Being a cameramen requires persistence, passion, and a willingness to work long hours in sometimes chaotic conditions. While a formal education can boost your resume, production companies value know-how, commitment, and competence even more. To land consistent work as a cameraman, it is important to establish connections with people in the trade and to create a reputation as a solid worker in order to beat the stiff competition that you will face for each position.
Developing Skills Early
Take appropriate courses in high school.
Fill your electives with subjects like photography and videography, if available. If your school doesn’t offer them directly, speak with your guidance counselor about any technological/vocational schools that may be part of your school district. Pursue the subject through extracurricular activities, such as audio/visual clubs, if no such courses exist.
- As an alternative, take computer courses with curricula that touch on graphic editing. Concepts learned here can help inform later experiences with digital videos.
Apply for relevant jobs.
Spend your time in high school or college working for a company in a related field. Prioritize the experience that the position offers over pay. If necessary, volunteer your time. Use this opportunity to familiar yourself with equipment, lingo, and demands of a professional shoot. If necessary, settle for a position that will allow you to observe, if not participate directly in the shoot. Seek positions with such organizations as:
- Cable access channels
- Independent film productions
- Local news affiliates
- Local videographers
- Production companies
- Supply stores or rental companies
Regardless of the quality of the equipment you have on hand, practice both still and video photography on your own. Develop the skills necessary to compose shots and track moving objects in frame. Learn how to operate both handheld and mounted cameras.
- Concentrate on the following aspects of photography/videography: color balance; field depth; frames per second; lenses; lighting; view angles.
- Seize every opportunity to cover events: volunteer for family functions like birthday parties, weddings, and reunions; use school functions like concerts, plays, and sports games for practice; attend other events like parades and reenactments.
Advancing Your Training
Decide if pursuing a degree is right for you.
Expect to face a high amount of competition for employment as a cameraman. Consider earning a two- or four-year degree in order to gain more experience, knowledge, and credentials to set yourself apart from other candidates. However, weigh these gains against your personal finances. Be aware that when you enter the field, you will most likely have to begin your career with a low-wage entry-level position or even a volunteer position. Factor this likelihood into your debate over whether or not to incur the added expense and possible debt of higher education.
- While a degree will likely bolster your resume, some production companies value enthusiasm and ambition over a diploma. If you are passionate about this career, they may still consider your application and hire you based on that passion.
Choose the right school.
Research colleges and universities that offer associate or bachelor’s degrees in film and TV production. Check with their career centers to see how many students find employment after graduation. Visit each school to talk with professors and department heads. Find out the following:
- How much coursework is actually devoted to physically operating a camera?
- Do they have a studio on campus, or is training done exclusively “in the field?”
- How up-to-date is their equipment?
Earn your degree.
Once you have applied and been accepted by your school of choice, apply yourself wholeheartedly to your curriculum. Use this formal education to round out your technical prowess with the camera. Save your recorded projects to edit together for a demo reel once you are ready to seek employment. Aim to master the following concepts:
- Field depth
- Frame rates
- Framing shots
- Location shoots
- Studio shoots
Apply for internships.
Visit your department or the career center as soon as you enroll. Find out how many credits you need to earn before you are eligible for internships. Once you have covered the prerequisites, apply as soon as possible. Gain firsthand experience with professional shoots. Establish contacts within the industry. Expect your position as an intern to allow you limited access (if any) to operating cameras, but use this opportunity to observe the day-to-day demands of your prospective career. If possible, apply to multiple internships in order to cover the three most common type of shoots:
- In-studio, where shoots are done in a controlled environment with choreographed camerawork determined by a director.
- Live coverage of scheduled events, such as sports, concerts, and speeches. Directors predetermine where to set cameras for optimum coverage, but cameramen must be prepared for the unexpected and respond quickly to new directions.
- In-the-field coverage, which may include electronic news gathering (ENG) or wildlife photography. Cameramen must have strong instincts and react quickly to the unscripted nature of the job.
Work your way up.
Expect to have to start your career via an entry-level position that does not involve directly operating cameras. Apply for a position as a production assistant to get your foot in the door. Use this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the production company’s assignments, equipment, and operating procedures. Excel at your job to demonstrate your commitment and capabilities to your coworkers and supervisors so that they will be quick to consider you for your desired position as cameraman.
- Similarly, begin your job search with smaller production companies and local network affiliates. Larger companies may have unionized work forces with less turnover and fewer opportunities for applicants with little or no experience.
- Search online for openings at companies you wish to work for or to find job postings on such sites as LinkedIn or Glassdoor.
Whether you are a low-level employee, an intern, or a student, keep a contact list of people you meet within the industry. Develop strong working relationships with everyone you work alongside of. Shelve personal likes and dislikes while on the job and focus instead on building a professional rapport with any and all contacts. Utilize these people as sources of information regarding new openings and opportunities, as well as recommendations to potential employers.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that professional references play a key if not primary role in deciding to fill cameramen positions. Consider your contacts to be one most valuable assets you have in obtaining employment.
Compose a demo reel.
Review your past recordings as a student or amateur. Edit your best samples into one video file to submit along with your job application. If not explicitly stated in the job posting, contact the person doing the hiring to find out if they would prefer you to submit a physical thumbdrive or an attached video-file online.
- If you are applying to multiple positions that differ in nature, compose a demo reel for each one.
- For instance, if you are applying for an in-studio position, use samples that highlight your ability to frame a subject with a proper depth of field and favorable lighting.
- If you are applying to become an in-the-field cameraman, favor video samples that showcase your ability to swiftly adapt to changing conditions, as well as track moving objects while keeping them in frame.
Write a great resume.
Expect your potential employer to only skim it. Keep it short so that they can get the gist of it in one glance. Regardless of what format you choose to follow, begin your resume with a brief summary that encompasses the thrust of all that follows. In a few lines, highlight your experience, accomplishments, and ambitions, and how you wish to apply them to the job at hand. Aim to make your strongest impression here, in case the reader doesn’t bother with the rest. After your summary, include the following:
- Work experience: Include internships and any paid employment. For each position, list those duties that have the most direct bearing on your desired job to indicate a transferable set of skills. Use strong verbs to define them as personal accomplishments, rather than the general expectations of your former employer. For instance, write that you “set up camera and lighting equipment” instead of “I was responsible for setting up equipment” to suggest a proactive approach to your work.
- Education: Include those schools from which you have already graduated, as well as any that you are currently enrolled in. For each one, mention your graduation date, the degree that you earned, and any honors you may have received. If you are still attending school, include your projected graduation date and major. If you were valedictorian with a 4.0 average, feel free to share that, but otherwise leave out any mention of your class ranking or grade point average.
- Other experience: Detail skillsets and accomplishments gained from volunteer positions, academic clubs, training or coursework undertaken outside of a school curriculum, or other examples not covered by your academic and job histories. List them in the same manner as your work experiences. Limit yourself to just those that have some direct connection to the job at hand in order to stay on topic.
Write a Cover Letter
Use the same resume to apply to multiple positions if they are similar in nature, but be sure to write a new cover letter for each single position. Limit yourself to one page so that the reader is more likely to read it in full. Include how your experiences, education, and ambitions make you an ideal candidate for that exact position.
- Address the cover letter directly to the person who is doing the hiring. Use their title (Dr., Mr., Ms., etc) while omitting their first name to make your letter more personal while still maintaining a professional tone.
- State the specific job opening to which you are applying as either a subject line in your email or as a lead to your letter’s first paragraph. Avoid making your cover letter seem like a vague, all-purpose letter.
- Mirror the language used by the company on their website and publicity materials. Create the impression that you are an ideal fit for their company by speaking the way they speak.
- Refer directly to your attached resume and demo reel to ensure they peruse them. Request them to contact you in order to set up interviews. Use assumptive language, as if you know for a fact that they will do these things, such as: “The attached resume will detail my experience more extensively,” or “I will be readily available for an interview once you have made your decision.”