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How to Hire a Director of Photography for Your Video Shoot

How to Hire a Director of Photography for Your Video Shoot

If you’re not used to video industry lingo, it may seem that hiring a director of photography for a video shoot feels like hiring a train conductor to be your driver. Yet, without a director of photography, your video shoot could quickly go off the rails.

Bringing on a professional, experienced director of photography is one of the best things you can do for your B2B video shoot, and choo-choo-choosing one doesn’t have to be difficult –– you just need to know what to look for.

What Does a Director of Photography for Video Do? 

The director of photography plays a role throughout the video production process. Ultimately, though, the DP is responsible for crafting the visual tone of the video. They’ll use specific lighting, cameras, and lenses to bring the director’s vision to life and even lift it to the next level. 

You should hire a DP, sometimes referred to as a cinematographer or videographer, during your pre-production process. During this time, they’ll take on a variety of tasks: 

  • Partner with the director to brainstorm how the video should look 
  • Scout locations 
  • Secure the necessary camera equipment, including lenses, filters, and cameras 
  • Work with your producer to hire camera operators, gaffers, and grips

They take on additional responsibilities during the video shoot: 

  • Block shots and frame scenes with the director, cast, and crew 
  • Direct the camera and lighting teams to achieve the intended visual tone 
  • Ensure that what’s captured on video matches the director’s and company’s vision 

Do You Need a Director of Photography for Your B2B Video Shoot? 

The simple answer is yes. Someone needs to be responsible for the tasks listed above. If no one takes that responsibility, then you may find that your completed video bears little resemblance to your expectations.

However, if you’re on a budget and if your shoot is straightforward, then you can save money by having other members of your crew also take on the DP role, or to reframe that idea a bit, the DP may serve multiple roles on the shoot. A common example is having your gaffer (the person who manipulates lighting rigs on set) and camera operator (the person who, uh, operates the camera) work together to serve as the DP; inversely, you can hire a single DP to serve as your gaffer, camera operator, and in some instances, sound operator.

This isn’t an excuse to slash your budget on a complicated shoot and hire a do-it-all producer to Bugs Bunny their way through the entire production process while hoping that someone who owns a video camera and has experience flicking a light switch on and off can handle the rest. For a truly professional video production, an experienced DP is a necessity.

What Should You Look for When You Hire a Director of Photography? 

Generally, there are three things you should look for in a director of photography for video: 

  1. Experience 
  1. Talent 
  1. Connections 

One of the first tests that any potential DP hire should pass is answering in the affirmative when you ask them if they have a demo reel. If they say no or pretend that you said “lemon peel,” then you should hire someone else. 

Even with a demo reel, it’s okay to ask for references to get an understanding of how the DP operates during prep or on set. You’re looking for a partner during this process, and you don’t want to wait until the first day of production to find that your new DP turns into a real asshole when things go slightly awry. 

When it comes to talent, the demo reels the prospective DP provides should be a clear indicator of skill. They should look professionally shot. Maybe there’s a creative or artistic quality that you can’t quite put your finger on. Some DP’s have a signature style, or have experience working in specific environments or on specific types of projects that are similar to yours (for example, a loose, handheld documentary style that takes place largely outdoors vs. a highly technical shoot that takes place in a studio). Conversely, the demos shouldn’t look amateurish or like you may find them on a home video camera. 

“Connections” has two meanings. As your DP may help with hiring some of the crew, you should try to find one with a deep professional network. The same applies to camera equipment; the DP might not own cameras, lenses, or lighting rigs themselves. However, they should know how to procure them when needed. 

Additionally, you may discover that your director already has a DP in mind for the project. If you trust your director, their recommendation should go a long way. 

How Do You Build a Successful Collaboration with a Director of Photography? 

The best collaborations come from open communication and an understanding that the relationship is mutually beneficial. With professional partnerships, these benefits are often financial. So, if you’re looking for talent, experience, and access to a professional network that reads like a who’s who of B2B video production, then the offered pay rate should be high enough to attract a DP with this well-rounded skill set. 

Pay isn’t the only factor in attracting an effective DP. Those with talent but lacking opportunity may be willing to take less pay for a job that helps them advance their career or unleash their dazzling artistic vision. A mixture of all these factors will help find a DP who’s a fit with your production. 

As you interview candidates for your video’s director of photography, you’ll also want to demonstrate a clear vision as to what you and your director want. Mood boards and look books will help translate bumbling verbal interpretations of your vision into something concrete and understandable to others. You can also offer your own reel of other B2B videos that serve as your inspiration to help express what you’re looking for. 

Where Can You Find More Information on Hiring a Director of Photography? 

Hiring an experienced director of photography ensures that what’s shot during the production process aligns with your original vision. Without one, your B2B video risks looking anywhere from off-brand to outright amateurish. 

For more information on how to hire a director of photography for your B2B video and why the role is so important, listen to episode 9 of The Video Reformation Podcast.