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Tips and Tricks for production stills

COW Blogs : Noah Kadner's Blog : Tips and Tricks for production stills
I mentioned this briefly in my series on how to get your film distributed and I wanted to expand on it just a little. I cannot emphasize this enough, get photos of your movie as you're making it. Now there are two basic types of photos you need and both are important: behind the scenes and production stills.

Behind the scenes photography are the photos where you can see the movie crew and the gear being used to make the movie. Now of course you'll be tempted to photograph your cool crane that you managed to borrow or steal for a day or the Steadicam operator running after your actress. Or maybe you have a car mount or maybe a really nice Panavision or RED camera. These are all great to have but not the most important.

The most important behind the scenes photo, as least as far as the success of your movie is concerned is a shot of you, standing with one of your actors or near a movie camera pointing. Now this is silly, but read just about any movie magazine like Entertainment Weekly, US, Maxim, Moviemaker, etc and you'll see oddles of the directors, "directing." Now of course some of us might actually direct like this but probably not. Anyways it's a must.

That being said, production stills are actually more important than behind the scenes shots. These are the sort of stills that look exactly like frames from your movie. These will be useful for advertising and all sorts of articles about your movie. Ideally you want some of these for every scene in your movie if not at least the most pivotal scenes. Using the frames from your actual taking camera isn't good enough, just not enough resolution for print, especially if you're shooting HD.

Now what sort of camera should you use? Well ideally you can afford to hire someone with a really high end digital SLR camera to do your photography. Someone who has let's say a nice Nikon D300 or a Canon 40D. Something fairly pro and digital. Then they can give you just oddles of great photos you'll have for every occasion.

In my case when I did Formosa I couldn't afford to hire someone to shoot stills specifically. So I did it myself. This was a lot of fun and as the director I was in the perfect position to shoot great production and behind the scenes stills. And in a couple of occasions my photos were used either for continuity checks or even to create props. So fire away.

This was 2004, many generations ago in terms of digital cameras. So I used a 2-megapixel Minolta Dimage X. This camera didn't take the sharpest photos but they were more than usable for print and the tiny pocket size meant I could always have it on me. These days I recommend the Canon Digital Elph cameras. They're under $500, take absolutely great photos and are easy to use.

And don't use flash. Most flash photos you'll get with these little cameras look very amateur because the flash is too close to the lens. Get an ELPH with the IS(image stabilization) feature. Shoot with a high ISO and hold the camera steady. With luck you'll be able to shoot in just about any reasonably well-lit scenario without flash and get great photos. Bottom line, if it's well-lit enough for your movie camera it should be more than good enough for your still cam.

Hope you've enjoyed that little bit of extra info about still photography. It might seem a little counterintuitive to be so focused on still photos while you're supposed to be making a "motion" picture but believe me it will come in handy constantly for the rest of the life of your movie. Check out for the latest and greatest in cameras.

Posted by: Noah Kadner on Apr 18, 2008 at 5:32:10 pm indie film, canon, panavision, red camera, nikon, minolta, steadycam

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