The difference between a videographer and a cinematographer

Videographer Versus Cinematographer

I’m sure you’ve heard both of these terms, but do you know the difference? Is there actually a difference in the role between the two or is it purely semantics?

Over the years and as technology has evolved, a number of different terms have emerged to describe those of us who love making videos. And with that comes – confusion.

I often refer to myself and my readers as filmmakers – but are we really?

Do we actually shoot the majority of our videos on film anymore? Maybe a few of us shoot film photography, but I’d bet very few of us shoot and edit film videos from home.

Let’s start with some technical definitions for the two terms and then we’ll dive into some practical applications between the two. You’ll quickly start to see the biggest differences between the two.

What is a cinematographer?

One of the biggest challenges in any film production is turning an artistic vision into a reality by effectively executing the correct technicals involved in filmmaking. A film is essentially told three times during a production – pre-production, filming, and editing. It’s easy for the film to become disorganized or visually confusing during that process.

Cinematography encompasses the overall look and feel of a film or video. It’s determined by a combination of factors that come together visually to help tell the story – these include lighting, framing, composition, camera movement, lens choices, aperture, range, focus, color, exposure, etc.

The person who makes these decisions is referred to as… you guessed it, the cinematographer. The cinematographer is in charge of making each and every artistic and technical decision related to camera operation and shot execution on a film set in a way that visually contributes to telling the film’s overall story.

Traditionally the cinematographer was also known as the director of photography or DP. The executive director for bigger budget films works closely with the cinematographer to make sure that the artistic and technical choices made by the DP support the director’s overall vision for the film. In the end it’s the cinematographer that shepherds the overall production from start to finish to ensure that the film’s artistic vision is held intact throughout.

On a bigger set – the cinematographer will be making decisions and directing a camera operator as well as a 1st AC (assistant camera), 2nd AC and dolly operator, depending on how large the production is. On other smaller, low-budget sets, cinematographers sometimes act as the camera operator themselves.

man holding video camera

What is a videographer?

With the advent of digital video came the term – videographer. This isn’t a term traditionally used on film or movie sets.

The biggest difference between the two terms seems to come from the application of this position even more so than a difference in the actual actions between the two.

A videographer typically works with digital video production rather than film, but often encompasses many of the same roles of a cinematographer – including making all the artistic and visual decisions that go into determining the look and feel of the video.

With the advent of digital video came the increased accessibility and affordability of purchasing high-end, professional video cameras. It no longer takes a million dollars and a multi-person crew to produce some amazing films – it can easily be done using digital videos. Cinematography birthed videography in a sense.

That doesn’t mean that cinematography is dead – it just means that there is a distinction.

Cinematography = film crew + large production

For this reason, videographers often are often associated with lower-budget films or other single person led productions like wedding videos, documentaries, corporate videos, and live events.

Videography = small crew or one person + advent of affordable equipment

Film Production Versus Digital Video Production

There is no hard and firm rule that determines the difference between a cinematographer and a videographer. One major difference comes down to cinematographers revolving around film and videographers revolving around digital video cameras. But even within those worlds, the two roles can overlap in many ways.

Both can make artistic decisions. Both can direct a crew. Both can operate a camera.

This is becoming especially true as we see even more Hollywood level productions transition into using digital technology. Now we see traditional film crews (with Cinematographers, 1st and 2nd ACs, etc.) having the same roles while using video cameras. Neither their titles or their roles have to change from cinematographer to videographer.

Crew Size Matters

Here we have another major difference between the two, yet not an exclusive difference that determines one from the other.

Cinematographers are typically at the head of a larger crew that includes a producer, a director, a 1st and 2nd AC, a dolly operator, a grip, a PA, the list goes on and on depending on the size of the overall production.

In larger productions the cinematographer may never even touch the camera itself. They simply direct all the other members on how to execute certain shots in very specific ways that contribute to the overall look of the final film.

A videographer is more traditionally known as a one person crew that handles everything from overall production planning, to camera operation, lighting and audio set up, directing/producing, and even post production editing work. Again, this distinction likely came with the advent of digital technology. As more independent ‘filmmakers’ were able to do fill all of these roles, the more they began to do so.

production crew holding camera

Does it matter anymore?

One of my first jobs in this field was for an advertising agency. They were ready to bring their video production in house and hire their own crew to start making commercial work for their clients.

My role involved most of the directing, producing, shooting, and editing. My boss came up with the title ‘Video Content Creator’. To which I said – what does that mean? I’d never heard anyone in the video field with that title. He simply said he assumed I wouldn’t want to be known as a ‘videographer’.

And he’s correct. Over the years I have definitely noticed and felt a stigma with the term videographer. It goes back to the often cheesy and poorly produced work that came along with the advent of digital cameras. With more access to technology, anyone could do it – even those poorly trained or not very talented.

So even today videographers are unfairly clumped into this stigma. For that reason, many of them often want to refer to themselves by a new name – like cinematographer or filmmaker.

Technically speaking, it’s incorrect to refer to myself as a filmmaker or cinematographer, but I totally get it. I too want to be known for producing great work. Who doesn’t?

But there you have it – the reason for the confusion in titles.

To me – it doesn’t matter. I like referring to myself as a filmmaker and will continue to do so. How about you? Comment below and let me know your thoughts!


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