A film could have the most talented screenwriter in Hollywood, the most visionary director and the hottest actors, but what ultimately matters is the image on the screen. If all of that genius doesn't get captured faithfully on film, then the project is a bust. That's why the best filmmakers invest in a top-tier cinematographer.
The role of the cinematographer is to translate the director's vision and the screenwriter's story onto film or video. A cinematographer must have a keen artistic eye and a mastery of the technology and technique of camerawork. The cinematographer and director of photography (DP) are not always the same person. On bigger films, the cinematographer is solely responsible for shot composition and planning, while the DP manages the camera and lighting crews. The DP is responsible for choosing the camera, lenses, booms and other equipment necessary to get the shot.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't break down salaries for members of the filming crew, but it lists the annual mean wage for film and video camera operators as $52,380 in 2010, but the top-level cinematographers and directors of photography can earn much more [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].