Still Photographers & the Film Industry

Still Photographers in the Film Industry shoot stills for the publicity of a movie and to document the film, and everything connected with the production of a film. Then the finished material will be usually be turned over to the studio which will be distributing the film so they can mount a publicity campaign leading to the release of the film. This includes, but is not limited to, a Press Kit (which is now a digital Press Kit), The Poster or One Sheet as it is called in the business, and exclusive photos for a particular magazine such as Time, People, Entertainment Weekly, etc.

I started out as a photographer for the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas after I had majored in Photojournalism in college and graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. I got involved in the motion picture industry by having a friend in the business who was a script supervisor; she encouraged me to become a still photographer in the movie industry. I was already a freelance commercial photographer, and previous to that I had done Advertising brochures for a major Boat company. Anyone who wants to shoot stills on movies should be prepared to spend quite a bit of time getting to know people in the film industry in Los Angeles as that is where all the decisions are made. Other than that you should try to shoot on any low budget movie, TV, or commercial you can. Even if you have to work for free just to build up a portfolio. Without the portfolio there is almost no chance to even be considered as a still photographer on a movie set. The hours are very long and you can be away from home for long periods of time.

Photo Credit: Stacy Brownrigg

I started shooting movies in the early 80s with my first feature in 1983 and I have shot over 40 feature films and too many TV shows to count. Most major films are still shot on film, but with all the new HD Video cameras shooting is changing somewhat. Pretty much all the stills for the movies are shot on digital though because of convenience, quick access, distribution of the files, and the quality of the new digital cameras. All the images are usually taken on a work for hire basis with the studio retaining ownership of the images. The photographer is not allowed to sell the images; they do not belong to him. The photographer can use the images in their portfolio and in other ventures if it is negotiated up front in the contract.

The laptop computer plays a huge role in my daily work routine. I use a Mac Book Pro as does nearly every other still photographer I know. Photoshop skills play a very vital and necessary part of life for today’s digital still photographer. The photographer must be able to retouch and alter images instantly for use almost immediately in some cases. A Wacom tablet is often used in the retouching and adjusting of the digital image.

I am just starting to use Lightroom for processing my work at present. Typically I may shoot around 8,000 –10,000 images for a normal length (8-10 week) movie. I download all images on a hard drive that is then sent to the lab for conversion from Raw to Jpegs and for contact sheets. The lab in turn sends me another hard drive and we keep switching back and forth till we wrap the movie. All the images are stored at the lab of choice until the studio calls for the images to be returned to them where they will be archived.

When I started shooting digital part time several years ago and fulltime about 3 years ago, it made my work much easier. I like it much better being able to edit in the camera, plus having immediate access to the files as opposed to having to wait for film to be developed and contact sheets being made. Pretty much all the still photographers in this industry use either Nikon or Canon high end SLR Pro Cameras such as the Nikon D2xs or Canon 5D and Canon 1DS Mark II. Lenses vary with an emphasis on fast constant f/stop lenses such as those having an f 2.8 aperture. My favorite two lenses are the Nikkor 17-55 f 2.8 and the 70-200 f 2.8 VR. The typical financial investment for a movie still photographer would be a minimum of $25,000.00 with lots of professionals having much more invested. One piece of equipment that is a must is called a Sound Blimp. This is just what it implies, a box to shoot and not be heard. The big metal box is filled with soundproofing and houses a digital SLR with a lens, and it is controlled from the outside with buttons to focus and fire the camera remotely. Still cameras for use on the movie set are stored in the traditional way in bags and hard cases and are normally stored with the other film equipment on the Camera Truck that is always on the set of the movie.

Lots of still photographers use a cart to put all their bags on and they roll it from one location to another while on the set. Typically lenses that get the most use are a wide to normal zoom and a short to long telephoto, both of which are usually a fast f 2.8 aperture as I already mentioned. I usually manage to keep my equipment for several years and then trade up for new and or improved cameras and lenses.

I consider my work to be part of a Digital Lifestyle, as everything I do is digital from taking the images, storing them, printing them, etc. The industry has changed dramatically and photographers have to adapt with the times and a digital lifestyle allows this to be done. I still keep a film camera on hand just in case, but have only used it once when I needed a camera body which would shoot more frames per second than my first D1x would shoot. In this business you are reliant on technology, but technology has gotten so good and so reliable that’s its not a problem, but a pleasure.

 

 

Comments

  1. Hi Van Redin,

    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this article. I’m an amateur photographer right now and i have not taken any classes in photography but have learned some photo info from friends. i worked at a portrait industry for a couple months but have realized i prefer having more freedom than just a studio. I currently have a few friends that work in the film industry here in New Mexico who has been encouraging me to go to become a still photographer. i decided to look on google and found your article and it has been very helpful. i see i have much work to do if i am going to do any still photographer business. i have a camera now, but i am not sure how to change the settings to high resolution, so i just use it as digital for now. my website is above or can be found as Kati B’s Photography. I did use lightroom when i was at the portrait studio but now use picasa 3 for my own personal work. Anyways, just wanted to thank you for the info. It is a big help! And from your work above, you are really good. Thank you!

  2. Chris Gonzalez says:

    I have a question can anyone please help me?

    From being a Cinematographer can I swith to a Sill Photographer?

    can you please reply to my email thank you

  3. With so many new camera developments, are there any that are quiet enough to be used on movie (sound) without a blimp?

    • Hi Frank;
      No there are not any truly professional cameras you can use all the time on a set withdout using a sound blimp. There are a couple mirrorlesss cameras that have come out recently like the Nikon J-1 and the Sony , but they both have some limitations in terms of shooting speed, resolution quality and variety of lenses that need to be addressed. Its getting better all the time though in terms of a silent camera comparable to the Nikon & Canon Pro models. I see it happening before too long. Van

  4. I am a sophomore at Northern Arizona University and have recently thought about different photographic plans I have for the future. Initially I wanted to work for a magazine such as NatGeo or Backpackers, or anything that would send me out to travel the world to photograph and document it. However, I have a huge passion for movies, and although I’m not looking to make movies, I was wondering about jobs in the movie industry involving photography. I stumbled upon the term “still photographer” and decided to research it. I’m not sure how one goes about applying for an internship with this kind of work or a job for it, but I was wondering how you like it. Is it very demanding? Is it enjoyable? Do you love meeting the people you have to work with?
    Also, as a side note, my grandmother lives in Nacogdoches, TX and I’ve heard a lot about Stephen F. Austin from her! I’m glad it was such a wonderful opportunity.
    Anyways, my number is 702-327-7645, if anyone could contact me regarding my questions. Thank you!

  5. Do you have any advise? I am new to photography..

  6. What an awesome gig! Do you have any good books that you suggest on photojournalism? Any big names that I should look into? I’m familiar with Joe Buissink, but I’m sure there are plenty others that know their stuff.

  7. Lynn Langmead says:

    Hello
    I have 15 years as a accomplished wildlife photogrpaher, many solo gallery opens. From there I moved into forenisc photography, were I have worked for 8 years.
    I started interning as a still photographer a year ago, and I am working on my 5 film. Still hoping and praying to obtain my union card.
    Do you have any advise?
    Lynn
    415-948-1452
    Of note, I work for the airlines so I can travel to any location on my expense!!

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