It’s important to grade the approved images

Actor Aaron Pedersen from Mystery Road by Unit Still Photographer John Platt
Final Graded Image
Aaron Pedersen Mystery Road | Ungraded RAW File
Ungraded RAW File

This image of Aaron Pedersen from Mystery Road, Series 0ne was widely used in the publicity for the show leading up to it's screening here in Australia and is a clear example of how important it is to grade the approved images.

I was able to secure Aaron for a couple of hours to shoot this set-up and several others in an area, 30 minutes from our filming location. Joining us were Make-up, Costume and the production driver who I immediately converted into my assistant.

Thankfully Aaron is one of those gems who understands the importance of stills and was extremely accommodating of my requests. I was equally aware that Aaron had been on set all day in the extreme heat of Western Australia's Kimberly region where 40 degrees Celcius plus, was the norm.

With limited resources and plenty to shoot there was no time to stuff around. Speed and efficiency were essential. 

I exposed for the highlights, leaving the shadows quite underexposed, even with the use of a reflector. I was shooting RAW so knew the detail would be there and would be revealed during the grade.

And here is the crux of the matter.

I don't think anyone would deny the graded image of Aaron leaves the ungraded RAW version for dead. The shadows are lifted to reveal the finer details of his face, most importantly you can see his eyes and the intensity of that gaze. 

As a Unit Still Photographer working on TV here in Australia your time on set is limited. The number of days booked is based on the show's budget. Considering this you have to make the most of every day. There is no time to duck away and download, cull images or do any other post-work. That has to wait until the end of the day, after wrap, is included in your daily rate and usually take 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

There is a second cull of images, usually, after production has wrapped and the publicist presents those to cast for approval. This can leave anywhere between 200-400 images available to be used in publicity and promotion.

Depending on the photographer some will have completed a basic grade during the daily post-period. Others will also select a few choice images and apply a fuller grade to show the principles of the production the style of imagery being captured, I fall into this latter group.

A number of those choices will make the final cut but there will be many others that still need to be graded.

To fully grade the final selects takes time and some productions see the true value in a well-graded image and will pay for the process, others will not, or can't due to their budget. To them, I would suggest "Reduce your days on set by two and spend that money on the final grade". It's better to have fewer beautiful looking images than more average-looking ones.

I believe, the true talent of a photographer is not only in their ability to take a decent photo but also the ability to pre-visualise the final image, to be able to imagine that shot in its final state. The post-production of stills is no different from the grading of the show by the Cinematographer after the shoot. In fact, they go hand in hand.


Cinematographer Denson Baker ACS NZCS explains it well. "I often see the promotional stills from films that I have shot end up in magazines and online, completely ungraded. Which sadly means the quality, tone and atmosphere of these images do not match the aesthetic of the actual production".

It's important to remember that other than the trailer it's the still imagery that is used to promote any product and similarly if those images pop and grab the viewers attention then all that hard work, time and effort spent, has been worth it.

Both are essential to producing what we all work so hard to achieve.

To see our imagery at it's very best, working in tandem to produce a successful outcome.

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