How To Become A Better Camera Operator.

….Learn to edit and grade properly!

OK, so if you already shoot and edit then you’ll know this already. But I’m surprised at how many shooters there are that have no idea of how to edit or have never studied the editing and post production process. Very often I’ll hear comments form people like “I shoot this way because it the easiest” or “they can sort it out in post” with clearly little understanding of exactly what the implications for the poor post people are.

Modern post production workflows can be very powerful with the ability to perform many corrections and adjustments, but very often these adjustments only work well when the footage was shot specifically for those kinds of adjustments. Just because you can adjust one type of shot in a particular way, it doesn’t mean that you can do that to any type of shot.  You should shoot in a way that is sympathetic to the post production process that has been chosen for the project.

The other thing that learning to edit brings is an understanding of how a program or film flows. It teaches the camera operator the kinds of shots that are needed to support the main part of an interview or drama scene. Those all important cut-aways that help a scene flow properly. It’s not just a case of shooting a bunch of random shots of the location but thinking about how those shots will interact with the main shots when everything is edited together. If your shooting drama then it is a huge help if you can visualise how cuts between different shots of different characters, scenes or locations will work. How framing and things like camera height can be used to change the tension or intimacy in a scene. I think one of the best way to learn these things is by learning how to edit and I don’t mean just pressing the buttons or randomly dropping stuff in a sequence of clips. Learn how to pace a sequence, how to make a scene flow, understanding these things makes you a better shooter.

But don’t stop at the edit. Follow the post production process through to it’s end. Learn how to grade with a proper grading tool, not just colour corrections in the edit suite (although it’s useful to know the limitations of these) but things like power windows and secondaries. You don’t have to become a colourist, but by understanding the principles and limitations you will be able to adapt the way you shoot to fit within those limits. It is  a good idea to find a friendly colourist that will let you sit in on a session and explain to you how and why he/she is doing the things being done. There is always the Lite version of Resolve which you can download and use for free. If you don’t have anything to edit or grade then go out and shoot something. Find a topic and make a short film about it. Try to include people, interviews or drama. Maybe get in touch with a local drama group and offer to shoot a performance.

Whatever you do, get out there and learn to edit, learn to grade and then experiment and practice. Try a workflow where you create the finished look in-camera, then try shooting a similar project very flat or with log/raw and take that through the post production process and compare the end results. I think the best shooters are normally also competent editors. By full understand the post process you will keep the editor and colourist happy. If you make their lives easy the director and producers will see this when they sit in on the edit or grade and you’ll be more likely to get more work from them in the future.

One final thing. Even if you think you know it all, even if you do know it all you should still speak to the post production people before you shoot whenever possible to make sure everyone is clear about how they want you to deliver your rushes.

One thought on “How To Become A Better Camera Operator.”

  1. This is so true! I’ve worked with directors with very limited editing experience who like to go for the “cool” shot or effect — rotating the camera at random, odd angles, etc — which then does not integrate with the rest of the footage. Thanks for the “eddication”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.