How to Become a Camera Operator

 

Career Path Guide

Camera operators use a combination of hand-eye coordination, patience, communication  skills and creative vision to capture raw footage on film sets, in television studios, at sporting events, and in a variety of other settings.

 

They don’t typically need a formal education, but courses related to film, communications or journalism can help them develop key contacts, hone their technical skills, and gain practical experience before trying to hit the job market.

 

If you’d like to know more about what camera operators do, and how to become one, read on below; we’ve put together a concise career guide to help you better explore the ins and outs of this profession.

 

 

Education/Training Needed to Become a Camera Operator

Typically, employers will be more interested in your technical skills and practical experience than academic qualifications. However, many camera operators take college or university courses related to film, or simply camera operation, to develop their camera skills before looking for work.

 

It’s also worth noting, that some television networks and other employers use robotic cameras, so computer skills related to camera control and operating robotic systems is an asset.

 

Success Tip: It may give you an advantage if you can find a course that offers practical experience and possibly a work placement. 

 

 

 

 

Gaining Experience as a Camera Operator 

You can also get practical experience and build up your contacts by:

 

• Working on community film projects

• Working for a camera equipment hire company

• Finding work experience as a runner or camera assistant with a production company

 

 

Is This Field Right for You?

In order to be successful as a camera operator, and to truly take enjoyment from your work, you’ll need to have certain personal traits, interest and skills, such as:

 

• Excellent motor skills and co-ordination

• A high level of patience

• Good vision and hearing

• Physical stamina (particularly for field work)

• An interest in electronic technology

• The ability to remain alert while performing routine, repetitive tasks and respond quickly to the unexpected

• Some amount of creativity and artistic ability, such as the ability to visualize what your filming would look like to an audience

• You enjoy operating, testing and maintaining camera equipment, and working with others

• You desire a career in the film or television industry (or a career in one of the other industries that employ camera operators)

• Good technical knowledge about current and upcoming equipment specific to the area in which you want work

 

 

About This Career: General Job Description

Camera operators are responsible for the operation of television cameras and related equipment for the purpose of recording live events, news and television broadcasts. They are also responsible for producing the visual content of news items, as well as visual content for commercials, sports events, television programs or films.

 

 

Typical Duties of the Job

Although their duties can vary, camera operators are generally responsible for performing the following duties:

 

• Adjusting and moving the camera, and operating optical controls (for example, focus, zoom, exposure)

• Following instructions from the director concerning the mood or dramatic effect to be achieved

• Performing minor electronic adjustments to cameras

• Responsible for storage and general maintenance of camera

• Carrying heavy equipment for long periods, particularly when they are filming on location

• Assisting with the lighting and staging of broadcast productions

• Setting up and operating live location shoots

• Editing video in linear and non-linear edit suites

 

 

 

 

What is the Average Salary Level in This Field?

Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the overall average salary of Albertans working in the “Television Camera Operators” occupational group is $61,474 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 15, 2019).

 

Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median salary level of Americans working in the “Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators” occupational group is $58,990 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries are below $25,790, and the highest 10% of salaries are above $170,030.

 

Please Note: The amount that you could earn as a camera operators can vary quite a bit, depending on the following factors:

 

• Your level of education and experience

• The level of responsibility involved in your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The industry in which you work

• Many other factors

 

 

Who Employs Them?

Camera operators are typically employed within the television and film industries. They commonly work for television networks and stations, motion picture and video production companies and the in-house communications facilities of large organizations (including those found in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors).

 

While full-time jobs are still common, freelance and contract positions have become a trend in this profession. Being successful as a freelance camera operator would require a significant investment in equipment, the establishment and maintenance of a network of contacts, as well as the ability to be available for work whenever called upon.

 

 

How to Get a Job as a Camera Operator

A good place to start, a real ‘go-getter’ approach, when looking for a job as a camera operator, would be to contact production companies, television stations and any other organization that typically employ camera operators and ask if they are hiring. 

 

It’s a good idea to remain open to the idea of beginning as an entry-level production assistant. It’s also a good idea to check internet job boards and job posting services for camera operator or production assistant jobs.

 

It’s quite common for camera operators to begin their careers as production assistants for the camera department, in order to gain an understanding of how the production process works. Through on-the-job training, production assistants may work their way up to camera assistant and then camera operator.

 

 

Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has 'camera operator' postings in your area of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:

 

 

Work Environment 

Camera operators shoot raw footage in studio or on location (such as a film set, a sporting event, or a news event). Those that shoot on a film set can be away from home for months at a time, and must carry heavy equipment to their shooting locations.

 

While on location, camera operators can work in uncomfortable or even dangerous conditions, such as severe weather, military conflicts, or natural disasters. They may have to stand for long periods waiting for an event to take place, or simply to operate the camera.

 

When working on location, the work is long, and can involve arduous hours. Breaks are few and far between, and deadlines are often tight.

 

Camera operators that work in studio however, typically work eight hour shifts, which could include afternoons, evenings, weekends and holidays. 

 

Whether on location or in studio, camera operators might work alone, or as part of a team.

 

 

Career Advancement Possibilities 

Competition is tight in this profession, so without much professional experience, you must be willing to start at small a company, or in a low-level position. 

 

After gaining some experience, you could move into a position at a larger station, or with with a more reputable company, or you could specialize in a particular type of work.

 

Alternatively, you could advance to a supervisory position, and, if you have the necessary ability and experience, eventually become a director or producer.

 

 

Similar Career Guides in Our Database

Listed below are career guides in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or are in the same sector of industry, as ‘camera operator’:

 

Broadcast Assistant 

Cinematographer

Film Director 

Gaffer

Photographer 

Screenwriter 

 

 

References

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a camera operator:

 

• Occupational Profile: “Television Camera Operator.” (December 11, 2012). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved June 15, 2019.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators.” (April 16, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved June 15, 2019.

• Explore Jobs: “TV or Film Camera Operator.” (December 7, 2016). UCAS. Retrieved June 15, 2019.

• Explore Careers: “Film and video camera operators (NOC 5222).” (n.d.). WorkBC. Retrieved June 15, 2019.

• News: “Camera operator jobs: What do they do? What do they get paid? How do I become one?” Sahalie Donaldson. (July 24, 2018). Mandy. Retrieved June 15, 2019.

 

 

Scholarships for Becoming a Camera Operator

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below shows fields of study that pertain to this profession. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Film Studies Scholarships and Theatre Scholarships pages.

 

Success Tip: Be sure to apply for as many scholarships as you can, even those that are barely relevant. There are literally millions of dollars of unused scholarship funds that go to waste every year due to a lack of applicants.

 

 

Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below will serve as an excellent educational foundation for a career as a camera operator: 

 

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