Red carpets sparkle from two directions. One is often ignored.
Inside the ropes is the red carpet of dreams: the beautiful and powerful parading their finery, their diamonds — mostly borrowed — sparkling in the night.
On the other side, though, is the working red carpet: photographers by the score, their camera flashes setting the gloom aglitter.
Photogs are as much a part of the carpet as the celebs they shoot. Indeed, what is a red carpet for if not photos and interviews? Their work makes the red carpet not just glamorous but a business. The best are trusted by salons, studios and stars to capture Hollywood’s glamour and sell it to the world. And their job is not easy.
“It takes years of doing it over and over again,” says Michael Caulfield, a vet photographer who shoots for WireImage. “My first time on a carpet was nerve-wracking. But as you do it over and over again, it becomes second nature to you.”
The photogs serve many masters as they shoot. In just seconds, they must get an array of full-body shots and closeups highlighting earrings, shoes, handbags, hairstyles, makeup and of course the designer gown.
But Frazer Harrison of Getty Images, a 22-year news photographer who’s been shooting red carpets in Hollywood for most of the last decade, notes: “You’re also looking at moments. I’m looking for imagery that says this was a premiere, an exciting moment, that you should have been here.”
Those who hire red-carpet photogs say it takes a certain personality to excel at it.
First, they need to be comfortable working fast. A good sense of humor is also helpful.
Also, Roxanne Motamedi, senior exec director of entertainment, North America for Getty Images/WireImage/FilmMagic, says red-carpet photogs must be “good screamers on the red carpet. They scream the name of the celebrity and can get good eye contact.”
Some shout out flattery. Steve Granitz of WireImage is famous on red carpets for his plaintive “It’s ME!” cry, which works even on celebs who don’t know him. Harrison, who hails from Blighty, will shout out, “Over to the English guy!,” which attracts his fellow Brits.
Motamedi also says photogs “have to be flexible on the red carpet, because you never know what can happen when they’re shooting. They have to be cool, calm and collected.”
The activity in the “pen” may look like madness, but there’s method to it. Experienced photogs have their favorite spots and get in position early.
“I love to stay near the beginning, the first three or four spots,” says Granitz, who has been shooting red carpets for 28 years. “The celebrities are fresh, they’re right out of the car, they’re ready to pose. By the time they’re near the end of the carpet, they’re done already.”
Granitz says there is teamwork amid the competition for shots, too. “If a flash blows up, a cord doesn’t work, I can scream out to a friend and he’ll throw it to me and I’ll continue shooting.”
On the other hand, says Harrison, it’s rude when photogs don’t bother to shoot people they don’t recognize: “You have to photograph everyone. If they’re not famous now, who’s to say they won’t be famous down the road? I feel bad for these people. You can at least flash. It’s digital. You can always erase it later.”
The top photogs are a globetrotting bunch, and they soon find that not all red carpets are alike. Gotham red carpets are often on the street, with less room to work. Also, says Harrison, “The New York photographers are definitely a harder bunch of guys.”
The Emmys are considered a tough assignment because of the September heat. Cannes is difficult because, says Granitz, “It gets hard when there’s too many photographers on the carpet shooting. It gets so loud it makes the celebrity not want to be there.”
Since the celebs see them at so many events over so many years, red-carpet regulars become acquaintances with the people they shoot. But it’s rare they truly get friendly, and when they do, even red-carpet vets can get a bit starstruck.
Caulfield recalls one event where, after shooting Bono backstage, he spent a few minutes with the rock star talking about technology and cameras.
“For about five minutes I wasn’t listening to a word he said,” Caulfield says, “because I was so shocked to be talking to Bono about photography.”
HOW TO SHINE ON THE RED CARPET
First time walking the carpet? Wishing to get some fabulous shot of yourself into print? Here are tips from the photographers for making yourself a red-carpet star:
Relax: “We’re just trying to get a nice shot so we can publish it,” Steve Granitz says.
Stand still and make eye contact: “Tom Hanks has this down,” says Frazer Harrison. “He’ll start on the right-hand side at the very end of the line, move his head slowly and make eye contact with every single one.”
Take your time: “Odds are you won’t have a very flattering photograph of yourself if you’re rushing,” Michael Caulfield says.
Women, don’t wear black: “We want colorful outfits, nice hats and nice jewelry. That will get (the photos) published, if that’s what they (the women) want,” Granitz says.