Operating a Studio Camera

On a studio camera crew there is a job call the Operator. His/her job is to operate the camera. The operator is the step in between the first assistants and the D.P. To train for that job the camera assistants usually spend part of their lunch hour and other time learning which way to turn the wheels of the gear head to make the camera go in a desired direction to follow an actor. They put a laser or flash light on the camera and draw patterns or write their name. They train until the camera does what they think but are not conscious of what way to turn the wheels. After a while the camera automatically goes where it should without thinking about it.

It's like driving a car. We don't think about what way to turn the steering wheel. If we hold it at the bottom it goes the opposite way from holding it at the top. To back up a different reflex has to be learned. To back up with a trailer is even another reflex to learn. To steer reaching through the window is different yet. With a little practice we can learn it all. With practice!

Even the simple fluid head with a pan handle takes practice. Lots of practice.

When following a car or airplane passing the camera accelerates and decelerates as it passes at right angles. It's not an innate reflex. It has to be learned with practice.

When the operator gets on a crane it gets much more difficult. When "crossing the arm" the operator has to reverse pan. On a dolly there are different skills.

Shooting with long lenses is another skill to be learned only with practice. Very small moves have to be learned to keep a good frame. To "pull your own focus" is another skill that few bother to learn, but knowing how with a long lens has gotten some operators their next job.

Access to gear heads and long lenses is difficult for many operators in training, but a lot can be learned with a camcorder and a $200. tripod for little other than time.

Learning to operate is crucial for success on a large studio crew or one-person video crew. Don't get on the freeway to learn to drive.

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