Shooting on Set: Fiona Lewis and Des Willie

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Shooting on Set: Fiona Lewis and Des Willie

On Photography
Fiona Lewis and Des Willie run through their top tips for photographing on television and film sets.
This session was originally programmed as a live sessino to coincide with the Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive exhibition (15 June – 14 October 2018).

Key advice from Fiona Lewis:

Shoot pictures that will make people want to watch the show. You can be innovative but always be representative. No one likes switching on to watch a programme under false pretences…

Know the show. If it’s a returning series, watch the box set. If you haven’t got time, watch one episode. Get to know the characters and what the show is about. Look at the cast list – what else have they been in? Knowledge about the show is priceless – it opens up conversations with cast and crew.

Get on with people. Being an on set photographer is not only about taking wonderfully arresting pictures – it is also a massive PR exercise. The best photographers in the industry are sent on everything to work with everyone, everywhere – a huge reason for this is because the production team likes them.

Love the show. Treat everything like it’s Breaking Bad. Give every production the respect it deserves. People work incredibly hard on set and very long hours. Productions welcome enthusiasm. It opens doors and makes your job on set easier and more fun.

Build a portfolio or book to show to potential commissioners. Volunteer on friends' productions to gain experience of shooting on set. Or find a film school that needs a set photographer. For those who might book you for future work, it's important they know that you have experience of shooting on set.

Key information and advice from Des Willie:

Stills are usually the first impression, and sometimes the only representation of a film or show, an audience will have. Stills photography is comprised of three main areas of work:

  • Unit – pictures of action, quick portraits of actors or enactment of scenes;
  • Specials or Iconics – planned images that are much more collaborative and larger productions and can be planned months in advance, often shot in separate components or ‘free style’ as a single shot;
  • Behind the Scenes (BTS) – photos that represent the making of the film or show.

There isn’t one way. I have a ‘recipe’ book of ideas and techniques, but I try to do things differently every single time.

Take your influences from across the board. Learn, take stuff in, read, watch films, go to galleries: Photography doesn’t sit on its own, it exists within everything else.

Tell the story. All work should have ambition and meaning. And what you do has to please you. But ultimately the story, or a feeling from it, needs to come through.

Keep up with personal projects. Continue with other work you are passionate about.


Fiona Lewis is Head of Photography at Premier. Premier delivers communications campaigns for the entertainment, arts and cultural industries.

Des Willie is a London-based stills photographer specialising high end TV drama. He has shot for a range of television and film productions including The Crown, Famalam, Dr Who, Black Earth Rising and Call the Midwife. He is regularly commissioned by PR companies including Premier, IJPR and MILK.