When you marvel at expansive landscapes in the movies, or share the emotions of a television close-up, you’re seeing exactly what camera operators see. These media professionals handle the devices that record images or present them live to audiences of TV shows, videos or movies. Their salaries depend on who hires them and where they work.
The country’s 16,410 camera operators averaged $49,010 a year, as of May 2011, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest earners made less than $19,610 yearly, while the best-paid got over an annual $86,000. Contrast these rates with the average $47,350 per year earned by the average media equipment worker, or the $54,490 annual average of all occupations in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media. In other words, camera operators tend to make a bit more than the average annual $45,790 earned by all workers in the country.
Not surprisingly, California, the state known for its movie, TV and entertainment industries showed the most job opportunities for camera operators. It boasted 2,430 positions at a mean annual pay $69,080. New York, another entertainment center, was second for employment, with 2,030 operators averaging $53,210 yearly. The District of Columbia showed the highest pay at a mean $70,340. California ranked second for salaries. For cities, Los Angeles had the most operators, with 1,700 averaging $76,120 yearly. New York City was a close second with 1,680 positions and mean pay at $55,030. Las Vegas topped the compensation list at $112,230 annually.
The big factor affecting the employment and pay of camera operators was the type of employer. About 6,140 worked in TV broadcasting to average $39,150 per year. The motion picture and video industries were next with 5,970 positions at a mean annual $57,100. The federal government ranked third for jobs, with 440 positions, but first for salaries at a mean $65,610 yearly. Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services followed for pay, averaging $65,530. At third for wages were other information services, such as Internet services, with mean wages at $57,650 per year.
Jobs for camera operators are expected to grow by 2 percent from through 2020, says the BLS. This is a lot less than the average 14 percent growth predicted for all occupations. The low rate comes from the growing use of automatic camera systems that require no operators. Even though the public still wants TV shows and movies, technological advances are minimizing hiring because fewer workers can become more productive. On the plus side, content delivery for mobile devices, online TV and the Internet is providing some opportunities. Competition will be strong because there are more applicants than there are openings. The best opportunities will go to those with previous experience in movie and TV production.
Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.