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A camera operator is the senior position within the camera departments in film and television. Employed by production companies, camera operators are vital in assisting the director of photography and camera supervisors, playing a significant part in how a scene looks. They are responsible for the overall composition and development of a scene and must ensure seamless camera movement. The role requires artistic vision and great technical skill.
Camera operators are the first people to assess the elements of overall production through the lens, and therefore often discuss various aspects of composition with other heads of department. The role is very hands-on and requires physical strength as well as practical capability.
Camera operators are in charge of rigging up equipment, supervising the work of the other camera assistants and generally overseeing the entire filming process. Camera operators must have expertise in areas other than camera equipment; lighting, props and camera positioning have a huge impact on the overall composition. Creative input is sometime required, but camera operators must also work under specific instructions from directors and producers.
Work can be based in a studio, but there can be a lot of travelling involved when shooting on location. Hours are long and pressure can be high, so camera operators need to have stamina and patience. The work can be stressful and intensive, but often exhilarating.
The road to becoming a camera operator requires progressing up through the positions of camera trainee, 2nd assistant camera, and finally 1st assistant camera. The role requires great technical ability and a solid knowledge of all types of camera equipment, which is gained through experience working on the job.