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How to become a Camera Operator

camera operator careers

What does a Camera Operator do?

Camera operators record moving images for films, TV productions, commercials, videos and other specialist areas including interactive media.

Camera operators set up and position camera equipment, taking the best shots possible after studying the script, rehearsing shots and angles and overcoming any technical problems such as lighting. They work closely with the director, the other members of the camera team, and other technical departments such as lighting and sound. Experienced camera operators may supervise the camera team and have some creative responsibility for interpreting the director's intentions.

The film and television sectors use different skills, techniques and equipment, and camera operators will usually specialise in one or the other. Job roles and titles often vary according to the sector and production environment. Roles mainly found in film include:

  • first assistant camera person (focus puller), who judges and adjusts the focus on each shot
  • second assistant camera (clapper loader), who assists the camera operator in moving the camera, loads and unloads film, counts the takes and provides general support
  • grip, who builds and operates cranes, platforms or any other equipment needed to move a camera while shooting.
Television work involves single camera (usually used for documentaries and news) or multi-camera operation (usually in drama or entertainment). Work can take place in studios, where camera operators usually follow a camera script cued by the director during recording, or on location, where there may be more opportunity for creativity in controlling the shots taken. Work on outside broadcasts operating cameras on cranes, scaffolding or in moving vehicles. Videotape is used for most TV productions, although digital technology is increasingly used.

The Skillset website has more detailed information about specific roles in camera work – see Further Information.

What's the working environment like working as a Camera Operator?

Hours can be unpredictable and often include shifts, weekends, evenings or nights, depending on the needs of the production. There may also be the need to work long hours at short notice, particularly for news programmes.

The environment could vary from warm, enclosed studios to extreme conditions on location. Location work can include assignments overseas, which may involve working under difficult or dangerous conditions such as riots or war zones.

A driving licence is useful together with a full and valid passport. Camera operators are often expected to provide their own kit, particularly in video.

What does it take to become a Camera Operator?

As a camera operator, you should have:

  • the ability to work with complex technical camera equipment and accessories
  • a strong interest in photography, film and video
  • creativity and an appreciation of colour, shape and composition
  • the ability to remain calm when working under pressure
  • excellent teamworking and communication skills
  • good eyesight and colour vision
  • a willingness to work long or flexible hours
  • excellent health and safety awareness
  • physical fitness and stamina for holding and moving heavy camera equipment.

Camera Operator Career Opportunities

In film, a camera assistant can progress to clapper loader, then focus puller, camera operator, and after as much as 20 years' experience, to director of photography/cinematographer. Those working in TV might start as a camera assistant, and move on to becoming a camera operator and then camera supervisor/senior cameraperson.

Competition for jobs is intense. Although some larger TV broadcasters employ permanent staff, most camera operators are freelance, finding employment on specific fixed-term or short contracts.

Digital technology has brought some changes to traditional job roles, for instance smaller video cameras leading to a reduction in television camera assistants. Multiskilling is also becoming more important in the industry, for instance on newsgathering where operators might combine camera and sound skills.

About 85% of film and TV production is based in London or the south of England. There are also opportunities with regional TV. Camera operators with language skills may be able to find work overseas.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Camera Operator that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Skillset Careers
Tel: 08080 300 900 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Tel: 0808 100 8094 for Scotland
www.skillset.org/careers

Skillset
Prospect House
80-110 New Oxford Street
London
WC1A 1HB
www.skillset.org

Film and Television Freelance Training (FT2)
4th Floor
Warwick House
Warwick Street
London
W1R 5RA
www.ft2.org.uk

Scottish Screen
249 West George Street
Glasgow
G2 4QE
Tel: 0141 302 1700
www.scottishscreen.com

Cyfle
Gronant
Penrallt Isaf
Caernarfon
Gwynedd
LL55 1NS
Tel: 01286 671000
www.cyfle.co.uk

BKSTS (The British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society)
Moving Image Society
Pinewood Studios
Iver Heath
Bucks
SL0 0NH
www.bksts.com

Guild of Television Cameramen
www.gtc.org.uk

Guild of British Camera Technicians
GBCT-Membership
c/o Panavision UK
Metropolitan Centre
Bristol Road
Greenford
Middlesex
UB6 8GD
Tel: 020 8813 1999
www.gbct.org

Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
373-377 Clapham Road
London
SW9 9BT
www.bectu.org.uk



Facts and Stats:

  • Nearly one in 10 people watch television every day in an average week. The average amount watched remains at 26 hours a week. 59 per cent of those surveyed watching between two and five hours a day.
  • Filming for an episode of Eastenders normally starts six weeks before its transmission.
  • 60 per cent of people in broadcasting work on a freelance basis. The UK has some 240 radio services. The average listener can only pick up 15, six belonging to the BBC and nine commercial ones