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Unit Stills Photographer

Film | Photo Imaging
Personality type:

The lowdown

  • Taking photographs of film sets or studio shoots that are used to create the press and publicity for feature films

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have good technical knowledge of photo-chemical and digital processes, and of all camera equipment
  • have a good sense of visual composition and perspective
  • be highly-skilled in image-manipulation and image-management software
  • be able to drive
  • have sensitivity and tact when working with actors
  • be able to cope with the rejection of images
  • be adaptable and patient
  • pay close attention to detail
  • possess good organisational skills
  • be able to work quickly under pressure
  • have excellent communication skills
  • gain knowledge of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

What does a Unit Stills Photographer do?

Unit Stills Photographers take the photographs of film sets or studio shoots that are used to create the press and publicity for feature films.

When used well, these images can contribute to a film's success. Unit Stills Photographers usually work on set, recording scenes from the film; alternatively, they may be required to set up photographs in the style of the film in a studio environment.

Many stars have a clause written into their contracts enabling them to ‘kill’ any images of themselves which they do not approve; the bigger the star, the greater the ‘kill factor’, which can be as high as 75%. Unit Stills Photographers must be prepared for the rejection of what they may think is their best work.

Unit Stills Photographers work on a freelance basis, employed by producers, film PR companies, film sales agents or distributors. They usually combine unit stills work with a variety of other professional photography (portraiture, travel, beauty, editorial, film festivals and special events).

The hours are long and they often spend considerable periods of time away from home.

On medium-sized films, they are usually employed for at least 15 days; they run through the shooting schedule with the film PR to decide on the best days to visit the set. On big budget films, they may be required to be on set every day.

Unit Stills Photographers position themselves as close to the film camera as possible, and shoot every scene in detail using a piece of equipment called a Blimp, which houses the stills camera and cuts out any noise it might make.

Once their work is completed, all the images are sent to the sales company, distributor, film PR or publicist, which then use them for the press and adverting campaign.

Will I need a qualification?

There is no specific qualification for Unit Stills Photography. There are many excellent college courses around the UK which could provide you with a sound technical grounding, as well as access to work placement schemes.

If you are considering taking a photo imaging course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the photo imaging industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the extent to which they prepare you for a photo imaging career:

Photo imaging courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

The LBIPP offered by the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography) has a good reputation with employers.

Employers may support work-based qualifications, such as Apprenticeships and NVQ/SVQs.

Membership of the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP), the Association of Photographers (AOP) and the Master Photographers Association (MPA) may also be beneficial to you. The BIPP and the MPA offer a range of qualifications that enable a candidate to benchmark their skills against other successful practitioners working in the industry.

What’s the best route in?

You can be a self-taught Unit Stills Photographer or graduate from a course and get work as an Assistant Photographer to experienced photographers working in corporate, fashion or editorial photography. This would enable you to learn on the job while building an impressive portfolio.

A portfolio like this is vital. Competition for this type of work can be fierce. Your portfolio will need to demonstrate ability and talent in a variety of formats, as digital, manual 35mm and medium format cameras are all used for Unit Stills Photography.

Interested? Find out more...


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