Tom Dymond: Shooting unit stills for the nation's favourite TV shows

Tom Dymond: Shooting unit stills for the nation's favourite TV shows

04 January, 2019

Written by: Ailish Cook

Tom Dymond, a London-based photographer, is well known for his work for magazines, newspapers and PR clients. From capturing famous faces at the UK's large charity event Soccer Aid, to shooting campaigns for Comic Relief, Tom is greatly experienced in capturing not only portraits, but emotion. Tom is also renowned for his work with some of the nation's favourite TV shows including The Voice, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, working hard to ensure they have 'the shot' for promotional material.

Working in reactive environments

So what does ignite that spark and passion for stills photography? Well for Tom, this was through motorsports photography, something suprisingly similar.

"I got into photography through motorsports. I really love motorsports photography but didn't know much else about photography, so I went to university where I studied press and editorial photography down in Falmouth.

This introduced me to loads of different genres of photography, but I quickly found out I really loved working in the studios and shooting portraiture. So, under two amazing tutors, Mal Stone and Gered Mankowitz, I continued down the portraiture path for the rest of my time at university, before graduating and coming to London."

Stills for me was quite a natural path as it combines working in a very fast and reactive environmnet, having to work with what is infront of you, which is why I loved shooting sports. Also, the other side of having to light something perfectly very quickly and in very little time suited my style of working."

Toning things down

When it comes to working quickly in a busy studio environment, two things are for certain: noise and presence need to be turned down.

"Aside from being as quiet as a mouse, a good understanding of what is happening in the show is crucial so you can always be in the right place. Seeing the dress runs and rehersals is a big advantage and you have to remember that the TV filming will always come first.

Stills are right down the pecking order in what needs to get done, so having a great relationship with the crew, cast and directions really helps, as it means you can just jump in very quickly and get your lights in place and get what you need in the odd breaks and stops.

Scheduled time is very rare, and when it is on the running orders, it is the first thing to be binned if running behind, so having these relationships is crucial to getting what you need."

Shooting in the South African sun

As part of The X Factor, Tom joined the crew, Nicole Sherzinger and her guest Stormzy at the judge's houses round for contestants. His aim was to capture shots that reflected the essence of the location - South Africa.

"These shots were done in about 30 seconds each, with about two minutes before the sun set. This meand the ambient light was quite low, so the Profoto B2 was the perfect choice to match as you can dial the power in as a lovely soft key."

Tom's set up had to be super simple due to the time restrictions, and hhe had to be quick so needed agility from his lighting and equipment. To shoot Nicole, Tom used one B2 head over the camera with an OCF Octa, to provide a soft and suble light.

For Stormzy, Tom decided to remove the OCF Octa and use the B2 head on its own, resulting in powerful images - all taken in under a minute.

Bright lights and the French Riviera

Similar to in the first set up, Tom was requested to capture shots of Simon Cowell and Louis Tomlinson in under five minutes, whilst dealing with multiple lighting challenges including low ambient light and harsh artificial light from the filming crew.

"I took advantage of a big HMI outside from the filming for the slightly harsh side light, and used two B2 heads. One was used as the key light, again over the top of the camera, and one bounced off of a white wall to act as a fill." 

This enabled balance images with the reduction of harsh shadows.

Balancing shadows indoors

Another example of Tom's still set ups indoors, where he has to balance light again due to bright LED lights, highlighting that stills photography presents you with conditions that are not the norm.

"The photo of Mrs O was shot with a B2 on very low power as the fgront of her house was already lit by the film team with LED panels, so I had to balance the light between those."

Tom's essential kit

When shooting stills on location and at a studio, it is crucial for him to have his essential kit, allowing Tom to be flexible in his work and prepare for all eventualities:

- Canon 5D IV

- Canon 1DxII

- Leica Q

- Profoto B2s

- OCF Beauty Dish

- OCF Octa

Tom's top tips for stills photography

- You need to be good at waiting a long time and keep your concentration up to ensure you do not miss anything.

- You need to know your kit inside out, as you do not get two seconds to think about what needs to be done, so it needs to be second nature.

- Always introduce yourself to all the crew. It is a little gesutre but wil help you if you ever need anything, especially on the short runs when you might only be on set for one or two days.

Thank you to Tom for featuring in Profoto stories and for telling us about his lighting set ups for TV stills! To see more of his work, visit his website or Instagram.

Written by: Ailish Cook

Products used in this story

OCF Beauty Dish White

A portable beauty dish for off-camera flashes

OCF Softbox Rectangular

A popular, versatile softbox for off-camera flashes