UK Production Stills Photographer » Film and Television Publicity Stills by Angus Young

The Fitzroy

Post Apocalyptic Black Comedy, The Fitzroy is now released and currently doing the of film festival circuit. I love that this new poster that features character portraits of our hilarious and brilliant cast that I captured while they were filming on the West London sound stage that was the interiors of The Fitzroy Hotel.

Make-up Design: Karen Evans IMdb
Costume Design: Poppy Bell IMdb
Poster Design: White Spark Creative
WWW.THEFITZROY.COM

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The most common questions I seem to get from aspiring unit photographers lately relate to how much we should get paid or how much they should charge for their work.  So I’ve gathered together some thoughts on the topic that may be of use to other photographers attempting to determining what rate to charge (or accept) for services to a production.  The thoughts outlined below are specific to drama and factual work work.

NOTE I don’t feel I can tell anyone how they should charge but I can give an indication of the relevant considerations determining your own rate. Please do not take this article as legally enforceable. You should seek your own independent advice if you are unsure of what rates to charge for your work.

National Minimum Wage and Freelancing / Self Employment

The HMRC lists Still Photographers that provide their own equipment as being “accepted as self employed” (see HMRC’s VTAXPER63200). This means that productions can hire you as a self employed freelancer.

If you’re engaged as a self employed (which HMRC allows for) then the UK National Minimum Wage laws don’t apply and you can be hired at whatever rate you negotiate with the producers.

Despite this, I would suggest that accepting a rate that works out to be less than NMW for a 10hr day is a highly unsustainable approach. I would encourage any one who plans on a career in the creative arts think long and hard about whether to agree to rates below this.

Other Rate Regulation

BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) is the union that covers unit still photographers in the United Kingdom. BECTU does publish rate cards for many film and television job roles and you can find them on their website however they do not currently publish recommended rates for unit still photographers. As far as I am aware, BECTU rate cards are not published as enforcable, merely as guidelines.

BECTU did once did include unit still photographers in their rate card (PACT/BECTU Freelance Rate Card for contracts entered into on or after 1 April 2005). If you review that document, you’ll see that “Still Camera” is listed in the same group as Script Supervisors and as a slightly higher rate than First Assistant Camera (Focus Pullers). The current published BECTU rate (As at April 2015) for Script Supervisors and Focus Pullers is between £300/day (minimum) and £430/day (recommended) for a 10 hour day during “sociable hours”. I’m not a member of BECTU so I can’t comment with any authority on their rates but I usually ask for around the same as the production is paying the focus puller or script supervisor.

I understand that BECTU is currently (June 2015) seeking information from its members so as to include unit stills rates. So it is worth keeping an eye on them or even joining to keep abreast of the work they’re doing on UK unit stills rates.

For North American based photographers you can find out more about union rates and conditions from IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees)

For Australian and New Zealand based photographers you can find out more about union rates and conditions from Alliance (The Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance)

Kit Rental or Box Hire

Stills photographers are generally expected to supply all their own equipment. Many other roles (particularly camera department) ordinarily have equipment hired for their use through the job through rental companies. Where crew provide their own kit for use on the job they get paid an additional rate to cover hire of their kit. This rate reflects the cost of owning, maintaining and upgrading where necessary. These kit hire rates are ordinarily much lower than the cost of renting the same gear through a hire company.

I’m a strong advocate for maintaining this practice for stills photographers. If you were to price up the cameras, lenses, sound blimp/s other kit we use to hire on a daily basis you would easily be over £200/day in London and that wouldn’t even cover insuring that equipment. Your kit hire would vary depending on what equipment you have and how well you can negotiate but £50/day is a minimum rate to consider.

Other considerations:

Single Fee For the shoot

This phenomenon seems to be a new one for me and mostly comes from low budget productions. The producers will ask for me to agree to a single fixed fee for services to the production.

Where this comes up, I simply divide the rate they’re proposing by the number of shoot days to determine my daily rate and use that to determine whether or not the project is financially worthwhile for me.

Where the stills budget is nominated by the producers as being fixed, you can then negotiate fewer days for the same rate in order to get your rate up to an acceptable level.

Post Production

We don’t get a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) to download and manage our files. This process accounts for at least one hour (often closer to two) per shoot day in my experience.

Some days you might get that work done on set during turnarounds or other down time it is most likely that post work needs to be done outside of shooting hours. In addition, I’ll often spend 1-2 days managing my files after a shoot has finished, outputting files, making final selections and edits for the client not to mention getting the images to the client. Often you can negotiate “wrap days” (as other crew often get) to cover this work time.

Specials / Gallery Shoots

These should be charged at entirely different and usually substantially higher rates to unit still photography.

Consumables

As with Camera Dept and Sound Dept we generate lots of data day to day on film sets. It is my standard practice to include in my invoices an amount to cover the purchase of at least two matching portable USB drives for the production.

Travel Days, Accommodation, Per Diems, and Travel Expenses

These issues are common to all film crew and when negotiating with producers I expect these to be provided in line with industry norms and other crew members engaged on the same production.

Final Thoughts

So, with this post, I haven’t given any definitive answers to the question of how much a unit still photographer should get paid. Hopefully it does give you an idea of the considerations involved in deciding to accept or refuse a job from a remuneration perspective.

Do you think I’ve missed something? If so, drop me an email or comment below!

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  • John - June 30, 2015 - 6:29 pm

    I work as a union stills photographer in Canada.

    As of out latest contract- which I think came into effect two years ago- we are paid a set minimum ‘processing fee’ for every day we shoot unit on set.

    You can still negotiate a different rate, and some productions would prefer to pay you the specific hours worked, but in general, I’ve found it works really quite well.

    We get $150/day for processing, paid as a labour cost, to cover the time we spend in Lightroom/whatever processing/exporting/whatever we do to unit shots.

    I like it- and I think it works well for stills guys and for productions: productions know what it’ll cost to shoot unit, and they can budget easily, and stills guys know that they don’t have to fight for the time to do the work in post that they want to do.

  • PSbyAY - July 2, 2015 - 7:34 pm

    John, Thank so much for your input. It’s great to hear that the post production side of things is being addressed on your side of the pond. How does that align with the role of the photo editor/lab side of the stills business? Does it sit along side or supplant their role?

If your photography business is anything like my work on film sets there is often no particularly good places for your laptop to be while you’re downloading your files to your computer.

Often times this results in me having to leave my laptop temporarily on a chair or other small surface. With my Macbook Pro, it is particularly susceptible to issues when USB connections get interrupted, such as when I hurredly have to move my temporary workstation.

Here’s my solution to this problem.

You’ll need.

I applied the soft velcro side to the back of my laptop’s monitor
Applied the hard scratchy side to the base of my card reader
Had a local boot repairer sew the scratchy side onto my hard drive case ( had three done, two for the thicker LaCie Rugged drives and one for the slimmer versions, and it cost me £20ea)

You could also apply the velcro to the drives directly, but given that I get my clients to buy the drives I work with for delivering the files, the cases seemed a less wasteful use of the velcro.

Love it? Hate it? Got a better solution or another handy hack? Please do comment below!

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A Fatboy and a Scout walked into a bar, but did anybody hear?

A Fatboy and a Scout walked into a bar, but did anybody hear?

Recently I finally had a chance to meet and chat with two wonderful UK unit stills photographer compadres, Liam Daniel (IMDB) and Giles Keyte (IMDB | Web Site).

Over a couple of hours we covered off on a range of topics relevant to camera nerds and unit photographers alike, but none so intriguing nor contentious as the side-by-side comparison of Aquatech and Fatboy sound blimps.

The short story is: Both products are excellent. Either will be welcome on any film set. The Fatboy is cheaper, but the Aquatech is slightly quieter. The real story, is more complicated.

The consensus among the three of us is that, were it economically practical you’d have one of each. The long version is that there are positives and negatives to both products. Read on for an epic geek out on the question of Fatboy vs Aquatech
View full post »

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  • Simon Ridgway - July 7, 2014 - 10:25 am

    Great information. I’ve got a very old, very beat up Jacobson and have been considering the Aquatech, but the Fatboy looks good.

    So the question I have is, how does the sound damping of the Fatboy compare to a Jacobson? I’ve not had any problem so far with the Jacobson being too loud, so if the Fatboy can match it, then that would be enough for me!

    Thanks,
    Simon

  • PSbyAY - July 7, 2014 - 3:41 pm

    Good Question, Simon. I’m told the Fatboy’s sound dampening is comparable to the Jacobson. Unfortunately we weren’t able to include one in our comparison on the day so I can’t speak for the Jacobson personally in relation to the Fatboy.

  • Larry Horricks - July 14, 2014 - 8:39 pm

    Hello lads…seems like good way to pass some time and have a few pints. Wish I was there. I have never laid my hands on an Aquatech but I find my Fatboy somewhat less quiet than my old Jacobson. That being said I would never go back…there are many things to like about the Fatboy….love the quick release tube clamps, the overall ergonomics,weight,viewfinder,like that I can just slide my camera body in without messing with a cable connection…so I would say I’m quite satisfied with the Fatboy. I have my the depth of field preview button on my 5D mkIII programmed to toggle back and forth between servo focus and regular autofocus so it would be great if Tamas could design a button on the front that would allow me to use this vital function while the camera is blimped. Its very useful to able to track a moving subject with servo then revert to regular autofocus when the subject is no longer moving…I use this al the time shooting scenes.

    Well good shooting chaps…maybe we should have a meet up in Prague or Budapest.

    Cheers
    Larry

  • Bill Matlock - July 15, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    I bought my Fatboy a little over a year ago and have never looked back. Have shot features, television and a few stage productions with never a problem. I still have my Jacobsen (2 button version) but only keep it as a back-up in case a complete disaster strikes the Fatboy. As for relative silence, while I’ve read a couple of comments about the Jacobsen being marginally quieter, I’ve run several informal tests with sound guys on set and if there’s a difference, so far we haven’t heard it. Almost forgot, I shoot with the Canon 5D MKII

  • PSbyAY - July 15, 2014 - 2:32 pm

    Bill, thanks for piping up! I’m glad to know you’re having a good experience with the Fatboy and appreciate you providing your thoughts! I do hope to do a relatively scientific test at some point across all three, but it can be very hard to get so many blimp owners together at the same time! Angus

  • Simon Ridgway - July 15, 2014 - 10:23 pm

    Good to hear the positive comments about the Fatboy. definitely on my wish list. And good that i can use the tubes I already have for the Jacobson! just wish the Fatboy allowed you to scroll through images on the screen – I believe the aquatech allows this?

  • PSbyAY - July 16, 2014 - 8:56 am

    My Aquatech Version 2 has three controls:

    1. Two button electronic shutter trigger on the front
    2. Image Playback
    3. Dial to adjust aperture via the quick control dial (the bit around the “Set” button)

    Aquatech did scale back the number of exterior controls based on user feedback.
    Angus

  • simon mein - August 2, 2014 - 7:38 pm

    Why the bother when the Jacobson blimp is fine without any hassle with the 24-70mm
    …..

  • PSbyAY - August 7, 2014 - 8:59 am

    Hi Simon, I guess because not all unit stills shooters are still using the Jacobson. Among the UK photographers that I have regular contact with Jacobson shooters are now the exception rather than the norm. Anecdotally it seems to be a fairly even split between Aquatech and Fatboy these days.

  • Joerg - August 18, 2014 - 11:20 am

    Great test which confirms my experience. I am using the Fatboy with a Jacobson lens tube together with my 5D II and a 24-105 zoom lens since two years. I also need a thick rubber band for the zoom ring – but works well. Mostly I shoot TV-Shows and classic concerts here in Germany. The noise level never was a problem as the combination Fatboy / Jacobson lens tube is just perfect.

Aquatech's "Scout" 5D Mark 3 Sound blimp with BT-145 Tube

Aquatech’s “Scout” 5D Mark 3 Sound blimp with BT-145 Tube

The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L has been a very topical issue for blimp makers and users alike. The second version (and current) 24-70mm f/2.8L was released in 2012 and is a massive step up in optical performance for this workhorse of a lens. Because of the fact that this new version is physically longer when set to longer focal lengths than when set to wider focal lengths any blimp tube has to vary in length accordingly to avoid massive vignetting.

Aquatech’s BT-145 lens tube is designed to solve the problem created by the new 24-70mm lens design. There have been a few users struggling a little with how to set it up so that the BT-415 tube will reliably zoom in and out. I consulted with Aquatech who gave me the following advice:

  1. Ensure that the rubber zoom ring is pushed as far forward on the lens zoom ring as possible without going past it.
  2. Screw the back part of the BT-145 onto the blimp
  3. Gently push the front element of the tube into place and twist so as to push the front element of the 24-70mm lens as deep into the foam as possible
  4. Apply gentle pressure to the back of the camera (with the blimp back open) as you push and twist

You can also watch this video I put together to see the best way I’ve come up with to make the BT-145 work with my 24-70mm Version 2.

AT24-70 from Angus Young on Vimeo.

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