Two kinds of camera are used in television: electronic (or video) cameras which record on magnetic videotape and are used for live transmissions, and film cameras, which are mainly used for commercials and feature-length dramas.
Camera operators are usually recruited at the age of 18-plus and trained on the job. Applicants should have a good general education, GCSEs in English, maths and preferably a science, and possess some knowledge of optics, film and television photography. They must also have normal color vision and a good eye for picture composition.
The work of a camera operator is tiring; it involves a lot of standing under hot studio lights, the hours are often unsocial and camera crews can be required to work away from base, sometimes in uncomfortable conditions, for long periods.
Electronic Camera Operator
In a studio, there may be up to six electronic (video) cameras, each operated by one person assisted by camera crew members. Most of these cameras will be pedestal mounted, but some may be mounted on a jib. Camera operators may work standing or sitting behind a pedestal-mounted camera, and possibly have to operate a crane arm by remote control, or they may have to sit at the end of a camera jib. Other operators will drive the crane on which the camera jib is mounted, operate the boom or lift the trailing camera cables to allow the cameras to move freely round the studio floor. An outside broadcast unit will work from a small mobile control room; there will be fewer cameras and operators may find themselves working on a rooftop or on a scaffolding tower. Operators of lightweight electronic news gathering (ENG) cameras work with fewer people still and may even work with just a reporter (for example, in a risky location such as a war zone).
Experienced video camera operators may decide the framing and the composition of the picture, but will be guided by the program director on how the action is to be shot. Those working with few other people or alone have to decide for themselves how to get the most telling shots. They must also be able to service their equipment, edit tapes and use electronic communications links equipment.
Case Study - Announcer
Gillian is an announcer with an ITV company. Unlike many on the network, she appears 'in-vision', that is you see her between the programs, rather than just hear her voice. Her duties include linking the programs on the channel (at 'program junctions') and reading certain news and weather bulletins.
I work a day shift, so, typically, I would start at 10.30 in the morning and go through until six, maybe seven o'clock in the evening. The only small drawback is that you don't get any lunch break or tea breaks - you have to be there all the time in case there is a problem with any of the programs.
We have a news read at 10.50, so I have roughly 20 minutes to gear myself up for that. It really doesn't matter how long the bulletin is: the pressure is the same whether it's 30 seconds long or seven and a half minutes. I also have to prepare the weather graphics which are sent to us via satellite from Birmingham and make sure that the script isn't full of meteorological terms; it's up to me to make it as understandable as possible.
Occasionally, the job can get very stressful. Sometimes you can be put on the spot without having advance preparation. For example, if there's a switching problem with the lines for an incoming program, like News at Ten, and it 'goes down', then it is automatically up to the announcer to ad lib and fill that gap.
So, I would say that to do this job, you need to be fairly sharp, you need to be on the ball. You also need to be very disciplined. You must be here to fill the slots that are assigned to you because nobody else is going to do it. Also, you can't just lie down when something goes wrong or you make a mistake. You've just got to hope that it's going to be better next time. I always remember being told that you are only as good as your last junction, and it's absolutely true!
A lot of people perceive this to be a glamorous job and it's not really. You have to be realistic about that. One of the worse things, I suppose, is that we suffer because of other people's mistakes. Although I read some news bulletins, I am not a journalist; I have no input into the news whatsoever, I am just the messenger. If, for example, I haven't had time to read through the autocue before a news bulletin and a journalist has made a mistake in a news script, then it would be up to me to try to cover up for them. If that doesn't come off, I am the one left looking and feeling rather stupid. It can also get a bit irritating when I'm out somewhere and total strangers come up and tell me what an easy job I have!
But, having said that, I've been here now nearly 18 months and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. When you are having a good day, it's the best job in the world, you couldn't beat it with a big stick!
Many people working in broadcasting are freelances - performers, writers, presenters, and so on - and so have an agent or manager to find them work, negotiate their contracts and fees, handle their publicity and help them to develop their careers. In return for these services, the agent takes a percentage (usually between 10 and 20 per cent) of the client's earnings. Agents need sound judgment, negotiating skills, legal expertise and business acumen. They are not employed directly by television and radio companies but work closely with them.