You might not immediately consider cinematography to be a fun job, but how could it not be? Cinematography combines the technical skill of the camera operator, with the artistic command of the photographer and a clear understanding of visual storytelling. Getting to the position of Director of Photography (DP) means you’ve busted your young chops strapped to the camera, mastered the tricky art of film lighting and learned to interpret the vision of the director. Every year the Academy recognizes the work of extraordinary DP’s with its Best Cinematography Award. To date only three men have won this award three times, one of them is Robert Richardson.
In 2013 Richardson received his 47th nomination for outstanding cinematography, this year for his work on Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Robert Richardson has also worked with famous directors like Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men), creator of the hit TV shows Nip Tuck and Glee, Ryan Murphy (Eat Pray Love), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator) and Oliver Stone (Platoon). Two of his cinematography Oscars comes from his work with Scorsese for the film Hugo and Oliver Stone for JFK.
Richardson received his Bachelors of Fine Arts in Film, Animation & Video from the Rhode Island School of Design and then his MFA from the American Film Institute Conservatory. He worked as camera operator and a 2nd unit photographer until he met Oliver Stone in 1986. His work on Platoon earned him his first Academy nomination.
In his response to what distinguishes his work from other cinematographers, Richardson has said, “It’s important not to confuse visual clichés with artistic photography. If a choice has to be made, I would much rather shoot a good picture than a good looking picture.”
Some of you may ask, well what’s the difference in that really? A good picture is found in the frame, through the lens of the film camera, which the cinematographer captures while on the production set. A visual effects editor can manipulate a frame into good-looking picture in post-production.
Great cinematographers, like Robert Richardson only attain success through dedication, stamina, and of course, an excellent education. A the very least, a Bachelor’s of Art in Film Production or Cinematography is best path to this career, but most cinematographers continue on an get their Masters. Beginning cinematographers make around $45-50 thousand in their first few years of working but seasoned masters like Richardson earn up to $100,000 a year.
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