31 Jan 2019

How Directors and Cinematographers can work together to get the best results

On a film set, the best work is done when the entire cast and crew can work harmoniously together as a team and have the same central vision for the outcome of the production.


Although all relationships on set from the producers to the extras are important in their own way, there is no more important relationship than between a cinematographer and director. This particular relationship can make or break a film, but when it is done right, it often results in pure magic.

Just look at the relationship between Christopher Nolan and Hoyte Van Hoytema. These two masterminds gave us instant classics with ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘Interstellar’ by combining Van Hoytema’s ability to create strikingly beautiful images using soft naturalistic light with Nolan’s vision for the unbelievably remarkable worlds he puts before us on large format screens.

To any budding cinematographers or directors out there, choosing the right counterpart to work with is vital. Here are three important factors when figuring out how to effectively get along with your on-set sidekick and more importantly, produce the best work together.

Social Compatibility

No matter how big or small the project, a cinematographer and director will be spending A LOT of time with each other. You will be living out of each other’s pockets, not only working on-set together but traveling together, referencing films together, eating together and spending time off-set together. Ideally, you would like to make sure that your future colleague is somebody that you can laugh with, converse with, and not get sick of in a hurry. 

Remember – this goes both ways. Make sure that you’re approachable yourself. We all know how stressful being on a set can be and it won’t always be smiles and early nights, but how you deal with the stressful situations and treat your colleagues in the process will have a massive effect on the working relationship, personal relationship and subsequently, the outcome of the film itself. 

Communication Methods

The trait of a good director is to be able to effectively communicate what they’re envisaging. The trait of a good cinematographer is to be able to make that vision come to life. For this to be possible, a strong communication line needs to be established very early in the project to ensure that you are both working towards the same vision. The director should be using both verbal and visual references, including visual examples of the projects tone to ensure the cinematographer has all the information required to do their best work. A cinematographer needs to stay as true as they can to the directors vision, but also offer professional recommendations on what is and is not suitable and possible. If you are both clear from the get go and lay everything out on the table as it happens, it will make for a much faster, simple and effective process. 

Technical Freedom

Directors are notorious for being control freaks. Cinematographers are often guilty of trying to override the directors decisions and straying away from the original vision. It is good to have some crossover on your roles for a second opinion, but make sure that this is not getting out of hand. The director is there to turn the script in to a film and the cinematographer is there to make that happen visually. When it comes to giving actors direction, interpreting the story and directing technical crew, the buck stops with the director. However, the director should also give the cinematographer the freedom to make decisions on technical specs and guiding the camera crew. You have your role on set because you are the most qualified person for that role. Trust each other’s professionally trained decisions and it will ensure the most peaceful work environment and again, the greatest possible final outcome. 

To learn more about studying film, click here.