Great movie cameramen capture those crucial moments that directors long for: the dramatic pause, the game-winning catch, the moment of impact. They join a talented team of actors, make-up artists, set designers, directors and producers who make movies possible. To become a movie cameraman or cinematographer you need not only the technical skills but also artistic abilities and a keen eye for detail. Pursuing this exciting career can be challenging and competitive, but the rewards can be quite handsome.
Start getting ready for the career while you're still in high school. Become a film aficionado by watching and reading about films in many different genres. Focus your attention on how filmmakers choose to film certain scenes, what techniques they use and how they execute them. Join your school's AV (audio-video) club to learn about aural and visual technology. Take courses in both the humanities and the natural sciences. You'll need technical and mathematical skills as well as strong oral communications skills for this career.
Purchase your own equipment if you haven't already done so, and start experimenting with video cameras. Buy the best cameras, tripods, software and other necessary equipment for your price range. Consult with more experienced cameramen and your peers when deciding what to purchase. Start making movies and editing them, teaching yourself as much as you can by reading manuals, online resources, books and special interest magazines.
Research degree programs at postsecondary schools in your price range. Many schools, especially technical and vocational schools near Los Angeles and New York, offer courses and degree programs for aspiring cameramen. Consider other important factors such as distance from home, campus lifestyle, availability of equipment, reputation of professors and career services.
Earn a bachelor's or associate's degree in a related field. Degrees in broadcasting, cinema studies, videography, media studies and other related fields provide a solid educational background on which to build your skills and knowledge. Take all available classes in filmmaking, whether they be documentary filmmaking, 8mm, animation, short live action, feature film or experimental. Work closely with your professors to gain feedback on your work.
Take any additional classes to develop skills you may have missed in college. Depending on the degree program you chose, you may need to further deepen your technical knowledge of cinematography and video editing. You may take these courses at a separate school concurrently with your required undergraduate courses or wait until after you've obtained a degree.
Participate in an internship at a movie or television studio. Filmmakers need lots of helping hands during the production process and often hire interns to help around the set. Look for an internship working directly for a movie cameraman to optimise your exposure to the job environment. These positions are rarely paid but occasionally offer a small stipend. Use the opportunity to network and learn how the industry works.
Gain experience assisting cinematographers and directors. After you've completed an internship, you may be asked to work for that studio or production company. If not, look for entry-level positions working in cinematography. You may start out assisting with lighting and sound or other aspect of production. Movie sets usually need a whole team to man the cameras on the set, so these jobs are usually available.
Apply for a job with a movie studio or production company. Once you've gained experience working on a movie set and show that you have the necessary skills to operate a camera, you should be able to find a job as a cameraman. The cities with the highest concentrations of movie studios are located in Hollywood and New York, so these are good places to look for work as a cameraman.