Camera operators set up, position and operate equipment in studios or on location to photograph or record moving images of people, events and stories. They operate film, videotape or digital video cameras to capture whichever material is appropriate. Often camera operators will edit material themselves. Events range from studio programmes, television series, motion pictures, music videos, or news and sports events. A camera operator may also shoot a private event using film or videotape.
Camera operators may perform the following tasks:
- select, set up and position camera equipment
- plan and rehearse shots
- follow a camera script and take cues from the director or client
- choose the most suitable lenses and camera angles
- check that lighting has been organised or set up lights
- move cameras and adjust controls to follow the action of scenes being photographed
- consult with other technical workers such as light or sound technicians
- supervise assistants during the production phase.
>> INTERVIEW: Enjoy a Front Row Seat to History
>> INTERVIEW: The Face Behind the Camera
>> WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
>> WHERE CAN I STUDY?
>> WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
>> WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?
ENJOY A FRONT ROW SEAT TO HISTORY
Why did you choose to be a cameraman? Because it’s exciting and no two days ever turn out to be the same. I learn something new every day and have a front row seat to history.
What training did you undergo? I completed a National Diploma in Video Technology in Durban. I am constantly expanding my knowledge and skills through research, reading, exploring different trends and watching television programmes by top broadcasters like BBC or CNN.
What type of personality is suited to this job? This works suits somebody able to multitask, a person who is curious about the world and appreciates travel. You don’t do this job for money, it’s about passion.
Is experience as important as formal training? Yes, I believe that experience is very important because every day you are faced with new challenges technically and in terms of the art of shooting, so every day you learn more about the art of camerawork.
What do you like the most about your job? I really enjoy travelling and seeing new places. It’s great to have opportunities to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life.
Any aspects of your work you’re not keen on? Dealing with customs officials at airports, especially when travelling with lots of camera equipment.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date? There have been several: working for CNN; covering the 1994 South African elections; meeting Nelson Mandela; covering Hajj Arafat’s funeral, the Gulf War II and Sierra Leone’s elections; shooting a Blood Diamond story in Congo.
List one of your future goals I would like to help train the next generation of great international news cameramen.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career? Remain passionate about your work, never complain or be late, remain curious, learn from others, and never lose your sense of humour. Education is key; it is vital for anyone interested in this field to study. Watch the best programmes and keep abreast of technology.
Describe your job in three words Passion • Focus • Determination
THE FACE BEHIND THE CAMERA
Why did you choose this profession? It was more like it found me. Ever since my father taught me to take snaps with his Rolleiflex, I have been interested in photography. After trying my luck and failing miserably in the world of theatre, I decided to take a shot at the video industry; best move I ever made.
What training did you undergo? I was already 25 when I enrolled to do Video Technology at Durban Technikon. At the same time I started working as a camera assistant at a local video production company. Early on I started earning money and gaining experience working, so the studying only lasted a few months!
Experience vs formal training? I believe that camera work and editing are a visual art. Someone can teach you how the camera and editing software works, but if you don’t have an eye and feel for it then although you will be able to do the job, you won’t excel.
What makes a good cameraman/editor? A good cameraman needs to understand their client’s needs, as well as the required look and feel of the job. They must have a good knowledge of their equipment and the ability to capture well framed, technically correct images. A video editor needs to know the editing software backwards, be able to work fast and have a good feel for laying down images.
Describe a typical day The great thing about this job is that no day is ever typical. Once all travel arrangements are in place, check and pack all the equipment needed to do the job and head out to location. Once there, work out the best way to shoot what’s required, set up the gear and off you go. Jobs can be long (lasting weeks) or short (just a few hours).
What do you enjoy most? So far my job has taken me to 34 countries around the world. I get to experience different cultures and meet interesting/famous people.
What don’t you like? To get to places involves travel: schlepping boxes of gear to and from airports, in and out of cars and in and out of hotel rooms is not fun. I also let my family down a lot when I am called away on assignments; this makes me sad.
Your career highlights? I have filmed presidents, rock stars, famous actors and incredible achievers, dodged bullets, and walked in a field of land mines with Lady Diana.
Your goals for the future? To make enough loot to retire in style and sit back and chill at my beach house in Scarborough!
What advice would you give wannabe videographers? Hands-on experience is vital. Rather spend three years working as an assistant than going for a job with a piece of paper in your hand. Reputation is everything… you don’t get many second chances.
Your job in three words Best job ever.
Employers will be more interested in technical skills and practical experience than formal qualifications. In practice, many camera operators take a relevant college or university course to develop the necessary skills before looking for work. As well as gaining technical skills, building practical experience and making contacts in the industry are also important. Usually, candidates start out in the field as camera trainees or assistants and learn on the job from experienced camera operators. Keeping up to date with new equipment and technology is imperative.
WHERE CAN I STUDY?
University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Audiovisual Production Management
Durban University of Technology
National Diploma: Video Technology
University of Cape Town
Bachelor of Arts: Film, Media and Visual Studies
Boston Media House
Diploma: Media Studies
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa – nfvf.co.za
African Film Community – www.filmmaker.co.za
WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended:
• Visual Arts