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What Does a Camera Operator Do?

A camera operator can work in television, movies, or for any firm that does filming.
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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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At first glance, the job of being a camera operator seems relatively simple if you only think in terms of a person pointing a camera at a subject and filming. Instead, the field of filmography is a rich and complex one, where there are many different duties for camera operators at a wide range of skill levels. Similarly, the technology involved can be very involved and sometimes requires years of training and on-the-job experience.

A camera operator can work in television, motion pictures, for other types of video-producing firms, or independently. Some of the jobs require a post-secondary education or several years of previous camerawork, while a few will hire and train without previous experience. The latter situation is rare however, since the job of being a camera operator is competitive with many people applying for relatively few jobs. Most of the time, those who are hired will be the people with the most on-the-job experience, who are adept at more skills than simply filming, such as editing and using computers and video software. These jobs can also require travel, and sometimes require the operator to work under dangerous circumstances. A camera operator must be cautious when traveling to hostile parts of the world, working near dangerous animals, or when filming people who not want to be filmed.

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The types of cameras that are used by an operator differ depending on the medium they are filming. A camera operator who films motion pictures, also known as a cinematographer, must use several different types of cameras depending upon the shot to be captured. He or she must also know all the technical aspects of how to move the camera in relation to the subject, for example by using cranes or tracks. It is also essential to be able to communicate clearly with others working on the film, in giving, receiving and executing orders. The same is true in the case of those working in television, and creativity is also required in both types of media.

Independent camera operators often will be contracted out to film events such as weddings, parties, conferences, instructional videos and more. These videographers can work alone or with a group of others and also must be in charge of all business aspects such as promoting their business, collecting payments, copyrighting their work and keeping track of finances. Some also might say that anyone who films anything that is posted on the Internet can be considered to be independent videographers.

Salaries for camera operating positions are competitive with most other job markets, and job growth in the industry is expected to keep rising. Many secondary and post-secondary schools offer training in different types of camera work for those who seek to learn how to be a camera operator. Also, because of swiftly changing and growing technology, it is essential for camera operators to stay current on industry trends and to learn new skills as they arise. This is especially true of digital film work and editing that can use computers and software to film and edit.

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FrogFriend
Post 4

I don't understand why it is so hard to be a camera operator or why people put so much merit into the position. I mean, really all you are doing is inserting the settings that a director of photography directs you to do so and even the angle and position you are holding the camera is dictated. It seems like this would provide for a fairly limited experience.

If I was ever to actually do some camera operation work I can guarantee you it will be in the type of crew where the operator has a lot more freedom then those who film movies.

There is a huge difference between holding a camera for someone and actually getting to setup a shot and film it. I think that every operator should be able to work independently if needed but obviously the best kind of operations will have a valid team effort to put forward in the creation of a movie or television show.

GraniteChief
Post 3

I've managed to work and love my job as a TV camera operator for the past twenty years. While I never thought that I would be doing this kind of work when I was growing up, it became very apparent to me in my early twenties that this was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My mother was very against the notion at first but then one day I was able to bring her onto a set and give her a taste of what it meant for me to operate a camera on a set.

She was so impressed with the massive equipment and was amazed that I had learned what every button on the expensive tools did.

While I have made some attempts to move into being a movie camera operator there are several tools that movie studios are using now that I have never been trained on and also have no desire to do so. The use of a steadicam is one such tool that I doubt I will ever learn how to use.

While it's use is not limited to just the movie industry that is where the majority of it is found. These specialized systems are just one way that the film industry has changed around me and I wish the best of luck to future camera operators in their efforts to further evolve the way that humans can see a scene through the lens of a camera.

sammyG
Post 2

@thumbtack, you are right about the very specialized training that is needed to perform the very serious tasks that are asked of a camera operator.

While the positions and types of equipment used can vary greatly, the basic principles of camera operation are very similar. As far as making sure that your skills are developed in the area needed it really depends on what type of cinematography is being done.

For instance, a studio camera operator will take other things into consideration when shooting a TV show then he would if shooting a movie. The equipment used of course will be very different as well but similar tools can and do traverse the market of camera operation.

A camera operator's salary is often meager but just as thumbtack stated, its about the love of the work and not the paycheck that really makes the difference.

thumbtack
Post 1

As a camera operator that works for a large studio in Southern California, I can tell you that this type of work is far from being a sort of "hold the camera and point" kind of position. The complicated and technical know how need to perform this very important role in filming a movie or TV show means that one must be dedicated to the cause in order to do it in an efficient and required manner.

I was lucky to get my start in shooting as a normal still photographer. This practice in composing and framing a scene was invaluable later in my career as I watched friends and coworkers struggle to grasp such basic concepts as the rule of thirds and deal with the functionality of a highly advanced camera system.

When you are under the pressure of a multi-million dollar shoot I can assure you that you will not want to be focused on simple things like making sure the camera is rolling and will want to be aware of your camera angle, exposure and other needed factors.

Camera operator employment is often undervalued and because of this our pay is sometimes not very much but most camera operators will tell you that the love of the work has a lot more to do with the capture of a feeling or emotion then the actual pay check that is received. Sure, the bills get paid but other then that, what is the point to working for something that you don't believe in.

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