Well thanks for the compliment. It was both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that propelled me into celebrity photography. Having completed college internships at both publications, I was able to apprentice beside some amazing photographers on celebrity shoots. Portrait shoots, especially those with celebrities, are extremely different than your average editorial news or feature shoot which are strictly documentary. I love shooting both styles and I’ll often try to shoot a some natural light documentarty-style portraits with celebrities when I have the chance. Fortunately for me I live in NYC, a major hub for celebrities, so I don’t usually have to travel far from home to get this type of portraiture work.
I realized at a young age that my dream is to travel and meet interesting people, so photography is such a perfect career for me as it affords me all these opportunities. I’ve also realized that in order to get to where I wanted to be in my career I need to pay my dues, make great connections, and find alternate ways of funding my passion for travel. Which means along with shooting the glamorous gigs, I shot the less-glamorous assignments as well…I’ve shot (and still shoot) weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events which helps fund the travel and lifestyle I have. Whenever I travel I’m always reaching out to editors who I have a relationship with to let them know where I’m going or what I’m doing. Sometimes they’ll have a assignment, a specific request, or simply an idea so I can make licensable photos while I’m away.
So I’d it’s a balancing act of networking, pitching ideas, diversifying sources of income, and having a little business savvy that allows me to do what I love: traveling, interacting with interesting people, and simply taking pictures for a living…I couldn’t be luckier and wouldn’t change it for the world!
I’ve been freelancing with the New York Times ever since my internship in 2005. Often I’ll get last-minute assignments in New York and that was the case when I was called one late afternoon to photograph Justin Bieber at a music festival at Madison Square Garden that same night. Long story short, after the assignment I put together a prototype book with the help of my fabulous designer Laia Prats (http://LaiaPrats.com), and proposed a Justin Bieber book project to his management (at the TODAY Show) and a number of publishing houses. That took a few months of hustle and luck, but at the TODAY Show I was told to meet up with Justin and company in Nassau, Bahamas a few days later where he was performing at the Atlantis Resort and subsequently I spent the next 6-months by his side touring North America. It was a one-of-a-kind experience for sure, jumping from city to city tagging along with the newest and hottest pop icon around. It was crazy too, lot’s of screaming girls and cool celebrities every day. I could only equate it to what I’d imagine The Beatles went through in their hay day. The thing I love about my job is that I simply get to experience whatever’s happening around me by way of documenting it. While there was a lot of “go” time, there was still a lot of bussing from city to city which afforded me time to edit and sleep. Touring is a fun lifestyle, but it can take it’s toll on your sleep, expose you to changing weather, making it easy to get sick. Also, it can take a toll on your personal life because you are constantly caught up in the gipsy lifestyle, but lucky for me, my wife came on tour with me as my editor, which kept me slightly sane!
That’s true…often times my interaction with celebrities is very short. In those instances I’ll try to arrive early and scope out the location to see how many portrait situations I can find in the area. Then I’ll take test shots with an assistant (if I have one) or my just my hand to get the proper technical exposure so when the celebrity arrives I can quickly bang out their portrait in various locations. I first started doing these celebrity portraits when I was an intern at the Los Angeles Times and time element stressed me out a bit. The more that I’ve shot, though, I’ve found that I have to just go into the shoot and be confident that something will turn out….and 99% of the time I’m happy with my results.
I’d heard about FOCUSED through the social networks and thought it was certainly a fun idea. I was both fearful and intrigued by the “one click”. I learned to shoot on film back in high school and my freshman year of college, but I was the first in my college to go digital. At the time I was heckled by some of the students and professors, but I found that I was able to shoot much more and evaluate my work much quicker than those shooting film, so it was a real plus for me. Anytime I pick up a film camera I’m nervous because I don’t get the instant gratification of knowing how the image came out. So when Chip sent me the FOCUSED camera, I was definitely nervous because it was an unfamiliar camera and I only had one chance to expose, focus, and hopefully capture something interesting for the project.
I’ve been fortunate to be the house photographer for the International Emmy’s in NYC for the past 4 years and this past year I knew Lady Gaga was going to be a surprise presenter, so I let Chip know I had something going on that would make for an interesting FOCUSED frame. I wasn’t sure what sort of access I’d have with Gaga, so I carried the camera around my neck as a 3rd camera while I was doing my job. My hopes were that I would find myself in a situation where she would be in a particular position with consistent light for at least a moment so I could gauge and predict the exposure as much as possible. Also, it would give me time to feel confident I’d gotten my focus sharp. Remember this is a manual camera, so no auto focus. I met up with Gaga and company backstage just before she was to enter the awards ceremony. Since we were in poor light, constantly moving, and her security detail was giving me a difficult time, I decided I should wait until she took the stage where I knew there’d be adequate light for the film inside the camera. Again, I’m so used to using digital where I can change my film speed between frames. After I made a few shots of her at the podium with my other cameras, I felt confident enough that I could snag a quick shot….so I got as close as possible with my access (halfway up the stage) and snapped the frame. Click…and it was over. A bit anti-climactic I must say….I just hope the picture is in focus!
Well, for those of you who regularly shoot film or have had experience with manual cameras in the past, this should probably be easy. For folks like myself who began photography in the late 90′s or after, using cameras with fancy auto focus, it might be a bit more difficult. I had just bought a Leica a few weeks before I shot this FOCUSED frame, so I had a little practice shooting with an all-manual camera. If you’re able to practice manually focusing with another camera in advance, I’d recommend it. Also, depending the subject matter, it might make sense to take test shots with a digital camera using the same film speed, focal length, and settings as the FOCUSED camera, though this might be considered cheating… Overall, the process is a bit nerve racking, but don’t sweat it too much. I have a feeling once we see the film strips, there will be many soft or poorly exposed frames! C’est la vie!