What does a TV or film camera operator do?
Camera operators record moving images for film, television, commercials, music videos or corporate productions. They operate film or digital video cameras, usually under instruction from the director or director of photography. On a typical job, you'll:
- set up and position camera equipment
- choose the most suitable lenses and camera angles
- plan and rehearse shots
- follow a camera script and take cues from the director, or floor manager if in a TV studio
- solve any practical or technical problems
- work closely with other technical departments, such as lighting and sound
You may be the only camera operator and use a portable single camera, or you could be part of a TV studio camera team. On feature films and TV drama productions, you'll be part of a larger crew with a specific role. This might be:
- second assistant camera (clapper loader) – loading and unloading film, counting the takes and helping the camera crew
- first assistant camera (focus puller) – judging and adjusting the focus on each shot
- grip – building and operating cranes and pulleys needed to move a camera during shooting
You'll normally specialise in either film or television work, as the equipment and techniques can differ. However, with the growth in digital cameras and HD technology, it’s becoming easier for camera professionals to work across all formats.
What do I need to do to become a TV or film camera operator?
Employers will be more interested in your technical skills and practical experience than academic qualifications. In practice, many camera operators take a college or uni course to develop their camera skills before looking for work.
It may give you an advantage if you can find a course that offers practical experience and possibly a work placement. You can also get practical experience and build up your contacts through:
- community film projects
- working for a camera equipment hire company
- finding work experience as a runner or camera assistant with a production company
- Degree in media production, media technology or photography
Where to find out more
Where could I be working?
You could work anywhere from studios to outside locations, in all weather conditions. You may have to work at heights on cranes or scaffolding.
Location work could be anywhere in the UK or overseas. News camera jobs may involve working under difficult or dangerous conditions, for example in war zones.