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'Quiet On The Set' As A Still Photographer

BTS still from Amber Goetz - A Crooked Somebody

I'm that photographer who watches silently while waiting for the moment to arrive and snap one or two frames, then quickly moves on to the next worth while split second to capture. Yes I'm that girl, the one who shoots on slow shutter. At weddings this style of shooting suites me just fine, however it wasn't until this last year I learned with this skill there is another genre that lights me up even more. Grabbing up a single moment, purely just off gut instinct as a Still Photographer on an Indie film starring Ed Harris called, "A Crooked Somebody," I really harnessed my timing. Rather hunting you could say, for the exact moment when I choose to fire away, just less dramatic.

Music Video Stills

A few years back I took a few photos during a music video for the punk rock band MEST, I was running second camera, and really, really liked stills far more. There is a completely different approach and art to being an on set stills photographer. I personally find more joy in capturing the hard working folks behind the camera and all the amazing components that go into making a video, than the on-camera talent. However capturing the personalities combined, different types of art coming together, it's quite a joy to see! 

Lead Singer - Mest "Anthony Lovato" Director - "Jeff Janke" behind the scenes of "Almost" music video

Lead Singer - Mest "Anthony Lovato" Director - "Jeff Janke" behind the scenes of "Almost" music video

Feature Film Stills

Upon producing my first feature film Highway to Havasu, I had  picked up my camera a handful of times and snapped a few photos of our amazing actors, incredibly hard working crew, and the star. Yes I'm talking about the Arri Alexa. Sorry I had to. Again I'm sharing more pictures of the crew and gear than the action on purpose. Reason one: these films are not yet released and I don't want to give away any spoilers. Reason two: this is Fstoppers and lets face it, we're all here for the gear and technical fun stuff!!

Highway To Havasu BTS

Behind the Scenes of "Highway To Havasu"

Being an on set photographer there's a few things you must have, depending on your gear of course. Keep in mind I had never done on set photography of a production that wasn't my own. Quickly I learned that you need a Sound Blimp when shooting with a Canon 5D MIII, as the old saying goes, "Quiet on the set!" you must be 100% quiet on the set. I will be purchasing an alternate camera for this particular type of photography work, but if you're looking for another option the sound blimp does the job at greatly reducing the sound of the shutter.
BTS Still of a Night Shot for the Film "A Crooked Somebody"

BTS Still of a Night Shot for the Film "A Crooked Somebody"

Documenting each set, is primarily one of the needed factors of the "Stills Photographer," you can be a great asset to the continuity of the film, as well as help document moments that will quickly be forgotten, amongst take after take. While I find myself shooting from a completely journalistic approach one of my favorite moments to capture is a fresh set right before action is called. Vehicles are placed, actors are anticipating their marks and the camera team is on their toes. Even after a scene is reset and we've all moved onto take two, it never feels the same as the first roll out of the gate.

Location Scout

It's safe to say every production, big or small that I've worked on has had some pretty epic, unique, or down right creative sets that I'm thrilled I had the opportunity to experience. Now, I know where a super sweet random broke down gas station happens to be, when the time comes! 

BTS Still of Filming Location for "Jax In Love"

BTS Still of Filming Location for "Jax In Love"

I try to keep my clicking only to moments where it would not be over dialog and or extensive blocking is going to occur. I also stay out of the talents line of sight as not to distract and become a fly on the wall. If the cast and crew I'm working with is open to it, I prefer to shoot during rehearsals only. I swear these moments are where some real magic happens for cast and crew. These are the growing times where big decisions are made and changed, not taking away anything from the performances of the scenes that are locked and canned, I personally just prefer to capture the element of surprise in the actor and actresses faces when they are discovering their characters.

Setting the Mood

Since you are at the mercy of the on set gaffer's lighting, digging into some moody shots becomes a thing. Everything is lit pretty darn good and that light isn't going anywhere. This truly opens up my creativity as a filmmaker and as a photographer. Light casts from screens, moving shadows off actors passing through the set, all of this creates each scene and I get to play in it.

Director - Trevor White on set during filming for "A Crooked Somebody"

Director - Trevor White on set during filming for "A Crooked Somebody"

Check out a little more on these projects I have had the pleasure of working on. You can read more on "A Crooked Somebody" here at their IMDB page. Or view the trailer to film I produced called "Highway To Havasu" below.  

Stay tuned as I plan to share more from up and coming gigs as well!

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Dusty Wooddell's picture

Who's that teacher at the beginning of the trailer?! She looks familiar

Amber Goetz's picture

Hahah she does? Weird.....Did you see the movie while it was in Havasu Dusty?

Dusty Wooddell's picture

I missed it. I have experienced a spring break or two on Havasu though lol

Amber Goetz's picture

Bummer! Well you have to rent it when it comes out this Spring on VOD!!

Josh A Katz's picture

I've worked in the entertainment industry, in various rolls over the last 15 years or so and have recently started working as a production still photographer. I found this article to be very insightful and helpful, thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos.

Amber Goetz's picture

Josh that's awesome, I'm so thrilled this info was helpful to you! We should connect because I'd love to have other photographers in the industry to refer to clients if I'm booked!

Josh A Katz's picture

I would love that.
I'll private message you with my info.

Dan Howell's picture

4 Aces isn't exactly a random abandoned gas station. It's a rental location that has been re-made for shooting, isn't it?

Amber Goetz's picture

Yes Dan that is true, but I didn't say that was the random gas station I was talking about ;)

bing putney's picture

I shoot on set stills too, and love it! The collaborative atmosphere on a film set is amazing, especially coming from working solo shooting portraits. I also feel like a photo ninja- moving silently, finding hiding places where I'm not blocking lights or distracting actors, and surreptitiously getting candid shots of the crew.

On a gear note, I shot with a DSLR for a while, and was limited to shooting primarily during rehearsals, etc. Last year I picked up a Sony A7Rii, and find it to be almost perfect for this type of work. In electronic shutter mode it's completely silent, no blimp needed. I can stand right next to an active microphone and fire away, no problem. The low light capabilities are incredible, and the overall image quality is phenomenal. Highly recommended for ninja photographers everywhere.

Los Angeles on set still photographers unite!

Amber Goetz's picture

Yes I need one! I don't want to be heard or seen :)

Anonymous's picture

How does one get into this type of work? I love films and have always wanted to work in movies and feel like this would be a great thing to try. How do you go about getting your first gig? I live/work near Toronto, Ontario so we have quite a large film industry.

This article is really great. thanks for this.

Amber Goetz's picture

Hi Todd, First off thank you! I try my best to write information stuff that can help people! I've gotten all my work off referrals however there are some great services like Staff Me Up that you can put your profile and work examples on. I do have a friend who is also a director up in Montreal, I could connect you. I know it's not the closest however he films all over Canada. Message me your email address.

timgallo's picture

movie stills are fun. if you interested in the subject, here is my set stills from japanese yakuza movie.

Amber Goetz's picture

Very cool! Love the darkness and intensity this film seems to be about!

Danno Nell's picture

Um. . Yeah. . . Let's blow some stuff up. . :)

amberboutwell's picture

Hi Amber. My name is Amber as well! Love your article. I would love to get into this industry and your tips are great. Since 2016 was many moons ago I am unsure if you will see this comment but any advice you have on breaking in and landing a first gig would be amazing. Thanks for the read.