Tips To Become An Expert Camera Operator


Motion picture production work can be a great way to pave your way toward loftier dreams or just get your hours on set to join one of the many technical unions. To make either of these dreams come true, you need to know what you’re worth. But that’s a tricky question.

First thing’s first, we need to know what kind of job you’re working. There are two different rates for every job:

  • Union
  • Non-Union

Once you know what kind of job you’re working, you can determine the day rate.Let’s start going through who does what and charges what.

Camera Operator

A camera operator is a person that records images, using a camera, for entertainment, news, sports, and more. Their job is to run the camera and capture images that enthrall an audience. But what does a camera operator charge?


A non-union camera operator’s daily rate is dependent upon the type of production they are working on and that production’s budget. If you’re working with friends, maybe you give them a break, but you should set your quote and stick with it, so when people refer you to jobs they’ll know ahead of time.  On an independent film shoot (short or full length), they will typically take in somewhere between $400/$500 per day,

What about on something independent but a little bigger, like a non-union commercial? On a commercial production (Corporate/Brand) a camera operator will make somewhere between $550/$650 a day.  So don’t let anyone bully you into taking less.


Union job usually means a bigger production for a camera operator. These gigs might be for commercials, features, film, television, or news programs.Work for can be lucrative when you’re part of a union, because they help set your rates. That means there’s a floor to what you can legally be paid. So it’s much harder for an outfit to push you lower. It might be harder to negotiate because they usually have set budgets, but the pay can be high no matter what. Everything relies on the production’s budget. Union Camera Operators typically make more money an hour and between $750/$1000 a day. These rates are based upon the industry standard 10 hour day for any commercial production. Any overtime beyond 10 hours tends to be paid at 1.5 times the hourly rate, unless negotiations are worked out for a different rate. Standard Independent productions revolve around 12 hour days plus time and half OT.

Director of Photography Job Description

We are looking for visually creative candidates with expertise in camera work and lighting equipment. The Director of Photography is responsible for ordering and testing camera and lighting equipment, supervising a camera and lighting crew and editing a film’s visual elements in post production, among other duties.

Photography Directors need to work alongside a Film Director and help determine narrative elements through visual style.

Director of Photography Responsibilities:

  • Developing a film’s visual style.
  • Determining lighting requirements on set.
  • Deciding on the best camera angles and frames for scenes.
  • Ordering and testing lighting and camera equipment.
  • Supervising a camera crew and directing camera movement.
  • Selecting the appropriate film stock.
  • Determining camera aperture settings.
  • Controlling natural or artificial lighting conditions.
  • Liaising with electricians to ensure adequate electrical supply.
  • Determining elements such as filters, shutter angles, focus, depth of field and camera distance.
  • Editing visual elements in post production.

Pros and Cons of Being a Sports Cameraman

Sports cameramen, or camera operators, capture live sporting events and broadcast them for at-home viewers. Read on to see some of the pros and cons of a career as a sports cameraman.

Pros of Being a Sports Cameraman

  • Decent earnings potential (highest ten percent made more than $95,000 in May 2014)*
  • Can be your own boss (22% of camera operators were self-employed in 2012)*
  • Creative and technical career (use creativity to frame and put together images and technical knowledge to operate equipment)*
  • Exciting and fast paced (work around the sports and events you love)*

Cons of Being a Sports Cameraman

  • Highly competitive field (Slow growth expected from 2012 to 2022)*
  • Work long hours, nights and weekends (some jobs require on-call availability)*
  • Conditions can be less than ideal (work in all kinds of weather lifting and transporting heavy camera equipment)*
  • Work can be seasonal and require travel (self-employed must find work between seasons and may travel widely to jobs and events)*

Cinematography Certificate

Through these accelerated learning programs, students work in labs and learn filmmaking technique necessities. Common learning areas include:

  • Understanding film stocks
  • Cinematography techniques
  • Role of cinematographers
  • Cameras, lens and lighting
  • Using exposure meters

Associate of Arts in Motion Pictures

These 2-year degree programs offer students the opportunity to learn the basics of film and television, often while gaining knowledge from working industry professionals. These programs can aid graduates in landing entry-level employment while they learn how to launch careers as cinematographers. Common course options include:

  • Cinematography
  • Directing
  • Sound design
  • Editing
  • Screenwriting

Bachelor of Science in Digital Cinematography

As part of these programs, students learn about film production and shot framing in hands-on learning environments. As part of these programs, students produce a project that showcases the skills and methods they have learned throughout their coursework. Common courses include:

  • Lighting techniques and types
  • Production preparation, line production and post-production
  • Film crew
  • Shooting and editing effects
  • Animation

Clapper loader

A clapper loader or second assistant camera (2nd AC) is part of a film crew whose main functions are that of loading the raw film stock into camera magazines, operating the clapperboard (slate) at the beginning of each take, marking the actors as necessary, and maintaining all records and paperwork for the camera department. The name “clapper loader” tends to be used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, while “second assistant camera” tends to be favored in the United States, but the job is essentially the same whichever title is used. The specific responsibilities and division of labor within the department will almost always vary depending on the circumstances of the shoot.


Clapper loaders have a very important role as practically the only people on set who directly and physically oversee the state of the undeveloped negative. The loader – the only person who actually handles the negative between the manufacturer and the laboratory – thus can easily render an entire day’s work useless if the film is handled improperly. Additionally, the loader usually controls all records with regard to the film stock – from when it is received until when it is sent out to the lab; if this information is miscommunicated or missing, this too can destroy an expensive shoot. Furthermore, the loader usually has much more to do in addition to these tasks