Hollywood stars

What it’s like to photograph Hollywood stars

The Oscars are fast approaching and photographers have been hard at work for months arranging coveted photo ops with Hollywood’s brightest stars. LA Times photojournalist Jay Clendenin is the man behind the lens of iconic Hollywood photo shoots. In an interview for “LA Times Today,” Clendenin shared the footage he captured ahead of this awards season with host Lisa McRee.


What do you want to know

  • Photojournalists start filming Oscar contenders months before the Oscars
  • With fewer COVID-19 protocols in place this year, photoshoots had more levity and an appreciation of being together
  • Many Oscar photoshoots are timed with press junkets, where stars spend the day speaking at multiple outlets to promote their film
  • Some photo shoots are done in the studio, but others are done in hotel rooms transformed into sets

Clendenin’s work begins long before the start of Oscar season. He explained how he selects Oscar nominees to photograph.

“The minute when [previous] The Oscars are over, the next movies are coming out. We are already sort of looking for what we consider to be potential quality products and who we believe will be the people [nominated next]. In the fall, we have already touched on several of them. And then you go to the Toronto Film Festival and a lot of big awards movies come out and we keep trying to book them in interviews. Once the nominations are out, we call again for a second session if we can or to get the ones we weren’t able to attend during the year,” Clendenin said.

While promoting “King Richard,” a movie about Venus and Serena Williams’ father, stars Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis stopped by for a quick shoot with Clendenin.

“A lot of my portrait shoots wrap up around movie shoots, which is basically a media event where they go from outlet to outlet. And that one was on the grounds of Warner Bros. I had to build a studio above the garage. We’re out in the open, hoping we’re not going to have bad weather. It was a shoot that lasted less than 10 minutes. We had two lights and different backgrounds for each of them, so it was awesome. And they are such professionals. Will achieves all the goals and Aunjanue is so awesome. It was awesome,” he recalled.

Actress Kristen Stewart is nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Princess Diana. In this case, the actor and the character are very different people. Clendenin talked about bringing out the actor’s personality and role in his photos.

“I don’t want to imitate the movie too much just because I’m not shooting the movie poster, obviously. I want to bring out the person behind the character a little bit. Unfortunately, most of the time when we do , it’s a press availability, so they’re really looking to promote. I kind of take what they give me. I can lead people on set and go get moods and stuff. But a lot of it is an exchange since I’m working with a publicist and the subject,” Clendenin explained.

Last year, Clendenin did the bulk of her Oscars photo shoots under the shadow of a COVID-19 flare-up. This year, with vaccines and boosters readily available, he said the mood on set was much brighter.

“When I do these portrait sessions in hotels, I am always masked, and the talent comes out for the photo shoot. We always try to maintain some of [those protocols] because it’s still up in the air. Most of us are vaccinated, I’m boosted, I’ve done everything and most of us are tested. Photographers are tested before they get to the shots. I guess all my subjects too. I still keep them up, but it’s definitely relaxed that we still only keep two people in the room. It’s sort of a throwback to how we were with their support team around. Everyone’s in a better mood for sure, because we’re excited to be back and seeing people. A very different vibe from a year ago,” Clendenin said.

One person Clendenin worked with who did not receive an Oscar nomination was Lady Gaga. Her performance in “House of Gucci” generated buzz at the start of awards season.

“I’ve only photographed her twice or in situations like this, besides red carpets, and she’s just amazing. She’s a real artist. She wants to work with the photographer and make the best pictures We were two hours late for this shoot and I turned a hotel room into two different backgrounds and lighting setups. It wasn’t more than eight minutes, but she gave me the time to make both backgrounds and both looks. Every photo, every frame I took is a great photo. She’s just awesome. She knows how to do it. I was definitely disappointed that she didn’t was nominated because I was looking forward to another shoot,” he said.

The work of composer Hans Zimmer is featured in several iconic Oscar-winning films. Clendenin did a photoshoot with him ahead of his “Dune” score nomination.

“Hans is great. He’s really funny. He just has such a good attitude about it all. He likes to have fun with the process because he knows he has to. We all work together to try to capturing some of the pop culture that’s in the news right now. I met him in his studio. He’s got this amazing studio with a lot of technical stuff on the walls, all around us in space. And you just want to have fun. I asked what picture he didn’t take. He grabs his guitar because everyone put him on the piano. That’s what he’s known for. But he loves to play the guitar. I have a picture of him with the guitar. There aren’t many pictures of him playing so it was really fun to do something different with this one,” shared Clendenin.

Watch “LA Times Today” at 7 and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app.