How a Paparazzi Photographer Makes Money

The BBC has interviewed a renowned paparazzo and US photo editor, both of whom revealed details of making money through selling images of celebrities. They discuss the importance of knowing where famous people live, the changing royalty percentages, and the fight against other paparazzi for exclusive images.

A pap since 1990, Santiago Baez has documented it all. New babies, marriages, deaths, and… celebrities performing mundane tasks. Like many photographers, his income is never certain and often fluctuates.

Speaking to the BBC, he revealed the importance of knowing where celebrities live and hang out. Over the years, he’s built up a network who provide him with information, such as shop owners, cab drivers, etc. That being said, he claims in recent years many of the tip-offs come from the celebrity themselves, with many documenting their day live on social media.

Most pictures aren’t worth much, but a shot of a new baby, a celebrity kissing a new paramour, or a wedding can change fortunes overnight.

Photographers like Baez often sell pictures to an agency who has relationships with photo editors at a publication. As per the BBC, a paparazzo receives anywhere between 20% and 70% of the royalties from the image, depending on the deal. Rates can vary dependent on the photographer exclusively selling their pictures to just one agency.

Peter Grossman, photo editor at Us Weekly from 2003 to 2017, told the same BBC reporter he once paid “mid six figures” for a number of photos of Twilight actress Kristen Stewart embracing married film director Rupert Sanders.

Grossman reminisces on the “gold rush years,” referring to the “Just Like Us” section which involved pictures of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan doing everyday errands, which always proved a hit with readers. He said:

Although the price of a photograph depended on what the celebrity was doing and whether it was an exclusive, at the gold rush peak, an exclusive “Just Like Us” picture would typically fetch $5,000 to $15,000.

The danger came, he says, when the popularity of such images caused an influx of paparazzi taking increased risks in trying to obtain celebrity exclusives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gold rush lost much of its value with the rise of the internet and social media.

Many photo agencies changed their business model. Rather than a pay-per-photo approach, many offered a subscription service. Naturally, paparazzi are paid a small fraction of the subscription fee dependent on the number of their pictures being used each month. An exclusive “Just Like Us” photo that would formerly paid $5,000 to $15,000 now pays only $5 or $10.

The pressure is on, now more than ever, to catch that exclusive moment.

Read the BBC’s full story here.

Lead image credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr CC.

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