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Arts & Entertainment

Working with Cinematographers

Ron Howard

Lesson time 10:25 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 his exclusive video lessons.


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 really loved the practical application section where Ron walked through a scene with different camera angles and shooting techniques. I've adopted his technique in my dialogue-heavy shoots and it has made it much more efficient and easier on the actors.

Ron, thanks for taking the time to present your take on the craft so articulately. I have always found your films surprising and inspirational.

As a nearby I found it inspirational and informative and in will go out and use these ideas and treasure the information given

Thank you, Ron Howard. A brilliant accounting of how a vision and creativity breathe life into a story. I'm inspired. "Find a story you love." I'm on it.


Owen K.

I sometimes think of Roger Deakins as that famous cinematographer as how he deserved those two Oscar awards for his work on “Blade Runner 2049” & “1917”. Just for lessons 9 & 10.

Dawn H.

I have not watched all the lessons, nor am I in the filmmaking business. However, his lessons on 'Collaboration' have applicable ideas to life, to our work, to family. Howard's communication skills lend themselves well to the M Class format.

Steven W.

Even if you have experience on film sets at any capacity and already know what Ron's talking about, he's so great at conceptualizing it and putting it into words. He's building a textbook for those little things that work.

Milad T.

i learned nothing from this. i watched david lynch and some of rons, i haven't learned anything except that i need to trust my gut

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!

Chris Y.

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.