The camera department, or camera crew, is the group of people on a film set that’s responsible for setting up and using the (you guessed it) camera. It’s a complex machine, and all the different terms and job titles can get confusing! Wondering why there is a loader on a digital shoot? Or what the heck a DIT does when he’s hanging out in that tent? Obviously if you’re on a really small set where there isn’t a whole camera crew everyone might be jumping in to help different departments, but on bigger sets you’ll want to know exactly what is expected of your job and stick to that. Whether you’re trying to break into the camera department, are transitioning from non-union to union work, or just want to understand who does what, this guide will help clear things up!

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Director of Photography

The cinematographer, DP, or DoP calls the shots, literally. They typically manage the camera, grip and electrical departments to achieve the look of the film. The DP works closely with the director to make all of the visual creative decisions, which begins during pre-production and usually continues on through the color correction in post-production. On indie shoots, it’s likely that they’re operating the camera as well. On larger shoots or union shoots, the DP may not ever actually touch the camera and instead will work with a camera op.  

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Camera Operator

The camera operator (or cameraman or camerawoman) is the person who actually operates the camera on larger shoots. On TV shows, there will often be at least three camera operators who help carry out the DP’s vision and make smooth, timely camera movements as rehearsed in the blocking. They work closely with the 1st AC and also cue the actors to let them know the framing of the shot. The job can be very physically demanding as the operator is often asked to shoot handheld or hunch over the camera on a dolly for long periods of time. There can also be specialized operators, such as Steadicam operators or underwater camera operators.

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Digital Imaging Technician (DIT)

On indie shoots the terms loader and DIT are sometimes interchangeable, but on union shoots that couldn’t be further from the truth (hint: don’t expect a DIT to get anyone coffee). Rather than downloading media cards, the DIT is applying real-time color corrections and coming up with look up tables (aka LUTs) while consulting with the DP. The DIT is often paid a similar rate as the camera operator and also gets a hefty kit rental fee for their cart. For budget reasons, you won’t see one on every set.

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1st Assistant Camera

The 1st AC has one of the most important jobs on set and that is focus pulling. Focus pulling can be an extremely difficult and high pressure job, especially during intense scenes shot on long lenses with a wide open aperture. All of these factors mean that if focus is off by half an inch, the shot is no good. Only an experienced 1st AC can appreciate the beauty of a well-executed rack focus in a shot. The 1st AC also builds the camera with help from the 2nd AC and is sometimes expected to “check the gate” after a scene, which in digital terms means to play back the last clip.

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2nd Assistant Camera

You may think the 2nd AC just slates each shot, but on a union shoot he/she actually runs the camera department. This person does all the paperwork including camera reports and timecards, helps the 1st AC build the camera, coordinates rentals and anticipates any gear that might be needed later in the day, keeping it on standby. They also handle most of the hiring, which is why if you’re looking to break into the camera department you should make an effort to meet as many 2nd AC’s as you can. These are the people who will actually call you for work, so skip the schmoozing with the DP and make the 2nd AC your friend!

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Loader

When I told people I was working as a loader, a lot of them assumed that meant I was loading film, but I’ve loaded less film magazines than I can count on two hands. The term is still used on union jobs though, and duties can include anything from swapping out media cards to running batteries and setting up the director’s monitor. The loader will also take on camera PA duties if there isn’t one. On larger productions there can be multiple loaders, especially if the shoot day involves a company move or if there is a second unit. Basically, a good loader ensures that the AC’s never have to leave the set (except for 10-1— film set speak for “bathroom break”).

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Camera Production Assistant

The camera PA is an entry-level position in the camera department and it’s how most people start out. They help the camera department, including every position listed above, with any necessary duty. This position is slowly disappearing, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Arguably, if you’re working in the camera department on a union shoot then you a deserve a union rate. Camera PA’s are paid a day rate with no meal penalties and less overtime. However, it’s a great way to get a foot in the door and learn how a set operates. Camera PA’s are usually expected to keep the rest of the department stocked on drinks and snacks and assist the loader with anything they may need. Learning the 1st AC’s favorite beverage and making sure they always have one will take you far!

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If you’re lucky enough to be part of a great camera crew, you’ll quickly learn that they’re usually a close-knit group who look out for and greatly respect each other. Each person plays a crucial role in the success of the production, no matter how big or small their job may seem. The more you understand each person’s job, the better you’ll be able to do your own and ensure you don’t step on anyone’s toes in the process. Working well with the rest of your crew will help guarantee you a long and successful career in this crazy industry.

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