10 steps to be a still photographer in a feature movie production (Part 2)

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Last week we talked about the first 5 steps for a still photographer in a feature movie. We continue this week with the last 5 steps. Do not hesitate to add any comment. I will write later another article on gear and how to get involved in a movie production.

Step #6 : The film crew

Be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time on set. Sometime there are big pauses in the day, just because lots of gear needs to be moved from scene to scene, the interior/exterior of the location has to be changed, make up is organised and much much more. What to do during these long pauses? Make a documentation of the backstage. The photos of the crew are very important, what they are doing, where they work. You may end up with some great shots.

Also the actors during the pauses are more relaxed. Again be a ghost. You can take shoot of them playing, talking, chatting or just waiting. Have a talk with them, they don’t bite. You may even use the lights of the set to do some portrait shooting. These will be all great photos that will work great on the movie website.

Step #7 : Push your limits

One of the biggest problem I experienced was the light. Sometime it was too harsh, just in the middle of the day. Other times right in the middle of the cold night and the director wanted to have a wide photo, almost a landscape.

The harsh light can be somehow controlled with the reflectors and white filters. Take at least two with you. I usually work with a 1.5 meter high and a 2 meters one. That sorted out few of the issues I had. Again there is always somebody willing to help you. Of course, it is common sense to be nice to everybody on set and that should be the normal natural attitude of a photographer, if not of every human being 😀

The lack of light is more of a problem. Push the ISO on is a suggestion, however there is a limit to it. I was able to to solve other situations with my tripod and asking the actors to stay still for 1-2 seconds. It worked. Again it is really a win-win situation for everybody.

Step #8 : Post-production

Have a talk with the producer and see what is the end result he/she would like to have. Provide few examples that you may find on the internet.

This works great if the producer has already a final effect in mind. If he/she does not, talk with the director about the story and check some of the film post production already done or example of movies he/she inspires from. Once you have an idea, do the post-production of the first days and show it to the director and the producer. That’s a great starting point. You will end up with the correct filters after few adjustments.

Use the same Lightroom/Photoshop filter for any photos you take. Have a common pattern and process, unless requested otherwise. Use Photoshop (or any similar sw) to remove unwanted objects from the photo, even better remove the object, if possible, before making the photo. The less time you spend in post-production the better.

Keep always the original of course. I use Adobe Lightroom, however there are so many other alternatives.

Step #9 : Organise your photos

My rule of thumb is that if somebody is asking me for a photo I should be able to find it within 2 minutes in my computer. Wasting more time than 2 minutes means that there is something wrong with my archiving

With Lightroom I have organised the movie in a two level folders. The first level is the day with the location name (“20140927 Melbourne South Gate” as an example), I add a second level in case the shooting is in two or more locations (the first level is then just the date). Any folder in the second level has the site name.

When I import the photos I add straight away the keywords. I add the name of any main actor, the site, the scene number, the location (kitchen, bathroom, etc), director name, movie title, any important or unusual comment, type of scene (long shot, medium shot, close-up). This should cover 99% of the future requests.

Step #10 : Backup your photos

This is very important. You just cannot ask the producer to shoot again a scene because your hard disk crashed. This is the process I usually use, not just for the movie case but for any assigned work.

If you have a camera that allow it, shoot on two cards. I usually work with a Nikon D600 which has two SD cards slots. You can set up the camera to save on both cards at the same time. You have already a backup meanwhile you make photos, that’s great. There is just one case when it does not work. When you do sequence shooting, like sport shooting and you want 10 photos in a second. That’s ok, you don’t need it in a movie, unless an action movie of course 😉 Just live with that and fingers crossed.

I usually store the photos at the end of the day, however, when possible, I try to copy the shooting during the lunch breaks as well. Better be safer.

Once synchronized in your Lightroom (or similar sw), do the post production. At the end export the photos you want to show to your producer/director in two formats, a light one (200K) and the 100% resolution one. Store both of them on a shared drive (GDrive, Copy or many others). The day after you can show the photos on your mobile/tablet directly from the shared drive, of course the low resolution ones. The high resolution ones are there in case there is an immediate need for the press or the producer. Be ready, you do not want to go back to your office to pick them up.

Every night you finish post production, launch either a back up or create a new collection including the photos of the day. This should be done on another drive of course. It is way too risky to have a backup on the same hard drive.

Summary

During the film you will be exposed to a new environment which may be completely different to what you are used to. That is just great. To me, one of the best thing about photography is meeting new people, everyday is different, not the same day ever. If you like that, being in the film industry is probably something you may want to experience.

I was introduced to many Australian actors during the filming and in parties, everybody extremely nice. I may have been lucky of course but I never seen a big attitude in anybody. I wished I watch more TV because at least I could have recognized few faces, but maybe it’s better like that 😀

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Stefano Ferro
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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