The Art of the Staged Paparazzi Photo: How Celebrity Couples Look So in Love

Find out just how it's done.

By Seija Rankin Mar 01, 2017 7:00 PMTags
Staged Photos, Selena Gomez, The WeekndMaciel/AKM-GSI

You know exactly what we're talking about. There's one photo that sticks out in particular for everybody. Maybe you saw it on the cover of a tabloid while you were waiting to pay for your overpriced strawberries at Whole Foods. Maybe you saw it on Instagram, captioned with a phrase either far too sappy ("My everything") or deliberately nonchalant, meant to counter the image's romance with a cool factor ("NBD"). Maybe you saw it while you were scrolling through the Daily Mail app, part of your every-hour-on-the-hour phone routine (no judgment here).

This is the photo of the celebrity couple that made you think, damn, they're really in love. If you're an a—hole, it probably also made you think, damn, why do they get to be so in love? But let's all save that for our therapists, because the matter at hand is the picture and not what our reaction to it means for our mental wellbeing (jealousy is suspending during all matters of Hollywood relationships). Most of the time when a paparazzi shot like this is taken, it was staged. 

There are several reasons for wanting to do such thing. Perhaps two A-listers have a mutual project coming up, for which a front-page tabloid shot will mean great publicity. Perhaps two B-listers are dating and are hoping to become A-listers. Perhaps two anything-listers are in a new relationship and wanting to make sure to debut in a perfect manner—perhaps that manner will also serve to distract from some potentially damaging news that is also about to be released. 

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Sometimes a staging is routed in spontaneity—a celebrity couple is out shopping or at a restaurant, they're alerted to the fact that a growing crowd of paparazzi looms, they decide that they'd rather be caught in an embrace than looking anything that could be possibly conceived as cold or unloving. Every person in Hollywood knows how quickly walking-to-your-car-while-holding-grocery-bags can turn into look-who's-fighting. 

No matter the will or the way, staging is an art. It requires finesse and creativity. Or, you could just follow these easy steps. 

Setting. If an actor or musician is going to tip off the paparazzi to their location, that location better not look like a photo shoot. The shiestier, the better, really, Anything that looks private or like a photographer had to creep up on you to get the shot. If the resulting photographs are grainy or way-too-zoomed-in, all the better, because that makes it look like it most certainly would not be staged.

Think about it: What's more believable to you, that a couple is caught off-guard, mid-embrace, while leaving SoulCycle, or while waiting outside the back of a restaurant, amongst the dumpsters?

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Timing: If the celebs have a goal in mind for their staging, then this is the most important factor. True connoisseurs of the paparazzi game know that the real power move is to debut a brand new relationship with pictures. Think of the buzz!

To suddenly appear in a romantic embrace, with no prior evidence of a relationship (or even that the two members of the couple had even spoken before) is to suddenly thrust yourself into every pop culture conversation for at least the next week. Questions will abound—When did this start? What does this mean? Is it serious?—and so will your notoriety.

Wardrobe: The immediate temptation when a person knows they are going to be front-page couples news is to dress yourself up to high heaven. Put on your best shoes, wear your newest top, maybe even get a blowout. (A full face of makeup, sometimes for both parties, is a given).

But A-listers with iron-clad willpower resist! It's going to look so obvious to be wearing knee-high boots at Home Depot. The best advice one can follow is to dress for the occasion, but in an elevated manner. If you're taking a romantic walk on oceanside rocks, wear a chunky sweater, not workout clothes.

Eye Contact: Never make it. Never look at the camera. Look only into the eyes of your beloved. Or, if you're making out, keep your eyes closed.

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Body Language: This is most important if you're trying to make it seem like you're a couple but you're not exactly organically romantically involved. You know, hypothetically speaking. But body language is also a factor for real couples that might be announcing themselves by allowing themselves to be photographed leaving a dinner at one of Los Angeles' most notorious date spots.

Again, hypothetically speaking, but you want to be caught in an embrace so steamy that it appears as though you are unawares of anything else. Or, if you truly can't stand each other and are in a relationship to promote something, then at the very least try not to physically recoil while being photographed.

Product Placement: If you're going to stage a photograph, why not get a little extra pocket money for it? This, ladies and gentleman, is the subtle brand ambassadorship. You're above that Instagram #SponCon and would die before you uploaded a selfie with your teeth whitener or anti-bloating tea (that hashtag #ad is way too lowbrow for you), so the perfect solution is to be caught holding your brand of choice.

Look surprised! Look enamored with the product! Take careful precaution to turn the label directly towards the camera, free of any obstruction or glare. 

Oh, and never forget to pack a little powder: The last thing anyone needs during a staged photo is shiny forehead syndrome.