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Television Camera Operator


Camera operators operate television cameras and related equipment to record news, live events and television productions. They use specific cameras, lenses and lighting techniques to create a desired look to a television show or newscast. They sit or stand behind the camera lens and try to compose moving pictures. With experience, camera operators learn how to manipulate the camera to produce altered effects. Camera operators meet with producers, directors, electricians, actors and editors on a daily basis to discuss the shooting schedule, visions, any problems and future improvements.

Television camera operators study technical aspects of filming by reading charts and computing ratios to determine variables such as lighting, shutter angles, filter factors, and camera distance. Many will walk around a set with a 35 mm camera taking pictures. Television camera operators use different techniques in filming such as zooms, fades and blurring of the background, with a close up focus. They adjust the position and controls of photographic equipment and select cameras, accessories, equipment, and film stock to use during filming. TV camera operators troubleshoot for potential problems and to determine filming and lighting requirements.

In television news programs, the camera operator is usually the first person on the scene, making sure that all the visual components of the story are captured accurately and interestingly. Stations usually pair up a camera operator with a reporter. Many of these interviews are filmed live, so there is no room for mistakes. Some camera operators are responsible for setting up the audio equipment and making sure the reporter's voice will be heard clearly on the tape when it's broadcast. Some may also be responsible for camera maintenance and buying film, lenses or other special parts for the camera. These operators will have to work within a set budget and keep inventory.

Two forms of camera operation in television news are electronic news gathering (ENG) and electronic field production (EFP). When you think of a news team driving around in a big truck, filled with electronic equipment and sporting antennas and satellites from the roof, that is a large component of ENG. Camera operators working with ENG or EFP equipment may also set up recording, lighting and playback equipment for field productions. They are responsible for producing the visual content of news items and achieving the desired visual content for commercials or program productions.
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  Interests and Skills  
Television camera operators need to have excellent motor (hand-eye) coordination, good vision and hearing and a great deal of stamina. They should possess an interest in electronics and new technology. Camera operators must remain alert while performing routine, repetitive tasks and respond quickly if any problems occur.

They should enjoy working with a crew of people and be able to clearly communicate ideas and take positive and negative feedback. Those who will be traveling on the job, must be comfortable with being in dangerous surroundings, such as war zones or hurricanes. Finally, they should enjoy operating, testing and maintaining camera equipment.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Confer with director and electrician regarding interpretation of scene, desired effects, filming and lighting requirements
  • Read charts and compute ratios to determine variables, such as lighting, shutter angles, filter factors, and camera distance
  • Check all film that is loaded in the camera to make sure it has been properly threaded and zeroed
  • Make sure there are no flares in the camera lens and that it is properly scrimmed
  • Set the camera eyepiece focus to the proper diopter setting for the operator's eye
  • Make sure the camera speed is correct prior to each take
  • Make sure the camera shutter is in the proper position and that light is not leaking into the camera
  • Make sure the proper lens, matte and cam are positioned on the camera
  • Indicate to the boom operator when the microphone is in frame and give him limits so he can get in as close as possible
  • Focus camera on news reporters or actors
  • Make minor electronic adjustments to cameras
  • Maintain and store camera equipment
  • Camera operators work in television studios/sets and on location, which can sometimes be remote and foreign. Many television camera operators work rotating eight-hour shifts which means that they may be required to work afternoons, evenings, weekends and holidays. Coping with tight schedules and deadlines can be a stressful part of the job. Television camera operators may be required to lift heavy equipment.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Television camera operators work for television networks, stations and studios. They either work as freelancers or on contract with a station or studio. Once they gain experience, TV camera operators will be able to get jobs based on the name that they build for themselves.

  Long Term Career Potential  
The television broadcasting field is very competitive so inexperienced camera operators must be willing to start at the bottom of the ladder. Once they gain experience, they can move to positions in larger stations and become more specialized. Experienced television camera operators can advance to technical supervisory positions and, if they have the necessary ability and experience, eventually become directors or producers.

Freelancing has become the trend for people seeking or continuing careers as camera operators. Contract employment can also be found in producing in-house programs such as corporate videos. Some camera operators may decide to move into still photography, which is in fact quite similar. Since they are already equipped with technical skills, they can move into any broadcasting technical positions involving cameras, including editing in film.

  Educational Paths  
The majority of camera television operators have a university degree or college diploma in broadcast journalism. Those wishing to work for news stations will require formal training. On-the-job training is still a great option for this industry. Aspiring camera operators should volunteer at television stations to learn first-hand from experts. Also, this will help people decide if they truly wish to pursue this profession.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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