Being a Unit Still Photographer
Increasingly each year I'm contacted by a small handful of photographers curious to learn specifically what a Unit Still Photographer does in the film and television industry, and how to break into the profession.
While the latter involves too many variables to get into here, I thought I would provide a brief overview of the former for those who may be interested. I hope the following is of help to all who are curious about this challenging but rewarding genre of photography...
The responsibilities of a unit still photographer are primarily threefold: marketing and advertising, archiving, and asset creation in support of the art department.
Marketing and advertising means capturing on-camera action and performances, behind-the-scenes moments, and interesting vignettes, all of which typically give the public their first look at a forthcoming motion picture or television property through various media platforms and campaigns. On occasion, a still photographer may also be tasked with shooting gallery images for the promotion of a project. The creation of this various imagery also serves to document the project for the network and/or studio's historical archive. Meanwhile, photography for the art department can itself be multifold: from prop stills, to backdrops, to anything in between that may appear on-camera. A still photographer must be prepared to quickly shift between these various responsibilities as needed, and have the equipment and expertise necessary to do so.
At its heart, being a unit still photographer necessitates that one be an experienced generalist photographer with a strong, practical grasp of photojournalism, portrait photography, and the cinematic style. Crucially, it also requires that one can stealthily navigate a hectic, chaotic environment; capturing requisite imagery while remaining mindful of the space and energy of actors, artisans and technicians on set. An abiding passion for film, television and popular culture is definitely an asset.