How to Choose the Best Celebrity Photographer

People have always had a fascination with celebrities. We see them on TV, in the Movies, in magazines and on-line all the time. They’re rich, famous and they seem like they exist in another realm that most of us will never know. At the end of the day, they are people just like the rest of us.

We’re all familiar with the eternal struggle between celebrities and the paparazzi. But what about the legitimate photographers who know how to handle photographing celebrities?

How does a business owner, corporate planner or an event planner know that the photographer they hire to photograph their celebrity guests, speakers and performers are capable of getting the photographs that they need while maintaining the perfect balance of respect and professionalism needed to do it?

President of Creative Focus and established South Florida Celebrity Photographer Jay Guttveg has the answers. Jay has been photographing celebrities for over 25 years and he has become an expert on what it takes to get the job done. As the incoming President of the South Florida Chapter of MPI he is no stranger to large events and has worked with Joe Torre, Pete Rose, President George W. Bush, Ray Charles, Jesse Jackson, Cee Lo Green, Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness), Tony Bennett and many more.

Who has been your favorite celebrity to work with?

That’s a difficult one to answer because there have been some great moments over the past 25 years. I’d have to say one of my favorites was Mohamed

Ali. I can’t begin to explain his presence when he walks into a room. When the spotlight hit him everyone in the room just stopped what they were doing, rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. He absolutely radiated a positive aura that had a deep impact on everyone in that room.

Another great person to photograph was Ray Charles. He has so much talent. You could hear a pin drop when he was talking and performing. No one made a sound; they were transfixed.

What has been a difficult experience while shooting a celebrity?

This answer is going to date me a little bit! Back in the day when we had cameras that still used film, lighting was always a huge issue. Cameras couldn’t handle the different types of light that were used during a concert, for example. Several times a hotel or conference center wouldn’t have adequate lighting for film cameras during the performances and we needed to use flashes. That was huge problem for many reasons.


Think about someone taking pictures of you with the flash going off all the time. Now multiply that by 10 or a hundred. Many celebrities have a clause in their contracts that you can’t use a flash while you’re photographing them during their performance or otherwise. Their bodyguards or staff will even stop you from taking pictures with a flash!

President George Bush has a tough time dealing with flashes; it’s uncomfortable to his eyes. It’s a huge distraction.

Today’s cameras are much more advanced. We don’t have the same restrictions we used to because the high-end cameras don’t need flash to capture the necessary light. Fortunately, Creative Focus uses these cameras where not all others do. That gives us the ability to photograph celebrities in situations that are restricted to other photographers. Whether they’re on stage performing music or behind a podium giving a speech, Creative Focus can capture them, unobtrusively and without distraction.

What should a planner or corporate entity look for when they are hiring a photographer for their event that includes a celebrity guest?

That’s an excellent question. They need to look for photographers who have experience working with and around celebrities. They need to hire a proven track record . . . someone who knows how to be unobtrusive, diplomatic and politically correct.

Creative Focus Photographers have been working with celebrities long enough to guarantee that experience. We’re experts at reading situations and body language. We can tell when a celebrity has had enough and we need to back off. We also know when a celebrity is really enjoying themselves and we can build off that enthusiasm. We’re ready for anything.

Is photographing celebrities the same every time?

Of course not! Every celebrity is different. Some like to have a set plan for getting their photographs taken, especially with their fans. Others like to wing it!

To shoot George Bush we had set up some markers on the floor and then used flags to line up the camera with the guests. Some people really like that and it can make things move more smoothly. The President didn’t want that and he got up and started walking around and shaking hands. We had to follow him. One doesn’t tell the President to go back to where you have your camera set up!

It’s very important to be able to adapt to the situation while also maintaining professionalism.

We’re used to that kind of thing at Creative Focus.


Is it always a surprise when working with celebrities?

Not at all. Remember, celebrities are used to this. Many of them have specific needs, desires and instructions. Creative Focus always checks with the venue, planners and staff to make sure that we have those instructions days, or weeks, in advance. We want to know exactly what to do.

As I mentioned earlier, camera flash doesn’t work with President George Bush’s eyes. We worked with the hotel to make sure that the existing room lighting was appropriate and enough lighting for his visit so that we didn’t need to use our flash.

Knowing that kind of thing ahead of time is crucial.

What is the most important thing about photographing celebrities? 

Be professional and flexible. Always. We respect everyone involved. We also never ask for our pictures to be taken with the celebrities ourselves. We are there to do a job. We consider it a breach of professionalism to insert ourselves into the situation.

Our commitment to professionalism has been noted by our clients. When you’re professional you get some leeway and can get those shots that others wouldn’t necessarily be able to get.

You have to be flexible too. Our contract with President Bush stipulated that we would have 7-10 days to provide the photographs. The day we were capturing him our client asked for a couple of edited pictures that day. We didn’t complain . . . we just complied with their request and got the job done.

We provided them with 5 edited pictures which they used in their publication. It got our clients unexpected news coverage! They were so happy they sent us an email that simply said, “Bless you!”

Be professional and flexible always.

Why photograph celebrities?

Of course there is a certain prestige to be able to say that you are trusted enough to work with celebrities. Some bragging rights so-to-speak.

However, that really isn’t why we do it. We work for planners or companies that hire us and certainly don’t get paid extra to do it. For us it’s being in the position to witness emotional and historical moments.

I recently was in a room photographing Chris Gardner as he talked about his life. He was played by Will Smith in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. Hearing him talk about raising his son as a homeless, unemployed father in LA was amazing. To hear of his struggles and his perseverance was truly amazing. To be able to hear him speak, in his own words, was an experience I would never have had otherwise.

There are numerous occasions and memories that I savor, on working around VIP and Celebrities.  Each one brings on another unique experience of awe.  Just hearing Tony Bennett sing, Mario Andretti speak, or watching Darius Rucker play his guitar, nothing can compare to that privilege of being my clients chosen photographer to capture such a special moment.  Nothing!


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