The DO’s and DON’Ts of Set Photography

Posted by Valentina Vee on

While many people regard photographers as those camera-holders who you hire for weddings and Christmas cards, there are actually a lot more options for you if you plan to make a living capturing images – and even more if you live in a major city like Los Angeles.

For example, I get asked to do headshots and set photography a couple of times a month. This is because a) actors are always getting older and needing new photos of themselves for casting directors and b) there’s always a shoot going on. The more shoots I go on, the more people I get to know. And the more people I get to know, the more shoots I go on. The cycle is never-ending. And glorious. Yes – glorious.

I may cover my tips for headshots in another post. But for now, here are my do’s and don’ts for set photography:

DON’T carry all of your lenses 

You may often not know what sort of situation you may be getting yourself into and it’s tempting to want to bring every single thing you own. Don’t. After all – this is a set. There are many people milling about. You’re either going to have to risk setting your camera bag down and getting your gear stolen or carry it on your back the entire time  – neither is very appealing.

If you’d like to know what’s in my complete camera bag, click here.

DON’T talk to the actors 

Unless the director is okay with it, you are personal friends with the actors, or the actors ask – do not talk to them. It’s very taboo for anyone but the director and 1st AD to speak with the talent. However, if you can get the director’s permission to pose the actors, you may be able to get some spectacular shots!


I was able to ask the actress to pose for me and got a great shot on-location at an airport.

DON’T give unedited shots away 

Odds are – directors and producers will use your shots for promotional purposes and give you credit for taking them. You do not want images you do not approve of floating around the Internet. Therefore, always make sure to edit your shots to your liking before handing them off to the client.


Imagine what I’d feel like if I had given the photo on the LEFT to my client?

DON’T put any crazy filters on your photos

The client wants to see what it was like on set – not re-imagined by hipsters.

DON’T get in the way

While you may want to get a particular shot, a film set is no place to be inconveniencing anyone. If your work slows down someone else’s, rethink your strategy and either abandon the shot or try again later.

DON’T always shoot wide open

It’s all good to take close-ups of actors and crew, but sometimes you have to show what the set actually looks like. Don’t be afraid to go for those higher f-stops!


It’s also nice to bring a wide-angle lens if you know you’ll be shooting in cramped spaces!


And now, for the “DO”s:

DO shoot in burst mode 

The GH4 shoots with 12 frames a second, which I utilize to my advantage. Oftentimes, you’ll have many people to take photos of at once and odds are, half of them will be blinking in your shot.

DO shoot RAW

If you’re still shooting in JPEG (or if you’re a Canon shooter and you don’t have Magic Lantern)…why? Shooting raw provides huge advantages when changing your exposures in post-production.

Recovering data from highlights is my saving grace.

DO shoot the director. A LOT!

The directors and producers are the ones who hired you, right? So it stands to reason that they want photos of themselves. Lots of photos of themselves. Try to get photos of them pointing at things, wearing earphones, etc.

DO volunteer as a stand-in

If there already isn’t a stand-in on set, volunteer yourself and you’ll be able to get those great “in the way of the camera” shots.


DO get a few posed photos with the cast and crew

The director will thank you later.



DO make sure you can take photos

There is usually a release waiver that gets signed by every member of the cast and crew. Make sure to check with a producer if anybody has declined to sign it.


DO try to imitate the shot

Odds are: one of your photos will be the poster of the film. Try to match a few key scenes to what the cinematographer’s camera sees. Your stills will save the day – come marketing time!

DO shoot during the take

*BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVE AN ELECTRONIC SHUTTER OPTION! If you only have manual shutter, never snap photos during a take.


DO ask if you can put your watermark on your photos

It’s a nice little way for directors to pay you respect, in case they forget to credit you in their photos. As long as you’re not obnoxious about the design and size of your watermark, most civilians won’t even notice it.

DO get creative!

Take a shot of the slate. Or the monitor. Or a strange angle. Or through other objects! Think outside of the box.


Happy shooting and let me know: do you do set photography? What would you bring to set?

The post The DO’s and DON’Ts of Set Photography appeared first on Aputure Blog.