Director of photography

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DP, DoP, cinematographer

Directors of photography (DoPs) manage lighting and camera crews on TV and film productions to create the right look and feel for images.

Salary range: Variable

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How to become a director of photography

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course
  • a college course
  • working towards this role
  • specialist courses run by private training providers
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University

You can do a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in a relevant subject. Examples include:

  • photography
  • art
  • drama
  • film studies

Entry requirements

You’ll usually need:

  • a foundation diploma in art and design
  • 1 or 2 A levels, or equivalent, for a foundation degree or higher national diploma
  • 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree

More information

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College

You can take a college course to develop your camera skills before looking for work. Relevant courses include:

  • Level 2 Diploma In Creative Media Production and Technology
  • Level 3 Certificate in Media Techniques
  • Level 3 Diploma in Photography

It may give you an advantage if you can find a course that offers practical experience and possibly a work placement.

Entry requirements

You’ll usually need:

  • 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent, for a level 2 course
  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and a creative subject

More information

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Work

You could work your way up from being a:

  • runner
  • camera operator trainee
  • lighting trainee

It’s also helpful to have experience of working as an assistant director. You’ll need a lot of experience before you can move on to become a director of photography.

You can improve your prospects by developing specialist filming skills like aerial, night-time or underwater photography.

Volunteering and experience

It’ll help if you can get paid or unpaid experience with:

  • community film productions
  • amateur or student film projects
  • independent film production companies or camera equipment suppliers

You can search for film and TV companies to approach for experience through media business listing services like PACT and The Knowledge.

Other routes

You may be able to get training through one of the new entrant training schemes that broadcasters and film bodies offer, for example:

You could also take short courses in camera operation run by film schools, regional screen agencies and private training providers.

More information

Professional and industry bodies

You could join an organisation like the British Society of Cinematographers for industry news and latest developments in camera techniques and technology.

Further information

You can get more advice about working as a director of photography from ScreenSkills.

You can also find out more about working in the creative industries from Discover Creative Careers.

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What it takes

Skills and knowledge

You’ll need:

  • knowledge of computer operating systems, hardware and software
  • knowledge of media production and communication
  • to be flexible and open to change
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • the ability to work well with others
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • the ability to come up with new ways of doing things
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently
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What you’ll do

Day-to-day tasks

As part of your role, you will:

  • visit a location before filming, known as a ‘recce’, to check its suitability
  • hire filming and lighting equipment
  • test equipment before filming
  • manage all aspects of filming, sometimes operating a camera
  • supervise the camera crew to decide on any special camera moves
  • work closely with the lighting team to decide on lighting techniques
  • review film footage with the director

Working environment

You could work on a film set, at a film studio or at a TV studio.

Your working environment may be outdoors some of the time and you’ll travel often.

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Career path and progression

With experience, you could work on TV and film productions with bigger budgets, or become a director or producer.