Becoming a Cameraman: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a cameraman? Get real job descriptions, job outlook and salary info to see if becoming a cameraman is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cameraman

Cameramen work in the film, television and internet industries, providing the public with news and entertainment. Check out the pros and cons below to determine if becoming a camera operator is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Cameraman
Opportunities for travel (for news stories or on-location films)*
Can work in several industries (television, film, internet broadcasting)*
Chance to apply both technical skills and creativity to the job*
Can be your own boss by working as a freelancer*

Cons of Becoming a Cameraman
May have to work in dangerous environments*
Slower than average job growth (3% between 2012-2022)*
Must be on your feet for long periods of time*
Long and inconsistent work hours*
Competition for jobs is expected to be high*

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

Career Information

Job Description

Camera operators shoot film footage of news programs, sporting events, documentaries, motion pictures, music videos, concerts, commercials and training videos. Camera operators must use technical skills when operating and selecting the proper equipment and creative skills when framing shots and choosing the most interesting content. They work with other members of the production team, sharing ideas about the filming and editing of scenes. Working long and irregular hours while standing is a daily reality for camera operators. They also often travel to film movies in other locations or cover news stories that may involve dangerous weather or political events.

Career Options

A variety of positions are available to those interested in becoming a camera operator. You can work in the film industry as a cinematographer, interpreting the director's vision by planning the arrangement and use of different cameras. Steadicam operators follow the action of a scene using a mounted camera to capture smooth shots. Videographers film and edit videos for weddings or other special events, while electronic news-gathering (ENG) operators travel with reporting teams to film breaking news stories.

Salary and Job Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for camera operators was $56,510 in May 2014. Cameramen working in the film and video industries earned a mean wage of $63,460 per year, while those working in radio and television broadcasting earned an average of $46,280 per year. If you choose to work as a freelancer, your earnings will vary and you'll have to consider the expenses involved in purchasing and maintaining your own equipment.

Because of the popularity of working in the film and television industries, you should be prepared for a significant amount of competition when looking for jobs in this field. The BLS reports a 3% increase in camera operator jobs between 2012 and 2022. Jobs in Internet broadcasting are expected to grow, but job growth in the television industry will be sluggish due to the increasing use of automated cameras.

Education Requirements and Career Skills

Education Requirements

Many camera operators have a bachelor's degree, although employers may only require an associate's degree or comparable experience. Some people interested in becoming camera operators attend film school while others take classes in camera operation from trade or technical schools. Be sure to look for classes on computer technology and digital camera techniques. Those with extensive technical skills are more likely stand out in the field. If the idea of becoming a freelancer is appealing to you, taking business classes is also a good idea.

Career Skills

Camera operators should have good vision, coordination and the ability to stand or hold a camera for long periods of time. Strong attention to detail and patience are also important when working as a cameraman. As a freelancer, you'll need to know about the legal ramifications of filming in certain locations and also about copyrights and the financial aspects of your business.

What Real Employers Are Looking For

Although many camera operators may have bachelor's degrees, job postings suggest that appropriate experience or an associate's degree will also often suffice. Good communication skills and the ability to work when needed are other common job requirements. The following list contains examples of job postings from real employers looking for camera operators in March 2012:

  • A local news television station in West Virginia was looking for a full-time camera operator with a degree in communications or one year of experience. The job posting also listed communication skills and flexible hours as requirements for the position.
  • A racetrack in Illinois advertised for a camera operator to film live events. The job required one year of experience and the ability to work evenings and weekends.
  • A company in New York was seeking a freelance ENG assistant to operate cameras and manage the use of other electronic equipment. The employer was looking for someone with a degree in communications who had participated in an internship in a technical area.
  • A community college in Tennessee advertised for a videographer with a bachelor's degree in communications, media production or television production and three years of experience. This employer wanted someone with camera operation and editing experience as well as the ability to use specific software.

How to Stand out

Because technology is constantly changing, keeping your computer and technical skills up-to-date is vital for a camera operator. The International Cinematographers Guild (ICG) offers a variety of classes to teach members about the latest cameras and editing software. It's also a good idea to read trade magazines, such as those published online by the Society of Camera Operators and the ICG, to keep abreast on the latest developments in the field.

Since the job market for camera operators is competitive, it may be necessary to start in a lower position and work your way up. You may want to consider taking a job as a production assistant to gain valuable hands-on experience. A good reputation can get you far in the film and television industries, so working hard in a PA job will likely get you noticed and help you get a better job down the road.

Other Career Options

If you're not keen on the idea of being on your feet for extended periods, you might consider a career as a graphic designer. Graphic designers create print and electronic media communications. Like camera operators, the job requires a combination of technical skills and creativity. They use computer programs to create layouts, packaging, logos, signs and marketing materials. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for graphic designers in May 2011 was $49,000.

You might also consider a career as a sound engineering technician. Sound engineering technicians work on movie sets as well as in theaters and recording studios. They use recording equipment to record and mix music and other sounds. Sound engineering technicians should have strong computer skills but typically only need to attend a one-year vocational program in order to work in the field. In May 2011, sound engineering technicians received higher wages than television camera operators, earning an average yearly salary of $56,000.

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