Tech Talk – 5 Mistakes made by on set photographers.

As a publicity stills photographer you’ll often hear tales of “the other guy” that they won’t work with again. Here’s the pitfalls that I avoid and that you should too:

Actor Christopher Mock demonstrates proper correction of an errant stills photographer

DON’T interrupt the shoot. In many publicity photography environments the photographer is central to the process and has almost full command of the creative team. On a film set that is absolutely not the case. Principal photography is always the priority and as a stills photographer it’s imperative that you know your place. It goes without saying that you can’t stop the action mid stream, but you certainly shouldn’t take distract any crew (especially actors) when they are required to work make the motion pictures happen. By speaking to the first assistant director you can often negotiate specific time for working directly with the actors.

NEVER make noise during takes that will be picked up by the sound recordist. In particular, SLR cameras which are the mainstay of any professional photographer make an audible slap when an image is captured. Many on set stills photographers will use a blimp (a sound proof camera enclosure) to muffle the shutter sound and for some sound recordists even that’s not enough to shoot during takes. If in doubt, ask the sound recordist or sound mixer or, better yet – don’t shoot during takes. Save your shooting for before, and after the take or during camera rehearsals which usually precede the take.

DON’T miss the behind the scenes photos. Promotional packs for film and television don’t just include the main actors and scenes. They will often want to include images the depict the crew at work, the actors off-screen and even guests on set. Production stills is the ultimate in photojournalism projects. The photographer will greatly contribute to the publicity of the project by capturing and supplying to the production newsworthy images that will further develop media interest in the project.

NEVER fail to deliver. Not just in quality, but in a timely fashion. If you’ve made an agreement as to when you’ll turn over your stills to the production honour it. Your stills are crucial to the production in many different ways but often the whole way through the production process. Don’t be the responsible for holding up then publicity machine because your photos aren’t available.

NEVER EVER share images without approval. There are often huge sensitivities (if not contractual clauses) around the release of publicity still images. Part of a stills photographer’s job is to know who is entitled to the images. If in doubt – ask the film publicist or producers. Even if you do have approval to share images, you need to consider whether making an image available is going negatively affect the reputation of you as a photographer, or that of other film making professionals or the production.

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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  • CJKJune 4, 2013 - 11:58 pm

    Hi Angus,
    First of all, like so many others, I wanted to thank you.
    Thank you for all these information that all other photographer are afraid to share!

    In regards to images display/sharing, do you think it is ‘ok’ to publish pictures without any previous approval, if the film was already released?
    I am creating a brand new website and I am wondering if I can display pictures of my choice, taken on previous sets, as long as their production is completed.

    Also do you think that is a mistake if I ask that we add a close to my contract, allowing me to send some behind the scene pictures to the crew?

    Thanks again and talk to you soon, as I am probably going to ask a lot of other questions:)


  • PSbyAYJuly 12, 2013 - 1:32 pm

    Thanks for your questions! I’m sorry for the delayed reply.
    I don’t display photos without producer’s approval, personally. You should consider any contracts you’ve signed and whether you find yourself in breach of that by doing so. If no contractual arrangement prevents you from sharing the photos you should then consider the implications on your relationship with the producers.
    Where there have been images I needed to show as they were particularly appropriate to pitching for a new job, I have shown images not formally approved within a password protected gallery to the people that are considering me for specific roles.
    I see no problem with negotiating to add a clause to contracts enabling you to share behind the scenes photos with crew. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask at all.

  • Masimba Tinashe MadondoSeptember 29, 2013 - 7:29 pm

    Pleasure reading your articles. Should be great help when I do my first on set job tomorrow.

  • Lee HarperOctober 22, 2018 - 4:19 am

    Hi Angus, great pieces of information you have here. If only I’d seen this article before my first job on a tv production. I was a live music photographer previous to the TV work and was in the habit of sharing a few images on social media etc. for the bands to see. Oh boy, did I make a big mistake on this one!! Several emails AND a phone call from ITV, who were worried I’d reveal all by sharing the photos. I had shared a few with some of the stars of the show and got a proper telling off. No contract had being signed so I was under the assumption that I had free reign with the stills. I just hope I haven’t blown it if the show gets second series.