Celebrity Portraits

by William Lulow

I have written before about photographing famous or “important” people. Sometimes they will surprise you and other times they can be difficult. An interesting session happened actually, very early in my professional career. I was asked to do some publicity photographs for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was all set up to make some great images of clothes from world-famous designers throughout the early Hollywood period. I was shooting them all as still-lifes because they were all on mannequins. I had a fairly extensive array of hotlights and was shooting with tungsten (indoor) film. About half way through the shoot, one of the art directors said that she needed a portrait of Diana Vreeland, the famous, former editor of Vogue Magazine, who was now the curator of the Institute. She asked if I could photograph Ms. Vreeland. I jumped at the chance. It was another one of those instances where I wasn’t really prepared to do real portraits. I was shooting with a view camera and I usually did portraits with a medium format camera. I set up my strobes (which I  had packed, just in case, and I was told that Ms. Vreeland only had a few minutes. I set the camera up on one end of a conference table, the lights on either side, and in strode my famous subject. I started engaging her in conversation immediately, all the while fumbling with my film holders and settings on the camera. In the ten minutes I had with her, I managed to expose 14 sheets of film. Even though my results would not have pleased a vain subject, I found out later that this was one of her favorites because it captured a facet of her personality that other, more famous photographers didn’t get.

Vreeland_11x14WEBI have had other assignments whereI was told the CEO of a company only had 5-minutes for the shoot. I got to the location in plenty of time to set up my lights, run some tests and make sure that everything was ready to go. The boss came in and then proceeded to stay for half an hour after we got talking.

Another session that I prepared extensively for was a shot of the famous author, Ira Levin, who wrote, among other works, “Rosemary’s Baby.” I did some research on Mr. Levin and found out that he loved a certain brand of wine. I went out to my local wine store and bought two bottles (which we proceeded to finish during the shoot). Again, engaging the subject in conversation proved to be a great “equalizer” in the photographic process and produced some great expressions.



It only goes to show that you never know what will happen but you should be prepared for anything during a shoot. Knowledge of equipment and the ability to work with almost any personality becomes of paramount importance when shooting celebrities.