The first time I was assigned to photograph Justin Bieber was in August of 2009. He had become a YouTube sensation, he’d just signed a lucrative record deal, and his first album, My World, was still three months away from release.
At that first shoot, I quickly discovered two things about him. The first was that that he was very young and new to the photo studio environment. Despite his best efforts to give me everything I asked for, he struggled to find comfort and an identity in front of the camera. Still, the pictures had a quality and look that I hadn’t seen since shooting superstar Justin Timberlake several years earlier. The second thing I discovered that day was that Bieber was already an underground superstar himself and that he would likely surpass the success that Justin Timberlake had seen at his apex.
How could I tell? About halfway through the shoot, his manager, Scooter Braun decided to log on to the recently launched Justin Bieber website. When I looked down at the traffic counter, it showed that there were more than 5,000 fans who were also logged onto the site at that moment. When the manager turned the laptop camera around to show Bieber being groomed in the middle of the set, the stream of comments that had just been trickling in to the site suddenly changed to a torrent. The postings were appearing so quickly and from so many viewers that they were nearly unreadable. When the wardrobe stylist casually adjusted Bieber’s scarf, the comments went whizzing by: “Love the scarf!”, “Blue looks great on you!”, and dozens that simply said, “I love you, Justin!”
“This is hard to believe,” I thought. His album wasn’t even out yet. But, with the release of My World three months later, Bieber would go on to become the first artist in history to have seven songs from a debut record to appear on the Billboard Hot 100. No small accomplishment from a singer who was just fifteen years old.
Ironically, Believe ultimately became the title of his most recent album. The word also appears in the form of a tattoo on his left arm. And it’s easy to now see why anyone should Believe: Bieber is currently one of the most highly paid entertainers in the world with an estimated income of $55 million dollars annually.
I would end up photographing Bieber several times again before the end of that year, but by the start of 2010 he was an international sensation and I was pretty certain that I’d photographed him for the last time.
I was wrong. A few weeks ago I was commissioned to photograph the grown up Justin Bieber at the very lovely and secure Siren Studios in Los Angeles. As the details of the session emerged, it became apparent that the shoot would be a challenge because of the significant restrictions on both Bieber’s time and considerations about his security. For example, the photo crew would have to be limited to only one assistant; the record company would make the hiring decisions on all of the make-up, hair, and wardrobe stylists; and my shooting time would be limited to thirty minutes exactly. The biggest restriction though was that I’d only have half an hour to set up a studio environment that normally takes at least two hours to construct.
We were promised six wardrobe looks in 30 minutes, so there wouldn’t be enough time in-between changes to vary the lighting. And since we were limited on the front end, there wasn’t enough time to construct multiple sets to get a variety of looks—something I do at nearly every shoot. Multiple sets are the easiest way to get a lot of volume in a short amount of time. You need redundant sets of lights and packs to pull it off, but in the end, it’s a great way to get the same wardrobe change in two or three different sets. For this shoot there wasn’t time, so to get just a little variation in the shoot, we chose to do a more reflective image using only window light and reflectors.
With the help of the phenomenal Shawn Cullen, we were able to get the sets built in the allotted thirty minutes and were completely ready when Bieber emerged from make-up, hair, and wardrobe.
I wasn’t sure of what to expect when he walked onto the set or if he’d even recognize me. Since I’d last seen him, he’d grown up into what could only be called a sensation. He was no longer a boy and no longer just a promise. Once we began to shoot, it was also very clear that he was no longer inexperienced in front of the camera. In thirty minutes, Justin Bieber gave me more usable frames than many people give me over the course of several hours. By the time the shoot ended after exactly 30 minutes and 29 seconds, he said thank you, gave me a genuine hug, and departed.
After capture, all of the images were processed from the raw format into PSD files, run through a variety of post-production steps including Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4 and delivered as JPEG files to the client.
After seeing him again, it was quite clear that Justin Bieber had grown into everything those 5,000 fans saw that day three years earlier. Only now, they number 29 million. And counting.