Catching a celebrity off guard is no easy feat in the realm of highly managed public image, but few establish a rapport with the world’s most sought-after stars quite like Greg Williams.
“To begin with, his gregarious personality puts the subject at ease,” write actors Gary Oldman and Gisele Schmidt in the foreword to Greg’s new book Photo Breakdowns: The Stories Behind 100 Portraits. “It’s always been fun running into him on our many travels: Venice, Paris, London, Los Angeles. On a set, in a hotel lobby, or backstage at an event or an award show. He’s always there. A mop of unruly curly hair, a sea captain’s beard, a big smile, and a tangle of cameras hung from his neck.”
The British photographer’s varied career has seen him go from documenting war zones in the 90s to becoming one of Hollywood’s most trusted insiders. Whether shooting editorials for Vanity Fair and Vogue or backstage at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Greg constantly sheds new light on the icons we think we know. Think Liv Tyler, Brad Pitt and Ruth Negga pretending to nod off on a boat in Venice on their way to the premiere of Ad Astra or Dua Lipa singing down the lens of a camera at a BRIT Awards after-party.
And while many photographers guard their methods as closely as the celebrities they capture, Greg takes a different approach, openly sharing insights into his craft.
This refreshing transparency is at the heart of Photo Breakdowns. Published in June 2023, the beautiful coffee table book invites the reader into the inner sanctum of Williams’ world. Within its pages, he unveils the secrets behind 100 of his favourite intimate and revealing images – and shares techniques that can be utilised by anyone, even with just a camera or iPhone and the presence of loved ones.
One key lesson Greg champions is letting go of rigid expectations and adapting more swiftly to the genuine moments that unfold before your eyes. Take his encounter with Olivia Colman on the set of The Crown. It was only after the shoot had wrapped, and Olivia proceeded to stack the prop crowns on her head, that Greg realised he had his photo opportunity. “I’m just laughing, encouraging her. And she keeps going, stacking these things up. I wasn’t taking pictures when she was stacking them. But as it was getting better and better, I’m going, oh my God, this is the photo.”
Having transitioned from working with large production crews and elaborate setups – Greg has shot over 200 ‘specials’ for films, including four poster campaigns for the Bond franchise – the photographer now appreciates the simplicity of walking into a room and envisioning it as if it were exclusively lit for him.
But above all else, he advocates for showing empathy and kindness towards the subject: “In my experience, this will encourage a sense of trust and collaboration, and result in the most authentic picture.”
Photo Breakdowns by Greg Williams is published by Whalen Studio Editions / Cider Mill Press Book Publishers | gregwilliams.com
Olivia Colman, Taron Egerton, Dexter Fletcher and Rami Malek
Robert Downey Jr
Liv Tyler, Brad Pitt and Ruth Negga