A film can say a million things in 90 minutes and a single still shot can arguably do the same in 1/50 of a second. The art of capturing that one, powerful, awe-inspiring shot is the secret of many still photographers who canvas the world each day in search of pictures which tell a thousand words.

Jasin Boland, one of Hollywood’s finest motion picture stills photographers – best known for his work on The Matrix, The Bourne Supremacy, Mission Impossible and The Mummy films – says there are two things a feature film stills photographer sets out to do.

“Our job is to tell a story in a single frame as an artist and to go on set looking for that one iconic image. When I go on set my style is raw and dirty and although I try not to think about too much while I’m shooting, subconsciously I am. I’m trying to interpret a whole film of an hour and a half into one single frame, which the whole world will judge the film on.”

On the back of his success with recent films such as Safe House (Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage) and Sanctum (Richard Roxburgh), Boland is currently in Australia promoting the new range of Nikon cameras as Nikon’s ambassador. Nikon's D800 is aimed at the popular DSLR market that Canon, which last week released the 5D Mark III, has cornered amongst filmmakers.

The role of photographers on set is more often than not underestimated and despite the fact that their work features on movie posters, billboards, TV commercials, magazines and newspapers all around the world, they are rarely recognised. Yet photographers like Boland lurk around the set for 12-hour shifts trying to capture that one shot and with patience, practice and effort sometimes they nail the shot in the first frame.

“I remember the first day of shooting on Safe House and there was a scene with Denzel Washington carrying a gun down the corridor and suddenly he had turned around and looked straight down the lens of my camera and I just rattled off a few frames. I got this imposing portrait off him and went jokingly to Daniel, the director, 'I think I just got your poster and it’s the first shot of the day'.”

Boland recalls similar success on The Matrix where the first shot of the first day of characters Neo, Morpheus, Agent Smith and Trinity ended up being the iconic poster which would continue to resonate in our minds over ten years after the film's release.

While he describes his job as interpreting a script and then surveying the set like a fly on the wall while remaining unseen, Boland acknowledges that there’s a lot that goes behind such emblematic shots.

“A good photographer can do their job on almost any camera. But it’s not just about doing the job but about making it as easy as possible to be able to think about the shot and creativity. My life is governed by shutter speed and that’s why my choice of cameras is crucial. I mainly shoot very low light action films and so I need a fast shutter speed. At the moment I’m using the Nikon D3S and D700 while testing out the new D4 and D800.”

He says the strength of every portrait comes down to presence in a character’s eyes. “Everything is in the eyes, they truly are the windows to the soul. I’ve realised that when actors are not talking I capture the most powerful shots because they are thinking about their role and what they are going to do and in many ways they are more in their character in that moment of thought. That’s the moment that you dream about as a photographer and when you get that powerful shot it just hits you in the face.”

Boland's latest work will be seen in several Australian-shot films soon to be released including Mental, Bad Karma and Undertow. He is also set to shoot stills on the next Mad Max film, Fury Road.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.