Tuesday Tips: Zac Efron – Anatomy of a 5 Minute Celebrity Portrait – Assignment Chicago

Article by Alex Garcia


Tuesday Tips: Zac Efron – Anatomy of a 5 Minute Celebrity Portrait

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Tuesday Tips – Where you learn, in all honest detail, the need for organization, planning and composure in a 5 minute portrait.

(times are approximate and quotes are paraphrased..)

9:30 a.m. Coming back from another assignment, I’m told that I would have a portrait Zac Efron at 11:00. I bemoan lack of advance notice (which had to happen for reasons too complicated to go into here). Shooting news, I need to quickly shift gears to photograph a celebrity…

9:45 a.m. – Arrive at paper and look for the tilt shift lenses in the pool locker- “Arrggh, Where did they all go?” I grab an 85mm f/1.8 lens, thinking shallow depth of field with my Canon 5DMarkII.

10:00 a.m. – Looking at websites to update myself on what Zac has been doing and what direction he might be wanting to go as an actor. Nice guy? Tough guy? Dark? Light? Serious?

10:15 a.m. – Look at recent pictures of him from a Parade shoot and at other photojournalists’ celebrity portraits to get creative juices flowing. Wow, Jay Clendenin has been doing great work.

10:20 a.m. – Go down to car and rifle through all my equipment and brainstorm what I can do with equipment available. Theorize that a shallow depth of field with high speed sync of softboxes using Canon Speedlites might work. On-camera infra-red controller forms basis of shoot.

10:40 a.m. – Leave for Peninsula Hotel.


10:55 a.m. – Arrive to be greeted immediately by public relations representative. Reporter and I are ushered up to wait in the hallway outside of hotel door. Not ideal. Don’t know what kind of light I’m facing, colors of walls, placement of couches, etc…But in the end, it’s just a hotel room.

11:05 a.m. – Time to enter arrives. I’m given choice between entering immediately for my five minutes, or staying outside until reporter is done. Choose to wait to get softbox, stands, etc. prepared.

11:15 a.m. – Realize that the battery in the infra-red controller is dead. When did that happen? It’s not AA, but I do have a replacement somewhere. I rifle through my bags, but can’t find replacement battery.  ARRRRGGGGHHHHH…

Basis of pre-visualized strategy is now over.  P.R person asks, “All ready?” Try not to exhibit panic as I say “Almost.”  Right before we go in, I find my TTL off-camera cord, which I can screw into the softbox bracket. I’ll have to keep it close.

11:20 a.m. – Reporter emerges from room, and I’m escorted in to meet Zac Efron and two different agents standing in a small room. I’m frustrated, sweaty and hoping I can pull this off.

I greet him as “Mr. Ephron” I figure the guy is young-looking enough that he doesn’t get the formality he’s due. Hope maybe the added respect will get returned in some way. I know, desperate.

As soon as I enter, an agent in the room say is “So you have five minutes, and after a few minutes we’ll take a look at your pictures in your camera.” I ignore the request. It’s not our policy at the Tribune but I don’t want a disagreement between us to create bad vibes in the room before I’ve even taken a picture.

11:21 a.m. – As I unfold stands, etc, I talk about how his new film looks interesting (truly).  I attempt a humorous comment to soften the moment but immediately realize that humor can presume a basis of knowingness – and they don’t know me from Adam. Besides, this is a serious marketing environment so humor not worth the risk. Moving on…

11:22 a.m. –  Zac is a nice guy and a pro (not like he’s never done this before). He asks me what I would like to do. The simplicity of a wall to my left catches my eye and I ask him to move next to it. He begins to get comfortable sitting down. I have a softbox out at that point, and it’s figuring to be a Bill Coupon-style portrait. After a few frames, the agent says, “Can we see your pictures now?” I realize I can’t shake the request so instead of giving an outright, “No”, I respond, “No, not if I’m only getting five minutes”. The onus is on her.

Zace-efron-portrait-2 11:24 a.m. – We move back to the couch. I try a profile of him looking out window, but it doesn’t work. Cliche. Annoying. Hotel rooms. Ugh.  At this point, due to the situation of thinking on the fly, I’m drenched in sweat.  I suggest he lay down (what fan of his wouldn’t want to see him lying down) but he calls the idea of him laying on the couch with his arms behind his back, “cheesy.” Ok, maybe it was. I still hope to get a picture from above, but they all react negatively when I suggest standing on the wood edge of a glass coffee table. Moving on..

11:25 a.m. – So I suggest shooting him over the shoulder. He’s got a remarkably handsome face and that will carry the photo. The window is behind him (a good white backdrop when you expose for it), and the softbox would light him well – if it would cooperate. For some reason I can’t get it to fire. P.R. person from outside steps in doorway and says, “All done?” I say “No. One more minute.” Thankfully, she agreed. And the flash finally fired.

11:26 a.m. – I say I’m done. “Thank you, Mr. Efron” He was cordial in his goodbye as he was in his greeting.

11:28 a.m. – Outside I make an appeal to the public relations representative that these five minute portraits should be longer. That it’s good for everyone – the newspaper, the celebrity, the photographer. Can we make a paradigm shift? She responds, understanding my frustration, that 15 different media entities want access to the celebrity and this is one city of many on a tour. She is given a certain amount of time to work with, and the amount of time is determined by dividing it up equally. So the lack of time really comes down to geography.

I remember the celebrity portraits I’ve done where I’ve been afforded more time. They generally happen in the person’s hometown, or home. In Los Angeles where many celebrities live, you might get more time or opportunities.

Moreover, in a hotel room his handlers have a controlled setting. If he were to leave that room, she says, he would get mobbed. The interview by the reporter, in fact, confirms how Zac Efron has become something of a ninja to get around incognito.

Sadly, it all makes sense. The 5 minute hotel room portrait.

Here to stay.

via Tuesday Tips: Zac Efron – Anatomy of a 5 Minute Celebrity Portrait – Assignment Chicago.

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