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Interview with a High-Profile TV Photographer

By Joseph Cha on August 13th 2013

Breaking Out with Breaking Bad

There are some really great quality shows on TV nowadays; Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, and Madmen just to name a few. With quality TV shows, a quality photographer is needed. The guys over at PopPhoto.com have a great interview with photographer Frank W. Ockenfels III, who is a high-profile TV, movie, and music photographer.


How did you get started shooting for TV and movie posters?

It’s funny because I kind of fell into it. I started in music where I didn’t have massive productions. I’d show up with myself and one assistant. Maybe two. The idea was how much could you possibly get done in a day. You have a lot of photographs to cover.

One day, a woman named Kimberly Rock from Grey Entertainment saw my work and thought I might be perfect to change the way they do television advertisements. She hired me, and what I came to understand later, was that if it didn’t work, she’d lose her job. We went out and did Murder in the Heartland. We shot Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk and Brian Dennehy and Randy Quaid down in Texas. They used to shoot everything against gray seamless, and I said, “Well, let’s go out and see what kind of natural light we can find.” I tried to make it more real, a lot closer to what the filmmakers were making.


That whole industry seems so foreign to many people. The photography is obviously important, but relationships seem to play a huge role in what you do.

The act of doing celebrity photography half the time has nothing to do with if you’re the right person for the job. A lot of times these companies and agencies are handed the person the celebrity is closest to or who they feel comfortable around. I have been on both ends of that spectrum. I’ve been handed to a group of people for whom I was not their first choice, but the Celebrity would say, “I want Frank to do it because I’m comfortable with him doing it. I know that he’ll be on my side.”


How different is it to shoot pictures of an actor in character than a normal portrait?

It depends. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of actors who appreciate that I’m not there doing their portrait. I’m there to photograph the character to illustrate the show. Andy Lincoln fromThe Walking Dead would go run around in 90-degrees and come back breathing heavily and covered in sweat and say, “Ready to go?” And we’d go shoot. He works himself into the process. Jon does the same thing when we’re doing Mad Men. Brian does the same thing when we’re doing Breaking Bad


Have all the challenges of this kind of shooting changed your overall style at all?

It ups your game. You know what they say about tennis: if you play with somebody better than you, your game will get better. At one time, it was all about putting people in front of a gray seamless and saying “put that big Octobank over there and we’ll light the crap out of it and we’ll figure it out afterward.”

Instead, I get these massive lighting ideas that they want to try and it can come from anywhere from a picture someone took on an iPhone to a painting. We’ve done painting references and I love those almost more than the photography. With a painting, there’s a sense, a feeling that they’re looking for. It’s great to be able to try and execute that or solve the problem.


If you’re interested in reading the full interview with Frank W. Ockenfels III, click here!


I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Martine Brucheau

    I just wish i could find the new episodes, i live in west sacramento and don’t know what channel they are on, breaking bad that is, any help

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    • Zach

      They air on AMC. If you don’t have access to that maybe try the AMC website. You can also purchase the episodes on itunes for about 2.99 the day after they come out

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