The Difference Between a Videographer and a Cinematographer


In April 2010 I in was in Africa sitting at a table with a group I was going to film on a Safari adventure. The organizer, also my client, was telling everyone what they could expect on the trip. He then introduced me.

“Jim Ross, our cameraman extraordinaire, will chronicle our journey.” And then he added with a smile,  “Oh, and please don’t call him a videographer. Once you’ve seen his work you’ll understand why.”

I smiled and chuckled, because it has kind of become a joke with me and my clients. They know not to call me a videographer.  I am a cinematographer.

What do you picture when you hear the term “videographer”? Probably a fellow in a sport coat or golf shirt with a camera on a tripod shooting a wedding. Or standing at the back of a room video taping a speaker at the podium. Once upon a time I was a videographer. That was before I spent over 10 years studying, researching, reading. That was before I spent weeks and months learning from professionals on film sets and TV productions and working with other talented cinematographers every chance I could get.

Go to Best Buy, get a video camera, and stand there with your camera shooting for someone else and you too are a videographer. 99 out of 100 video production companies in this city are videographers. Anyone with a video camera in their hands is a videographer. But not everyone with a video camera in their hands is a Cinematographer.

The primary difference between a videographer and a cinematographer is the skill set that the latter has learned and honed through years of study and experience. I’m not saying videographers lack experience, I’m saying they lack experience or knowledge of how to shoot cinematically.


Cinematically? What the heck does that mean? It means shooting as if for television or film- i.e. the cinema. Cinema is where the term cinematographer is derived from. There are many ways to shoot cinematically. Skills like lighting, camera composition, moving the camera, multiple camera angles, special effects – all work together to make the final production look different than a “video”.

Take lighting. My friends often ask me why their videos look like home movies even though they might have a really nice HD camera. I tell them the biggest difference is not the camera at all. It is how you light. Famous filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, and James Cameron have said many times that lighting is EVERYTHING. A cinematographer lights the scene properly. This means controlling the light to enhance the look and feel. Most videographers just plop some lights down near the person they are filming and press record. Which is why their business videos looks like, well, a plain business video.


Another major factor is how the camera is used. There is more to just setting up a tripod and hitting the record button. There is composition- how the shot is composed in the camera. Every shot can be framed in multiple ways that make it have more punch, more drama, and be more visually appealing. Rarely in a film or TV drama is a camera just set square in front of the talent, but this is how most videographers shoot.

Camera motion is another differentiator. In film and TV the camera moves. Whether on a crane, a jib, a dolly, a Steadicam  or what have you, the camera is moving a lot of the time. This is because a camera in motion is more effective visually. Cinematographers know when and how it is appropriate to move the camera. They also have the tools to do it well.

Now there is nothing wrong with being a videographer. Many times you don’t NEED a cinematographer. If you want to record someone on stage as he gives a speech, a videographer is what you need. Need a deposition for a law firm? Hire a videographer. Simple commercial of someone standing in front of your car dealership with a mic talking about the latest sale? A videographer will fit the bill. Daughter’s wedding? Videographer. (After all, do you really want me circling the bride and groom wearing a Steadicam rig as they give their vows? Nah.)

But don’t expect your videographer to be a cinematographer. Think about some memorable commercials you’ve seen that were really professionally shot. They were filmed by a cinematographer. If you want to portray your products and services in action and you want it to look like something from film, or at the least from the History Channel, Travel Channel, or other high quality production, then you need to have someone that knows how to do more than set up a tripod and some lights.

Now you might be asking “Do I need it to look that great?” The answer is “YES!” Of course you want it to look professional. A company video is all about instilling a desire to utilize your products or services. Any sales person from Zig Ziglar to Donald Trump will tell you it is all about getting someone involved emotionally with your offer. A professional video will do just that. An amateur video will have the reverse affect.

Make sure your video production portrays your company in the best light it possibly can.