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Workers acquire their skills through on-the-job or formal postsecondary training.
Technical expertise, a “good eye,” imagination, and creativity are essential.
Keen competition for job openings is expected, because many talented peopled are attracted to the field.
About one in five camera operators are self-employed.
Nature of the Work
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators produce images that tell a story, inform or entertain an audience, or record an event. Film and video editors edit soundtracks, film, and video for the motion picture, cable, and broadcast television industries. Some camera operators do their own editing.
Making commercial-quality movies and video programs requires technical expertise and creativity. Producing successful images requires choosing and presenting interesting material, selecting appropriate equipment, and applying a good eye and steady hand to assure smooth, natural movement of the camera.
Camera operators use television, video, or motion picture cameras to shoot a wide range of material, including television series, studio programs, news and sporting events, music videos, motion pictures, documentaries, and training sessions. Some camera operators film or videotape private ceremonies and special events. Those who record images on videotape are often called videographers. Many are employed by independent television stations, local affiliates, large cable and television networks, or smaller, independent production companies. Studio camera operators work in a broadcast studio and usually videotape their subjects from a fixed position. News camera operators, also called electronic news gathering (ENG) operators, work as part of a reporting team, following newsworthy events as they unfold. To capture live events, they must anticipate the action and act quickly. ENG operators may need to edit raw footage on the spot for relay to a television affiliate for broadcast.
Camera operators employed in the entertainment field use motion picture cameras to film movies, television programs, and commercials. Those who film motion pictures are also known as cinematographers. Some specialize in filming cartoons or special effects. They may be an integral part of the action, using cameras in any of several different mounts. For example, the camera operator can be stationary and shoot whatever passes in front of the lens, or the camera can be mounted on a track, with the camera operator responsible for shooting the scene from different angles or directions. More recently, the introduction of digital cameras has enhanced the number of angles and the clarity that a camera operator can provide. Other camera operators sit on cranes and follow the action while crane operators move them into position. Steadicam operators mount a harness and carry the camera on their shoulders to provide a clear picture while they move about the action. Camera operators who work in the entertainment field often meet with directors, actors, editors, and camera assistants to discuss ways of filming, editing, and improving scenes.
Working conditions for camera operators and editors vary considerably. Those employed in government, television and cable networks, and advertising agencies usually work a 5-day, 40-hour week. By contrast, ENG operators often work long, irregular hours and must be available to work on short notice. Camera operators and editors working in motion picture production also may work long, irregular hours.
ENG operators and those who cover major events, such as conventions or sporting events, frequently travel locally, stay overnight on assignments, or travel to distant places for longer periods. Camera operators filming television programs or motion pictures may travel to film on location.
Some camera operators—especially ENG operators covering accidents, natural disasters, civil unrest, or military conflicts—work in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings. Many camera operators must wait long hours in all kinds of weather for an event to take place and must stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment. ENG operators often work under strict deadlines.
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators held about 28,000 jobs in 2002, and film and video editors held about 19,000. About 1 in 5 camera operators were self-employed. Some self-employed camera operators contracted with television networks, documentary or independent filmmakers, advertising agencies, or trade show or convention sponsors to work on individual projects for a predetermined fee, often at a daily rate.
Most of the salaried camera operators were employed by television broadcasting stations or motion picture studios. More than half of the salaried film and video editors worked for motion picture studios. Most camera operators and editors worked in large metropolitan areas.
Employers usually seek applicants with a “good eye,” imagination, and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of how the camera operates. Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors usually acquire their skills through on-the-job training or formal postsecondary training at vocational schools, colleges, universities, or photographic institutes. Formal education may be required for some positions.
Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer courses in camera operation and videography. Basic courses cover equipment, processes, and techniques. Bachelor’s degree programs, especially those including business courses, provide a well-rounded education.
Individuals interested in camera operations should subscribe to videographic newsletters and magazines, join clubs, and seek summer or part-time employment in cable and television networks, motion picture studios, or camera and video stores.
Camera operators in entry-level jobs learn to set up lights, cameras, and other equipment. They may receive routine assignments requiring adjustments to their cameras or decisions on what subject matter to capture. Camera operators in the film and television industries usually are hired for a project on the basis of recommendations from individuals such as producers, directors of photography, and camera assistants from previous projects or through interviews with the producer. ENG and studio camera operators who work for television affiliates usually start in small markets to gain experience.
Camera operators need good eyesight, artistic ability, and hand-eye coordination. They should be patient, accurate, and detail oriented. Camera operators also should have good communication skills and, if needed, the ability to hold a camera by hand for extended periods.
Camera operators who run their own businesses, or freelance, need business skills as well as talent. These individuals must know how to submit bids, write contracts, get permission to shoot on locations that normally are not open to the public, obtain releases to use film or tape of people, price their services, secure copyright protection for their work, and keep financial records.
With increased experience, operators may advance to more demanding assignments or to positions with larger or network television stations. Advancement for ENG operators may mean moving to larger media markets. Other camera operators and editors may become directors of photography for movie studios, advertising agencies, or television programs. Some teach at technical schools, film schools, or universities.
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors can expect keen competition for job openings because the work is attractive to many people. The number of individuals interested in positions as videographers and movie camera operators usually is much greater than the number of openings. Those who succeed in landing a salaried job or attracting enough work to earn a living by freelancing are likely to be the most creative, highly motivated, able to adapt to rapidly changing technologies, and adept at operating a business. Related work experience or job-related training also can benefit prospective camera operators.
Employment of camera operators and editors is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. Rapid expansion of the entertainment market, especially motion picture production and distribution, will spur growth of camera operators. In addition, computer and Internet services will provide new outlets for interactive productions. Growth will be tempered, however, by the increased off-shore production of motion pictures. Camera operators will be needed to film made-for-the-Internet broadcasts, such as live music videos, digital movies, sports features, and general information or entertainment programming. These images can be delivered directly into the home either on compact discs or over the Internet. Job growth also is expected in radio and television broadcasting.
Median annual earnings for television, video, and motion picture camera operators were $32,720 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $20,610 and $51,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,070. Median annual earnings were $46,540 in the motion picture and video industries and $25,830 in radio and television broadcasting.
Median annual earnings for film and video editors were $38,270 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,780 and $55,300. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,070. Median annual earnings were $41,440 in the motion picture and video industries, which employ the largest numbers of film and video editors.
Many camera operators who work in film or video are freelancers whose earnings tend to fluctuate each year. Because most freelance camera operators purchase their own equipment, they incur considerable expense acquiring and maintaining cameras and accessories. Some camera operators belong to unions, including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.
Related arts and media occupations include artists and related workers, broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators, designers, and photographers.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about career and employment opportunities for camera operators and film and video editors is available from local offices of State employment service agencies, local offices of the relevant trade unions, and local television and film production companies that employ these workers.
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