During a live event, a camera operator is a crucial element in the production.
However, their creativity and vision must fit into the overall plan for the production. This vision and plan is most often set by a director, but can be heavily influenced by the producer and on-air talent, as well as the event itself.
If you are interested in becoming a camera operator, or basically any technical position on a crew, the place you are likely to start is as a utility. Utility is a position on the crew that is hired to help out various member of the crew. During an event, they might be there to make sure a camera operator's cable doesn't get tangled as they walk around, or hold a parabolic microphone for the audio department, or maybe run different items such as stat sheets, bottles of water, or coffee around to people on the crew. This is not a glamorous position by any means; however, it often affords you the opportunity to meet folks on the crew and ask technical questions and, after developing a relationship over several shows, perhaps get some hands-on time with professional grade equipment.
If you are interested in learning about the cameras used during live sporting events, the only way you will have a chance is during the setup of a show.
Obviously, the first job task for camera operators is to set up their cameras. Often, the camera department, along with the utilities for a show, will work as a team to set up the cameras. Once they are set up, operators will be responsible to "fax" out their camera. Fax is a chance for an operator to make sure they can hear the people they are supposed to hear (for example, the director and perhaps program audio) and check that all their equipment is functioning properly.
Most live events have a camera meeting as part of their preparation. This is a meeting where a director will lay out the visual coverage plan for an event. The director will go over each camera and the coverage plan for that specific camera. For example, one camera might be responsible for nothing but the main action of the game or event. Even when the production is in a commercial break, this camera has to be focused on the overall field of play. While this might be the most creative position, the game camera is a critical piece of the puzzle because that is the camera that is most often viewed by the folks at home trying to watch the action. Another camera might be a handheld camera with the sole assignment of getting shots of the crowd, coaches, and players. Another camera might be assigned as a wide shot used for use by a color analyst or for video review by an official. This camera meeting is very important to get all the camera operators and the director in sync. This is also where a camera operator can ask any questions they might have about the production.
Once the show begins, a camera operator should have an idea of the coverage expected from their position. He or she could be isolated on a particular player or coach, or an area of the field, or maybe hunting through the crowd for different shots. For example, in a football game, a camera operator might be assigned to follow a particular wide receiver when the home team is on offense, and on a running back for the other team. They will follow that player no matter what.
On occasion, a camera operator might come up with a shot or go find a shot that a director might call for on the spur of the moment. For example, the announcer might be telling an off-the-cuff tale about a retired player, and the camera operator might remember a retired jersey up in the rafters, go frame it up and sell that shot to the director. Listening to the telecast and carefully following the flow of the game can help a good camera operator become an integral part of the show by adding and selling visuals to the director.
After the event, but sometimes before signing off the air, a camera operator might have post-game responsibilities such as recording interviews, post-game press conferences, or other production elements that need to be recorded. For example, an announcing team might need to record a post-game "hit." By "hit" we mean a recorded segment featuring the talent for the game that is shown later in a sports news show on the network the game aired or on the Internet or as part of a different production
When the show ends, the camera operators will be responsible for striking and putting away their camera. The term "strike" means to break down all the equipment and put it back in a storage location. If you are working on location, this would mean packing the mobile production unit. Sometimes, a show will be set up for several days, for example at a golf tournament, but in many instances, a show will setup, shoot the event, and strike in the same day. If you are working in a studio or at another venue where the equipment might be installed on a more permanent basis, then the strike might be just putting equipment into a standby position.