Camera operators use film or digital camera equipment to record, or broadcast live, for film, TV and internet. You would usually work under the instructions of the director, and the director of photography.
You could be:
setting up the camera equipment in a studio or outdoors on location
choosing the most suitable type of film and lens
reading and following the camera script
discussing with the director the effects required, giving advice about how to achieve this and fixing camera angles, lighting, colour, lens focus and settings
in outdoor shots taking account of natural light: the time of day and the weather conditions
moving the equipment around and practising pre-arranged shots beforehand using one or more cameras
solving practical or technical problems
repairing and maintaining equipment
keeping up to date with new technology, like 3D, High Definition (HD) and 4K (Ultra HD).
The figures below are only a guide. Actual salaries may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for and whether or not you work freelance
the demand for the job.
If you are employed your starting salary might be around £12,000 rising with experience to around £34,000 a year. Senior camera operators can earn £40,000 a year.
Freelance rates are listed on the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) website. The rate for camera operators is between £418 and £600 for a 10-hour day, depending on the production budget.
There are few salaried camera jobs in TV. As a freelancer you will earn more but pay will be less regular.
You might be working indoors or out in any kind of weather or environment, including conflict or disaster zones.
You may be the only camera operator and use a single camera, or you could be part of a camera team with a specific role.
You will have to lift heavy equipment.
You will work long and irregular hours, including shift work and weekends.
You will probably be employed on short freelance contracts.
You may have to spend periods away from home, possibly abroad.
You might wear a headset to follow instructions from the director.
Some camera operators, especially if working in video, provide and maintain their own equipment.
You may have to work at heights or on a crane or scaffolding.
Practical experience in a relevant area such as professional photography or lighting are more important than educational qualifications. However, an HND or degree in media production, media technology or photography may be an advantage.
Employers rarely advertise posts. The best way in is to make contacts in the field and send in your portfolio. Make a show reel with impact – keep it short, use clips and include as much information as you can in 5 minutes.
If you get a job as a runner in a broadcasting studio, or a big camera facilities house, you will be in the right place to try for any camera jobs. You may have to do several work experience placements without pay before getting your first job.
You will normally start as a camera trainee or assistant, moving on to become a 2nd assistant camera (clapper loader), then a 1st assistant camera (focus puller) before becoming a camera operator.
You must be able to show an interest in electronics and lighting as well as in current affairs, film, television and drama. Analyse TV and films – what works and what doesn't work? What is the lighting and the pace of the film?
What Does it Take?
You would need:
a good eye for visual effect, composition and colour
good hand-to-eye co-ordination
flexibility and team work skills
attention to detail
practical skills and technical knowledge.
You should also have:
good communication skills
physical strength and stamina for carrying equipment about
diplomacy and tact when working with artists
a good knowledge of health and safety procedures
a willingness to work long hours.
Training is mostly on the job.
ScreenSkills provides a list of relevant courses on their website.
The Guild of British Camera Technicians (GBCT) takes on a small number of trainees each year and runs a number of training courses. Their website has more information.
There are some training schemes with television companies but entry is highly competitive, with a range of qualifications acceptable.
Although digital technology is always developing, film and television use different skills. It is still rare to cross over from one to the other.
Increasingly work is short term and offered on a freelance basis. There are a few permanent jobs in broadcasting companies, but these are very much in demand. Hiring an agent will help you find short term contracts.
When you do get a camera job, expect to do a long 'apprenticeship' before moving on.
When you have a track record of success you can perhaps move on to be a senior camera operator and then a director of photography, with responsibility for managing the team. You must be prepared to move about the country to find work.
If you are aged 18 or over you may be interested in The Network. The Network is held each year alongside the TV Festival in Edinburgh. If selected you would attend for four free days of masterclasses and workshops which will provide you with the skills, knowledge and contacts to start a career in TV. You can usually apply from February to April.
BBC Scotland runs an apprenticeship scheme for people who are keen to get into a career in the media industry. As well as learning on the job at BBC Scotland at Pacific Quay in various departments, you will study towards a Level 3 Diploma in Creative and Digital Media at a Glasgow college. Ideally applicants will have National 5 English and Maths, good IT skills and a keen interest in media. You must be at least 18 at the start date of the apprenticeship. Entry is very competitive as places are limited. For any questions and updates by following @BBCGetin on Twitter. See the BBC Trainee Schemes website for more details.