What Does a Camera Operator Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Camera Operator
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A camera operator, also called a cameraman or camerawoman, "films the action" on the sets of movies and television shows, or at live events like concerts and sports competitions. When a news reporter broadcasts from a remote location or a television studio, the camera operator records it for the audience at home to watch either live or at some later time.

Quick Facts

  • Camera operators earn a median annual salary of $53,550 (2017).
  • 25,100 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • The majority of camera operators work in the movie and television broadcast industries. A fair number are self-employed.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a good job outlook. Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day in a Camera Operator's Life

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for camera operator positions found on Indeed.com:

  • "Frame camera shots for live studio or field productions as directed"
  • "Utilize equipment and technology to enhance ENG production"
  • "Follow shoot schedules and call sheets"
  • "Take initiative and modify procedures and processes as needed to ensure project completion"
  • "Operate graphics machines during newscasts, as needed"
  • "Climb 50-foot towers multiple times during a shift"
  • "Help with studio production setup and set preparation"

How to Become a Camera Operator

Many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have a bachelor's degree in film, broadcasting, or a related discipline. This formal training, however, is not enough. Camera operators must know their way around a tv or movie set. To gain experience, many begin their careers as production assistants. This job includes running errands and tending to simple tasks.

What Soft Skills Will Help You Succeed in This Career?

Will you make a good camera operator? The answer to this question depends on whether you have specific soft skills. These are personal qualities you were either born with or acquired through life experience. Camera operators must be creative. They need excellent visual skills and eye-hand coordination. The ability to pay attention to detail is also essential. Camera operators collaborate with producers and directors, making superb listening and speaking skills a necessity.

The Truth About Being a Camera Operator

  • Periods of unemployment between project is pretty common.
  • Expect to work overtime, at least occasionally, to meet deadlines. Hours may be irregular as well.
  • Some camera operators work on a freelance basis. To do this, you will need to own or have access to equipment.
  • Your work may take you into hazardous or uncomfortable conditions.
  • Camera equipment is very heavy.
  • You will have to spend a lot of time standing and moving around.

What Employers Will Expect From You

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to walk and stand for long periods of time"
  • "Can carry up to 50 pounds"
  • "Ability to work flexible schedule, including nights and weekends"
  • "Ability to work from a standing position for a 2-3 hour period"
  • "Must be eager for unique camera shots"
  • "Ability to multi-task and work in a high pressure fast paced environment, usually with tight and changing deadlines"
  • "Must be available to work all shifts, including early mornings, evenings, holidays, and weekends"
  • "Dedication, patience, and stamina are needed"

    How to Determine If This Occupation Is a Good Fit for You

    It is more likely you will be satisfied with a career that is compatible with your interestspersonality type, work-related values, and aptitude. Consider becoming a flight attendant if you have the following traits which you can learn about by doing a self-assessment:

    Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities

    Occupation

    Description

    Median Annual Wage (2017)

    Minimum Required Education/Training

    Photographer Uses images to tell stories $32,490 Bachelor's Degree (Required for Photojournalists or Science and Technical Photographers); Technical Proficiency
    Broadcast Technician Responsible for the images or sounds we see or hear on broadcasts $42,650 Associate Degree in Broadcast Technology
    Film and Video Editor Organizes images shot by camera operators $53,550 Bachelor's Degree in a Film or Broadcast Related Field
    Director Oversees the creative aspects of productions $71,620

    Bachelor's Degree in Film or Cinema

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited January 9, 2018).