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

Awesome work & awesome article & insight. What else I really love is that there is not one moaning, bitching, hater in all the comments, excellent !

Lorenzo P's picture

You guys should check out my work and let me know what you think http://lorenzopphotography.com/

Hi Douglas! Great article. I am based in Vienna/Austria and it seems I´m in the same boat as you. I am doing portraits of indie bands and most of the time I am choosing my analog Hasselblad and using available light. Sometimes I also have my flash with me. But as you said, most likely not more than 10min time for the shot. By the way, amazing portfolio of you!

http://blog.matthiashombauer.com/best-of-portraits-2012/

Hi Douglas! Great article. I am based in Vienna/Austria and it seems I´m in the same boat as you. I am doing portraits of indie bands and most of the time I am choosing my analog Hasselblad and using available light. Sometimes I also have my flash with me. But as you said, most likely not more than 10min time for the shot. By the way, amazing portfolio of you!

http://blog.matthiashombauer.com/best-of-portraits-2012/

Jarrett Gaza's picture

A few years back I had a session with Tim Mcgraw for "AOL Sessions" The shoot was in between taping for AOL. When my time came Tim's manager said "you have 4 minutes" I just looked at him and said " I've been doing this for 25 years, I only need 2 minutes. Everyone cracked up, We got 30 minutes. http://www.jarrettgaza.com/

Jarrett Gaza's picture

A few years back I had a session with Tim Mcgraw for "AOL Sessions" The shoot was in between taping for AOL. When my time came Tim's manager said "you have 4 minutes" I just looked at him and said " I've been doing this for 25 years, I only need 2 minutes. Everyone cracked up, We got 30 minutes. http://www.jarrettgaza.com/

Awesome post, great images :)

Douglas Sonders's picture

thanks!

Really love the tone of the images. Very inspiring!

WOW!! Super Nice!

What a great article! Thanks for the information/inspiration. I do have a question. if you are doing multiple set ups in such a short time, do you have multiple sets of lights at the various locations? It seems it would take more than 10 minutes to unplug, carry, set up and shoot the next shots.
Thanks again!

frank nazario's picture

first and foremost I would like to say... you rock dude. Awesome work, awesome work. went to your website and i was very very pleased with what i saw. congrats.

Douglas Sonders's picture

thanks!

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