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How to Spontaneously Photograph a Famous Person (Specifically Jeff Goldblum)

By Guest Contributor on July 7th 2016

So I ran into Jeff Goldblum after attending a press event for the new Independence Day movie. I was pretty happy with how I handled the scenario; It was quick; He was happy. I was happy. It was a good exchange.

Even after becoming aware that they are in fact, just people just like you or me, meeting a famous actor is still quite cool. But a new question arises: is getting an autograph or (if you’re reading this in 2016) a selfie with said celebrity going to come off as annoying to said celebrity. Answer: No. As a celebrity they’re used to it and expect it.

New question: Will they really care about your selfie or your interaction with them if you ask? Probably not so much. But, can you imagine how much more appreciative they’ll be and impressionable you’ll be if you were to ask “May I take your portrait?”. The fact you took the time to politely ask, makes you probably not vicious paparazzi.


So, let’s say you’ve quickly made the active decision to approach a passing celebrity and ask to take their photograph, and they’ve said yes. Lucky you. Well not yet. Luck is the meeting of opportunity and preparation; You’ve encountered a fortunate opportunity of crossing paths with a famous person, and then think of the amount of instagram likes and texts from relatives congratulating you you’ll get! But are you fully prepared to make the most of this opportunity? Here’s some advice to follow if you find yourself with a similar scenario.

    1. Have your camera with you. If you’re in a big city like London or New York running into a celebrity isn’t uncommon. Running into an interesting subject, be it an individual or piece of architecture is even less uncommon. Why not to have your camera with you, as a photographer? Could be a whole article in itself, but today we’re talking about taking a celebrity’s portrait. Just have your camera with you.
    2. Don’t waste their time. Like I said, they are people too. But people with busy schedules. Imagine being in the public eye constantly, having to worry about the media and being pestered for selfies every time they visit the store? It can do a real number on some people. Some of them value their time greatly.
      On the off chance they tell you not to take their photo, don’t base your negative opinion on them because of it. But if they say yes, don’t request too much from them. Don’t spend a lot of time fiddling with your shutter speed or changing lenses. And absolutely make sure the lens cap is off before you even approach them.
    3. Think about the shot. Look at your lighting scenario, your composition. Think about your lens choice (if you have choice, if not, make do). Choose the best background at your deposal. It’s unlikely they’ll want to walk with you to somewhere more photogenic so make do with what you’ve got. What’s the light doing today? Is there a non-distracting background that supplies the good separation you want? Is there something else that’ll make for an interesting portrait? These are all questions that you need to be able to ask yourself and answer in a matter of seconds. If you’re not confident enough to be able to do all of that, then you’re not shooting enough in your own time. By all means, still take a shot (it might turn out great), but reflect on yourself not feeling fully prepared. Which brings me onto number:
    4. Practice. Not feeling prepared is something not worth worrying about when you’re spontaneously in front of an interesting subject. Going back to number 1, have your camera on you always. Take shots of people. Review what you like and dislike. Play around. Develop your taste. Practice, so when an oppertunity arises like this, you can switch straight into portrait mode like it’s second nature.

      an impromtu portrait of Max Joseph ?

      A photo posted by Ray Roberts (@rayrobertsfilms) on

      Also, don’t just practice your photography, but your people skills. Undoubtably you will pick up people skills by shooting people, your friends, friends of friends, approaching random people. Being a portrait photographer can lead to you being able to not come off as a strange individual with a camera (being a cool approachable person with a camera is a lot better).

    5. Make do with what you have. So the light is a bit boring. There’s scaffolding with construction workers in unfortunately coloured high-vis jackets all over the place. Oh well. Find the best angle quickly and make do. Still probably better than a selfie.
    6. Show them the photo. Take a couple quickly and show them. Don’t spend more time treating it like a photoshoot to take more photos. They don’t know you or your work. They’ll want to see (if they care at all) after one photo. If they react quite positively, it’s not too cheeky to ask if they want you to send it to them although I’ll leave it up to you to judge if that’s appropriate or not.
    7. Don’t just keep it on your SD card. Who knows where this photo can lead if they like the photo? Imagine how impressive it’ll look to friends and clients! “Wow, they were hired to photograph ____!” they might think. This could be your big break once it reaches social media! A new portrait photographer runs into celebrity and takes a ridiculously cool photo is prime Reddit material. The celebrity and/or their agent could even give you some serious exposure or even hire you to take more photos when they check out your work. Perhaps this is all wishful thinking but you never know! Or you could sell it onto an online magazine to make a quick buck. It’s entirely up to you. Just put it somewhere soon.

[REWIND: How Apple Views Photography | Here’s What’s Coming & It’s More Than Just Raw Capture]

Once you follow all those steps, you’re not only well-prepared but made the most out of your fortunate opportunity. Or you could just think about taking their photo but let your shyness get the better of you and probably regret it forever. The choice is entirely up to you.

Also, a lot of these applies to everyday people you pass on the streets. Think of all the photo opportunities you’re passing by every time you leave the house. Constantly regretting not having a camera with you when you don’t is a good sign of a passionate photographer.

About the Author:

jeff-goldblum-juraassic-park-ray-roberts-photographyRay Roberts is a filmmaker and portrait photographer from London. Ray is also confused if typing in the third-person looks silly or not.

You can find more about and from Ray on his site, Youtube channel, and Instagram, so let’s show him some love.



CREDITS: Photographs by Ray Roberts are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Karen Borter

    This reminds me of last year at San Diego Comic Con. My friend and I were walking down a side street going to the marina and we noticed a guy checking out my friends cosplay (costume) … well a table mate of his was Matt Smith (Doctor Who) and Lilly Allen. I, of course, had my camera and asked if I could take their photo. NOTE: having grown up in Los Angeles, I am fairly used to celebrity encounters (and know quite a few) therefore I rarely, if ever, ask for “selfies” or autographs especially if they are at a restaurant (as was this case). Since we were at Comic Con and my friend and I are MASSIVE Doctor Who fans, well … I had to. They were very cool about it.

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  2. Donna Macauley

    Great article! I usually have my camera with me. My hurdle is getting over being introverted and shy and asking strangers (or in the case of your article celebrities) if I can photograph them.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You’re not alone there at all. Those of us who have a strong sense of propriety often let it get in the way. Just do it and ask for forgiveness ;-)

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    • Ralph Hightower

      The person wasn’t an actor, but a NASA astronaut that was having lunch with his family in his home town. My wife and I waited until they were getting ready to leave before we approached them. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I got Charles Bolden’s autograph. We talked a little bit about the Space Shuttle program and NASA.

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  3. Bill Bentley

    Every time I read a story like this I’m reminded of the time way back in the 90’s when I was walking around Granville Island here in Vancouver and stumbled upon Terry David Mulligan interviewing Sarah McLachlan and Smashing Pumpkins for Much Music. This was at the time when those artists had just broken onto the music scene so it was a great photo opportuity. They finished the interview and I politely asked if I could take their picture(s). They kindly agreed and I got off about 6 shots with my trusty Minolta XD-11. It was about 10 minutes later that I realized I didn’t have any film loaded in the camera. Doh!

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    • Donna Macauley

      Ouch! But also funny. :)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Those are two names that just took me back to living in Toronto in the 90s, and seeing Much Music HQ with throngs of people around it.

      Great, but terrible story Bill!

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    • Kellan McCall

      As a MASSIVE Pumpkins fan, that’s an amazing story! As a fellow photographer, that’s an awful story! But, look at it this way. It’s a different memory due to the lack of film, but still a great one.

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  4. Daniel Thullen

    Wow, spontaneity takes a lot of preparation! As it should. Great article Ray with a great deal of useful information.

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