You work with celebrities who have very busy schedules and little time to spend on set. How do you get the shot you need?
Michael: Surprisingly, a lot of actors are not very comfortable in front of a still camera. They’re used to being directed, being a character — that’s their art. To just be themselves and move their bodies in a way that looks good in still photography is, for many of them, pretty awkward.
Tracy: In any shoot we do, we’ve been planning and setting up lights and doing tests for at least two hours, not to mention the wardrobe planning and set building. We always have a clear idea of what a given picture is supposed to look like before we start shooting.
Michael: And that’s how you can tell whether you’ve got the right shot. If you look down at the back of the camera and you see what you were planning for, then you’re done.
We’re always hoping people get a sense of fun and joy from the picture.
Do you find you have time to experiment? Get shots you weren’t expecting?
Michael: We just did a cover shoot with Kristin Chenoweth. We shot all of the main stuff on this beautifully lit set and then at the very end, we turned her 180 degrees so she was standing in the middle of the light and shot her there. We got some of the most amazing pictures of her. You’d never do that normally, but it worked. We accomplished the assignment first, and then took a moment to play around.
Tracy: A lot of times, what gets published are the happy accidents, because a magazine can only plan so much too. They can visualize what they want, but you never know what’s going to happen on a shoot — a dog might walk by in the park that would look great in the shot …
Michael: … or maybe the actor comes on set and the clothes don’t fit. You can plan for weeks, but there are factors that just get thrown at you that you have to turn into positives.
Color is a distinct element in your portraiture. How much do you plan beforehand, and how much of the color you incorporate is determined on set?
Tracy: It would be great if we could say it’s always planned. We try to have as much information as possible beforehand. But things happen — sometimes actresses arrive and they’ve just changed their hair color. Often we have to make decisions on set.
Michael: Magazines are color addicts. The directive is always color, color, color. It helps the cover pop off the newsstand. Plus, it adds energy and a feeling of joy. In most of our images, people are smiling and looking like they’re having fun. Color and fun are two words that are part of our work. As far as planning it, we use a lot of seamless paper and blue skies. People tend to look great against blue.
How much do you try to capture the character an actor is promoting at the time and how much do you try to capture the actor’s real personality?
Michael: Sometimes actors don’t want to play the character for a photo shoot, and sometimes they want to do something similar to the character they’re promoting.
Tracy: I think what we’re looking for is more of the person than the character because movies are gone so quickly. Plus, actors are often doing press for a movie a year after they made it, so they’re already into something else. We’ve actually had actors say to us, “You know, I’m not that character.” Then we’ve had the other type. For example, I think we’ve photographed Jim Carrey three times and every time, he seemed like a completely different person.
Michael: He only felt comfortable being a character.
Tracy: He came in character and he was not going to be anybody else that day. That’s part of our job, to have them feel like they want to give us what we’re looking for.
What do you want people to see when they look at your work?
Michael: We’re always hoping people get a sense of fun and joy from the picture, that it looks like the person being photographed enjoyed it. We want to convey a sense of that person’s personality, capture a real moment of happiness and beauty. That’s our goal.