What does a camera operator do?
Camera operators are responsible for capturing the action. They shoot what’s happening, whether that’s on location for a news programme or documentary, or on a large multi-camera studio show or a major outside broadcast. They know which cameras to use in which conditions and consider the composition, framing and movement of a shot.
Camera operators on multi-camera studio programmes, or outside broadcasts, work as part of a team of several camera operators all covering the action from several different angles. Some have cameras mounted on mobile pedestals, which they move smoothly around the studio, rotate and adjust to create beautiful, flowing shots. Multi-camera operators are often given ‘blocking’ or ‘shot’ notes, indicating where the presenters and contributors are going to move. These are then used for rehearsal and amended if necessary. During rehearsal, recording or live transmission, they all respond to instructions from the director via headsets.
When shooting on location, such as on documentaries, they might be the only camera operator, sometimes working in all kinds of conditions; underwater, in a snowstorm or in a desert. They often operate a variety of different cameras, including handheld, cameras mounted on a body frame (Steadicam) or a drone. They are responsible for taking care of the kit, wherever they are shooting, and often own their equipment. Camera operators are often skilled at lighting and for that reason are sometimes known as lighting camera operators. On single camera shoots, they can sometimes be responsible for both the lighting and the sound
Camera operators with a lot of experience have their own editorial eye and often offer up shots and ideas to the journalist or producer. On large shows shot at various locations by a number of different camera operators, one very experienced senior camera operator is responsible for establishing the shooting style for all the camera operators to follow, and in this instance is credited as the director of photography.
What’s a camera operator good at?
Photography: have a good eye and understanding of composition, light, colour, focus and framing. You may specialise in certain genres, but you must also be able to adapt to different shooting styles
Technical knowledge of cameras: have an in-depth understanding of the latest motion picture equipment, cameras, lens, monitors and lights
Communication: listen, do what’s asked by the producer and director and work as a team with other crew and production staff
Multi-task: watch, listen, think quickly and problem solve on the go, all whilst carrying out complex technical tasks. Adapt to requirements of different shoots
Concentration: be patient, maintain focus over long programme shoots and stay calm under pressure