5 tips for hiring a behind the scenes photographer for TV commercials

5 tips for hiring a behind the scenes photographer for TV commercials

Need an experienced film and tv stills photographer for your next tv commercial or social media campaign? 

Here's the thing. Working as a behind the scenes (BTS) photographer is a niche skill and one that takes years to perfect. Anyone with a camera can take a photo. You can take a snap on your iPhone for social media. Scary as that sounds, you can. But lets get real here. You need to achieve a level of sophistication for your brand/client and you need to exceed expectations with content. Let me highlight 5 key factors you need to consider when looking for a behind the scenes photographer:

1. Set Etiquette - booking in time for on set portraits and set ups for stills photography

Understanding set etiquette comes with experience. You have to learn the formal hierarchy of a film and TV set. There is a schedule for the day known as a callsheet where all the information on crew names, contacts to list of scenes is all there. The main person you need to make friends with is the 1st Assistant Director. Then you'll need to be friendly with the camera team, sound team and the grip. These are the people who you stand next too and have to negotiate securing your space to get 'the shot' you need! As ideally the stills photographer will shoot what the main camera is shooting during the take, recreating similar angles and capturing portraits. But often on television commercials there are several cameras operating at once and different types of rigs, like a crane and tracking shots. These are all bits of equipment that can sweep your head off clean or trip you over. And if you don't know what you are doing then it's easy for the photographer to get in the way and slow the production down. Not good! 

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2.Ninja abilities and stealth mode 

This is such a huge factor that separates stills photographers. Not so much on a tv commercial, but can you imagine filming a deep and emotional scene with actors and your stills photographer, gets in their eye line or disturbs them in some way making noise? This would be immediate dismissal! For tv commercials or filming an online ad or social media spot, you may have the talent who are new to the industry? They maybe nervous? They may get distracted easily. You could be working with kids. And it is our job as the camera team to put them at ease whilst doing the job. Being a female photographer, I like to think I have that sixth sense where you feel the room. You know how close you can get to the talent because you are aware of the situation. Possibly their mood? Those are qualities that a photographer can't learn online, they have to experience it first hand and grow from there. 

3. Knowing when to speak up and get the shot

Saying all of the above, there are no excuses for not getting the shot! That is why you are there and why they have hired a BTS stills photographer! So it is the photographer's responsibility to not only stay out of the way but to get the images that they need to sell the product, use as point of sale in shops or document the celebrity on set for those social media posts. An experienced behind the scenes photographer will know how to negotiate and book in time for a 5 minute photoshoot with the talent. Time is precious and preparation is key! I often set up a mini studio on the side of set and when I have a 5 minute window with the talent, we jump in and do the shoot and it's all over very quickly. But I may have waited 10 hours for that 5 minute slot! But I've learnt the art of negotiation and asking! But the trick is asking at the right time. As if production is behind and there's still alot to shoot in the day, you don't want to hog the time on set for stills! Unless the main movie camera is down, or we are waiting for something on set, then this could be a window where the stills photographer seizes the moment and grabs that portrait, that set up shot! 

4.Specialist equipment - owning a sound blimp or mirrorless camera

I own two aquatech sound blimps for my canon 5d mark iii camera bodies and have also added a mirrorless camera to my set up. You're asking so what? Again if you hire an experienced unit stills photographer you gain access to their specialist on set equipment. Using a sound blimp means you are quiet on set and don't make a sound. So the noise of the shutter is muffled and the sound guy is happy! This is also brilliant for a closed set, or quiet set where discretion and being quiet is imperative to the shoot. As a noisy, clicking camera can be annoying and put off the talent.

5. Experience of working long hours and around everyone else schedule 

I think the main point here is yes the hours are long and yes there are alot of crew doing important jobs. Some commercial photographers think the shoot should be about them and their ego! And their set, their time, their set of demands. This is ok if the commercial was just a stills photoshoot. But often, hiring a stills photographer is secondary to the main film shoot. The bts photographer is sometimes an added bonus, capturing images that is added content to the social media campaign. So really the stills photographer needs to understand they are there to blend in and not slow down the main production. Working around the schedule, identifying windows of opportunity and using the time to make quick friendships and build trust. As with trust, you get the photographs that camouflage the caos that surround the talent, and create imagery that stands out! 

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