The term ‘smooth operator’ has never been so appropriate! Camera operators work in the world of television, film and video production to capture moving images in the smoothest way possible!
These guys use a bunch of different video cameras to achieve varying visual effects, from handheld digital cameras to huge ‘old-skool’ contraptions which use real spools of film.
Basically, camera operators use their technical skills and cinematic nous to realise the creative vision of the director and director of photography.
The daily activities of a camera operator are fairly straightforward; they come to the set, whether it’s in a studio or on location, and setup the camera or cameras that will be used to the greatest effect on specific scenes.
They will then work alongside the director in order to block the scene effectively and determine which camera moves are required.
Prior to the actual filming, the camera operator will have become acquainted with the script and will have meticulously planned and practiced each and every camera move.
When it comes to shooting, time is always of the essence. Consequently, in order to save time, they will need to know each scene like the back of their hand!
When it’s crunch time, camera operators perform the actual camera moves, including dolly shots, pans, tilts and other complicated camera manoeuvres.
Salary & benefits
The typical starting salary for a junior-level camera operator is around £15,000, but this can fluctuate depending on the type of production that they are working on and the kind of skills that they have.
After many years of experience, an average salary for a camera operator is likely to be somewhere between £20,000 and £35,000.
The majority of camera operators work on a freelance basis and, therefore, wages are entirely dependent on how frequently you get work. The busiest camera operators can earn a handsome wage, however, especially if they secure contracts on feature films with larger budgets.
The working conditions for a camera operator will vary from production to production. The demands will change based on the requirements of the specific project.
However, it’s almost always the case that camera operators will be working against the clock to capture the shots that they need. Understandably, therefore, you might be required to work unsociable hours from time to time.
The working environment can also vary. For instance, you might be doing in-studio camera work on live productions or working on pre-taped shoots out in the field. Consequently, camera operators need to be versatile and able to adapt to their surroundings.
The best way of getting into a career as a camera operator is to develop a strong working knowledge of the industry. It’s all about having the right technical skills, so the completion of work experience schemes is the key to success.
Furthermore, a degree in broadcast media, media production or film studies is a great place to start, as this will give you the practical and theoretical knowledge to be successful in the industry.
Almost all camera operators have a portfolio containing pictures and show reels of their work. A truly impressive portfolio can be the difference between getting hired and getting a swift “thanks, but no thanks!”
Another thing that will help a new camera operator out is a good network of useful connections in the industry. Learn to network, make some ‘friends’ and ask for opportunities where appropriate.
Training & progression
Training to be a camera operator is essentially a two-part process. Firstly, it’s a good idea to get a formal education, which will allow you to develop the appropriate technical skills, techniques and tricks of the trade that are required.
Secondly, it’s all about learning as you work. Nothing beats actually getting work experience in this area of technical production.
Most people will start out as a runner or a second assistant camera before becoming a full-on camera operator. From then on, camera operators can make significant advancements, financially speaking, based on the kind of reputation that they build for themselves.
Thriving in this business is all about developing a good mix of recognition and skill. If a camera operator can prove themselves, there’s nowhere to go but up.