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Director of Photography Vs. Camera Operator

Directors of photography and camera operators are crew members who make films together. Explore the similarities and differences in their education, duties and career information.

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Comparing Directors of Photography to Camera Operators

Directors of photography and camera operators answer to the director and producer when making a movie or television show. Readers can compare the duties, salaries, career outlooks, and degree requirements for these careers.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Directors of Photography Bachelor's Degree $59,040 (Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators) 12% (Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators)
Camera Operators Bachelor's Degree $55,080 (Camera operators, television, video, and motion picture) 6% (Camera operators in television, video, and motion picture)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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  • Cinematography and Film Production
  • Film and Cinema Studies
  • Photography

Responsibilities of Directors of Photography vs. Camera Operators

Directors of photography and camera operators travel to movie sets to capture the documentary or motion picture using various camera and lighting equipment. The former is responsible for directing the work of the camera crew, and implementing the wishes of the director. The latter, however, should follow the orders of the director of photography when moving and adjusting the camera. Directors of photography also deal with lighting decisions, while camera operators focus on the camera work.

Directors of Photography

Directors of photography first meet with the director to outline the details of the project, particularly the colors and scene compositions that can build the atmosphere. They also decide on the filming techniques that will add to the feel of the film. This may include any necessary equipment, including camera tracks, boom mics, and even drones. As the head of the camera and lighting departments, these professionals supervise the camera operators. They should find a balance between telling the story and making it visually appealing.

Job responsibilities of a director of photography include:

  • Creating a list of necessary shots based on the script
  • Establishing the angle of a camera to focus attention on the action or character
  • Modifying the lighting of a shot by changing the camera settings or moving the lights
  • Directing the moments when a camera pans a scene or zooms in on a character

Camera Operators

Camera operators work to capture footage for films, promotional materials, and television broadcasts. They maintain the equipment by properly cleaning and storing cameras and film. These professionals also set up sound, lighting, and camera equipment on set. Given directions from cinematographers and directors, they ensure the action or subject is framed correctly. In fact, during live television broadcasts, they keep the camera focused and follow the action wherever the producer directs. Understanding composition and lighting techniques is also important for camera operators.

Job responsibilities of a camera operator include:

  • Utilizing lenses and filters to capture the desired affect
  • Keeping track of the filming sequence for scenes and shots
  • Making necessary adjustments to the camera position and settings
  • Capturing b-roll footage, including transitions shots that include no action

Related Careers

If you're enthusiastic about a career as a director of photography, you could research a position as a movie director, as both work to build the atmosphere of a film. Additionally, if you're curious about a career as a camera operator, you could explore a job as a video production technician, since both maintain camera equipment.

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