James Anthony is a Los Angeles, California-based celebrity photographer who has photographed the likes of Usher, Angelica Ross, and Estelle. I had the privilege of chatting with him about his career and processes.
In addition to his year-round work shooting celebrities for album covers and magazines, James steps in for Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy season to capture celebrity pre-award ceremony images.
James is also an Adobe Ambassador where he is involved with Adobe’s LifeReflected project. During this interview, I wanted to find out what it’s like behind the scene. How does James Anthony prepare for a big shoot? What tools in Lightroom and Photoshop help him complete the project?
Preparation before the photoshoot
Erin: I am interested in knowing your shooting process on these big shoots. How much are we talking about before these shoots? What’s the timeline of that looking like?
James: I’d say for example the Usher shoot. I shot his Vegas residence promotion, 2020. It might have been around Sept 2020. I’d say projects like that a lot of time at least two weeks. Two weeks of headway time just as far as communication deals but sometimes it happens sooner than that. I can have somebody come up to me and say could you do a shoot this Friday. I would say ideally it’s two weeks. For the bigger projects, I know they came to me for the Regina King a month in advance cause they knew they wanted it to be smooth. They wanted to be a little bit ahead of the ball.
Erin: How much say do you have in a set location, lighting? Do they come to you with an idea and say we want to do this? Or do they say we want you to shoot this individual How would you do it?
James: The majority of the time, probably 90% of the time, I have lighting control as far as usual, they say they want to shoot. I get to choose the studio I am most comfortable with. Unless it’s location-specific unless the location is part of the vision. But yes, I do have a lot of say in what the lighting is.
The day of the photoshoot
Erin: OK take us to shoot day. Do we have a checklist, a packing list?
James: Ya know, I would say a lot of people would say that I am very cool tempted as far as pressure goes. Even in extreme intense pressure moments, it’s very hard for me to seem frazzled. All through my brain may be all over the place. Of course, days leading up, I am already like OK I will use this as a key light. I should also have that. So the morning of or more like the night before I will stack everything up by the door. All of the modifiers I want to use, are the c-stands, camera cases, and lens. But there is never an actual list it is just all up in my brain and for me, that is kind of like my mediation. I know it sounds weird.
Erin: Do you have lucky socks you wear or something you do that morning to get prepared?
James: Push up and caffeine. Sometimes it depends, onset you might see me duck off in a corner of a set doing pushups. Cause I feel like a pushup is something I kind of do if I can’t get to the gym. I do a pushup to kind of just weirdly enough it is like my grounding. Where if it likes this day feels any different something I do all the time is pushups. So pushups get my blood going and then the caffeine makes it feel like it’s any other day regular day. Those two things are my staple for every shoot.
Erin: OK, let’s move forward to when you are shooting. Are we shooting tethered all the time?
James: It really depends actually. The majority of the time for the large shoots I am always tethered. When it is my own personal project I am wirelessly tethered thru the remote Canon feature. So I can see what is happening. I am usually always synced in some capacity for my larger shoots. For the larger shoot, I have a diga tech and they are in Capture One.
Erin: From there, do you generally have a certain amount of time to review images after?
James: You know I was going to say, for all of my red carpet shoots I star as I shoot. You know you may shoot and shoot and then as soon as they walkway I am already staring. Cause once I upload it to the laptop and they have to look at everything in Lightroom. I need them to see immediately all the images that were starred. So, ya know, cause a lot of the time when I do the red carpet shoots I may only have 45 minutes after I shoot to have these into everyone’s emails. So they can mass post. The pressure is, on for these red carpet shoots.
Erin: Take me to that computer, that laptop. After we have picked the final image are we going straight to Lightroom?
James: We are, we are, going straight to Lightroom. Once we all figure out the key six or five. I have everyone go through and 4-star their favorite. Then that puts them at the top of the list. Once those four images are selected then I batch process those four. I tweak the lighting or color or whatnot and then I open all 4 into Photoshop and I begin working.
Erin: What are 3 sliders in Lightroom you always mess with?
James: That is a good question. I typically like to mess with the shadows, the hue in the shadows. I like everything to have a feel so it doesn’t look so real-life. Maybe a little more cinematic. I typically mess with contrast and I usually increase sharpness just a little bit.
Erin: Then you said we are going into Photoshop. What is maybe one tool that you love in Photoshop that Lightroom doesn’t give you?
James: There are things in Lightroom that you can do that I am still not aware that you can do in there. Until I have one of my friends who is pretty proficient in Lightroom be like you know you can do that in Lightroom right? I just prefer to do it in Photoshop. One thing that I always use when I do these red carpet photoshoots and that goes for male or female. Is that liquify tool. That liquify tool helps people look the way they think they look in their mind and that goes for myself included. The liquify tool is every photo friend for all of my clients. But I love to tweak skin and the saturation of the skin tone. Make it look milky and smooth or chocolaty.
Erin: How did you learn to retouch? Are you self-taught?
James: Google YouTube University. I graduated with honors!
What’s the future look like for James Anthony?
Erin: As we wrap up. What things can we expect in the future from you?
James: Brand partnership and storytelling through the moving lens. Which is directing, producing and writing as well. I am just in this season of thinking about further down the line. Photography will always be a love and a passion but I feel like expanding my world as far as what I create is really in the four front of my mind. I find myself daydreaming a lot about just visualizing projects visualizing the success of those projects. So the manifestation can occur. So that is my main focus right now really honing in on building a community of other visual creators. That I trust and respect as well so we can collaborate and make some magic.
It was an honor to chat with James Anthony and to learn a bit more about his process. The start to finish. I look forward to seeing what his future holds and will be cheering him on from the screen at home as he moves into the world of directing and producing.
If you would like to follow along with James and his career you can see more of his work on his site or on Instagram. James also is the co-host of the Shooting with Shooters podcast that you can find on Spotify.