How Do I Become a Film Cameraman?

Research what it takes to become a film cameraman. Learn about the required education, job outlook and salary potential to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Digital Media Production degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Film Cameraman?

A film cameraman operates cameras and records images. The footage they film may be used in movies, video games, commercials, music videos, television shows, news broadcasts, sporting event broadcasts or documentaries. The purpose of this film is to entertain or inform the audience. Film cameramen may discuss lighting and filming techniques with the director prior to filming, or coordinate with other film cameramen to determine the best spots to film from. Film cameramen work with assistants who help them set up the equipment. They need to understand how lighting and colors and will affect the shot, and make the best choices to get shots that suit the desired look for the project.

Education Required Various options available: film school, certificate programs to master's degree
Training Required Work experience in behind-the-scenes film production
Key Skills Technological, creativity, communication
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%* (camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)
Median Salary (2015) $49,080* (camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Training Will I Need to Be a Film Cameraman?

While directors typically seek cameramen who have experience, as well as a natural sense of both timing and perspective, the majority of cameramen also have postsecondary training through film schools, colleges or photography institutes. A variety of education options exist from certificate and associate's degree programs to bachelor's and master's programs. Your personal goals for films and projects should dictate which training path is right for you. Continuing education courses and certification programs are also offered that provide more intensive, short-term training.

Cameramen must have a capable knowledge of computer systems along with a strong grasp of digital cameras and interfaces. If you're thinking about freelancing or running your own cinematography company, you'll need to understand the various business principles involved. You should know how to submit bids, write contracts, keep a regular budget and deal with various other day-to-day business functions.

After gaining significant credibility and experience, you may be eligible to become a member of the International Cinematographers Guild ( This organization connects you with other professionals worldwide and can provide extensive and centralized training opportunities in addition to benefits and legal representation.

What Will The Job Environment Be Like?

Film cameramen work on projects in a studio environment or on location. You should expect frequent travel both during the course of a project and while transitioning between jobs. As a cameraman, you'll also have to deal with changing weather conditions, carrying heavy camera rigs and equipment, walking and standing for extended periods of time and working long, irregular hours based on the demands of directors and environments.

Aspiring cameramen also face the risk of sporadic employment and dismissal. You must deal well with the pressures of constantly meeting demands and the prospect of rejection in order to achieve stability within the industry. Learning from criticism and discerning which avenues best match your skill set are also integral components to success.

What Salary Can I Expect?

As a beginning film cameraman, you can expect your income to fluctuate before hopefully growing steadily as you become established within the industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the bottom ten percent of camera operators earned a median salary of $25,070 or less annually and the top ten percent earned more than $105,120 as of May 2015 ( The median annual salary for that year was $49,080.

The popularity of the film industry makes employment extremely competitive with a much greater amount of candidates than the number of jobs available, according to the BLS. Those who are highly creative, strongly self-motivated and have an understanding of technology have the greatest chance of earning a sustainable living as a cameraman.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Like film cameramen, photographers also need to know about the effects of lighting, color choices and lenses and make appropriate setting and equipment choices to capture still images. They do not necessarily need a degree to enter their career field. Reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts often work closely with cameramen to relay information to the public through a broadcast. They may discuss with cameramen the best place to film their broadcast, the right shots to use to illustrate the story, and they also need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Broadcast and sound engineering technicians work with the equipment used for television and radio broadcasts to ensure the sound levels are optimal, that the broadcast is clear, and they may also be involved in recording broadcasts. A certificate or associate's degree is usually required to begin a career in this field.

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