The Photographer’s Mail – December 2013

First published in The Photographer’s Mail, December 2013

When I first started making the move to Hollywood, people would often ask me if it was a good idea, wouldn’t I be competing against all the other photographers in town? My initial thought was yes, but after weighing up all the information I figured that in a city with almost 10 million people (that’s more than double New Zealand) there had to be a load more opportunities as well. More people equals more products to sell equals more photography, surely.

I was right of course, I wouldn’t be putting it in print if I wasn’t!

The huge number of projects happening at any one time here is staggering, from small commercial shoots to large feature films, this city has it all and it’s all going on all the time.

In the 12 months I’ve been here I’ve had the good fortune to work on some very cool projects. Whilst the pay scale varies greatly from job to job it’s the best way to network and meet others in the industry that can help you to make it on to the next project and the next and so on.

Aside from the usual gigs of fashion and the odd advertising shoot, I’ve also been making headway into the film and television industry as a Unit Stills Photographer. Now this is not a glamour position, it can feel like you’ve been voted ‘Most Likely To Annoy’ and a good deal of the time you’re just in the way but just wait until premier time and suddenly it’s your photographs that are on the posters, in the press kits, and all over the web.

If it’s not obvious enough, the role of the Stills Photographer is to capture not just life on set and behind the scenes, we’re also trying to capture images from the production it’s self, images that encapsulate the look, feel, and mood of the film or TV show. To that end, we’re trying to almost replicate what the cinematographer is filming, attempting to grab that one moment that will sell the scene when the lead actor is crying her eyes out or the one second it takes for that car to explode. Sometimes you get 10 takes to get the shot, other times you get 1!

In the eyes of the producer, the person who needs to sell this film, we could be as important as the main camera operator.

The lengths we have to go to sometimes to try and remain invisible, to not get in the way but still be in the right spot to snap that shot is exhausting. I’ve spent many hours on set either shadowing a boom operator or huddled under a tripod trying to grab the one shot that might make it on to the DVD cover, all the while ignoring the fact that my whole leg has gone to sleep or regretting that last cup of lukewarm coffee.

The other side of it is character or promotional shots. These are usually a studio set up where you photograph the cast in a variety of ways so they can be used by graphic designers for the promotional materials. Again, this is not always as easy or straight forward as you’d hope. I’ve had to set up little DIY studios in the backyards and spare rooms of the location we’re shooting at. Since all the cast aren’t always on set at the same time, you need to make sure you can replicate the look and lighting of these shots across many days and many locations. Intricate notes and lighting diagrams are starting to become part of my daily routine.

So to compare Los Angeles to New Zealand in terms of work opportunities I’d have to hand it to Hollywood every time, just in the last few weeks I’ve worked on two feature films, a music video, and a TV pilot. Sure the pay has been questionable, but each one is a stepping stone to the next one and apart from the bad coffee and stale donuts I’m enjoying the ride!