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Videographer vs. Cinematographer: Which do you need to hire?

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

With the ever-accelerating advancement of video technology, how is a company to know whether they need a Cinematographer or simply a Videographer? Undoubtedly today pretty much anyone that can afford an $800 DSLR, even an iPhone, can shoot capture great images, as an observer. The Videographer is primarily an observational shooter that would be otherwise referred to as a Camera Operator in the world of high-end national commercials and movies. They are skilled at capturing an environment already in motion by its own inertia. They typically will record news footage, weddings, interviews and local TV spots. At most, they may use a reflector to enhance lighting, or have a small light mounted on top of the camera.

The Videographer's salary will usually range from $30K to $40K annually if working full time for a company. Because the cost of high end cameras has drastically dropped, many times a Videographer will take freelance work, also providing a camera such as a Red, or Blackmagic Design as part of a package deal. They can be hired for about $350 to $500 a day, but typically lack expertise in lighting beyond simple interview set-ups. Editing skills usually come as part of a Videographer's bag of tricks.

The Cinematographer on the other hand takes time to orchestrate his shot, paying particular attention to crafting light to enhance the mood of a fictionalized story, whether an expensive national TV commercial, network TV show or feature film. Otherwise known as a Director of Photography (DP or DoP for short), they will have a crew that sets a much larger package of lights, where the DP directs and they handles dolly and jib movements, instead of a videographer that does this all himself while hours tick by. A DP will know which lenses to choose from, further accentuating an intended feeling of the scenes.

While it is more common for cinematographers to operate as freelancers, they will sometimes take full time positions outside Hollywood for salaries of $70,000 or more with production companies sustained by a steady flow of work from advertising agencies or on a dramatic TV series. On a freelance basis, a good DP will cost $1200 to $5,000 a day. The ability to direct color correction is also a defining factor.

Some further examples between the two can be seen by the limitations of the type of shots. Are there close-up beverage shots with condensation on the glass that require a food-stylist? You'll want a DP. Do the vehicle product shots only have a smooth reflection of light all the way across the vehicle? You'll need a cinematographer. Are there shadows underneath the eyes or noses of the talent in front of the camera? Perfection is time consuming. This is why you pay the big bucks for a DP who needs a fast moving, experienced crew working with him.

With any type of position, you get what you pay for. Chances are your company can settle for a Videographer fresh out of college. But if you are seeking to present your company, product or service on a national level, you'll need a Cinematographer.

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