How to Become a Still Photographer for TV Shows

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Images advertising the latest TV shows are everywhere—commercials, photographs on online articles, and TV show websites.

You see a compelling still image related to an upcoming TV show or episode, and you decide to learn more.

Those images were shot by a still photographer, also known as a unit still photographer.

What Does a Still Photographer Do

A still photographer shoots all the publicity images used for marketing a TV show. These images are critical to the overall publicity of a TV show and its press releases.

When working for TV shows, a still photographer records images for three general categories of use:

1. Episodic images which are related to a particular episode of the show. These images are typically used online and in print with the TV guide or on the TV show’s website.

2. Behind the scenes images of the cast and crew at work on the set. These can be useful to highlight different cast or crew members for publicity purposes. This information also could be included as extras on the DVD version of the TV show. While these types of publicity shots are more common with movies, it can provide TV shows additional publicity angles they can use.

3. Press shots are images used for advertising the whole show as opposed to a single episode. These images are used for posters and the website. These images often are shot separate from the filming of the show.

Why Is a Still Photographer Needed

This is a critical job since the still images comprise a core part of a TV show’s marketing campaign. Without stunning still images available, the producer or publicist will find it challenging to draw the attention of their audience.

All the images captured by the still photographer must stand out and fit with the style and look of the TV show.

What Skills Are Needed to Be a Still Photographer

You need to have a trained eye for framing and capturing a stunning shot. You’ll need to understand the latest camera technology and equipment. Ideally, obtain a fine arts degree with a focus on photography.

On set, a still photographer often has a lot of independence, so being a self-starter and being organized will help you.

You’ll need to work well with others and be understanding of the needs of other crew members and the actors. To get the shots you need, you often have to work in conjunction with other crew who are trying to capture the sound and film the shot. You don’t want to get in their way. Filming is expensive.

You also don’t want to distract the actors. The clicking sound of your camera can cause problems for the sound crew as well as being potentially distracting for the actors. Fortunately, you can use a sound blimp, which is a soundproof enclosure, to surround your camera and eliminate the noise.

How Do You Get a Job as a Still Photographer

Finding work can be challenging since budgets for TV shows are tight. It’s not uncommon for a still photographer to only be on set for a couple of episodes each season.

Still photographers typically are freelancers and might be hired by producers, PR companies, or distributors, to name a few.

Persistence is critical to finding work. Be sure to apply directly to production companies and TV networks. Use social media to network. Have an online portfolio of your work.

There is no one path to becoming a still photographer. It can be a demanding job but also rewarding.

Aaron Ayhan