The Photography of Mike O'Neill ABIPP

April Topic – Unit Stills Photography

This month I had the chance to shoot on set of a feature film.  At this stage I cannot reveal too much about the actual film but will concentrate this blog with the experience I had.

I was given a day’s trial, to see what I can come up with.  If the powers at be like the outcome then I would be given further work.

The day started at 6am down at The Painthall in Belfast.  Breakfast was laid on and I got chatting to the main star for the day who was a stuntman.  The plan was that after breakfast we would be moved to a location in central Belfast where we would spend the day shooting the scene. I was a little surprised at the multi-national crew and the big budget of the shoot.  It seems there was little expense spared.

I didn’t get a brief so I just spent the day getting amongst it.  Even without a sound blimp I was still able to shoot a scene of the movie in still image whilst also shooting the ins and outs of the crew at work.

Unfortunately it came to my attention that I could be part of a wider ‘Trial Day’ fiddle (For want of a better word).  I haven’t heard from the production company since, so who is to say that they didn’t offer trials to 20 different photographers.  Yes results could be hit and miss but generally the photographer would do their utmost to get a return call.  With such a process the company gets cheaper rates throughout the production.

That said, I was on set getting valuable experience and adding to my portfolio.  Movie Stills Photography is something I want to break into, so if they have used me, it’s no problem because it is vice versa!

In hindsight I would have done things a little different certainly with my photography, I believe I may have ruffled the feathers of the Assistant/Mentor Director, I won’t go into detail but maybe he was calling the shots to not have me back on his set thus scrubbing my earlier theory.

In general the whole experience for me was a success, I got what I needed and the Production Company got a lot more than what they asked for.  I had a good day out and saw a feature film being made from behind the scenes.

This is not the end of Movie Stills Photography for me!!


2 responses

  1. Dani Hadcock

    Hey there. I want to be a unit still photographer and I don’t even know where to start! I am a professional photographer, doing mostly portraits (weddings, highschool seniors, families, ect), as well as some fashion & event photography. Where do I even start? Thank you for your time!

    January 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    • Hi Dani,
      Its not an easy genre to get into. I was lucky to get the gig, I was looking into it at the time and it popped out of nowhere. Being in a location where there is much film/movie work is happening is also a bonus. So if you live say in Devon, you might want to think about moving closer to London. This is where most of the adverts for lower level film work seem to generate from.

      Most areas of the UK have a ‘Screen’ network. I found this from googling ‘Northern Ireland Film Work’. Try it for your local area. Then start looking for the local film schools, the students will probably be happy to have you on set for their short films and you can begin to get your head around what is required. Personally I believe a good solid background in documentary, uncontrolled action will give a potential Unit Stills Phot good grounding.

      Also start looking at other photographers currently working the genre i.e Alex Bailey, Angus Young. Both run exceptional blogs, go here: for Angus’s blog.

      January 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

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