Magazine Article


John Russo: Trumping Tinseltown

Putting his subjects at ease in front of the camera is key to capturing their essence, according to Russo. "It's my job to make the talent feel comfortable. I try to capture the actor's spirit- I like for that to come through in the images."

To create that comfort zone for his star posers, Russo's office researches their favorite color, flower, scent, music, drink, food, dessert- anything that would make them feel comfortable. "For example, I recently shot John Travolta for the cover of Brentwood magazine. We found out he likes homemade chocolate-chip cookies, white flowers, Lipton Iced Tea, deli sandwiches, and music by the Beatles. When he arrived at my studio, all of his favorite items were there. John was outgoing and such a wonderful subject to photograph. He made my job easy."

To put his subjects in their best light, Russo shoots primarily with his Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One H25 digital back or his Canon EOS-1Ds and uses a beauty dish.

"I like to incorporate available light as much as possible, plus, I use two or three soft boxes, preferably Plume. For location shoots, I use Profoto. I go for simplicity- I don't like busy backgrounds or crazy clothing. The bottom line is lighting the subject beautifully."

The Russo Rapport

Russo has a knack for forging relationships with the right people. "You know how they say, 'In Hollywood, it's all about who you know'?" he says. "Well, that's 100 percent true. I realized early on that publicists were the key to gaining access to celebrities. I started doing the schmoozing, the lunches, and free shoots, and I have to say, it paid off for me."

Kevin Bacon, costar of Mystic River and a slew of upcoming silver-screen selections- as well as the cover of this month's Studio Photography & Design- was also a fun subject for Russo. "I shot Kevin for the cover of a great new magazine called Men's Edge," Russo says. "He was really cool, almost mysterious. I am such a huge fan of his work, so I was so excited to work with him."

Russo's ultimate celebrity wish list: Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah Winfrey. "I have so much respect for these amazingly talented women."

Bringing It to Brooks

Busy year-round, Russo has little time to kick back and relax. In the scarce spare time he has, Russo teaches a celebrity portraiture class at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

"Celebrity portraiture is so much more than meets the eye," he explains. "You can't just ring Brad Pitt on the phone and schedule a photo shoot. It's all about access. You have to go through the proper channels to even be considered to photograph a known celebrity. The golden catch-22 is: You have to have celebrities in your portfolio to photograph celebrities, but how do you get celebrities in your portfolio? You'll have to take my class for an in-depth explanation!"

Watch for Russo when he makes the talk show circuit to promote his new book, Celebrity Photographer, when it is released in late 2005. And be sure to catch his presentation at the PhotoImaging & Design Expo in San Diego, April 19-21, 2005. He's one class act.

For more Russo images, visit


Medium-Format Cameras
Mamiya RZ67 with 80mm-150mm
Contax 645

Digital Back
Phase One H25

Digital Camera
Canon EOS-1Ds with 24-70mm 2.8

Profoto 7A, PocketWizard Plus
Mola Softlight, Plume softboxes
Minolta Auto Meter IV F

Digital Darkroom
Apple Mac PowerBook G4 (on location), G5 (in studio)
Epson Stylus Photo 2200
Adobe Photoshop CS
Capture One

Gitzo tripod
4x8 black & white Foam Core