Camera operators setup and operate digital film cameras to shoot domestic motion pictures or television programs. They work together with the video and motion picture director, the director of photography, or the private client. Camera operators give advice on how to shoot scenes to actors, the video and motion picture director and other camera operators.
Camera operators typically do the following duties:
- set up camera equipment
- choose the most suitable lenses and camera angles
- plan and rehearse shots
- follow a camera script
- work closely with other technical departments
- repair and maintain camera equipment
The following job titles also refer to camera operator:
camera crane operator
remote head operator
camera equipment operator
video camera operator
Outside broadcasts involve working in all weather conditions, which may be uncomfortable at times. If shooting on location this can be even more extreme, for example, in a desert, mountain range, or even underwater.
Job availability can be unpredictable, particularly at the start of a career when camera operators are establishing their network of industry contacts.
Dedication, patience and stamina are needed. The work can be physically demanding as camera operators have to stand for long periods of time and carry heavy equipment. Working to tight deadlines may be stressful and long waits between shots and repeating takes until the recording is perfect may also be frustrating.
Technical skills and appropriate experience are far more important than formal qualifications. Industry experience is key and most camera operators actually start their career as a camera assistant, working their way up to camera operator over several years.
While a high school diploma is not required to become a camera operator, a qualification in one of the following subjects may provide a useful background:
- media production
- media studies
- performing arts
- photography, film or television.
At entry level, employers look for candidates with a well-developed interest in photography, along with related experience. This includes film stills, a collection of photographs, a showreel of work or amateur films and videos which demonstrate a passion for television and camerawork.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Camera operator is a Skill level 3 occupation.
Camera operator career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to camera operator.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of camera operator. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of camera operator with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential knowledge and skills
This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of camera operator.
- Photography: Art and practice of creating aesthetically appealing images by recording light or electromagnetic radiation.
- Lighting techniques: The characteristics of techniques used to create atmospheres and effects on camera or on stage; the equipment required and appropriate setup to use.
- Audiovisual equipment: The characteristics and usage of different tools that stimulate the sight and audio senses.
- Cinematography: The science of recording light and electromagnetic radiation in order to create a motion picture. The recording can happen electronically with an image sensor or chemically on light sensitive materials such as film stock.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of camera operator.
- Operate a camera: Capture moving images with a camera. Operate the camera skilfully and safely to obtain high quality material.
- Work ergonomically: Apply ergonomy principles in the organisation of the workplace while manually handling equipment and materials.
- Follow work schedule: Manage the sequence of activities in order to deliver completed work on agreed deadlines by following a work schedule.
- Analyse the scenography: Analyse the selection and distribution of material elements on a stage.
- Adapt artistic plan to location: Adjust plans to other locations with regards to the artistic concept.
- Set up cameras: Put cameras in place and prepare them for use.
- Set up audiovisual peripheral equipment: Set up audiovisual peripheral equipment such as tripods, cables, microphones, monitors, and others.
- Select camera apertures: Adjust lens apertures, shutter speeds and camera focus.
- Work with the director of photography: Work with the director of photography on the artistic and creative vision that needs to be followed during production of a movie or theatre production.
- Adapt to type of media: Adapt to different types of media such as television, movies, commercials, and others. Adapt work to type of media, scale of production, budget, genres within type of media, and others.
- Determine visual concepts: Determine how best to represent a concept visually.
- Analyse a script: Break down a script by analysing the dramaturgy, form, themes and structure of a script. Conduct relevant research if necessary.
- Follow directions of the artistic director: Follow the instructions of the director while understanding his creative vision.
- Study media sources: Study various media sources such as broadcasts, print media, and online media in order to gather inspiration for the development of creative concepts.
- Use technical documentation: Understand and use technical documentation in the overall technical process.
- Create moving images: Create and develop two-dimensional and three-dimensional images in motion and animations.
- Work with an artistic team: Work closely with directors, fellow actors and playwrights to find the ideal interpretation to a role.
- Keep up with trends: Monitor and follow new trends and developments in specific sectors.
- Ensure visual quality of the set: Inspect and amend the scenery and set-dressing to make sure the visual quality is optimal with in constraints of time, budget and manpower.
Optional knowledge and skills
This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of camera operator. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Film production process: The various development stages of making a film, such as scriptwriting, financing, shooting, editing, and distribution.
- File-based workflow: The recording of moving images without using tape, but by storing these digital videos on optical disks, hard drives, and other digital storage devices.
- Electricity: Understand the principles of electricity and electrical power circuits, as well as the associated risks.
- Health and safety regulations: Necessary health, safety, hygiene and environmental standards and legislation rules in the sector of particular activity.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of camera operator. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Transfer uncut audiovisual material to computer: Transfer uncut audiovisual materials to a computer, synchronise them and store them.
- Work with motion picture editing team: Work together with the motion picture editing team during post-production. Make sure the finished product is according to specifications and creative vision.
- Manage technical resources stock: Manage and monitor technical resources stock to ensure that production demands and deadlines can be met at all times.
- Assess power needs: Prepare and manage the provision of electrical power for different areas.
- Attend rehearsals: Attend rehearsals in order to adapt sets, costumes, make-up, lighting, camera set up, etc.
- Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
- Maintain audiovisual equipment: Perform routine maintenance tasks on audiovisual equipment as well as minor repairs, such as replacing parts and calibrating the instruments, on equipment used in processing sound and images.
- Create special effects: Create special visual effects as required by the script, mixing chemicals and fabricating specific parts out of a wide variety of materials.
- Use storyboards: Use a graphic presentation to convey, shot by shot, your creative vision and ideas on how a motion picture should look in terms of light, sound, visuals, costumes or make-up.
- Ensure cooperation among production, costume department and make-up department: Work with the staff responsible for costumes and make up in line with their creative vision and obtain directions from them about how make-up and costumes should look.
- Supervise camera crew: Supervise the camera crew to make sure they use the right equipment, angles, frames, shots, etc., according to the creative vision.
- Practise camera movements: Practise operating the camera and the required movements for pre-arranged shots.
- Apply health and safety standards: Adhere to standards of hygiene and safety established by respective authorities.
- Plan audiovisual recording: Plan audio-visual recordings.
- Work with the lighting crew: Work with the crew responsible for the lighting setup and operation to get directions from them on where to stand for an aesthetic result.
- Follow safety procedures when working at heights: Take necessary precautions and follow a set of measures that assess, prevent and tackle risks when working at a high distance from the ground. Prevent endangering people working under these structures and avoid falls from ladders, mobile scaffolding, fixed working bridges, single person lifts etc. since they may cause fatalities or major injuries.
- Plan shots: Plan complicated shots, such as explosions, before shooting.
ISCO group and title
3521 – Broadcasting and audiovisual technicians
- Camera operator – ESCO
- TV or film camera operator | Explore careers – National Careers Service
- Television camera operator job profile | Prospects.ac.uk
- Featured image: Photo by Luigi Estuye, LUCREATIVE® on Unsplash