Jan. 9, 2008 -- Just days before he moved from covering the news in Britney Spears' life to making news, Los Angeles paparazzo Adnan Ghalib had a few thoughts about her to share.
"I think, God's honest truth, I think she's a great person. I really do," Ghalib told "20/20" late last year. "She's young. … She's never made the best choices in friends, even her relationships."
When it comes to Spears and her relationships, Ghalib has some expertise. He's been a frequent chronicler of her antics, and recently Ghalib was photographed holding Spears' hand and disappearing with her inside a hotel for an hour or two. Ghalib said they were just having lunch — lunch at 4 a.m. after a typically chaotic night on the Brit beat. (Ghalib and Spears are now reportedly dating; for more go to http://www.finalpixxceleb.com.)
"It's unfortunate that she is the way she is because of the people she surrounds herself with," said Ghalib, when interviewed for "20/20." "She's easily influenced, and that's where her bad choices come from."
To those unfamiliar with the netherworld of caught-on-video celebrity misadventure, the brief clip repeated everywhere of Spears stealing a lighter from a gas station might not seem like all that much. To the man who shot it, though, it was all in a hard day's work … and it was a gold mine.
"We'd been out driving for about six hours and I just stuck with her the whole time," Ghalib said. "She had paid for some cigarettes, went back in, picked up a lighter and said 'I stole a lighter,' and just walked out. And it was like — I couldn't believe it."
"Ball park, that 40-second clip could run about $40,000," said Ghalib. "Not bad."
'This Is What Civilization Has Come To'
For the last few months, Ghalib and dozens of his paparazzi competitors have been staked out around the clock, just outside the gated community where Spears lives. He says Spears is a paparazzi favorite because unlike other stars with regular and mundane daily routines, she is forever unpredictable, and her photos never fail to surprise.
"She'll get in a car, you think she's going to get coffee, she'll drive to Vegas," Ghalib said. "Or … she'll go to the airport, she'll fly to Cabo for two days. So, she is lucrative in that sense."
In recent weeks, startling images of Spears have been plentiful enough to earn an expert shooter like Ghalib close to $200,000, a potential payoff that creates traffic jams whenever the pop tart departs from her home. Ghalib said there would be "at least 30" cars following her wherever she goes. "That's going to cause problems."
Snapped at their lowest points, there were problems for Hollywood's goddesses of bad behavior in 2007.
Janice Min, the editor of Us Weekly, says her readers enjoyed seeing these young women brought to heel. "I think it was incredibly satisfying to see authorities step in, especially in the case of Paris Hilton. She's the O.J. of celebrities. She's gotten away with murder her entire career, if you can call it that."
Hilton was captured sobbing in the back seat of a sheriff's car while being returned to a jail cell for repeatedly driving with a suspended license. But as Holly Millea of Elle Magazine points out, even more telling than the photograph was the identity of the photographer, Nick Ut.
"What really shook me about that photograph was that the photographer who took that picture was the same guy that took the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the girl running down the street, napalm having burned her clothes off, in Vietnam. And it's like, well, congratulations, this is what civilization has come to."
The Camera Loves Them
Few images had more impact than one of Lindsay Lohan, underage and overserved, out cold in the front seat of a car on Sunset Boulevard.
Millea interviewed Lohan for Elle in between the first and the second of the starlet's three trips to rehab in 2007, and can recall when her yearning for paparazzi attention was all to plain.
"When she left the hospital the first time she was hospitalized for exhaustion, she was lamenting the fact to me that she did not get paparazzi that day leaving the hospital. I feel for her because the only unconditional love she's really ever gotten in her life, for sure, is the camera."
Stars like Spears, Hilton and Lohan offer endless entertainment for their sometimes childish behavior, but for other stars, it's their role as parents that provides fascination and moneymaking photos. Seeing stars and their children photographed in public became a new flash point this year, and the kids of the famous became big business, from Suri Cruise to Shiloh Jolie Pitt to Violet Affleck.
"These children make for great art," said Min. "They make for great images. They make you feel better about all of these people."
Stars with children voiced their displeasure, from Liv Tyler to Julia Roberts. "We'll never run photos taken at a school," said Min. "We don't run photos taken at people's homes on private property."
Celebs' kids are major moneymakers, because unlike their parents, their looks change from year to year, so old pictures keep selling. A cute child can clean up a star's image, and those baby pictures continue to reappear in magazines that like to make comparisons as the child grows.
'We Are Her Friends'
In a time that offered a drunken David Hasselhoff … an addled Paula Abdul … Alec Baldwin's voice mail to his 11-year-old daughter going viral — and the usual array of frisky fun captured on the Internet, the year unquestionably belonged to one woman alone: Britney Spears.
And if there was one image that marked 2007 for most of us it was when Spears was captured shaving her head. As Millea put it, "I know it sounds ridiculous, but I couldn't think of a bigger cry for help from somebody that is in Hollywood and constantly on camera to go and shave their head."
And to those who criticize magazines like Us Weekly, Min says the media are not fully responsible for anyone's behavior, and Ghalib says the paparazzi are just filling a demand.
"We're on the street and, you know, women will shout 'Get a life! Get a job. Leave her alone.' They're the first ones to be seen in a nail salon, having a pedicure, reading Us Weekly, reading People Magazine."
Amid the chaos, an odd symbiosis seems to have evolved between Spears and those who follow her every move with cameras at the ready.
"It cannot be just us," said Ghalib. "It has to be her friends. It has to be her family. I mean, if we're not there, who's going to pump her gas? Just yesterday she asked me to escort her home."
A 26-year-old with two children, no bodyguard and a raft of personal issues: Could she really be depending on these caught-on-videographers?
"Maybe the only friends she's going to have that treat her with the respect she deserves are going to be the photographers that work her 24 hours a day. It's going to have to be us," said Ghalib. "I think we are her friends now. Until she tells us to go away."