Heather Elder Represents
Reps Journal

David W. Johnson Explains the Synergetic Dance and Open Communication Required When Shooting in Tandem

While our photographers often shoot solo on set, a project can require them to shoot in tandem with a director requiring harmonious collaboration. David W. Johnson approaches all of his projects with a collaborative mindset, no matter the setup. He believes that for a shoot to be successful, you need to have clear communication with creatives and crew and this is even more important when shooting in tandem. It is an intricate approach to photography that demands a special set of skills. 

Shooting alongside a director allows David to channel his creative energy toward a specific target, making the entire process more efficient. The collaboration provides a curated setting where he uses his skills and keen eye to seamlessly translate the director's vision to stills. Knowing he would have valuable insights on this kind of shoot, we sat down with David to learn more about his approach. 

What's your approach to working on projects when you’re shooting in tandem with a director, and how do you ensure a successful collaboration?

Shooting in tandem for me always starts with building a connection and aligning our creative visions. It's a unique moment in which I shift from being the driving force to being a keen listener. I strive to understand the concept from the creative team and the director's perspective. It's about accurately listening and not letting my own vision or direction overpower the collaborative process. While I'm naturally a leader, I recognize the importance of stepping back and allowing the director's vision to shine.

Listening is paramount to ensure a seamless collaboration. I actively seek out ways to support the director's vision, taking a proactive approach. I'm privileged to focus on my specific role, which frees me to see through the director's eyes. This unique perspective sometimes allows me to notice things the director might miss, helping expand their understanding of the original vision. It's about being a true teammate and pushing the shared vision across the finish line.

What are the advantages of shooting in tandem compared to being solely responsible for both motion and stills in a project?

Shooting in tandem allows me to channel my creative energies with pinpoint precision. It provides a defined target to aim for, which allows me to pour all my creative energy into hitting that mark. This approach is more like photojournalism, as I get to capture found moments, focusing on the talent, scenarios, and nuances. The creative direction is already established, enabling me to create impactful visuals.

When working in tandem, how do you divide responsibilities with the director to ensure all necessary content is captured without duplicating efforts?

The division of responsibilities varies based on the project's needs. Sometimes, it's about recreating the motion in still form, aligning with the creative direction. Other times, it calls for ideation and creating something that complements and enhances the original concept. It's a delicate balance of encapsulating the essence of a longer sequence in a single still image. It's about ensuring that the image captures the core of the story conveyed in the motion.

What's your preferred style when working in tandem, and how does it differ from your solo work on set?

My preferred style when working in tandem is to maintain clear communication with the director and avoid hierarchical structures. It's about treating everyone as a teammate, ensuring that we all work together towards a common goal. This approach yields more meaningful results than a scenario where I'm just assigned a button to press. Shooting in tandem also offers the opportunity to capture unscripted, organic moments, making the experience more authentic.

What advice would you give to other photographers to best prepare for a tandem shoot?

My advice to aspiring tandem photographers is to study the director's work thoroughly. Understand the flow of scenarios and how to effectively communicate moments in a still form. Be prepared to ask questions to gain clarity on how to approach the project. Most importantly, actively listen and take notes throughout the collaboration, so you are clear on the vision as the shoot progresses.