Here’s a fascinating video of Annie Leibovitz photographing the Queen from a BBC series entitled Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work (here). What I find interesting in photo shoot videos is not the 11 assistants or the lighting setup but watching the photographer interact with the subject. When assigning portraits of celebrities or famous people one of the biggest considerations besides “can they make a stunning portrait in 10 minutes” is “can they get the subject to do something interesting.”
I see pictures of some famous people and they always look the same and the pictures are always boring but the reality is that some subjects are really difficult to work with and unwilling to accommodate the photographer. They treat photoshoots like torture. The subjects can also be terribly guarded and afraid that we’re trying to take something unflattering or out of character and so they only allow certain emotions, clothing, backgrounds and props in the photograph.
The decision is usually between 3 basic types of celebrity photographers. “Named” photographers are great because the subjects and publicists will respect the name and body of work and grant more leeway with the subject because of their reputation within Hollywood. The disadvantage is that it’s hard to take the famous photographer out of the picture and so the subject sort of shares the frame with the photographer. Studio/Publicist friendly photographers have good working relationships with the decision makers and this can make the planning and logistics easy because they’re all on the same page from the start. Working with one of these photographers can guarantee several hours of time with the subject which means lots of setups. The downside is that these photographers need to maintain their relationship with the publicists and they won’t do anything that might piss them off. Tenacious photographers get ideas in their head they won’t let go of and are willing to push the subject to achieve the picture they want. The only problem can be that your 10 min. shoot could turn into a 1 min. shoot if everyone gets upset.
Annie really shows her tenacity in this video when she immediately tries to get the Queen to remove her crown after deciding it doesn’t look good in the first shot and not giving up on an original request request to shoot the Queen on horseback inside the state apartments. She brings it up at the end of the shoot as the picture she’d really like to take, laying the groundwork for next time.