Career Advice on How to Become a Camera Operator for Television, Video and Motion Pictures

General Career Information

There is no business like show business. After all, these guys get the big paychecks and mostly get to do whatever they please, regardless of the consequences. But someone has to be there to capture the work of these “modern day gods among men,” and that is where the camera operator comes in. Within the film and television industry, a good cinematographer is seen as a valuable commodity indeed. Usually a good cinematographer has years of experience, in addition to formal training and expertise. 
What an accomplished and dedicated cinematographer is capable of achieving differs wildly from a camera operator, who works weddings and special events. This person would be known as a videographer. Likewise, those who work news stories are known as electronic newsgathering operators or ENG operators. ENG operators may also do rough editing on location to later broadcast.

Career Facts:

Obviously, it takes much more skill to be a quality cinematographer on a feature film, than it does to be a wedding videographer. But any camera operator is going to have to understand the basics of not only how to operate the equipment, but how to light an area, and also what locations will and will not work for shooting purposes. 

What many people outside of the film industry may not realize is that cinematographers in particular are often known to make the “jump” to working as director (and thus directing television programs and movies.)    Those who are in the process of a job search or career planning may want to consider this interesting factor when making their career decisions.


Career Opportunities and Job Outlook-Fair:

It is not uncommon for some camera operators, such as videographers, to own their own companies, where they can shoot weddings and special events. There are also very capable and even accomplished cinematographers who own their own companies and equipment. Often these cinematographers are self-employed freelancers that will take jobs on anything, ranging from independent films, to wildlife documentaries, to feature films and television programs. Once a reputation has been built and a body of work has been established, it is possible for those working in the industry to branch out on their own.
As of 2006, there were 27,000 people employed as camera operators in the United States. The rate of growth is a pretty average twelve percent.
Job Outlook is Fair  

A Day in The Life:

The average day for a camera operator can vary greatly depending on the nature of the work. If one is working as a cinematographer on a $100 million dollar feature film, the workday is likely going to be much different than an ENG camera operator covering a war zone or a videographer covering a wedding (which is a much different kind of war zone altogether if you consider the hazards of taping the chicken dance and lambada.)

Average Salary:

The average camera operator earns about $40,000 a year, with the top ten-percent of camera operators earning about $85,000. 

$40k - $85k


Career Training and Qualifications:

It is not uncommon for camera operators and especially cinematographers to have a film school background. Many universities across the country offer degree programs. It should also be noted that this is a very competitive career.
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