Becoming a Camera Operator: Job Description & Salary Information

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What're the pros and cons to becoming a camera operator? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a camera operator is right for you.
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Becoming a Camera Operator: Pros and Cons

As a camera operator, you capture images that provide a product that entertains or educates viewers. Take a look below at some of the other upsides and downsides to becoming a camera operator.

Becoming a Camera Operator: PROS
Slightly above-average wage ($56,510 mean annual wage)*
Over time, you can work your way up from smaller stations to larger ones*
Mobile and online television might result in additional career opportunities for camera operators*
With experience, creativity and drive, you can be promoted to a producer or director*
Self-employment opportunities (self-employment was 24% in 2012 for camera operators)*

Becoming a Camera Operator: CONS
Slow-than-average job growth expected (about 3% from 2012-2022)*
You may have to travel and be away from your home for extended periods of time*
Work on location may be potentially dangerous*
You're required to stand for long periods of time*
Equipment you work with is heavy*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Camera operators can work for news stations, motion picture studios and television studios in addition to filming special events, like weddings. Job duties may vary depending on the type of work environment. For instance, broadcast studio camera operators typically follow set directions for filming, and their subjects are usually in a static position within the studio. Cinematographers, on the other hand, may be on location using track-mounted cameras. They'll have to make numerous decisions, such as what camera to use and the best angle to capture the shot. Most camera operators are in charge of their camera equipment. You have to store and maintain it to ensure that it is in working order. You might have several assistants working under you that can help with these duties. After setting up your camera, you'll shoot from the best angle possible and ensure that the camera stays in focus for a clear picture.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that as of May 2014, camera operators earned roughly $56,510 on average annually, which resulted in an hourly wage of about $27.17 (www.bls.gov). The top ten percent of camera operators made about $95,160 annually, while the bottom ten percent made less than $23,000. Additionally, the highest annual mean wages could be found in Maryland, New York, California, the District of Columbia and Georgia.

Occupational Requirements

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree is becoming the standard for camera operators. You'll want to major in an area like broadcasting, communications or film. Some schools offer classes and certificates in camera operation. Other classes you might take include cinematography, filming techniques and shooting green screen. You need to become familiar with computer technology and digital cameras because these are tools you'll use as a camera operator. Many camera operators start out as assistants on movie sets. Over time, you can acquire work experience and on-the-job training to work your way up to becoming a camera operator.

What Do Employers Want in Camera Operators?

The ability to keep the camera steady while being able to quickly maneuver it is crucial to keeping a clear picture, so good hand-eye coordination and a steady hand are necessities. Additionally, employers want camera operators with the technical skills to properly operate the camera equipment. Below, you can read what some real employers were requesting in camera operators for jobs in April 2012:

  • A racetrack in Minnesota has an opening for a camera operator. Applicants should have experience concentrating on a single shot while receiving instructions from a director. Applicants must be able to operate a tower-mounted video camera, climb a 40-foot ladder and work in a fast-paced environment.
  • A Florida media company is looking for a bilingual camera operator who can stand for long periods of time and pull and push at least 50 pounds. Applicants must be knowledgeable about wrapping and connecting studio cables as well as operating a studio camera.
  • A TV station in South Carolina requires a camera operator for daily newscasts. Applicants must be willing to work holidays, nights and weekends. Requirements include a degree in communications or similar field or one year of work experience.

How to Stand out as a Camera Operator

The greatest way you can stand out as a camera operator is to obtain work experience, whether through an internship or assistant position. You'll be better situated to find employment if you're familiar with the ins and outs of the industry in which you want to work. This includes taking the time to learn how news stations operate or how filming is done on a movie set. Creating a digital video portfolio is another way to demonstrate your skills and creativity. You can highlight different shots and techniques in your portfolio.

Other Occupational Options

Photographer

If you'd rather work with still pictures instead of video, consider being a photographer. Your pictures might be used in advertising, news, fine arts or scientific studies. There are typically no specific educational requirements to become a photographer. However, scientific photographers as well as photojournalists are sometimes required to have a bachelor's degree. In May 2011, the BLS reported that photographers had an average income of about $37,000. An additional 17,500 photographers were expected to be added to the field between 2010 and 2020, which is a job growth of about 13%.

Reporter

If you want to be in front of the camera instead of behind it, you may want to look into becoming a reporter instead. As a reporter, you'll present news on air in front of the camera. You might be doing your pieces live or through recorded voice overs. You'll be involved with the news writing process and often have to find your own stories on which to report. The environment is typically fast paced and competitive with long hours and irregular work schedules. But it can be exciting, and because the job involves interviewing people and investigating stories, you'll likely meet lots of interesting people.

Reporters earned around $44,000 or so on average yearly according to the BLS in May 2011. While reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts as a whole were expected to see an employment decline of eight percent between 2010 and 2020, broadcast news analysts were expected to see a job growth of ten percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Campus and Online Programs
    2. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science - Film Production
      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Film (Campus)
      • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
      • BS - Audio Production
      • B.S. - Digital Cinematography
      • B.S. - Media Communications
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication
  • Valdosta, GA

    Wiregrass Georgia Technical College

  • Rochester, NY

    Rochester Institute of Technology

  • Queens, NY

    St. John's University

  • Blue Ash, OH

    University of Cincinnati

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    8. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

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Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Film Production
  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
  • BS - Film (Campus)
  • BS - Media Communications (Campus)

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Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication

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Wiregrass Georgia Technical College

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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