Photographing Celebrities

Meet & Greet with conference attendee and General Colin Powell

Working with Celebrity

One of the many unexpected perks of working as an event photographer in San Diego and Las Vegas is how many celebrities I meet and get to work with. In my experience celebrities might be movie stars, entertainers, athletes, authors, and even CEO’s. Honestly, where they come from matters little. My goal is to treat any celebrity I work with the same amount of respect and professionalism I would treat any of my clients. The difference with celebrities is to respect the demands on their time and be flexible to their needs. While many rules of photography are specific and concrete, learning to be professional and deal with celebrities is not a skill that comes with clear instructions. What makes the best event photographers successful is not just skill of the craft, but how those photographers deal with people. Event photographers are in the people business after all, and celebrities are people. So here are my thoughts on working with celebrity and some tips I have picked up along the way.

Peyton Manning speaking and posing with attendees at a corporate event in Aspen, CO.

Be On Time, Better Yet, Be Early

Being on time means being early enough to make sure you have plenty of time to setup and prepare. In my experience, there are always obstacles to setting up despite how well you may know the venue or how sure you are that you have everything you need. Being early enough to setup depends on how much work you need to do to prepare. Just make sure to give yourself extra time.

Celebrities are almost never on time, but never count on that. I honestly can’t remember a time when a celebrity or politician has been on time. This is not an indictment of the person, but more about the busy schedules they keep. Celebrities are constantly delayed, so be efficient, don’t waste their time, setup early and plan for things to go wrong.

The better prepared you are, the happier your client, and your guest will be.

Comedian Jay Leno hugging a couple during a meet & greet in front of a gold backdrop.

Be flexible When Working with Celebrities

You have probably already noticed, but there are two factors that I keep talking about, flexibility and timeliness. They work hand in hand to help you manage the time you are with the celebrity. Efficiency is a combination of these two elements. Greet them and get started. I like to introduce myself and go right into explaining the setup up, what they can expect and where we plan on starting. But while I like to get started as quickly as possible, it is important that you analyze the situation and be respectful. Don’t interrupt, be overbearing or inappropriate. Timing is everything. Celebrities may want to chat or take a moment to catch their breath and gather themselves. Others may want to get right to it, so be prepared for both.

Flexibility is important. One celebrity I worked with had her own ideas about my lighting setup. After spending several hours setting up and perfecting my lighting, she arrived, introduced herself and promptly rearranged my main light to a position she preferred. I’ll be honest, it irked me, but she wasn’t rude about it and in the end, the change did not make much of a difference either way. She left happy with the shoot and the experience and the clients who hired me were thankful that I remained flexible and professional. I earned that clients trust and was hired for several more shoots after that.

Senator Hillary Clinton and husband, President Bill Clinton posing and shaking hands with constituents.

Ultimately, You Are in Charge. Control the Shoot

Celebrities are inundated with attention, good and bad, so be understanding of that. Some are nice, some are not. Celebrities can be diva’s, photographers want to be diva’s, but as a professional event photographer, you don’t get to be a diva if you want to keep your clients happy. Keeping celebrities happy will keep your clients happy. Some will take charge, others will expect you too. Listen to them, they have been through this many times before. Having said that, you are in charge. You need to use professionalism and tact to manage the shoot to the best of your ability. The kind of shoot will dictate what you can and can’t do to keep things rolling as efficiently as possible.

Greet them and get started. In my fifteen years of experience, I have never met a celebrity who arrived to a shoot and wanted to have a lengthy discussion with me about anything. What I have been asked after a smile and a handshake is “where to you want me” or “give me a few minutes to get ready”. My response to the first one is to show them their spot and to quickly explain the process in as few words as possible. The approach to the second statement is to wait until they are ready and then show them to their spot and quickly explain the process in as few words as possible. Get it?

Rick Harrison, signs a book and poses with an attendee during a corporate event.

Grip & Grins

A grip and grin, as defined by me, is a photo line where the celebrity will stand in a specific spot and one at time, shake hands and take a photo with attendees, or VIP’s designated by your client. These can be large or small groups and generally last anywhere from 10 minutes to at most an hour. One of the biggest challenges to you and your celebrities time are those people who want to talk with the talent. People get excited, some are star struck, but most are respectful and move on quickly. Some however, will monopolize as much time as they can and seem oblivious to everything but the chance to speak with someone famous. I control this situation by remaining polite and using verbal cues such as “next” and “thank you” as a way to indicate we are done and to move the guest along. You can also corral an event coordinator to help you move people along. Keep in mind that how you keep the line moving depends on the attitude of the celebrity and his or her patience and temperament.

As an example, I have worked several times with a General and Secretary of State who is a pro at the grip and grin. All I have to do is tell him where to stand and then be ready to snap the shot. He pulls the guest in, tells them to smile, and sends them on their way with a firmness and warm smile that leaves everyone feeling good every time. I have also worked with a late night talk show host who is warm, he hugs, jokes, and talks with his fans so long that we end up going way over every time. But his enthusiasm and kindness are infectious and fun. I have also worked with a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who was nice, but awkward and I had to keep people moving along because he seemed uncomfortable doing so. The lesson here is to respect the celebrity and be flexible to how they want to handle it. Use your observations to your advantage to help keep control of the shoot. Again, the most important thing you can do is be prepared, have a backup plan for equipment failures and be flexible and professional while respecting the celebrity and your clients wishes.

Speaker of the House, John Boehner poses with a group of executives during a conference in San Diego.

Meet and Greets

The best way to describe a meet and greet is selected VIP’s will be in a room designated by your event planner or client. The celebrity will arrive and mingle with the guests for an allotted amount of time. Generally 30-45 minutes. These can be simple affairs or larger cocktail style receptions. You do not have a lot of control over this kind of celebrity event. During a meet and greet, I like to shadow the celebrity and be responsive to photo opportunities while not being creepy. I am respectful and get the shots without being pushy or obnoxious. I don’t overshoot, and try to find a balance. I anticipate and place myself at angles and in positions so that I can get the best shots quickly. It’s important to be vigilant and observant and take clues from the celebrity so as not to annoy while still getting the job done.

It is important to mention the privacy of the celebrity here as well.  Be conscious of circumstances while you shoot and avoid taking shots if the celebrity seems uncomfortable or is in a compromising position. This doesn’t have to be anything bad or obvious. Simple considerations such as don’t shoot if they are eating or otherwise not on guard. They may wave you off or frown at the presence of the camera. Be aware and respectful during these times and give the celebrity some space. As a professional event photographer, you are not paparazzi. Your job is to photograph the celebrity at their best, and in a professional and dignified manner.

Marie Osmond posing for the camera during a lifestyle, commercial photo shoot for promoting healthy eating.

Photo Shoots

Everything we have discussed applies here with the main difference being that you are in the spotlight here. I won’t go into much detail here but suffice to say these can be the most stressful shoots but most rewarding. I will share my thoughts on photo shoots in a future post.

Steve Forbes and Executive smiling and posing for the camera during a book signing event.

Final Thoughts

You will almost never be hired by the celebrity themselves. You will be hired by event planners or coordinators and therefore you will be a representative of the event company who hires you as well as the company sponsoring the event. As an illustration, Major Events Inc. is an event company that is planning and organizing a sales convention for their client, Big Corporation United. They have booked super star athlete Johnny Colorado to be present for photos during a meet and greet with Big Corporations 50 top salesman. You are representing your self, Major Events and  Big Corporation and everyone wants the shoot to go perfect. With a celebrity involved, the spot light will be on you and you are ultimately responsible for the success of the shoot, regardless of any other factor. Be prepared and be flexible.

About

Now based out of San Diego, John Morris has been a successful corporate event photographer in Las Vegas for the past 15 years. John also teaches and coaches photography and business to aspiring photographers.