‘The fire brigade was there for Pierce Brosnan’s shoot’: how Bond’s greatest shots were created
Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5 in the Swiss Alps, Roger Moore posing on the bonnet of a Lotus Esprit Turbo and Pierce Brosnan pouting through flames in promotional stills from GoldenEye that earmarked a new era for 007. Bond photography isn’t often thought about, but the images can become just as memorable as the films themselves.
Ever since Sean Connery and Ursula Andress posed on that Jamaican beach for Dr. No, Bond promotional photos have been an essential part of the franchise, even if the way they’re produced has dramatically changed. It began with anxiously hauling boxes of film onto set and hoping to land the killer shot with only a handful of chances while the physical film lasted. Nowadays photographers face a thoroughly modern challenge: reducing thousands of near-identical frames shot on digital cameras down to the absolute best.
Shots are snatched in quiet moments during intense days of filming, or while cameras are rolling. Stills photographers aren’t involved in the actual filming process, so they are technically the “first person who could be thrown off set,” says Keith Hamshere, photographer for nine Bond films from The Spy Who Loved Me to Die Another Day. For that reason, it’s integral to quickly become not only indispensable but friendly with the cast and crew. “They want to miss you when you’re not there,” says Hamshere. “They don't make the movie with you, you don't have to be there, but they’ve got to sell the movie.”
So how on Earth do you land the dream job of shooting 007? Most are renowned photographers first, but all come into Bond from different perspectives. Jasin Boland, who shot the action scenes on No Time To Die, just tried his luck. One day he sent a cold email to EON sharing his portfolio and heard nothing, but a couple of years later got a call back asking him to work on Skyfall. “That’s how the Bond family works,” he says. “They are incredibly loyal and search the planet for who will fit in. It’s easily my favourite story about being hired!”
For No Time To Die stills photographer Nicola Dove, it was right place and right time. A few colleagues had put her name forward as “they were looking to try someone new,” she says. Hamshere got a call “out of the blue” saying special effects designer Derek Meddings had specifically asked him to shoot for The Spy Who Loved Me in the Bahamas. “My bags were packed before I had put the phone down,” he laughs.
On Bond films there’s always at least one photographer involved throughout the filming process. There’s not one template which Bond photography should adhere to, but that said, one commonality is nostalgia. Through homage and pastiche, it can be the job of the Bond photographer to recreate or acknowledge iconic Bond imagery from the past.
Bond is often photographed caressing a gun like it’s an extension of his arm or protecting a girl wrapped in his arm, for instance, no matter the decade the photo was taken. The image of Ursula Andress coming out of the water in the very first Bond film, Dr. No, is perhaps the most famous image of all, and the one Hamshere paid homage to with Halle Berry in 2002’s Die Another Day.
Filming in Cadiz, Spain, the temperature was a chilly 10 degrees celsius, the polar opposite to the tropical paradise the scene evoked. “She was frozen,” reflects Hamshere. “We had coats and things to put round her when she came out of the water. There were really only one or two pictures that worked in that whole sequence. She only did it once, there was only one roll of film, but I got the picture.”
If that seems like high pressure, it’s nothing compared to what Hamshere achieved seven years earlier when he hauled Bond into a new era with one iconic photograph. In 1995 Pierce Brosnan rebirthed Bond for a new generation with GoldenEye following a six-year gap from 1989’s Licence to Kill. In the early 1990s, Bond felt more passé than ever and was in need of an image overhaul.
“I was trying to think of doing something a little different,” says Hamshere. “I tried to make something look more eye-catching, so I thought about having a wall of flames behind him.” Brosnan’s flame publicity shots for GoldenEye are fabulously OTT, but they were instrumental in regenerating the 007 image, and the film was a huge success. Hamshere calls Brosnan “a gentleman Bond,” something like Roger Moore, and these shots were key in establishing Brosnan's image as dapper rather than rough diamond or serious, as Timothy Dalton had become known for before.
To get the shots, Hamshere turned up the heat. Controlled flame bars 15 feet high and 10 feet wide were set up at Leavesden Studios once the idea was green lit by production and the safety teams. Brosnan and his co-stars including Bond girl Izabella Scorupco posed while temperatures soared. “She had to have flame retardant gel put on her back, the stuntmen were there, the fire brigade were there, it was a complete unit, probably about 80 people,” says Hamshere. The effort paid off. “It’s a picture you’ve probably seen time and time again.”
But Jasin Boland knows a new level of risk. In charge of action photography on the last three Daniel Craig Bonds, it’s his job to catch stills of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequences, including the car chases. Modern cameras can catch up to 120 frames per second, “so there’s no excuse for me to miss anything,” laughs Boland.
For scenes like the Aston Martin DB10 jumping over cars in Rome in Spectre, Boland works closely with the stunt coordinator, safety supervisor and their teams to make sure he’s safe while capturing shots feet from the action taking place. Once in place on set, Boland can’t move “even a foot either side” of his marking for fear of his safety.
“If my first choice is too dangerous then they work with me to find a spot that does work,” says Boland. “The trust is what gets me access to some truly epic positions. The most important thing is to have an exit and a safe one at that. We always discuss what the exit will be in the event of something going sideways.” Being around for rehearsals is “imperative,” says Boland, “so you can plan out your angles and shots.”
One person who didn’t heed that advice 35 years earlier was Grace Jones, who was famously late on set while filming A View to a Kill. One day, she was five hours late to meet Hamshere to shoot the publicity images. “I don’t know whether she liked a lie in or not, but it was quite difficult sometimes for her to be punctual,” admits Hamshere.
For the shoot he had organised caterers, make-up, hair and lighting crews for the call time of 1pm, but Jones turned up at 6pm. “All the coffee got colder and colder and colder, we were about to all go home, we’d been sitting there for six hours twisting our thumbs,” he says. “That wasn’t a very pleasant experience to start with, however the session I did with her was really good. Once she settled down and we started to shoot, I really got some great pictures.” Images of Jones posing with the gun in high shouldered jackets epitomise the actor and singer’s famously androgynous look.
On the contrary, Craig was so generous with his time that on No Time To Die he’d purposefully extend acting scenes, walking a little further than he needed in shots, to make sure the right still photograph was in the bag, believes on-set photographer Nicola Dove. The most famous still from the film is Daniel Craig stepping out of the Aston Martin DB5 in London and crossing the road. Dove remembers about half a dozen takes, and each time, shooting anything from 50 to 60 shots of Craig as he walked.
“Each time you refine it more and more,” says Dove. “Daniel Craig’s very aware of the bigger picture. He’s aware of the power of a great picture and I think he knew this was going to be a great moment, so he would do just three or four extra steps after the cut so we could get the great picture - that was very helpful.”
Like Hamshere, Dove didn’t heavily research Bond photography before she took the job to prohibit “getting too overwhelmed.” Instead she had a natural eye for a great Bond photo and knew she had found the one when she saw that image of Craig.
“It ticked all the boxes for Bond,” she says. “It was him looking very dapper in the suit and the sunglasses and the watch and the car in the background. It was very London, so it spoke about the UK and it was a historical building, a UK flag in the background, so all of those physical elements tied in, catching that actor at that particular moment.
“You wanna say it’s a Bond look, but what is that?” says Dove, reflecting on the diversity of Bond photography throughout time. “It’s someone who’s in charge of everything and is going to sort it out, isn’t it? It’s hard to pin down, but it’s something very powerful.”