From Ron Howard's MasterClass

Working with Cinematographers

The language of photography can overwhelm new directors. Ron talks you through how to find the right collaborator, rely on them, and work with them to define your movie’s visual tone.

Topics include: Find Creative Compatibility • Rely on Your Cinematographer • Let Them Stretch You Visually • Don’t Be Intimidated


The language of photography can overwhelm new directors. Ron talks you through how to find the right collaborator, rely on them, and work with them to define your movie’s visual tone.

Topics include: Find Creative Compatibility • Rely on Your Cinematographer • Let Them Stretch You Visually • Don’t Be Intimidated

Ron Howard

Teaches Directing

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Outside of the director, there is no one else on a project who has more impact on what the filmmaking approach is going to be and what the tone of the experience is going to be, the pace of the shooting and the mechanical problem-solving of getting-- getting that-- getting those moments into those frame lines. You have to feel like there's a creative compatibility. And if there isn't, you shouldn't go there, because that compatibility is vital. And I think the way you determine that has to do with listening to that cinematographer early on when you're in that interview process or you're just having coffee and a conversation, talking about other movies-- not movies they've done, other films-- and understanding on a basic, personal level, because cinematographers are filmmakers. I mean, they're living and breathing it every bit as much as the director is. If there is a disconnect between what they're seeing and feeling, well, you don't want to talk them into your way, because even if they do it, they're not going to fully understand it and feel it. And you actually want the cinematographer to be feeling the movie in the same way you want your actors to be feeling the scenes, you want the composer to be feeling what that music is going to be in relation to the movie. And you, as a director, want to feel your way through the movie as much as apply your intellect and your experience. So if there is a disconnect, I think you need to hear it, understand it, and as much as you might love that person's work, find someone else to collaborate with. [MUSIC PLAYING] I rely very heavily on cinematographers, not so much to decide what the shots are literally going to be or what the coverage is going to be, because I also think editorially. So it's very, very important to me to have the building blocks to take into the editing room that give me confidence and make me believe I'm going to have control over the moments, the scenes, the sequences, and ultimately, the movie. But I have learned more from cinematographers than probably anyone else in the big collaboration of making movies and television shows. And I have some cinematographers who I worked with many, many times. But I always cast the movie with the cinematographer, to the cinematographer, and vice versa because I want them to bring something of themselves that I think is going to be additive, stimulating for me, and sort of organic and significant for the movie itself based on their taste, their aesthetic. A lot of it is looking at the cinematographer's work, obviously. But those conversations are very important. And I've never chosen a cinematographer without having a script for them to read. So they're reacting to something tangible. It's one of the times when I really try to shut up and let them talk as much as possible and not say, here's what I'm thinking. I imagine it ought to look this way. I really try to fold my ar...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

An excellent class that showed how complex and how difficult it is to direct a movie, and yet at the same time show how I could do it if I wanted. Great!

WOW! I've taken eight masterclasses and while I've enjoyed all of them this one has been my absolute favorite. If you're searching for the ultimate film class then look no further. I'm really sad it's over but I'm sure I'll be revisiting the lessons and revising the information for a long time to come.

I learned a lot about efficiency and organization.

Wow... watching the master at work is a real treat. I've been looking for opportunities to mentor under a professional director and this is it.


Blu L.

"I love how this lesson emphasizes on the importance of being able to speak the language of photography. I watched Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" last night and I wondered what the conversations were like between Charlie, Roland Totheroh, and Gordon Pollock were like? I imagine that silent films rely heavily on the actors and the cinematographers to capture the essence of scenes." - Oscar Armando Siliezar


It would be great to see how he works with a cinematographer. it would make the lesson much more vivid.

J'nee H.

I so agree with his ideas about the cinematographer- The composition of the shot, the lighting of subjects, etc. is value on the screen. I was on an a commercial shoot once where the cinematographer wanted to add water to a pond for a better shot. It meant creative problem solving ways to raise the water level. We sourced a pump, large hose and figured out how to get water from another nearby pond. I wondered if it would be worth the effort for the short time it would be viewed by the audience- but damn he was right. It looked a thousand times better. That said, finding a team that complements your project and your style is an art in itself!

Chris B.

I like the message to really include and collaborate with the cinematographer and that you don't have to know everything about cameras. That has always scared me and I went to production school, and thinking I had to know everything was very overwhelming.

Grünenberg R.

Now we talk! After lots of generalities, this is really about the craft and the things that you don't get out of textbooks. What Ron says about photography is corroborated by Tarantino. He said that when he directed for the first time, he was scared shitless. But then he was surprised that he only needed to know what's in the frame. Everything else is done by the team, in the first place by the cinematographer.

A fellow student

Photography is not a barrier to entry for new directors. Lesson learned. Thanks Mr. Howard.

Elizabeth B.

For a long while, I honestly thought I couldn't direct because I didn't know cameras. I was thrilled when I learned that you don't have to know all of the equipment, you have to know and be on the same wave length as the cameraman who knows all of the equipment. And the film is made in the edit bay. I once worked with a cameraman who I had a rough time with, it was hard, but once I had the the footage I wanted and needed, I found the editor who was completely on the same page and the award winning film was made there.


On a set much nativity is occurring. sometimes confusion emerges and that leads to fear and intimidation and the displacement of unified energy encompassing the entire set.


I like that Ron speaks about the energy of the film, I talk energy all the time. It is important that the energy behind the set translates into the energy on camera. Cinematographers have to be able to work with the Director in how they work .

Rondall B.

I respect the points Ron is making in this segment, I believe open discussions about the films direction with the cinematographer can add a positive perspective to the whole film making process. check egos at the door.