When is a DP not a DP?

By alisterchapman

A post came up in my Facebook feed the other day. It started out with something along the lines of:

“As a brand new DP, what equipment should I buy, then how do I find clients and gain experience”?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen these kinds of posts and I see many others from “DP’s” that are seeking help with basic skills.

Here’s the thing, the term DP, Director of Photography has become totally meaningless. Anybody and everybody with a camera seems to regard themselves as a DP. Once upon a time it took years of experience to work your way up the ladder before you could call yourself a DP, but today owning camera of some sort appears to be the only qualification required.

There’s two aspects to this.

1: Real, experienced, skilled DP’s no longer want to call themselves DP because the term no longer separates someone with real skills and experience from someone without either. Real, time served DP’s are almost embarrassed to associate themselves with the new “I’ve got a camera so I’m a DP” DP’s with little or no real world experience.

2: Production companies and employers are somewhat sceptical of anyone that calls themselves a DP because that person could be someone with zero experience or 20 years of experience… who knows!

As a result the term “DP” has really become quite worthless and meaningless which is a great shame.

When I started working as a cameraman in the late 80’s there were several levels of camera operator. There was the basic cameraman, someone that you would normally consider to be a competent camera operator that could focus and expose properly. Compose a shot nicely and shoot a range of different shots that an editor could cut together to tell the story.

Next up was the “Lighting Cameraman”. Typically a → continue…