There are several different types of camera operator jobs in both the television and motion picture industries. Beyond the basic industry differences, camera operators typically fall into two job categories based on the type of cameras used, typically either video or film. There are also several kinds of camera operator jobs within each industry.
Many camera operators may be able to cross industries or job categories. For example, a film camera operator may work with a video camera on a small project that is not related to the filmmaking industry. The one exception to this is photojournalists, who typically do not cross into the entertainment or advertising industries.
Camera operator jobs in the television industry may be involved in several different types of productions, including television series, made-for-TV movies, commercials, and news broadcasts. Some of these productions use video cameras to record on videotape or to digital video files. Others, especially commercials and television movies, often use film cameras.
There are several different kinds of jobs open to experienced film camera operators. Each position on a film set usually requires a different level of skill or seniority. Many of the upper-level camera operators in this field began their careers working in assistant camera operator jobs.
The chief camera operator on a film set is usually the cinematographer. Many cinematographers, especially those working on small budget films, work without assistants. On large productions, one or two other camera operators typically aid the cinematographer.
A cinematographer usually works with the film director and art department to plan the images to be included in a shot. This job is often both highly creative and technical. Cinematographers often need to be aware of many factors affecting a shot, such as lighting, lenses, lens filters, and camera movement.
Assistant camera operator jobs typically include varied tasks, like focus pulling, loading film, and operating the clapper. Focus pulling involves manipulating the camera lens at the direction of the cinematographer during a shot. Assistant camera operators may have to roll undeveloped film onto spools that are loaded into the camera. Also, the clapper is a tool that camera operators use to sync the film with any audio tracks.
Video camera operator jobs often involve different techniques. News broadcasts generally require the camera operator, journalist, or director to edit the video very quickly — often live — while the camera is recording. Most television news camera operators work both in the studio and in the field.
Other video camera operator jobs are positions similar to those of the cinematographer. These camera operators may work with directors to record movies, television series episodes, or commercials. Many small film companies or independent filmmakers prefer video cameras because they are less expensive and easier to operate than film cameras. Digital video camera operators can work in a variety of entertainment and advertising arenas.