How I got my my photographs into movies and TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy

How I got my my photographs into movies and TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy

In episode 10 of my podcast, I describe how I got my work into movies and TV shows (with full text)

Screen shot from season 16 of Grey’s Anatomy, featuring photographs by Keith Dotson on the wall of the set of Meredith Grey’s bedroom.

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Full text of the podcast is below:

In this episode I’ll break down for how I got my photographs onto TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, Melissa and Joey, and many others — and also into movies.

When I first started out selling photographic prints, I was selling solely on Etsy, and quickly learned that if I wanted to ever make any money in this “business,” I needed to find multiple streams of income.

There was a young lady whose work I admired, but even more, I admired her business acumen. Her name is Alicia Bock, and not only were her prints killing it on Etsy sales, but I remember seeing a post of hers somewhere with an announcement and a photo of her art as seen in one of the Sex and the City movies.

I remember having a “what???????” moment, and decided that was an avenue I wanted to pursue.

After some research, I identified two companies in Los Angeles that I wanted to contact. These are art companies that supply art to movie sets and TV shows like any other props. They work with set designers and art directors to deliver framed art on demand. And while you might think this is some kind of really well-planned out kind of thing, apparently these folks get last minute orders that must be delivered to sets same day or next day on a regular basis.

Anyways, I crafted a carefully worded but very brief email to both organizations, and included 10 low-resolution JPEGS that not only represented my work at the time, but also looked very cohesive as a mini-portfolio. My subject line made clear my purpose for emailing.  

I didn’t hear back from one of the two, but the other responded later the same afternoon. And she explained how the business works, and then went on to select a series of images she wanted to host on her website/catalog for set decorators to choose from.

Because of the need to deliver quickly, she asked for high-resolution files that she could print at her location and frame herself anytime an order came in. So, yes, as with many licensing opportunities, I had to take a leap-of-faith and hand over some high-rez files to a stranger.

Within a month, I got my first notice that my work had been selected by a TV show on a channel at that time called ABC Family, and it was Melissa and Joey, starring Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence. The show was doing a set redesign and placed three of my photographs on the staircase, which was a highly visible position of the set. These photos were seen in probably every episode after that, for three seasons, until the show ended in 2015. If you search Melissa and Joey set photos, you’ll find hundreds of examples with three large black and white photos on the staircase. Those are mine.

The cast of Melissa and Joey celebrates their 100th episode. Photo from Facebook. Photographs by Keith Dotson can be seen on the stairs.
The cast of Melissa and Joey celebrates their 100th episode. Photo from Facebook. Photographs by Keith Dotson can be seen on the stairs.

At this point, let me say, these photos were treated like props. I wasn’t highly paid and got no credits or anything else. If you’re a world famous artist, you might be treated differently, but for me, this turned out to be more of a PR event than a wealth-generating event. 

By now, in addition to Etsy, I had my own website at, where I was publishing portfolios and a blog. I posted articles about being featured on the show — and I have to say — this is a key point. You can exponentially expand any opportunity by making sure people can find you online. If people want to know whose photos they were seeing on TV, I made sure they found my website. I didn’t make a ton of money from Melissa and Joey, but I earned more money from print sales. I took it upon myself to maximize that visibility. 

And I’ve done it ever since, whether my work is in a TV show, movie, or on the walls of a popular restaurant. If someone asks “who shot that photo?” I want to be there on Google with the answer.

After Melissa and Joey, my work was picked up by more than a dozen advertisers, like DirectTV, Wendy’s, and there was a very high-profile ad for a COPD drug with a guy lying on a couch with an elephant siting on his chest. My work was on the wall behind.

This same agent also got my work onto Grey’s Anatomy. Wow — yes — Grey’s Anatomy, where it has appeared on the wall of Dr. Meredith Grey’s bedroom for a few seasons now. I think they first appeared in season 15, but the appearances were obscure or fleeting at best. Later, in subsequent seasons, my photos were seen full on. In one episode, Meredith grey was hosting one of the regular chat sessions in her bedroom, she was turned to look at the wallpaper just below my photos, focusing the viewers attention totally on the wall where my work was hanging.

This same agent also got my work into two movies. In the movie Why Him?, which starred James Franco, Bryan Cranston, and several other notable actors, my work was seen on a wall near the end of the film, sharing screen time with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the rock band Kiss.

And my work also appeared on the horrible movie Peppermint, starring Jennifer Garner.

A few years ago, my agent decided to focus more on art and turned her business into a full-fledged art gallery. She did occasionally show my work in her gallery but mostly she focused on contemporary LA artists. Then last year, she closed the gallery and that contact was lost.

However, last year I heard from art buyers for Tyler Perry studios in Atlanta. They bought rights to a handful of my photographs to appear in a new show, which turned out to be Sistas. In this case, with no intermediary, I was paid well for me work. Again, the power of being well represented on your own website — that’s how they found me. In this case, I sent files to a lab in Atlanta, which made the prints to be picked up by the art handlers for the show.

I don’t know what the needs will be going forward — or who you could approach to get your work into TV shows or movies, but I hope this episode will let you know that there are possibilities out there for your work. Just go get them. 

That’s all I’ve got for this episode. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you again soon.

— End —

Thanks for reading.

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~ Keith

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1 comment

  1. Thank you Keith! You know I’ve been waiting to hear this one! Thanks for sharing, I took notes..

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