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Celebrity Stock Photography

written by: Carl Weaver•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/25/2011

Celebrity stock photography can be a fun and rewarding vocation. Learn the basics and how to get started, whether as a hobby or to make money.

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    The Basics of Celebrity Stock Photography

    Susan Sarandon Celebrity stock photography can be a fun and rewarding way to make some extra money with your camera. However, it is not without its pitfalls. To start off, don’t quit your day job. Everyone has a camera and lots of people want to photograph celebrities, many of them already famous or more talented, so making a living doing this could be quite difficult. However, I offer some tips to help you get started in celebrity stock photography.

    This is really no different than any other stock photography you might specialize in. You need to develop a deep knowledge of the topic to do well. Also consider whether you want to specialize in an individual or perhaps in a category of celebrity, such as musicians, actors or sports figures. Where I live, Washington, DC, once dubbed “Hollywood for ugly people,” we have precious few actors but are heavy on politicians and foreign dignitaries. Your specialty may depend on your location more than a specific interest, at least initially.

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    1. Do Your Research and Make a Plan

    Figure out what celebrity stock photography sells. Pick up magazines, or better yet, go to your local library and look at their magazines to see what gets published. Look online at the stock photography houses that specialize in images of celebrities. What kind of photos do they have? Have a plan for what kind of images you want to get and how you plan to get them.

    From a technical standpoint, I recommend using an old photojournalist’s trick: f/8 and be there. F/8 will give you sufficient depth of field for most impromptu shots. If you can get as low as f/2.8 that would be even better, but it then becomes harder to keep your subject in as good a focus.

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    2. Be Where the Celebrities Are

    If you want to photograph someone, you have to be where that person is. If you want to get great celebrity stock photography, go to where the celebrities are. Some locations are hot spots for celebrities, such as Los Angeles and New York. In a number of other cities, such as San Francisco, Toronto, and even Atlanta, it’s not too unusual to find some celebrities. If you live in one of these areas, you are already golden in terms of location.

    Find out where the movie stars eat. What are the local hangouts and new, exclusive clubs? Ask other locals, waiters, bartenders and more. Tip well and be nice.

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    3. Be Nice

    You have to ask yourself whether you want to take exploitive photos of drunken, half-naked celebrities making fools of themselves or whether you want to make decent portraits of famous people. The exploitive photos will fetch a better selling price, no doubt, but in the morning you still have to look at yourself in the mirror. Plus, exploitive celebrity stock photography will soon be forgotten, while a great portrait can be timeless. This is an artistic and ethical quandary you will have to address in your own heart.

    Also, if you have the opportunity, ask permission before snapping photos. In most places, being in public takes away a person’s right to expectation of privacy, but that should not be an excuse to be rude. You might be surprised what a polite question can get you.

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    4. Know the Law

    Jesse Jackson Laws differ from place to place. You should investigate what is legal and illegal to photograph before getting too deeply into celebrity stock photography. For example, normally it is perfectly legal to photograph something or someone who is plainly visible, given that both of you are in a public place. It is also perfectly legal for someone to obstruct your view. It is not legal to trespass onto someone’s private property, even an unfenced lawn, to get the shot you want.

    Some of this seems straightforward, but what about cases that are more on the line of the law? Is it legal to stand on a public sidewalk and take photos in someone’s window if it is plainly visible? Maybe, maybe not. You need to consult an attorney who specializes in media law to understand some of these nuances for the area in which you are working.

    Regardless of the law, also know that a person can bring a civil suit against you for any or no valid reason and draw out the case to the point that it becomes prohibitively expensive for you. Before getting that money shot, consider whether what you have to do to get it is worth the reward. Some insurance companies will sell you a package that covers this type of thing up to a certain limit, so definitely look into that.

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    5. Sell Your Work

    You are working hard at this job and deserve to be rewarded for the images you get. Stock agencies will be glad to buy rights to your celebrity stock photography. However, you will want to look at the different agencies available. The best place to start is the current Photographer’s Market book (sold on Amazon). In addition, search online and look at what the companies specialize in. Some may handle just sports figures and others handle just musicians. Target your search appropriately.

    Also, be sure to look at the companies’ websites and assess the quality of the photos they represent. You want your work among other great photographers’ work. Avoid the stock houses that seem to accept almost everything submitted. Photo buyers will not bother searching through loads of bad photos to find the one they want.

    Also, look at the pay. Microstock sites sometimes pay pennies on the dollar for photos. This is rarely a good deal for photographers, for many reasons. However, you may have to go with a less lucrative arrangement to get some sales and publications when you are first starting out and making your name.

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    Photographer’s own experiences with stock photography.

    Some stock photography companies that sell celebrity photos: