Inside ‘Yellowstone’ With the On-Set Photographer of the Picture-Perfect Drama

How’s this for not missing your shot? Prior to landing his gig as an on-set photographer for Yellowstone, Emerson Miller was working at a car wash in Los Angeles after moving to the United States from Brazil.

“I had a friend who was good friends with Nicole Sheridan, [showrunner] Taylor’s wife,” he explains. “[Nicole] told me, ‘You guys are going to be best friends. You have to do something together.’” Before he knew it, the business school graduate (“I went there to get out of the Brazilian ghetto,” he admits) was snapping pics as the second-unit photographer on Sheridan’s 2017 thriller film Wind River. Soon after, Miller saddled up for what would become one of TV’s most picture-perfect dramas, despite having less training than a newly hired ranch hand.

Inside ‘Yellowstone’ With the On-Set Photographer of the Picture-Perfect Drama

Emerson Miller

“It’s insane, because I came with so much innocence,” the unapologetically grateful Miller says. Astoundingly, the photographer picked up his first camera only six years ago for a single UCLA extension class. “My first day on set,” he recalls, “I was like, ‘Taylor, how do I do this?’ And he just said, ‘Be yourself and don’t worry.’”

Blessed with an eye for imagery that’s as earthy as it is elegant, Miller honed his mostly self-taught skills by going “to Hollywood Boulevard to interview [people] and take their portrait.” That, he adds, is “when I found my [love for] high-contrast photography. It tells a story within the people out there…and I love a good black-and-white. It just feels deeper to me.”

Now that he’s traded the City of Angels for Montana’s mountain majesty, the Canon-favoring Miller has found a new backdrop for his artistry. “I pay a lot of attention to natural light,” he says. “You’re capturing what nature is giving to you.” Additionally, he coordinates episodic photos and gallery shots of the cast for use in press and promotional materials. That means being quick on the draw after the director calls “Cut!” Miller says, “When they’re moving cameras and I see an opportunity, I’ll ask, ‘Can you stay here for 15 seconds? I just want to take this.’ That’s how most of the posed photographs are planned. It’s in the moment when I see something.”

Other times, his options are as wide open as the Dutton Ranch to bounce ideas off of the actors even if the actual physical space is tight. The portrait of Yellowstone star Luke Grimes that opens this section (page 32) was taken in Grimes’ closet during a weekend hangout, while the tub shot of Cole Hauser, who plays ranch enforcer Rip, emerged, literally, from downtime on a magazine shoot. “We were just playing around and had this idea that he comes out of the water,” recalls Miller. “I take the photograph and he says, ‘That’s it, that’s the photo for my family, no one posts this!’ Cut to,” Miller says with a laugh, “[Hauser] posts it on Instagram!”

No matter where his pictures wind up, they’re all close to his heart, as is the Yellowstone cast. “Because we are all friends and we’re so comfortable with each other, I feel like it resonates in the photographs,” Miller notes, confessing that it’s impossible to pick his favorite shot. “They all have such a deeper connection, not only to my evolution as a photographer, but to these friendships. This is a family.” One the Duttons could probably learn a lot from.

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s Yellowstone Special Collector’s Issue, which is available nationwide on newsstands now.

Yellowstone Special Issue


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