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Cinematography Degree

Have you ever wondered what goes into making a movie? How is it that moving scenes are captured so perfectly, so beautifully? Cinematographers are professionals trained in the art of capturing photography in motion pictures. They are skilled in understanding everything from lighting to angles; everything that goes into making the captured photography flawless.

What is Cinematography?

The word Cinematography is derived from two Greek words: kinema which means movement, and graphein which means to record. It is the scientific or artistic study of the art of motion picture photography.  In other words, cinematography deals with the creation of movies.
A cinematographer is also known as a director of photography.

What do Cinematographers do?

A cinematographer is someone who specializes in understanding all the various elements which go into making a movie. Motion pictures have advanced so much that a movie is no longer a matter of pointing a camera at an object or a scene and just recording. To be a cinematographer is to understand how to go about filming and capturing a scene in the best way possible.

Why become a Cinematographer?

Becoming a cinematographer can be an exciting and dynamic career option if you’re up for the challenge. This career is highly suited for those individuals who are:

  • Creative
  • Have a keen eye for detail
  • Are artistically inclined
  • Are bold and can take risks
  • Good team players

It is a career which can afford you the opportunity to work with many different types of directors on various productions. This will allow you to grow artistically and creatively as a person.

How long does it take to become a cinematographer?

There is no set track or time frame within which one becomes a cinematographer. Rather, much will depend upon your career goals and aspirations.
There are a number of different types of degrees which can be pursued in cinematography. Students can choose to enroll in certificate programs, associate degree programs, or bachelors programs for an entry level education in the field of cinematography.
These programs can take anywhere between 1-4 years to complete.
For those looking for more in depth knowledge and training in the field, post-graduate and doctoral degrees are available. These programs can take anywhere between 2-4 years to complete.
Once you have completed your educational requirements, you will have to work in order to gain experience. For some, this process could take a significant amount of time. Many aspiring cinematographers work in advertising or small scale television productions for a number of years before being able to work on a full-scale movie production.
Ultimately, the time it takes to become a working cinematographer will depend upon the student and the institute.

Types of Cinematography Degrees

Bachelors in Cinematography

For students looking to pursue an entry level degree program in the field of cinematography, a bachelor’s degree program is a good place to start – for instance, a bachelor’s degree in fine arts or art with a concentration or major in cinematography or film.
This program introduces students to the history of film, modern cinematic elements, as well as the tools and techniques used in the capture of motion picture photography.
Entry requirements

  • High school diploma or GED with an acceptable GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • SAT scores
  • Samples of cinematic work might be required depending on the university you are applying to

During the course of a bachelor’s program with a concentration in cinematography and film, students can expect to take the following courses:

  • Visual art and cinema
  • The production & post-production process
  • The history of film
  • Foundations in film
  • Technology in cinematography

Masters in Cinematography

A Master’s degree program in cinematography gives students an in-depth look into the work of motion picture photography. The curriculum combines classroom instruction with practical experience behind the camera. This gives students a thorough understanding of what it takes to be a cinematographer.
Entry Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in cinematography or the arts
  • A high quality portfolio of your cinematography work to date
  • Letters of recommendation


  • The Production process
  • Filmmaking
  • Screenwriting
  • The post-production process
  • Digital editing
  • Effects
  • Art direction
  • Visual design
  • Sound

Ph.D. in Cinematography

A doctorate in this field is pursued by those individuals who wish to explore the academic and research components of cinematography. This includes those who aspire to become film critics, aspiring teachers of film, directors, or writers.
Entry Requirements

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree in cinematography or another closely related discipline
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Portfolio of all of your film and cinematography related work

This degree explores the analytical and critical dimensions of the world of cinematography and film. Students can expect to take courses such as:

  • Historiography
  • Film theory
  • Documentary cinema
  • Visual studies
  • Animation

The program culminates with a thesis on an original piece of research in the field.

Job prospects and salary

With a degree in cinematography, there are a number of different job positions which you can look into.
These include

  • Director
  • Editor
  • Producer
  • Cinematographer
  • Camera assistant
  • Production assistant
  • Director of art or photography

The salary that you stand to make will depend on a number of factors such as: the level of experience you have, the size of a specific production, budgets, how good you are at what you do, etc.
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2012, the salary prospects for someone with a background in cinematography were:

  • Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators – these professionals made an annual median salary of $46,280 in 2012
  • Producers and Directors – these professional made an annual median salary of $71,350 in 2012.

Cinematography is the study of how to capture photography in motion pictures. It is a course of study that involves appreciating both the scientific as well as artistic components of motion photography.  Cinematographers work as part of a team alongside directors, producers, and the rest of the film crew. Each component of this team is essential in bringing to life a motion picture, or movie. To become a cinematographer, there are a number of different degree paths that you may choose to pursue. This includes entry level programs as well as advanced degrees.


States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What can I do with a degree in cinematography?

A:With a degree in cinematography, you can go towards two main career paths; cinematographer and film producer. Cinematographers are responsible for deciding how each scene in a movie, advertisement or television series should look on camera. Film producers on the other hand, are required to plan and manage the technical and artistic resources for movies.

Q:How long does it usually take to complete a phd in cinematography?

A:A PhD is a post-graduate program. It can take anywhere from 4-8 years to complete this program. Please remember that the exact duration basically depends on which school you have enrolled in. You will be required to cover all the course components including a research and thesis to successfully complete the program.

Q:Can you give an overview of masters in cinematography?

A:A master in cinematography program typically lasts up to two years. Different goals are achieved throughout the program. These goals are traditionally divided according to semesters. For instance, in some programs, students might be required to photograph a still photo project, make short films and submit music assignments using particular cinematography tools. Use of technical equipment like digital cinema cameras and particular lenses will be taught during the course of the program as well.

Q:What do cinematography certificate programs teach?

A:A cinematography certificate program teaches you the operation of HD cameras, the scope of responsibilities of a production crew, principles of lenses, film stocks and lighting equipment. It also equips you with knowledge of basic types of lighting, special effects and scene composition with various models of cameras. As part of this program, you might also be taught the aesthetics of frame composition and classic examples of artistic cinematography.

Q:What are some of the online cinematography courses?

A:There are numerous online courses in the area of cinematography. Various universities are also offering a few free courses as well. These include courses such as documentary studies, where students can examine the process of making documentaries through video lectures. Film Production is another course offered online by some universities. This course investigates the roles of film directors and producers. Other online courses include introduction to videos and media art.

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