What is Cinematography and What Does a Cinematographer Do? – American Film Institute
A female AFI CInematography Fellow working on the set of an AFI Conservatory Film School project


What is Cinematography and What Does a Cinematographer Do?

What is Cinematography?

Cinematography is the art and craft of capturing moving images using a film or digital camera. In narrative films and television shows, cinematography tells a visual story through light, color, choice of camera lens, the way the camera moves through the scene and what is included or focused on in the frame.

What does a Cinematographer do?

A cinematographer is in charge of achieving the visual look and feel of a film, television show or commercial both from a technical and creative standpoint. They choose what camera and lenses to use, how to light each scene, communicate with the production designer about sets, work closely with the director on setting up shot, oversee color grading of the final project and more.

Who becomes a Cinematographer?

Cinematographers often have a background in visual arts like photography or fine art, although it’s not required. The most important quality for someone pursuing cinematography is a passion for visual storytelling.

What are the career paths for Cinematographers?

Graduates of the AFI Conservatory Cinematography program typically choose to work on projects as cinematographers, camera assistants and/or camera operators.

What is the Cinematography program at the AFI Conservatory film school?

Shooting on both digital and film, AFI film students, known as “Fellows” at the Conservatory, have the chance to work on 28 films a year and produce a 35mm visual essay – with unprecedented access to lighting workshops and practical seminars taught by skilled cinematographers. Through work in their classes and on projects, Cinematography Fellows are challenged to become adept at making fast, informed and inspired creative decisions to harness the visceral power of visual storytelling.

Learn more about the Cinematography MFA program at the AFI Conservatory film school, ranked the #1 film school.

10 Cinematography Terms to Know

  1. Blocking – staging actors in relation to the camera
  2. Close-up shot – a camera angle that tightly frames a performer or object
  3. Color grading – altering the appearance of the image
  4. Dailies –  raw footage from the previous day of production
  5. Digital imaging technician – person on set in charge of managing the data workflow from the camera
  6. Dolly – a small, wheeled platform mounted with a camera that either runs on track or is operated manually
  7. Gaffer – chief electrician on a film or television set
  8. Logline – a one- or two-sentence summary of a script
  9. Montage – a series of short shots or sequences edited together often to convey information in a short amount of time or show a passage of time
  10. MOS – a term indicating that film or video footage is shot without sound

Recent Projects by AFI Conservatory Cinematography Alumni

A collage of images of projects by AFI Cinematography Alumni AFI Conservatory Film School

BARRY – Paula Huidobro (AFI Class of 2004)
BEAU IS AFRAID – Pawel Pogorzelski (AFI Class of 2010)
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER – Autumn Durald (AFI Class of 2009)
COCAINE BEAR – John Guleserian (AFI Class of 2005), cinematographer and Adam McDaid (AFI Class of 2006), cinematographer: second unit, Georgia unit
EMANCIPATION – Robert Richardson (AFI Class of 1979)
HALLELUJAH – Robert Hunter (Class of 2020)
HIGH SCHOOL – Carolina Costa (AFI Class of 2013)
PLATONIC – John Guleserian (AFI Class of 2005)
THE WOMAN KING – Polly Morgan (AFI Class of 2010)
THE WHALE – Matthew Libatique (AFI Class of 1992)

View more projects by AFI Alumni.

Applications to attend the AFI Conservatory film school open in the Fall. Sign up here to receive all the latest news about AFI’s MFA program and other opportunities.

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