I know first-hand how hard it is to make it in the celebrity photography industry — as a paparazzo — especially with the negative public opinion of us, the miserable pay, and the struggling economy. With the industry saturated with photos and photographers who are not properly trained, it’s no wonder people are desperate for the big money shot. Our colleagues, who passed away earlier this week while trying to snap a picture of Justin Bieber, was one of them. But does that photo exist, and is it worth it?
I used to work full time as a senior design engineer for a research-and-development company when I started taking weekend rides with an experienced paparazzo. After about three months of learning the ropes, I was left to fend for myself. It took about a year for me to finally consider myself experienced. Eventually, I got outsourced from engineering and was forced to become a full-time paparazzo.
Back then, the word “paparazzi” was well-known, but it was never associated with anything negative, because we were invisible and we took pride in never being seen. We hid in our cars and took pictures from a distance. We were the proud few. We wanted to give space to the celebrities, some of whom we even idolized.
As camera technology improved, the number of photographers increased. Eventually, you were fighting 50 other photographers to get one shot of Lindsay Lohan leaving the Ivy Restaurant. With thousands and thousands of photos, the market started to change and the price for these photos eventually decreased. And basic economic principals state that when there is too much supply, the demand goes down.
With too many photographers going "click, click, click" on the shutter, people became more aware of the presence of these pesky paparazzi and the public perception of us became more negative. People idolize celebrities and they think they can do no wrong, but when something bad happens and they need someone to blame, they blame the paparazzi. Sure, paparazzi have gotten blamed in the past, but it’s nothing compared to today. Now we have paparazzi laws and celebrities tweeting about us.
Paparazzi have always been and always will be the scapegoats. But the thing the public often forgets is that we are all people trying to feed our families and pay our bills. They also forget that they are the ones who keep us in business by wanting to know what celebrities are doing.
Unfortunately, a colleague paid the ultimate price for his profession. But if he were a photographer for a respectable news organization, the headline of his death would be different. It would say, "Honoring a journalist for his contributions." As paparazzi, we, too, deliver news and contribute to a multi-million dollar industry, despite the fact that it is a different type of news.
Personally, I also think that he died for a non-photo (a photo that is not sellable). Yes, in the old days, you could do a distant follow, but today all the professionals are gone and it is just untrained photographers looking to make a quick buck.
Today, most shots are not worth the risks. The elusive money shot is like winning the lottery: It rarely becomes reality.
My experience has taught me about the risks involved in being a paparazzo, but these risks are only worth it if you get the proper training. The industry is already oversaturated with photographers and pictures, but people still want to do this high-stakes job. Most will struggle and only a lucky few will ever see big money.
Paparazzi are people, too, and in death, they need to be honored for their contributions to the entertainment industry as they help chronicle the life of your favorite celebrities. In the end, the sun always comes up and we all need to keep moving forward in order to survive.
Editor's note: Henry Flores will talk more on this subject with Mike Galanos on HLN's Evening Express at 5:45 p.m. ET tonight.