Tech Talk – Make the crew look good!

Beniamino Barrese (Cinematographer) and Mary Nighy (Director) on Small Town Glory

I consider behind the scenes stills of the crew (including the actors) to be integral to my role as on set photographer. These images will always be useful as part of the press kit for a savvy publicist who’s working angles of marketing around the crew working on the project. These are also great keepsakes for the producers to provide to the crew and invariably they will end up generating social media “buzz”. The more impressive the behind the scenes photos look the more likely people are going to want to see the end result, especially when marketing through the crew’s social network is part of the publicity campaign. Conversely, its my opinion that if your behind the scenes stills look poor then it will only work to the detriment of the marketing of your film. Its all about putting your best foot forward.

Recently a very good friend of mine sought my advice on “at work” photos to include on his web site. As I don’t get to work along side him on every project he does so we reviewed the images provided by productions and frankly, I was horrified by what some productions would circulate. Now, I’m loathed to provide examples of images I think are bad, so I thought I’d devote a post to the things I look for when I’m reviewing my work.

As far as I’m concerned if your photos make the crew great then you’re more likely to be recommended as someone to be trusted and valued on a film set, and all of us unit stills photographers want that, don’t we?

John Marshall (DOP) on Money for Old Rope. A little motion blur makes for a more dynamic portrait.

  1. Focus – It should go without saying, but still images of crew should be in focus. Understandably when you’re using a DSLR and professional grade lenses you can be working with fairly shallow depth of field. If your subject is not in focus, then 9 out of 10 times the image should be discarded.
  2. Kill the camera shake – The general rule of thumb about camera shake with an SLR is that to prevent camera movement from being recorded while the shutter is open is no slower than 1/focal length. That is if you’re shooting hand held with your 50mm lens should generally not use a slower shutter speed than 1/50 second. Obviously image stabilisation can often let you get away with slower shutter speeds than the rule suggests. A good stills photographer will know what they can get away with based on the stability of their shooting style and the lenses they use.
  3. Minimise or avoid motion blur – Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to stop any motion in your subject. Motion blur can be useful creatively but very rarely in relation to the crew at work. If you capture motion blur in an image you need to consider whether it the blur conveys a message about the action and if it doesn’t…ditch that shot!
  4. Home Run -a film Directed by Aashni Shah

  5. Flatters the subject/s and all of them Its fair to say that not everyone of us who works on a film set is glamorous, in fact we can be sweaty, dirty, tired, frustrated and often many of these at the same time. Our challenge should be to make our photos as flattering to the subject as we possibly can having regard for the fact that we’re not shooting boudoir shots! This means that you need to make sure everyone looks good. So you might have to crop or even discard an otherwise great shot because someone in the frame looks bad? Tough. Its better than being remembered by that crew member as the photographer who captured “that hideous shot”.
  6. Conveys Professionalism – Film sets can be fun places to work and at times they can be boring places to work. Crew will love you if you make sure they look professional. Sometimes this will mean photos of them with big and or impressive gear. Other times it will mean not releasing photos of crew members larking about, picking their teeth or scratching their arse. Think of the story your photo is telling and decide whether it is a story that is in the subject’s or the project’s best interest, and if it isn’t then hold it back!

Colin Laidlaw (DOP) and Jenny Lu (First AD) on Making Ugly

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