Tech Talk – Pick your project a guide for the ambitious unit stills photographer

Looking forward to the next show - Richard Madden on Strays

I’ve shot production stills on a lot of projects over the last 5 years. What I’ve learned from all of this work and all the ones I’ve passed on is that there is always plenty of shoots that an aspiring stills photographer can be involved in.

Picking your jobs
When I’m deciding which projects to commit to I think carefully about the ones that I invest my time in, because as a career focused film freelancer, I know the importance of being strategic about the jobs that I take. Here’s my top 5 requirements:

1. A good script. I don’t accept commissions without first having read a script – as a photographer I want to know up front the story that I’m going to sell in my publicity stills. I’ve mentioned before that a good script will conjure images in my mind that I can plan to capture on set. A script will also tell me whether there are images that I want to create and that will lead to more work for me.

2. Great on screen talent. You can’t underestimate the importance of the actors signed to a project. Will they make for great images, is their career on the rise, will stills of them make your portfolio stand out from the rest?

3. Amazing off screen talent. Who’s the Cinematographer, the Director, the Production Designer – the collaboration of these heads of department will really make the difference to the standard of still images that you can capture. As a photographer, I know I can create great images of anyone that I work with, but when you have talented creatives who are genuinely paying attention to the look and feel of the project I know my images will really shine.

4. Properly resourced. It seems as the years go on, that everyone complains about how much harder it it is now than it once was. As a stills photographer you want to know that the off screen talent are resourced properly to make the project. Do they have access to the equipment, the locations and the props to effectively sell the story? If not, then the film is likely to have limited appeal to audiences.

5. A First Assistant Director on the crew. In the world of low budget, micro budget and independent film making lots of corners are cut as far as crew is concerned. Without a 1st AD your days are likely to long and and your hours less productive. The First AD is both the carrot and the stick keeping the day as close to schedule as circumstances will allow. For the set savvy stills photographer the best person to liaise with or beg for that brief moment where you can work with the actors to get that killer publicity shot.

Please feel free to hit me with any comments or questions, I welcome your input (as well as any web traffic you can send my way!).

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