Many people think that the director’s ability is the most important aspect of any production. While the director is indeed important, you have to have an excellent team around you to enable you to direct or produce anything of value. That being said, one of the most important crew members on a shoot is the camera operator. They are responsible for knowing so much more than other parts of a production team. The sheer number of terms and camera operating insights that a camera operator needs to know is vast. Combine this with the fact that they need to be good at taking direction – and not really getting any outside credit for a great shot, leaves some camera operators unhappy, to say the least.
So much goes into making a movie or a television show – or most any production for that matter, that it is very important that you as a camera operator know your way around the camera. Of course we all understand that you need to have a certain sense of professionalism and be ready to work, but what are some of the dos and don’ts that you need to be aware of as the main camera operator on a production?
Know and Understand the Rule of Thirds
One of the first things many of you camera operators should have been taught is the “rule of thirds.” If you have no idea what I am talking about here, then you probably need to study your trait a little more.
Rule of Thirds: Divide the frame into three horizontal and three vertical sections. The area where the lines intersect will make for the ideal location for the important parts of your picture (shot). Place the main subject of the shot into one of these spots.
Understand the Concept of White Balance
White balance is a hugely important aspect of operating a camera. Since a camera does not recognize – nor understand, the color white, it is important to adjust the white balance on the camera properly.
White Balance: Removing unrealistic color casts so that objects that appear white look correct on camera, as well as blend with the other colors properly.
Understand How To Create Depth in Your Shot
Surprisingly, this aspect of setting up a shot completely puzzles many camera operators. If you look at a lot of homemade video, or video that is done documentary style, you can see that there is not a lot of depth within the shot. Photography and video is 2D, you as the camera operator need to distinguish foreground, middle ground and background. This needs to be established before the shot, as you can’t do it after the camera starts rolling.
Be Willing to Take Direction
As was stated above, you are the one setting up the shot . You put the shot together from start to finish, depending on the director, yet you have to be willing to take less credit for the final product and you also have to be willing to change a shot, even if you know it is wrong. The director is still in charge.
Understand the Rules of Composition
If you are behind the camera – especially on a big production, and you don’t know most of these terms, you are in over your head. It will catch up with you. Know these!
Balance, Symmetry, Leading Lines, Texture, Viewpoint, Cropping, Natural Framing, Color
Don’t Forget About Audio
60% of most shows are audio. Audio usually presents more postproduction problems than any other aspect of a shoot. As a camera operator you may think you don’t have to worry about audio. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are responsible – especially on single camera shoots for the audio.
Don’t Come to Work Looking Unprofessional
Just because you are behind the camera does not mean you can show up looking any way you want. It is important to wear proper attire, come to work clean and ready to go. I have seen good camera operators being dismissed from a set because of their lack of professionalism.
Don’t Act Like a Know it All
Leave this part to the director and/or producer of the event you are working on. While it is true that you may know more in one aspect or another, never act like you are above them on the shoot. This will only lead to a struggle for power that you will lose 99% of the time.
Don’t Arrive Unprepared
You may be the best camera operator in the world, but if you come to a shoot unprepared, it is not going to reflect well on you at all. Everyone else will have done what they needed to ahead of time, so make sure you know what is expected of you before you arrive.
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up
Sometimes a shot is just not working. Don’t be afraid to say something to the director about it. You want to let them know they are not getting the absolute best shot. It is up to them at that point to decide whether they want to change or not.
Following these simple dos and don’ts of being a camera operator will allow you to go very far in your chosen profession. Be prepared to do a lot of work, but also be prepared to have many fantastic experiences.
To download this article as a PDF > Top 5 Do’s and Dont’s for a Camera Operator