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

Learn More


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.

Mr. Howard has entered my "Five people I want to meet before I die" list. Sensational course. Learned tons, but the sections on blocking and staging are priceless.

Ron's Master Class was extremely informative. I especially loved the the in depth coverage of staging and shooting Frost Nixon.

Wow! This Class was absolutely amazing. Ron Howard is a great talker and I have certainly learned a lot of things here. Just one thing that I missed there was that the shots that he did in the Frost/Nixon Staging Series weren't ever shown cut together, so that would be a very interesting approach to maybe future classes of directors. Great class!

Ron Howard did an excellent job of not only showing how to get coverage of a scene, but also showing different approaches to camera placement to energize a scene. Fantastic. Thank you Ron and thank you Masterclass.


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.

Matt M.

It is great to be armed with experience and knowledge of each dept. and what gear they use and how to use it, BUT They were hired to run that gear and most will become defensive if you try to impress them with your knowledge, that 5 man camera crew can become resentful, and work slower. Tell them what you want and see what suggestions they make, if you tell them the look you want, a good DP will make it happen. You do not have to command every step or micro manage, delegate. If you do not like the shot, then raise some questions and see if they can off a solution. I get the vibe RON does not take a lot of crap if you pull an attitude.


An amazing class so far! One thing I disagree here with Ron is that the lack of knowledge about cinematography shouldn't be a barrier for directing. It is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking. If you want to direct you must understand how to use a camera. What lens, position, frame rate, lighting are the language of the cinema. If you don't have that experience you are only doing half the job. The next chapter reinforces the need to understand cinematography. You can never know enough....don't worry about challenging the crew. YOU are the BOSS!

Meka J.

Everyone party involved “should feel” the project...feel it in more ways than one.