If you are interested in a photo/video career path there are many options available to you and many different positions within each realm. From large motion pictures to a local wedding shoot and everything in between there are hundreds of different jobs you could hold and many different structures to each position. Each holds their own set of pros and cons. In this article, I want to introduce you to a couple of those positions and a little bit about what each offers.
There are generally 4 different realms I will be outlining in this article all with their own individual paths and career options. I am going to refer to them as Retail Photography, Commercial Photography, Videography, and Cinematography. Before we jump into the roles that occupy those spaces, I first want to give you a better outline of what I mean when I refer to these 4 realms. These realms are arbitrary titles I gave to fields of the industry that don’t truly mean anything outside of this article and often people may occupy many roles within different realms which is absolutely acceptable and often pursued.
First, I want to talk about Retail Photography, when I refer to Retail Photography I am referring to any jobs where the person hiring you to take the photos is often the subject of the photos such as Senior Portraits, Weddings, Family Photos, Events, Boudoir, Newborn Photography, etc. When you are a Retail Photographer generally the roles involved are going to be the Photographer, a Second Shooter or possibly some sort of Apprentice. The job of the Photographer is to run their photo business. That includes everything from marketing, networking, keeping up with your clients, sending emails, editing photos, managing finances, maintaining gear as well as shooting the photos as the primary shooter. If the photographer is covering a larger event they may need additional help; this is where a second or even third shooter may come in handy. The role of the second shooter is to cover the areas that the primary shooter is unable to, this helps capture the entirety of the event as well as capturing different angles and perspectives of the same moment. All to help deliver more variety. A photographer also may take on an apprentice. Someone who is wanting to learn from the photographer in hopes of achieving a similar position as the photographer and run their own photography business.
In the Commercial Photography world things get structured a little differently and often takes large crews and a bunch of heavy equipment which is referred to as “grip” in order to achieve the shots needed. When referring to Commercial Photography, I am referring to shoots where the client paying for the images intends to license the images and use them to sell a product, service or experience. Commercial clients can be as big as Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, and Toyota or as small as a local jewelry artist or a furniture craftswoman who carves furniture out of large hunks of repurposed wood. The shoots in the commercial world are referred to as productions, as it is literally an event to shoot the visuals for a commercial project and can take many days or even weeks to shoot the photos. There are often two sides to a commercial shoot, the photo team and the production team. They both work together to come to the desired goal of the shoot. On the photo team it is usually comprised of the Photographer, a Digital Technician, and a series of assistants depending on the size of the shoot. The photographer owns a photo business and individually hires out their photo team for the shoot. The photographer is either hired by their producer or by the client themselves. The photographer’s primary job is similar to that of the retail photographer in which they spend a lot of time marketing, networking, keeping up with their clients, sending emails, editing & retouching photos, managing finances, maintaining gear, as well as creating sales pitches, running light tests, and working hand in hand with their producer. Next we have the Digital Technician or “DigiTech”. Their job is based around the digital files and ensuring no images are lost during the shoot. They organize and manage all digital assets during the entirety of the shoot and are responsible for backing up those files. It can be a very technical and highly important position on set. They need to keep up with all the latest tech and ensure the files are safe, organized and backed up to make post processing that much easier on the photographer. Then we have the 1st Assistant, depending on the size of the set that may be the only assistant but as the set size increases so does the photo team with 2nd and even 3rd assistants. Their primary job is to assist in setup and tear down easier on the whole crew. From setting up lights and stands to moving objects from shots and building various grip. The assistant is crucial on the set for speeding up the time between taking shots as commercial projects are usually quite involved when it comes to equipment used.
There is also a production side to commercial photography that is separate from the photo team. These roles will range from Producer & Production Assistants all the way to Stylists, Wardrobe, and Hair & Makeup Artists. The producer works to build the shoot from location planning, scheduling, hiring a team of artist, stylist and other members of the overall crew. They are the glue that holds the production together and keeps it running smoothly. Production assistants help out in any way that they can from ensuring the team is hydrated to escorting talent on and off set as well as giving anyone on set a helping hand as needed. It is a great entry level position to learn set etiquette and how to break into assisting photo & video sets. Stylists will help build the scene in front of the camera and decorate sets to help the client achieve their vision while Wardrobe and Hair & Makeup Artist will ensure the talent is ready to be seen in front of the camera. It truly takes a village to put on these productions and takes a team of people communicating and working together to achieve the shots for the clients.
Now it’s time to shift gears and look at the video side of the equation and discuss the differences between Videography and Cinematography. The age old question, what is the difference here. Well to talk about that I think it’s best to jump into videography first and then we will discuss Cinematography. Here is a look at some of the positions you could hold as a videographer.
Videography is going to usually be a handful of people, usually no more than 2 or 3 people gathering shots to be used for the client paying them. Sometimes it can be smaller projects that only require a videographer such as weddings, event coverage, social media, and content creation for brands. Typically with videography one person is running video, audio and lighting but it is not unusual for there to be a small crew of highly knowledgeable creatives to be running each operation individually. I have noticed with videography projects usually they are a bit more freeform and allow for a lot of brainstorming and creativity all the while staying flexible and more prone to change and improv. They want to capture pleasing images with good clean audio and beautiful lighting. I think that is the key difference, based on the size of the crew as well as the goal behind the process.
Cinematography is quite literally the art of creating motion pictures. It is an artistic process of telling a story, creating light that evokes the emotion of the story and every piece is very intentional in why it is being shown. It often takes months to years of pre-production to create the plan to shoot a feature length movie or even just an episode of a TV show. You’ve seen the credits roll on a movie, it is a huge team of individuals all working towards the same goal of storytelling and the story telling happens at every level from the lighting to the lens choice to the dialogue and wardrobe. The roles in this realm vary so greatly. Each section has a team as well as a team of assistants. It is a huge hierarchy of crew and who answers to who and each person has a supervisor all the way up to the production house funding the project. I couldn’t possibly cover every member of a film production team in this article but I will highlight some key players. Excluding the production team, the top dog on set is usually the director, the production team hires a director as someone to oversee their vision. To take the script and interpret it into a plan and execute that plan through their team. They work a lot with the director of photography and the cast to execute that plan. The director of photography is the head of many departments from camera, gaff, grip and electric teams. Essentially they are the artist that decides the equipment needed to execute the director’s vision. They are the head of the technical, so that the director can focus on talent and story. The director and director of photography work hand in hand to control everything in front of the camera. Each has their own team. The director has their two assistants 1st AD (Assistant Director) and 2nd AD (Assistant Director) and the director of photography has their assistants 1st AC (Assistant Camera), 2nd AC (Assistant Camera) and Camera Operator. There is also the Key Gaffer who heads the gaff team which handles the electric components on set, such as lighting. In tandem with the gaff team there is the grip team which is led by the key grip and their goal is to handle all equipment on set that is not handled by the gaff team. They are setting up stands and building various grip to get the look that the director of photography is requesting. One of the most important teams on set is the audio team. The audio team is crucial. Audio can make or break your scene. You can have the best video on earth but if the audio sounds horrible, it will not hold anyone. Adversely some people believe that you can have less than great video but with amazing sound, it will really hook people and keep them invested. The sound team is usually comprised of Sound Mixers, Boom Operators, Production Sound Mixers and Sound Utilities. Additionally there are Writers, Script Supervisors, Producers, Executive Producers, Production Assistants, Unit Production Managers, Production Managers, Stunt Coordinators, Animal Wrangles, Shauffers, and many many other roles. So with such a large crew and so many people planning and looking over the same production book, the planning really has to be next level and viewed and reviewed countless times. I would say that is the primary difference between Videography and Cinematography. Is the time spent planning and how locked in you are to that plan. Videography allows for a bit more of a free flow and cinematography needs to be tightly dialed in to support the overall story being told on all levels. While yes a script is a living breathing document subject to change at any point, it doesn’t do so lightly as it affects so many levels on set from the top all the way down to the bottom.
So as you can see there are hundreds of different roles that you can play within the photo/video world and many different paths this career if you choose it could take you down. You can take a photo based job capturing the experiences of families in your hometown or even become the top name in the advertising world creating images that help customers decide which car they would like to purchase next. You might even find yourself being drawn to video shooting elopements and creating a truly emotional piece that lives with a family for generations or possibly even direct the next big blockbuster flick earning millions at the box office. Whatever your journey, and whatever you role within these realms you may hold, my biggest tip to you would be to remain open to opportunities as they come because you never know where this wild crazy ride will take you. One day you will be working sound utility on the set of a Hollywood production and the next day you are photographing designer shoes in the middle of a downtown crosswalk. Be open to creativity and be bold in what you strive for. The path is yours to follow, stay creative!