The Art and Soul of Production Stills

Back in the days when cinemas had proper foyers, they would display stills that provided tantalising glimpses of the actual movie. Cinema stills is an art form which captures the essence of a movie in just a single frame. How are these stills made? And who makes them? We speak to Darius Manihuruk and Erik Wirasakti, two of Indonesia’s best production stills photographers, who provide answers to these questions and more.

The job of a stills photographer is surely one of the least appealing in the spectrum of photography. In essence, the stills photographer parlays the vision of the film’s director to the general public. There is little in the way of perceived creativity and inventiveness. Yet Jakarta based photographer Darius Manihuruk is one of those who has dedicated himself to the art of productions stills despite the lack of obvious rewards. “Photography for me is a way to express my imagination. I always hope I can transform my ideas and my imagination, something which is in my mind, to other people,” Manihuruk explains. “I believe the job of a stills photographer, which I’ve been doing for about four years now, is very interesting and unique. Photography in print media is common and I’ve been through that job for three years. That is why I decided to explore more opportunities in other media with more challenges.” Manihuruk has faced up to the many challenges of photography in the print media and has the accolades to prove it. He has won photography competitions such as the Central Java Culture Festival in 1999 and Face of Indonesia by Lowe Lintas Advertising in 2004. To cap it off, he staged a solo exhibition focusing on fashion photography in 2006. More recently, he participated in the Jakarta International Film Festival exhibition on stills photography. “One of the more interesting experiences that I’ve been through is when I took a picture of my model in the middle of a traffic jam. It attracted a large crowd with a lot of people watching that session,” Manihuruk recalls. Nonetheless, the task of photographing stills is not one to be scoffed at. According to Manihuruk, the challenges of photographing stills are unique. “You have to take pictures with good continuity,” he explains, using the filmmakers’ term for seamless sequence of events. “You also have to be careful to take a picture that is similar to what the film or video camera operator has captured. This is the one thing that is very important for me. Coordination between stills photographer, director and cameramen is not only important, it is crucial, because if there is no coordination between them, you will not get a good picture nor be able to capture the moment.” Manihuruk is very careful with his choice of equipment. He places a high premium on quality and responsiveness. Which is why he uses the Canon D20 with lenses 16-35mm f.2,8 and 70-200mm f.2,8. “When I’m photographing stills, I never use the flash because for me, the flash can be a distraction for the situation and shooting process,” he explains. Manihuruk has a studio workshop in South Jakarta where he indulges in photographic work, shooting everything from still life to fashion photography. “I take photos by projects, so I have to prepare and learn about every kind of photography,” he said.

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