Before I begin with an observation of a photo that…
Los Angeles-based photographer Eric Ford runs On Location News, and specializes in shooting “Unauthorized” candid behind the scenes photos from film sets on location mostly in LA.
He has a strong network of sources that tip him off to the various filming activities around town.
Although he is available for assignment work from the celebrity gossip magazines, he mostly shoots assignments on his own as a freelance photographer. He then sells his images directly to a list of celebrity gossip clients such as the weekly tabloids, entertainment magazines, entertainment TV shows, celebrity gossip websites and blogs such as TMZ, etc.
After I saw the reaction generated by one of his self-assignments – the filming of an Adam Lambert music video – I sent Eric an email. (The bit that received the most attention from Lambert fans was his photo caption, where he mentioned that Lambert appeared to be stuffing something into his crotch. Lambert fans got very defensive, and rushed to stand up for him.)
“I was surprised to receive several emails and comments from Adam Lambert fans upset that I would suggest that Lambert put anything into his pants to enhance his look,” Ford said. “I merely stated this in my captions because it looked to me like something was going on and I wanted photo editors to notice because sometimes they will just quickly glance over the thumbnails and not look at the higher resolution images and I was concerned they may have missed a possible story.”
“Lambert fans were really insulted by my suggestion. Kind of funny if you ask me,” he said.
Ford used a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV digital SLR and a 300mm f/2.8 lens to shoot the pictures of Lambert.
He said that he arrived at the location at 9PM but it was not until just before sunrise at approximately 5:30 am when he finally got the first shots of Adam. He spent about 9 hours total in the cold, on that bluff, and got many mosquito bites in the process.
This all sounded incredibly interesting to me, so I wanted to know even more about the paparazzi business. I asked Eric for a deeper interview, and he agreed.
Grover: How did you get your start in photography? Did you go to school for it?
Eric Ford: Most of what I know now is self taught through trial and error shooting in the real world for the last 12 years. I have no formal training in still photography. When starting out, I picked up a lot of tips from other photographers as well from reading photography books, magazine articles, and material on the Internet. Paparazzi photography can be very technically challenging at times. Often I find myself shooting in unpredictable and less than ideal lighting situations. My skills have come a long way since starting out and I am still always looking to improve.
GS: What got you into the Paparazzi world?
EF: I always loved the movies since childhood and was always fascinated by how a group of people made such magic happen on the silver screen. I moved to Los Angeles in 1992 with aspirations of working in the film industry. I did not yet know exactly what I wanted to do in the industry, only that I wanted in some way to be part of the filmmaking process.
My first job in LA was working as an extra in the movies. During that time I was able to learn a lot by observing the whole process and the various tasks of all the crew members and the directors doing their thing.
Working as an extra gave me a great opportunity to watch and learn. I found that I was most fascinated with the operations of the Camera, Cinematographer and Director of Photography. I set a goal to work my way up into cinematography. Being an Extra led me to other jobs in film production and for the next 5 years I also worked as a Production Assistant, a Grip and an Electrician.
During that time, I met a paparazzo while working on a set. He requested that I tip him off on future set locations and filming info to assist him in getting candid photos from the set. Thus my interest in the Paparazzi world was sparked as I was very fascinated by it all. I soon purchased a DSLR and some lenses and began shooting my own candid images from all the big film sets.
As I made my transition from crew member to Paparazzi, I had many friends and former colleagues working on the sets that would help me out by telling me the filming locations and details about upcoming shoots. This was a great advantage to me starting out. I had the other Paparazzo sell my images for me and paid him a commission until I learned the business of selling photos, at which point I started offering my own images directly to clients and have done so ever since. PhotoShelter, by the way, has been very advantageous to my business, giving me an efficient and affordable solution to market and distribute photos to clients.
GS: You say that you used to hate that title, but don’t anymore. What did you hate about it, and what changed your mind?
EF: I enjoyed Paparazzi work from the beginning, but I did not appreciate the title of “Paparazzi Photographer”. At the time I started out, most other Paparazzi in LA were following celebrities around by car, boat, and helicopter, and climbing tress and fences to peep into their backyards. My work was unique among Paparazzi because I only shot celebrities at work filming their latest movies, television shows, music videos and other projects. Despite the unique niche market of on location shots and my chosen style, it was not initially understood that I was different from the more aggressive and intrusive type of Paparazzi. I felt harshly judged as well as limited in my creative ability. I have since accepted the title of Paparazzo and I am proud of my work and the ethics by which I abide — in a sometimes not very ethical business.
GS: I’ve always been curious about how the business works for the paparazzi. There seems to be so much competition. Can you describe how a successful paparazzo finds what to shoot, and where to sell their images?
EF: I was fortunate to start out with a strong network of reliable sources of filming information. When I first started shooting as a Paparazzi in 1997 there were only about 30 other guys, at most, in Los Angeles working in this specialized field of photography. Among these 30, I was one of a few guys focusing shooting film sets. In 2005 The celebrity gossip magazines started becoming fiercely competitive with one another. Frenzied bidding wars waged among the gossip magazines for exclusive images. The monies being offered by the gossip magazines were sometimes astronomical. This caused a gold rush of new photographers swarming into the field. This craze only lasted a few years before the gossip magazines stopped their bidding wars. However, many of these new paparazzi that came into the business during those gold rush years are still shooting despite the fact that magazines now pay only a fraction of what they once did.
The number of Paparazzi working in Los Angeles today is probably close to 200. Because there are far more Paparazzi than ever, it is now much more challenging to shoot Exclusive images. At one time, I might be the only paparazzo shooting a film set, but today it is not uncommon to see upwards of 10 photographers crowding a set. When multiple photographers shoot similar images, it decreases the value of everyone’s photos. Also, the rates paid for Paparazzi images have come down significantly from several years ago. Gossip Magazines can no longer afford bidding wars with one another because readership and advertising revenue are down, in part due to the marketplace being flooded by new publications. Magazines have slashed their photo buying budgets in order to survive in these tough times. One positive is that celebrity and entertainment news has now crossed over into more mainstream media. Though prices offered for photos are far less than before, there are now more clients than ever to which I can sell my images including websites, blogs, television shows, newspapers and magazines from all over the world. Through all the ups and downs in this unique business, I have learned to adapt and been fortunate enough to maintain a consistent level of success. I have also branched out as a photo agent, helping other Paparazzi photographers by selling their photos on their behalf.
GS: The details leading up to the Adam Lambert music video shoot are pretty wild. Did you really camp out in a hidden location over night? They never knew you were there?
EF: Adam Lambert’s music video was shot overnight in Griffith Park in the Hollywood hills. I knew about the shoot in advance and scouted the location the day prior in order to assess the best angle overlooking the set. In this case, the best angle was from a hillside bluff just above where they were filming the video. There was a hiking trail nearby, but I had to venture off the beaten path and into some thick brush to give me just the right shot. With the bushes and the dark of night lending cover, no one knew I was there, except the hungry mosquitoes. As is often the case with most candid images that I shoot, I try to be inconspicuous. This is my favorite part of the job; going into undercover mode, because I enjoy the challenge.
I strive to abide by the law when obtaining my photos. The filming locations that I shoot are usually on public property and filming is often done on the streets around LA.
Just because I am not breaking any laws does not always mean I am welcomed by the crew to shoot candid photos. If I am discovered shooting and they decide they don’t want images getting out, they may go to great measures to prevent me from getting my shots. Some ways a film production might do this is by blocking my view with equipment or vehicles, shining a bright light in my direction, or having a security guard stand in front of my lens with an umbrella. This is why I prefer stealth mode. It also makes for a better candid photo when the star does not know they are being photographed and are just acting naturally. On the days when there are several other Paparazzi photographers all competing for the same shot, there is no reason to hide. Production does their best to block the view of all the photographers or often just allow us to shoot, considering everyone keeps a respectable distance and does not get in the way of filming.
GS: Speaking of the fans – his fans got pretty defensive when you mentioned that he may have a crotch-stuffing device of some kind in his pants. I thought that was pretty funny, particularly the fan reaction. Did you have to spend much time dealing with defensive fans?
EF: I was humored by fan reactions to my photo captions in which I mentioned the possibility that Lambert may have stuffed his pants. It did look to me like something strange was going on below the belt. I did thank one fan for pointing out that this was huge piece of the Adam Lambert package.
Lambert fanatics commenting on my photos told me that it is a known “fact” that Lambert is well endowed. Well, ok then! If they say so! In this case, I will take their word for it as it is not an area that piques my interest.
GS: Other than the Lambert shoot, what other assignments have you shot that you’re particularly proud of?
EF: In 2004, I shot the very first photos ever of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together. They had just reported to work on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Though reports had come out about their on set romance, my photos of them together were the only ones in existence for quite a while, which was rewarding. Over the next few years, my photos of Brad and Angelina were published all over the Globe, not only the gossip world but in the mainstream print and television media as well.
GS: Are you having fun?
EF: I really do love working for myself in this specialized field of photography and all the crazy adventures I have had. My job has been rewarding and a lot of fun! I still very much enjoy filmmaking and being an On Location paparazzi puts puts me right in the action. I desire to expand my experience to my goals in Cinematography. With the latest generation of Canon’s DSLR’s and their cinema like 24 Frames per second HD video capabilities, I have been working on my Cinematography skills and filming some experimental projects. I’m also currently working on a screenplay about a Paparazzi Photographer and our celebrity obsessed culture. To be continued…