collaboration with a director, art director, stylist, actors/performers and others makes a film into a unified vision as seamless as the thought of an individual, but with the talents of many.

--Octavio Fenech


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