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How to Become a Professional Cameraman in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a professional cameraman. Learn about employment outlook, salary and degree requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Does a Cameraman Do?

A professional cameraman is responsible for the operation of video equipment for television programs, online media or films, ensuring that viewers receive a high quality, focused image. As most media requires more than just one camera, cameramen will in general be part of a camera crew and work with assistants. A cameraman must have keen eyesight, good attention to detail and a firm grasp of different ways to shoot film. Some cameramen will work filming live events, requiring them to have a thorough knowledge of camera angles and be able to get into position quickly.

You can learn more about the skills needed to become a cameraman, along with career statistics, by reviewing the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Broadcasting, film, video production
Key Skills Attention to detail, creativity, hand-eye coordination, communication
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% growth (for all TV, video and motion picture camera operators)*
Median Salary (2018) $54,570 (for all TV, video and motion picture camera operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Cameraman?

A cameraman is a technical professional who uses a video or film camera to record moving images for movies or TV broadcasts. The content of broadcasts may be news, programming or commercials. Your cameraperson duties may vary depending on the type of project. In a TV studio, you must focus, center and hold the news anchor or other subject steady in the frame at all times, even when your camera isn't live. News cameramen in the field record activity in the area the news team is visiting, introductory comments by the correspondent and interviews with witnesses and bystanders.

If you're shooting programs, commercials or movies, you may have more flexibility to compose and frame shots, set up lighting conditions and choose lens, filters and film stock. You also confer with the director and other technical crewmembers about shot sequences and camera movement. You will also clean and perform light maintenance on your equipment.

Step One: Study Video, Photography and Computers in High School

The earlier you start developing a 'photographer's eye' the better. Many high schools offer courses in photography and videography that may help you acquire a feel for visual presentation and familiarize you with camera technology. Computer courses that include content on graphics editing can give you a conceptual understanding of how similar manipulations are applied to digital video.

Step Two: Volunteer and Network

Your options will depend on what productions are available where you live. In a medium-sized or large city, you could volunteer with a news station, local production company or cable access channel. If independent filmmakers are working in the area, you could volunteer as a production assistant. In all instances you should develop and maintain relationships with the other crewmembers. If opportunities to volunteer with professionals and semi-professionals are scarce, you could volunteer to shoot wedding videos.

Step Three: Earn a Degree

A 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree in video production will teach you fundamentals and camera technology concepts, including lenses and lens selection, exposure, frame rates, resolution and depth of field. These programs will also develop your aesthetic sensibility for framing, light, composition, color and shading. Courses might also address studio production, on-location production, audio, editing and motion graphics. In addition to a formal education, your student work provides you with material for a demo reel.

Step Four: Complete an Internship

Internships provide you with an opportunity to observe, demonstrate initiative and network. In these positions you're more likely to run errands, move equipment and other support tasks than operate a camera, however. Many associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs include an internship with local news and production companies lasting from 1-3 semesters.

Step Five: Locate Jobs

Because many people are interested in camera operator positions, you can expect stiff competition. A lot will depend on whether you've established a good reputation among your colleagues. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is often based on recommendations from the camera assistants, directors or producers with whom you've worked previously (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that approximately 29,400 people were employed as TV, video and movie cameramen in 2018. Job growth from 2018-2028 was projected by the BLS to be eight percent, primarily due to growth of content produced for the Internet.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Students who have a bachelor's degree in the fields of broadcasting, film, video production or a related area will be able to take many career paths that are similar to becoming a cameraman. One such option is to become a film and video editor and to be involved in the postproduction aspect of filming, helping to prepare content for broadcasting. Students may also be interested in becoming a producer or director, two career paths that are focused on both the technological and creative aspects of filming and broadcasting media. Both producers and directors are responsible for visualizing and effectively executing many different productions, including films and television shows.