Shooting Portraits of Two Celebrities in 3 Minutes Inside a Hotel Room

Imagine you’re a staff photographer for a morning news show and you’re told you will be photographing hilarious movie stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis for a piece on their upcoming movie The Campaign. Yipee right? Well, now imagine the next sentence you hear from your photo editor is that you’ll have only three to four minutes before they have to move on, and the whole shoot has to take place in the hotel room where you’re meeting them. Excitement gone; panic sets in.

That’s the situation photographer Jeff Lautenberger of The Dallas Morning News found himself in a couple of days ago. No time, bad “studio,” and no lighting equipment:

There was not much to work with. It was a typical hotel bedroom, which still had luggage and bags leftover from assistants and staff on the Campaign press tour. Thankfully, the bed was made. Even more important were the two windows that had soft white curtains acting as a natural softbox; I knew I’d have no time to set up artificial lighting in the short time I was given.


I scanned the room, visualized the natural light and thought where to pose them once they arrived. There was a bed, and a bench at the foot of the bed.

They walk in, and their eyes turn to the freshly made untouched bed…

Will: “It’s the perfect setting.”

Zach: “We always end up doing these photo shoots in bed.”

Me: “Do you want to get in bed?”


Zach: “Does this have anything to do with the photo shoot or are you just asking in general?”


Well, on the bright side, at least the talent was funny. Three minutes or not, that’s not something you run into at every photo shoot. For the whole story, including some impromptu photography by Will Ferrell, head over to The Dallas Morning News’ Photography Blog.

Three minutes in a hotel room with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis (via Imaging Resource)

  • Mark

    Boy I hate to beat a dead horse, but this is a perfect example of how a photojournalist can and should take a sub-optimal situation and still produce a good photograph. Compare the outcome of this shoot, with those of the Olympic portraits. All of those posters that were lecturing about how difficult it is to shoot an environmental portrait without nearly perfect lighting and equipment should now understand that the issue wasn’t about the images looking perfect, but rather about the photog not only working the available light, but framing and exposing the images in a manner that conveys the meaning of the subject matter.

  • Alexander Petricca

    He’s done a really a good job, I really like the shots! Must have been really intimidating working not one but two top actors and under those time restraints is crazy. Good on ya pal.

  • The_photographer_Tom

    Let’s put this into perspective. He had two talented actors who are used to being photographed, ready and waiting for him and a digital camera to check his work. He also had a location.
    I remember back in the days when I was a photographer for a local ‘paper in the UK using film, I would have up to ELEVEN jobs in a day ranging from “grip ‘n grin” shots through to kids, actors and even the occasional football match. Now that’s stressful.

  • Darlene Bouchard

    Is it just me or was this a missed opportunity? They joked about getting into bed together…I would have run with that idea and had them take their shirts off and jump into bed. Maybe had them pretend like they just woke up shocked to find them lying there next to each other and messed up the nearby props (tilt the framed picture, move the things on the nightstand haphazardly). These are comedians promoting a new comedy and so it would have totally worked and been something different than what I’ve seen pictured of them. If you’ve got three minutes and someone throws out a good idea I say roll with it

  • Mark

    The photog had “three to four minutes” of shots before they had to leave. Even if they agreed and got into position in under 2 minutes, the photog has now put all of his eggs into one basket and have no more time for safety shots. You have to resist the urge to meddle in a quick shoot like this, even though it’s hard for an artist to not want to change things around. I’ve wasted precious time experimenting and had to learn to put on blinders and get the best shot possible without being too artistic.

    This is also being shot for a Newspaper. You need to get non-controversial shots for this type of work. If you go back to your photo desk editor with two men in bed and no alternatives, you are going to be reprimanded or canned.

  • Darlene Bouchard

    I guess it depends on the newspaper and your editor. I think having a funny picture to represent an article about a comedy movie would completely make sense- more so than a shot of them sitting on a bed holding a camera. It honestly would have been something that could have caught people’s attention and gotten them to read the article without them doing something just for shock value, which I’m guessing is a pretty high priority for newspapers considering state of that industry right now. Playing it safe is fine, and he got a decent (but forgettable) picture, but I think there’s also value in taking a risk (in this case doing something you didn’t plan ahead of time) if the opportunity presents itself and it makes sense in the context of everything

  • Michael Chan