Blog Home Editorial 3 Master Photographers Offer Tips on Shooting at High-Pressure Events

Chelsea Lauren, Stephen Lovekin, and David Fisher are red carpet photographers. At busy, high-profile events, they generally have five to ten seconds to get the perfect picture before the opportunity has passed.

It’s a glamourous job, but it also requires concentration, time, and diligence. They work 12-hour days, sometimes more. For huge events, they have to schedule additional time to go through extensive security checks. Lovekin even attended the Met Gala one year while on crutches.

In the end, though, it’s all worth it to build up the focus and the trust required to take unforgettable images. A few months ago, Lauren told TIME that one person introduced her by saying, “This is Chelsea and if you see her you don’t have to run away because she always makes everyone look good.”

We asked these three fantastic Shutterstock Staff Photographers to tell us about their most memorable moments. Below, they share their best tips and tricks for shooting at events and other high-pressure settings– whether it’s the red carpet or the local prom.

1. “I treat talent as people first and photo subjects second, so they have a trust with me that is not always established with other photographers.”

Chelsea Lauren

Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock – Maisie Williams at the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV show premiere. Gear: Canon 5d Mark IV camera body, 70-200 f2.8L Lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f6.3; ISO 1000.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I photographed the Game of Thrones premiere last week, and Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, walked up to the carpet looking absolutely incredible in this bright green dress. The photographers at that premiere were on two separate step and repeats, with half facing one way and half facing the other. I was on the second one, so the talent walked through the first row of photographers before coming to where I was.  

I was watching the chaos around Maisie between the heads of the photographers behind me, and I heard the usual screaming to gain her attention. She and I caught eyes, and she just started staring in my direction. I picked up my long lens and started shooting wide, catching the photographers’ backs on either side of her.  

I caught ten frames with solid eye contact. She actually ended up not coming to the second line of photographers, so I’m lucky that moment happened! I love this image because it’s different than what you usually see come out of red carpet events. It’s more behind-the-scenes, but it’s still engaging.

Pro Tip

This is what I do every day, and I’ve gotten quite used to it. There is definitely a bit of stress involved because quite often, you have a fraction of a second to nail that one great image of a certain person before their attention is drawn away. If you are in the photo pen with all of the other photographers, it’s a challenge to stand out and get your shot. Sometimes putting your camera down for a second and making eye contact with the talent is helpful.

My greatest strength comes from the relationships I have built with the talent and the publicists over the years. Most of them know me at this point, and if they see I need something, they will quite often go out of their way to make sure I get my shot – much like that moment with Maisie.

I treat talent as people first and photo subjects second, so they have a trust with me that is not always established with other photographers. I’ve lost shots in the past because I could tell a certain person wasn’t feeling well or wanting to do photos. If I know a talent isn’t wanting to take photos, I won’t push them. They remember that, though – and quite often, I will get a great shot on another occasion due to that trust I’ve established.  

Treat people like people. Be genuine. Prioritize the human element and the relationship over making money off of them. That is the best advice I can give to someone trying to get into this industry. Genuine people can sometimes be a challenge to find, so when you do find one, they really stand out.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?  

I actually find inspiration in daily life. I love people-watching. I just returned from a trip shooting for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and I found myself focusing on the people more than on the famous beaches and buildings. I find humans to be beautiful in a plethora of ways, and I love taking portraits when I travel. If you are patient and just watch strangers going about their lives, you can catch some beautiful moments.

2. “I assess the environment to see if there’s a story to tell.”

Stephen Lovekin

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Variety/Shutterstock – Mariah Carey VH1 Divas Holiday Unsilent Night. Gear: Nikon D4-S camera. Settings: Focal length 24mm; expos​ure 1/250 sec; f8; ISO 1250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This image of Mariah Carey on the red carpet from last year’s ‘Divas’ event sort of illustrates the type of picture that I like to make. I thought that the photo became more interesting with the guy trying to fix her dress, with the publicist in the background and Mariah sort of oblivious to it all. It goes with the whole ‘Diva’ thing.

Pro Tip

For me, the best thing to do in a hectic environment like a red carpet is to make sure that I get the ‘bread and butter shots’: the standard full length, headshot, etc., and then I try to be as creative as possible in an extremely short window of time.

I assess the environment to see if there’s a story to tell. The very nature of red carpet photography is pretty contrived. There’s only so much one can do with a step and repeat background. The celebs stand in front of you, pose, and move on. But I like to find those little moments in between. Like I said, the window of opportunity can be really short, so you have to think fast.

I would tell other photographers who may think of doing this type of photography to try and always think outside the box. And always have a second body and a back up flash. Sometimes when I arrive at a red carpet, I look down the press line and look at how all of the other photographers are set up. I then try and do what they aren’t doing – within the realm of what’s accepted, obviously.

Sometimes, it can be challenging working in cramped quarters with the yelling and the general mayhem, but I’m used to it at this point. It just goes with the territory. And with celebrities, you kinda have to realize that they’re just people doing a job like anyone else. Treat them with respect like you would anyone else. You’re both there to do a job. I don’t really get that intimidated by them anymore. I certainly used to, but everything changes over time.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I find inspiration in a lot of things. There are my influences like Avedon, Salgado, Arbus, cinematographer Gordon Willis, etc.– you know, the photographers who inspired me to get into photography in the first place. I love black and white.

But I also find inspiration in conversation, reading, music, solitude, and even social media. If I am feeling stagnant in any way, I usually just try to spend some time absorbed in any one of those things, and then I can usually come back fresh.

3. “Remain calm and have a little patience… I don’t let myself get distracted by people getting stressed out around me.”

David Fisher

Photo by David Fisher /Shutterstock – Dwayne Johnson and Lauren Hashian at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Gear: Nikon D5 camera. Settings: Unknown.

What’s the story behind this photo?

One of the highlights of the year has to be shooting red carpet arrivals at the Oscars. It’s obviously a huge event, and with such a big Shutterstock team working to distribute pictures around the world, the pressure’s on. Due to the high level of security at the event, you have to get there very early, and there’s a lot of waiting around beforehand, which leaves plenty of time for the nerves to set in.

Once the job starts, though, you just treat it the same way you would any other job, even if you are shooting some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Often, due to lack of space that we’re given, it can get quite tight. I’m constantly checking my settings just in case the lighting changes or a flash has been knocked slightly off of the hot-shoe by accident.

Pro Tip

When shooting an arrival on the red carpet, there’s only a small window of opportunity to get the shots before ‘the talent’ gets moved along. To get the best out of any situation, I think you have to remain calm and have a little patience.

There’s usually a whole bunch of photographers screaming to get the shot and not necessarily putting all of their efforts into getting the picture. Sure, you have to make yourself heard, but it doesn’t always go down well when there’s a hundred people yelling (sometimes aggressively) at someone. I don’t let myself get distracted by people getting stressed out around me.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

I still get a buzz from seeing my pictures published. The competition is fierce and the hours are long, but it makes it all worthwhile when I see that ‘Photo: David Fisher/Shutterstock byline.