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Introduction to Celebrity Photography

If you love playing with light and backdrop, are great at snapping close-ups and enjoy working with people, celebrity photography may be the perfect career for you. Whether you want to work events or enjoy the more sedate, posed world of portrait photography, you can definitely succeed given hard work and a sharp eye. And of course, there’s always the paparazzi route. If you take great candids on the fly and are comfortable putting yourself in sometimes uncomfortable situations, you'll do fabulously in this line of work, and it will be reflected in your income.

Be warned from the outset, however, celebrity photography is a tough field to break into. Everyone seems to have an interest in cameras and a belief that they might “have a knack for it.” But, there just isn’t room for everyone in the arena. If you want to be a celebrity photographer, you will need much more than a knack for it. Celebrities and their managers are tough critics, and they demand the best for themselves and their clients. And, because so many people are clamoring for jobs like this, you’ll need a grueling work ethic and a lot of talent to gain a foothold in the field. 

From there, it’s a matter of building a name for yourself through continued work. To get started, you’ll likely need the patronage of successful photographers who have enough work they can afford to recommend your name to potential clients. By working under someone or getting referrals from them, you can build your portfolio and create new industry connections. This will help your business grow over the long haul, as well as fill out your portfolio with real celebrity shots. Eventually, this portfolio will be all you need to get steady work.

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Hone Your Skills

Constant Practice Will Help You Build Your Skills

Because photography is an art form, your success will rely more heavily on what you can produce than on any college degree you can wave around. That means that while you certainly can get a bachelor's or master's degree in photography, it's also entirely possible to be successful because of self-taught skill. A few great options include online courses, photography books, informal apprenticeships, or simple experimentation.

Even so, no matter how you learn, you need a basic set of abilities. That includes a good eye for what flatters the subject of the photo (celebrities are, first and foremost, supposed to look beautiful), an ability to get good shots with movement (for instance, during events or at a shoot where the subject is moving or walking), and a flair for capturing a subject’s personality with the camera. There is no better way to develop these skills than through constant practice.

More specific technical skills include lighting, framing, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, processing, and touching up. You should be familiar with an array of lenses and with Photoshop and other photography software, which you'll use to touch up and edit pictures yourself until you're successful enough to hire an editor. Since you'll likely work freelance, you'll also need some familiarity with sales, marketing, taxes (freelancers pay estimated quarterly taxes), and accounting.

You'll also need a strong portfolio proving your skills, which requires time to build. At first, you can practice taking photos of other people in photography classes or of friends, and eventually work your way up to models or minor celebrities through working on photo shoots with established photographers.

To succeed in this competitive field, you have to get yourself out there. That means sticking your neck out and finding some celebrities to photograph. You can ask PR reps to attend events, contact publicists and see if you can be an extra on a shoot or at a wedding, or ask photographers to accompany them to their gigs. Don't waste these opportunities. When you're not behind the camera, you should be introducing yourself and shaking hands. Your goal is twofold: to produce great shots you can add to your portfolio, and to make connections with as many industry insiders as possible. These will be the people recommending you or sending you work later, so they're worth their weight in gold at any stage of your career.

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Build a Strong Portfolio

A Strong Portfolio & Industry Connections Are Vital

Your success as a celebrity photographer will stem from three main factors: a great portfolio, an ability to take excellent pictures, and a figurative Rolodex of industry professionals who can send you work or tout your good name. You must keep these factors up to snuff always in order to ensure a long and successful career.

To do so, keep improving your portfolio. Whenever you land a successful gig or take a great shot, swap it out for a sample of lesser caliber. Remember, more isn't better. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be extensive; It just has to be great. Continue to prove your worth as a photographer too: Show up early to shoots, always pick up extra jobs, and prove valuable to celebrities by being there when no one else can. Then, produce great work so they and their handlers will learn to rely on you. Lastly, continue to make those industry connections, and don’t confine yourself to photography professionals. Reach out to bloggers, magazine editors, event coordinators, PR specialists and television personalities; anyone who might have an in with a celebrity is worth your time.

To become and stay truly successful, you'll need to do more than simply get and land gigs, though. You must make sure your photos reach the masses and that they impress. If celebrities see your beautiful work gracing the covers of magazines or used in television documentaries, they're likely to want the same treatment for themselves. Their voices are the most powerful, so while building industry connections is great – especially while you're growing – eventually you want to build relationships with celebrities themselves. These connections are worth a hundred lesser contacts, so make them your ultimate goal and you will succeed.

If you can accomplish these three main goals, you'll eventually have all the work you can dream of, covering celebrity events, working for magazines or taking portraits of A-list names.

Get to Know Our Experts

Lora Warnick

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    Lora Warnick Photograph
  • Where:
    New Milford, CT
  • Experience:
    4 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    Chad Finley Photography
  • Where:
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Experience:
    6 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.

    Celebrity Photographer Infographic