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How to Become a TV or Film Camera Operator

Television or film camera operators work in the multimedia industry where they set up and operate equipment that record images. These operators interact with a wide variety of electric, digital and film cameras, which they use to produce motion pictures. Camera operation can be a great job for people who are passionate about photography and have strong practical and creative skills.

The Work

The specific work activities of TV or film camera operators vary from project to project. While TV camera operators work on live broadcasts and TV news, film camera operators focus on documentaries, commercials, movies and music videos. Nonetheless, they commonly have the following duties;

  • Assembling and setting up equipment, including monitors, tripods and cables at shooting locations
  • Planning shots, especially when filming live broadcasts
  • Ensuring filming locations are well lit
  • Determining the type of cameras to be used for certain filming tasks
  • Studying scripts and taking instructions from directors of photography
  • Repairing and maintaining cameras and other filming equipment

Work Environment

Full-time TV or film camera operators commonly work between 50 to 55 hours a week, including weekends. In some settings, such as TV studios, camera operators often work in shifts.

While at work, these camera operators may work at heights on cranes. Those covering outdoor scenes and events may be exposed to bad weather and hostile conditions, such as riots.

Salary

Salaries for camera operators are roughly.

Type of Production

Rate Per Day

Potential Annual Wage

TV Drama

£276 - £309

£66,240 - £74,160

TV Factual/Documentary

£285 - £319

£68,400 - £76,560

TV News

20 percent discount
20 percent discount

£272 - £305

£65,280 - £73,200

Medium/Low Budget Feature Film

 

£343 - £384

£82,320 - £92,160

Major Feature Film

£417- £468

£100,080 - £112,320

Commercials

£422- £473

£101,220 - £189,200

 

Education and Training

Although t employers hiring TV or film camera operators give more preference to technical and practical skills than formal qualifications, you should not shy away from pursuing a relevant course.

Examples of relevant courses include:

  • Level 1, 2 and 3 Award, Certificate and Diploma in Media Techniques
  • City & Guilds Diploma in Media Techniques
  • BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in Media Production
  • BTEC HNC/HND in Media (Moving Image)
  • Bachelor’s degrees in media production, media technology or photography

Along with gaining knowledge, it is advisable to keep nurturing your practical skills. You can do this by:

  • Participating in community film projects
  • Finding work with a camera equipment hire company
  • Working as a camera assistant with a production company

Be sure to compile a DVD showcasing the production projects you have worked on, to demonstrate your competencies to potential employers.

Essential Skills and Abilities

Apart from having excellent technical and practical skills, TV or film camera operators need:

  • The ability to follow instructions
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Good communication and teamwork skills
  • Good physical fitness
  • Good eyesight with normal colour-vision
  • Passion for photography, film and videos

Career Development

Most TV or film camera operators usually begin as camera assistants and work their way up. Because career advancement opportunities for camera operators are limited, you should focus on expanding your skillset to secure jobs with higher compensation rates.

You can achieve this by completing the following courses:

  • NVQ Level 2 Crane Technician for Film and Television
  • NVQ levels 2 and 3 Grip for the Audiovisual Industries.

Bachelor’s degree holders with vast work experience can, however, can become directors of photography.

Employment Opportunities

The top employers of TV or film camera operators include:

  • Media houses
  • Film production companies
  • Advertising agencies
  • Event management firms

You can also work as a freelance TV or film camera operator. After gaining extensive work experience and raising sufficient capital, you can establish a photography business.

Useful Links

Broadcast Freelancer

Guild of Television Cameramen

BKSTS - The Moving Image Society

Guild of British Camera Technicians

Success Tip

Industry connections are crucial to the success of camera operators. To land lucrative gigs, you need to know the right people, such as producers and directors. You can meet such people in industry conferences, seminars and training workshops.

Due to the hands on and demanding hours of this job it is clearly not a career for everyone. It also requires people to be quite creative. However if you possess the necessary attributes and don’t mind the long hours, then this could be the right career for you.

 

Image: doug-anderson

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