L.A. photographer puts celebrities in their best light
It was a picture-perfect spring day when I ducked inside Jo's Coffee on Second Street to meet with Los Angeles-based photographer Leo Jaramillo.
He was in Austin working on a shoot with new models from the Wilhelmina Brown Management modeling agency. ("He's somebody that we trust, and he can get great shots," Justin Brown, president of the agency, later told me.)
While he was here, Jaramillo had plans to shoot a music video with an Austin-based band called the Adamant. Two of the bands members, twins Josh and Jeremy Olsen, are signed with the modeling agency.
"There's a specific look we that we know photo editors are going for," said Jaramillo, 35, who has a photo blog, Fist Full of Film, through his website, www.leojaramillo.com.
He would know best. The photographer grew up in Orlando, Fla. After graduating high school in 1993, Jaramillo started working on commercials and as an extra for Nickelodeon shows. His years at the University of Central Florida allowed him to study film. By the late 1990s, he worked full-time in production and rose up the ranks to become first assistant camera operator.
However, Jaramillo had bigger goals: He left Orlando for Los Angeles about six years ago. Of course, working on a movie or photo shoot is extremely competitive in California.
"When you move to a new town, you start at the bottom again," said Jaramillo, who lives with his wife, Jennifer, and children, Vivien and Jake, in Los Angeles. "It's almost like a rite of passage."
Then one day he got a job working as an assistant to famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. The first part of the day he got her coffee, but then life for Jaramillo changed.
"That was the job that said, 'We're down a man and we need help,'\u2009" said Jaramillo, who was drinking a bottle of Coke. "In that moment was the transition between getting coffee to working for one of the premiere photographers."
The rapid job advancement came because Jaramillo knew how to properly light a setting. He has worked with Leibovitz ever since, and he has worked with other noted photographers, including Tom Munro.
Remember the Vogue cover by the Leibovitz of the cast of the movie musical "Nine"? Jaramillo was involved in taking the initial test photos and prep work. Usually, he is hired to get the lighting and body composition right before any celebrity or photographer sets foot on a photo shoot set.
"Photography is a community project," he said. "Some of my best work has been through collaboration."
The average person, looking at a fashion magazine, likely doesn't realize that a photo shoot can take hours and involve a small army to brainstorm, complete preproduction work involving poses, lighting and styling, and set up the shoot.
"There's a lot of photographers who don't know how to light and don't know the equipment," he said.
So that's where he comes in.
Recently, Jaramillo, who is a freelancer for well-known photographers, has worked on shoots with David Duchovny, Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio, Patrick Dempsey, Teri Hatcher and Kim Kardashian (she'll be at the Sephora store at Barton Creek Square July 22).
He told me about the time he had lunch on a photo set with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt before Jolie gave birth to the couple's twins. And then there's the controversial Miley Cyrus photo shoot with Leibovitz that appeared in Vanity Fair. Jaramillo declined to comment.
Then came the name that stopped me in my tracks: Madonna.
Jaramillo worked with Munro, who shot photos of Madonna for Elle magazine and directed her music video "Give It 2 Me." Jaramillo said Madonna was friendly on the set and knew what she wanted to accomplish. One of the images from the Madonna shoot is on the cover of Munro's new book, "The Art of Celebrity Photography" ($75, Damiani), for which Madonna wrote the introduction.
"I'm so proud of it," Jaramillo said. "On the cover is something I lit."
Still in the afterglow of his Madonna story, I had to finish my assignment: taking a photo of a gifted photographer, who specializes in lighting and production.
Then Jaramillo, who enjoys shooting photos with real film, decided to turn the camera on me. Grabbing the Leica M6 around his neck, he started taking photos of me on Second Street.
Weeks later, he sent me a text message: "This is Leo from Los Angeles. Love this shot of you. I took this right after the interview." There staring back at me was my image in black and white.