(Illustration by Li Anne Liew; photos by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
If everything had gone as it should have that day, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make this photo. But in photography, as in life, there is collaboration.
— Dania Maxwell
In a look back at some of the year’s most compelling portraits, photographers take us inside their creative process, favorite moments and the thrill of of getting “the” shot.
Mackenzie Davis and Matilda Lawler
By Tracy Nguyen in Los Angeles
This day was the best. I met with Mackenzie and Matilda at one of my favorite parks in L.A., and we started off our time together walking around and admiring the flowers that bloomed that time of year. Matilda and Mackenzie have a sweet admiration for each other. It felt effortless capturing the two together! My favorite kind of shoots are ones that don’t feel like shoots at all, and this is exactly what it felt like.
By Devin Oktar Yalkin at Paramount Studios in Hollywood
For this shoot, it was really about utilizing an empty room — an environment that had absolutely nothing to work with. I had 10 minutes with Amanda, which is typical for celebrity shoots, and I wanted to try something slightly more sculptural with the photograph. I found an electrical cord that I wanted to work with and just made a spiral around her to create a different sense of space.
By Peter Fisher at the actor’s home
I’d heard nothing but amazing things about Henry for years. Always described as the “nicest guy in Hollywood,” he didn’t disappoint. He welcomed us into his house with open arms and by the time the shoot was over, he was giving us bags of candy and telling us what roses to smell on the walk from his front door to our car. After the pictures were published, I received the most beautiful voicemail from him gushing about how much he loved them. I saved it and still listen to it when I’m having a really bad day.
By Maximilian Mann at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco
When I received the request for the assignment about the refugee ballet dancers from Ukraine, I immediately accepted. It became one of the most exciting and interesting assignments of 2022. For this, I first traveled from Germany to Amsterdam to Monaco. I witnessed Martin Korol incredibly focused and motivated when I photographed him in the ballet class with his new classmates. I was lucky that the hall where they practiced was painted a beautiful blue. In the end, I chose a photo of Martin in the foreground with his classmates in the background. Later, I walked through the city of Monaco with Martin and his friend. We were very impressed by the wealth in the city — there were expensive cars and huge yachts everywhere. The contrast between the war in Ukraine and Monaco seemed greater than in any other place in Europe.
Matt and Ross Duffer
By Kovi Konowiecki at the Netflix offices in Hollywood
Making a double portrait is always a fun challenge. My goal going into the shoot was to have the Duffer brothers interact with each other in a nontraditional way. They were both quite shy and I didn’t have much time with them, so it was helpful to have planned several different shots beforehand. Having said that, the element of emotional spontaneity is something I strive for with my portraiture, and I think I was able to achieve that with this photo. It feels as if they exist in a liminal space between posing for a portrait and being characters in their own world.
My favorite kinds of shoots are ones that don’t feel like shoots at all.
— Tracy Nguyen
By Kayla James in Los Angeles
I was so excited to be shooting Lizzo and wanted everything to go perfectly. I spent the entire night prior curating what I thought would be the best playlist for her to vibe to during the shoot (mostly hip-hop and rap). Lizzo ended up surprising me and wanted to rock out to No Doubt albums, which I loved!
By SeoJu Park in Mexico City
They had given us 30 minutes to do the shoot backstage before her concert in Mexico City. I arrived with my team two hours before to set up the lighting. I was nervous to have such little time, but we ended up getting the shot after 10 minutes. I had never done such a quick and powerful shoot. The person who said hi when she saw us and the one in front of the camera were two different enigmatic energies. I was stunned as I watched her fierce expressions and movements. This was definitely a shoot to remember.
By Annie Noelker in Los Angeles
I heard him laughing before anything — that iconic deep laugh you know comes with a slight smirk. He wore a shirt with embroidered little poodles on it. The place was like a museum, with highlights and memorabilia from a lifetime of being an absolute badass. We photographed him in a quiet little corner in his office, where I sat on the ground and pulled out my gels to make loops around the lens. The environment was very play-friendly. I remember seeing an idea board with ridiculous, impossible things scrawled across. They have fun in there. When I left, he was smoking a joint in the parking lot. It was magical.
Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas
By Victor Llorente at the Loews Regency in New York
Antonio showed up to the set early. When I introduced myself in Spanish, he asked, “Where are you from? Argentina?” To which I responded, “No, I’m from Madrid.” He was surprised since there are not many Spaniards in New York. When Penélope showed up, the first thing he told her was, “He’s from Madrid!” because Penélope was also born and raised in Madrid. I think this initial connection made them feel really comfortable and we got many good shots in the seven minutes we spent together. This is definitely an anecdote I will tell my grandchildren one day.
The talent that she brings can really run without much tending. The idea is no longer just yours — at its best, you’re simply there to watch it play out.
— Erik Tanner
Ana de Armas
By Yuri Hasegawa at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood
We had a session at a very dark, moody lounge area at the legendary Roosevelt Hotel, which Marilyn Monroe herself used to patronize. I believe her spirit was around during our session. I had goosebumps as I watched Ana channel different “characters” — from Marilyn to the vulnerable Norma Jeane to herself. While pre-lighting, we found broken parts of a huge chandelier that we put in the foreground to create a prism effect. Because it’s black and white, the photo — inspired by Richard Avedon’s famous striking portrait of Marilyn Monroe — enhances the intimacy of the shoot and pays homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood.
By Dania Maxwell at Neuehouse Hollywood
My favorite thing about photographing Doechii was the element of surprise. If everything had gone as it should have that day, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make this photo. But in photography, as in life, there is collaboration. She wasn’t as excited about using a backdrop as she was about using the environment. I told her about a room with velvet curtains that would look dope in photos, and her attention was piqued. Right before wrapping, we spent a few minutes with the velvet backdrop and these photos were the winners from that night.
By Jessica Chou at the Beverly Wilshire
For Michelle Yeoh, I knew I wanted to showcase a sense of balance and contrast through her physicality and movement — as someone highly trained, skilled and alert, but who can also be freely in the moment. Isadora Duncan, a pioneer of modern contemporary dance, came to my mind. Since Michelle is a classically trained dancer, she immediately connected with that idea and we just riffed off that. I played music from Jacky Cheung, one of her favorite singers, and brought in a little fan. It all happened really fast, but I knew I got the shot when I took this image.
By Jason Hetherington at the Ambassadors Theatre in London
Shooting Jonathan is always such a pleasure — he is very collaborative and respects what the photographer is trying to achieve. The Ambassadors Theatre is so beautiful, and I knew I wanted to show him performing in some way on that stage. I ran up to the top of the theater to try and capture a new perspective of him jumping. It looked amazing and Jonathan was so happy with the shot.
Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers
By Caity Krone at Tail o’ the Pup in West Hollywood
I wanted to make sure the photos really communicated their musical aesthetic and cool personal style. I shot using a mix of Portra 400 and CineStill 50D, and I love how a lot of the photos have this dreamy haze to them. Rhian and Hester were incredibly kind, and we were fortunate enough to be in a neighborhood with so many beautiful buildings — a run-down cottage that worked well with their outfits, a peach-colored house with a winding staircase where a squirrel spent 10 minutes perched in frame, eating nuts and basically posing for us. I knew Tail o’ the Pup would be a fun spot to finish because it was so bright and colorful; it felt classically Los Angeles.
Lucius’ Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe
By Myung J. Chun in Los Angeles
The published Lucius photo was the last of a few different setups. They look like twins when they perform, so that gave me a visual idea to work with. We began inside the house, then the back patio and finally the front door. I used the front door because it was a clean background. The soft light came from a white reflector bouncing sunlight. The image slowly evolved as we made slight adjustments to the height — Holly Laessig, on the left, was taller so she had to duck down a bit — and to the poses, like turning faces inward to touch cheeks and adjusting the hair until the heart shape formed.
When we let go of perfecting the minor details of an image, something honest is left in its wake: an almost sacred, respectful space for the imperfect and spontaneous to arise in the mystery of what we can’t see being captured.
— James J. Robinson
By Erik Tanner in New York City
Foresight is a key part of my process. I sought to create a space with a feeling of eerie stillness, where the last breath of oxygen had been drawn from the room. My time was short with Imogen. I had 15 minutes if memory serves, so we needed to work fast. The beauty of working with talent such as hers is that the time you have is really relative to the idea. Meaning, armed with an idea, a feeling, a story, the talent that she brings can really run without much tending. The idea is no longer just yours — at its best, you’re simply there to watch it play out.
By James J. Robinson in Los Angeles
We only had Demi for about 10 minutes because they were on the tail end of an exhausting press day. I only shoot on film, and luckily, beyond speed, the greatest asset of shooting analog is that you can’t monitor images as you capture. When we let go of perfecting the minor details of an image, something honest is left in its wake: an almost sacred, respectful space for the imperfect and spontaneous to arise in the mystery of what we can’t see being captured. We concede human ego, and allow life and truth to creep in through the crevices. Sometimes it leads to mistakes and blurry images, but I’m not in the business of trying to perfect things in an imperfect world. This image is one of those moments I easily could’ve missed or messed up — it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of Demi in between photos while we waited for my assistant Claire to warm up the smoke machine. There was no pose, only their mind wandering while we waited. I was so quick to try and capture it that I didn’t have time to “fix” the axis or even look through the viewfinder. Yet, on a busy press day promoting their new album, surrounded by publicists and managers, the approach resulted in capturing a slice of the real, honest Demi Levato.
By Peter Fisher at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City
Portrait shoots are a thousand times more fun when it’s a collaboration between the subject and photographer, and the results always show. Within the first few minutes of meeting Bowen, we were playing around and riffing on the roof of 30 Rock, coming up with all sorts of hypothetical scenarios. Those are the moments when I have to remind myself that I’m there to photograph and have to stop laughing long enough to actually take a picture.
DJ Próvaí of Kneecap
By Annie Noelker at Bardot at Avalon Hollywood
I remember having to fight the urge to start speaking in a thick Irish accent alongside them during the few hours we had. They were all bundles of energy, from one space to the next, and just stoked to be there. We got burgers and milkshakes and went to Amoeba. They made everything an adventure with their almost childlike curiosity. It was an absolute blast.
I wound back the film in the camera, adjusted my focus to his vibrant blue eyes and pressed my finger down on the shutter. In that moment, I am certain magic was made.
— Brandon Michael Young
By Brandon Michael Young at the L.A. Times Studios
It’s not every day you get to share the afternoon with one of young Hollywood’s greatest actors, Austin Butler. The photo shoot started off with both of us admiring each other’s outfits — from our sleek button-down shirts to our ankle boots. His duds were designer while mine were vintage (from the Lucky Pig). For about an hour we were both movin’ and groovin’, as we spoke of film, photography and music. At this point into the cover shoot, we became comfortable and more familiar with each other — two of the most integral elements in a portrait session. I asked Austin if I could move in for more of an intimate shot, he said yes and placed his finger to his eye softly. I wound back the film in the camera, adjusted my focus to his vibrant blue eyes and pressed my finger down on the shutter. In that moment, I am certain magic was made.
Ben Stiller and Adam Scott
By Devin Oktar Yalkin at the London West Hollywood
Hotel room shoots are always tricky, especially when trying to make them seem like they are somewhere else. For this shoot, I had asked for extra bedsheets to hang up around the hotel room to create a more studio-like space.
By Brandon Michael Young at the London West Hollywood
When Toheeb walked into the room with his effervescent charm, I knew it was going to be a seamless photo shoot. Immediately, he admired the music I was playing (Nina Simone) and we started the shoot off in a soulful mood. As the day progressed, we had already shot some close-up portraits of him and I wanted to bring more energy to the photographs. I asked him what music I should put on and he responded with Kendrick Lamar — the perfect choice. There’s a wide shot of Toheeb looking off to the side, with his hand up to his face, smiling from ear to ear and letting out a little laugh — I immediately knew it was going to be a favorite.
By Mariah Tauger at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades
Rolling up to the Long Wharf at Will Rogers State Beach, I knew there could be challenges to making a photo that didn’t feel cheesy or reminiscent of an engagement portrait session. To my delight, Hannah herself had those same thoughts, so right from the start, we were on the same page. Her laid-back, kind and collaborative personality made for a fun, very chill photo shoot. In fact, it was Hannah who offered to lie down on the sand for this photo. Our shoot felt more like a hangout at the beach than anything else. Throughout the photo shoot, when asked if someone would be willing to hold my reflector, everyone in the crew volunteered, including makeup artist Molly Greenwald, who was my reflector extraordinaire in this particular shot. It was a good day surrounded by good people.
By Richie Ramirez Jr. at Madison Square Park in New York City
My time with Ayo (and her team) was short and sweet. I had two rolls of film and about 20 minutes of shooting time, so we took a walk around Madison Square Park and followed wherever the light was the prettiest.
Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne
By Evan Mulling at Four Seasons in Beverly Hills
I was very struck by Jessica and Eddie’s presence throughout the entire shoot. I wanted to convey a closeness between the two of them and use their varying eye lines to add a slightly unsettling feeling. It was incredible to see their subtle changes that would make each frame more and more successful.
By Irvin Rivera in Los Angeles
Photographing Tenoch Huerta was an honor and such a memorable experience. Given the limitations of the space, we tried to creatively use lights and in-camera settings to capture some dynamic, electric images. I love whenever I hear “whoas” and “wows” as we shoot. Tenoch’s team was really supportive and open to our ideas. It was a wonderful experience overall.
When I asked why he had a ball pit in his house, he said, “When was the last time you were in a ball pit?” I couldn’t quite remember. “That’s exactly why,” he responded.
— Annie Noelker
By Annie Noelker in Beverly Hills
I walked past this grand Beverly Hills house on a self-guided “tour of the stars” that a friend and I were a little embarrassed about doing, and I remember wondering about the person who lived in such a beautiful place. When I pulled up to photograph Andrew Watt months later, it was the very same house, which turned out to be his studio. The first thing I noticed was a room off the entrance that was a ball pit. My mission was to get this man in the ball pit. Turns out, he didn’t need much persuading and dove right in, guitar and all. It was the shot. When I asked why he had a ball pit in his house, he said, “When was the last time you were in a ball pit?” I couldn’t quite remember. “That’s exactly why,” he responded.
By Victor Llorente in New York City
We had a small room next to a restaurant inside a hotel that had this beautiful fire pit with two lion sculptures. Sadie made a comment about how cool they were, so we decided to take some photos with them.
By Annie Noelker at the L.A. Times Studios
She has such a beautiful presence about her, a golden aura. She was so kind and said hello to everyone on set. When we started shooting, it was as if she were the only one there, practicing for this very moment in her own mirror. Everything faded to black and it was her and her sweeping blond hair, staring into her fragmented self, illuminated by flashing lights and streaks of red. She was a dream to photograph; I could have been there all day.
Joe Jonas, Taylor Swift, Daniel Radcliffe and Evan Rachel Wood, Kiersey Clemons
By Kent Nishimura at RBC House at Toronto Film Festival
At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, we decided to keep the elements of the studio (lights, backdrop, the lensing) really simple so we could let the main ingredient — the subject — shine in their moment. Dan and Evan had such amazing chemistry together that we just let them fill the space with their energy and motion. Taylor so kindly collaborated with us freezing the studio, with her affect and pose creating a portrait that previewed the aesthetic of her yet-to-be-released album. Kiersey had an absolute blast being her playful self on our rickety, rustic table while donning some of the most impeccable Thom Browne pieces.
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Brandon Choe is an entertainment and features photo editor at the Los Angeles Times. Previously, he was the photo editor for Deadline Hollywood and a picture desk editor for Getty Images.
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