Television, Video, and Motion Picture Camera Operators and Editors
Workers acquire their skills through on-the-job or formal
Technical expertise, a good eye, imagination, and creativity
Keen competition for job openings is expected because many
talented peopled are attracted to the field.
Nature of the Work
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators
produce images that tell a story, inform or entertain an audience,
or record an event. Film and video editors edit soundtracks,
film, and video for the motion picture, cable, and broadcast television
industries. Some camera operators do their own editing.
Making commercial-quality movies and video programs requires
technical expertise and creativity. Producing successful images
requires choosing and presenting interesting material, selecting
appropriate equipment, and applying a good eye and a steady hand
to ensure smooth, natural movement of the camera.
Camera operators use television, video, or motion picture
cameras to shoot a wide range of material, including television
series, studio programs, news and sporting events, music videos,
motion pictures, documentaries, and training sessions. Some camera
operators film or videotape private ceremonies and special events,
such as weddings and conference program sessions. Those who record
images on videotape are often called videographers. Many
are employed by independent television stations; local affiliate
stations of television networks; large cable and television networks;
or smaller, independent production companies. Studio camera
operators work in a broadcast studio and usually videotape
their subjects from a fixed position. News camera operators,
also called electronic news gathering (ENG) operators,
work as part of a reporting team, following newsworthy events
as they unfold. To capture live events, they must anticipate the
action and act quickly. ENG operators sometimes edit raw footage
on the spot for relay to a television affiliate for broadcast.
Camera operators employed in the entertainment field use motion
picture cameras to film movies, television programs, and commercials.
Those who film motion pictures also are known as cinematographers.
Some specialize in filming cartoons or special effects. Cinematographers
may be an integral part of the action, using cameras in any of
several different mounts. For example, the camera operator can
be stationary and shoot whatever passes in front of the lens,
or the camera can be mounted on a track, with the camera operator
responsible for shooting the scene from different angles or directions.
Wider use of digital cameras has enhanced the number of angles
and the clarity that a camera operator can provide. Other camera
operators sit on cranes and follow the action while crane operators
move them into position. Steadicamoperators mount
a harness and carry the camera on their shoulders to provide a
clear picture while they move about the action. Camera operators
who work in the entertainment field often meet with directors,
actors, editors, and camera assistants to discuss ways of filming,
editing, and improving scenes.
Working conditions for camera operators and editors vary considerably.
Those employed by television and cable networks and advertising
agencies usually work a 5-day, 40-hour week; however, they may
work longer hours to meet production schedules. ENG operators
often work long, irregular hours and must be available to work
on short notice. Camera operators and editors working in motion
picture production also may work long, irregular hours.
ENG operators and those who cover major events, such as conventions
or sporting events, frequently travel locally and stay overnight
or travel to distant places for longer periods. Camera operators
filming television programs or motion pictures may travel to film
Some camera operators—especially ENG operators covering accidents,
natural disasters, civil unrest, or military conflicts—work in
uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings. Many camera operators
must wait long hours in all kinds of weather for an event to take
place and must stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy
equipment. ENG operators often work under strict deadlines.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Employers usually seek applicants with a good eye, imagination,
and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of how
the camera operates. Television, video, and motion picturecamera operators and editors usually acquire their skills
through on-the-job training or formal postsecondary training at
vocational schools, colleges, universities, or photographic institutes.
Formal education may be required for some positions.
Many universities, community and junior colleges, vocational-technical
institutes, and private trade and technical schools offer courses
in camera operation and videography. Basic courses cover equipment,
processes, and techniques. Bachelor’s degree programs, especially
those including business courses, provide a well-rounded education.
Film schools also may provide training on the artistic or aesthetic
aspects of filmmaking.
Individuals interested in camera operations should subscribe
to videographic newsletters and magazines, join audio-video clubs,
and seek summer or part-time employment in cable and television
networks, motion picture studios, or camera and video stores.
Camera operators in entry-level jobs learn to set up lights,
cameras, and other equipment. They may receive routine assignments
requiring adjustments to their cameras or decisions on what subject
matter to capture. Camera operators in the film and television
industries usually are hired for a project on the basis of recommendations
from individuals such as producers, directors of photography,
and camera assistants from previous projects or through interviews
with the producer. ENG and studio camera operators who work for
television affiliates usually start in small markets to gain experience.
Camera operators need good eyesight, artistic ability, and hand-eye
coordination. They should be patient, accurate, and detail oriented.
Camera operators also should have good communication skills and,
if needed, the ability to hold a camera by hand for extended periods.
Camera operators who run their own businesses, or freelance,
need business skills as well as talent. These individuals must
know how to submit bids, write contracts, get permission to shoot
on locations that normally are not open to the public, obtain
releases to use film or tape of people, price their services,
secure copyright protection for their work, and keep financial
With experience, operators may advance to more demanding assignments
or to positions with larger or network television stations. Advancement
for ENG operators may mean moving to larger media markets. Other
camera operators and editors may become directors of photography
for movie studios, advertising agencies, or television programs.
Some teach at technical schools, film schools, or universities.
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators held about
28,000 jobs in 2004, and film and video editors held about 20,000.
Many are employed by independent television stations, local affiliate
stations of television networks or broadcast groups, large cable
and television networks, or smaller independent production companies.
About 1 in 5 camera operators were self-employed. Some self-employed
camera operators contracted with television networks, documentary
or independent filmmakers, advertising agencies, or trade show
or convention sponsors to work on individual projects for a set
fee, often at a daily rate.
Most of the salaried camera operators were employed by television
broadcasting stations or motion picture studios. More than half
of the salaried film and video editors worked for motion picture
studios. Most camera operators and editors worked in large metropolitan
Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors
can expect keen competition for job openings because the work
is attractive to many people. The number of individuals interested
in positions as videographers and movie camera operators usually
is much greater than the number of openings. Those who succeed
in landing a salaried job or attracting enough work to earn a
living by freelancing are likely to be the most creative and highly
motivated people, able to adapt to rapidly changing technologies
and adept at operating a business. Related work experience or
job-related training also can benefit prospective camera operators.
Employment of camera operators and editors is expected to grow
about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014.
Rapid expansion of the entertainment market, especially motion
picture production and distribution, will spur growth of camera
operators. In addition, computer and Internet services will provide
new outlets for interactive productions. Growth will be tempered,
however, by the increased off-shore production of motion pictures.
Camera operators will be needed to film made-for-the-Internet
broadcasts, such as live music videos, digital movies, sports
features, and general information or entertainment programming.
These images can be delivered directly into the home either on
compact discs or as streaming video over the Internet. Job growth
in radio and television broadcasting will be tempered by the use
of robocams and Parkervision systems for studio broadcasts; cameras
in these systems are automated and under the control of a single
person working either on the studio floor or in a director’s booth.
Median annual earnings for television, video, and motion picture
camera operators were $37,610 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $22,640 and $56,400. The lowest 10 percent earned
less than $15,730, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$76,100. Median annual earnings were $48,900 in the motion picture
and video industries and $29,560 in radio and television broadcasting.
Median annual earnings for film and video editors were $43,590
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,310 and
$63,890. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,710, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $93,950. Median annual earnings
were $44,710 in the motion picture and video industries, which
employed the largest numbers of film and video editors.
Many camera operators who work in film or video are freelancers,
whose earnings tend to fluctuate each year. Because most freelance
camera operators purchase their own equipment, they incur considerable
expense acquiring and maintaining cameras and accessories. Some
camera operators belong to unions, including the International
Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the National Association
of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.
Related arts and media occupations include artists and related
workers, broadcast and sound engineering technicians, and radio
operators, designers, and photographers.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about careers as a camera operator, contact:
International Cinematographer’s Guild, 80 Eighth Avenue, 14th
Floor, New York, NY 10011.
National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians,
501 Third Street, NW., 6th floor, Washington, DC 20001. Internet:
Information about career and employment opportunities for camera
operators and film and video editors also is available from local
offices of State employment service agencies, local offices of
the relevant trade unions, and local television and film production
companies that employ these workers.
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,