What Does a Director of Photography Actually Do? Job Description and Salary 2023

director of photography

Think of your favorite movie.

You’re surely in love with the way it was filmed.

The perfectly composed shots that masterfully capture the scenery, the symbolic angles, the color saturation that tells its own story…

director of photography mastery

Did you know that those shots are usually not the director’s work but rather the cinematographer’s?

Their job in film is so important that even the Academy Awards has a special category for Best Cinematography.

Just like a cinematographer, the director of photography is in charge of establishing the overall look of the video and deciding on what sort of mood they want the video to create.

Whatever project you’re working on, be it short-form TikToks or a weekly YouTube series, the director of photography is crucial if you want your video to look and feel good. 

In this article, we will break down what a director of photography does, their main responsibilities, their role in the company hierarchy, and their average yearly salary.

What does a director of photography actually do? 💡🎥

The director of photography, sometimes shortened to DoP or DP, is responsible for the look and feel of the video.

Their job is to use the right shots, frames, filters, lenses, angles, etc. to convey the mood that the video production team is looking for.

For example, if the team wishes to create a lighthearted commercial with a witty punchline at the end, the DoP must use all the tools necessary for the viewer to feel carefree and amused while watching said commercial. 

Director of photography job description template 📄✍️

Whether you want to start working as a director of photography or you’re looking to hire one for a project, here’s what a typical job description looks like for this role:

We are looking for an experienced Director of Photography to join our team!

As a Director of Photography, you will be responsible for managing all aspects of filming, from camera setup to stage design.

Director of Photography responsibilities:

  • Follow the brand guidelines to create videos that match our visual identity
  • Create a concept and storyboard together with the video producer and video specialist
  • Assist and guide the camera crew
  • Suggest and find appropriate props and equipment

Director of Photography requirements:

  • 3+ years experience in film production, video production, or other similar fields
  • Bachelor’s degree in film, media, photography, or other related fields
  • Ability to follow guidelines and work under pressure
  • A portfolio showcasing previous work
  • Creative, proactive, and an excellent communicator
  • Open to feedback

Note: Depending on the employer, you might find more or fewer responsibilities and/or requirements than the ones we listed above.

Who does the director of photography answer to – role hierarchy 🤔

The director of photography reports to the video producer and works very closely with the video editor.

Director of photography job requirements 🧐

As a DoP, there are a number of hard and soft skills you want to master before you start working on a project. 

When it comes to hard skills, you need to be knowledgeable about scene composition. Learn basic techniques such as the rule of thirds and study perspective. Dive into some color theory and start experimenting with different shades. See what sort of messages can different camera angles send and what sort of feelings can different lightings evoke.

Speaking of angles and lighting, you will need to know how to handle film equipment. Although there will be camera operators and lighting technicians helping you out, you’re the one who has to instruct them so that they can bring your vision to life. You also want to study learn how to work different types of lenses, filters, and film stocks.

director of photography in the studio

What does your vision look like? You’ll know once you learn how to create storyboards.

They not only help you organize your ideas but they will also help the crew see exactly how you want each shot to look. This saves you a lot of time and energy.

As far as soft skills go, creativity is the most important one. After learning all the technical rules, you’ll want to brainstorm interesting ways you can break them.

When you hear the story or the concept of the video, you need to visualize it in front of you and plan the scenes and shots accordingly. While filming, you might have to—or want to—go off-script a little and change some elements.

Another important soft skill is attention to detail. Sure, not every camera angle or every red-colored prop needs to have a profound meaning.

No one is going to notice that the book on the table wasn’t perfectly aligned with the flower vase that was placed exactly 2.5 inches away from the core of the book. But you want to ensure you gave each scene and each shot enough attention and care to ensure that your video evokes the right mood.


Since you will be working with a whole crew throughout the whole production process, you must be a team player. Do your best to create a pleasant work environment, be kind towards the other members, and pay attention to other people’s thoughts and ideas.

How do you do that exactly? By being a good communicator and an even better listener. You need to know how to express yourself clearly but respectfully. Learn how to give feedback but also how to take it. Expect to be listened to but also listen to others.

At the end of the day, everyone has the same goal. Everyone is just trying to do a good job and finish the project successfully. As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll be able to be more empathetic with your team. 

How much does a director of photography make – director of photography salary range 💰

Being a director of photography is not an easy job, so you want to know how much you’re going to earn. 

Below is a table showing the yearly average director of photography salary in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The data is collected from Glassdoor’s January 2023 report.

LocationAverage Yearly Salary for DP 
United States68,750 USD/yr
Canada173,431 CAD/yr
United Kingdom36,350 GBP/yr
Australia*63,673 AUD/yr

Based on the data on Glassdoor, the yearly average salary for a director of photography in the USA is 68,750 USD.

The same platform shows a high estimate in Canada as well, stating that a director of photography in Canada can earn up to 173K CAD in a year. After conversion, that is 126, 488 USD, meaning that as of January 2023, you can make more money as a director of photography in Canada than in the US.

Meanwhile, for the UK, Glassdoor’s data estimates that you can make around 36K GBP in a year as a director of photography. 

*There was no data for the yearly average salary of a director of photography in Australia on Glassdoor. We decided to include the estimated yearly salary of a cinematographer according to PayScale, because the two roles have very similar descriptions and responsibilities. Thanks to the fact that they often overlap, we are able to get a pretty good idea of how much a DP could make, even without concrete numbers.

Typical employers of directors of photography 🏢

Video production agencies know that a great director of photography is just as important as a director or a scriptwriter. They are often on the search for someone talented and experienced who can put their unique vision on film.

Production companies creating content for YouTube and other platforms always need a DoP to help establish a distinct visual style and feel for their videos. 

Directors, whether they work independently or are associated with a big studio, are the ones usually in charge of finding a good cinematographer/director of photography for their project. Make sure you have an updated online portfolio, and if you can, try to network as much as possible.

Where can you find director of photography jobs? 📍

LinkedIn is a good place to start looking for director of photography jobs at various companies, at home or abroad, on-site or remote. 

Indeed also gives you tons of results for director of photography job openings with their estimated salaries. Glassdoor has tons of really tempting director of photography job opportunities you might want to check out.

Most of these openings ask for extra experience in video editing and producing, as well, so you want to brush up your skills before applying.

Directors of photography you can learn from ☑️

You don’t have to rely on expensive textbooks about cinematography only. You can also learn by watching the works of some of the best-known, most talented directors of photography/cinematographers in the industry:

Reed Morano

Reed Morano

Reed has worked on a number of feature films, commercials, and music videos. She is credited as the director of photography for Kill Your Darlings (2013) along with several HBO shows like Divorce (2016), Vinyl (2016), and Looking (2014). She directed The Rhythm Section (2020), I Think We’re Alone Now (2018), Meadowland (2015) as well as the pilot episode of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017).

Mina Nabil

Mina Nabil

Mina is very active in the film industry, having worked on several projects as a director, producer, editor, and writer. As a director of photography, his most notable works include commercials for LG, Bim Market, and Mountain View October Park, as well as short films like Grey (2015) and Sedhom (2013).

Matthew Libatique

Matthew Libatique:

If Matthew’s name doesn’t sound familiar, the movies he worked on will definitely ring a bell. He is credited as the director of photography for award-winning movies such as A Star is Born (2018), Black Swan (2010), and Requiem for a Dream (2000). His most recent works include The Whale (2022) and Don’t Worry Darling (2022).


If you want to kickstart your video marketing journey in 2023, you need to assemble the right team and a good director of photography is crucial.

The director of photography has the unique ability to connect with your audience, which can eventually turn into loyal customers.

And that is worth cherishing. 

Director of Photography FAQs

What does a director of photography do?

A director of photography (DP), also known as a cinematographer, is a crucial member of any video production team. Simply put, their job is to create visually stunning images that help tell the story of the video.
As a DP, they work closely with the director and the rest of the production team to determine the overall look and feel of the video. This includes choosing the right cameras, lenses, and lighting equipment to achieve the desired visual style.

What’s the difference between a cinematographer and a director of photography?

I understand why this can be confusing, but in the film and video production industry, “cinematographer” and “director of photography” are actually interchangeable terms that refer to the same role.
The job of a cinematographer or director of photography is to work closely with the director and other members of the production team to create the visual style of the film or video.

Is a director of photography a photographer?

If we were to use a metaphor, we could say that a director of photography is like a painter who uses a camera instead of a paintbrush.
While a traditional photographer is typically focused on capturing still images, a director of photography works in motion pictures and is responsible for creating visually stunning moving images.
They use their knowledge of lighting, composition, and camera operation to create a cinematic style and tell the story visually.

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