On-set photography tips: Alina Gozin’a

10 August, 2012 by Yuan Liu

For Sydney-based photographer Alina Gozin’a, being a great on-set photographer means being everywhere and nowhere.

“By ‘being everywhere’, I mean you have to be alert," she said "because you might lose the moment in a split of a second. At the same time you need to decide when you should shut up and move away and give up the potential photograph for the sake of the production.”

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Gozin’a's work has been selected and exhibited in numerous prestigious portrait exhibitions and won several awards including the highly prestigious London Photographic Association's Let's Face It 8 portrait competition (for her photo of filmmaker Luke Doolan) while her on-set experience spreads across feature films, documentaries, TV productions, theatre and key art (including this year's Flickerfest poster). She also recently shot stills and key art on Around the Block starring Christina Ricci and shared unit stills on highly-anticipated ABC series Redfern Now.

Gozin’a believes that working on-set requires the photographer to have a thorough knowledge about the filmmaking process and understanding of film etiquette and film set culture.

“You need to establish a trusting relationship with the crew and cast,” she said. "If you can connect with people and if you have a good eye and deep technical knowledge of photography, then it’s not so hard to create arresting film stills. I mean everything is there for you – actors deliver the performances, costume and set designers set up the scene, cinematographers light it. All you have to do as a film stills photographer is just step in and take the shot. But it’s not as easy as it sounds of course and it does have it’s own challenges."

The challenges of shooting production stills are completely different than her portrait work, she says.

"Shooting portraits is usually an intense, sometimes anxious process as all of my emotions are stirred up to nail in my head how I can capture her or his personality. I never 'google' people prior to the shoot – I am very bad with names and keeping track of who is who and who is doing what, which helps me I guess because this means I remember little about people so when I get to photograph them it’s a clean slate. It’s just me, my vision and my intuition about this person. I am controlling, that’s true – it’s a Russian thing I guess, and so I am in control of everything which appears in my frame – from the clothes the sitter is wearing to every single prop, to hair and make-up.

"But I like finding freedom once I start shooting. Coming from a film background means I treat my portrait shoots as mini-film stories – I usually have a treatment, a detailed shot list and call sheet. I love utilising the set design, costume and props as part of the story-telling and at the same time I absolutely love the timeless quality of simple black and white portraits. When I was living in Germany in 2010 I was only shooting large format B&W film. It was amazing not to touch a digital camera for a whole year – it reinspired my desire to keep doing what I am doing.

"I had to produce, style, direct and light the majority of my photo shoots because I didn’t have the means to crew up. I learned a lot by having to do it all myself but it was exhausting and stressful. Lately I have had the luxury of working with a bunch of great producers, costume and set designers. On the shoot of The Maltese Falcon for IF Magazine we had a crew of 24 people and we built a set over three days under a talented eye of our set designer Inneke Smit.

"I lived and breathed that shoot and enjoyed the process of telling the story through a detailed concept which I came up with about three o’clock in the morning after IF Magazine commissioned me to photograph the highlights of the 2011 film industry earlier that day. That shoot was planed out to in my head down to every single inch of the frame. In contrast to that level of control, I recently did a big shoot with Felicity Price and Kieran Darcy-Smith and it was the first time I showed up to the shoot without a shot list and a planed story line. I was petrified but at the end it felt great to have that freedom and having to push myself to create the story as we went along.

"Lucky I had my producers (Rachel Higgins) keep it all together on the day," Gozin'a laughs. "I love working with females and have been fortunate enough to have Chloe Richard, Mim Davis, Anne Robinson, Donna Sennett, Rachel Higgins and Juliana Chin producing my photo shoots for IF magazine – without these women none of these shoots would have been possible. What’s more, we formed a genuine friendship as a result of working together and that’s the best part about my job."

However, even a seemingly glamorous job involves embarrassing moments. She still remembers the day when shooting her first feature film The View from Greenhaven, directed by the MacRae brothers, which stars the legendary Australian actor Chris Haywood.

“We start rolling in a very small room,” Gozin'a recalled. “Suddenly they just called ‘action’ and I found myself standing with my big sound blimp camera right in Chris’ eye line. There were crew on either side of me and behind me there was a wall. I literally got locked in. We started rolling and then I heard Chris saying as politely as he could: The photographer is in my eye line!’

“I cried that whole night for having failed to do the right thing. Now days, a cigarette or two and a few sights would probably get me over the line of stuffing up like that on-set but the key is to never let your guard down or get complacent when you are on set – it’s all a matter of seconds."

Born in Russia, Gozin'a was influenced by the Soviet, French and German cinema, classical literature and art. "The TV programing in Russia was appalling so we spent out time reading, watching films and going to the theatre which was State-funded so tickets were cheap."

For Gozin'a, on-set photography combines the two things that she loves the most: photography and cinema. When she started taking photos on a film set, it felt natural.

“Film is not just an interest for me, it’s a huge part of my everyday life and who I am. I feel less alone when I watch films that speak to me. The films of Kieslowski, Régis Wargnier, Claude Sautet, Wong Kar Wai and Eldar Ryazanov continuously influence me as a person and as a photographer. Some people think I am a hipster but I am just a really well dressed nerd. Without film and classical music, I feel a bit lost. I hope I don’t sound pretentious but that’s just how I have always felt since I was a teenager. I feel most comfortable when I feel nostalgic and that’s when I feel a desire to create."

Gozin’a took an unusual road to become a photographer. Her first degree from UNSW was in finance, scoring a highly sought after job at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a tax adviser in banking and finance and later in their entertainment sector.

But the love for film never went away. She enrolled into a postgraduate study in film production at UTS and later on took several short courses at AFTRS and ACP and never looked back. “I haven’t thought about being a photographer, it just happened and it took my by surprise” she said. “But here we are.”

For more information see Alina Gozin'a's website. She is also conducting a two-day production stills masterclass at AFTRS on September 13.

Photographer: Alina Gozin’a
www.alinagozina.com.au
Producer: Mim Davis
Art Director: Alina Gozin’a
Stylist: Kitty Taube
Hair and Makeup: Debbie Muller
Makeup supplied by: Cinema Secrets International
Post by: Dave Mercer
Sophie wears Max Mara, Carcoat Virgin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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