Headshot Photographer Jerry Avenaim takes you Behind the Cover
Los Angeles based celebrity, fashion and advertising photographer
to the stars, talks about one famous actor along with his passions
and techniques that have taken his career to the stratosphere
The Halle Berry Shoot.
Story & photo
of Halle Berry by Jerry Avenaim
Placing some of Hollywood's most glamorous, legendary and infamous celebrities
within the confines of my viewfinder for more than a decade has truly
been the defining mark of my professional life.
Shooting glamorous portraits from the likes of Charlize Theron, Angela
Bassett and Helen Hunt to both the famous and infamous likes of Charleton
Heston, Rod Steiger and Robert Blake to the somewhat quirky shots of
Patricia Arquette and Ben Stiller to those in today's spotlight like
"TV's hottest self-help guru" Dr. Phil McGraw, can be both hugely fulfilling
and exasperatingly challenging.
But when I was commissioned for a magazine editorial to photograph six
women of color, who are leaving indelible marks in the arena of film
and television, I knew I had not only an extremely challenging project,
but also an opportunity that only comes around once or twice during
a career of even the most high profile photographer.
Of those six dynamic women, I have to say the one to make the most dramatic
impact on me, as a photographer, was the indomitable Halle Berry. Because
the magazine controlled the shooting schedule and times, all six women
had to be shot in one condensed session. I had to shoot the job, run
the film, make my selections, turn it in and let the editor decide what
he or she wanted to run. Usually the client needs the film back in New
York within 24 to 48 hours. It boils down to maximum creativity at maximum
When it comes to shooting celebrities, there is no set standard for
timeline and access. It is often a matter of the celebrity's availability,
the difficulty and breadth of the project and the comfort level of the
celebrity in front of the camera. Let's face it, when an actor is on
the set, he or she has spent hours preparing for the scene to bring
out just the right emotions or to create a specific image for the character.
When that same actor is in front of a still camera, there is often only
1/250th of a second to capture a specific look or mood on film. It's
a much more exacting science.
Two good examples of celebrities who were not only fun to work with,
but allowed me to experiment with new looks and shots that took them
outside the paradigm of how the public viewed them were Angela Bassett
and Helen Hunt.
With six pages to fill, I took Angela through a wide range of situations
and poses that ranged from showing her screaming in a microphone to
having milk poured over her in a show of contrasts. I had the luxury
of spending half a day with Helen, creating a retro look with her in
a 1957 peach Thunderbird driving up to a '50s style motel, as well as
a courtyard scene and poolside setup.
And while Halle is an extremely approachable star, superstardom has
its price and for her time has become a luxurious commodity in short
supply. Because she began her career as a model, she is very comfortable
in front of a still camera and needed very little direction. I began
Halle's photo session at about 10:30 in the evening. Celebrities always
walk in the door with clean hair and clean face, allowing the make up
artist to begin work with a clean canvas.
Halle knew we were there to capture beauty shots and didn't need a whole
lot of direction. Once or twice I would shout out from behind the camera
if I needed a shoulder to come over a bit or her chin to come up for
the light or the need to get that simple smirk or a full smile. Before
I started shooting, she asked me where the crop . was, and I let her
know it was above the bust and on occasion I would pull back for some
and go as far as the waist. She moved from front on camera to body profile
and face to the camera.
From there, things happened extremely fast. Five rolls of film and 15
minutes later, we were finished. The look was pure Halle a Hollywood
mega-star who is already gorgeous while at the same time approachable.