The Decisive Moment: Photographer Larry Busacca on How Entertainment Images Become Scene-Stealing Ads

Whether it’s behind-the-scenes, center stage or a lucky candid, entertainment photography offers viewers a rare glimpse into the world of celebrity, glitz, and glamour – or, as it happens, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into art and performance.

“Most of the time, with entertainment imagery, you've got some form of excitement or visually interesting moments happening in front of the camera,” says Larry Busacca, Senior Director of North America Entertainment at Getty Images. “It might be a recognizable face, or it might be beautiful lighting on a stage at an event. But visual impact, that's the point.” And it’s what attracts advertisers and audiences to these kinds of images in the first place.

Busacca has been behind the lens, shooting some of the biggest stars in film, fashion, music, and television, for over thirty years, and he knows a thing or two about what makes these visuals work. Here, he shares some illuminating thoughts on the industry, and how entertainment images can make their way into some of the most effective ad campaigns of our time. 

Is entertainment imagery more successful with a certain kind of product or industry than another?

These days, entertainment imagery can really work across any brand. It may be the most mundane product or the sexiest. It just depends on how you’re trying to place the brand, in what demographic, and what you're doing. In the end, it all boils down to a combination of the impact of a single image and the message that the advertiser is adding over or around that image.

What is the most common use of entertainment photography in advertising?

Often clients will come to us for existing art of a celebrity who might be their spokesperson or representative, or someone who they feel speaks to their brand. It’s so cost effective for advertisers to invest in existing photos, so they don’t have to go spending a small fortune creating original art. Archival celebrity images - classic Hollywood, black and white portraits of superstars – have been used really effectively in advertising. And we have those in spades.

But another great thing that we do at Getty Images is our content studio, where we’re making GIFs, videos, square-cropped imagery for Instagram, and more. We’ll set up at a particular event and end up producing a fresh batch of content, usually high-end celebrity portraits, that haven’t yet had a chance to flood the market. Often an advertiser can grab one of those shots, and sometimes just buy it out entirely for exclusive use. 

Are there any visual elements that make for a particularly powerful entertainment image – especially when it comes to potential commercial use?

The reality is, you never, ever will know why one image – that's vertical, that's black and white, that has lots of negative space, or whatever it may be – will work, while another image couldn't possibly work for that same ad or brand. There is no guideline. Any image, even an outtake, can be a billboard campaign if it's used right. 

Let’s take a look at few entertainment picks from Getty Images. How and why could these work well in advertising?

This actress is sitting on the most famous grand staircase in entertainment, leading up to the Oscars. Everyone walks up those stairs. So here, the message is all about the fantasy of being a star, the fabulous fairy-like gown, and everyone wanting to be in your picture. Red carpet photos are generally about style, fun and the excitement around that moment, but – it’s also the kind of photo that can also be used very literally in a homebuilder or carpet ad. 

To use a photography phrase, this is “the decisive moment” – the instant in which the subject and whatever is happening in your image is at its peak. In this case, it happens to be Kanye West, but it could be anybody in peak performance. And here you've got that amazing, almost ethereal lighting, too. This photo could be used in any kind of sports-related product, nutritional supplements, lighting, or even an airline alluding to being in flight. 

This could be a great ad. As a graphic image, it’s very impactful. And there's plenty of room for type in the negative space. There are endless ways to interpret and read into the meaning of this runway within the silhouette of this woman, especially with the whole psychology behind it. What is she thinking? Feeling? What's inside of her? It’s more about an emotion than a specific product, and what the viewer brings to that meaning as well. And then, it’s up to the advertisers to fill in the blank.


See more head-turning entertainment photography at Getty Images