Has Behind the Scenes Become More Important Than the Final Photos From a Photoshoot?

Has Behind the Scenes Become More Important Than the Final Photos From a Photoshoot?

There has been an increasing trend over the last few years that many newer photographers have latched onto. That trend is how important it is to tell the story "of" the photoshoot rather than just conducting the shoot itself. I've been noticing a very specific shift in priority from a time when it was all about the final images to a balance between shooting and behind the scene to our modern world where it can often be surprising how often behind the scenes actually seems to be the true product of a photoshoot. 

Personally, this is something I resist and will continue to resist. My primary motivation as a photographer is actually creating photographs but it is also something that we, as photographers cannot help but take notice of. Photography has become increasingly driven by social media and the ability to tether a sense of personality to the work has continually provided a marketable advantage.

Behind the scenes content, especially in the form of video, is a tremendously powerful mechanism for building a connection with viewers by sharing the memory of an experience. That memory seems to be surprisingly effective at grabbing the attention of new fans and giving them a compelling reason to continually follow a photographer's work. In a sense, the performance is as valuable as the product. Philosophically, however, is this something that we should pursue? This is a very individual question that is heavily driven by each photographer's own point of view. 

If your goal is to build as strong a business as possible then the correct decision is always the road leading to the most economic prosperity, even if it lies in contention with your dreams or desires. Photography, however, isn't a career that can ever be considered a good business decision. It is a difficult road that generally leads to relatively poor earnings. Photographers do not chase photography because we want to be rich. Rather, we chase photography because we love to create photographs. 

Should behind the scenes content be created? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. There is clearly a demand for it which means that someone should fill that demand. The question of where to prioritize that content relative to the photography is a deeply personal one that will ultimately define your goals as a photographer.  

How do you feel about the BTS audience? Is this something you feel you should tap into? Is this something you resent? Should it remain secondary or should it become a priority? I'd love to hear how you feel in the comments below!

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20 Comments

Brendan O'Morrow's picture

I think this applies to both photography and video work equally. Both have so much more growing interest than in years past. I shoot BTS when I think the client will be interested, like in a wedding film. To me, it's often an unspoken part of the product. Sometimes we use it. Sometimes we don't. When we do, it's a matter of making sure we're not neglecting why we're actually there, which is the shoot itself.

BTS if that's what client wants, or if it can be done *without* negative impact to the shoot (video or still). If I'm on assignment and an assistant is updating their personal Instagram and is not assisting when I need help … they don't work for me again. Point is: what are they there for? Same point for me on set: what am I there for? Who's paying the bill? That's who I'm working for, and anything that takes away value from that is a no-go.

That said, sometimes there IS value to the client in some BTS. Ask them! Sometimes there isn't. I know of a photographer who relentlessly shot BTS on assignment; client saw the photog's BTS work then saw the work turned in for their assignment. In their opinion, the photog worked harder on his BTS (for himself) than he did for them (the client). Result? Fired.

Best off asking. And remember, on many commercial shoots, the client doesn't want anything posted at all until after the campaign goes public. Sometimes never. Gotta ask.

Donna Macauley's picture

Spot on

Donna Macauley's picture

Unless requested by a client, I don't shoot BTS.

My thought is either you want to do the work and value the work, i.e. the final image, or you value educating and gaining a following of photographers. BTS is fine if you are an educator, but if you are working photographer who doesn't concentrate on educating others, then there's no need for BTS...unless a client requests it. Honestly, I've never had a client request BTS.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

I've gotten clients from my BTS videos. The thought that BTS is only for "gaining a following of photographers" isn't accurate. I learned it's valuable and potential clients can see how you work and your approach. And that can help them determine if they want to hire you. Yes, a bunch of photographers will watch, but those aren't the only people who see them. My experience at least. YMMV, cheers!

ronnie yeoh's picture

I've got more clients from my BTS videos also. For products, I post after they are launched and made public, with permission from client. When BTS video is posted on social media, I get more jobs from smaller companies, more models. Also, two camera accessory manufacturers offered me some sponsorship after seeing the BTS. Almost everyone shown in the BTS vid uses it on social media to gain followers and some, like the models, get more paid jobs. There's one model who used it to launch her modelling career, all just based on that one BTS video. Shooting BTS videos, if edited well, has lots of positives in my fashion photo work in Hong Kong.

Is this really "a thing"? I've never had a client ask for BTS photos.

Felix Wu's picture

BTS makes social media more interesting that's all. So much effort is going into a project so BTS just documents that process as well as tells a deeper story. A landscape photographer who vlogs to tell public how the surrounding really is compared to how the final image turns out. A fine art photographer vlogs to communicate how much effort there requires on a project before arriving at that one or many images. A fashion or commercial photographer does BTS to show how interesting the shoot really is...IMO it just makes the viewer appreciate the final work so much more. It's however, should never be more important than the final work itself.

Steven Elliott's picture

I think this is because of how sterile photography feels in the smartphone era. Everyone THINKS they can take great photos but when you do a BTS on how many people or how much work it takes to make some of these images. People are taken aback. To some photographers, It not only allows them to reflect and learn on what they've done, it give a sense to others, how much really goes into being a professional photographer.

Personally I think it's great for those of us who are still learning the craft. That being said IMHO, some photographers have big heads. I may like your images, but if you're not nice to your staff, personable, or can speak affluently, I'm not interesting in learning from you. Someone who only wants vanity metrics (Likes & views) or a money stream isn't someone that I would want to watch BTS.

I agree, if you're being paid for a job, that's your primary goal. The BTS should be given to someone who you hire or on your off time.

Would love to hear more people's opinion.

Kirk Darling's picture

Doing consumer retail photography--portraits--I encourage any "guests" to shoot BTS and post the "whole experience" with appropriate tags. I guess I may just be an old fuddy, but otherwise I don't have any inclination to do my own BTS or to have any assistants involved...we're too busy making sure of the primary imaging.

To Creative Directors or to the Client, absolutely not. That's NOT what they hire people for.

On the other hand, To aspiring "pros" and Youtubers that think it's all about hype: absolutely YES. Best example Von Wong, all BTS hype with $$$ thrown at it for a terrible retouched final result.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

With a few bids for semi high end car work, the agency was also hiring a BTS crew, unless I wanted our team to shoot it... I didn't want to be distracted so I let them hire the second crew (actually 3rd crew as there was video and stills being shot for different use and the BTS for social media. Obviously these are big shoots with a lot of stuff going on, most of my shoots are sort of dull and BTS would be a snoozer.
I didn't get the job, they shot in Italy with a German photographer...

Mark Niebauer's picture

It's all about the story. That's what people are into now. Not much else. In camera or in Post, the end result needs to be a clear concise and interesting story. So few people get that. . . It has to invoke emotion or memory emotion. People are so lazy now that they just don't care anymore.

Thomas Starlit's picture

I see the point. However, I think a valid question is if the consumers of BTS material is other photographers or potential clients. I am not sure how building a following of other photographers can lead to more sales. Anyone has experience with that?

TImothy Tichy's picture

Are all the people who take an interest in BTS shots/video photographers themselves? I know I will take the time to watch the "making of" videos on movies that I've enjoyed. I imagine there are plenty of other people out there also interested, even though they aren't personally involved in the field. This isn't a new concept to the film industry. Even fine art photography made this move in the days before Instagram. For a while (and it may still be so) there was a whole movement in fine art photography that seemed to place emphasis on process above all else. If you look at your BTS shots as the photographic equivalent of the "making of" videos that come with movies, then it becomes one more aspect of your story that keeps people interested in your work. The movie industry figured this out years ago, we're just catching up.

BTS videos are part of your marketing. They are important, but not important to the client you are working for at the moment (usually).

Clients used to get to know you during meetings and discussions (those are still important), but as with everything else, the internet has changed that. Clients want to "get to know" you before the initial meeting. That's where BTS come in.

BTS videos show future clients:
1. What to expect on a shoot.
2. Your personality.
3. Your professionalism.
4. Your diversity of skill and thought process (what you actually bring to the project).
5. Another view of your work including good work that did not make the clients final cut (it's an extension of your portfolio).

You do your business a disservice by not producing at least some BTS videos (even if it is on a person / "for a friend" project). Clients need information. BTS videos give them that information (controlled by you) without feeling pressured.

Dan Howell's picture

I think that there is a disconnect between the BTS videos you are writing about in the article that what most of the Commenters are thinking of as BTS videos as part of a larger commercial project. Unless I am mistaken the BTS videos you are referring to are from photographers who are not working on a commercial or editorial project--they are basically filling out their portfolio or servicing their own social media.

I think as such the Commenters are correct as they are thinking about the role of BTS vs. final images on real-world commercial projects, but they might not apply to the straight-to-youtube cadre of photographers who's audience is generally other photographers, not broader consumer bases.

Kirk Darling's picture

Dan Howell--and for that "straight-to-youtube cadre of photographers," the BTS is actually the product for their own campaign to market themselves.

MJ Kreyzer's picture

I think the more important question is "Where are the photos from this shoot?" The shot in the banner image is fantastic and I want to see what the outcome was. It looks straight out of Dead Space (which I'm sincerely hoping is the case).

Scott Spellman's picture

Its up to the photographer to control the set. For commercial clients or any editorial shoot for publication any BTS is at the discretion of the client and is enforced strongly. Most do not want any pre release of clothing, products, set etc. For any other type of shoot, BTS images and video are great promotion and another tool to maximize your benefit and build your network of supporters. I offer BTS style content for my clients at an additional fee.