Aimee Spinks is the photographer who brings you those marvellous still images from your favourite TV show, Outlander.The image above shows Aimee with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe on the last day of filming Outlander Season 3 in Scotland. You can find her out there in the mud and rain, all hours of the day and night capturing the action as it’s filmed, equally at home in the rugged Scottish landscape or the huge controlled environment of the studio. Aimee’s work has added an extra and important dimension to the world of Outlander.
An award-winning British photographer, Aimee knew early in her career that she wanted to do this work in film and television. She has been working in the industry for nine years and describes the hard slog of getting to her current position where she gets to work on wonderful shows like Outlander, aswell as movies and other TV shows. She says that perseverance, and constantly learning from others, are some of the keys to her success. She began her work on very small projects and gradually became well known, and carved a niche for herself in the industry.
I talked with Aimee about her work on Outlander, in the middle of the COVID_19 virus crisis. Of course this situation has had a huge impact on her work. Aimee is currently busy with promotional work for her most recent project, The Old Guardstarring Charlize Theron and Matthias Schoenaerts and also her other passion in life, competitive pole dancing.
Here is our conversation.
ANDRÉE I‘ll start with a quote from your website. “Aimee has been put to the test with crowded action scenes, low light environments, and tight spaces. Somehow she always gets the shot. She’s an on-set ninja who nails composition, captures the authenticity of a moment, and looks for how the story can be told in a single frame.”—Leslie Sager, photo director, Outlander
That is a fabulous accolade for your work. Can you explain what he means by an “on-set ninja?”
AIMEEAs a unit photographer you need to be as nimble and as invisible as possible. You can’t be a distraction either to the actors or the shooting crew so I always wear long-sleeved black everything. That, coupled with the fact I’m a dancer and have found myself in all kinds of crazy positions to get the shot or literally dancing, ducking and diving around moving cameras and swinging booms probably contributes to earning the nickname “The Ninja” on almost every set I’ve worked on. It’s a compliment I’m very happy to receive!
ANDRÉE Many people will not be familiar with the role of stills photographer. I understand you chose this work early on in your career. What attracted you to this work and what do you like best about your role?
AIMEE I love cinematic images, images that are dynamic and beautiful from a lighting and content perspective, but also from a storytelling perspective. I really love narrative photography, so I think it was just a good natural fit for me to be drawn into world of film and TV.
The thing I like best about my role is probably the fact that as a unit stills photographer you have no control over anything. You have to be able to adapt and get the shot that you need in the midst of so many unpredictable things going on. So it’s really really rewarding when you have a really difficult set of circumstances within which to shoot, and you’re able to come away with an absolutely incredible shot. Like, you get such a rush from that. I really love it
Aimee is right in there with the action, Lallybroch celebrations, beach dramas, the battlefield and the North Carolina backcountry.
As well as the action shots, Aimee gets up close and personal for some powerful and iconic images
ANDRÉE When Outlander is filming how are you engaged to work? Are you scheduled for certain days, or particular scenes? Has it already been decided which are the scenes to be used in promotions?
AIMEE So, my client for Outlander is the American network STARZ and they are a great team over there. They have a full idea already in advance of how they want to promote each episode, and what they think the key shots from each episode will be. They will then have a look at the filming schedule and book me in to cover those days.
Outlander has a huge fan base which always is thirsty for more and more images so I’m very thankful that STARZ has me on for quite a lot of the filming days so that they have plenty of photographs that they can then drip feed out to the fans across news and social media, and also use when heads of departments are up for awards.
Alongside photographing the scenes themselves as they play out, I make sure to get plenty of behind-the-scenes moments of crew working and cast having fun, as well as documenting the incredible sets and the intricate costuming.
ANDRÉE When you are on set or on location with Outlander, is someone directing you as to which elements to capture or is it up to your creative instincts? Are any of the stills “staged” or do you take them all as part of the ongoing action?
AIMEE Prior to each block of filming starting (and each block of filming is normally 5 or 6 weeks and covers 2 episodes) I will have a conference call with my contact at STARZ, who will talk me through the key moments that they want to make sure are captured because they are the moments that they want to be promoting for that particular episode. They might also mention, OK this is a really key prop we would love you to get that as well, or, we’re thinking of running this story about this episode so maybe some shots of this would also be nice.
But outside of that it’s then left for me to use my own judgments and creativity on set. So I will use that as a guide and try to cover that in the way I think is best and that is usually as cameras are rolling. I like to shoot whilst filming is happening and get the shots at that point rather than asking for time with the cast to set up a posed shot.
I personally find that shots taken during the filming are always better because the actors are giving 100%, you know they are giving the best performance they are going to give, and everything is in its place. The tricky thing with that is it’s not always possible to be in the best shooting position because maybe the filming camera needs to be there, or the boom operator needs to be there, so it can be quite tricky. If there is a really key shot that I know the client wants but I am unable to get it during take, that’s when I will ask the 1st assistant director if I can arrange a set up once the shooting unit has gotten what they need from that particular scene. I try to use that rarely, however, because it slows things down and often the shot can lose its magic.
ANDRÉE How do you decide on the mix between documenting the action, and documenting the process, your great behind-the-scenes shots?
AIMEEI mainly document the action because they are the images that the marketing team are going to use. They will occasionally use some behind-the-scenes images, but these are typically shots of the director working with the cast, and the various heads of departments. The costume designer or the makeup designer if they’re on set, and adjusting things with the key cast. I’ll get those, and also images of the cast having fun and relaxing between takes, but primarily it is photographing the action that is happening during the scene.
ANDRÉE What is it like to work with different directors and actors? Do you work closely with them, or are you mostly lurking unobtrusively in the background, waiting to pounce on the best shots?
AIMEE So, it all depends on the director and actor and it’s important to adjust your approach accordingly. Some actors love having still photographers there and they will chat to you all day, and they’ll say make sure you get this shot. You know, get nice and close to the main camera, because they know that’s what’s going to get us the best shots of them, and it’s in their best interest if they look great and there’s plenty of marketing material for their production.
Some actors, however, do not like having a stills photographer on set. They like to have the only camera on set to be the main filming camera so you have to be a little bit more discreet with those actors and build up rapport and trust and perhaps not photograph as many scenes as you would with other actors, so you pick your moments and make sure that you’re still getting the content that you need whilst also being respectful of the needs and working practices of those around you.
ANDRÉE – Could you describe a day on location with Outlander?
AIMEE Mud (laughs!) it’s nearly always mud and rain, but it’s good fun. Studio work is very comfortable and easy to get through. Locations come with their own challenges and the elements in Scotland are usually the biggest factor in that, but I love it. I think that’s what makes shooting Outlander so enjoyable; it’s the amazing scenery that we get to shoot. It just gives the show a real vibrancy!
ANDRÉE When you are doing studio portraits of the actors, what is the process?
AIMEE Prior to the shoot I will discuss with the creative team as to what they are looking for. Sometimes they are happy for you to design the lighting yourself; other times if they are using the images for poster work then there will be a design company who is responsible for making the poster and they’ll come up with a few different ideas and they will require me to light the actors in such a way that matches the way they want to design the final image.
So, for instance you might composite photos of actors individually in studio all together on top of a background image of a location somewhere. In order for that to look realistic the lighting for each actor has to match the lighting of the background location shots as well. So we will set up the studio lighting accordingly, do some test shots make sure that the client is happy with the lighting and that they don’t require any last minute tweaks. Then when we get the cast in I will run them through a series of poses that will provide the poster designer with the elements they need to create the composite for the poster.
Sometimes the client will want you to shoot tethered, which is where you take photos and the photos, rather than saving to a card on the camera will be transferred down a cable and saved directly to a computer, and there’s usually a monitor hooked up so that the creative team and the stakeholders can see the shots as they are happening. Then they can make any requests, changes or tweaks as they go. Not all shoots are like that; some shoots you just stay shooting within the camera. It depends on how the client wants to work. Those images will then be sent to the the editors who will do all of the retouching and compositing and create the final poster.
.ANDRÉE You must have so many shots after a day on set /location. Who decides which ones are used for promotions? And do they pick the ones you think are best or do they have a different eye for the right shot?
AIMEE What I like to do is when I hand over my images, I will also hand over a selection of what I think are the best shots from the day so that the client can very quickly see the shots I personally feel are the best ones to put out. Ultimately however, it’s their decision and often times we will see the images go out that aren’t on our list of favourites. It’s a shame but the client will always have a specific thing in mind as to what they want to release, and just because an image is very good doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily appropriate for a marketing campaign.
For instance, a lot of the time productions opt for the more simplistic images because it gives less away which, as a photographer, can be quite frustrating because obviously we want to share our best work. But ultimately we are hired to provide marketing assets for the production so the client is going to put out the images that are the best strategically for their marketing campaign
ANDRÉE– Could you select an image from the show and tell the story of how you captured that image?
AIMEE In Outlander season 4 episode 1, “America the Beautiful,” there is a big fight scene inside a small boat. It was in a tiny little cabin and we had about five actors, the camera operator, boom operator, the focus puller all squishing into this tiny space that had all of this crazy fast action going on, so there was just no room for me to be in there and get the shot but it was a really key scene so I really wanted to capture it. Luckily, one of our camera operators is an absolutely lovely gentleman called Michael Carstensen and he was filming that scene with a shoulder rig, and Michael very very kindly allowed me to attach a Sony compact camera onto the handlebars of his shoulder rig so that I could be off set and fire my camera remotely and get shots that very closely match what he was seeing. It’s always hit or miss firing remotely; I prefer to hand hold wherever possible because then you have full control of your camera settings and your framings, but for scenes like this where it’s just not possible to be there, and it’s not realistic to ask for a set up because there’s so much going on and it’s so high energy, having the ability to do that, and crew who will enable you to do that, is absolutely fantastic and I’m very grateful for it.
ANDRÉEOutlander fans know that Richard Rankin is a keen photographer. Do you get involved in much techy/arty chat with him on set?
AIMEE All the time, yes! Richard and I chat about photography often and Richard shoots on Sony, the same as me, so we are always talking about the latest camera bodies, the latest lenses. He actually lent me his 85mm f/1.4 G Master Lens and I fell in love with it and just had to go out and buy it. So, prior to that I hadn’t really shot on primes (lenses with a fixed focal length; they don’t zoom in or out) before. I’d always shot on zooms because they give you greater flexibility in where you can be, but we were doing a lot of night shoots and I had a movie coming up that I was going to jump onto which was going to be a lot of fast action in low light.
So, we got talking about prime lenses and he very kindly lent me his 85mm and he converted me to primes. They are just gorgeous. So, yes we keep in touch and as well we sometimes talk about photography on Instagram. Just chatting about the latest tech that’s coming out on what we’re shooting. So it’s really cool to have an actor who appreciates photography, and as a result he’s always so giving on set if I ever need an image he will give me the time to get it. He will let me get close to his eye line so that I can get the best angle of the scene. He’s really a stills photographer’s dream to shoot and to work with.
ANDRÉE Corona virus restrictions aside, how do you juggle your commitments? It looks like you may have to travel a lot from your base in Birmingham. Do you have to stay away for extended periods on shoots?
AIMEE Yes, it’s very common to need to stay away from home. Unfortunately not much gets filmed in Birmingham. And that can be tough, especially with the hours that you’re working during the week it can be difficult to maintain energy for when you go back home and see your friends, your family, your partner at the weekend, which can also be very difficult to them.
I try to do to combat that whilst I’m working away on a big job by maintaining healthy habits. So, for instance, I will always try and get at least eight hours of sleep wherever possible even if that means going to bed really early. I don’t drink midweek and I try and maintain some kind of exercise, depending on filming schedules. Sometimes I’m able to join a local gym or find evening dance classes if it’s an early finish on set. But otherwise I can go for runs or I’’l do calisthenics and training in the hotel. And that just helps me keep fit and healthy and energised during the week so that when I come back home for the weekend I’m not absolutely exhausted.
One of the other things I’ve been trying to do is if I have been working on a particularly large project for a long time I usually try to give myself a few weeks off before committing to the next big project, so that I can have that quality time back home. I can catch back up on my sports outside of work and see friends and family. And also recharge so that when I start the next project I can give the same amount of energy as I did for the last one, rather than working myself into exhaustion being of no use to anybody.
Aimee is certainly very physically active!
If you’d like to learn more about Aimee and her work, you can follow her on Instagram both professionally and personally. There’s lots of pole dance action and interesting stuff from her two week stint in Morocco filming The Old Guard, which is on Netflix. Aimee has a wee competition to spot her ninja-style amongst the action in the BTS video! Also, check out her website for lots more Outlander action, images and portraits.
First published @outlandercast.com on 17/7/2020
Andrée has been an Outlander fan since December 2015 when she took a friend’s advice to watch this ‘great show’. Well that was great advice and since then she has travelled from Australia to Scotland twice and spent lots of time checking out the Outlander action.
Outlander Episode 508 tackled some very important mental health issues — PTSD, depression and suicide — after Roger’s hanging and Young Ian’s yet-to-be-revealed troubles. Andrée Poppleton looks at how successfully the show portrayed these important ideas.
(first posted at outlandercast in June 2019)
Maybe you’re a newbie to the OutlanderFandom (welcome!) or you’ve been here a while (yep, we’re in it for the long haul). Fans seem to fall into two categories it comes to behind-the-scenes content: Those who want everything to be a surprise, fresh and new, when the show airs, so they avoid social media, and those who voraciously soak up all the details of production and want to find out everything they can to keep themselves happy and engaged during the long #Droughtlander.
If you’re (with me) in the latter group, this post is for you. It’s a wrap-up of what’s been out there on social media so far and a look at the ways you can keep in touch and up-to-the-minute with happenings in the Outlander world.
Instagram (IG) and Twitter are the best platforms to keep up to speed in the fan world. Those who’ve solely relied on Facebook for their social media updates might want to consider branching out. Those who are already engaged on Twitter and Instagram might be interested to learn of some new names/accounts to follow. I’ve got a handy list below.
The story behind the scenes so far ….
The cast began to give us a wee keek into the start of production back in April via their IG accounts and stories (for newbies, IG stories are found by tapping the red circle at the top left of a page, and, be quick, they only last 24 hours!).
Lauren Lyle’s slightly muzzy view of the first table read
César Domboy in Makeup
Sam Heughan’s rather low-key announcement that he is now a producer on the show
Sam locates his trailer
Caitriona Balfe showed us her first Season 5 script on Instagram
Sam reconnects with his makeup artist Wendy Kemp Forbes – see below for how to connect with a Wendy on social media
Sophie Skelton becoming a redhead again
Next, we started to see some views of traveling to the locations, the locations themselves, and some technical stuff from the camera operators who frequently post on social media. (More on accessing those accounts later.) Fan pics emerged with the first sighting of Jamie Fraser’s Outlander Season 5 look and garb. But will we see him in a kilt this season? Fingers crossed. Please!
From César’s IG STORY – a moment to relax under sunny skies in bonnie Scotland
First fan pics of Jamie Fraser’s look for Outlander Season 5
Then we got the official view of Jamie and Claire from Outlander STARZ
Local fans posted some BTS pics of Fraser’s Ridge, River Run and also what might either be the regulators’ camp or the gathering. Time will tell on that one.
Frasers Ridge has a few additions perhaps?
River Run getting ready for action after the winter.
A campsite in the woods somewhere in Scotland. The Gathering? Or the regulators?
Amazing attention to detail, as usual
Outlandish Journeys was there when all the extras were going to and from the action. What about those gigantic hounds? I wonder how they would get on with Rollo? But of course Rollo is living far away with young Ian at their new home with the Mohawk. Million dollar question: Will they show us some of their life with the Mohawk in Season 5? Hope so.
… and then …. they spotted Murtagh …… (follow the link above to see more video from Outlandish Journeys.)
OutlanderSeason 5 casting announcements so far have been a bit thin on the ground, but a big thrill rippled through the fandom when we got our first glimpse of Adso! This is the kitten that Jamie finds and gives as a gift to Claire. Hearts melted at the sight of that British shorthair and the Outlandervet wrote a really cool post about the cat here. See more details on following her account below.
That wasn’t an an end to the animal antics. Sam showed us a rider’s eye view of his and Caitriona’s horses, and Richard gave us a look at his riding lessons.
And then we got a view of them all riding along as they gave a shout out to their favourite team, the Glasgow Warriors. From Sam Heughan’s IG:
Sam let us know how tired he was at the end of a long week, but somehow still had the energy (superhuman?) to look marvelously stylish and at ease when he met the Prince at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Actress and talk show host Aisha Tyler visited Sam and Caitriona at work one day.
The first of June is World Outlander Day. Who has ever heard of a book/TV series having its own international day?
Sam and Caitriona celebrated World Outlander Day at an airport on their way to the FYC Emmy event in LA
Emmy season is upon us, and the cast and production team attended a panel in LA. Imagine flying to LA for two days for an event, then back to Scotland and work the next day. No time for jet lag for this intrepid team. @jill_millander on Twitter was a fan on the spot that day and took this candid video of the cast between photos.
And Jill took this photo of “bendy Cait,” which we later saw from Sam’s eye view.
Now they are back at work, and apparently, it is rainy and muddy! So, what’s new?
And finally, a wrap on a series of night shoots and Caitriona Balfeclearly does not like the midges. Anyone who has spent time in Scotland will surely agree on that.
Do you want to keep up to speed with all things Outlander? Not sure where to start? Besides following Outlander Cast of course on Facebook, Twitter and IG, here is sampling of other names and accounts that are great to follow on IG and Twitter. Some people might not know that on IG you can also follow a #hashtag. In the search box enter, say #samheughan or #outlanderseason5 and you will see all the posts that have recently used that #hashtag. From that feed you may like to pick out accounts that interest you. There are SO many. Likewise on Twitter you can enter a #hashtag in the search box, say #samheughan, and you will get a list of all the recent posts. Again you can browse here to pick the accounts that interest you.
Searching #hashtags on Instagram and Twitter
Some interesting Instagram accounts
First of course, the stars and supporting actors, some are obvious account names, others slightly different from the person’s name — eg Lauren Lyle is laurenlyle7, John Bell is johnhunterbell and Richard Rankin is rikrankin.
Here are some other great accounts to follow, especially if you’re interested in Outlandernews and looking behind the scenes.
Matthew Roberts: matt_b_roberts executive producer and photographer extraordinaire. He posts mesmerising pictures of Outlander locations and interacts freely with fans, sometimes playing little games on his page
Gary Steele: jongarysteele Gary is the amazing production designer for Outlander. His IG account reflects his interest in design and architecture and he posts beautiful images of interiors and exteriors around the world. He also shares details of his set and location designs.
Wendy Kemp Forbes:wendybirdmua Wendy is Sam Heughan’s makeup artist (yes, she created those scars!) and he describes her as a close friend and his “rock.” Wendy posts personal stuff as well as occasional BTS gems and insighst into the world of the makeup artist.
David A Stewart:daviehollywood Davie is Sam Heughan’s driver and, as well as his personal posts and great location photographs, his account has fun stuff about him and Sam traveling to and from work in all weathers and at all times of day. Coffee and chewing gum feature heavily!
Mary Barranco:barranco.mary Mary is a fan who keeps up to the minute with all things Outlander, relating to production, the actors, fan pics, etc.
Michael Carstensen:steadimike Mike is a steadicam operator on Outlander. His account is a mix of personal stuff and interesting BTS pics and videos, some of it with a technical bent, and sometimes he puts really good BTS videos in his IG stories.
Barry Waldo:barrywaldo Barry is Gary Steele’s partner and his account is a fun mix of personal stuff, everything from travel adventures and cooking escapades to occasional gems of fun times with the cast and production/set design pics. Barry and Gary hosted some Outlanderpeeps for fun times at Easter.
The Rank and File:richardrankinfans If you’re crazy about Richard Rankin, this one’s for you!
Jon McCormick:jolly_boy_barnetJon often posts technical camera stuff and cool BTS vids on his IG stories. You have to be quick!
Buzz Critchell: buzzcr You can find more camera stuff mixed with personal stuff and some good BTS vids on his stories sometimes.
@newglasgowgirls: Full discloser, I am one of the newglasgowgirls and our IG is a fan account with newsy Outlanderstuff and a focus on the actors, their careers and other projects.
So, on to Twitter– that place of fun, games and unlimited angst! You can pick and choose the accounts to follow to minimise the downside. Here are some of my suggestions:
The stars and cast, of course. You can find them all by searching their names in the search box – see pic above. Remember for celebrities and well known folks the blue tick next to their name signifies that this is their own verified account. No blue tick, and it’s not them.
And here are some others that you might find interesting/worthwhile
@Outcandour– our resident Outlandish vet and feisty feminist who wrote that cool post about Adso
@OutLandAnatomy– our resident Outlandish medico who sees the world of Outlander through an anatomical lens
@InverOutlanders– the Inverness Outlanders, a group on the spot in Scotland who give lots to the fandom including maps and self-directed outlandish tours
So, I hope newbies may now have an insight into ways they can follow all things Outlander and for those longterm fans, that you found something new here. Can anyone add to my list of great names/accounts to follow on IG and Twitter? If so, please leave them in the comments below.