Guest Post by Cybele Sandy, August Image
This piece arose from the blowback I’ve recently had from artists on the subject of shooting celebrity. The reaction was so severe that I felt like my extremely proper Post-Colonial West Indian delivery was somehow morphing into the vilest of curse words. This is my unequivocal stance on the subject: Celebrity Shoots Count. Perhaps in this era of Kardashian dominance, the idea has morphed into an unappealing, congealed mass. The majority of my career has skewed toward working with celebrity art, so I have had considerable experience with the genre. In other words, I’ve seen first-hand the propellant power of a celebrity shoot.
I know that there are photographers who insist on channelling their efforts toward fine art, or to the gravitas of contemporary photojournalism, and that’s a terrific goal. You should be aware, though, that relying on your fine art portfolio to shop for paying commissions (be they advertising, custom content or entertainment buyouts) can be a risky proposition. Fine art can be challenging for the viewer to interpret, especially given the environment of a quick go-see with an art buyer. An image of a recognizable celebrity can compellingly deliver your aesthetic. It doesn’t have to be Angelina Jolie, but there should be immediate name recognition. A buzzy stylist, up-and-coming musician, hot new model or emerging fashion designer can do just as well.
Celebrity editorial dovetails nicely into the career facets I’ve spoken of previously: personal work- >editorial work-> advertising/commercial projects-> licensing. In other words, bringing the aesthetic honed from personal work to a celebrity shoot may lead to more editorial and commercial projects, with the editorial being of huge benefit to your licensing archive.
[Sidebar: When awarded a commission, always give serious thought to whom/what you shoot. How will this serve my career? Will this work for licensing opportunities down the line? In the words of my Glorious Leader, William Hannigan, licensing is a photographer’s 401K.]
1. The recognition factor provides an instant point of connection between yourself and the reviewing photo editor/ art buyer.
2. It’s nice segue into the messaging you want to leave behind in terms of your art: talking about your experience shooting said celebrity can break the ice and calm any nerves you may be feeling.
3. It provides an immediate boost to your social media profile and buzz for your brand.
4. They provide an “in” to the PR world and to publicists who hold a tremendous amount of leverage in terms of who gets to shoot.
5. It provides a terrific, real-world test for your nascent team. Can they hold their assigned ground in a pressurized situation where there isn’t a whole lot of time to deliver the money shot?
However, this is all predicated on a recognizable celebrity. It doesn’t have to be Angelina Jolie. It can simply be someone with a strong pop/ cultural profile- the star of a hit tv show or a fashion/ media personality.
Things to Bear in Mind For Celebrity Shoots:
- I’ve worked on shoots that have gone extremely well, as well as shoots that have been extremely painful. Do your homework. Ensure that you know the sublime to the mundane- what’s their upcoming project, what sort of music would they like to hear on set?
- Ensure that all the players have a clear understanding of all of the elements before-hand. The theme of the shoot and looks to be worn, as well as hair/ makeup should have been agreed to prior. This will forestall on-set drama. (Not always, but we live in hope.)
- It’ll be stressful, so make certain that what is in your power to control day-of-shoot is done well: being on-time and set up early will go a long way toward keeping the environment calm and upbeat.
- Keep the chatter to an as-needed basis. Save that great joke for your buddies at the bar.
- Art Streiber, during his lecture at this year’s PhotoPlus, delivered these words of guidance: “Treat celebrities like ordinary people and ordinary people like celebrities.” Keep it cool and respectful, yet make sure that you maintain control of the set.
- Everyone working in sync is the very best demonstration of credibility that you can offer.
- Make sure you have the contact information of all of the players before they leave.
- A great on-set experience is the shortest route to being recommended by a celebrity for other editorial and even for advertising jobs.
- Gratitude makes for good karma and certainly, a good old-fashioned paper Thank You note can count for a lot these days. Certainly send one to the celebrity and his/her publicist, as well as the assigning editor. A print from the shoot is always a nice takeaway.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that music & film festivals are actually a nice segue into the genre for my photographers. It’s resulted in relationships that have led to more incredible opportunities in more intimate settings, and the art itself becomes a calling card. The Shayan Asgharnia image of Erykah Badu below (shot at the Roots Picnic Festival) is what made me reach out to him. In its turn, it was part of a body of work that I showed the veteran agent Angela De Bona on my ‘phone over lunch, which in turn led into her signing him for assignment representation.
Another talented artist I represent, Taili Song Roth, managed to capture an arresting, classic image of Clint Eastwood at the Palm Springs Film Festival.
So the takeaway is: take a step back from your less than savory view of this genre of photography. There are ways to approach the work in a smart, credible manner that will not hurl your artistry onto the funeral pyre.
And you will come to realize that it is in fact a sound investment, one that will prove to be a strong, long-term ally to brand-building.