How to Become a Celebrity Photographer

Photography, in general, is a competitive field. There are many amateurs and professionals hunting for gigs in all areas of photography, and only a few are able to make a good living off the profession. The celebrity photography niche is not an exception. There are many who want to work with famous people and models, whether it is portraiture or event photography. Another option is also the paparazzi path, which can be a great source of income if you have the right type of personality for it, and especially if you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

So what does it take to become a celebrity photographer? Besides great photography and business skills, probably quite a bit of guts and connections. If you are not already well connected, which most of us aren’t, you will need to do a lot of cold calling to agents in the beginning. You might even have to do some work for free to develop an excellent portfolio, which will get you hired in the future. But it’s not all bad news! Once you get your foot in the door, it can be a really exciting career, where you will meet interesting personalities, get to do what you love and make money for it.

Here are some facts about celebrity photography.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Lora Warnick

Lora Warnick Photography

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years Active:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Lora Warnick
  • New Milford, CT
  • 4
  • Lora Warnick Photography
  • @lorawarnick

I have a degree in Construction Management, believe it or not! I am a self-taught photographer with no formal education in the field. I also work full-time as a project coordinator at a theatre design consulting firm.

My average workday, four days a week, is spent at my job as a project coordinator at Theatre Projects Consultants. But, on those days, I do editing and marketing at night for my photography business, which keeps me busy on Thursdays and the weekends. On those days I am shooting 1-2 clients a day, an event, and/or editing photos. I create vision boards, handle administrative tasks and update my website as well.

What I love most about my job is meeting such a variety of people. The personalities, looks, nationalities, and stories they tell me give me new perspectives about human beings and about our insecurities, our passions, and how we interact with others. Each shoot is different! The concept is the same; I take their photos while getting to know them so I can capture their true selves. That is the fun part. I think anyone can take a photograph, but you must be able to shoot a person and capture who they are. Honestly, there is nothing I dislike about being a celebrity photographer! Truly!

Advice

Know the right people
My advice for someone who is interested in being a celebrity photographer is to put yourself out there at events, particularly where there are publicists whom you can network with. The number one way I’ve gotten celeb clients is simply by contacting them directly or through their PR agent. I’ve done quite a few selective complimentary shoots just to build my portfolio and relations. Trust me, it’s worth it; especially when you are just starting out.

Get your portfolio ready
Make sure your website is on point. When you make contact with someone, they will be checking out your work. If you want to get into celeb photography, don’t post a ton of landscapes. Make your mark with what you want to be doing as a large portion of your work that is displayed.

Learn how things work
As far as education to be a celebrity photographer, there are a lot of great schools out there to get you started, but I believe hands-on experience will be key. Learn the basics, and practice, practice, practice. Watch videos. Creativelive.com is wonderful. Learn everything about your camera. Join camera clubs in your town. There will be a huge variety of skill levels of photographers there. Find one that matches the type of work you want to do and shadow them. Offer to assist at shoots. I have done work as a still photographer on a movie set, not because I wanted to get into that area of photography, but because the contacts I met were priceless, as well as learning new ways of lighting that were different than what I was using. For me, it’s these types of experiences that provide a great education.

Get your name out there
Getting your foot in the door as a celebrity photographer just requires patience, hard work, and time. Once you have built your portfolio of portraiture and have it on a website for connections to view, start reaching out to publicists and offer to cover celebrity events, or contact a local magazine and ask to cover their events as well or assist at their photoshoots. Email local news stations and ask to do photos of an anchor you are interested in shooting. Make it worthwhile to the celebrity – they don’t have a lot of time for shoots that won’t benefit them. Team up with a blogger in your area and offer to do photos of a celebrity to run with an interview they do with them. Think out of the box. The key is to get your name out there. Stay professional at all times. Keep your word. It’s a small industry in the end, and you need to keep your reputation as a professional a good one.

Chad Finley

Chad Finley Photography

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years Active:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
I studied Graphic Design & Photography at Florida A&M University where I received a BA in Graphic Design.

Since I’m running a business, my days vary, but it normally consist of checking emails and making phone calls in the morning, doing shoots mid-day, and editing photos in the evening.

I enjoy interacting with my clients on-set. I also enjoy being on-set and the physical process of shooting. There isn’t anything I dislike about my career; I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and being as satisfied as I am. I do wish I would’ve known exactly how expensive photography is. There’s so much equipment that goes into photography; it’s endless and not cheap!

Advice

Do your research
Know your craft. And make sure that it’s a true passion of yours, because that’s what keeps you up late at night working/studying to push yourself to the next level throughout your career.

Stay connected
As far as becoming a “celebrity photographer”, it’s all about relationships you build with people who work in the entertainment industry and magazine publications. They are the ones who connect you with the celebrities. You just have to get out and hustle and make those connections. But you do have to build yourself a strong portfolio before attempting to make those connections.

What Are My Study Options?


Photography is an artistic field that looks more at your portfolio than the courses you took. This means you have many options when it comes to learning the craft. You can learn by yourself through online tutorials, books and by just playing around with a camera and lighting; another option is to learn from another photographer or through some coursework; and, of course, you can get a full college degree in photography; usually this will be a Bachelor of Fine Arts with lots of studio work involved.

What is more important to consider is what type of skills you will need to study in order to become successful. For celebrity photography specifically, you need to have a good eye for portraiture, as well as an understanding of how to take pictures that flatter the person. You may be taking photos at events, which means you need a quick eye for things that are going on and an idea of what the public wants to see in the pictures of a celebrity. For portraits of famous people, besides photography skills, you’ll have to know how to transmit someone’s personality through a photograph, and that requires people skills, as well as talent.

In technical terms, you will, of course, need to know how to use your camera, especially the different functions and switches that it offers. Lighting, framing, processing, maybe Photoshop, should all be on your list of technical skills. But remember that you will also need to learn the business side of things. Most photographers, especially those focusing on celebrities, are self-employed freelancers or even run their own photography business. This means finance, marketing, sales and client relationships are all needed. Your task then, is to choose the education that will prepare you for all of these.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHER?

  • Rhode Island School of Design
    One of the top design schools in the US, RISD offers BFA and MFA degrees in Photography. These have a strong focus on in-studio and hands-on learning, as well as internships and co-op opportunities. Tuition here is quite steep at $44,284 per year.
  • California Institute of the Arts
    California is a great place for spotting celebrities and also has good photography programs on offer. You can get a Photography and Media BFA at the California Institute of the Arts – the School of the Arts located in Valencia, CA. The program has a few branches, including publishing, video, digital media, and others. Tuition per academic year is $41,700.
  • University of New Mexico
    UNM offers a unique approach, where students can take a BA or a BFA focused on photography that includes inter-disciplinary studies, thus providing a well-rounded education. This also allows students to explore various career choices at once. Tuition is $2,503 for in-state students and $9,732 for out-of-state, not including any extra fees.
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
    Instead of solely a generic Photography Bachelor of Arts, RIT offers more specialized programs, such as photojournalism, fine arts photography, visual media, and photographic and imaging technologies. The college has state-of-the-art technology for students’ use. Annual tuition is $35,256.
  • Arizona State University
    ASU offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography through its Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The program includes theory and practical components. In-state tuition is an average of $5,078 and out-of-state is $12,251.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

While in some other photography fields you might be able to get in and start developing your portfolio, this is unlikely to happen with celebrity photography. The people you will be taking pictures of have little time and busy schedules, so they are going to want someone who comes with a guarantee. So how do you get that? Start with smaller celebrities, maybe smaller bands, up and coming TV personalities or film actors. Do a couple of pro-bono photoshoots to get your portfolio going, and have them mention you as their photographer among their networks.

Another great way to get started is to work as an assistant photographer for someone who already has your dream photography job. This could be an apprenticeship, an internship or just an assistant job, but it can open a lot of doors and be a great learning experience.

However you choose to start, you will need to network extensively and meet people within and outside of the industry. Have your portfolio always ready to show, your website updated, and business cards on hand, wherever you go and whatever you do. Join photography clubs, and go to events in your area to get to know more people. This will help you always have paid work, whether it is in your focus area or not.