Though we can spend hours clicking through photos of our favorite celebs on the red carpet or looking swanky at the after-parties, it’s not too often we stop to think about the guy (or gal) on the other side of the camera lens. In honor of this busy photo season (what with Fashion Week followed by numerous awards shows…) we decided to chat with one such man behind the camera.
Jason Kempin (who has shot just about everyone from Taylor Swift to Snooki, and from Rooney Mara to Kanye West) has been shooting star-studded events in entertainment, fashion, news and sports for the past ten years. As a Getty Images photographer, he has had access to exclusive parties, red carpets and backstage areas. With each photo, he gives us a glimpse into the life behind the VIP ropes.
Now with the tables turned, StyleCaster talks to Jason to get a glimpse into his life as a busy Getty photog, including where he had the most fun working, how he gets the perfect shot and how you can look your best in front of a camera, like a regular ol’ Scarlett Johansson or Mila Kunis.
StyleCaster: What has been your favorite event to shoot?
Jason Kempin: “It’s a tough question. I mean I very much like traveling so I like going up to Sundance and just being in a different environment and sort of being new, being fresh. I’m based in New York [so] I like to get out and shoot different venues.”
“You see people you normally wouldn’t see on an everyday basis and kind of challenge yourself a little bit. Working for the Sundance Film Institute, for instance, when we go out there we’re the house photographers and, you know, working with a team and really collaborating ’cause we have to basically cover everything.”
“You can really pow-wow with the other photographers and the public, just making sure everything goes smoothly. Usually when I can accomplish that, it’s most enjoyable.”
“Music is always fun but it’s not top priority to the company [Getty], but fashion week is really fun too. It’s a long, drawn out event.”
“It’s really tiring, but you know, with the Getty pass it allows you to kind of go places that other photographers wouldn’t always be able to go. And you can see the models backstage where most other photographers would get kicked out and you kind of have the opportunity to stick around and kind of get something that you wouldn’t, not just a regular photo, but you would really challenge yourself to make something different or creative that would sort of push the envelope a little bit.”
SC: When and where is the best time to take some amazing photographs?
JK: “I like sort-of-intimate after-parties for premieres where you go and you’re not necessarily on the line, where it can be a situation where you’re actually getting to interact and you can talk about like what kind of music you like or what kind of food you like, and you hear sort of that the celebrity or personality is more like a friend than, you know, someone you’re just screaming at like, ‘Over here, over here, over here,’ for a shot. And being intimate…with something is definitely my most favorite. And it could be anyone, you know, there’s no specific person [to shoot].”
SC: How do you decide who to shoot and what draws you to a person you want to photograph?
JK: “We’re given set guidelines on who we have to get, you know. At after-parties there’ll be a producer, a screenwriter, a playwright. We’ll basically know these people and we get like a little face sheet of people who are in the production or the movie or the play.”
“And we focus on them and just trying to capture for (a lot of times) the Hollywood Reporter or Variety, you try to go for a moment that’s not necessarily posed. You know, a candid discussion of people instead of just a straightforward…blasting of headshots, and I guess more of the shots that would be, I feel like I’m a broken record saying intimate shots, but shots that someone if they were a friend of the celebrity would shoot on their iPhone, you know, more of an internal part of their life that someone may not see if they were just screaming and going crazy at the premiere or something.”
“That would always be my favorite and always a lot more comfortable to me.”
SC: Is there a difference when it comes to shooting events in the U.S., say the Oscars, and photographing events abroad, like Paris Fashion Week?
JK: “I feel that abroad is much more, how do you say…there’s less wrangling by PR. It’s a little more…little more free, in the sense of, ‘Somebody pose here, take three steps, four stepspose here, pose here.’ I went to Austria for an AMFAR event and it’s much more loose.”
“And I personally do believe that the European press has a lot more freedom for creativity. I think it’s because magazines I think are given more leeway to just be more artistic and free-flowing.”
“Like maybe the actual celebrity may not be the focal point. It may be an environment that they’re in, you know, like a wide shot instead of just focusing on a small detail of someone.”
“It’s more about the story rather than just what they’re wearing. I personally would love to work out there if possible. It’s much, much more lax than here.”
“I mean they’re crazy too, don’t get me wrong. Some of the guys that come in for fashion week, I mean they’re nuts, but it’s a lot more laid back, you know.”
“You can have a cocktail. You can relax, there’s no…it’s not as stringent, sort of as the U.S. can be.”
SC: Do you have any tips for the stylistas out there on how to look amazing when they get their photograph taken?
JK: “At least most of the time when I’m photographing someone, I want to sort of disarm them in a way. I personally, when someone takes my photo, I tighten up and become like, ‘Oh god, is my hair okay? Is my shirt on right or something?”‘
“I mean, I get sort of self-conscious but I feel if…you have a repertoire or you know that person from a previous event then you’ll shake hands or introduce yourself and really loosen up. And they, you know, their face won’t be so stone cold, and it makes all the difference because when you put clothes on a rock, they don’t really move.They just sit there.”
“When you put clothes on someone who’s really flowing and comfortable with themselves, and they’re comfortable with you, it makes, I personally think then the picture becomes more lively and more interesting.”
“Also, as a photographer, it’s almost like being in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Just be vulnerable in a way almost.”
“You know, take off your mask and, and, you know, don’t just be this person with a camera but be someone who actually is part of the event and wants to be there, you know, not just doing it as a job per se. That’s usually how I try my best.”
“You know, some days I’m tired, some days I’m just like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to do this.’ But really just being present and being kind of respecting who you’re working with is the most important thing.”