In the movie business, many people are striving to become actors and directors. Little do they know, the behind-the-scenes photographers are having the most fun. It’s the lowest pressure job on set. They can show up late, eat the snacks, mingle with the cast and crew, and leave early. Their only worry is getting in the way of a cranky producer or knocking over something expensive, but really, that’s how anyone can get blacklisted. Snapping photos of the movie before the magic is usually an easy, interesting, and rewarding gig.
Think about it, a hotshot director wants some slick content for his Instagram? Wait until he walks under a light and then BOOM. Perfect picture pairing for a pretentious caption. A well-known talent is goofing off in their costume? CLICK. What sound does Reddit karma make? Is there a fresh-faced production assistant standing somewhere near the camera? SNAP. Wow, now they look official and you probably just helped their career a ton (worst case is their proud dad uses that as his profile pic for seven years). At the end of the day, the BTS photographer has made a bunch of friends and a fresh batch of neat pictures. Sure, it’s a non-essential job, but if they made everyone on the crew look awesome, then there’s a good chance of future work for that photographer.
There are a few attributes a BTS photographer should have. The first is respect for the movie product and the crew making it. The BTS content is much less important and shouldn’t get in the way of the tight schedule and high pace of the set. The second attribute is ninja-like reflexes, at least mentally. It is important to anticipate the action on set and always be ready to capture a moment. Physically, there is more to it than traipsing around light stands and avoiding cables. There may come a time when the photographer will have to hide in a particularly cramped area, contorting themselves into a position that is both unobtrusive and still able to shoot the goings-on of the set. In these situations it helps to be quite bendy. Thirdly, a quiet camera is almost essential. The ability to shoot with a silent shutter allows constant picture-taking when audio is being recorded. Any camera clicks or whirring autofocus during a take will be super annoying to the sound department, especially in post production.
Overall, it’s good to come to set with a jovial attitude and a genuine interest in the production. There will be many opportunities to capture stellar photos with all of the professional lighting that is present. There are usually no specific requirements for what is to be captured behind-the-scenes, so creativity is king here. Pay attention to the shots and the style of the movie, talk to the writers, listen to the director’s notes, and get a solid understanding of the story so that the BTS pictures can supplement the film as marketing materials and social media content. Finally, wearing comfortable shoes is a game-changer. Photographers spend a lot of time on their feet. Usually some lite running shoes are best, unless the set is located in more difficult terrain, then it’s hiking boots.
Below I have included some of my favorite BTS shots from my experiences on various movies and commercial sets.