The eternal question for any me and any other stills photographer is how do I get my next job? It’s hard work. Except for maybe those at the very top of the industry, we’re always continuously working on getting our next job and keeping ourselves in the minds of our potential employers.
“…it would be great if you could share any tips or insight for getting into this kind of work” – R.Taylor
“…despite having a few friends who work in film & television I’ve always found that area of photography completely impenetrable.” – Eleanor Jane eleanorjane.co.uk links 24.06.2011
“…I wonder if you have any information to share on the topic of actually getting the job”.” – AW Leonard
“A topic idea for you – Networking the Movies – How does a Unit Stills Photographer network?” – Mike O’Neill mikeoneillphotography.wordpress.com
It really isn’t so much about what you know, as who you know. The vast majority of the best jobs (as far as I’ve seen) in Film and TV, simply don’t get advertised. If anyone can show me an advertisement for a stills photographer for a Universal, Fox, Sony or even any serious independent films, I want to see it.
Your best start in production stills as with many other film making disciplines is to find the film makers in your area and network with them. I used www.mandy.com and www.filmcrewpro.com early on to establish links with people who are working on low budget and independent projects.
I should be clear and say that I have never seen or heard of paid work as a stills photographer on any of these sites. These are projects are often time consuming, and under-resourced but a great place to both cut your teeth shooting production stills and to meet the ambitious and talented freelancers who are also starting out. Be aware that these are not your only networking opportunities, so work how how to meet other film makers and get to it!
By working hard on low budget projects, you get to know who’s good, who’s going somewhere and who can be your advocate in getting onto jobs that are not advertised. Those jobs are going to trusted photographers who have proven their worth in the past – our job is to make that person us! This is point is reinforced by pro stills photographer Alex Bailey who also blogs prolifically on the topic of production stills over at buntyme.wordpress.com.
“Networking and contacts certainly also help… Keeping your ear to the ground and knowing what might be coming up and making sure that your name is in the frame.” Alex Bailey on The Key to success
My first paying gig came directly through networking (which got me onto the very promising pilot of I Rock by production company Mum’s Spaghetti). The work I did on the pilot was loved and appreciated by David and Rob from Mum’s Spaghetti who advocated strongly in my favour to hire me as the stills photographer when their series was commissioned by the ABC.
There’s a huge body of people in film and television and the more you know and the more you help out, the more comes back to you. If I were spiritual, I’d call it Karma, but really its just about reciprocity. Don’t just advocate yourself, but other professionals with talent who will do the same for you. Keep in contact with the people you’ve enjoyed working with and who you know do good work. The best bit about this piece of advice is that it really is quite easy – your professional peers often become your friends.
I believe that marketing yourself is key to your success. Your core marketing tool is your portfolio, so make it good, update and review it constantly and get it in front of every one that you can.
Beyond my portfolio, my approach to marketing myself is informed by a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Ernie Malik (via IMDB), a major league Hollywood film publicist publicist who was then working on The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the most striking things Ernie told me about getting into production stills is to creatively market myself towards prospective employers. Ernie is responsible for my fascination and drive to become more au fait with film publicity and marketing and I know I’m a better stills photographer for this knowledge.
I’m always of thinking of new ways to draw attention to my work and what I can do. In fact, I’m working on a couple of projects that will do just that! So, tell me, what are you doing?
The biggest barrier to entry, as I see it is having the dedication to devote yourself to the craft. As with greats in every field of photography, you don’t get to be a great stills photographer without huge amounts of commitment to the role.
Get on to as many shoots as you can. Spend your time on set applying your skills to the best of your abilities and your time off set thinking about how you can be better. Most shoots are lucky if they have budget for even one stills photographer, so to be that photographer you’re going to have to work continuously developing your craft and making your work better any better.