More than Just Pressing Record: What a
Camera Operator Really Does
Probably not. Unless you are interested in becoming the
person responsible for those images being recorded, edited, and presented to
the world for viewing, chances are you just sit back, eat your popcorn, and
enjoy the storyline; and that is exactly the goal of those behind the scenes.
The images that appear in movies, on
television, and in videos (even those streaming online) come from the hard work
of a camera operator. Images are recorded
to inform and entertain, and are intended to hold an audience’s interest
throughout the entire production.
What is a Camera Operator?
Camera operators are people who capture a
wide range of material in the form of images to be used on television shows,
motion pictures, music videos, documentaries, new stations, sporting events,
and so much more.
Studio Camera Operator
Typically working in a broadcast studio,
studio camera operators record their subjects from a fixed position such as a
stage or set. As an entry-level
position, the director usually guides the camera operator as to what the shot
order is, what the angles should be, and who to focus on at any given time.
Electronic News Gathering Operator
This camera operator is normally found
working with a reporting team. They
follow reporters who are delivering breaking news stories and often film the
stories live as they unfold live
How to Become a Camera Operator
What is a Camera Operator?
While the Director and the Director of
Photography set up the mood and the style for each shot, the ones who are
hands-on behind each shot are Camera Operators, who combine their technical
knowledge with creative input to make sure each clip is a perfect fit for the
Camera Operators work under the Director
and Director of Photography and often work closely with technical departments
to include sound and lighting. Camera Operators work across a variety of
mediums recording moving images. They create the film for music videos,
corporate productions, films, TV programmes, and commercials. In this article,
we will be discussing what responsibilities you can expect from this role, and
the key skills you will need to become a Camera Operator
What does a Camera Operator do?
Camera Operators usually start working in
early pre-productions, attending technical recces with other Heads of
Department. They execute the instructions of the DoP and the Director while
being responsible for their Assistants and Trainees. If and when technical
issues arise, the Camera Operator is responsible for resolving these problems.
After shots have been rehearsed and the
camera has been positioned by the DoP, it’s the Camera Operator’s
responsibility to take care of all aspects of the operation of the equipment.
Importantly, they will follow a camera script adhering to the directions of the
Director. To stay ahead in this role it is important to study scripts before
filming to ensure the smooth running of the production.
Camera Operators have the responsibility of
setting up the equipment before any shot and of keeping everything ready for
any last-minute changes. They also oversee the work of their Assistants and
Trainees in maintaining and preparing the equipment.
What Does a Camera Operator Do?
The Camera Operator helps the Director of
Photography and Director shot design each take while operating the camera. They
also act as an additional set of eyes for the Director of Photography regarding
lighting and focus. Typically, their work only takes place during principal
Most Camera Operators begin by jumping
straight into being an Operator. It’s possible to be a 1st Assistant Camera
first but they’re seen as two different jobs. The best way is to start working
on smaller projects and then move up as a reputation is built.
Education & Training
Duguay says, “There isn’t specific training
for becoming a Camera Operator but understanding how a camera works wouldn’t
hurt.” Most of the time, the 1st Assistant Camera preps it for them and it’s
just up to the Operator to run the gear while filming.
What Skills Do You Need?
It helps to work as a 1st Assistant Camera
for a few years before operating but this isn’t a requirement. Many people jump
straight into working a camera, however, having a deep knowledge of the camera
systems will let the Camera Operator anticipate problems and proactively fix
“The best Camera Operators have a keen
sense of detail and thick skin,” says Duguay. There are always a million
different things that could be problematic for each shot including various
pieces of equipment left in the background, the Boom Operator’s microphone, and
the Actor’s hair and makeup issues.
Television camera operator
While many television camera operatives
have a degree, it’s more important to have a showreel to demonstrate your
passion for photography
As a television camera operator, you’ll
work with digital, electronic and film cameras and produce required shots by
combining the use of complex technology with creative visual skills.
You may work on a variety of programmes,
for example studio or outside broadcast programmes, television dramas,
commercials, documentaries or news. You may use one of several cameras or a
portable single camera (PSB).
You could also specialise in one or more of
the following areas:
studio – you’ll follow a camera script,
which gives the order of shots. This is practised at rehearsal and cued by the
director during recording. The skill lies in interpreting what the director wants
and acting quickly and effectively to achieve it.
outside broadcast (OB) – working as part of
a team of camera operators filming live events, such as sporting and ceremonial
occasions and music performances
on location – you’ll find more opportunities
for creativity on location, through suggesting shots to the director.
As a television camera operator, you’ll
assemble, prepare and set up equipment
prior to filming, which may include tripods, monitors, lighting, cables and
leads and headphones
offer advice on how best to shoot a scene
and explain the visual impact created by particular shots
plan shots, for example when filming an
expensive drama scene, such as an explosion, there may be only one chance to
get things right, so shots need to be meticulously planned beforehand
practise the camera moves required for
find solutions to technical or other
practical problems (for an outside broadcast, for example, the natural light
conditions need to be taken into account when setting up shots)
be prepared to innovate and experiment with
work quickly, especially as timing is such
an important factor
take sole responsibility in situations
where only one camera operator is involved in the filming
keep up to date with filming methods and
repair and maintain equipment
demonstrate a good awareness of health and
drive crew, actors and equipment to and
Film/Television Camera Operator
Film and television camera operators use
digital and film cameras to record events and scenes for television, movies and
Pay for film/television camera operators
varies depending on experience and the type of production they are working on.
Recommended pay rates (based on 10-hour
days) for camera operators on New Zealand feature films and television series:
Video split operators, clapper/loaders and
second assistants usually earn between $30 and $50 an hour.
First assistants/focus pullers usually earn
between $55 and $66 an hour.
Experienced camera operators can earn
between $64 and $120 an hour.
Film/television camera operators may do
some or all of the following:
carry and set up cameras and equipment such
as lighting rigs and kits
work with and follow the instructions of
operate cameras to film or record the
keep the camera in focus.
Directors of photography may do some or all
of the following:
study scripts and interpret how scenes should
select suitable cameras and equipment
decide on the location of cameras and
direct camera and lighting crew during
work with the director and editor during