Film & TV

Working with Cinematographers

Ron Howard

Lesson time 10:31 min

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.

Ron Howard
Teaches Directing
Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.
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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.

i wish i bought the class sooner. an incredible material and personality handler.

Amazing details to directing. Staging was my favorite part. Looking forward to applying these new skills.

Thank you very much I have learned a lot of thing

Loved it! I hope to see more filmmakers do these


Alan C.

going into my first writer / director role I had many doubts and and concerns. made sure I watched all the lessons before the start of shooting and was much more confident in what i was about to do. Many aspects of his lessons I used, and the shoot went perfectly, many cast and crew commented on how comfortable they were in the process.

Sharon K.

That's so good to know that he always cast the movie with the cinematographer! Nice!


I guess how good the cinematographer is, and if he is nice enough to help you out, alot jerks and untalented cinematographer out there too.

Jim U.

Thank you, Mr. Howard, for addressing "intimidation" or fear of the photography. I loved your answer because that was exactly how I felt. I knew I had some good directorial skills, but thought I may be handicapped because my technical knowledge was limited. Actually, it helped me because it forced me to rely on the cinematographer for his input. I am learning more about the photography, but I am not obsessed with that piece anymore

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.