How to Become a Celebrity Photographer

By TACP Staff on June 20, 2019

A celebrity photographer is a professional who earns their living by taking pictures of public figures. Examples of public figures include performers in the field of entertainment, well-known business professionals, athletes, public servants, politicians, and other newsworthy individuals. This specialized form of photography requires a high level of spontaneity and aggressiveness, due to the intense competition and basic nature of the job.

1. 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.

2. 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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3. 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.

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