Celebrity Photography and Working Under Pressure

Posted by Jerry Avenaim on November 19, 2008 – 9:53 am
American Idol

American Idol Judges photographed for the cover of TV GUIDE

You not only have to be good at what you do, you have to be consistent and work well under pressure. I try to set an easy and relaxed atmosphere for my clients, the celebrities and their publicist.

Photographing a celebrity can be difficult and most of the work you see is done prior to the actual shoot. Once given an a celebrity assignment, if I don’t know much about the person I will spend extensive amounts of time researching the subject’s work and finding ways to show the characters they play both on the screen and who they really are off of it.

I try and create celebrity photography that is like looking into the souls of my subjects showing all of the humanity buried inside the god-like celebrity of today. By treating each of my subjects in such a personal manner I hope to have captured images of celebrities today with a raw unfiltered emotion that the work stand longevity.

One of my favorite cover shoots, and ironically one of his most stressful, was the cover shot of “American Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. I admit that I’m a fan of the hit show, but I also admit that shooting the cover was undertaken under tremendous stress.

This shoot took place in the evening following a live broadcast of the show. In attendance were the executives of Fox, the editors of TV Guide, a British TV crew and another video crew filming my pre-lighting techniques – about 40 people in all. There was absolutely no margin for error. The end result was one of the more memorable images of the trio with Simon tied and gagged to a chair by his fellow judges.

Dr. Phil photographed for the cover of Newsweek

Dr. Phil photographed for the cover of Newsweek Magazine.

Working under pressure and difficult situations is something every celebrity photographer must face.

Whether it is surrounding pressure from executives, the time constraints put on them from the schedule of the celebrity, or at times simply the celebrity.

When I was assigned to photograph Dr. Phil for the cover of Newsweek Magazine, it seemed like everything was going to go wrong as time was not on my side. The magazine wanted different color backgrounds and suits as he appears on his talk show. However, when I met Dr Phil for the first time, I found that he was the same person privately that he is publicly. It was then that I knew that I wanted to capture that larger-than-life image for the cover shot.

After going through several backgrounds as Newsweek requested, my vision to isolate his face by photographing him wearing a black shirt against a black backdrop. But it almost didn’t happen…  We were scheduled to finish the shoot before lunch to allow Dr. Phil to keep a scheduled television interview but time had slipped away.

The changing of the lighting and the backgrounds to do this would take a little extra time, time I felt we would not have and I thought I was going to have to let those shots go. Dr. Phil could see my angst and came to me, he simply asked me if it would help me out if he switched his interview until later in the day so that we could keep shooting. I emphatically told him I would give him a hug if he could make the switch and allow me to finish the shoot. As I went to shake his hand he exclaimed “now don’t be a welcher, I want that hug!’” The shots that came from Dr. Phil’s willingness to alter his schedule became the cover of Newsweek.

Jerry Avenaim

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