Did ABC Pull These Horrible ‘Once Upon a Time’ Promo Photos?


Earlier today, Redditor excranz shared a downright horrible set of promo photos that he claims ABC published on its PR site and took down shortly after. Apparently, the photos are for the ABC show “Once Upon a Time,” and between the blur, poor lighting and awkward poses, people have a hard time believing these didn’t go straight into the “unacceptable” pile.

The photos have immediately shot up to the top of the r/photography subreddit, as users chime in to point out everything that’s wrong with them and speculate about how professional promo photos could possibly wind up looking, as one Redditor put it, “like a bad senior portrait session.”

The fact that Once Upon a Time is one of ABC’s more popular shows — so popular, in fact, that the network is in the process of creating the spinoff “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” — makes these shots all the more peculiar.

One theory for how they might have ended up this bad comes from Reddit user aroundlsu:

They were probably taken in a huge hurry by the IATSE set photographer (I’ve been that guy). Their official job is to shoot set stills but often the publicity department will try to wrangle him into shooting gallery stills for them.

It’s great when you have time to set it up and prepare properly (the photographer gets a pay bump for doing portraits) but way too often it’s done on the side of the set on an impromptu green screen with no lighting allowed (it’s a working set, additional lighting would interfere and flashes are strictly forbidden). It’s almost always done at the end of the day when the actor is tired and grumpy.

Check out the rest of the shots below:









Of course, aroundlsu’s theory isn’t the only one. Given that even major newspapers are doing away with the photography department and offering iPhone photography training, it’s not entirely unreasonable that some are saying these look like they were taken by an intern with a smartphone.

Whatever the case, if ABC did in fact put these up on its PR site, someone had the presence of mind to have them removed shortly thereafter. It’ll be interesting to see when the official promo photos come out. Will they be expertly edited versions of the monstrosities above? Or different shots altogether?

  • Justin Haugen

    Yikes. This should be a collective poo fling of a discussion.

  • iamjohnwhite

    I’m sure they’ll blame the app on their iPhone for not allowing more filters to work with.

  • hysyanz

    Another case of “you get what you pay for”.

  • briphoto

    well it suits the show because it’s not that good either. lol

  • ennuipoet

    Those look awfully processed to be accidental…I am wondering if these were someone’s idea for a shoot that was a REALLY bad one that somehow leaked.

  • Courtney Navey

    so true…so true.

  • Commander Fizzlepants

    these are definitely shot using flash, so.. no excuse for the light. But they kinda look like they were planned that way, except for the two not so shaky ones.

  • Leonardo Abreu

    Looks like promo photos from the 90’s.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Before everyone starts flinging poo at the photographer of these shots, you really need to understand how difficult it is to be a unit stills photographer on a film/TV set.

    You are by far treated as the least important crew member there, because everyone else in the production is ONLY concerned with making sure the motion picture is on schedule and all of the day’s scenes are being shot. 90% of the time, the day is running behind schedule, so getting those promo shots for the marketing department becomes the least important thing for the director and producer and those are the people who are calling the shots on a film set.

    Also, the actors are either shooting or back reading their lines for the next scene. So if you are trying to pull them off to the side and do a spontaneous photo shoot, they are usually not having it and the director or producer will get in your face about not “interrupting the process”.

    And meanwhile you have the studio’s marketing department or whoever is in charge of getting the stills, breathing down your neck telling you that your shots aren’t going to work in the layout or they need something they can use on a poster or you generally are a terrible person…

    As a set photographer, you are expected to get great photos, but STAY OUT OF THE WAY at all times. Being a set photographer is a ROUGH and often thankless job. But it can be rewarding at times.

  • iconoclast

    I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. These are no worse (nor better) than 90% of the photos people seem to love on Instagram.

  • Les Dishman

    I agree. In fact, I’ll go one step further. I honestly don’t see a difference between these shots and other shots that are bandied about on this and plenty of other photography blogs and sites that are labeled as art.

  • Mescalamba

    Lol. Thats like selection of “how you shouldnt do it”. :D Even amateur me, could do better pics (given their resources).

  • Alex Minkin

    I’ve been a set photographer, and while almost everything you said is accurate, there remains one problem.

    It doesn’t matter, at all, what everyone else is doing. you’re given a job, and you had better be prepared to deliver. It may be difficult to get the people you need to be there when you need them, but that’s not even a remote excuse for how technically poor these photos were executed.

    If you’re asked to do a genuinely ‘spontaneous’ shoot, which is incredibly unlikely, this would be a failing grade in my book. A lot of people here could do better than this with next to no notice.

    But as a set photographer, someone at some point will give you a vague list of things to achieve, and I’d be prepared to do individual portraits at MINIMUM.

  • nicolemuenchseidel

    I think we can agree that the individual photos are mostly horrendous, though by some miracle, Belle’s turned out pretty good, by comparison. Now, can we talk about this year’s group photo with the Charmings in the foreground and everyone else in the background?…and everyone, but Regina looking forward. Rumple is stuck in the back. Attached is a comparison of last year’s cast photo to this year’s cast photo. Last year, every regular could be well seen, and there was no highlighting of some characters while shoving some in the background. I would hope that ABC could come up with a cast photo with a composition that is fair to ALL the regulars. Please ABC, give us a good cast photo.

  • photoeric

    Antino makes some great points. However this wasn’t just some unit photographer, this was done by Bob D’Amico the head of ABC photography. They need some new blood, he’s been there forever and now he is obviously just phoning it in. The lighting is horrible. I bet the actors and ABC are pissed about this!

  • photoeric

    I’ve looked these photo’s over again and after my shooting for over 25 years all I know is this is unacceptable.

  • mjftx

    these hurt my eyes to look at

  • whisky

    if you never experiment, you end up with the same old cookie cutter cr*p that every other photographer puts out.

    if you don’t have a vision, you end up with a formulaic soap like “Once Upon a Time”

    if you don’t have intelligent writers, you fill the pages with fluff on a lazy Friday afternoon.

  • Morriz

    Look at their faces, all I can read is that they look at a photographer while thinking, OMG he doesn’t know the heck what he’s doing.

  • K S B

    You didn’t have to censor “crap”. It’s not a bad enough word.

  • onsetthatday

    Hey guys, it’s really great that you publish articles full of speculation about what happened on this photoset, but it might be worth re-iterating that there was no first hand knowledge here. As someone who was actively working on that set, I can tell you the following:
    -Not shot by unit stills photographer, not shot on a production day. This was a 4 day combined gallery shoot for both Wonderland and Once Upon A Time
    -This was only one series of portraits shot for the show. The other sets/seamless shots felt much more organic, will be interesting to see what comes from those

    -In the case of this shoot, real criticism lies with the art/marketing department as the photographer is more like a general contractor, just making what they want to see
    -It was shot with a combination of HMI lighting the background, and strobe lighting the subject. The blur you see was actually an effect from pulling the zoom during exposure, an intentional move requested by art department (though doesn’t look like they chose that for all the images)

    Personally, I’m not terribly fond of the photos either. That being said, Disney/ABC is quite often rather bland with their marketing and so this at least seems consistent with what they’re creating.

  • marketingmike

    Sounds like your the photographer or someone who works with the photographer? We all know where the blame lies and that’s with the photographer AND art director on set…. Who’s kidding who here?

  • marketingmike

    Why were these photo images released first if these weren’t the best? Just asking.

  • buttmunch14

    Man, I could have severe diarrhea, rip a fart out of my ass and spray the contents all over some Illford, frame it, and the end result would smell better and be more artistic. Nice job ABC!

  • buttmuncher14

    I just farted some diarreah all over the place, and took a big scoop out of my hand and had a little snack. YUM!

  • Jim

    Petapixel author DL Cade: please provide a link to you own photos. I’m sure your work is astounding, as most great photographers also have lots of free time to slam other people’s work online.

  • lidocaineus

    No no no no no. To criticize or praise something, you do not need to have superior skills. When was the last time you saw a book, film, or music critic that had to prove his superior skills before he could talk about other pieces? You can understand why something is good or bad, but still intelligently discuss why it is that way, but not be able to create that yourself. Your argument that you have to prove yourself is a logical fallacy (a type of ad hominem) used by people who don’t know anything about critiquing.


  • joana

    not really. the photos are like ‘bad paid for photos’. someone should send them to ellen

  • onsetthatday

    You got me, I’m just saying this is more a marketing issue than a photography issue.

  • onsetthatday

    I can assure you I’m not the photographer (he’s not the sort who would read PetaPixel to be honest). But I agree that’s where blame lies. I just want to make sure people know that this was intentional, it wasn’t the mistakes of a under prepared unit stills guy.

  • Jim

    lidocaineus: No no no no no YES… My point is that the photo world is full of folks like DL Cade who spend ENDLESS time slamming other people’s work yet do very little to no time improving their own work. Why is DL Cade wasting people’s time with this pointless critique? Like the ABC promo shots or not, go out and shoot you own work. Life will be better and you will be happier.

  • lidocaineus

    He’s free to critique it as he wants, and it’s his own free time. If we all followed your train of thought, the logical question to ask you is this – why are you wasting time yelling at someone on the internet instead of working on your photography? It’s an invalid question that has bearing on the actual content.

    Critique Cade’s opinion if you want – that’s a perfectly valid reaction or response. Critiquing his reasons for writing it, however, is a form of censorship, however mild, and again, an ad hominem attack (I suggest reading the article on ad hominems on wikipedia to understand why everything you’re saying is facetious). Speak to the subject, not the author’s character or motivations, which are irrelevant.

  • Chuck

    Forget the horrible blur/pull zoom.
    Is the lighting really that bad? Looks like backlight and main. Faces look dramatic and good to me.
    Please explain what is wrong with lighting?

  • bob cooley

    Just an opinion, but I’d say that the faces are too dark compared the to tone of the rest of the scene – the eye naturally focuses on the brighter areas of an image, which is why you typically would light (or dodge out) the skin a little in an exposure like this – its hard to see, but there also don’t appear to be any catchlights in the eyes, which typically makes the eyes look more alive (that special ‘spark’).

    My eyes wander to the backgrounds or the specular highlights on the armor, etc. while the faces seem lost in shadow comparatively. There is good exposure on the clothing, but the rest of the image in all cases are tonally a murky mess.

    The lighting might work better if they were closeups on the face – but with full length shots like this, the subject needs to not be lost in the darker tones.

  • Jim

    Keep it up, pal, you’re a broken record. Apparently you haven’t understood what I have written.

  • lidocaineus

    I understand completely what you’ve written – that DL Cade should stop criticizing other people’s work. Why? Because you said he should work on his own photography. If you don’t understand why that’s a completely invalid argument (hint: you are attacking the person, NOT his ideas), there’s literally no hope for having any intelligent discourse with you.

    If you really need an explanation, I’ll give you an example. If I said “You are an unintelligent moron with the debate facilities of a baboon. Your ideas may be completely correct, but they’re invalid because you’re an idiot, your output is poor quality, and you smell strange.”

    Would that be a convincing argument? Of course not. You’re doing exactly that.

  • Courtney Navey

    you’re wrong. the show and the photos suck…really suck.

  • Adam Cross

    hmm, they look like shots that might be used later on for a digital composite, for posters, banners, web promo stuff etc. I’m sure there was no intention to publish these photos as-is. which is why they were deleted from the site so quickly. I’m sure someone got fired.

  • dilly

    what about the show sucks?

  • Courtney Navey

    Everything. The green screens, the CGI, the acting, the storyline, the promotion…need I go on? American’s appetite for good TV is down the toilet. We need more content like Luther or Sherlock, the BBC version not the crappy CBS version.