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Camera Operator (Portable Single Camera)

Industries:
TV
Personality type:
Creative
Departments:
Camera

The lowdown

  • Supporting the Director of Photography and the Director with shot composition and development on high budget productions 
  • Being responsible for all aspects of camera preparation and operation

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have artistic ability and be able to offer creative input
  • have good colour vision, and excellent hand-to-eye co-ordination
  • have a strong affinity with technology, knowledge of the relevant electronics and an in-depth knowledge of the principles of camera work
  • have good communication skills and show diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists, production staff and crew
  • be able to take direction and work as part of a team, particularly on multi-camera shoots
  • be able to carry out instructions with great accuracy and attention to detail
  • be able to frame and compose shots and perform camera moves with precision and speed
  • have good IT skills
  • possess physical stamina for working long hours and moving heavy equipment
  • understand the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

What does a Camera Operator (Portable Single Camera) do?

Camera Operator (Portable Single Camera) is a senior role within television camera departments. The role's duties vary depending on the type of production. On high budget dramas or commercials, their main role is to support the Director of Photography (DoP or DP) and the Director, by accurately carrying out their instructions regarding shot composition and development. They also cover other drama productions, documentaries, current affairs and news, shooting on various tape or digital formats.

Camera Operators are usually selected by the Director, but sometimes by the DP. They work closely with the First Camera Assistant (Focus Puller). They oversee the preparation and checking of camera equipment. During shooting, they are responsible for all aspects of camera operation, so that the DP can concentrate intensively on lighting and overall visual style. While the DP and Director discuss the composition of each shot, the Operator ensures that the camera and associated equipment are ready for the required set-up, keeping alert for any last-minute changes.

They liaise closely with the Director, fine-tuning the exact details of each shot, often suggesting creative improvements or alternatives. They work closely with performers, guiding them on what can and cannot be seen by the camera. They supervise the moving of the camera and oversee camera maintenance work carried out by the Focus Puller and the Second Camera Assistant (Clapper Loader on film).

Hours are long (12-14 hours a day), and some foreign travel may be involved, involving long periods spent away from base, which can be challenging to home and family life.

Will I need a qualification?

You do not need a specific qualification to work in this role. Instead, you would usually learn the practical skills required through hands-on experience on the job. That said, continuing professional development is vital, especially as camera technology changes rapidly.

Basic stills photography, which develops visual and composition skills, also provides a useful starting point in training for this role.

If, however, you are considering taking a TV production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the TV industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a TV career: 

TV production courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

In addition, the Apprenticeship in Creative and Digital Media could allow you to gain camera skills on the job. Again, the Creative Skillset Tick has been awarded to some apprenticeship programmes that provide the meet the highest standard of industry-relevant training.

What’s the best route in?

Intensive industry experience is the best route into this role, having gained a grounding in the basic camera skills and knowledge required. You could begin your career as a Camera Assistant, and then work your way up through the ranks of the camera department over several years.

You could also apply to be a TV Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder

Interested? Find out more...

Websites

  • The Guild of Television Cameramen - holds useful forums and publishes Zerb, a hands-on practical guide to camera work at all levels
  • The Guild of British Camera Technicians - aims to further the professional interests of technicians working with motion picture cameras 
  • BKSTS - (the moving image society) organises events, courses, and demonstrations of new equipment, and publishes Image Technology
  • BECTU - the UK's media and entertainment trade union, covering broadcasting, film, independent production, theatre and the arts, leisure and digital media

Publications

  • Definition - an industry magazine which offers comprehensive information on all aspects of using the latest digital HD camera equipment.
  • American Cinematographer - has regular features on film design and digital production techniques

Books

  • Supervisor's Script Book - Raymond Dreyfack ISBN-13: 9780134760520
  • The Role of Script Supervision in Film and Television: A Career Guide (Communication Arts Books) - Shirley Ulmer, C.R. Sevilla, and Robert Zentis ISBN-13: 9780803863668
  • Script Supervising & Film Continuity - Pat P. Miller ISBN-13: 9780240517445
  • The Five Cs of Cinematography - Joseph V. Mascelli ASC ISBN-13: 9781879505414
  • In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing - Walter Murch ISBN-13: 9781879505629

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