Camera Operation & Responsibility – Lesson Five, Television Production

Responsibilities of being a camera operator are limited but they are still your responsibilities. What does it all mean to you? These are two totally different things – Camera Operation and photography, when you are speaking of community access television and operating a camera inside of a studio. In the body of this article, I have placed a link that gives excellent camera descriptions and basic use operations guidelines for studio and field cameras. Zeeshan708

Camera operation is just that. Camera operators are very important in all television productions. After all you will get the shots, hold the shots and you will correct anything that should be corrected. Without the camera operator, you will just have an ordinary operation. You are the life behind the camera. You are the person that allows creativity in shots. Yes, there are some shows that can use just a robotics camera, but that operation is limited. So, as a camera operator you have an important role in television production.

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You are the hands behind the camera and though you have eyes, your eyes are under the direction of the Director of the show. What does this mean to you as a photographer? It means that you can be an awesome photographer and yet still produce bad shots if you are acting under someone’s direction who is not a photographer. In the studio, while doing television shows, the Director who is in the control room calls all the shots. Some Directors take full charge and the camera operator is not allowed to use his mind or eyes to change the shots or do any experimentation. On some shows, the Director can and does use the talents of a professional photographer who is operating the camera and the Director will instruct the photographer, ahead of time, to get the best shots he can get (while that particular camera is not on program). So, if you are a fussy photographer who wants to control all of your own shots, do not work as a camera operator inside a television studio.

There are basics to camera operation and the basics begin with safety of the camera, safety of the operator, and having the knowledge to know who is in charge of the show/shots.

Cameras and Responsibility:

Most times, in the studio, it is best for the executive producer to handle the robotics cameras. You, as the executive producer are responsible for the studio, including the robotics, so take that responsibility seriously. If these robotics need to be moved across the floor, then you move them. You can be the first one inside the studio and uncap the robotics and move them to where you want them.
Examine all cameras and make sure they are all working, uncapped and in place.
Bring no liquids in the studio or near the cameras.
Before moving or adjusting any cameras, check to see that the camera is unlocked. Check all locks. (Do the same when placing the cameras back at the end of the production. (Lock cameras and replace all caps). I suggest that only the Executive Producer in charge of the entire production tend to the robotics cameras -when it comes to moving them in the studio. You, as the Executive Producer are responsible and these cameras are very fragile.
Never allow any children near the equipment inside the studio. Have the children stay in the dressing room while the studio is being set up and have someone stay with the children in the dressing room. I strongly suggest that when children are in the studio building that an adult always be present with them. The studio is packed with large, heavy and dangerous equipment; for the safety of all children (whether they be guests, hosts or children of talent, guests, hosts or producers), adults must accompany them everywhere in the studio.
When you are setting up the camera, close in on the object that you are photographing and focus at that point farthest from the camera. When I am focusing the camera, I always focus on the eyes of the subject. That’s a preference for me. Others focus on the draperies or curtains in the studio. Everyone has their own opinions, depending on what they want to accomplish. Once you focus clearly, then bring the zoom all the way out to the desired picture that you want (either wide shot, or head and shoulder etc). See this website for complete camera operation guidelines – That website gives you basic information about cameras; you will need to check this out and then go on to the next lesson at that website for more details.
Inside and Outside the Studio:
Watch where you walk. There are cables all over the studio. You do not want to step on cables or trip yourself or someone else. So always know where the cables are. Have someone tape down XLRs before hand and those will be less cables to have problems with.
When you place cameras in position, remember to focus on where the camera cables are. Instead of twisting cables here and there under and over cameras, watch for the cables first , before moving the cameras and you will have less hassle when finally positioning the cameras.
After the production is over, you (as camera operator) is in charge of moving the camera back into original position and locking the camera. (Check all locks, not just one). You are the person responsible for capping the lens back up. And you are responsible to make sure that no liquids or other damaging items are placed near or on the camera. If there are children in the studio, stay with your camera and make sure that no children touch the camera or equipment.
Outside the studio, on field trips, is a good place to take pictures, but know that the risk is great outside. Once you are in the field with cameras, know that there are people outdoors who come to shoots specifically to steal cameras and equipment. It is your job as camera operator to stay with your camera and to make sure that no one else touches or takes your camera. Always bring large clear plastic bags to cover the camera with (just in case it rains). There are special plastic camera bags that go over the camera in rain and even while the camera is inside of this bag, the photographer can still take videos. The hand goes inside the bag and the camera is completely protected from the weather. (These bags are expensive but not as expensive as replacing an entire camera. We picked the bag up in Long Island for twenty dollars for a two-pack. You probably can buy them cheaper in New York City somewhere).
Outside the studio, especially in parks or on dirt, double-check the tripods. Sometimes when the ground surface is uneven, you need to double-check and make sure that the tripod is stable. Never leave your camera/tripod unattended during any outdoors shoot. Someone can call you over, and you might be tempted to go and speak. However if you leave your camera and something happens to it, you are fully responsible for camera replacement. So, stick with it.
Outside the studio and inside the studio, only certified producers may handle or touch the camera. If you know that a particular producer has been banned or suspended, then you need to make sure that this producer has no access to any of the studio’s equipment or cameras. When you are outside the studio, doing field productions, always take extra care that someone is watching the cameras and equipment at all times. When you are outdoors, no matter where you are shooting, there will be people who might love to get their hands on a camera, whether that be camera thieves or children who are curious about the production. If you have extra people around, (certified producers) assign one as security to be responsible for all the equipment and cameras.
Remember what you are there for. In the field, you may be at a concert, or some other performances. Remember that you are a professional there on assignment. You are not there for fun but for business. Take your job seriously with great responsibility.
If you are a field producer and an executive producer wants you to pick the camera up and deliver the camera to the show, decline this task. Tell the executive producer that you can help with the show as camera operator but you cannot pick up his equipment. In the past, I have worked on very many field shows and I have never picked equipment from the studio building. Think about it this way, if an executive producer is not responsible enough to pick his own equipment up, then why should you be responsible for doing that? Many times a producer, who is new, might think that they have to do this. However, that is not the rule. I recommend that you let all executive producers pick their own equipment up and return their own equipment.
At the end of all studio productions, replace all the caps, return cameras to their original positions, lock all the locks, and then ask anyone else if they need help. This is a team operation. So help where you can help after you wrap up your own camera. There are many wonderful website that give full information about camera operation and other information about studio and field shows. Check them all out on the web. Read as much as you can about camera operation and about photography. Kodak has a wonderful series of books about photography. Reading about photography can enhance your studio experience; it is in these books that you will learn or refresh your memory about camera position, lighting and other studio aspects. If you want information about where to take a course on television production, send for our free newsletter. Zeeshan708

Listen To Yourself: One time there was a camera in the studio that was slipping. Yes, it was properly locked but it kept slipping down. It would not maintain the height that it was set at. I give this example as another example of listening to your own gut feelings, no matter what anyone else says. During the pre-production as I was setting the camera, focusing etc, I noticed that the camera was slipping and would not hold at the height that I wanted it to hold at. I mentioned that to the Director of the show. The sound guy came over and adjusted the locks -as if we, the Director and myself, the camera operator and a photographer did not know how to use or lock a camera. He adjusted one lock and said, there it is set. And he walked away immediately. I checked the camera, and the camera slipped within a minute or so after he had left. He did not believe the camera was slipping and insisted that it was okay to use. The Director, having wisdom and knowing that the camera was slipping, said for me to use the other camera. I did that. They left the other camera for the wide shot. They could not control the other camera because it kept slipping yet, still you would not hear the sound guy say that. (Now this was the same guy who said that the incorrect spelling was wrong -on another show. He insisted that the name was correct, yet I found out it was spelled wrong. Luckily I found that out before I put it into the cg program).

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