Videography vs Cinematography vs Filmmaking

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Videographer. Cinematographer. Filmmaker. Video Producer. Director of Photography. Cameraman.

The video industry is ripe with hard-working creatives and big thinkers, people who have the ability to turn ideas into captivating and inspirational visuals.

But the one thing video people can't seem to do is agree on what to call themselves.

Does language define our perception of reality? Do the words we use limit our understanding of possibilities? And can what we call ourselves actually transform the kinds of people we become?

Most importantly, does our self-described job title help or hinder our ability to get ​work?

Come along as we explore the many different identities we throw around in the videography world, and whether our assumptions and interpretations have any truth to them.

video-production-services

Choosing Your Video Production Services

If you've seen our infographic and article on Video Production Services, you'll know that the general public has an intensely difficult time hiring video producers. It's because there are hundreds of different types of videos, but not an easy cataloging system to describe what kind of video is called by what name.

And so, clients are intimidated and confused whenever they contact a videographer for the first time, because they can't easily say what kind of video they want, in a way that a filmmaker would understand right away. Instead, the first conversation often steers towards discussion of budget and video duration, to describe what the client wants, rather than the video content and style.

That article is intended to be helpful for both video creators and marketing clients, and we're glad to see it's been spread throughout the production industry, including on the ProductionHub blog.

But in researching video types and all the different ways we describe them, we also discovered that there are many misconceptions within the videography industry itself. And it stems from a deep belief in our professional identities being tied to the words we choose for ourselves, and the words the public chooses to call us.

Videography vs. Cinematography vs. Filmmaking

At its core, the argument between videography and film making or cinematography comes down to our own perceptions, despite what the public assumes to be true.

Filmmakers tend to believe they are creative, producers of art, standard bearers for quality and craftmanship.

To a filmmaker, a videographer is someone who stands at the back of a room, turns on a camera, and documents a boring event.

To be a filmmaker, however, is to exist on a higher plane in the echelon of video makers. Incidentally, it has nothing to do with using film anymore, since the vast majority of filmmakers use digital cameras.

But when a client is searching for someone to hire for a video project, they don't make the same assumptions.

In fact, "videographer" is one of the most common search engine keywords that marketing professionals use when looking for a vendor.

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So to a filmmaker who wants to market themselves as a creator of high end video content, he or she could be losing out on lots of potential work, simply because they don't want to describe themselves as a videographer.

Videographer Definition

If a photographer is someone who creates photos, then simply enough, a videographer is someone who creates videos.

So why doesn't everybody in the video industry agree to use the term videographer?

Here's Wikipedia's description of Videographer.​

Photographer as a profession or personal identity includes a full scope of history, tradition, respect, technical craft, and artistry tied to its name. There are magazines titled Photo, Photographer, and Photography, among many others.

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In fact, in traditional film making, the person in charge of the visual direction, including lighting and camera, would be called the Director of Photography. When a movie finishes its shooting stage, we say it's wrapped up principal photography.

Today, anyone can call themselves a photographer, no matter how inexperienced they are, or what camera they use (there are many paid Instagram photographers who shoot only with smartphones). Despite the mass influx of hobbyists who call themselves photographers, the term refuses to be diluted.

So even though professional photographers could easily carve themselves a new moniker, such as Photo Maker or Photo Producer, to distinguish themselves from run of the mill photographers, they choose not to.

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Videography, on the other hand, has a distinct smell to it. Somewhere along the way, when video tapes and video cameras first came out, the industry decided to classify videographers as a different breed than filmmakers.

In fact, cinematographer became a term to describe filmmakers who were maybe not Director of Photography level, but they weren't video hobbyists either.

So now there are magazines called American Cinematographer, Filmmaker, and MovieMaker, but no Videographer. After the first consumer camcorder came out in the mid 1980s, Videomaker Magazine became the trade publication for both pro and hobbyist videographers. But why didn't they choose to call the magazine Videographer or Videography?

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Videography Jobs

One of the primary reasons that videographers and filmmakers identify themselves as one or the other is to market themselves to a particular area of video jobs.

The videographer is often portrayed as a one-man-band who shoots events, such as weddings, performances, seminars, lectures, church services, and so on. The videographer is someone who documents with video.

Seems easy enough, right? You have an interest in video, you pick up a camera, market yourself as a videographer, and then get hired to take on a whole suite of videography jobs in your service area.

Freelance Filmmaking Jobs

A filmmaker, however, is often perceived as a creator, or a creative, or a storyteller. Someone who can make a video out of a mix of reality and fiction, interviews and voice over, representational and abstract symbolism, using a variety of moving images that aren’t tied to a specific day and time.

The filmmaker doesn’t just document something, he or she creates a new something. So to call oneself a filmmaker enables a person to take on jobs that are much wider in scope than simply camera operation.

Filmmaking jobs can include story development and writing, pre-production and planning, a huge variety in types of shooting scenarios, creative post-production including sound design, and even marketing and distribution.

So for someone who wants to explore their options in the filmmaking industry, it can make sense to call yourself a filmmaker rather than a videographer, even if you still only end up doing mostly weddings and corporate training videos.

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Unfortunately in the process of distancing oneself from the constraints of a “videographer” definition, people who call themselves filmmakers also tend to condescend to jobs or clients that use the term videographer. While that kind of line-in-the-sand attitude might be necessary for people who are building their career path and want potential employers to easily see what their skillsets are, it’s also damaging to the public perception of video production.

There are many clients who aren’t aware of these differences in nomenclature, and who can blame them? They just want a video made, and maybe they don’t know much else except they know to look for a videographer, even if what they’re producing is a commercial or a featurette or a documentary. And for these clients to suddenly be immersed in a petty naming argument can be instantly a turn off from video production entirely.

And as we mentioned before, this identity crisis can also prevent you from getting new jobs simply because you don’t have the word “videographer” anywhere on your website. So if someone searches for a videographer in their area, they simply won’t find you.

Video Production Company

One big difference between the two terms comes down to how a business is setup in the first place. A videographer tends to be a sole proprietor, who gets hired by clients with the clear expectation that a solo shooter will show up and produce a video.

A filmmaker, on the other hand, can be a sole proprietor as well, shooting the exact same types of work as a videographer. But they could also be hired as part of a larger crew, in different capacities. A filmmaker could be hired as a camera operator, or an assistant camera, or as an editor, or as a producer, or maybe all of those things.

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A video production business could be made up of a group of people who call themselves filmmakers, under the umbrella of an LLC or a corporation. Even the name of the business could be different, such as “Something Films” instead of “John Smith Videography.” Even if John Smith happens to be the sole owner of both types of businesses.

What is more steady, or lucrative in the long run? A videography or a filmmaking business? While a videographer might have a steady stream of small gigs that could include pre-production, shooting, and editing, the scope of work tends to be predictable.

A filmmaker, on the other hand, might have only a few jobs per year, but their scope and styles can differ greatly. Which can mean wildly succesful periods of time juxtaposed next to weeks or months where there’s no work at all.

A freelance filmmaker just doesn’t have the same kind of job-centric business plan that a videographer would have. And depending on your goals, creative aspirations, and financial needs, that difference alone could determine which term you want to identify with.

Videographer Near Me

Finally, on the topic of getting video production jobs, the difference between terms can have a huge impact simply because of Google’s algorithms and popular search queries.

When looking to hire a video production company, the most popular keyword string that people type in is Videographer Near Me. It may seem a little too simple - like, are clients really searching for Videographer Near Me when they’re looking to spend potentially thousands of dollars on a creative marketing product?

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Yes, and in fact, they’re searching for Videographer Near Me much more than any related terms, including Video Production Company in -Area-. And believe it or not, but nobody is searching for Filmmaker Near Me.

So if you want Google results to include your video production company in the top results for your service area, choosing to call yourself a Videographer might be more important to getting new leads than the quality or quantity of content on your website.

Other terms for Videographer or Cinematographer

It’s not just Videographer or Filmmaker that people in our industry choose to call themselves. In fact, there are quite a few other terms that video professionals use to define their scope of work.

Here is a summary of other filmmaker terms, and our short definitions for what we believe is the common perception for those types of job descriptions.

Director of Photography | DP | DoP Definition

The definition of a DP is someone who directs the visuals in a production for film, TV, or online video. Typically this means there’s a large crew, shooting in a controlled environment such as a film set or a studio, alongside a director, producer, screenwriter or script developer, audio crew, and so on.

While a Director of Photographer manages the camera and lens choice, framing and motion, as well as lighting setups, there can be technicians beneath the DP who actually perform the tasks, such as camera operator, or gaffer, focus puller, etc.

In England and in some television production, a DP can also be referred to as a Lighting Camerman.

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The vast majority of DPs work in feature films, shorts, and commercials that operate as a crew of independently hired specialists. But in the last few years, we’ve begun to see one-man-band filmmakers and videographers who identify themselves as DPs, probably as a marketing approach. So while the majority of their work might be closer to videography, these individuals market themselves as DPs in order to seek opportunities where they can play a traditional DP role on a larger production.

Music videos are a good example here. Whereas the DP on a music video may end up working a very limited budget production where he or she shoots and edits the video almost entirely on his own, the desire to identify as a music video director of photography is important to maintain, even on a shoestring production.

Cinematographer Definition

Like a DP, a cinematographer is most frequently defined as someone who directs the visuals in a movie. The term can encompass just about any aspect of the filmmaking process, so it tends to include more individuals than the very specific DP role. Here's Wikipedia's definition.

The main consideration, in our opinion, with defining oneself as a cinematographer is whether you work in cinema. That typically means feature films, in a theatrical setting, with a knowledge of cinematic history, principles and philosophies.

So just like a photographer makes photos, and a videographer makes videos, a cinematographer is someone who makes cinema. That should be pretty clear, but just like DP and filmmaker, the term cinematographer is used by a huge gammut of individuals working in the video production business.

cinematographer-definition

But within the world of filmmakers themselves, there is a distinction between DP and Cinematographer in that a DP typically leads a crew, and a cinematographer is someone who shoots commercials and often also produces and edits them.

Most frequently, however, we see the term cinematographer used by individuals who are passionate about making films - their own or with a collective of friends - but most likely aren’t full time professionals in the filmmaking space… yet.

And like the term videographer, there are many people outside of the filmmaking world who do not know the intricate or heirarchical differences between any of these terms, so often times we’ll be labeled “cinematographer” by default. Sometimes, it just happens to be the best term to represent someone who produces, shoots, and edits, even though we know a traditional cinematographer would most likely not take on producer and editor roles.

Video Producer Definition

In our opinion, this is the simplest and most direct term to describe someone who makes videos today, both individually, as a crew member, or on staff at a company.

A Video Producer is someone who produces video, which can mean story generation, pre-production, shooting, editing, and distribution. And within those areas, it can mean just about any piece of the production process, including audio recording, motion graphics, and video marketing.

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Video Producer is how we most often describe ourselves, in fact, to others both in the industry as well as clients. For us, it’s an easy way of saying we’re going to get something done from start to finish.

The benefit of a video producer is when a client is searching for a video production company, a video producer can be anyone who represents that company. The disadvantage is that many people are still searching for a “videographer” and might consider a video producer someone who works behind the lines, rather than behind the camera.

Video Maker | Video Creator | Multimedia Producer | Video Storyteller

There are a few alternative terms to Video Producer, and they tend to be used by filmmakers who want to set themselves apart with a unique identity, or by corporations who need all-encompassing terms to describe staff roles.

There are a few that are fairly descriptive, such as video maker, video creator, and video storyteller. However, once you get into terms like Multimedia Producer, or Media Specialist, or Digital Media Producer, or Content Producer, it starts to sound a lot like an HR department at a company wanted to create a job title and they either 1) don’t know much about the industry or the job, or 2) want the job title to be generic.

Multimedia or Media Producer or Content Producer tends to mean content production that includes video but is not limited to it. So it might also include audio-only production, animation, graphic design, writing, blogging, social media content, and other hybrid content. Organizations love to strategize about “media convergence,” and these kinds of job titles support the “new media” approach.

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Preditor - Producer Shooter Editor

If there weren’t already a lot of different terms for a filmmaker, well lately one has risen to the top of the industry: preditor. In some circles, it can mean a producer + editor, or a producer + writer + editor, but very often it just means a jack-of-all-trades filmmaker who can produce, shoot, and edit a story from beginning to end.

In many ways, this is no different than a “video producer,” “filmmaker,” “videographer,” or “cinematographer.” But it’s new and popular, and often used to describe a young and hungry filmmaker who is ready to hustle on fast-paced productions, but maybe hasn’t worked long enough in the business to support a freelance career.

Cameraman | Camera Operator

There’s no mystery about the camera operator term: it’s a role that’s almost always a crew position on a variety of productions. Even a filmmaker, cinematographer, or videographer who owns a video production company will identify as a cameraman when it comes to scoring a job on set of a TV series, commercial, or feature film.

And yet, even the Wikipedia definition isn't entirely clear.​

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There’s also the role of AC or Assistant Camera, which is a very specialized role on a production, which is a great entry level position for somebody who wants to get their foot in the door with a production company.

Video Editor | Film Editor | Post Production

Here we’re getting into another specialized role on any production, which deals only with editing. There are a few different positions within the area of post production, most often heirarchical, but whether one calls himself or herself a Video or Film editor is defined by whether they work primarily in the traditional film industry or with videos in general.

However, there is one point to make here that is similar to the term Cameraman. For some clients and the inexperienced general public, anybody who works in video production could be referred to as a cameraman or a video editor, even if they are normally producing, shooting, and editing video projects from beginning to end.

Online Video Editor Jobs

The reason why we are including Video Editor in this article about video production identities is because when it comes to getting a job, sometimes we have to call ourselves what a client is searching for.

And there are many job and gig opportunities online that are strictly for video editing.

So whether you’re a full service video production company or a solo videographer who primarily shoots or produces videos, in order to get a specific job you may have to identify as strictly a video editor.

But with any freelance work, once you form a relationship with a client, a video editing job can lead to other productions where you can take on shooting and producing roles.

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AV | Audio Visual Specialist | Technical Director

In event video production, the AV or Technical Editor can be useful to describe roles that specialize in live equipment operation. Sometimes these can be productions with big vans and intricate cabling and communication networks, as well as indoor and outdoor setup with lighting and cameras, wireless feeds, and so on.

Outside of the industry, clients or managers looking for videographers might also choose to call video producers AV specialists, possibly because that is a longstanding term they may have used on past video jobs.

Film Director vs Film Producer

Finally, we want to make a quick note about individuals who identify themselves as Film Director or Producer. On a traditional film production, there are many, many established roles that have very definied boundaries for their scope or specialty.

And it’s fairly clear who the Director is, and who the Producer is. Possibly less clear to the general public is what an Executive Producer does, but we’ll leave that to filmmaking sites that can discuss these roles with more detail. There’s also a Showrunner, who leads an entire series, while tasking others to direct and produce, even if they take on those roles on certain episodes as well.

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But in the video production world, we do see some clients or inexperienced project managers sometimes refer to a video producer or as a Film Director or Film Producer, even if the job is a standard video producer, shooter, editor gig for hire. It’s not to disparage these clients or the general public, it’s simply to be aware that sometimes we’re called Film Producers even when we are making short web promos with a team of one.

In addition, we often see people freely swap the term “Film Maker” with “Filmmaker.” It’s not just a spelling difference, there might very well be a role difference between the two. But we’ll leave that subtle distinction up to the clients or general public to decide whether it means something or nothing at all.

Wedding Videographer

One additional note we want to make is in the field of wedding video. Here we see clients (bride and groom or parents) who are in the same position as any typical client where they aren’t aware of the subtle differences between what we choose to call ourselves or the roles we identify with.

So for anyone who is making a video on the day of the wedding, whether it’s a ceremony documentation or a highly creative love story or highlights reel, sometimes you just have to go with whatever the client calls you. That can be wedding videographer, wedding cinematographer, wedding video producer, wedding cameraman, and so on.

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Conclusion

The world of video production is a very wide and varying industry that includes both traditional crew roles as well as all-encompassing solo work. We often have a difficult time deciding what to call ourselves simply because we limit our job opportunities when we choose one identitier over another.

For some, that limitation is a necessity to specialize in one scope of work, and for others it makes more sense to be a generalist, but you still have to decide what to call yourself on your business card, website, email signatures, resume, and job directories.

Here's an example of a DVXUser forum thread discussing the topic of what to call oneself.​

In the end, the term videographer is very appealing for many of us who regularly take on work that can vary from commercials to promo videos, weddings and event videos, music videos, documentaries, reality TV productions, real estate videos, animated explainer videos, scripted narrative films, training videos, news packages, and so on.

Videographer is a simple and effective term that just about anybody in the public can understand to mean an individual who works in video production. And yet, as an industry we continue to push “videographer” into an undesirable little corner that often implies non-creative camera operation for low budget and unsatisfying jobs.

Perhaps the best solution is to simply do away with all of the terms above and go forth into the newest and fastest rising term to describe someone who makes videos: Youtuber.

Do you have a term you like to use to describe yourself as a video producer, that we haven’t listed above? Send us a comment!