Camera Operator

The Camera Operator or Cameraman does exactly what you imagine the job to be. He operates the camera and maintains composition and camera angles throughout a given scene or shot.

The Operator is in charge of the Camera Crew – First Assistant, Second Assistant and Trainees. The Operator works under the Director of Photography (DoP) and the Director and is usually the first person to look through the lens to assess how all the elements come together to create the cinematic experience.

The seamless ease with which the camera moves is key to the narrative flow of feature films and is the Camera Operator’s responsibility, working alongside the Key Grip whose crew operates the range of complex equipment needed to carry the camera smoothly, gracefully and effortlessly through each scene.

What skills does a Camera Operator need?

  • A good sense of visual composition, perspective and movement, combining creativity with technical skills.
  • Precise attention to detail combined with effective communication skills.
  • Tact, diplomacy and patience when working with crew and performers as there are many unavoidable delays on set.
  • Initiative and the ability to respond quickly to many different situations.
  • Stamina and strength combined with agility and speed are essential attributes, as is manual dexterity, as is the ability to work comfortably on location or in the studio at heights or in challenging situations. The job is physically demanding, the hours are long and the work is very hands-on.
Once the Director and DoP have rehearsed and blocked the shots, the DoP and Operator decide where to position the camera. During shooting the Operator is responsible for all aspects of camera operation, which allows the DoP to concentrate on lighting and overall visual style.

Having overall responsibility for the Camera Crew and equipment, making sure that everything is ready for the shoot and keeping ahead of any last-minute changes, means that the Operator must be able to watch and listen to everything going on around them and think on their feet when the need arises. They fine–tune the exact details of each shot, which often involves suggesting creative improvements or alternatives, as well as working closely with performers, guiding them on what can and cannot be seen by the camera.

The role of the Camera Operator remains a crucial link not only between the Director and DoP but the other major departments, including Art Department, Hair & Make–Up and Costume.

Camera Operators begin their careers as Camera Trainees or Runners, progressing to 2nd Assistant Camera and, as they gain more experience, to 1st Assistant Camera. Throughout this progression, they must build upon their experience and have an extensive working knowledge of all camera systems and accessories – both film and digital. As well as having advanced technical abilities the Operator must be creative and artistic with a good eye for framing shots.

Training and Qualifications

The Operator will already have served for several years through the Camera grades (Trainee, 2nd AC and 1st AC) of the Camera Crew in order to qualify as an Operator. The only extra information an Operator needs is to constantly update on shooting techniques, lighting set–ups and other practices by testing out new equipment, studying trade journals, attending exhibitions and joining industry forums and associations.

Resources

WEBSITES

MAGAZINES

BOOKS

  • Cinematography: A Guide for Film Makers and Film Teachers byKris Malkiewicz, Jim Fletcher
  • The Camera Assistant’s Manual by David E. Elkins SOC
  • Practical Cinematography by Paul Wheeler
  • FilmCraft: Cinematography by Mike Goodridge Mike Goodridge & Tim Grierson
  • High Definition Cinematography by Paul Wheeler
  • The Complete Film Production Handbook by Eve Light Honthaner
  • Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice) by Elliot Grove
  • From Script to Screen: Collaborative Art of Film Making by Lynda Seger & Edward J Whitmore

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