What It's Really Like To Be A Woman Photographer On The Red Carpet

Photo: Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock.
Look closely at the photo above, and you might notice a trend. That's right — just like the upper echelons of Hollywood, red carpet photography is still a relatively male-dominated space.
It's ironic that just as women are fighting to be heard on the issues that matter while walking the red carpet, those behind the cameras are facing some of the very same issues.
When Chelsea Lauren first started as a red carpet photographer nearly a decade ago, she was often one of the only women photographers on the red carpet. Today, things are a little better. "I would say it's probably 70% men, 30% women," she said in an interview with Refinery29.
Lauren, whose been working with Shutterstock for the last two and a half years, kind of fell into the business by accident. But over her career, she's photographed stars including Gina Rodriguez, Heidi Klum, Michael B. Jordan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend Salma Hayek, Anna Kendrick, Dev Patel, Garrett Hedlund — and the list goes on and on.
In light of the upcoming Oscars, Refinery29 asked Lauren to share some secrets about the ins and outs of getting that perfect celebrity shot — and whether the vibe on the red carpet has changed as a result of the reckoning prompted by #MeToo and Time's Up.
Refinery29: Was it harder for you to carve our a place for yourself as a woman on the red carpet?
Chelsea Lauren: "I always tried not to really pay too much attention to that, and I'm really hesitant to blame or credit anything on me being a woman. I like to think it's my personality more than anything —  I'm very bubbly and warm, and I have a pretty gregarious personality that people tend to open up to. Some people might not take things as seriously with me being a female, they look at me as more of someone to flirt with than an actual colleague, or just more of a novelty than a peer. Most of the women on the carpet are a little bit older. When I first started especially, I was one of the only younger ones. Now there's a few more in the 25 to 35 age range, which is nice. When people do underestimate me I try not to pay any attention, and just keep doing my job, and doing it well. My work speaks for itself, and I'll let them keep underestimating me."
What are some misconceptions people have about the red carpet?
"I think people think it's a very glamorous job. In reality, it's not really. You see the videos online of the photograph pit going crazy, and the videos, they show that. But a lot of time it's waiting. You have a talent list of 30 people that are going to walk the red carpet — and I'm not talking about the Oscars because all the names are big at the Oscars, but you know like a regular everyday event — and of the 30 people, there's like two that are considered to be really good names. So, you're kind of just waiting around for those two really good names, and then that's when you see the video of all the photographers screaming and going crazy over the one person. The other hour and a half of it is just kind of us standing around, playing games on our phone, the guys are talking about sports. It's kind of mellow, and often we check in an hour sometimes even longer before the carpet starts. We get there, we get set up, we find our spots, we try to finagle our way into better spots if we don't like the one we're in. It's a lot of that."
Is there a spot you definitely do not want to be in?
"Oh, yeah! Photographers are stacked. So, there's the front row, but then there's the second row, and sometimes the third row. You definitely want to be in the front row. Then, there's the very end of the front row. It starts with photographers, then videographers, then writers. End of the photographer line is kind of the worst spot because you go straight into video, and by that point, the celebrities have already stood and taken photos for 50 other photographers."
How do you get people to pose the way you want them to?
"Smiles are always just good, but I'm aware certain people don't love to smile, so I try not to push it. I try to find ways to kind of make people laugh. One of my favorites is 'Oh, can I get like a little smile this way?' and if they don't, I say 'Okay, Blue Steel works too.' A lot of times I get a crack, and a lot of men try not to smile, and then they put their head down and cover their face with their hand while they're laughing. But sometimes they really appreciate actually being made to laugh on the carpet."
How did you establish those celebrity relationships?
"I never went into this with the intention of like, I'm going to make celebrity friends. They can see right through it, and then you never will. When you're behind the line, it's kind of harder to build relationships because you're just in a pit with other photographers, so you can't really have conversations with people. But when you're working the inside of an events, or parties, or cocktails, you have the time, or if you are doing portraits that's always an easy way to establish a rapport.
What makes a really great celebrity photograph?
"On a red carpet it's a little challenging to get something unique. The inside of parties is a bit better, when I can roam and get some new things. People laughing, having a good time together. There's also a really fine line to tread with that too. I kind of feel uncomfortable just walking up and starting to fire while someone's having a moment without asking permission. But I would say genuine moments and genuine happiness, people goofing, Recently I shot Chloe Grace Moretz's 21st birthday, and she had Brooklyn [Beckham] with her, and there were so many adorable moments between them. They kind of gave me carte blanche to do whatever, and I got some cute photos of them taking selfies together, and goofing off. And then she cut her cake, and I was like 'Hey you should like feed it to him.' She's totally game for anything, and she sat down and she feeds him a piece of this cake and that photo is like the cutest thing ever."
Are there any moments that kind of stand out for you as your favorites?
"I had a really cute one at the Game of Thrones premiere last season with Rose [Leslie] and Kit [Harington]. They're both just kind of laughing, and she's leaning in and kind of nuzzling him a little bit. That was actually on the other side of the carpet from me — they had two lines and we were back to back — but I had my long lens out and I was just shooting between other photographer’s shoulders, and it was the cutest shot of them just being really adorable. I did this show, and Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner came to the after party, and I just kind of camped out, waiting for them to get close enough to each other to ask for a picture. I have a really long relationship with Taylor. He was one of the first celebrities I ever shot, before Twilight even came out. Kristen is obviously a bit more reclusive, so I give her her space, and she knows I'm respectful. [W]hen I saw them I asked, 'Is it possible to get you to together?' And they don't take photos very often, but they [agreed]. So, I got this really adorable photo of Taylor with his arm around her, and just kind of laughing and looking to the side while she's looking at me."
Do you kind of keep up with who's friends with who, and celebrity relationships in order to get those kinds of shots that are meaningful? "I do try — it would be very easy to make a mistake and try to push people together. If I'm not sure about a relationship I just ask the publicist. I don't like to grab two strangers and be like, 'Hey guys, take a picture together' and they're like 'Hi,' and introduce themselves awkwardly before standing next to each other. You don't get a really good real moment."
Has the red carpet changed in the last couple months in light of the conversations spawned by #MeToo and Time's Up?
"Yeah, a bit. [In] the photographer pit not a ton, but there's this new verb about empowerment in the industry. I love that the conversation has opened up. Previously it was something that nobody really spoke about, except for women complaining amongst themselves to each other but most would never speak that outwardly about it. There's an energy now that didn't really exist before."
At the Golden Globes when everyone wore black, does that change how you photograph people on the carpet?
"Well with red carpet photography generally speaking, the pictures run when they're colorful or show sort of fashion trend. You see everyone in shades of yellow, everyone in this floral pattern, or everyone in these polka dots. Black is always in fashion, so usually black doesn't run. That being said, because the black had a purpose at the Golden Globes, it obviously ran incredibly. But what ran more I feel like were the group shots that showed all of the black. Because there's just a girl in a black dress, but if you see a group of women on a red carpet in all black that kind of makes more of a statement. I wasn't expecting every single person on the carpet to do it. I was expecting to see like 50% black and then the rest of the people in color. That was fascinating to me."
What are you most excited about at the Oscars this year?
"I've been doing this for 10 years, and I've never actually shot proper arrival to the Oscars. I have done the Oscars multiple times, but I'm usually working with the executives, who have a separate area for photos. But I spoke up a bit this year, so this is actually my first year doing that, and I'm really excited about it. There's just something so iconic about shooting arrivals at the Oscars more so than almost any other event. I've done Emmys, I've done the Globes, done the SAGs, and all of that which are wonderful events, but I'm really really excited to do the Oscars finally."
Who would be in your ideal group shot?
"Man, maybe a really great shot of all the Lady Bird ladies together. I adore Saoirse, I love her so much.. I'm a personal major fan of Guillermo Del Toro so anything with him makes me very happy, and then Call Me By Your Name —  I love Armie [Hammer] and Timothée [Chalamet]; they're both great too. A shot of the two of those guys together would be wonderful. There's just so many!"

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series