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In this episode, I talk to the talented Nicola Dove, a film stills photographer based in New Zealand. Nicola Dove has shot over 40 movies around the world, including the James Bond films, Disney’s Artemis Fowl, Murder on the Orient Express, My Cousin Rachel, and many others. Her documentary approach to photography has allowed her to build an incredible portfolio of work.
Nicola and I talk about:
- The life of a film stills photographer
- Film Stills Academy, a company through which Nicola teaches students how to take impactful film still photos
- How she stays energised during long shoots
& much more!
Nicola was kind enough to share lots of fascinating stories with me during this interview. I hope that her positive attitude inspires you to approach your own work with grace and kindness.
Here is a preview of our conversation with Nicola Dove.
Q: What kind of personality or attitude does someone need to have in order to be a successful stills photographer?
Nicola Dove: It’s really not for everyone. The film stills photographer’s role is for someone who is comfortable with not being in control of what’s happening in front of them, or having limited control over that.
There are times when you can step in and ask for a moment to try and get something that you can’t get access to otherwise. You have to have that balance of being someone who is willing to put your ego aside and work with everyone else. You have to be happy with being one of the least important people on a film set. At the same time, be aware that you’re doing a really important job, which is to get great images that will help market that film. Often, those images are the first thing that people see from the film. It’s a really important job, so it’s just about navigating that balance well. You have to know when to fade into the background and when to step forward.
The ultimate is to be there and get the images as they’re happening. Getting those really amazing and genuine performances is really the ultimate goal for a film stills photographer.
Film stills photography is for someone that has a sensitivity to what’s going on around them. Someone that can read the room and react, someone who has that ability to anticipate. You can’t be a pushover, either. It’s a delicate balance. It’s not for someone that’s used to controlling every last element in the shot or in a studio.
Q: Is there a specific film stills photography experience that stands out to you personally?
Nicola Dove: I’ve worked with so many fantastic actors. I love working with actors. It’s a real privilege to watch what they do. I think I’m a bit in awe of it because I hide behind the camera. It takes a lot of bravery to be in front of the camera and do what they do with lots of people watching.
I’d have to go back to my very first feature film, where I was fortunate enough to work with a wonderful American actress called Joan Allen. It was in a feature film called Yes by Sally Potter. She was so incredibly gracious and generous with her time and willingness to be photographed by me.
I learned a lot from her. It set a really great foundation for my confidence. When you’ve had a really great first experience like that it really helps, so that always sticks in my mind.
Q: How much control do you have as a film stills photographer?
Nicola Dove: If it’s a period drama with beautiful light, then you’re going to get a certain look. If it’s a hospital with bright lights, it’s going to look modern, it’s going to look very different.
At the same time, you could put two stills photographers on the same set and they would come back with quite different work. Personally, I think style is something that you shouldn’t really think about too much. Style happens naturally over time.
I remember worrying about this when I was a beginning photographer. Now, I’d tell younger photographers not to worry about style. It just happens! You can’t help it. I can’t change the way I shoot too much. It’s about your instincts, your experiences, who you are, and what your eye is drawn to.