What is a unit stills photographer? That is a very good question! A unit stills photographer is one of those mythical creatures you may (or may not) have heard of. Silent like a ninja, but always observing and documenting. With a keen eye for the perfect moment and a silent (or blimped) camera ready to capture it…

Wait. What? Did that not answer your question?

Ok, ok, let me try again. A unit stills photographer (also known as film stills photographer, and sometimes set or on set photographer too) is one of the lesser-known, and often wildly overlooked but valuable, crew members on film and TV sets all over the world. They are responsible for taking photos during a production, which then will be used during the promotion phase of the film or show to ensure that people go and watch it. Behind-the-scenes shots, as well as poster and gallery sessions, are usually a separate role, even tho in smaller budget productions can also fall on the hands of the unit stills photographer. All of this without stepping on anyone’s toes or getting in anyone’s way, sounds amazing right? It is!

Long story short, all those pretty photos you see on social media, print, websites and even posters* (sometimes) that’s what a unit stills photographer does.

Overlooked you said?

Well, yes, my friend. Not being part of the operative crew making the movie, the unit stills photographer is oftentimes forgotten or at least remembered very late in the process. Often, and depending on the kind of production, there may not be enough budget left to hire a unit stills photographer (or at least not full-time). But don’t be fooled, if you can afford it, having a set photographer is an invaluable investment if you look at the big picture. This is especially important in today’s landscape with its constant need for images for digital platforms and social media.

But why not just take screengrabs of the film itself, you may ask?

And you’d not be alone asking that. There’s a simple answer, screengrabs will not be as sharp as a still image. The nature of the medium may not provide the required quality for marketing purposes. For example, it may not be sharp enough to blow up as a poster. Or to show properly as a small thumbnail on streaming platforms. Also, having a unit stills photographer on set will result in extra material available. Examples of that can be slightly different angles and Behind-The-Scenes.

Now that you know roughly what a film stills photographer is, and why having one on set is important, don’t forget to go take a look at some of my work (opens in a new window). Or if you prefer, drop me a line at hello[at]henargomez.com

And if you are a budding photographer hoping to kickstart (or upgrade) your career as a unit stills photographer, I recommend you check Nicola Dove’s fantastic Film Stills Fast Track course. I took it myself last year and she doesn’t only share her 20 years of knowledge but the community is incredible!

*Posters are usually a separate request done in a studio with a briefing and a clear creative and artistic direction in mind. Depending on the budget it may not always be possible, but should be the aim for best results.