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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Not as easy as it looks...


I always thought that the photographs that appear in TV listings guides/papers/magazines were video grabs from the actual shows. Then while working as a freelance press photographer I discovered this wasn't actually the case and it got me thinking how much I would enjoy being on the nicer side of the media fence. How lovely it must be to have 'all that time' to set up some dramatic images I thought. All of those camera tested, beautiful, photogenic actors/actresses to photograph and then see your pictures every week in glorious technicolour in said listings. Oh how wrong I was!

I learned pretty quickly while climbing the staff photography ladder at ITV that time is certainly of the essence and as the stills photographer on a TV or film set none of that time is prioritised for stills thank you very much. Oh and those lights that have beautifully lit the scene you're there to capture, nope, they're not there for you either...

So how does it all work? Oddly it does and I still love this part of my job, I know how the television industry works like the back of my hand, understanding my place and when and where I can over step the mark (which I have to overstep every now and then or get forgotten) and when to keep my camera quiet. It's a challenge, honestly, it's really not easy. Cast and crew make the numbers on a TV set up to at least twenty five to thirty people (minimum). All departments work like well oiled machines and from camera's, lighting, costume, make-up, props and then behind the scenes press and publicity, communication is key.

There are two types of photography used to publicise programmes and films... unit photography which basically covers certain scenes that represent the episode/show/film and what we call 'specials' which are set ups of the main characters/cast.

For unit stills, picture publicists tell me the certain scenes that they want covering. They're usually fights, stunts like car crashes, train crashes etc, kisses or arguments. I'm there while the scenes are rehearsed and then recorded. Depending on the scene sometimes I shoot the rehearsal (it means I don't have to cut into scheduled filming time and I keep everyone happy) but sometimes shooting the rehearsals doesn't work for me and so I have to set my images up, usually at the end of the scene (not favoured when you've been given last scene of the day to cover on a Friday evening!!)

Then we have the specials. The above TV Times cover is a 'special' which means that time (haha, I'll get back to this) is actually given to get these images. Sometimes if I'm lucky I get to shoot specials when the main characters are on off days and not filming which means pressure isn't so high.

For this TV Times cover however, due to hectic schedules, I wasn't that lucky. TV Times were very keen to get a strong image from the period drama Joe Maddison's War and from their warm picture desk in London had no idea (or care) that for this shot I had ten minutes. Hardly oodles and noodles of time to get quite an important and strong image for them. Luckily for specials I always have an assistant and so while some of the scenes were being shot my assistant and I chose a spot to do the shoot, set a couple of lights up and did a test shot so that I would be as ready as I could be when I was given the nod. We were shooting at a war memorial on the coast in Whitley Bay, and the second Kevin & Robson had finished on set I used my ten minutes as frantically as Anneka Rice and managed to get a few different set ups so TV Times had a choice of images. Costume and make-up always accompany a shoot. I haven't got time to check buttons are buttoned, or collars are flat or hair is in place so as a unit we work together (in a hurry) and before you know it the actors are being screamed for to be back on set and I'm done.

So, there you have it and the next time you see an image in a listing magazine then think of me, I was probably standing in the cold waiting like a sniper for the right moment to pounce to get my pictures :)

H x


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