Behind the Lens with Jasin Boland

PopPhoto.com's Zach Honig interviews motion picture stills photographer Jasin Boland as part of the Behind the Lens question & answer series.

The photographic community is incredibly diverse, made up of photographers that shoot from the sky to the sea and everywhere in between. Each month we'll focus on a different segment of the industry, interviewing top professional photographers about life, their careers, and what sets their piece of the photographic industry apart from the rest.

This month we focus on Jasin Boland, an Australian-based motion picture stills photographer who's worked on such films as The Matrix, Ghost Rider, and The Bourne Supremacy. Boland recently returned home to Australia's Gold Coast to meet his new baby son, Hunter, following the completion of filming for The Mummy 3 in China. His work has been published in newspapers, magazines, billboards, and movie posters all around the world. Boland was able to take some time out of his schedule to share details of his life as a motion picture stills photographer.

Q: What makes your job challenging? Can working on a film set be stressful or is the atmosphere always laid back?

The important thing about being on a film set as a photographer is to be totally aware of your environment. Acting is a tough job and it's easy to get distracted, and a photographer with another lens in your eye line is going to throw you off your game. Sometimes I will just walk away from a shot rather than inflame a situation or be in the way.

My job is all about patience. There are always several angles to cover a particular emotion from and rather than get in the way, if you are patient and bide your time 99 times out of a 100 the shot will come to you eventually. I detest setups as I feel it takes away the realism of a scene. I want to capture the emotion in front of me raw!

Every day is a challenge and I think that's what I thrive on. I have spent the last four nights shooting an action sequence through the streets of Shanghai. The first three nights I didn't get much that worked for me. We had an ultimate arm shooting from a tracking vehicle, another tracking vehicle with two cameras shooting low from behind and a 4 x 4 ATV with two cameras on Libra heads shooting from the side. Amongst that I had to find the exact spot on the street where I could shoot without being shot and still get a clean shot as Brendan [Fraser] jumps from a truck.

Pure luck I am sure, but I nailed it, pin sharp, full frame and in full flight, 85mm at f/1.8, 1/200th of a second and not a single tracking vehicle in frame. That's what I mean by shooting clean. Don't shoot to crop, take the risk and fly to the challenge, the rewards are that much greater. It just made the past three nights of not getting much all worth it.

That's the challenge that I face every day, and the feeling I get when I beat the odds is just awesome. It's the adrenalin rush that only a photographer knows.

Q: What types of subjects do you enjoy shooting when you're not on the clock? Are you working on any personal projects?

Mostly my personal projects happen while I am working on a film. If I am in some beautiful location or have a particularly good relationship with someone I work with, then often we will collaborate on a specials shoot (which takes place off the live set, in which the photographer is responsible for all lighting and direction of the cast). I am currently in China working on the Mummy 3. A few weeks ago Brendan and I were talking about cool shots, and I mentioned I had always wanted to do a specials shoot and light with just the muzzle flash from a gun.

He loved the idea and the next week at dusk, armed with a few weapons, 250 rounds of ammunition, and a couple of Nikons, we went out and had some fun. The images are so cool and closer to the release of the film. You should see those shots everywhere.

I really envy the amateur photographer for being able to just go out and shoot for fun. I think it would be awesome to have photography purely as a hobby. I shoot on films at least 10 months of the year, 5-6 days a week, 12-16 hours a day. Every day I shoot a minimum 32GB of NEF's (RAW digital image files). On the film I am working on now I have delivered over 4,0000 frames and we still have two weeks to shoot so the last thing I think about is hobby photography. We are currently shooting in China and on our day off a bunch of us went to the Great Wall in the northern region. While everyone walked around taking happy snaps I sat down on the bottom of the steps waiting for the light so I could get a poster background!

I pretty much watch life through a lens!

Q: What equipment do you use while shooting on set?

A lot of people say that a great photographer can shoot with anything; it would be nice if this were true but some areas really require specific equipment.

I have shot with Nikon since 1981. I currently carry Nikon D2Xs bodies and just adore them. The way they fit into my hand is beautiful. The D2Xs is the first DSLR I have owned that feels and operates like the F5 did.

When I am on a film I pretty much have two full kits, my day exterior kit and my studio/night shoot kit.

For day exteriors I carry a short zoom (usually my 28-70mm) on one body and a 70/80-200mm on another. I swap between the VR (an image stabilized lens) and the 80-200 depending on how extreme the environment is. My gear gets trounced through dust, rain, snow, and mud and I have some lenses I feel are more delicate than others (the 28-70 and 80-200 you could drop from a plane and they would still be sharp)!

For studio work and night shoots I am always low on light so I usually shoot with fast primes. I am not a huge fan of wide angle photography so I usually have a 50mm f/1.4 on one body and the ever so sweet 85mm f/1.4 on the other. These are interchanged with my 105mm f/2 or a 135mm f/2 depending on the reach I need and how much I want to crunch the background.

I shoot action films so shutter speed is my governing factor. Even for day exteriors if I am shooting over f/2.8 it's a luxury. For studio and night shoots, I love the look I get from shooting at f/1.8 and f/2 so it's not an impediment on my style, it actually is my style, but it does mean I need to have the best glass available.

I have found with digital that I rely a lot more on a handheld meter. I have just started using a Sekonic L758 D and love it. I meter for highlights and work on averages so keeping a close eye on the histogram and flashing highlights is very important.

I think we have all had that nauseating experience with cards just ceasing to function. A few years back I experienced a heap of problems with a popular brand. My frustration at their lack of concern prompted me to call SanDisk and I began using their Extreme 3 series. The only problem I ever had was user error and when I used the rescue pro software, it recovered all but one image in full NEF resolution. I can't tell you how relieved I was to retrieve these files. The shots were a series of specials on Michelle Yeoh and to lose them would have been devastating and the studio would have gone nuts. I currently carry 8 x 8GB Extreme 4 cards in HPRC card cases.

My next film in January is with director Paul Greengrass about Iraq and I am getting some D3's so I can tackle the night action scenes with faster shutter speeds. I am looking forward to taking advantage of their reported high ISO capabilities and I am moving back to Extreme 3 with SanDisk's new 16GB cards in the dual slots so I can back-up on the move. It's important to cover your goods and Nikon and SanDisk seem to realize this. I am also looking forward to the live viewfinder. Frequently there is not enough room for me to look through the finder but now I will be able to stick my camera wherever I want and keep a closer eye on my environment at the same time!

Q: How do shooting conditions vary from scene to scene, film to film? Are most of the films you work on shot in a controlled studio environment or are some filmed in remote locations with extreme environmental conditions?

Most people don't realize the extreme environments we work in. Some films you have to be taken in by helicopter, others we endure a 2-3 hour drive on horrifically bumpy 4WD tracks. The locations you see in many films are as remote and as real as they look.

During the shooting of Stealth we spent 12 days on an aircraft carrier sharing the ship with 3,500 crew. It was on active duty at the time meaning if the Lincoln was called to war we would go with it. We were lucky to get three hours of sleep a day. For 16 hours a day, every three minutes an aircraft would take off and land. The other eight hours a day we shot. Every day we sat there saying it was the worst thing we ever had to endure but within days we realized it was one of those life experiences that we would never forget, I was even catapulted off the flight deck in a COD (the aircraft used to bring people to and from an aircraft carrier). You can't pay for an experience like that!

We work in rain, snow, dust storms and mud. One day it can be -15º Celsius then two days later we are shooting in the desert and it is +40º Celsius. It is not a fair weathered industry; there are big dollars at stake and we shoot through it all. My cameras need to be well built with a serious degree of weatherproofing. I need to have undying trust in my CF cards to handle extreme environments and I need to get them all to location safely. After continued problems with clips on my hard cases I recently changed to HPRC (High Performance Resin Cases). These cases are truly beautiful, Italian-designed and made. They are like the Monica Bellucci of hard cases.

I travel everywhere with up to seven cases, they all lock together and somehow I can fit them and a few other pieces of luggage on one airport trolley. It's one of my better skills. HPRC are 25% lighter than anything else on the market, have handles on both sides, lock together, have clips that don't snap your fingers, are waterproof, shockproof and come with a lifetime guarantee. I can't risk my gear being damaged in transit to location!

Q: How many films have you worked on over the years?

I think I am into the 60's. With film production in the early days when I was working on smaller budget films I could work on up to seven a year, some only had the budget for five or six days. Now with the big productions, one or two a year is it. Since August 2006 I have worked only on The Bourne Ultimatum, Mummy 3 and a small budget Australian film called How to Change in 9 Weeks directed by newcomer Simone North. It is now the end of November and I have had only a few weeks off.

Q: Your £500,000 Valentine's Day gift sure got a lot of attention; I'm guessing shooting for Hollywood can be profitable?

It can be profitable if you invest your money wisely. My father made me buy my first property when I was 15 with the money I earned from my part time newspaper job as a dark room tech, so investing your hard earned cash was instilled in me at an early age, and I guess now it is starting to pay off.

Maria is from Berlin, we actually met during shooting The Bourne Supremacy. It seems most of life's big moments are pegged to a film production; we were engaged during The Bourne Ultimatum and our son was born during Mummy3. We had been looking for a European base for some time and my best friend introduced us to Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswold's. It is just beautiful; lakes and wildlife everywhere plus its ethically and environmentally sound.

Maria's Valentine house is more about a place to grow old and bring up Hunter in a family orientated community than anything else. There are a heap of artists that live in the area and on the weekends the local kids ride their bikes amongst the maze of tracks around the forest. Lower Mill itself has a lake where the owner has re-introduced beavers into the UK. I am really looking forward to spending time there and teaching myself how to paint. I would also like to be able to do some photography workshops and get into bird and wildlife photography.

It will be nice to retire and finally have photography as a hobby. If you think it's hard getting a good action shot of an actor, try photographing a beaver. They are sneaky little critters and very cute!

Q: I'm sure there are plenty of photographers that wouldn't mind having your job! What do you recommend for someone interested in a career in the motion picture industry.

Okay the first step is to go to your local theatre company and film schools and offer to shoot for them for free. Everyone these days seems to think they are owed a living. Actors do plays and films for no budget productions with little or no pay and if you want to be a film still photographer you are going to have to suffer for your art along with the rest of them.

Look for alternative angles. A film gate is horizontal but how many posters and magazine covers are horizontal?

Being next to the camera can sometimes be the first mistake. The studio doesn't just want to see a carbon copy of the film they are making, they want a photographer that goes out there and puts their personal style into the mix of the filmmaking process. Many of my best shots you won't see in the film and that's what I mean by having a game park created for you -- you have the whole set to play with, not just the director's vision. When he sees your shot and goes, 'sheesh I wish I had of covered that angle,' that's when you are doing your job properly!

The most helpful thing for me is shooting with both eyes open. I keep talking about being aware of your environment; you need to keep one eye on your frame and the other on what's around it, and that means something about to come into your frame, so you can anticipate when to squeeze that shutter, or knowing when you are about to get in the way of a camera or piece of equipment. Things move fast when a shot is being done and you need to be able to move fluidly. Action film sets are dangerous and you need to be on your game and be aware of every little thing that is going on around you.

I personally believe that being a photographer on a film set is not a beginning point in a photography career. It takes a heap of skill to shoot in low light, and being aware of all the different personalities you encounter is not for the faint of heart. You need to be skillful in the art of negotiation as much as being able to frame a beautiful photograph. You need to be an accomplished amateur psychologist to gauge a person's or the entire crew's mood and you need to be prepared to walk away from a great shot if you have to in order to preserve good will.

Above all you need to realize that without every member of the crew's help you won't get those incredible images. You need to be polite and humble. A thank you for a ladder or an apple box to stand on goes a long way and no one on a set is better than anyone else, we are a team and we need to work as one. Have a big head and you will get shut down, pieces of bounce board will mysteriously be pushed into frame at the critical point or that angle between the tracking vehicles will be filled with some foreground dressing or a 10K light.

My last tip is you just never know where that poster, billboard or magazine cover is going to come from. Every image you take has the potential to be used for the ultimate result so regardless of what you are shooting you should always do your best. There is no reason to think 'oh it's just a snap shot.' That photograph you took yesterday could end up being your most precious possession. Last year I had the cover of Empire magazine's action special with Matt Damon from The Bourne Ultimatum. When I was told about it I looked through my folders for the image to see if they had changed it. I knew it was shot while we were in Tangier but I just couldn't find it anywhere. I decided to go to dinner and while I was walking out the door I remembered I hadn't looked in the wardrobe test folder, only at the unit coverage. I went back and checked and sure enough there it was the first frame. I remember saying to Matty (Damon), let's not waste it, give me your best Bourne. He did and it ended up as a huge cover!

It's a complicated industry but anyone that tells you it's not glamorous really never made it or just didn't believe in it. It's great fun and I am so lucky to have been able to make it to where I am today. If any of you that read this Q&A have further questions please don't hesitate to contact me. It would be my pleasure to share anything I have learned over the years; besides, I dare say you will be able to teach me a thing or two!

Oh by the way did I mention I LOVE my job!

Actress-Charlize-Theron-adjusts-her-mock-earpiece
Actress-Charlize-Theron-adjusts-her-mock-earpiece
Actress Charlize Theron adjusts her mock earpiece in a wind tunnel in Berlin during the filming of 'Aeon Flux'. This image was captured in November 2004 with a Nikon D1x and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.
Charlize-Theron-is-photographed-in-the-bedroom-set
Charlize-Theron-is-photographed-in-the-bedroom-set
Charlize Theron is photographed in the bedroom set at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin during the filming of 'Aeon Flux'. This image was captured in November 2004 with a Nikon D1x and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/paramount Pictures
Actress-Charlize-Theron-in-Berlin-on-the-set-of-A
Actress-Charlize-Theron-in-Berlin-on-the-set-of-A
Actress Charlize Theron in Berlin on the set of 'Aeon Flux' in September 2004. This image was captured with a Nikon D1x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/paramount Pictures
This-image-of-actor-Matt-Damon-was-used-as-a-poste
This-image-of-actor-Matt-Damon-was-used-as-a-poste
This image of actor Matt Damon was used as a poster advertising 'The Bourne Ultimatum'. The image was captured in Tangier, Morocco in October 2006 with a Nikon D2xs and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.
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This-image-of-actors-Matt-Damon-and-Julia-Stiles-w
This image of actors Matt Damon and Julia Stiles was captured in January 2004 at Alexanderplatz, a large open square in Berlin during the filming of 'The Bourne Ultimatum'. The image was captured using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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Actor-Matt-Damon-jumps-from-his-motorbike-during-t
Actor Matt Damon jumps from his motorbike during the filming of 'The Bourne Ultimatum' in Tangier, Morocco in October 2006. The image was captured using a Nikon D2xs and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
This-image-of-actor-Kiefer-Sutherland-was-captured
This-image-of-actor-Kiefer-Sutherland-was-captured
This image of actor Kiefer Sutherland was captured during the filming of 'Dark City' at Fox Studios in Sydney in 1997 with a Nikon F5 film body and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.
Nicolas-Cage-rides-through-a-swamp-on-a-set-built
Nicolas-Cage-rides-through-a-swamp-on-a-set-built
Nicolas Cage rides through a swamp on a set built at Melbourne Docklands Studios in Australia during the filming of 'Ghost Rider'. This image was captured in April 2004 using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.
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Actor-Nicolas-Cage-transforms-into-the-Ghost-Rider
Actor Nicolas Cage transforms into the Ghost Rider at a train yard in Melbourne, Australia in April 2004. This image was captured using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
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The-first-image-released-of-the-Hell-Cycle-during
The first image released of the Hell Cycle during the filming of 'Ghost Rider' in Melbourne, Australia. This image was captured using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
Actor-Nicolas-Cage-rides-through-the-fictional-tow
Actor-Nicolas-Cage-rides-through-the-fictional-tow
Actor Nicolas Cage rides through the fictional town of San Venganza during the filming of 'Ghost Rider' in a warehouse studio in Melbourne, Australia. This image was captured in May 2004 using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
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Motion-picture-stills-photographer-Jasin-Boland-on
Motion picture stills photographer Jasin Boland on the set of 'Mummy 3' in Tianmo, China. This image was captured using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.
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Jasin-Boland-on-the-flight-deck-of-the-USS-Abraham
Jasin Boland on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2004 during the shooting of 'Stealth'.
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This-poster-image-from-the-film-Kokoda-was-shot
This poster image from the film 'Kokoda' was shot in the Gold Coast Hinterland in Queensland, Australia. This image was captured in September 2005 using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.
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This-group-shot-of-Australian-Soldiers-was-shot-in
This group shot of Australian Soldiers was shot in the Gold Coast Hinterland in Queensland, Australia. This image was captured in September 2005 using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/palace Films
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Actor-Jack-Finsterer-is-dragged-from-the-mud-durin
Actor Jack Finsterer is dragged from the mud during the filming of 'Kokoda' in the the Gold Coast Hinterland in Queensland, Australia. This image was captured using a Nikon D2x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens in September 2005.Jasin Boland/palace Films
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Actor-Keanu-Reeves-prepares-to-battle-actor-Hugo-W
Actor Keanu Reeves prepares to battle actor Hugo Weaving during the filming of 'The Matrix'. This image was captured in 1998 with a Nikon F5 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.
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Keanu-Reeves-and-Laurence-Fishburne-chat-during-th
Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne chat during the red pill/blue pill scene of 'The Matrix'. This image was captured in 1998 with a Nikon F5 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/warner Bros.
Keanu-Reeves-gets-picked-up-to-meet-Morpheus-durin
Keanu-Reeves-gets-picked-up-to-meet-Morpheus-durin
Keanu Reeves gets picked up to meet Morpheus during the filming of 'The Matrix'. This image was captured in 1998 with a Nikon F5 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/warner Bros.
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This-archway-portrait-was-the-first-shot-on-the-fi
This archway portrait was the first shot on the first day of shooting during the filming of 'The Matrix Reloaded' in 2002. This image was frequently used to promote the film and was captured using a Nikon F5 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/warner Bros.
The-Matrix-characters-Neo-and-Agent-Smith-face-o
The-Matrix-characters-Neo-and-Agent-Smith-face-o
'The Matrix' characters Neo and Agent Smith face off in the rain during filming in 1998. This image was captured with a Nikon F5 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/warner Bros.
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This-international-and-domestic-poster-image-captu
This international and domestic poster image captured in 1998 was used extensively as a marketing tool and was also the recipient of a PDN (Photo District News) award.Jasin Boland/warner Bros.
This-image-of-Tom-Cruise-was-used-as-a-promotional
This-image-of-Tom-Cruise-was-used-as-a-promotional
This image of Tom Cruise was used as a promotional card and was captured during the filming of 'Mission Impossible 2'. The image was shot using a Nikon F5 and Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/paramount Pictures
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This-image-of-Brendan-Fraser-was-captured-during-t
This image of Brendan Fraser was captured during the filming of 'The Mummy 3' in Montreal in September 2007. The image was shot using a Nikon D2xs and Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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This-image-of-actress-Michelle-Yeoh-was-shot-in-Mo
This image of actress Michelle Yeoh was shot in Montreal in October 2007 during the filming of 'Mummy 3' using a Nikon D2xs and Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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Actors-Brendan-Fraser-and-Luke-Ford-fire-their-wea
Actors Brendan Fraser and Luke Ford fire their weapons during the filming of 'The Mummy 3' in Montreal in September 2007. The image was shot using a Nikon D2xs and Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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This-image-of-The-Lost-Boys-was-captured-during
This image of 'The Lost Boys' was captured during the filming of 'Peter Pan' in March 2003. The image was shot at the Warner Bros. studios on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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This-image-of-Jason-Isaacs-playing-the-character-o
This image of Jason Isaacs playing the character of Hook during the filming of 'Peter Pan' was shot at the Warner Bros. studios on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. The image was captured in March 2003 using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.Jasin Boland/universal Pictures
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Jamie-Foxx-Jessica-Biel-and-Josh-Lucas-walk-the-f
Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas walk the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln located off the coast of Mexico during the filming of 'Stealth' in 2004. The image was captured using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
Actress-Jessica-Biel-prepares-to-leave-the-flight
Actress-Jessica-Biel-prepares-to-leave-the-flight
Actress Jessica Biel prepares to leave the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in a fighter jet during the filming of 'Stealth' in 2004. This image was captured using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
This-explosion-scene-during-the-filming-of-Stealt
This-explosion-scene-during-the-filming-of-Stealt
This explosion scene during the filming of 'Stealth' was shot using a real explosion and real stuntmen in Sydney, Australia in 2004. The image was captured using a Nikon D1x and Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens.Jasin Boland/sony Pictures
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