How to Become
a Camera Operator
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
The film and television industry is driven by consumer spending and their willingness to dedicate their leisure time to visual entertainment. If you’re interested in joining this industry in a hands-on role, you might want to learn how to become a camera operator.
Camera operators are hired by cable companies, video production houses, and film companies because of their proficiency in operating technical filmmaking equipment.
The guide below will give you all the details you need to launch your career as a camera operator, including the education path you should follow and the salary you can expect.
What Is a Camera Operator?
Camera operators are responsible for operating a handful of camera-related technical equipment, including portable cameras, electronic cameras, and mobile mounts. As the market for movies and videos grows, so does the demand for camera operators.
These professionals may work on film sets or TV production sets, or record live broadcasts. In the past year, demand for these positions has grown as viewers’ demand for new TV and film content increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Camera Operator?
Most production companies prefer to hire camera operators who have a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting or Film. At the very least, students must have an associate degree or a certification showing that they have completed a formal program to become a camera operator.
Even if you have a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, it is still important to get experience. Since film is a broad area of study, you will need to spend time specifically learning how to use a camera. To do this, camera operators must acquire training after completing their degree, perhaps in the form of an internship.
Best Camera Operator Education Tracks
To learn how to handle camera equipment at a professional level, you should get a formal education so you can start learning about the entertainment industry. Below are several education paths you can choose from as an aspiring camera operator.
Unlike regular universities, community colleges offer associate degrees that take two years to complete. They are also usually more affordable than obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Many online colleges offer courses in digital camera operation, film editing, post-production, lighting, and cinematography.
Camera Operation Degrees
Most employers are looking to hire candidates who have a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies, Television, Video Production, Fine Arts, or Cinematic Art.
In these four-year programs, you will learn sound editing, broadcasting, visual storytelling, and directing. You will also create your own videos, working with a team. This will give you a chance to try out many roles, from filming to writing to directing.
Many of these programs set students up with internship opportunities, thereby bucking the trend of universities failing to prepare students for the workforce.
Camera Operation Courses
If you aren’t interested in getting a degree, you should at least sign up for a few short camera operator courses. You can find a wide variety of relevant courses on massive open online course (MOOC) providers such as Coursera.
Most of these classes are self-paced and can be completed in a matter of weeks. In a typical camera operator class, you might learn about media production, camera operation, studio production, and Adobe creative skills.
How to Become a Camera Operator: A Step-by-Step Guide
The best way to become a camera operator is by going to a film school or university to acquire technical skills. Alternatively, you might be able to land an apprenticeship after completing a two-year associate degree in film studies.
There are several pathways that you could follow. Below, we’ll go over the most popular route to starting your career.
Get familiar with cameras
Before you start working toward becoming a camera operator, you should get familiar with video editing, film production, and camera equipment. Get comfortable with using different lenses and shooting modes, and experiment with whatever gear you can get your hands on.
Enroll in a community college or university
The best way to become a camera operator is by enrolling in an associate or bachelor’s degree program in a field related to film.
Practice your skills
After completing your formal education, the next step is to practice. Most employers are looking for candidates who are highly skilled, and the only way to get better is by taking action.
Gain work experience
Experience will play a huge role in whether you land a job, especially if you’re hoping to join a large production company. Consider volunteering or taking on an internship to gain experience.
Apply for jobs
The final step is to start applying for jobs. Look at online job boards to find an opportunity that matches your qualifications and skill level. Make sure you have updated your resume to emphasize your skills before submitting your application.
Key Camera Operator Skills
Although camera operators must have a set of basic skills, their tasks will vary depending on their employer and the type of TV show or films they work on. Below are key skills that all camera operators should have.
Camera operation involves both practical and technical knowledge of cameras. This is the most important skill, as you will be working with cameras every day. While filming, you will need to know how to choose the best camera and lens for each particular scene.
Video production skills are important because they will help you know how to set up cameras and lighting before a scene is filmed. Having an understanding of the production process will also help you generate ideas for how a scene should be filmed. This skill will put you at a significant advantage during your job hunt.
Live broadcasting skills will likely come into play if you want to work in television. If you plan to work in live TV, you will need to know how to set up technical equipment specifically for this format. Part of this skill is the ability to respond quickly to directions from other production team members.
Camera Operator Salary and Job Outlook
A camera operator’s annual salary will vary depending on their field, location, and position. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), camera operators earn an average annual salary of $61,900.
The need for these professionals in the US has significantly increased over the past few years. A BLS report predicted that there will be an 18 percent increase in the demand for camera operators by 2029.
Entry-Level Camera Operator Job Requirements
Entry-level requirements for a camera operator job will vary, but most employers want to see a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinematography. They will also be looking for professional experience operating video cameras, and experience with film editing software.
What Does a Camera Operator Do?
A camera operator performs many duties, including setting up equipment, planning shots, and recording scenes. Below are some important tasks that camera operators carry out on a daily basis.
Sets Up Camera Equipment
Setting up camera equipment for video shoots or live broadcasts is an important task for a camera operator. This includes carrying heavy equipment to the scene of the production.
Plans and Directs Shots
As a camera operator, you will be directly involved in the shooting process. Depending on your experience and skillset, you will be expected to plan and rehearse shots. If you are more experienced, you will also likely be asked to provide your feedback on shots.
Works With Other Departments
As a camera operator, you will need to coordinate with other technical departments, such as the sound department, to make sure the final video is up to standard. You may also be called on by other departments to deal with any technical issues that arise in the filming or editing process.
Camera Operator Certifications
Although having a certification isn’t mandatory to become a camera operator, you should consider getting one if you want to expand your job opportunities. Below are some professional certification programs you should look into.
Avid Certified Professional: Media Composer
There are many benefits to having an Avid Certified Professional: Media Composer certification. It will help you qualify for promotions and other job opportunities, especially if you are interested in assisting with post-production. To earn this title, you will need to complete two courses on Avid programs, and pass an exam.
Certified Legal Video Specialist
The Certified Legal Video Specialist qualification is designed for videographers who want to learn how to film legal depositions. This is a very specialized certification that is meant to uphold the integrity and standards of how legal videos are filmed, and how they are used both inside and outside of courtroom proceedings.
Certified Senior Broadcast Television Engineer
This certification is designed to showcase proficiency in broadcast engineering. Although it’s intended mostly for broadcast technicians, camera operators can also benefit from this program. That’s because it also covers the process of setting up, operating, and maintaining equipment used in broadcasting.
To get this title, you’ll need to have at least 10 years of experience in broadcast engineering or a related field.
How to Prepare for Your Camera Operator Job Interview
The best way to get ready for an interview is by practicing. Below are some of the most frequently asked interview questions that you should review to help you ace your job interview.
Camera Operator Job Interview Practice Questions
- What made you choose a career as a video camera operator?
- What are some of your favorite cameras to use, and why?
- Explain the concepts of ISO, image stabilization, and lighting, as used in camera operations.
- In your opinion, what is the most important skill to have as a camera operator and why?
How Long Does It Take to Become a Camera Operator?
The timeline to becoming a camera operator will vary depending on what type of education you want to get. Obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree is the most popular route. Regardless of the education you choose, it will take you two to four years to become a professional camera operator in the US.
Should You Become a Camera Operator in 2021?
Becoming a camera operator in 2021 is an excellent idea. Apart from the decent salary, there is also expected to be a huge increase in the number of job openings in this career in the coming years.
If you have an eye for video and film and are passionate about the entertainment industry, 2021 is a great time to become a camera operator. Once you start working and can specialize in a particular area of the TV or movie industry, you’ll become even more marketable in today’s workplace.
Camera Operator FAQ
What qualifications do you need to be a camera operator?
The qualifications will differ based on the type of camera operation you are doing. Most employers will give preference to applicants who have a formal education, particularly a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinematography, Film, or Broadcasting.
Is it hard to become a camera operator?
Becoming a camera operator has its challenges. For instance, as a student, you will most likely be dealing with low-level production. Yet, to get a job at a major company, you will need to have experience with high-quality production. The only way to make up for this is by gaining as much experience as possible through internships.
What’s the difference between a camera operator and a cinematographer?
Although a camera operator and cinematographer have similar job duties, one key difference between the two professions is that a cinematographer does not actually operate the camera during filming.
What equipment does a camera operator use?
Camera operators use a wide range of technical equipment, such as mobile mounts, digital cameras, cranes, and remote-control cameras.