Filmmaking / Photography

How To Become A Professional Cameraman or Photographer

Stunt camera crew
Published 19 July 2020

If you’ve reached this blog, welcome! You will either have an interest in becoming a cameraman, you are currently starting out as a cameraman or you are a professional cameraman? Yes? No? If you’re none of these 3 options, then maybe you can learn something new. 

Cameraman jobs, in particular the television industry may be integrated in several different types of productions, including television series, made-for-TV movies, adverts, and news broadcasts. Some of these productions use a wide range of cameras and equipment to record on videotape or to digital video files. Others, especially commercials and television movies, often use film cameras. 

If you were to list all the professional camera jobs out there the list would take all day. There are many desirable jobs, but also some not so desirable. However, the pathway to the top starts with gaining valuable experience and working hard to achieve your goals. Remember, in this industry you HAVE to stand out.

First of all let’s have a look at some of the positives and negatives of being a freelance Cameraman / Filmmaker or Photographer. 

Here are some benefits of being a cameraman:

  • You have the opportunities to travel all over the world for work.
  • You can create a huge network of people to keep in contact with, work alongside or meet up in future.
  • When you are shooting as a freelancer you have the freedom to be creative and work however you desire. 
  • Build a strong client list.
  • A lot of high-end work is very well paid and has many benefits
  • Variety in work. 

Here are some drawbacks of being a cameraman:

  • The majority of cameramen are freelancers and therefore self-employed. Whenever there is a dip in the market, cameramen are often hit first due to companies making cuts on their advertising spend. 
  • Inconsistent pay due to the nature of jobs. Some months can be excessively higher/lower than others. 
  • Wide range schedule; somewhat erratic and can often mess up future plans.
  • You will hardly ever want to turn down work due to being freelance, even when you want to spend time with family and friends. 

In short, there is no exact answer to the question of ‘how to be a professional cameraman’ because then it would be easy to do, right? However there are hundreds of ways for someone to start at the bottom and build their way up to the top. If you ask any professional cameraman how they reached the level they are, every single one of them will give you a different answer. 

Collectively, there are many different types of cameramen and there is no real ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to this industry. This is what makes the industry so exciting, it’s time to pick up the camera and start filming! Depending on what kind of work you’re interested in, there are different ways to adapt your approach to camera work and here’s some tips on how to become a professional cameraman and some tips given to beginners on how they can improve.

Our list on how to become a professional camera operator

1. Start small and start shooting

Any professional in any industry never became an expert overnight, they spent thousands of hours perfecting their skills and repeating them over and over until they were happy with what they had achieved.

Camera work is often the same; camera guys that have huge day rates for what they offer had to start somewhere and more times than not they began their career with very little money, no high-end equipment but perfected their skill by starting small and building up their passion into something special. Go outside and start filming on your iPhone, or your camera, go home and edit it. The more you do these things, the better you’re going to become. 

Red camera cameraman
Photo credit Stunt Camera Crew

2. Make contacts everywhere you go

This is crucial to building up a good quality showreel and growing in the industry. Having a wide range of contacts can help you in years down the line when you may need an extra hand on a job, or if you’re struggling for work. The famous saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has never been more apparent in the filmmaking world and you can guarantee that every specialist cameraman has a ton of contacts in his phone book that he could ask for help, or offer help to. Use your contacts and keep in regular contact when you can!

3. Upload content regularly so everyone can see

This is basically your CV/resume when applying for work. Making an Instagram, YouTube and Facebook page are all essential when starting out as a beginner in filmmaking as this is where your work can be accessed by millions of people and has the potential to be recognised globally through a few clicks. LinkedIn is also an amazing platform to connect with similar business professionals or to showcase your work off to the world. Many people love to see new content and support people when they believe their work would be worthy of someone else on their connections list. You never know who will be watching!

4. Be creative 

If you asked 1000 cameramen to shoot something of the same topic/theme, every single one of them would come back with a different type of shoot and thus a different edit. That is the beauty of this industry, whereby the creative side in every cameraman must come out in order for them to stand out from the crowd. With the equipment and editing software available these days, there is no end of possibilities that a cameraman can fulfil with a bit of creativity. 

5. Give every project 110% effort

This may come across a bit like “well obviously?”, but read on.If you’re scheduled to work on a job but don’t feel fully motivated to do it, find the motivation from somewhere! Every professional cameraman will believe that a certain job or shoot was the catalyst for properly starting their career and they will always be thankful for that job. You never know when that job is going to be, or who else you will be working alongside. Always work to your highest level to keep reaching even higher results. If you do an amazing job then you’ll almost certainly be asked to work with that client again.

6. Create a Showreel of all your work

Some people don’t believe this is necessary, but it almost certainly is. Linking back to No.3, a showreel is a place where you can place all of your best work into one video where a client can watch your work instantly. Make sure you spend some time on this as this could be the difference between getting a job or not. Always use YouTube videos if you need help with the editing (almost everyone does this).

Example of a Showreel:

7. Gain as much experience as possible

When starting as a beginner, this is essential. Depending on what type of work you want to go down, gaining experience is so helpful. There is more to being a cameraman/filmmaker than just shooting content on the camera. You’ll learn how to deal with different scenarios, or learn how to work with people you don’t like or time management. There are so many factors that go into creating visual content for adverts or films and the more experience you have the better you’ll deal with it if anything goes wrong. 

8. Keep increasing your skill set / never stop learning

Never be afraid to invest in yourself. Spend money on a course to better your editing skills, or buy that new camera or buy a new lens, it’s not going to make you worse. Every time you make an addition to your equipment or your brain, you will improve as a cameraman. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.

Many filmmakers out there will often become photographers too, as this is also a great way to make money. A lot of the skills required to become a photographer are similar to a filmmaker, but this is a great way to increase your day rate if you possess another desired skill. Don’t forget this!

9. You need top quality editing software and assets

You can’t be editing top tier 4K quality content with iMovie, you need the best software!

Here’s a list of some of the best editing softwares:

There has also been a modern day development of Film LUTs. These are many color presets for video editing. In simple terms  it is a file to easily convert and change the color values of pixels, their saturation, contrast, luminance and hue. They have been proven to transform a simple dull shot into something quite special. 

If this is something you want to try out, here are some quality LUT packs to choose from.

We hope you have found this blog useful and in some way this helps your career. Also, if you haven’t started yet, the best time to start is now.

Red camera
Photo credit Stunt Camera Crew

10. Buy the right gear

“It’s not what camera you have, it’s how you use it” Stunt Camera Crew said this, and it is so true!

The best thing you can do is buy a camera that works for you. You NEED to know how to use your camera in manual mode, know the ins and outs. Best thing to do is get practising.

Another tip is to buy the right Filmmaking lens filters, lenses, tripod and other bits that will make your job easier. It’s a never ending story on buying camera gear, so choose well.

There’s a saying that people say where they mention that you don’t need a camera that shoots 16-bit colour or RAW video such as a RED camera. But it completely depends on what you are shooting and what your editing process is. For example if you are shooting things for social media and you are going to colour correct or grade your footage, I would still recommend using a top end camera. When colour grading footage, you want all the depth you can get so you can push the colours. If you have an iPhone, you aren’t going to be able to make the colours look as nice.


About Author

As a freelance blogger, Chris has a passion for ethical trading in the clothing industry and wide interests in photography and modelling. He is also great at core research and creates some amazing blogs for websites across the planet.