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Filmmaking can be a lengthy and unpredictable process that takes a lot of moving parts working in harmony to help bring a narrative to life on-screen. The cameraman is one of the most important positions on a film set because the role is responsible for capturing all of the footage.
What Is a Camera Operator?
In television and motion pictures, the camera operator is responsible for setting up the camera equipment and capturing the director’s shots. The cameraman must know all the technical aspects of the camera equipment including how to set up, assemble, and breakdown the various components.
What Does a Camera Operator Do?
There are different types of camera operator roles available depending on the production.
- Film: In filmmaking, the cameraman is responsible for setting up the camera equipment, as well as framing and capturing footage. They know which types of cameras, lenses, and gear will achieve the director’s vision. They collaborate with other film crew departments (like lighting) to establish all the scene elements to execute the director’s orders. They work with the first assistant camera to pull focus and make sure the shot stays clear. On films with bigger budgets, the cameraman may also have camera assistants to aid in the care, transportation, and storage of all the heavy equipment and camera gear.
- Music videos: For smaller shoots like music videos or low-budget productions, the cameraman is the videographer. The videographer both operates the video camera and runs the cinematography, capturing footage according to their own vision.
- News: For broadcast news stories, the cameraman is the studio camera operator, shooting from a fixed position inside the studio and following the director’s order of shots with the appropriate camera movements.
What Is the Difference Between a Camera Operator and a Cinematographer?
The camera operator is responsible for capturing the film’s footage as dictated by the script, director, and cinematographer. The cinematographer, also known as a director of photography (often shortened to DP), is the person responsible for creating the look of a film. A cinematographer works with the camera and lighting crew to make sure that the camera is capturing the action the way that the director is intending it to. Sometimes cinematographers prefer to operate the camera to capture their own shots.
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.