Outlander Photographer Aimee Spinks

 

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.

outlander photographer aimee spinks

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 Guard starring 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?”
AIMEE  As 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!
jamie and claire fraser, outlander photographer aimee spinks
(From Aimee on Instagram: This was such a sweet moment with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. If memory serves I was wedged inside the fireplace to get this shot! Mike Carstensen and Tim Critchell were as accommodating as ever to let me squeeze in to get this!)
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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 
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Hogmany party in Outlander
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stephen bonnet with brianna
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murtagh and jamie at the battle of culloden
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young ian with native americans and rollo
Aimee is right in there with the action, Lallybroch celebrations, beach dramas, the battlefield and the North Carolina backcountry.
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As well as the action shots, Aimee gets up close and personal for some powerful and iconic images
outlander photographer aimee spinks
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claire in the wood, outlander photographer aimee spinks
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jamie fraser
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jamie fraser, outlander photographer aimee spinks
(From Aimee on Instagram: Throwback to Season 3. I posted a cropped version of this image a while back but you know what, I really do love the full wider image. It says so much about Jamie’s strength – even in chains – and his hatred of the Red Coats. Excellent acting as always from Sam Heughan who can just drop straight in and own moments like this.)
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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.
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(From Aimee on Instagram. This was a huge set from Gary Steele — literally an entire house with an enormous floor plan all built inside one of the 5 stages inside the Outlander studio. I loved how the colours, textures and lighting all reminded me of American photographer Gregory Crewsdon. His work is absolutely incredible … his work inspired many of my own early personal photography projects.)
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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.
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Roger in Outlander and the astrolabe
A key prop — the Astrolabe
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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.
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claire with gun in outlander season 5
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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.
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From Aimee on Instagram: It’s all systems go for #clanfraser after Jamie gets bitten by a snake! Some great SFX makeup and poor Sam had to endure real maggots for some of it, too!
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jamie and roger practice sword fighting, outlander
(From Aimee on Instagram: LOVED shooting stills of this nice little exchange between Sam Heughan and Richard Rankin. Fingers crossed STARZ releases some more images from this bit of swordplay as there were some sweet action shots in there! Jim Elliot, the head of the armoury department, provided both real and dummy swords so the scene could be filmed at pace whilst remaining same for cast and crew.
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ANDRÉE How do you decide on the mix between documenting the action, and documenting the process, your great behind-the-scenes shots?
AIMEE I 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. 
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black jack randall, outlander
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murtagh in outlander
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lord john grey outlander
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matt b roberts and caitriona balfe in outlander
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black jack randall and jamie fraser fighting
From Aimee on Instagram: One of my favourite BTS shots from Season 3 of Outlander)
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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. 
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roger and brianna getting direction outlander
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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!
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brianna at the stones
(From Aimee on Instagram: The amazing Sophie Skelton at the iconic #standing stones. Fun Fact: during this day’s filming we went from starting with the ground covered in snow, seeing it all melt in the sunshine and it looking like a summer’s day, before being hit by a snowstorm again! As a result we had to shoot several sections twice for weather continuity. #scottishweather
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filming outlander, outlander photographer aimee spinks
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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.
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Aimee’s portraits of some of our well-loved cast members – César Domboy, Sam Heughan and John Bell
.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 
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ANDRÉE– Could you select an image from the show and tell the story of how you captured that image?
stephen bonnet robbing jamie and claire
The Frasers come face to face with their nemesis, Stephen Bonnet in the final dramatic scene for episode 1 of Season 4.
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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.
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brianna teaching roger to shoot
Aimee from Instagram: This was such a fun day of filming! We had stunt squirrels and stunt turkeys who it turns out, are not the least bit scared of squibs (SFX mini explosive devices). Seriously, imagine it; a squirrel on a log next to a tree stump wired with a squib, Mr. Squirrel a safe distance away. The camera is lined up ready to film Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin take aim at our wee furry friend in the foreground. Focus snaps forward to Mr. Squirrel as the squib is triggered with a pop and explosion of bark! Nadda. The brave thing didn’t even flinch, never mind run off-camera as anticipated. What have we learned? Don’t f**k with squirrels.
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ANDRÉE Outlander 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.
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roger with native americans in outlander
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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.
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outlander photographer aimee spinks
Aimee is certainly very physically active!
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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
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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.

You can follow Andrée on Twitter and Instagram and her website for more Outlander action.

 

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Outlander Fan Tales – Jenny

Jenny is a 70 year old Australian woman who has been an Outlander fan for about two years after a friend recommended the show to her. She got off to a slow start but soon became obsessed with the story of Jamie and Claire.

Here is her story.

Jenny with her daughter
Like Claire, Jenny is a mother and grandmother

Jenny is a retired nursing home worker and she now works as a volunteer in her local Hospital. She loves her volunteer work more than she did her paid work. This current COVID_19 virus situation has halted some of her work, but much of it still goes on. After all, even amid the lockdown, babies are still being born and people still need to go to emergency. Like Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser Jenny is there at the front lines of health care.

Maybe Jenny’s hospital work isn’t quite as dramatic as Claire’s?

Not only is she a front line worker, but she has had her own experience with health crises. Jenny is a breast cancer survivor of 20 years.

We hope Jenny had wonderful doctors like Dr Randall, when she was going through a health crisis

Jenny was introduced to Outlander by a friend about 2 years ago. At first she only watched up to Episode 2 as life got in the way.  She somehow got caught up on other things for a time.

(Editors note – can’t believe Jenny only got to this point – Castle Leoch – in her first Outlander stint! Ha! Those scenes with Jamie and Claire – who could not want to know what happens next? But, never fear, she made up for lost time.)

But then, Jenny got back to it. She returned to the show and became totally immersed in the story.  She loves the the series so much that she has rewatched over 26 times and never gets tired of it. (That’s quite a lot of times!)

The evolving relationship between Jamie and Claire in Season 1 was certainly captivating.

The rest is history. Jenny became involved in the Outlander fan world in other ways. She is active in 5 Outlander fan groups. And she has lots of Outlander paraphernalia – her Outlander calendar (to see her favourite characters every day), Outlander mug (always time for a coffee) and soooo many photos of the show on her iPad. Her Outlander buddy gave her Book 1 for Christmas so now she’s a reader as well as a watcher.

Jenny’s Outlander collection

Finally Jenny says ‘So I read, I watch and I tell everyone about Outlander and what a wonderful story it is.

I know that I am obsessed with Jamie and Claire’s story, because I wish I had someone who loved me as much as Jamie loves Claire’.

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