Tips & Techniques - Jerry Avenaim    

Headshot Photographer Jerry Avenaim takes you Behind the Cover

Jerry Avenaim, Los Angeles based celebrity, fashion and advertising photographer to the stars, talks about one famous actor along with his passions and techniques that have taken his career to the stratosphere and beyond.

Photographing Celebrities
The Halle Berry Shoot.

Story & photo of Halle Berry by Jerry Avenaim

Placing some of Hollywood's most glamorous, legendary and infamous celebrities within the confines of my viewfinder for more than a decade has truly been the defining mark of my professional life.

Shooting glamorous portraits from the likes of Charlize Theron, Angela Bassett and Helen Hunt to both the famous and infamous likes of Charleton Heston, Rod Steiger and Robert Blake to the somewhat quirky shots of Patricia Arquette and Ben Stiller to those in today's spotlight like "TV's hottest self-help guru" Dr. Phil McGraw, can be both hugely fulfilling and exasperatingly challenging.

But when I was commissioned for a magazine editorial to photograph six women of color, who are leaving indelible marks in the arena of film and television, I knew I had not only an extremely challenging project, but also an opportunity that only comes around once or twice during a career of even the most high profile photographer.

Of those six dynamic women, I have to say the one to make the most dramatic impact on me, as a photographer, was the indomitable Halle Berry. Because the magazine controlled the shooting schedule and times, all six women had to be shot in one condensed session. I had to shoot the job, run the film, make my selections, turn it in and let the editor decide what he or she wanted to run. Usually the client needs the film back in New York within 24 to 48 hours. It boils down to maximum creativity at maximum warp speed.

When it comes to shooting celebrities, there is no set standard for timeline and access. It is often a matter of the celebrity's availability, the difficulty and breadth of the project and the comfort level of the celebrity in front of the camera. Let's face it, when an actor is on the set, he or she has spent hours preparing for the scene to bring out just the right emotions or to create a specific image for the character. When that same actor is in front of a still camera, there is often only 1/250th of a second to capture a specific look or mood on film. It's a much more exacting science.

Two good examples of celebrities who were not only fun to work with, but allowed me to experiment with new looks and shots that took them outside the paradigm of how the public viewed them were Angela Bassett and Helen Hunt.

With six pages to fill, I took Angela through a wide range of situations and poses that ranged from showing her screaming in a microphone to having milk poured over her in a show of contrasts. I had the luxury of spending half a day with Helen, creating a retro look with her in a 1957 peach Thunderbird driving up to a '50s style motel, as well as a courtyard scene and poolside setup.

And while Halle is an extremely approachable star, superstardom has its price and for her time has become a luxurious commodity in short supply. Because she began her career as a model, she is very comfortable in front of a still camera and needed very little direction. I began Halle's photo session at about 10:30 in the evening. Celebrities always walk in the door with clean hair and clean face, allowing the make up artist to begin work with a clean canvas.

Halle knew we were there to capture beauty shots and didn't need a whole lot of direction. Once or twice I would shout out from behind the camera if I needed a shoulder to come over a bit or her chin to come up for the light or the need to get that simple smirk or a full smile. Before I started shooting, she asked me where the crop . was, and I let her know it was above the bust and on occasion I would pull back for some and go as far as the waist. She moved from front on camera to body profile and face to the camera.

From there, things happened extremely fast. Five rolls of film and 15 minutes later, we were finished. The look was pure Halle a Hollywood mega-star who is already gorgeous while at the same time approachable.


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