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For any creative photographer, shooting behind the scenes of a short film sounds like a boring idea. That’s what I thought until my friend called me to shoot for one of his school projects (he is in a film school and had to shoot three sequences). I wasn’t going to refuse so I showed up that day and little did I know, I ended up learning so many things and got to meet a lot of people. The best part is that I took some of the best images since I first picked up my camera.
Here are some reasons why you should consider shooting behind the scenes images and how it can benefit your photography:
During a shoot for a short film, most of the actors are used to modeling and aren’t afraid of a camera. There is a director of photography who works on the lighting, and there is a make-up artist (of course there are more people on set who take care of the sound, costumes, assistant, etc.). A short film is basically a photo shoot but instead of taking images, people act and they are being filmed.
Actors have their costumes, they have had their hair and make-up done, and the director of photography just did the entire lighting for you. You have to see it as an advantage because they spend weeks planning and you’re just here to take beautiful photos with perfect conditions. I took my most beautiful images during short films and I would not have had been able to reproduce the scenes, costumes, and ambience on my own.
Even if you don’t really like the theme or would rather plan a photoshoot on your own, trying other people’s ideas can also put you out of your comfort zone and help you progress.
Working with other creatives has helped me so much. The best thing is the shared interest and not wanting to disappoint. Working with people who want to create gives you an extra boost and it pushes you to do your best. Most people on a film crew need these images. Looking at all the work they put into creating their projects, whether it’s for auditions to find the perfect actors, negotiating to borrow super expensive filming equipment, let’s not forget the make-up artists who stay on set all day, and all the detailed planning of the sequences. You can’t really disappoint with average images, so you automatically try to get stunner shots.
It’s quite difficult because you can only take images after the scenes when the actors are briefed by the film director. So they’re not actually posing for you, you just have to walk around without attracting any attention to get some nice images. Do not take any images when the video camera is rolling. The sound of your shutter can throw a whole scene away, and trust me you do not want to be in that situation. Just patiently wait for the director to say cut and then you can start taking your images.
When an actor is not included in a scene, you can kindly ask them to pose for you. Most of them need portraits for their website or their portfolios so they will most likely say yes. If they say no, just tell them that if they change their minds, you’re always fine with taking portraits.
A whole day of filming can take up to eight hours or more. You’re going to meet a lot of people (depending on the size of the crew) and you will have a lot of time to get to know everyone. I would highly recommend socializing during the breaks over a cup of coffee and getting to know everyone. Most of them have the same passion as you, whether it’s the assistant or the sound team, you can speak about previous or future projects, have tech discussions about camera gear, you name it.
The actors are the most talkative, especially when they have a few hours without any scenes. Tell them about your photography. If you like their profile ask them if they would like to have a photoshoot with you in the coming weeks. The make-up artists are also great contacts to have, take their business card and contact them for your next photo shoot if you need someone for make-up and hair.
One make-up artist I met had a little girl who wanted to start modeling. We met a couple weeks later and I photographed her daughter. I ended up having a solid image that went directly into my portfolio.
One tip I can give is to work on the images as soon as possible. Once these people see your images they will start spreading the word to other people in their school or entourage, share your images on social media, etc. (that is of course if you had good results). You will probably end up being Facebook friends with most of the crew and you can keep in contact that way.
Most of them will post on Facebook or directly contact you if they need a photographer. Once you do a good job, they will most likely call you back. Their friends will start calling you then you will meet other actors and make-up artists, and increase your contacts even more.
Most film crews use a lot of advanced equipment. By watching them set up everything, you will learn a lot about cameras, the choice of lenses, framing, lighting, sound, communication with actors, team work, tracking shots, and organization. Even if you’re passive in this process, open your eyes and try to absorb as much information as you can.
Most directors of photography will use different lighting techniques with some hair light, key light, harsh light, soft light, back-light with different modifiers. Pay attention to their work and try to replicate what you see later at home, you can also take images of the light set up to know exactly how each light is placed on set.
Those are just a few ways you can benefit from shooting behind the scenes on a film set. If you’ve had the experience of doing this, please share your thoughts and images in the comments below.