I've been noticing lately that even my family members do not really know what that other thing at the top of my webpage actually means. Sure, they all know what a director is... but things start to get fuzzy when we start to talk about what a cinematographer does. Yesterday I asked my wife what she thought it meant... suffice it to say that's what lead to me writing this post :)
On certain projects, there's essentially no difference. On others there's a big difference. But let's get nitty gritty with it.
"Cinematographer", "DP", "DoP", and "Director of Photography" are synonymous. It's the person at the head of the camera department who helps bring the director's aesthetic vision to life. The DP oversees camera choice (Are we using RED or Alexa? A Sony or Canon or a Blackmagic camera?), lens choice (are we using Canon dSLR zoom lenses or Cooke primes?), shooting style (does this scene call for a handheld, cinema verité style or a dreamy, stabilized style using a gimbal? Or a tripod?), and lighting choices (are we going to go contrasty with deep shadows to create a darky, moody feel or are we gonna use lots of bright fill-light to make it feel like a Gap commercial? And what tools do we need to achieve that look?). Often, but not always, the cinematographer fills the role of camera operator because that's the best way for them to achieve their creative vision, or simply because that's what the budget allows. On bigger sets, the cinematographer might not even operate camera and they will often have a team under them consisting of a 1st Assistant Camera (1st AC) or a Focus Puller who's job it is to adjust focus on the lens, a 2nd AC who does the clapper board and makes sure the camera has batteries and media at the ready amongst other responsibilities, key grips and electricians are heads of departments that look to the cinematographer for direction, and the list goes on.