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The Definitive Do’s and Don’ts of Camera Operating

It’s a common misconception that the quality of a production all hinges on the director’s ability, and often the camera operator and others working on the production get overlooked. It is after all a team effort, although award ceremonies may focus on the individual performance of the leading actors or vision of the director and DOP. Lest we not forgot those behind the scenes and actually some of the most important people on set – the camera operator. After all, they have a heavy burden on their shoulders and the amount of knowledge and operating insight this requires is immense. Added to the complexity of the job is the pre-requisite to be able to take direction well (often bossed about), and at the end of the production sometimes not getting the deserved credit.


It goes without saying, there’s a wealth of work that goes into making a movie or television show and camera operators have often paid their dues before “hitting the big time”. But, what are some of the do’s and don’ts a camera operator has to have in mind on a production?

Camera Do’s

1. Understand the Rule of Thirds – A simple rule to follow, and most camera operators worth their daily rates won’t have a problem in implementing this. The Rule of Thirds: Divide the frame into three horizontal and vertical sections. The intersecting lines will make the ideal location for your shot, so you should place the main subject of the shot in these spots.

2. Understand How To Create Depth in the shot – A very important aspect in photography as well as videography. If you look at a homemade video, or a documentary style video, you will notice that there’s not a great deal of depth within the shot. As photography and video is typically 3D, the camera operator needs to distinguish foreground, middle ground and background.

3. Comprehend the Concept of White Balance – Since the camera doesn’t recognise or understand the colour white, it’s important to adjust the white balance on a camera properly. Every camera operator should know how to do this by removing unrealistic colour casts.

4. Be Willing to Take Direction – The camera operator is responsible for putting the shot together from start to finish, but have to be willing to take less credit for the final product. It’s important to respect the director and take direction, even if you think you may have a better way.

5. Comprehend and execute the rules of Composition – As in photography it’s essential that you compose the shot well. You should be familiar with terminology such as balance, symmetry, cropping, leading lines, viewpoint, texture, natural framing and so forth.

Camera Don’ts

1. Forget About Audio – Often this can be neglected by camera operators, as they might think other people will be in charge of getting this right. However, this couldn’t be further from the reality, and it falls on the camera operator to get this right.

2. Be Unprofessional – This means turning up to the job looking professional i.e. the proper attire, clean and ready to go. A common error camera operators make is that they turn up looking a bit scruffy, just because they won’t be in shot. You should avoid doing this and always maintain a professional image.

3. Act Like a Know it All – This should be left to the director and/or producer of the production. Although, you may have the technical expertise and knowledge, you should always treat other people with how you’d want to be treated. Never have an aire of superiority as you’ll find you quickly lose friends within the industry.

4. Arrive to the Shoot Unprepared – It’s paramount that you spend time checking your equipment and getting prepared ahead of schedule. This will minimise the chances for things to go wrong.

5. Be Afraid to Speak Up – Sometimes, for whatever reason, the shot isn’t going to plan. If you feel this is the case, don’t be afraid to voice your concern, and leave it up to the directors and/or producers to decide what to change.

Guest Post by Dragonfly Productions.

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