How a Paparazzi Photographer Makes Money

How a Paparazzi Photographer Makes Money

The BBC has interviewed a renowned paparazzo and US photo editor, both of whom revealed details of making money through selling images of celebrities. They discuss the importance of knowing where famous people live, the changing royalty percentages, and the fight against other paparazzi for exclusive images.

A pap since 1990, Santiago Baez has documented it all. New babies, marriages, deaths, and… celebrities performing mundane tasks. Like many photographers, his income is never certain and often fluctuates.

Speaking to the BBC, he revealed the importance of knowing where celebrities live and hang out. Over the years, he’s built up a network who provide him with information, such as shop owners, cab drivers, etc. That being said, he claims in recent years many of the tip-offs come from the celebrity themselves, with many documenting their day live on social media.

Most pictures aren’t worth much, but a shot of a new baby, a celebrity kissing a new paramour, or a wedding can change fortunes overnight.

Photographers like Baez often sell pictures to an agency who has relationships with photo editors at a publication. As per the BBC, a paparazzo receives anywhere between 20% and 70% of the royalties from the image, depending on the deal. Rates can vary dependent on the photographer exclusively selling their pictures to just one agency.

Peter Grossman, photo editor at Us Weekly from 2003 to 2017, told the same BBC reporter he once paid “mid six figures” for a number of photos of Twilight actress Kristen Stewart embracing married film director Rupert Sanders.

Grossman reminisces on the “gold rush years,” referring to the “Just Like Us” section which involved pictures of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan doing everyday errands, which always proved a hit with readers. He said:

Although the price of a photograph depended on what the celebrity was doing and whether it was an exclusive, at the gold rush peak, an exclusive “Just Like Us” picture would typically fetch $5,000 to $15,000.

The danger came, he says, when the popularity of such images caused an influx of paparazzi taking increased risks in trying to obtain celebrity exclusives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gold rush lost much of its value with the rise of the internet and social media.

Many photo agencies changed their business model. Rather than a pay-per-photo approach, many offered a subscription service. Naturally, paparazzi are paid a small fraction of the subscription fee dependent on the number of their pictures being used each month. An exclusive “Just Like Us” photo that would formerly paid $5,000 to $15,000 now pays only $5 or $10.

The pressure is on, now more than ever, to catch that exclusive moment.

Read the BBC’s full story here.

Lead image credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr CC.

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12 Comments

Rod Kestel's picture

I wonder, without evidence, whether a necessary trait of a paparazzi is to be a sociopath. Their fodder are the lives of other people who they mercilessly chase. And the more unscripted, resented the photo is, the better it pays.

I couldn't do it.

I've never understood why anyone cares so much about this stuff. "To each their own" and all of that but I've never had anyone explain it to me in a way I can understand.

Its a job. No more no less.

Duane Klipping's picture

To me these people should not get recognition for what they do. They prey on the rich and famous to make a buck not based on their skills as a photographer but as stalkers.

The ruch and famous thrive on the publicity. Thats how they stay relevant.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Paparazzi are one of the few reasons that I wish that an afterlife was real. There's no question that they'd all go to hell.

Oh please. You make it sound as bad as being a child molester. Chill.out.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Oh, they go to the deeper levels of hell. But hopefully not before being tortured while alive.

lol melodramatic much?

Papping a celebrity is the very essence of celebrity itself. Celebrities pretending to be angry at paps is all part of the game. "Real" photographers who declare their disgust towards paps need to dwell on the part of the vid that notes most pap situations are the result of the celebrity themselves notifying the paps of time and place for the next "pap session".
It's easy for celebrities to avoid being papped, if they want to. The thing is that very few want to. But if you're a celeb, and don't want to be papped as part of your celebrity, it's easy ... e.g. - when was the last time you saw a pap photo of (for example) Colbie Caillat?

Rod Kestel's picture

Some celebs are definitely narcissists craving attention but there are many just like we photogs, who want to do something good but their work happens to involve being highly visible.

I watched major star at ComicCon, and everything about him said 'introvert'. Hugely talented on screen, but clearly uncomfortable with people staring at him. Mind you, I never read gossip trash so I don't know if he's ever been papped.