Thursday, February 28, 2008

Getting Lucky with Celebrities...

Unless you're a celebrity photographer like Annie Lebowitz, getting good pictures of famous people can be really tough. Many genuinely famous people are already not kindly disposed toward photographers they don't know...and with good cause.

Getting that perfect shot is tough. Unlike Annie, who can take time and enlist famous faces in helping her make THE portrait, we have seconds...and it has to be perfect.

Here are a few tips you may want to consider if you are going after a Famous Person To Photograph:

1) Try to catch them in an unguarded moment at a public event. I still remember seeing a picture of Liv Tyler, pushing a stroller through Central Park. She's smiling patiently at the camera and you can feel a little bit of what it must be like to be her. She can't even take her kid to the park without being photographed. I don't consider this to be a "public event."

Here's Kevin Bacon. He was being interviewed on an early morning news show. He was there to be seen. I took a number of pictures of him there...and waded through them until I found one I liked. There's an odd expression on his face and each time I look at this picture, I wonder what he was thinking about.

It's what I mean by "unguarded." He doesn't have a "footloose" smile on for the camera, but there's something going on in his mind.
I like this pic a lot. In many compelling portrait shots the subject ISN'T looking at the camera. When you get that second in real life, it can make for a very strong image.

A minute later, he put his sunglasses on and headed out.

Of course you need to shoot and keep shooting. You will need to wade through a LOT of photos to get the one that really works. Think of it as "Forcing the Fluke Great Shot."

2) Try to get your subject doing something they really like. Living in Edmonton has it's advantages. The Edmonton Grand Prix is one of them. Why? Because Hollywood icon Paul Newman likes the champ cars -- and is in partnership with McDonald's on one of the teams.

I waited all day in the hot sun for an opportunity to get a good photograph. Most of them were of the back of his head...his hand reaching for water. But my patience was rewarded when his driver won the race -- and he came out of his command center with a genuine smile on his face. It's a real emotion on a famous face.

You can kinda see Cool Hand Luke peering back at you. Or maybe Butch Cassidy...or........?
My point is that in that second, as Newman made his way toward to little red scooter he uses to get around on at Grand Prix events, the guy was genuinely happy. And that is what makes the picture work for me. Leathery skin, oversize sunglasses and all.

3) Make sure your lens is clean, that you have batteries charged and that you have chosen your spot with great care. I think it is SORT of like a hunt. Like any hunter, you need to be completely ready for that one second. And in that one second your equipment, your concentration and your angle have to be perfect. Just think of how you'd feel if you raised the camera to your eye and saw you have a dead battery -- or your thumbprint on the lens.

4) Canadians are polite...mostly. When photographing celebrities, act like a Canadian. Think about it: how would YOU feel if someone you didn't know started taking pictures of you or your kids? Celebrities are the same way...only their sensitivity is heightened. They have no idea what you plan to do with the pictures. If they ask you to stop...stop.

5) Don't be afraid to try a fresh angle. Harry Smith goes into millions of homes each morning. Since much of his show is taped outside it's easy to get pictures of him looking exactly like you'd expect him to. I had time to think about how this shot needed to be composed. I wanted him looking off-frame with the "context" (a fancy way of saying "the place where he is doing what he does") behind him. I lined myself up and waited. I think this photo is more interesting than the standard "index finger on the chin" shot most other people were taking.

The camera off to the left of the frame -- as well as the people in the background are all out of focus. Only the subject is sharply defined and he looks intent on something. It's a use of negative space to create a context...and to make a statement about the subject.
Celebrity pictures can be wonderful. I enjoy looking at them because if the picture is taken properly, you can look at a well known face and see them in a REAL moment. And in that flash of a second you need to press hard on the shutter button and hope your planning and work will pay off.