Broadcast Tips for Up and Coming Camera Operators

July 31, 2020

In these unique times, many events are now being held virtually or behind closed doors. The demand for broadcast, streaming and recorded video is higher than ever. And with that demand for live video comes the need for quality cameramen. So, what better time than now to get some tips and tricks under your belt so as things slowly ramp up you can be nailing every shot and impressing every producer.



Outperforming the Veterans of The Broadcast World.

My first broadcast camera operator gig was ENG (handheld) camera for a WHL ice hockey game back in 2012. Shooting on a Sony D50, a “wonderful” 480p camera with a tiny viewfinder that only displayed in black and white. So, you can imagine how difficult it was sitting ice level trying to follow a tiny black puck flying all over the bright white ice. From there I eventually worked my way up to producing the entire show with 11 cameras, instant replay, motion graphics, etc. On top of that, I have produced the broadcast element of numerous festivals and corporate events.

In my time working with broadcast crews, I have seen all walks of life. Depending on the budget of the show, you may have access to a camera crew that is the best in the business or someone whose only camera experience is their iPhone.

It may come as a surprise, the people with limited camera experience or knowledge can end up outperforming the veterans of the broadcast world.

With these tips and tricks, you too can step up your game and go toe to toe with the pros.


Shooting Style.

When you receive the request to be a camera operator, most likely, you will be given details to that event but understanding what will be expected of you in terms of shooting style will help ease the stress of the director. For example, a corporate event may consist of only one camera. This means it will be your job to follow whoever is on stage constantly, with no sudden movements, consistent headroom and to always be in focus.

The flip side of that is a concert. Where generally there are many cameras, all performing different roles. The best way to get inspired is to watch tour or concert videos on YouTube where a full broadcast team captured the live event.



What is Back Focus?

An incorrectly calibrated Back Focus will ruin your day and your shot. Back Focus exists in the broadcast world and in higher-end DSLRs.

Knowing how to perform the procedure yourself will save not just your time but everyone else’s. This is one of the most common procedures I see camera operators struggle with. Below is a great video explaining how to perform a back focus.



You Are Always Live.

Something I drill into the heads of new camera ops is when capturing an event, the best way you can operate that camera is with the assumption you are always on air.

Yes, there is a thing called a Tally, a red light signalling you are in fact live, but quite often every camera is being recorded, whether that is for instant replays or post-production edits.

You never know when the director may need to cut to you, you may be the only one with a shot on the person presenting or clearly captured the goal. Being the Cam Op always with a shot will make you a hero.


Take Care of the Gear.

Broadcast gear is not cheap, it is incredibly expensive and costly to repair. Out of all the equipment that our camera operators use, the most common piece of gear to return damaged is the tripod. This is unfortunate because while a tripod is fairly easy to operate, even if it is from the same manufacture, latches and knobs will be located in different places and can vary in functionality from one tripod to another. This results in even an experienced operator left scratching their head.

The takeaway is to be gentle, there is no reason to apply excessive force to a tripod. Before attaching the camera to the tripod, test out all of the functions of it, making sure it is in full working order. I would much rather have the cam op come up to me and ask for assistance on setting up a tripod rather than them being embarrassed to ask and manhandle it.



Pick Me, Pick Me.

Having intuition as a camera op is great, and of course, that does come with experience but knowing what you need to do in certain situations will have you stand out from the crowd.

For example, at a concert it is very loud, depending on your camera position you may be directly in front of a speaker. With intuition, you can gauge which shots the director would want you to be capturing, split up your shots accordingly.



Return to Return.

Learn where the Return button is and use it often. Return can be a few variations but essentially you are receiving whatever video signal the engineer chooses to send back to you and it is then inserted over your camera’s viewfinder.

This is quite often titles and graphics; the best example would be Kiss Cam at a sports game. Typically, there is a big heart-shaped border, the best way to frame for this is to rough in your shot and then hit Return and you will then magically see that kiss cam border over top of your shot.

Another example is using return to view the program feed, the feed being sent to the LED Wall, projection screen or live stream that the audience sees. This allows you to see what other camera ops are filming in real-time which could allow you to then reframe a shot if yours is similar to one already being displayed.



A Foot in the Door.

Broadcast Camera Operating is a great way to get your foot in the door into live event production. Mastering this skill will open many doors. It can be difficult at times, having a camera on your shoulder for hours on end or being blasted by the sun or rain but in the end it is fun and rewarding and you get to see life though, quite literally, a different lens.

Just remember that every director or producer has their own style, be open and willing to follow their direction, have a positive attitude and strive to do your best and you definitely will be called up for the next show.

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