Have you noticed that over the last 6 months there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people referring to themselves as “cinematographer” on their websites? I have and it’s not just because I spend a lot of time surfing for information on videography or filmmaking. If you navigate over to You Tube or Vimeo, you’ll see that a lot of folks are calling themselves cinematographer simply by virtue of the fact they can shoot video.
The word “cinematographer” refers to a “photographer who operates a movie camera,” according to the Concise English Dictionary. That’s the common definition but I bet the word has a very different meaning among real-life professional cinematographers. You know who I’m talking about here: the people who have gone to school and spent decades learning their craft and working their way up through the industry. I wonder how they feel being lumped together with the thousands of people who received video cameras as gifts yesterday. I bet you they resent it a little.
The proliferation of video DSLR cameras no doubt contributed to the sudden growth in the cinematographer population. There are several reasonably priced DSLRs that allow the user to shoot pretty good quality video. The cameras are not pro machines by any measure, at least not compared with professional video cameras or the cameras used by real cinematographers to make feature movies. They were intended as hybrid devices for photo journalists who also want to capture a little video to send in with their pictures. Yet a lot of people have turned to these cameras as their primary creative tool (nothing wrong with that) and suddenly they are cinematographers! Or “director of photography.” That’s another over-used title these days.
Being able to record 5 minutes of video on a DSLR or consumer video camera does not make one a cinematographer or DOP any more than applying a band-aid makes one a trauma surgeon. There are many, many talented people creating wonderful content but I think it’s wrong (maybe unethical) to assign a professional-level title to yourself just because you can shoot video. I think it does a disservice to all the professional DOPs and cinematographers who have to work hard for recognition.
While I’m at it, some other “titles” I’ve seen:
Multimedia journalist: I have a blog
Content Producer: I have stuff on You Tube
Social Networking Consultant: I market stuff on Facebook
Cinematographer: I shoot video
Media Convergence: Last week I shot stills, this week I’m doing video.
Of course, creative people have been creating stuff for a long time, even before the Internet I think. But this year people really took to assigning titles to themselves if for no other reason then to get noticed. We noticed. You can stop now.