Tech Talk – Tips for actors working along side a stills photographer

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I’ve got to say, that one of the most rewarding aspects about shooting production stills is the opportunity to create amazing images in collaboration with Actors. As a photographer on set, it is my utmost goal to create strong and marketable images that give the best portrayal of the film and the actors who audiences will be wanting to follow on their journey – I’ve previously written tips for photographers (See TT08). The simple truth of what every one of my best production stills is that it is the synthesis of the skills and contribution of a whole crew but most importantly between myself and the actor.

The purpose of this article is to provide some useful advice how make the best out of working with a photographer on a film set. It has been inspired by some excellent experiences working with actors, in particular from working with Craig Fairbrass on my brief stint on Frank Harper’s feature film St George’s Day. Before I’d even had the opportunity to introduce myself to Craig I’d noticed he was aware of my presence and was actively working with me to make great shots. Once I did get the opportunity to introduce myself to Craig (who, incidentally is an absolute gem to work with), he explained to me how he always makes a point of working with the stills photographer. Craig’s relationship with stills photographers is evident in the striking nature of the publicity images posted on his website (

Here’s some suggestions about how to get the most out of working on a set with a stills photographer:

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  • Seek us out with your ideas – Any good on set photographer will be conscious of not crowding you or making a nuisance of ourself. If you’re of a mind to make some images and you’ve got some ideas to explore track us down and let us know. Often, like most crew on a film set we find ourselves waiting around between set-ups. Any passionate stills photographer will jump at the chance of using that down time with a willing cast member on images that will make us both and therefor the show look great.
  • Don’t smile – we’ve all been preconditioned to play up for the stills camera whether it to smile sweetly and and say cheese or put “rabbit ears” over our friends. Those photos can be lots of fun, but hold limited marketing and publicity value which is the lion’s share of why a stills photographer is on a film shoot. If you detect the production stills photographer’s lens being pointed at you by all means play to the camera in character bearing in mind some of the tips in this article, but consider toning the use of gang hand signals, metal appreciation and general messing around just in case you miss out on creating great marketing images with the photographer.
  • Experiment with us – as with in acting for the motion camera you’ll often be asked to do things in ways that might feel weird when you do them for the camera, but will ultimately look better in the end result. By all means express your reservations about an approach or an idea (or even feel free to suggest how to make it better. If something really doesn’t work then it will be merely wasted pixels or film negative, but then it might just turn into a particularly special or useful image.
  • Tell us what you don’t like – in the major leagues Actors and their representatives are given the opportunity to “kill” images they don’t like – it’s in their contract. On smaller productions, or if you’re up and coming you probably don’t and won’t get such a power. But, us unit stills photographers often have leeway in terms of the images we turn over, we’ll cull stills that aren’t a good representation of our work, the show and the artists making it. If we know what you’re a bit sensitive about, we can aim to address that both when we shoot, and when we cull and or retouch our images for delivery delivery to the Producers.
  • Andrew Hawley on Strays - Shares a moment to make a great character image

    I know there will be more tips down the line, but if you’ve got any of your own to share, drop me a line.

    The bottom line is that the quality of publicity still images aren’t just good for the show, or for my portfolio but they’ll also bring attention to you as an actor. Your help and active contribution will absolutely make a difference to the images we can create together.

    1 comment

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    • MichelleJuly 11, 2013 - 12:55 pm

      Have you ever found yourself at odds with an actor / actress ? I am new to the game and immediately found myself aggravated by a person with a small role – she’s had two walk on’s and now knows everything about the movie business and acting. It’s horribly annoying! So far I’ve kept my mouth shut. What would you do ? I don’t see that I can do anything that I’d like to do without ruining my reputation.
      What would you do ??
      Thanks !