Updated: Dec 3, 2020
A movie camera operator is practically influenced by what he or she sees through any lens. No matter the type of camera type, version or model. Therefore, focal length, angle or movement of the camera or what he sees is also a reflection of the picture in his or her head. Meanwhile a cinematographer or director of photography also shares same life, of always peeping through a viewfinder to express his or her talent during movie shoots.
Cinematographers prepare for production or shoot by first reading the screenwriter’s screenplay and doing location recce. They also choose proper lighting, angles, framing and filters to create moods in movies, therefore create important visual effects for film and TV. Cinematographers are also involved in post-production processes alongside the film editor and director.
This is obviously a highly skilled job, which requires many qualities. So beyond just looking down the viewfinder and shooting, the cinematographer practices almost always. Such devotion to practice for high standards builds competence.That means a combination of technique and function. Fist as an art and science of recording light either electronically(digital) or chemically(celluloid)on filmstock. Secondly using camera movements, images and exposure (light received) etc.
Cinematography demands technical knowledge: meaning an in-depth understanding of latest motion picture equipment, cameras, lens, monitors and lights. Taken into function the cinematographer must have a good eye and understanding of composition, light, color, focus and framing. The functional or artistic aspect of cinematographer demands certain work attitude and team playing relationship with the director and producer. More so good relationship with cast and crew during production. Accordingly, the cinematographer must be diverse, responsible, flexible, eager and creative. Whether in on-location shoot for news programme or documentary or in a large multi-camera studio show, cinematographer or camera operator knows proper the cameras for those conditions. He or she considers the composition, framing and movement of shots.
Multi-Camera studio shoots demand many camera men and/or women, who all capture same action from various angles. Shoots are easily maneuvered with blocking notes or director’s written instructions. These indicate presenters and contributors’ changeable, but rehearsed positions. Some have mounted cameras for free movement around the studio, rotated or adjusted for height during production. During live programming or transmission camera operators respond to directors’ instructions via wireless headsets.
During documentary shoots there is option of using a single cameraman underwater, in snowstorm or desert. Handheld, Steadicam (mounted on a body frame) or drone come in handy. These are secured and managed by the cameraman, wherever the shoot happens. Sometimes a cameraman is hired alongside their personal equipment or kit. They often operate a variety of different cameras, including handheld, body-frame mounted cameras (Steadicam) or drone. Apart from using camera assistants, where there is need, some cameramen are also skilled at lighting, so are called lighting camera operators.
The following elements should enable new camera operators/directors of photography/cinematographers build professional work attitude.
Offer Creative Input: Producers and Directors need camera operators’ creative input; enthusiasm and endless suggestions during production. Depending on the type of production: documentaries allows straight access for presentation of ideas and suggestions. In drama shoots that is not the correct custom, but would need discuss ideas Director of Photography (DoP) instead. Clever camera shots during sensitive interview can communicate the right sentiments to audiences.
Go the Extra Mile: No matter how long the shoot, it won’t go unnoticed by those higher up the ladder, if a camera operator makes extra professional effort and standards to obtain best production.
Be Professional: Cameraman man or woman should not waste precious time and money; albeit retakes are acceptable for a variety of reasons.
Be Confident: Proving a sense of skill to producers and directors, who trust the cameraman’s shots is one attribute of an excellent cinematographer or camera operator.
Be Punctual: Arriving ahead of Set Call Time (set time for cast and crew need must be on set, ready to work) leaves enough time for unexpected delays. Calling ahead to notify late arrival should indicate professional obligation.
Be Pleasant: There is no room for uncheerful behavior, which could infect cast and crew; because any production is its producer or director darling, planned over a long time.
Be Tolerant: Upcoming actors or inexperienced subjects are sometimes anxious in front of cameras; clearly so in documentaries. Camera operators should be tolerant and diplomatic by explaining need for several takes. Creating such atmosphere reduces nervousness; but in drama it remains the director’s duty, to avoid overstepping bounds.
Listen Carefully: During drama shoots, listening in on discussion between Director and DoP improves understanding of shot sequences; particularly if previously planned sequence changed.
Develop Instant Rapport: Camera operators need to socialize or have a sense of team connection even on one-day or multi-day shoots.
Be Flexible and Versatile: Bad weather, schedule changes, overproduction or directors’ change of plans can throw-up confusion. This demands calm, professionalism adaptability.
Always Communicate: Filmmaking is communications. Whenever possible phone someone, keep it brief and specific. Return phone calls, reply e-mails and leave voice messages.
Take Responsibility: Camera operation demands adaptation to necessity for different shoots and concentration even where there is need to multitask. Watch, listen, think quickly and solve evolving problems alongside complex technical tasks. Therefore, staying calm under pressure and patiently focusing during long programme shoots is required. The camera operator must also be responsive to reviewed schedules and by calling the production manager to get familiar with upcoming shoots.