TV Camera Operator: Salary and Career Facts

Learn about the daily job duties of a TV camera operator and potential places to work. Find out about the training required for this job and the typical salary for camera operators. Schools offering Digital Media Production degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a TV Camera Operator?

A TV camera operator uses camera equipment to record footage for television programs, made-for-TV movies and documentaries, news shows, sporting events or television advertisements. Some work in television studios, where they typically use large, fixed-position cameras, but smaller, more mobile digital cameras are becoming more popular. TV camera operators are experts in using video equipment to optimize the image for the viewer. When working on a TV episode, movie or advertisement, they follow the instructions of the director in order to ensure that the footage adheres to their creative vision for the scene. At the same time, many TV camera operators supervise assistants who care for equipment, keep cameras in focus and test out different shooting angles. The following table gives a brief overview of a career as a TV camera operator:

Degree Required Bachelor's Degree
Education Field of Study Film or broadcasting
Key Responsibilities Shoot video footage; supervise camera assistants; follow director's instructions
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% (for television, video and motion picture camera operators)*
Median Salary (2015) $49,080 (for television, video and motion picture camera operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Would I Do As a TV Camera Operator?

As a TV camera operator, you record the images seen on television--from news broadcasts, TV series and sporting events to documentaries and commercials. You work with directors and technicians to find the most effective way to frame these images using elements such as lighting, position, lenses and camera movements. You must also be capable of moving their cameras smoothly and steadily. While many TV camera operators are only responsible for shooting video footage, some also edit their own work.

Some TV camera operators are studio operators, which means they work in a television studio and record images with the camera that is in a fixed position. However, in some studios, cameras are mounted on a track so they can be moved while filming. This is very different from news camera operators, who are on the move tracking news events. In this position, you must be prepared for both indoor and outdoor photography and even to edit your own work on the spot so it can be transmitted as live coverage. Since you carry your cameras on your shoulders, the ability to hold the camera steady is especially important.

If you choose to work as a freelancer, you would sell your work to television companies. Thus, in addition to shooting footage, you would write up and submit bids and negotiate contracts with potential employers on a regular basis. You would also have to transport and set up your own equipment and store it when not in use.

How Do I Become a TV Camera Operator?

According to the BLS, most TV camera operators have a bachelor's degree in film or broadcasting. These programs typically combine classroom courses in film theory with hands-on training using camera equipment. Most offer comprehensive training in film and video production, rather than focusing on just TV camera operation. Therefore, in addition to learning camera skills and techniques, you may also do film editing, directing, lighting and even scriptwriting. This has the advantage of preparing you to work as part of a production team.

Many training programs are available through public colleges as well as private film schools. Some institutions' broadcast cable TV programs created entirely by students, and many even have their own television stations, providing real-world experience. However, even with a solid education, you may have to begin your career in an entry-level position, such as a production assistant, and work your way up to TV camera operator, especially since the field is very competitive. According to the BLS, job opportunities are expected to increase by only 2% from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the national average.

How Much Would I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual wage of $49,080 as of May 2015. This figure is for camera operators in all broadcast areas, including TV, movies and videos. About 22% worked in radio and television broadcasting in 2014, according to the BLS. The average annual salary for these workers was $51,970 in 2015. However, about 3 in 10 camera operators worked as freelancers in 2014, according to the BLS. For freelancers, income can change from year to year according to work assignments. As a freelancer, you must take into account the expense of purchasing and maintaining your equipment when figuring your net salary.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a TV camera operator, you could consider becoming a film editor. In this job, you would use specialized software to manipulate video footage and organize it for a final product, such as a TV show, movie, documentary or news clip. Like TV camera operators, most editors need a bachelor's degree. Another career option to consider in the media industry is that of a producer. They oversee the business aspects of a film project, such as setting the budget and hiring cast and crew members. The minimum educational requirement for this job is a bachelor's degree.

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