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Camera Operator

Industries:
Film | High End TV | TV
Personality type:
Engineer
Departments:
Camera

The lowdown

  • Preparing and operating the camera and all its equipment
  • Working with the Director and Director of Photography to achieve the visual style of the film
  • Managing other camera department staff and communicating with Actors

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • know how to operate the camera expertly
  • have good working knowledge of all camera systems, lenses, support equipment and accessories
  • provide creative input
  • have artistic ability
  • be patient
  • have a good sense of visual composition, perspective and movement
  • have physical co-ordination and strength
  • combine creativity with technical skills
  • pay precise attention to detail
  • communicate effectively
  • be able to collaborate and work as part of a team
  • be diplomatic and sensitive when working with artists and crew
  • know about health and safety legislation and procedures

What does a Camera Operator do?

Camera Operators carry out the Director of Photography’s (DoP) and Director’s instructions for shot composition and development. They are usually the first people to use the camera's eyepiece to assess how all the elements of performance, art direction, lighting, composition and camera movement come together to create the cinematic experience.

Camera Operators usually start at the end of pre-production and attend technical recces with other Heads of Department. They work closely with the Director of Photography, Director and Grip, and are responsible for the First Assistant Camera (1st AC), Second Assistant Camera (2nd AC) and the Camera Trainee.

After the Director and DoP have rehearsed and blocked the shots, the Camera Operator and DoP decide where to position the camera and what lenses and supporting equipment to use. Camera Operators liaise with the Grip and other Heads of Department, and keep them informed about how the position and movement of the camera might impact on their workload.

During shooting, Operators are responsible for all aspects of camera operation, enabling the DoP to concentrate intensively on lighting and overall visual style.

Camera Operators make sure the camera and equipment are prepared for the required set-ups and ready for any last-minute changes. They must be able to multi-task and to watch, listen and think on their feet while carrying out complex technical tasks.

They liaise closely with the Director, fine-tuning the exact details of each shot, suggesting creative improvements or alternatives. They supervise the logistics of moving the camera, and oversee the Camera maintenance work carried out by the Focus Puller and the 2nd AC.

Camera Operators work closely with performers, guiding them on what can and cannot be seen by the camera. As DoPs now also operate the camera on smaller films, many Camera Operators specialise in the operation of other precision equipment, such as Remote Heads or Steadicam. Most also work on commercials, promos and television drama.

The DoP or Director often asks for a specific Camera Operator, who in turn makes recommendations about the rest of the camera and grip departments.

The work is physically demanding, and requires high levels of strength and stamina. Hours are long (12-14 hours a day) and some foreign travel may be required, involving long periods spent away from base.

Will I need a qualification?

Like many Camera Operators, you can study for higher level qualifications, although no specific qualifications are required to work in this role.

Film schools and training courses offer a good basic grounding in the skills and knowledge required and the most useful courses offer practical experience and may also include work experience placements.

You could take a City & Guilds course, BTEC HNC/HND, foundation degree, first degree and/or postgraduate qualification in media, film and TV production or cinematography.

If you are considering taking a film production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the film 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 career in film.

Film production courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

You will also find basic stills photography, which develops visual and composition skills, a useful starting point for this role.

You can expect to learn most of your practical skills through hands-on experience on the job. However, continual professional development is vital, especially as technology changes rapidly.

What's the best route in?

You can expect to begin your career as a Camera Trainee or Runner, progressing to 2nd AC and, as you gain more experience, to 1st AC. You will have to continually build upon your experience and competence when operating a variety of cameras in order to achieve the role of Camera Operator.

Where might this role take me?

From here, you may move on to become a DoP.

Interested? Find out more...

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