Camera Operator Mysteries Explained

What is a Camera Operator?

Camera operators work in the television, music and film industry and are usually employed by television and cable companies or by video production houses. They are responsible for capturing different scenes during production and operating a wide variety of technical equipment that may include single and multiple portable, electronic and remote-control cameras.

Other key responsibilities of a camera operator include operating cranes and mobile mountings, assembling and setting up camera equipment, planning and preparing scenes, following camera scripts and working with the lighting and technical staff on each production.

This is one job in the film industry that can be very physically demanding and tiring. The position often requires a great deal of traveling between locations and many long days or irregular work hours.

Additionally, maintenance and proper handling of all filming and recording equipment is extremely important due to the cost of such items.

Primary roles

  • Framing shots

Working closely with the director and other creative personnel to choreograph and frame shots is one of the key tasks for a camera operator. An in-depth knowledge of and the ability to find the appropriate camera lenses to capture a scene is something that will be heavily relied upon. Additionally, the use of special equipment like dollies and camera cranes may be necessary to portray dramatic scenes. Understanding the basic principles of dramatic storytelling and film editing fundamentals may also prove important for this primary role.

  • Operating and maintaining equipment

The camera operator is responsible for using and maintaining some of the most costly items in the entire film production, so a thorough knowledge of said equipment is a must. The position also includes setting up technical equipment on set and responding quickly to directions given by the film director and other creative personnel —all while operating large and expensive equipment.

Secondary roles

  • Communicate with film crew

Because many film and television productions work under tight budget constraints, operators must be able to effectively and quickly communicate with the rest of the film crew during production.  Quick thinking, immense concentration and strong hand-eye coordination are also very important when working under such close time constraints. Potential operators should be prepared to work closely as part of a team but also must be willing to stand out in regards to their own level of competency.

  • Assist the production and crew

Depending on the type of production, operators may need to frame camera shots for live studio or field productions when directed. Taking the initiative and modifying any processes or procedures that will help production move along is also an important aspect of this role on set. To ensure that production keeps moving along at the proper pace, it may also be necessary for operators to help with studio production setup and set preparations as well.

Camera operator job description: what does a camera operator do?

The camera operator is the individual who physically holds and moves/controls the camera throughout principal photography of a production.

Working under the guidance of the director and DP, it’s the camera operator’s job to capture their visions through the viewfinder. Among many responsibilities, he or she is tasked with leading a crew of camera assistants (first assistant camera, second assistant camera, etc.), mapping out the specifics of the film’s visuals with the DP and ensuring they’re executed properly, assisting with blocking the set, getting cameras in position, framing the shot of each scene, supervising the selection and preparation of various shooting accessories that will best serve the moment (lenses, rigs, cranes, dollies), and being in charge of camera/equipment movement and maintenance.

Additionally, the camera operator is often the only one on set who sees how everything is being shot in the moment and so it’s on their shoulders to correct and/or readjust something that doesn’t match the director/DP’s vision.


Career path: How you start and where you can go with it?

Although specialist technical production courses and some training schemes offer a good basic grounding in the skills and knowledge required for this role, intensive industry experience is the key. Most Camera Operators begin their careers as Camera Trainees, and work their way up through the ranks of the camera department over several years. Training and qualifications No specific qualifications are required to work in this role. Studio/OB Camera Operators usually learn most of their practical skills through hands-on experience on the job. However, continual professional development is vital, especially as technology is changing rapidly. Useful advice and information can be gained by studying trade journals, attending exhibitions and joining industry forums. Basic stills photography, which develops visual and composition skills, provides a useful starting point in training for this role.


5 Tips for Becoming a Professional Camera Operator

Like most jobs in the film industry, camera operator positions are not easy to come by, but the following guidelines can help any aspiring cameramen get their foot in the door:

  • Know how to use a camera. Getting to know the ins and outs of your film camera equipment is essential to a successful career as a cameraman. Learn the basics of your camera system including the different shooting modes, lenses, and types of gear. Study other films and become familiar with camera angles, positioning, and movements.
  • Attend a program. Whether you choose to attend film school or community college, many film departments will grant students access to equipment, which means you can practice with real gear and familiarize yourself with both the technical skills and process of a cameraman’s role. While certain camera operator jobs may require a formal education—an associate’s degree in video production or a bachelor’s degree in television production—a high school diploma and strong working knowledge of how to use a camera is enough to get you started.
  • Find an assistant position. You can learn all the tricks of the trade from experienced professionals by finding a job as a camera assistant or production assistant. Learning the ins and outs of the industry and how everything works on-set is valuable practical experience, and also provides a potential opportunity for you to move up within the production studio, or television network, and advance your career.
  • Organize a portfolio. A demo reel or portfolio of work can help showcase your abilities as a cameraman. Your first few cameraman jobs may be unpaid student films or low-budget indies, but these jobs can give you the hands-on work experience you need while helping to build a portfolio that will impress future employers.
  • Hone your skills. Camera operators must have excellent hand-eye coordination, as well as a sharp attention to detail, and solid communication skills. Camera operation is a collaborative process that takes a creative mind, and a team player to execute properly. Work on as many projects as you can to build your skillset.


Recording a video of a solar eclipse

  • When recording video or capturing still images, make sure to use an approved solar filter on your camera, as the sun can damage both your eyes and the camera’s image sensor. It is safe to use a smartphone without a solar filter.
  • When pointing a camera directly at the sun, it is important to have the proper filter in place–the sun’s rays could damage the camera, as the light would hit the camera’s image sensor directly.
  • At the point of totality, just like when capturing still photography, you may want to remove your filter, as it will be quite a bit darker than immediately before or after totality.
  • When capturing video, safety glasses are not needed if you’re only looking through the screen of the camera at a live view; however, a filter should be used to protect the camera’s image sensor. When looking up at the sky during the eclipse, safety glasses should be worn to protect any possible damage to your eyes.
  • When capturing video, you may need to remove the solar filter during totality, and then reattach it immediately after totality, in order to handle the changes in light. This could be challenging if you’re looking to capture continuous video. You might look into capturing a time-lapse video of the eclipse if that better suits your desired outcome.