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Schools for Aspiring Camera Operators: How to Choose

Across the U.S., colleges, universities and film schools offer certificate, associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in cinematography and film and video production. Get some suggestions on what to consider before choosing a school for a degree in cinematography.

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Camera operators work for television stations or production companies, shooting film and video for TV shows, movies, documentaries and news programs. They have knowledge of cameras, lighting and lenses, and they're responsible for selecting the correct equipment and steadying the camera. Those interested in this technical role within the broadcasting and movie industry can enroll in certificate or degree programs in cinematography or film and video production.

10 Cinematography Schools

The following list includes a number of public and private schools that offer cinematography programs.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition and Fees (In-state, 2015-2016)*
New York University New York, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $47,750
Graduate: $40,984
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $50,277
Graduate: $40,670
University of California - Berkeley Berkeley, CA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral Undergraduate: $13,431
Graduate: $13,431
Chapman University Orange, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $47,260
Graduate: $25,681
American Film Institute Conservatory Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Master's Graduate: $47,030
Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $42,795
Graduate: $17,599
California Institute of the Arts Valencia, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $43,986
Graduate: $43,986
American University Washington, DC 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $43,103
Graduate: $27,898
Columbia University New York, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's Undergraduate: $53,000
Graduate: $44,176
Pratt Institute Brooklyn, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's Undergraduate: $46,586

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

School Selection Criteria

Students should consider several things when selecting a program to become a camera operator:

  • When selecting a school, students should consider what equipment is available, as students who are exposed to a variety of cameras will gain an understanding of lenses, shutter speeds and focal length.
  • Students should look for places where they will gain experience with modern filming techniques that can be beneficial when seeking employment.
  • Students may prefer programs that offer professional development opportunities, such as mock sets, collaborative student projects and study abroad programs.
  • Those interested in filming movies may choose a school that is either located in or offers an off-campus study program in Los Angeles, New York City or another film center.

Certificate Programs

Ranging from 1-2 years in length, certificate programs in cinematography train students how to light sets for TV and film. Students also learn about point of view, filming from different positions and camera movement. Those enrolling in certificate programs may expect to use HD and RED cameras as well as 16mm and 35mm film.

Associate Degree Programs

Associate of Art in Cinematography degree programs expose students to the other roles in film production. Because cinematographers must have an appreciation for the visual aesthetic of each shot, many associate degree programs include an art history course in the curriculum.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor's degrees in film and video production may offer a specialization in cinematography. Schools that offer bachelor's degree programs might have more resources available to students, including grants for student work, help in submitting films to festivals and portfolio development.

Master's Degree Programs

With experience, cinematographers may advance to become directors of photography. Admission to a master's degree program specializing in cinematography may be highly selective. Once admitted, students may be required to complete a research project and work as directors of photography on multiple student films. Students also gain an understanding of specialty lenses and advanced camera movements.

Cinematography and film studies programs can provide the training needed to become a camera operator. Undergraduate and graduate degrees in these disciplines are available at public and private institutions, the best of which offer exposure to variety of equipment and filming techniques.

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