Becoming a Sports Cameraman: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a being a sports cameraman? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a sports cameraman is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Sports Cameraman

Sports cameramen, or camera operators, capture live sporting events and broadcast them for at-home viewers. Read on to see some of the pros and cons of a career as a sports cameraman.

Pros of Being a Sports Cameraman
Decent earnings potential (highest ten percent made more than $95,000 in May 2014)*
Can be your own boss (22% of camera operators were self-employed in 2012)*
Creative and technical career (use creativity to frame and put together images and technical knowledge to operate equipment)*
Exciting and fast paced (work around the sports and events you love)*

Cons of Being a Sports Cameraman
Highly competitive field (Slow growth expected from 2012 to 2022)*
Work long hours, nights and weekends (some jobs require on-call availability)*
Conditions can be less than ideal (work in all kinds of weather lifting and transporting heavy camera equipment)*
Work can be seasonal and require travel (self-employed must find work between seasons and may travel widely to jobs and events)*

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

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Sports camera operators should be skilled at shooting action footage from fixed and moving positions. It is also important that they understand the rules and execution of the sports they are shooting so they can match their shots to the action. They need to be able to anticipate what is coming next and be ready at a moment's notice to respond to a director's call. There can be considerable pressure to get the shot, as there are no second chances at live events. Some creativity is involved in choosing, framing and executing shots from various angles and distances, although camera operators may also follow a shot list.

While they typically have assistants, sports camera operators are responsible for their equipment and may have to transport it, set it up and break it down for each event. They may also have to climb and shoot from high towers, ride a camera mount and stand for very long periods of time prior to and during events.

Career Prospects and Salary

While there is no shortage of televised sporting events, there tend to be more camera operators vying for jobs than there are opportunities available. Prospects are better the more experienced you are and the more diverse your skill set. Freelance camera operators who have their own equipment may also have more and better opportunities. Automation of camera systems in broadcasting has led to a decline in employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which predicts slow growth for television, video and motion picture camera operators (6% from 2012-2022).

As of May 2013, the BLS indicated a mean annual salary of about $57,000 for camera operators in all industries. Those working in television broadcasting earned around $46,000, while motion picture and video broadcasting camera operators made about $63,000. Earnings vary for self-employed camera operators, who may charge per hour or get paid a flat rate per job, according to the most recent data from the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

Most sports camera operators have a bachelor's degree in an area like sports broadcasting and knowledge of digital technology and video editing software. They may receive on-the-job training by working as a videographer for their college's athletics department or interning at a small local station. Whether it is paid or unpaid, work experience that can be translated into a highlight reel is crucial to getting a job as a sports camera operator.

What Are Employers Looking for?

In addition to game-day production experience, employers look for camera operators with a passion for and understanding of the sports they are shooting and who know how to operate high-end cameras and equipment. Many employers will ask for a clip reel that shows the depth and breadth of your experience and abilities. Other important qualities include having excellent hand-eye coordination, working well with others and being detail-oriented and creative. The following are actual employer postings for sports camera operator jobs open during May 2012.

  • A major cable company is hiring a camera operator for two of its regional sports networks located in Southern California. The ideal candidate will have a degree or diploma; 5-7 years of experience; knowledge of photography, broadcasting and video editing; and on-call availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • A racetrack and casino just outside Minneapolis is seeking a seasonal camera operator to operate a tower-mounted SDI camera during live horse races. Requirements include being able to learn new camera techniques, climb a 40-foot ladder and shoot specific horses in a fast-paced live setting.
  • A broadcasting company in West Palm Beach, FL, is in search for two EX3 camera operators who can supply their own cameras (preferably with zoom control and sticks) for Formula Drift racing.
  • A minor league baseball team in Madison, WI, is in need of 15-20 camera operators to assist with broadcasting home games during its summer season. High school and college students seeking experience shooting with high-end cameras on a tripod are welcome to apply for this unpaid position.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

One of the best ways for sports camera operators to get an edge is to gain experience working different types of jobs as well as knowledge of the latest techniques and high-end cameras, sound and lighting equipment. As you get more experience, you'll be able to add to your clip reel and qualify for bigger jobs at higher-profile events. Another way to stand out is to become skilled in various aspects of production, like editing. Depending on the size of the company you work for, you may be asked to edit and package your footage for broadcast. This will require you to understand how to make images flow together in sequence to satisfy your viewers, as well as how to use video editing software, like Final Cut Pro.

Other Career Paths

Cinematographer

If you are creative with a camera, knowledgeable about equipment and drawn to the motion picture industry, you may want to consider becoming a cinematographer. Cinematographers need to know how to operate all types of cameras, including stationary and mounted to a track or a crane. They plan and execute the best angles and direct a team of camera operators to achieve the desired shots at the right times.

Competition for jobs in the movie business is strong because there are more applicants than opportunities, so you'll want to gain as much experience on set as you can. PayScale.com reported a wide range of earnings for cinematographers. Cinematographers in the 10th-90th earned anywhere from $28,000- $294,000 in salary and bonuses.

Director

If you would rather be the one calling the shots than taking them, you could become a director. Directors make creative decisions and give instructions to the talent and crew on how to execute them during shooting. In postproduction, they work with their producer and editors to put together the finished product for airing. Most directors have bachelor's degrees and may start out as actors, editors or cinematographers before becoming assistant directors. As of May 2011, the BLS reported an average salary for producers and directors at about $92,000.

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American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

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Johns Hopkins University

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Regent University

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  • Master of Arts in Film and TV - Producing
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations

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Grand Canyon University

  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

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Purdue University

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Colorado State University Global

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
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