Photographing Richard Harrison: The Softer Side of Pawn Stars

Photographing Richard Harrison: The Softer Side of Pawn Stars

For reasons unknown, I receive many calls to photograph pseudo reality TV shows more than almost anything other than athletic campaigns. Like sports, I try not to watch the shows I photograph. It is not out of disrespect for what the celebs and athletes are doing, but rather I want to remain distant from the connotations put upon them from commentators or editors. As much as we’d all like to believe that everything about a reality TV show is real, it is often far from it. The shows must be interesting and engaging, and standing around a pawn shop in real life is often contradicting to both of these.

However, when I got the call to fly out to Vegas and photograph the Richard Harrison from Pawn Stars, I was going into a situation that was somewhat unfamiliar as I watched the show pretty commonly. It was one of those shows that I could get work done around the house while i had it on in the background and never really miss much. I have always been a history and museum type of person, and on the show it was like walking through the exhibits that never were. This also meant that going into the photoshoot I knew the characters, and in effect knew I was going to photograph a crotchety old man….. or so it would seem.

Pawn Stars photographed by Blair Bunting


Upon arriving at the shop I found myself to be a bit taken back by how common it was. Other than the back of the shop where Pawn Stars merchandise is sold, it is a pawn shop, nothing more. Being a watch collector, I was hoping that the fame that national exposure brought them would bring along with it some nice timepieces, of which I thought I might pick one up for memento’s sake. However, it was a sea of ordinary horology, almost telling the stories of lives gambled away in the casinos down the street. There were family heirloom Rolexes that had seen many anniversaries and grandchildren, yet were pawned for a mere pittance in a final effort to earn back assets lost. The quick walk of the shop left me feeling nostalgically sad for what culminations led to the merchandise.

After a few minutes the producer came and told me that the old man would like to see me, and that we could start getting ready for the shoot. In all honesty, I was apprehensive of what the next couple hours of my life would bring. Opting to not go right into shooting, I chose to sit down with the Old Man, and talk to him, get to know the non-celebritised person with hopes to develop a report that would show in my images. As is many times the case with talking to a celebrity, I learned more about who I was in the efforts I took to learn who he is. Beneath all the gripes on the show and the almost iron fist that he rules the shop with, he is a very soft, kind person. I had just lost my grandfather a couple months before the shoot, yet sitting in a small room talking about cars, family, life, it was as though I were being allowed to have a conversation with him again. It was also very familiar to me from the days that I shot The Deadliest Catch, because the compassion for family mirrored that of Captain Phil’s love for his sons.

I then started to realize that people like the Old Man and Captain Phil existed on a level of character that prevailed regardless of cameras of fame. While so many have given their lives over to the proverbial “15 minutes”, these men were of a generation of bona fides, where legacy meant more than worth. Irony thrives in the idea that the shows we watch now seem to have diluted a real creed by exploiting a false reality.

From a technical standpoint for those of you curious, the lighting for this shoot was pretty simple with just an umbrella camera right, a reflector opposite on camera left, and back lit with the sun. I was shooting with a Nikon D3x and the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8.

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Mike Kelley's picture

THE OLD MAN!! Great post, and love the shot. It just oozes character.

I have an unhealthy addiction to this show. 

Awesome little read, Blair. Thanks!

Jason Vinson's picture

the flash was camera right? from the shadows, it looks to be from overhead? 

it may have been higher than the subject, but given the shadowing and texture shown, it is DEFINITELY to the side of him.

Jason Vinson's picture

how do the shadows DEFINITELY indicate that the light is to the side? the shadow under this nose, lower lip, and chin is pointed directly down. the shadows for his smile lines and wrinkles under his eyes have the same shadows on the right and the left, and the light falloff on the side of his head are the same on the right and left and his ears have the exact same lighting...  

Mike Pianka's picture

I agree, looks like overhead to me. Those shadows and highlights just don't make sense with the explanation. 

Andrew Griswold's picture

This is amazing! Absolutely love your work and thats great to hear the guys not all grunts and groans like the show portrays. I am really loving the simple light setup for this shot. I will be out in Phoenix for a senior shoot in April and really glad to see there are simple light setups like this that create such stunning results. I will see what my 60D, reflector and 430exii can do! Thanks for the article and appreciate the push to a more simple setup for a great shot. 

Blair Bunting's picture

Hey guys, just wanted to say thank you, I really appreciate it.


I hate being the dissenting voice...the lighting and processing are all well and good..but he seems scrunched?!

Have you seen the show? He always looks like that. It's part of his character. 

I have..he's not that scrunched.

He's scrunched here

Jason Vinson's picture

 i think its his hat and the shadow of his hat hiding most of his forehead.

Kelly Shipp's picture

Great personality photo.  It could almost pass as an environmental portrait, since you included it in the background. Nice work. 

i love this man, his eyes always look like their closed

Great work Blair.

Phillip's picture

Why are you showing an inaccurate lighting topo? The main light is straight overhead. 

Blair Bunting's picture

The diagram is a bit off as I didn't have time to make it (was on set) so Jaron tried to help out with it. The key is a bit bigger 64" and is closer to subject slight over head, but not as to brim rock his eyes.

Phillip's picture

Diagram errors aside, it's a fun image. The lack of muscle resiliency in his aged face and eyes, whether you enhanced that or not, adds a lot of character to the shot. The processing works well.

Blair, great shot, and interesting article.  The finished portrait looks great, and perfectly illustrates his personality.  What kind of post processing did you do?