The eyes of star-gazers around the world are on the Italian castle where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are tying the knot this weekend. But even after the big event is over, the contest of who got the best picture of the biggest celebrity wedding of the year -- and also the biggest paycheck for it -- will still be in full swing.
"Everybody's looking for that money shot, and there's a lot of money on the line," said Harvey Levin, managing editor of the celebrity gossip and photo website TMZ.com.
Exactly how much money is on the line depends not only on what is captured on film, but also on how many photos of the wedding find their way into the public arena. The big business of stars caught on camera is based on a simple economic concept -- supply and demand.
"For one photo owned by one entity, it could be worth a huge amount of money," Levin said. "If 50 photogs get a shot, it'll be worth a lot less."
For the "TomKat" wedding, the second scenario is more likely. While the details of the nuptials may still be under wraps, the location and date of the wedding were made public, and that means there are likely to be lots of pictures. Levin said Cruise can't afford to be camera shy right now.
"There is a business side to this wedding: There's a business side for the photographers, and there's a business side for Tom Cruise," Levin said. "He's been beaten up over the past year. … This is all about image."
Some Celebs Steer Clear of the Camera
Of course, not every celebrity couple lets the specifics of their big day slip. When Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore got married last September, no one even knew for sure that they were engaged, much less the when-and-where of their wedding.
When celebrity couples try to keep the event private, that potentially means a chance for a mega-paycheck for the paparazzi if they manage to get a shot, Levin said.
But even those celebrities who run from the cameras can't afford to be too successful at it, Levin added, because in Hollywood every star needs face time in the glossies. Far worse than being harassed by photographers is being ignored by them.
Maintaining a Rep with a Photo
The going rate for a celebrity's photo says a lot about their status, and celebrities are more status-conscious than popular girls in high school.
"If you can't pull in the figure that another big star can, it says something about you," Levin said. "All of that is a measure of celebrity. If the paparazzi ignores you, it's a sign that your career could be going down."
The competition even extends to photos of celebrity children. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie turned the tables on the paparazzi, selling their daughter Shiloh Nouvel's first baby pictures to raise money for charity. People magazine reportedly paid $4 million to get the photos.
That set the bar very high for other proud celebrity parents.
Cruise and Holmes famously kept their new daughter Suri under wraps until a photo spread appeared in the October issue of Vanity Fair, for which the magazine paid them nothing at all. That sparked rumors that they had been unable to beat the price of the Brangelina baby pics and had opted out of the competition.
Even though the stars would have us believe they hate the paparazzi, or "stalkarazzi," as they're sometimes called, Levin said some stars have resorted to staging pictures -- telling the paparazzi when and where to meet them to get a shot. And celebrities aren't above ratting each other out.
"We had a case where a big star was having lunch at the Ivy with a friend, and the friend ends up calling us [TMZ] because she wanted to get on the Web site." Levin said.
Businesses Stand to Benefit
A high-priced photo can mean more than just a hefty payday for the photographer or high status for the subject. A shot of a starlet outside a trendy shop can also do wonders for business.
A case in point is Kitson, a Hollywood boutique that has seen a 20 percent increase in profits since Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears were captured on film outside the store.
Kitson owner Fraser Ross is open about his relationships with several celebrity glossies. His store has become a place where stars come in search of good press. Ross makes sure the photographers get their shots, many of which include his merchandise.
In addition to increased profits at the boutique, Kitson goods are also fetching high prices in Nordstrom and Macy's department stores.
All of this begs the question: Why are the photos worth so much? Why does a candid shot of a top celebrity send magazines flying off the shelves? Levin puts it simply.
"People love celebrities," he said. "We used to only see them on the red carpet. Now, we can show how they live, and it's real. People like that."