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Television camera operator: Job description

A television camera operator works with digital, electronic and film cameras and produces pictures for directors by combining the use of complex technology with creative visual skills.

A camera operator may specialise in any or all of the following areas:

  • in a studio, where the camera operator usually follows a camera script, which gives the order of shots. This is practised at rehearsal and is cued by the director during recording. The skill lies in interpreting what the director wants and acting quickly and effectively to achieve it;
  • outside broadcasts, working as part of a team of camera operators filming live events, such as sporting and ceremonial occasions and music performances;
  • on location, where there is likely to be more opportunity for creativity through suggesting shots to the director.

Typical work activities

A camera operator usually works under a director or director of photography and may be supported by a camera assistant. The role involves a mix of technical and creative skills.

Work activities vary greatly depending on the type of programme, for example studio or outside broadcast programmes, television dramas, commercials, documentaries, current affair and news, and whether the camera operator is using one of several cameras or a portable single camera (PSB). However, generally typical work activities include:

  • assembling, preparing and setting up equipment prior to filming, which may include tripods, monitors, lighting, cables and leads, and headphones;
  • offering advice on how best to shoot a scene, explaining the visual impact created by particular shots;
  • planning shots - when filming an expensive drama scene, such as an explosion, there may be only one chance to get things right so shots need to be meticulously planned beforehand;
  • practising the camera moves required for pre-arranged shots;
  • studying scripts;
  • finding solutions to technical or other practical problems (for an outside broadcast, for example, the natural light conditions need to be taken into account when setting up shots);
  • being prepared to innovate and experiment with ideas;
  • working quickly, especially as timing is such an important factor;
  • taking sole responsibility in situations where only one camera operator is involved in the filming;
  • keeping up to date with filming methods and equipment;
  • repairing and maintaining equipment;
  • demonstrating a good awareness of health and safety issues;
  • driving crew, actors and equipment to and from locations.

Part of the role involves interacting and maintaining good working relationships with other members of the crew and cast, including the director, producer, sound recordists, lighting technicians, actors, presenters and interviewees.

Written by AGCAS editors
June 2013

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