Picture perfect

Updated: 2012-07-20 16:16

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Picture perfect

A candid shot of actress Yuan Li taken in the 1990s. [Photos by Fu Jun / Provided to China Daily]

Stills photographers are not the priority on a filming set but they play an important role. Liu Wei finds out more from one of them.

Fu Jun focuses so intensely into his camera that he accidentally enters into the frame of the cinematographer. He is on an action thriller set and as a stills photographer, he needs to capture the fighting sequences.

Finding the best spot, he learnt when he first started his career 17 years ago, is the most crucial aspect for a stills photographer.

"The best position on the set is of course reserved for the cinematographer, followed by the recorder. Stills photographer is an underprivileged worker," Fu says.

Picture perfect

A candid shot of actress Yuan Li taken in the 1990s. [Photos by Fu Jun / Provided to China Daily]

Every time he is at a filming location, Fu struggles to find a spot where he can get the best angle while not disturbing the shooting process.

During the early part of his career, he had to bear the ire of other crew members, who considered him a hindrance - a common experience of young stills photographers even till this day.

Having worked on smash hits such as Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep and Zhou Yu's Train starring Gong Li, Fu has carved a name for himself in the industry.

But nobody notices stills photographers, he says. In the closing credits of movies, the stills photographer's name appears "only earlier than those who make tea for actors". There is no award for stills photographers at any film festival, either.

Still, Fu loves his job. He used to be a landscape photographer and his entry into the industry was accidental - a friend who was directing a film asked him to help out and he was charmed by the job.

"I saw how they burned down a 4 million yuan ($630,000) set after a movie wrapped up," he says. "But my photos capture the movies' beautiful moments forever. It is impossible to summon the same actors again to reproduce the same effect. They age."

He makes friends with actors to better capture their charisma, but acknowledges that it is more difficult now.

"Actors were more professional and affable back in the 1990s, but today they are more celebrities than actors," he says.

Fu keeps a photo of actress Gong Li, sitting on the steps of a long flight of stairs, with a shining outline of her hair because of the effect of backlighting. Fu took the photo when she was taking a break from shooting. Gong noticed him, adjusted her pose a little, and gave him a smile.

"This is almost impossible now," says Fu. "I cannot approach stars so easily. Surrounded by managers and assistants, they usually rush to their cars immediately after shooting their parts."

Picture perfect

A scene from Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep.

On the set of a film in 2011, he found the leading star standing on a hill with his back facing him. Fu visualized a beautiful photo of the scene and asked the actor to turn around for a picture. The star turned around, looked at him indifferently, and turned back.

Nevertheless, Fu does not blame the actors. He says they are now cautious of photographers because they've been victims of paparazzi.

Picture perfect

"They are so afraid of seeing an ugly photo on the Internet the next day, so they dodge every photographer they do not trust."

Besides, he points out that stars have many more ways to promote themselves today than 10 years ago, when a good photo might play a critical role in making someone famous.

But the real star, in Fu's eyes, is someone who has unique charisma, not necessarily someone with a perfect face.

"Today, you need a team to shoot a photo," he says. "A light man, a make-up man, a Photoshop specialist, and then a photographer. The photos turn out glamorous, but they look the same."

Fu has posted some old stills he shot in the 1990s on his micro blog. Most of them are black-and-white portraits, in which the actors wear no make up.

Picture perfect
Fu Jun has worked as a stills photographer for 17 years. [Provided to China Daily]
To his surprise, people liked them so much that his followers doubled overnight.

One of the photos is of actress Yuan Li, with her signature round face and eyes. Yuan disliked the photo and did not use it, but netizens love it, because the photo was candid. Fans say she doesn't look like a "soulless doll" anymore in the photo.

"I used to feel upset about not taking gorgeous photos of her, but now I believe, this is the real Yuan Li."

Like in any other professions, Fu believes one gains respect through quality work.

When working on war epic Opium War in 1997, one of his photos of the war scenes won 5 million yuan of sponsorship for the crew.

"Although we have more approaches to promote a film now, good stills continue playing their role as an effective advertisement," Fu says. "A still is successful when it makes people take a second look and want to know more about the movie."

Contact the writer at liuw@chinadaily.com.cn.