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Still Photography for Video Production

There are many reasons to use a still photographer for a motion picture shoot (i.e., marketing, documentation, continuity, etc.) and usually more than one will apply. A clearly-defined shot list is the photographer's planning tool to ensure that these needs are met.

Why Photographs?

The photos you provide will likely assist in telling the story of what the project is about and may be used in the press package for media outlets, on the production’s website, on billboards and in social media (see How to Become a Unit Photographer). This is crucial on the set of a commercial or series, since no one may think to look for these photos until well after the post production process has wrapped.

In addition to creating promotional photos, the still photographer contributes daily to the filming process by recording all details of the cast wardrobe, set appearance, and background. Sequential clips are rarely shot in order of the final edited program, so this documentation can be very important to recreating a scene and it’s components.

Still photography for a stage performance are used primarily for marketing, so you will be focusing on the crew and location. Although it would be unusual to edit stills into the final product, shots of the performers and sets could be helpful as archives or documentation, as well as shared with the client.

The Shot List

The photographer’s goal is to document the entire production in still images. A shot list is a check-list of essential photos to capture. It ensures you have the appropriate equipment, that nothing slips through the cracks, and also helps organize your time and improve efficiency. The shot list may be developed by the photographer or by the client, but it's important to review it together in advance to be sure it is clear and complete, and that everyone is in agreement.

The shot list should reflect the purpose of the stills, as well as the context and subject matter. While shots of the action are usually a priority, production stills also pull back the curtain with behind-the-scenes pictures of actors, crew and other staff. A basic shot list starts with the subjects or topics. For example:

  • Venue, outside and inside
  • Branding and signage
  • Posed photos, including needed gestures, props and backgrounds
  • Candids of crew looking busy & knowledgable
  • Crew interacting with client, talent and/or attendees
  • Director working with cast
  • Wardrobe and make-up details
  • Crew working with equipment
  • Audience enjoying a performance
  • Emotions of attendees/speakers/talent

Depending on the project, the shot list may also include references to script/scene numbers, lighting and backgrounds, a description of what is going on in each shot, locations, groupings of shots, focal details, etc. As a result, specialized shot lists may be very detailed and highly structured.

Ensure the shot list is easily accessible and can be used as a check-list during the shoot, for example via an app.

Additional Tips

Always shoot at least 20% more than you think you will need. This will make culling out the unsuitable images much easier.

Work for variety:

  • Camera angles and locations
  • Focal lengths
  • Framing and composition

Always be polite, low-profile and ask for permission. Your client will appreciate the extra effort and thoughtful consideration.

Be aware of the space and people you are with and stay alert for unique opportunities when they arise. Your photo of a rainbow over the theater as the crew enters could be the company’s next profile cover shot.