Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors are the unseen professionals who produce the images that inform and entertain an audience. The equipment used in modern television, video, and film production is very sophisticated and requires a good bit of expertise. Professionals in this field learn to capture specific types of images, like sporting events and talk shows. For men and women with an interest in show business, journalism, and photography, this can be an exciting and lucrative field.
Wherever a television program, video recording, or motion picture is filmed, there must be a trained camera operator. Many operators specialize in areas like studio production, on-location reporting, or nature photography. This work can be hectic, as the images captured by a television camera are often broadcast live. For television and video camera operators, clarity is usually the primary goal. In motion pictures, however, the camera is often used as an artistic tool. Motion picture camera operators must be able to achieve unique artistic effects with their equipment.
Some camera operators focus entirely on special events, like weddings. A good camera operator can make an excellent living recording special events, though this often entails working at night and on the weekends.
When the images captured by a camera are not broadcast live, they are usually edited. Television, video, and motion picture editors take the raw film and cut out anything seen as unnecessary to the main point of the presentation. An editor has a great deal of control over how the finished product will appear to the consumer. Editors usually work in an office close to the film studio or television station, but they may also work on location or at home. Editing is sometimes subject to deadline, so the work of an editor may be stressful at times.
There are formal education programs for aspiring camera operators and editors. A number of colleges and universities offer specific degree programs in camera operation and videography. Many camera operators and editors also take courses in film history and artistic composition. While in school, camera operators and editors are likely to participate in film clubs and student productions. Many high schools and colleges produce their own basic news shows; these are great venues for aspiring camera operators and editors to obtain experience.
Nevertheless, it can be difficult to break into this profession. Indeed, most camera operators and editors begin their careers performing other tasks. Production assistants often become operators or editors after long experience. Men and women who are interested in ultimately wielding a camera or editing film often begin by performing menial labor on set or on location. These low-paying, low-skill jobs nevertheless establish professional relationships and provide invaluable experience. It is surprising the extent to which networking affects the seemingly technical field of camera operation and film editing. Most jobs are obtained through professional relationships and the development of a good reputation. As in other areas of media, progress in this field tends to move from small stations in small markets to well-established stations in major markets. Some camera operators and editors move into academia, while others take on more creative and lucrative work with motion picture studios or top-flight advertising agencies.
Camera operators make an average of $41,670 a year. The top 10 percent make $80,000 or more, while the bottom 10 percent take home less than $22,000 annually. Film and video editors do little bit better: an average of $50,560 every year, with the top 10 percent taking home more than $77,700. The wages are slightly better than average in the motion picture and video industries.
Some camera operators and editors work on a freelance basis, which means they have to buy and maintain their own equipment and cover their own personal expenses. There are also professional unions for camera operators, which provide their members guaranteed minimum wages and benefits.
The job market for camera operators and editors should remain about the same in the coming years, as the natural growth of the economy is offset by the increasing number of people looking to enter the field. In particular, there will be growth in the online market, as the number of broadcasts made specifically for the Internet will increase significantly. However, some industry analysts believe that an increasing number of motion pictures will be filmed overseas, thus diminishing jobs domestically. Perhaps the best way to get work as a camera operator or editor is to undergo training in multiple computer systems and develop other areas of expertise.