a man and woman in front of a camera in a studio.

How to Shoot Behind The Scenes (BTS Photography)

Being a unit stills or BTS photographer is a challenging but rewarding job. Discover the world of behind the scenes photography in our in depth guide.

This guide will help you get more intimate and creative BTS photos and videos for your next project.

A behind-the-scenes photographer (aka a unit-still photographer) is an exciting and unusual job.

We’ll discuss how to succeed as a BTS photographer, and how much you can expect to make.

Scenes photography can be challenging, but immensely rewarding, especially on big productions.

Let’s take a closer look at how to succeed as a behind-the-scenes photographer in 2023.

What is BTS photography?

a group of people are filming a movie on a street.

Credit: Le Minh

In the context of photography and filmmaking, “BTS” stands for “Behind The Scenes”.

This is an intimate view into the creative process of a project, often including snapshots or footage of the crew, the set, and the preparation activities that take place outside of the main photography or filming.

Behind-the-scenes content is invaluable as it offers insights into the technical aspects, the creative decisions, and the collaborative spirit of a production team.

Moreover, it’s a great tool for engaging with your audience, sharing the creative journey, and celebrating the hard work that goes into production.

What do you call a behind-the-scenes photographer?

A photographer who specializes in capturing these behind-the-scenes moments is often referred to as a “BTS photographer” or a “unit stills photographer”.

Their role is to document the filmmaking process in a way that does not interfere with the actual production.

These photographers play a vital role on set as they provide a visual record of the production, capturing candid moments and creating promotional material for marketing purposes.

Their work often serves as a bridge between the audience and the magic happening behind the camera, bringing viewers closer to the art and craft of filmmaking.

Film set photographer rates – How much does a unit still photographer make?

The rate of a unit stills photographer can vary significantly depending on several factors such as their level of experience, the budget of the film production, the location, and the length of the shoot.

On average, a unit still photographer in the United States might earn between $200 to $500 per day for a low-budget production, and from $500 up to $1,000 per day or more for larger, high-budget productions.

However, for high-profile productions and established photographers with a strong portfolio and reputation, the rate can be significantly higher.

Many photographers will negotiate rates on a project-by-project basis and might also factor in costs such as travel, accommodation, and equipment rental if these are not provided by the production.

Who are some well-known behind the scenes photographers?

  • Jeff Bridges: In addition to being a successful actor, Bridges is recognized for his unique behind-the-scenes photos taken with a Widelux panoramic camera.
  • Melinda Sue Gordon: Gordon is an esteemed unit still photographer known for capturing both intense scenes and quiet moments on the sets of big productions like “Interstellar” and “The Dark Knight”.
  • Merrick Morton: Morton’s behind-the-scenes photography spans several decades and includes some of Hollywood’s most successful films, such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Fight Club”.
  • David James: A photographer with an impressive portfolio, James has provided unique perspectives on the filming process in movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Mission: Impossible”.
  • Niko Tavernise: Tavernise is known for his creative and candid photographs that capture the essence of the filmmaking process in films like “The Fountain”, “Black Swan”, and “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

How to Shoot BTS Photos: 10 Behind the Scenes Photography Tips

a woman is getting her makeup done backstage.

Credit: Yogendra Singh

Here are some pro tips for capturing Behind The Scenes (BTS) photos:

  1. Understand the Film Set Rules: As a behind-the-scenes photographer, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the film set rules. The golden rule is to not interfere with the ongoing shoot. With behind the scenes photography, you must be conscious of your surroundings – the camera moves, the direction of the lights, the sound team’s setup, and the actors’ lines of sight.
  2. Be Inconspicuous: Blend into the background to capture the most authentic scenes photos. Being unobtrusive helps the film crew focus on their work and allows you to capture candid, real moments more effectively.
  3. Use Quiet or Silent Shutter: Utilize the ‘silent shooting’ or ‘continuous shutter’ mode of your camera to avoid making noise during critical scenes. This mode is especially perfect for capturing a series of actions or tracking shots without causing a distraction.
  4. Capture a Variety of Shots: From wide-angle shots showcasing the whole set to close-ups of details, a behind the scenes photographer needs to capture a diverse range of photos. Zoom lenses can be handy here, allowing you to get tight shots from a distance. Don’t forget to capture crew members at work, and the cast both in and out of character.
  5. Use Natural Light When Possible: Flash photography can be disruptive, especially when the camera moves or the sound team is recording. Take advantage of the existing lighting setup to maintain the look and feel of the scene being shot.
  6. Show the Process: The goal of behind the scenes photography is to give an inside look into the filmmaking process. Photos that depict this process, such as the sound team setting up their equipment, directors giving instructions, or actors preparing for a scene, are invaluable.
  7. Post-Process Wisely: During the photo editing process, try to maintain the integrity of the set and the mood of the scene. Over-processing can detract from the raw, real feel of scenes photos.
  8. Respect Privacy: Be mindful of people’s privacy while capturing BTS photos. If someone prefers not to have their photo taken, or if a moment feels too personal, respect those boundaries.
  9. Be Patient: Real moments often require waiting for the right opportunity during behind the scenes photography. Stay alert and be patient; your perseverance will pay off in the form of beautiful, candid scenes photos.
  10. Communicate: As the official behind the scenes photographer, you must keep the lines of communication open with the director and other crew members. They can provide valuable insight into what should be captured, and this collaboration can lead to better results.

If you want to check out the work of a behind-the-scenes photographer on Shotkit, see here.

How to Shoot BTS Video: 10 Behind the Scenes Videography Tips

a group of people on a set with a camera.

Credit: Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

Shooting Behind The Scenes (BTS) video is a different challenge compared to photography.

Here are some professional tips that are more specific to videography:

  1. Create a Shooting Plan: Before you start filming, discuss with the director or production manager about what they want to highlight in the BTS video. It could be specific scenes, certain cast or crew members, the set design, or even real moments caught off-camera.
  2. Use Appropriate Gear: A gimbal or a Steadicam can be a valuable tool for smooth, cinematic shots, especially when executing tracking shots or when the camera moves around the set. A good quality shotgun microphone is also critical to capture clear, directional sound, which is just as important as visuals.
  3. Film Continuous Shots: Unlike a scenes photographer who captures a single moment, video allows you to capture a process. Film continuous shots of the crew setting up, actors rehearsing, or props being adjusted.
  4. Capture Natural Sound: Ambient noise or conversations from the sound team and cast can add a layer of realism and depth to your BTS video. Remember, not to record during live takes as this could interfere with the film’s sound recording.
  5. Vary Your Shot Types: Using a zoom lens, you can create a mix of wide, medium, and close-up shots to provide perspective and to keep the video interesting. Don’t forget to get establishing shots of the location and intricate details of the set.
  6. Be Ready to Roll: Filming BTS video often means capturing impromptu moments. Keep your equipment ready so you don’t miss out on unique moments that come up unexpectedly, capturing the essence of scenes photos in motion.
  7. Consider Interviews: If possible, consider conducting short interviews with the cast and crew. They can provide unique insights into the process, the challenges faced, or the story being told – adding a personal touch to the BTS video.
  8. Pay Attention to the Story: Good BTS videos often tell their own narrative. Structure your footage around a narrative arc. For example, it could follow the progression of a day on set or the stages of filming a particular scene.
  9. Think About the Edit: While filming, keep in mind how the shots will come together during the photo editing or video editing process. This will help guide what you capture and how you capture it, ensuring a smoother post-production phase.
  10. Respect Boundaries: Just like in BTS photography, always be mindful of people’s privacy and ongoing work. It’s essential to strike a balance between getting good footage and not disrupting the process.

Sample BTS Shot List

a group of people standing in front of a camera.

Credit: Pixabay

A shot list is a helpful tool to make sure you cover everything necessary during your shoot.

Here’s a sample BTS shot list used by for behind the scenes photography that covers a broad range of content:

  1. Establishing Shots:
    • The exterior of the location/building
    • The set before crew or cast arrival
    • The signage of the project or movie name, if available
  2. Preparation Shots:
    • Crew members setting up equipment
    • Actors in makeup and costume
    • Props being prepared or arranged
  3. Gear and Equipment:
    • Detailed shots of cameras, lights, sound equipment, props, and other tools
    • Crew members operating equipment
    • Unique or special equipment used for specific shots
  4. Personnel at Work:
    • Director directing or conversing with actors
    • Makeup artists, costume designers, set designers at work
    • Cinematographer framing a shot
    • Production assistants coordinating activities
  5. Cast Members:
    • Actors rehearsing their scenes
    • Candid moments of actors between takes
    • Group shots of the cast, if possible
  6. Scene-Specific Shots:
    • Setting up of a specific scene (without revealing spoilers)
    • Close-up of clapperboard showing scene and take information
    • Crew members in action during a live take
    • Director and crew reviewing a shot or footage
  7. Interviews:
    • Short interviews with the director, crew, and cast members (if permitted)
  8. Wrap-Up Shots:
    • Cast and crew group photo
    • Packing up the equipment
    • Empty set at the end of the day
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Shotkit Founder, Editor, Writer & Reviewer

Mark Condon is a British wedding photographer and editor of Shotkit. When he’s not taking photos or reviewing the latest camera gear and software, Mark can be found cycling around the northern rivers.

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