Dec. 3, 2009 — -- They were the golden days: Celebrities were behaving badly. It was 2007. There was the time Paris Hilton got into a fight.
"She came out of the airport with her whole face, like, swollen, and bruises everywhere," recalled Walter Blanco, a veteran paparazzo on the streets of Los Angeles.
"Back then, for just somebody walking on Sunset Boulevard, you could get a couple of thousand off just that one photo," said Blanco.
Britney Spears shaved her head. That shot was worth about $300,000. But, if she did it today, you'd only get $100,000 for it, industry insiders say. In May 2007, a shot of a Lindsey Lohan DUI drew $150,000. These days, you'd get less than half that. An Olsen leaving yoga? Back then, $10,000. These days ... maybe $6,000?
What happened? Well, a perfect storm hit the paparazzi.
First up: The recession. Magazine circulation fell, taking bloated photo budgets with them.
Then, something even worse happened.
"Some of these stars just become so ubiquitous that they devalue themselves," said Nicole LaPorte, West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast. "I mean, even I'm getting bored of Lindsay Lohan. I used to think she was cute. I am sooo over her. ... There are so many photos of her every day of the week doing every little task that she's worth far less than she was three years ago."
So, gone are the days of paps driving Range Rovers. Because, well, there are just too many paparazzi now scrambling around for some pretty meager scraps.
"It could be Ashley Tisdale here," said Blanco. "But Jennifer Aniston could be at the Hermitage or at the Four Seasons. And you know, I'm here and there's a bigger story two blocks down."
And the darlings of 2007, it seems, just ain't what they used to be.
"Everyone's kind of so boring right now," said LaPorte. "I mean, Nicole Richie has two kids. Paris isn't in jail anymore. Britney is under control."
'The Money Is Still There'
They're under control and a bit more savvy. Media goliaths like Darryn Lyons, who made his name as a paparazzo catching celebs in the act, now advises stars on how to manage the snappers at their heels.
Fortunately, for those still in the game, the million-dollar shot is still out there. What about "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson getting hot 'n' heavy with a lady?
"Him kissing a girl tomorrow?" said Lyons. "I guarantee I'll have quarter of a million in my back pocket within an hour." That's not bad. But is there even bigger game out there?
"Prince William and a new girl, Prince Harry and another girl," said Lyons. "The money is still there."
What about Prince William and a guy?
"Prince William and a guy... I'm not sure," said Lyons. "That would be a good picture."
That very prospect, the dream of the well-known being caught doing the unexpected, will keep these guys at it.
"This is what I do, this is what I'm good at," said Blanco. "I can't picture myself doing anything else."
This business isn't going away. It just might not be as glamorous as it once was.