Camera operator

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Paul Smith is a camera operator at ITV Tyne Tees in Newcastle. He was doing unpaid work experience at a local TV station when he heard about a vacancy for a trainee news cameraman with his current employer. He took NVQs and is now fully qualified.

Can you describe your role as a camera operator?

I operate a TV camera as part of a large production team. I work on programmes ranging from news bulletins to documentaries, music shows and sporting events.

What does the work involve?

I operate a camera on location or in the studio. I could film anything from a close-up of someone's face during an interview to a wide shot of the pitch and players during a football match. I use different techniques to ensure the shots are good quality, clear and visually interesting. The director or producer has an idea of how the finished film should look, and it's my job to make sure the shots I capture are as close to their vision as possible.

What challenges do you face?

I have to shoot pictures that look good whatever the weather. That means setting up the right balance on the camera.

Is there such a thing as a typical day?

A day in the studio starts with 'check in' – a briefing covering the jobs I must shoot throughout the day. When I am working on news stories days are completely unpredictable. The news desk tells me where I will be filming – it could be anywhere between the Scottish border and North Yorkshire.

Who else do you work with?

On location, I am usually part of a team of four or five people, including a sound operator, a producer, possibly an assistant producer and a presenter. In the studio I work as part of a team or three or more camera operators, as well as director, a producer, one or more presenters and lots of other technical operatives such as lighting, sound and videotape technicians.

What qualities do you need to be a camera operator?

People skills are really important. In this job you meet new people every day. They come from every walk of life and you have to have the confidence to communicate with all of them. Many of them have no experience of being on TV so they can be very nervous, and putting them at ease is an important part of the job. There is a lot of walking, sometimes running, and a lot of lifting and carrying to be done so you must be relatively fit.

What hours do you work?

Anything is possible. Some days can be as short as five hours, but 14-hour days are not unusual. I could work during the day, at night or during weekends and bank holidays.

What do you like most about your work?

There's a lot of variety in this job, especially because I work on so many different types of programmes. I like the fact that this isn't a nine-to-five job. I also enjoy the travel. I've been to Rio de Janeiro, shooting a documentary on world music. I also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, filming 15 local people who were raising money for charity. I travel in the UK and Europe to cover football matches.

What are the low points of the job?

Sometimes there is a lot of waiting around. For example, it isn't much fun standing outside a court in the rain, waiting to film the people involved in a big trial as they leave the building.

What ambitions do you have?

I would love to work in drama. I think I'd really enjoy filming a soap.

Paul's steps to his job as a camera operator

  • One week's work experience at the BBC while still at school.
  • Two A levels.
  • GNVQ Engineering.
  • Two weeks' unpaid placement at a TV station.
  • Trainee camera operator.
  • NVQ 2 Camera Assistant.
  • NVQ 3 Camera Operator.
  • Present job.

Paul's tips

  • Try to get as much work experience as you can and show willingness to learn and develop.
  • Do some research on the Internet and find out about the most up-to-date technology and techniques.

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Salary of a camera operator

  • A newly-trained camera operator earns around £15,000 a year.
  • With more experience you could earn around £25,000.
  • A senior camera operator or someone working in news can earn £40,000 or more.

How to become a camera operator

  • Good GCSEs/grades in maths and physics are required for this job.
  • There is a wide choice of relevant professional qualifications ranging from City and Guilds to degree level.
  • Skillset offers professional qualifications in camera operations at Levels 2, 3 and 4.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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