Shooting stills for a movie has lots of constraints,” says set photographer Christophe Brachet, “so to get the shots I need, I must slip around like a cat. I cannot interact with the set’s workings nor with the people there in front or behind the camera. I have to be forgotten, invisible, so I can capture the most real images possible. Being discrete is the motto of my profession!
It used to be tougher, Christophe says, back in the days before his Sony Alpha gear changed the way he shot during filming.
“For my job,” he explains, “the real revolution was the silent shutter mode of mirrorless cameras like the Sony α9, α7R III and α7 III, that I now use.” Before this, he remembers, “the majority of set photographs were taken using ‘blimps’; basically modified underwater housings, which would allow us to soundproof the shutter, because to shoot during takes we have to be completely silent or the noise would be picked up.”
With 10 years under his belt as a set photographer, some of Christophe’s latest shoots have seen him tackling period dramas and comedies, including ‘Le retour du Héros’, a project that brought new challenges – and new opportunities – for him and his camera.
“I became involved in this project through the director Laurent Tirard, and it was the first time that I had worked with actress Mélanie Laurent. Because of them, and the rest of the team, it was a real pleasure. But also, the costumes and locations of period dramas are such a rich and interesting subject for a photographer.”
“Le retour du Héros,” says Christophe, “presented a particular challenge in that it’s a slapstick comedy, so the actors never laugh on screen. But of course it’s necessary for me to take photos where the actors are laughing for the promotion of the movie – so that people understand straight away that it is a comedy. To do this, I had to be very vigilant backstage and on set to capture those moments.” The super-fast focusing and shooting speed of the α9 helped him capture these as well as other great situations.
Other defining moments came when shooting images of an actress falling into a lake and another of a galloping soldier on horseback. “For these two photos,” Christophe explains, “I used the α9’s burst mode at 20 frames per second”. This allowed him to choose the perfect shot – the most captivating moment.
“When you’re shooting in that way, there’s no fear that you’ll lose the subject because the focus of the α9 is so extremely accurate and the subject tracking is perfectly reliable,” he says. “Together, the frame rate and the focusing lets me just concentrate on the subject.”
Alongside the ‘live’ images that a set photographer needs to take care of are promotional shots and behind-the-scenes stills, for which Christophe uses his α7R II.
“My photos are used for the promotion of the movie as well as for the posters,” he says “so although this shot of actor Jean Dujardin was taken in the middle of filming, I wanted to capture the realism that the props master had created.”
Christophe is often called upon to shoot posed photos, showing the actors and sets in their sumptuous detail. For this he relies on the high resolution of the α7R II’s sensor: “many artists work on film production, I want all their great work to show in all the images”, he says.
The mix of environments and situations means that Christophe, his cameras and his lenses need to react to all sorts of situations with the same precision. For instance, working with the lighting on set can be demanding. “The lighting is managed entirely by the chief cameraman,” he explains, “so I need to work alongside him and capture the ambience he’s created in my own photos.” Fortunately, for Christophe, there’s no issue with low-light scenes because Sony sensors have superb sensitivity and noise control even at very high ISOs.
To make the most of the light there is, he uses mainly fast prime and zoom lenses in Sony’s G Master series and beyond, including the 24mm f/1.4 GM, Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8, Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, and 24-70mm f/2.8 GM.
There are more great lenses on the horizon for photographers like Christophe: “I’m excited to start using the new 135mm f/1.8 GM,” he smiles, adding “I have a preference for fixed lenses as I like searching my surroundings and moving between shots – again, it’s my Sony cameras that help me do that.”
"What I like about my α7S is that it’s small and inconspicuous, allowing me to capture natural moments"