This Lansing Native is Now a Respected Celebrity Photographer

Kathy Hutchins turned a childhood hobby into a full-time career as a well-respected celebrity photographer in Hollywood.
After years of shooting celebrities, Kathy Hutchins has developed special relationships with a few, such as George Clooney, who is among the red carpet walkers who will take a moment to say hello. // Photograph courtesy of Kathy Hutchins

When Kathy Hutchins was growing up in Lansing, she would attend Detroit Tigers games whenever she could when the Boston Red Sox — her favorite team — were in town. She knew where they liked to hang out afterward and would go there and approach the players asking for autographs.

An avid autograph collector in those days, she says it wasn’t so much about getting a signature as it was “an excuse to talk to somebody who’s famous.”

After graduating from Andrews University near Battle Creek, Hutchins moved to Florida for an accounting job. When a position opened in California, she decided to take it.

“I wanted to pursue my love of celebrity autographs and got a job in California and moved out here,” she says from her home, about an hour outside Los Angeles.

Out scouting for celebrity autographs one day, she saw the paparazzi hanging out in the same locations, shooting photos of willing celebrities, and thought she’d give it a shot. Thirty years later, at 63, she’s a celebrity photographer — a “legend,” according to Emmy-winning actor and comedian Brad Garrett— and is regularly invited to celebrity parties and red-carpet events.

Here, she shares her stories of what it’s like to get up close and personal with the rich and famous and the difference between a celebrity photographer and the paparazzi.

Hour: You only shoot major events now, but you started out among the paparazzi. Celebrities don’t always have a great relationship with the paparazzi …

Kathy Hutchins: Actually, you’re wrong.

Oh. OK, tell me.

I have found that even in the paparazzi days, I was going to known places where they would hang out. … They went there expecting to see us. This was back in the days where there weren’t events every night of the week. So if they had a new love, they would take them there to get photographed to get that relationship into the press.

That’s fascinating, because you always see these photos of celebrities holding their hand up and toward the camera. That doesn’t reflect your experience in those days?

Well, that would be when you are invading their privacy. But when you’re being respectful and ask for a photo outside of a venue they go to be photographed, you’re not really paparazzi because you’re not invading their space.

How often did they tell you no?

Oh, about 1 percent.

How would you describe your style of working with celebrities?

I give compliments all the time. My thing is, I want them to want me to take their picture. So when they come on the carpet, [I say,] “Oh, my goodness. I love your dress. The shoes are great. What a great tie. You look very nice tonight.” And you’d be surprised, or maybe not, that everybody likes to hear that.

Who are some of the nicest people you’ve photographed or worked with?

Well, Magic Johnson is one of my favorites. I went to grade school with his sisters. When I was out taking pictures in Hollywood, I said to him, “I’m from Lansing, Michigan, and I went to grade school with your sisters.” And that became a bond that has lasted for 20 years. So every time he sees me, [he] comes over and [says], “Girl, what’s going on?” and gives me a hug.

OK, that’s great. Do you have any other relationships like that where people see you, recognize you, say hello specifically, or anything like that?

I shot Roseanne Barr’s baby shower back in the day. I shot the wrap party for Home Improvement when it ended. … A lot of them know me by name now. Brad Garrett came up to me at an event, probably three or four years ago. He stopped, he looked at me, and said, “You know, you’re a legend.”

Tom Cruise has always been magnificent. My first People’s Choice Awards, I was brand new. I was nervous. I was seeing a huge celebrity for the first time, and I wasn’t getting it right. He said, “Just relax. I’ll wait.” And he and I have had a special relationship over the years. He’s come down the red carpet, come over to me, and said, “How you doing? What’s going on? You got a haircut — I like it.” I mean, and I had gotten a haircut.

What is it like when Tom Cruise walks up and notices you’ve changed your hair and says hello?

It’s very satisfying. It’s like the ability to connect on the red carpet to get a good photo has translated into more.

George Clooney does the same thing. He’ll come up to me and [say], “How’s it going?” I have a picture of him shaking my hand on the red carpet that a friend of mine took, and it’s a precious memory because I started photographing him back when he was on a show before ER. You see people before they become stars. And to this day, they still acknowledge and recognize you.

Reese Witherspoon will give me more time than I should deserve with her eyes. And a big smile. And Bradley Cooper — I first started photographing him when he was on Alias.

Anyone who’s … less than pleasant?

Honestly, they want to look their best on a red carpet, so it doesn’t happen very often. At all. Period. They want to be smiling; they want to be known as being cooperative and pleasant.

Sean Penn just doesn’t like the red carpet. He doesn’t like the whole scene. But if he’s with a spouse, a girlfriend, or his children, he’s wonderful.

You start to learn the quirks in order to best deal with them. Samuel L. Jackson told us years ago, “Don’t yell at me. I’ll look at everybody.” So, he comes out, goes down the line, and there’s always a newbie that’s never done it before and gets all excited and starts calling his name, and [Jackson] looks at the rest of us: “They’re new, aren’t they?”

What else do you think would surprise people about working with celebrities or meeting celebrities?

They’re people just like everybody else. They want to look good. They want to be appreciated. They want to have fun. They want you to work with them and be happy with them. They want to please you in a lot of ways.

I’m a director on the carpet. I am directing somebody how to pose and how to present their best side to me, and I have to do that in seconds.

“Please look here over the shoulder; look at me over your shoulder so I can get the back of your dress,” the shorthand is “Over the shoulders.” Most of them understand that, and if they don’t, we teach them.

Do you still ever ask for autographs?

It’s been a long time. It’s been a long time.

Check Out Some of Kathy Hutchins Photos

This story is part of the April 2023 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our Digital Edition.