The Oscars are this Sunday, which means many of us will spend the night scrolling through Twitter to see photos of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. From Emma Stone, Ruth Negga and Natalie Portman to Ryan Gosling, Mahershala Ali and Andrew Garfield, the red carpet will be filled with big names.
But it’s important to remember that there are people actually taking the photos, working hard to bring us the images we love to salivate over. Ahead of the big night, TIME spoke to Shutterstock's veteran Hollywood photographer Chelsea Lauren, 33, about what it’s really like to capture red carpet shots of the rich and famous.
TIME: How does the Oscars compare to other red carpet events?
Chelsea Lauren: It’s definitely different. There’s this air of old Hollywood elegance that isn’t really at a lot of other events. Red carpets tend to be very causal nowadays; there's anywhere between two and five red carpets a night in L.A. and most photographers normally wear jeans. But the Oscars has a dress code for photographers: long gowns for women and suits for men. Seeing everyone fully dressed up is very unique. Also, at the Oscars everybody likes having their photo taken because it is the event of the year. You don’t have to persuade someone to walk the carpet at the Oscars!
Do you have a favorite Oscars moment?
I took this one picture that really got me. Last year I was at the Governors Ball, the official after party of the Oscars, and I was at the engraving station at the back of the room where all the winners come to get their awards engraved with their name. It's a very special moment when they look down and see their name on the trophy for the first time and I managed to capture that moment with Brie Larson. When you can get real emotion out of someone that’s so used to getting their photo taken it means a lot more.
Are there any celebrities who you particularly enjoy photographing?
I have a huge list. Kerry Washington is absolutely the loveliest human, also Zoey Deutch, Mahershala Ali, Joe Jonas, Miguel. Dev Patel is a new favorite—he is splendid. My heart lights up every time I see him because I know I’m going to get a warm hug.
And any that you've found to be difficult?
Yeah I have some. They’re actually a lot less common and easier to pick out but I’d prefer not to say those names!
Have red carpets changed over the years you've been working on them?
There’s a lot more security. There are now police dogs in a lot of major events; we have to drop our bags and they sniff them. Even smaller jobs I’ve been doing for eight years have now go security guards checking purses and metal detectors are becoming a lot more commonplace. Usually they make our check in time earlier to compensate for it.
What is it like being a woman in such a male-dominated industry?
It's definitely less male dominated than it used to be. It's now about 60 men to 40 women, when it used to be more like 80 to 20 or 70 to 30. When I started out I used to stand out because I was one of a very small number of women under 40 on the carpet. It was good because there weren't a lot of female voices calling to the talent and it would help get their attention, which was kind of cool.
Do you think male and female photographers have different styles?
When you’re on the line—not roaming on the carpet—there’s not really a lot of room for creativity, it’s kind of a standard step and repeat photo. But as far as the approach to talent goes I'd say yes. I think the men are a bit more aggressive. I try not to yell at celebrities and do all of that craziness.
Also, I don’t know if this is a female thing or just me but I’m a bit warmer. I’ve built friendships with a lot of the talent and I am able to get them to take photos they wouldn’t otherwise take. They trust me. Even at an event last night, someone introduced me to her boyfriend by saying: "This is Chelsea and if you see her you don't have to run away because she always makes everyone look good." I hear that quite often from talent—it feels special and I go all blushy and I don’t know what to say. I take pride in the fact that the talent recognizes that because it means they will want to pose for me more often.
Has a celebrity ever had a go at you for taking a photo they didn't like?
Years ago I built a really good friendship that way. I had taken photos of the entrepreneur Russell Simmons and the next night he said he didn't like one of them. I was very apologetic—I was leaving the party we were at to go to an afterparty and I said "By the time I see you at the afterparty it will be gone." He couldn't believe it. I had the photo pulled down right away and ever since then we’ve had a really good relationship.
I feel like trust is a big part of the job. Some photographers always post bad photos of celebrities because it will make them money, but I would never dream doing that, even if it's of one of those few talents that I don’t like very much. Posting a bad photo is not right. They’re people too.
Also, I would never take a photo of an off-duty celebrity. I have a firm belief that when a talent is not at an official party or posing on a carpet that they should be left alone.
What's been your favorite assignment?
I really love big music festivals where I have all access—there’s something super magical about being on a stage in front of 50,000 people. I’ve done Coachella for many years and Arcade Fire—not the most recent time they performed but the time before that—was magical. I kept seeing these giant white balls piled up behind the stage but I didn't know what they were. Then Arcade Fire came out and the balls began shooting out the stage into the audience, with LEDs lighting them up in blue and purple. The crowd was hitting them up into the sky and it was this beautiful magical concert moment.
I also had the extreme honor of shooting for Prince on his last tour and that was beyond special. I am very sad that we couldn’t continue on future tours. His energy was really magical.
And finally, what is the hardest thing about your job?
I think people don't realize how much you need to do at once. When you’re shooting on the red carpet, you’re thinking "Whose coming up next, what is their relationship like with the actor ahead of them, are they in any films together?" You know every club DJ and every actor on every Disney and Cartoon Network show—which is not necessarily my demographic anymore! You have to be a celebrity-slash-socialite-slash-musician encyclopaedia.
And, at the same time, you need to be getting a full length fashion shot, straight on, and you usually want to see the female’s outfit. As soon as you get that you go for a headshot with eye contact, then an over the shoulder, while in the midst of all that you're trying to get detailed photos of jewelry, bags, shoes and tattoos, as well as closeups of hairstyles—and especially a new engagement ring. All that in the five to ten seconds they're standing in front of you!