Photo Requirements for Indie Films – Record Keeping, Deliverables, and Media Submissions


Keeping track of thousands of photos, identifying participates, and writing captions is usually the job of the photo editor and publicist. On a low-budget feature, there may be neither and the responsibility falls, in part, on the still photographer’s shoulders. This is a difficult and time-consuming task, yet made easier by date and frame tracking when using a digital camera.

On most photo programs, it is possible to insert information such as to the title, subjects in photo, the photographer, keywords, and captions or comments. By having this pertinent information in the file, the photos can serve the needs of publicity, marketing and distribution, the media, as well as exhibitors. Reference to script scene number is also helpful.

Being able to find a particular photo quickly is essential and it is helpful to establish some sort of filling system. By filing shots according to previous mentioned categories, then folders can be set up for a certain segment of that category. In addition, keep the folder size under the CD or the DVD disc capacity you are using. In this way, it is easy to back up or hand off files in folders once the production is completed. Likewise, a master index indicating type, subject matter, and location is extremely useful for quick and easy retrieval. Three-ring binders containing proof sheets are also a required item at the completion of a film. They serve as a quick reference and useful when photo approval is required. Print digital photos using either the proof sheet or wallet-size computer programs. A commercial lab can also print these digitally.

Archiving photos for retrieval and safekeeping is a major task. First off, digital hi-definition photos take up considerable computer space. Storing them on disk or an external hard drive is one solution and solves the handoff once the film is completed. For the production executive and/or the distribution company, backup files need to be compiled. There is always that likelihood they will be misplaced, lost, or corrupted and having a digital backup file avoids many a problem before the crisis strikes. One can also use one of the many cloud services for storing digital photo files.

Photographic Approvals. Depending on their power, the film’s stars may have contractual approval rights on still photos and slides before they go to the photo editor for distribution to the press. If this clause is in their contract, then set up some procedure to get the materials to them and do so periodically throughout the shoot. By waiting too long, you will not have a supply of approved photos for important media contacts during the shoot. In addition, you may loose your actor and have to track him down off the set.

Contracts usually specify approval of a certain percentage of the photos approve, normally 50{1c36cc3864f5d30c3b98cf4341240a101309c4af757573c8c693520fc9029b5c}. Each studio or independent company may have their own set of rules on this as well as a method to keep track of “kills”. In most cases, the actor uses a grease pencil and marks an “X” across the rejected shots on the proof sheet. With slides, it is best to have the actor place a small “x” on the corner of the slide they reject. Provide a loupe (magnifier) for easy analysis of the proof sheets as well as slides.

If you have several actors who have authority to reject photos of themselves, then it is possible to end up with very few usable shots. To overcome this problem, avoid having actors seeing each other’s kills by sending each their own set of proof. One might also ask which photos they like very much and would recommend for distribution. This input will be helpful in reducing the thousands of shots to a manageable number.

Some actors will reject excellent photos because it does not suit their self-image or is not an attractive pose. Such photos can have great marketing potential as they capture the true essence of the story, the characters and their emotions. Sometimes it pays to save these shots by arguing their value to the movie and to portraying the stars true dramatic abilities as an actor. The director and publicist may be of help in persuading a change of heart.

Sometimes the actor’s headshots are utilizes as publicity photos, especially in development and pre-production. If digital files are available, obtain filled out and signed release forms for their use.

Photo retouching, cropping, color corrections and other manipulations are useful in preparing sent out for publication. This is more a factor when making up sets for soliciting distribution, trades, entertainment media, and reviewers. These photo sets have a definite goal in mind and that is to sell the film and its story. Thus, they should be near publication standards and free of flaws. Photos for the press book and web site should receive the same treatment.

Photo Sets. The publicist and still photographer should work together to come up with sets. A good color set might consist of 6-10 of your best shots, including portraits, action shots and behind-the-scenes photos. There might be several different sets, each tailored to different media outlets. For entertainment magazines, you might emphasize good shots of lead actors and for film magazines more shots of the director in action and technical accomplishments.

Also, compile sets for the advertising department in designing preliminary ads. Licensing and product placement executives will also want sets to send to companies that have tie-ins with the film. Other sets might be made up for foreign sales and marketing executives pitching the film around the world or for allied P.R. entities, such as actor’s publicists for their own campaigns. Television programs such as talk and entertainment shows also use graphics in their coverage of the film. Pre-selecting these sets provides many more opportunities to promote the film and its principals.

Hold backs. Publicists and distribution companies normally hold back certain prime photos for special features by leading entertainment magazines. For low-budget features, this is a risky choice as such productions are rarely covered. Only breakout successes have a chance to be included. Such a gamble can leave you with unspent creative capital that decreases rapidly once the film is in distribution.

Exclusivity. On feature films that have celebrity appeals, certain news and entertainment magazines will request exclusive rights to prime photos. These could be the cream of the crop, but they could also be photos with a tabloid appeal. Such withheld photos have enormous value especially if placed in leading entertainment magazines. These could also be photos obtained in the candid papprzrize style.

Deliverables are items required by the distributor to properly service of the picture. These items are subject to negotiation and depend on the distribution company and the designated market, theatre, direct to video, or VOD. Photos are a key deliverable element as they provide the visual materials around which the marketing campaign is structured.

Specific deliverable requirements usually consist of a contractual number of photos, some in black and white and others in color, for use by the distribution company. Expect to furnish at least 100 different black and white contact prints consisting of production, publicity, and portrait photographs in proportions as required by the distributor. From these 100 prints, the distributor will select at least 25 photographs, 8 x 10 prints for delivery to the distributor. The distributor will have access to all negatives or digital files and said photographs will be suitable for preparing advertising, exhibition and publicity materials. Each still photograph will have a title descriptive of the scene depicted and name(s) of the performer(s) shown in the photo. All approvals or other authorizations required for distributor’s use will go with the respective photographs.

Color stills follow the same requirements however the numbers are increased. At least 250 original 35mm color negatives or digital photos will be provided of which the distributor will select at least 25.

When providing digital photos, you fulfill deliverables in a similar fashion. Proof sheets serve as the selection prints and CD’s or DVD files serve as the original negatives. In all these submittals, it is important to cross-reference each photo with the ID number, descriptive title, names of participates, and if available, caption and script scene number.

Budget figures will vary depending on the extent of photographic coverage and the type photographs. Another factor is whether the still photographer is union or non-union. On big budget films, the still photographer may work the entire shoot while on an ultra-low budget features he may only work 2 or 3 days.

Rates. Usually negotiated rates for still photographers depend on the budget of the film and the applicant’s experience. For a union photographer, the minimum daily rate for an 8-hour studio shoot is $344.85. For a 40-hour studio shoot, the weekly rate is $1597.86. Union portrait photographers get $396.70 and $1960.47 weekly. For production budgets under 5 million, there is a low-budget rate of $293.68 daily and $1458.40 weekly. Added to these union rates the production company must also contribute 7.719 {1c36cc3864f5d30c3b98cf4341240a101309c4af757573c8c693520fc9029b5c} for vacation pay and 16{1c36cc3864f5d30c3b98cf4341240a101309c4af757573c8c693520fc9029b5c} for Pension, Health and Welfare. For highly regarded still photographers in the union, the negotiated rates will be higher. When the film is produced under an IA contract (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians), the still photographer needs to be a union member. Union rates and workweek length may be different for distant location shoots. Contact the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 for complete wage scales and working conditions.

For non-union still photographer’s rates, the following ranges will give some indication of the likely costs. Non-union daily rates range from $180-280 per day and $900-1400 per week. Additional expense would be payroll deduction for FICA. For highly regarded still non-union photographers rates would be higher.

Many well-qualified non-union photographers seek low-budget feature work to fulfill union acceptance requirements. Non-union salaries should include the same welfare/workman’s comp/SDI coverage allowed for other crew members. Normally this coverage is a 15.3{1c36cc3864f5d30c3b98cf4341240a101309c4af757573c8c693520fc9029b5c} adder.

Expenses must also be included in the budget. They might include film stock, processing, proof sheet, prints, slides, and expendable supplies. If done in digital, expenses might include a means of archiving stills (CD, DVD, memory sticks, or external hard drive), proof sheet, and prints. Other expendables would include archival negative and slide preserver sleeves, 3-ring binders, grease pencils, loupes, mailing fees, cropping slides, and record keeping journals. A kit fee is sometimes a negotiated item and covers usage of cameras, camera accessories, backdrops, and lighting equipment supplied by the still photographer.

In hiring a still photographer, one should look at several photographers’ portfolios and obtain their references. This will help assure the highest quality pictures possible for your allotted budget. Work samples and price should not be your only considerations. One should also use careful research, astute observations, and assess the candidates making sure they possess the following abilities:

1. Portfolio samples show the creative ability to capture the vision of the film and key story elements. Do the photos entice you to see the movie or read more about it?

2. Portfolio samples demonstrate technical abilities to acquire photos that are in sharp focus, well-lit, and properly composed.

3. Does the photographer have the necessary equipment to do the job?

4. Has the photographer demonstrated professional business practices with regard to record keeping, photo approvals, and photographic law.

5. Does the photographer have problem solving/logistical planning skills to obtain the necessary stills and ability to set up special photo sessions as required by the producers, publicist, and photo editor?

6. Does the photographer have the managerial skill to work with stylists, makeup artist, wardrobe, and lighting people?

7. Is the photographer well-informed about production issues, the filming process, and the thrust of the story?

8. Do repeat clients in portfolio and references indicate the photographer is dependable?

9. Does this person possess a good-natured pleasant personality, one that will fit into the collaborative mix of the production cast and crew?

10. Does this person exude energy, enthusiasm and excitement for the project?

If the attributes for the above qualifications are positive, then such a photographer is an effective and economical choice. Once you have hired your photographer, you should draft a deal memo specifying rates, number and dates of filming days, along with securing film and processing deals plus allowance for expendable expenses.

If your funds are limited, select the key production days in which scenes and actors will provide the most useful publicity shots. Discuss this with the director and cinematographer to coordinate scheduling as well as input as to likely shots and composition. If name actors are in the film, these days might well have priority. Reimburse purchases or issue petty cash and have receipts returned.


Each media outlet has its own submission policies, but knowing some general requirements will make you better prepared. It is necessary to submit quality high-resolution photos in the proper format. B&W and colored photos should be 8×10 in size, although 5×7 is sometimes acceptable. If digital, they should be hi-resolution, 300dpi or higher, and in the universally accepted jpg format. Clearly label all photos left to right as to participants, and with captions. The same goes for photos placed on the film’s web site. When web photos are not hi-resolution, there should be some means must be established how they can be obtained. This could be a second site with a hi-res photo gallery, or the name of the publicist including telephone number and email address to obtain them. By following these simple requirements, there will be more opportunities for placing photos.

A typical photo submission with all-essential labeling should include the production title, file name of jpg photo, pixel dimension, and file size. The caption should include the character’s name, the actor’s name in parenthesis along with a description of the scene’s action. This is information that will fit on the internal data that goes with the photo.


Independent productions commonly overlooked the impact of production stills, particularly decent action shots. These photos are indispensable in press kits, postcards, posters, festival programs, industry and entertainment magazines, on web sites, and more. Shots in front of the camera should be the mandatory requirement with some emphasis on behind the scene’s photos. These images should tell stories and invite the reader into the accompanying copy to learn more about the film. One should also consider publicity portraits of production’s principals.

While stills are a minor part of the production, they play an essential role once the film is finished and enters general release. They can likewise garner interest in the industry, particularly distributors and exhibitors, long before the film will be ready for screening. One should not overlook this powerful tool, for images can spread good word of mouth as well as the written word.