3 Minutes Of Setup And 2 Shutter Clicks : The Reality Of Celebrity Portraiture

3 Minutes Of Setup And 2 Shutter Clicks : The Reality Of Celebrity Portraiture

Recently, I was hired by a corporate client to take the portrait of Rod Stewart here in New York City before a concert. After a day of pre-planning logistics, 4 cancellations/reschedules (same day), and 3 location changes, the shoot finally happened... and it took place in two shutter clicks. Now, this is not a complaint post or to prove what an intense shoot this was. This is merely the stark reality of what it's like to shoot celebrity portraits. You have to be ready for anything.

 

2 shutter clicks with my Phase One IQ140 and the new Schneider 75-150 Leaf Shutter lens and a single strobed octobox 2 shutter clicks with my Phase One IQ140 and the new Schneider 75-150 Leaf Shutter lens and a single strobed octobox

When I was a young shooter, fresh out of RIT with photo degree in hand nearly 10 years ago, all I wanted to do was shoot cars, rock stars, and celebrities and nothing else. Come to think of it, some of you that follow my various forms of social media may think that's all I seem to shoot, but it's definitely not. I learned that shooting celebrities has its entertainment value, so to speak, looks great in your portfolio (corporate clients love hiring the guy to shoot for them that also photographed Justin Bieber or interviewed Lady Gaga haha), but certainly isn't the most compelling work in my portfolio. Why? Because I only had 5 to ten minutes to do most of those shoots.

Put yourselves in the shoes of a celebrity music artist, for example. You've been on the road for weeks, haven't had a full night of sleep, and have people constantly bugging you, yelling, crying, laughing in your direction. You are constantly in the spotlight and crave some time to yourself. It's the day of a concert, for example, and before you entertain 10,000+ people for hours that night, you have to do various interviews, meetings, negotiations, phone calls, all while trying to juggle your personal life. Now here you are: in the midst of an insane day, you have to stop everything and pose in front of a camera and pretend to look cool/happy/intense (whatever your personal image and brand may be). For you as a busy artist, unless its a promo photoshoot for your album, this shoot probably isn't high on your priority list of your incredibly hectic day. You'd want to be out of there as soon as possible, and who would blame them considering the situation?

As a photographer, you have to keep all of this in mind. It may stink that you have been moved around a bunch of times, or even rescheduled, but this is how it is in this world. You have to keep your calm and be prepared to adapt. In fact, adaptation is a LARGE part of what keeps you hired to shoot celebrity portraits. Apple started hiring me to do celebrity portraits for itunes awhile back because they knew that no matter what, I could get a promo shoot done for them in 10 minutes or less. I mean, would I love more time to setup and shoot and connect with an artist? Of course, but again, schedules don't usually allow for this. You have to be the guy/girl that will get a nice clean sharp shot very fast and very efficiently.

You also have to keep in mind that a celebrity is under a lot of pressure and lives a fairly surreal high-pressure life constantly in the spotlight. Sure, I've had good and bad experiences with celebrities. Most have been really nice and some have been downright cruel to me and/or my crew. Again, it comes with the territory. You just have to keep your cool, but also know when to hold your ground.

DS_RodStewart
When planning out your portrait(s), try and keep things as simple as possible logistically. Like the Rod Stewart shoot I just did, you have to be prepared to up and move your setup fast in case their is a sudden last minute change. For my initial setup with Mr. Stewart, I had a three light configuration ready to shoot, but I used a large octobox as the main light in case I had to move last minute. I knew an octobox or large softbox could create a "safe" pleasing light, even if used just on its own due to a quick location switch. This is also a perfect reason for having a helper or assistant with you. I had two helpers on set that helped move lights and sandbags and hold my extra lenses in case I needed something right away.

The following is very important! You want to have your lights and exposure and camera settings ready by the time they walk onto set. If you're not ready, or have to do more than 1 test shot, you may lose their attention or lose them altogether because they will walk off set. Besides, time is money whether it is a celebrity or not. No need to waste anybody's time not being ready to shoot before your subject is in front of your camera.

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Again, let me reiterate, this is not a complaint post. I am happy to have these powerful people in my portfolio and have really great stories from my shoots that I hope to put in a book some day. To all of you aspiring celebrity shooters of all ages, I want you to know what's in store (the good and the bad) and how to be prepared before to walk on set.

Also, don't ask for autographs or photos with the artist or celebrity unless they seem completely game for it. In most cases, the minute you ask for an autograph, you shift from being a fellow professional doing their job to just another fan. That's just my personal opinion though. I have never asked for an autograph and only RARELY get a photo with an artist unless they verbally offer it.

Many times a publicist or rep will review your images after a shoot and will delete or tell you that you can only use X amount of particular shots from your session. This is fairly normal. You sort of have to learn to accept this part of the business with celebrity work. You can complain all you want, but this won't get you hired to do another shoot anytime soon. When working for a magazine or corporate client (in comparison to a promo shoot of the artist for a music label or publicist), I often let my art directors handle the battle of what images are "approved" for use with the publicists or handlers. It's not your place to make demands as a photographer in this situation, but you can politely suggest some of your personal favorites from the shoot.

After photographing professionally for 10 years, my career goals have grown and changed and I learned that career joy does not come from celebrity portraits alone as I originally thought. Celebrity work is a great challenge and can be a lot of fun and very exciting. It looks good in your portfolio and it shows you can be trusted to handle yourself in high pressure situations with VIP's. In fact, these high pressure portraits have trained me to be a faster and more efficient shooter on set.

My celebrity work may not be my most compelling, but it has opened up doors to other endeavors and personal work where I can be more creative, have more control, and have a bit more TIME to work. As I mentioned above, people outside of entertainment often get excited to hire or work with a photographer that captured XYZ celebrity.

Below are some examples of quick celebrity shoots I've had to do. I would love for some of you to share your images and stories in the comments below! You can see more of my entertainment photos and my OTHER work on my website HERE. You can also see more behind the scenes of my celebrity shoots on my blog.

Justin Bieber: Shoot was less than 10 minutes total for 2 locations. This photo was 2 lights. One softbox and a ring light Justin Bieber: Shoot was less than 10 minutes total for 2 locations. This photo was 2 lights. One softbox and a ring light

 

 

Blink 182: 4 covers and 8 pages of inside magazine content on 3 different backdrops in less than 30 minutes Blink 182: 4 covers and 8 pages of inside magazine content on 3 different backdrops in less than 30 minutes. It was originally supposed to be 4 hours.

 

Note the variety of shots I had to get, and I only had one small room in the back of a recording studio to use Blink 182: Note the variety of shots I had to get, and I only had one small room in the back of a recording studio to use

 

travis_MG_0201 Blink 182: Note the variety of shots I had to get, and I only had one small room in the back of a recording studio to use

 

Lady Antebellum: Sweet people, but only 10 minutes for 3 separate locations indoors and outside. Lady Antebellum: Sweet people, but only 10 minutes for 3 separate locations indoors and outside.

 

Another from the Lady A shoot. I loved how these came out for such a fast shoot. I asked the stage tech to fog the stage to add some more ambient glow to the background Another from the Lady A shoot. I loved how these came out for such a fast shoot. I asked the stage tech to fog the stage to add some more ambient glow to the background

 

Usher: True pro, this guy. He made it easy, but 3 setups in 10 minutes indoors and out Usher: True pro, this guy. He made it easy, but 3 setups in 10 minutes indoors and out

 

Adrian Grenier (Entourage): 2 setups inside and outside in 10 minutes Adrian Grenier (Entourage): 2 setups inside and outside in 10 minutes

 

Selena Gomez: 10 minutes. This was a 6 light setup, but I had everything perfectly ready before she walked onto set Selena Gomez: 10 minutes. This was a 6 light setup, but I had everything perfectly ready before she walked onto set

 

Jessie J: 3 setups in 10 minutes. Thankfully I found this room of pianos in the building of the venue for a cool location. Jessie J: 3 setups in 10 minutes. Thankfully I found this room of pianos in the building of the venue for a cool location. 2 light setup that was easy to move around and adapt.

 

Another Jessie J shot. Same location, completely different setup Another Jessie J shot. Same location, completely different setup

 

Jessie J setup #3. Remember, all 3 setups done in about 10-15 minutes or so total Jessie J setup #3. Remember, all 3 setups done in about 10-15 minutes or so total

 

Flo Rida: 5 minutes Flo Rida: 5 minutes

 

Thomas Dolby: Magazine cover and interior portrait in less than 10 minutes. Setup a studio in the venue Thomas Dolby: Magazine cover and interior portrait in less than 10 minutes. Setup a studio in the venue

 

Kelly Rowland : 2 setups in about 10 minutes. This shot was a one light setup Kelly Rowland : 2 setups in about 10 minutes. This shot was a one light setup

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out my other articles on Fstoppers! http://fstoppers.com/author/douglas-sonders

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73 Comments

Love this, great quality in the images/lighting. Not sure I'd be able to keep up under that sort of pressure.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Thanks!

Jens Marklund's picture

You should call your portfolio something like "Two hours of photography". Who do you get to model for the test shots? Are the PR or whatever person with them willing to just stand there for some light tests?

www.Jensmarklund.com

Douglas Sonders's picture

that would be amateur hour stuff to make the publicist stand in for test shots. haha. Though they may stand around to see your test shots before the artist walks on set. Id bring at least 1 helper on set to move gear and stand-in for test shots

Antonio Carrasco's picture

lol, yeah definitely make the publicist stand in for lighting tests. That would be a great idea.

Wait...Rod Stewart is still a celebrity?

Douglas Sonders's picture

Hey, he was on Howard Stern and Good Morning America this week. That counts to me! He's promoting his new album

Brian Wright's picture

The man is smooth.....

Ralph Hightower's picture

Rod is a celebrity in my opinion; I grew up listening to Rock in the late 60's, 70's. I don't even know what's on the radio these days since I listen to the classic rock music channels on satelitte radio.
As Ozzie Osborne asked in a Super Bowl commercial, "What's a Bieber?" I'd have to ask the same thing of Lady Gaga.

+1

Great article Douglas. Definite eye opener and 'must read' for anyone who ever has an opportunity to do one of these shoots.

Hey Doug, great work. Had a couple of questions about this sentence- "Many times a publicist or rep will review your images after a shoot and will delete or tell you that you can only use X amount of particular shots from your session." You still own the rights to all of these images though correct? You can use whatever images on your own website that you like (your favorites) barring any type of time exclusives etc... in the agreement right? They're not deleting the images off your card are they?

Not that I know for sure, but it seems that the publicist/PR person has a say, based on the contract. I would think the contracts would be full of legal jargon to protect the celeb's brand, including some increased level of approval for what shots could be used. Just because you created the images, in this case, doesn't mean you control them in the same manner as you would shooting a model for her portfolio or a wedding...

My understading when you are getting paid is that the rights for use and distribution should have been stated beforehand in the photo contract. If that is not the case usually who pays the photos owns the photos and rights, you where just the tool to get them, now if you work your charm with the rep you can come to some type of agreement to use some preselected photos after the campaign or event has been launched and only those photos.... hope this helps.

The mark of a true professional. Great work! Those high pressure situations are a rush, especially seeing the results afterwards.

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