Throughout three decades, South Florida's Bette Marshall has photographed some of the most-famous faces in music, film and television. Stories behind her images pop out of Marshall like Polaroids.
An instructor at the AutoNation Academy of Art + Design in Fort Lauderdale, where she leads portrait photography and studio lighting classes, the South Florida commercial photographer shares how she snapped rapper/actor LL Cool J on a dock, arms outstretched, with his then-trademark pants leg rolled up.
And she recalls the challenge of fitting all five members of boy band New Kids on The Block around a ladder for a tour poster.
But it's the intimate and candid shots of a young Whitney Houston, before the teenager became a music sensation, that are putting Marshall's work back into focus recently.
Since Houston's death in February 2012, the photos, shot in 1982, have been appearing in syndicated TV entertainment shows and national publications. One shows the teen laughing with her mom in their New Jersey kitchen. Others captured Houston hamming it up in a recording studio, and before an audition for a record executive.
"I am sad that those are the circumstances [in which] those pictures are seen,'' said Marshall, who remembers Houston auditioning with the song, "Tomorrow," from the musical, "Annie."
"But with the gospel embellishment that only Whitney can do … She had an amazing voice, and she was a very sweet girl."
Though her Houston shots "are something unique, and she is in kind of a legendary category," Marshall makes sure to point out: "I think I have taken other good pictures before and since."
Her late husband, Paul Marshall, an entertainment lawyer and her husband of 47 years, helped launch her interest in photography when he gave Marshall her first camera, a Nikon F with interchangeable lenses.
Her first published photos — of her kids and their friends in New York — were featured in a 1977 book, "Chess for Children, Step by Step: A New, Easy Way To Learn the Game." She went on to photograph coverage of the 1980 prime minister elections in Jamaica before settling into a career as a commercial photographer. Her images have appeared in Life, People and Rolling Stone magazines.
These days, the grandmother of three enjoys sharing her insight with her photography students.
"I was looking for a way to get involved in photography again, and I thought it would be fun and rewarding to teach photography. ... My life doesn't revolve around being a senior citizen in South Florida," said Marshall, of Aventura.
One of her tips: Shoot a lot of photos with digital cameras because you can never have enough photos. "Look at them later. Don't judge them while you're taking a lot of pictures," she said.
She also emphasizes the importance of making a subject laugh and feel natural in front of the camera by asking them questions about their hobbies and interests.
"The main thing is catching a moment when something real is happening. It's the joy of seeing rather than being seen,'' said Marshall, as she held up her iPad with about 114 of some of her favorite photos.
One includes a teenage Sarah Jessica Parker with then-boyfriend Robert Downey Jr. as they rode seesaws in a New York City park in the 1980s.
"This was putting them in a situation were they can behave naturally and be more in the moment,'' Marshall recalled. "A technically perfect photo with no life in it is not a good photograph, but an image with life in it can rise above technical imperfections."
For more information about Marshall's classes, call 954-525-5500 or go to Moafl.org/art-academy.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4939
Bette Marshall's photo tips
Move in closer.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes, especially in digital photography. "It's not costing you film."
Scan the frame for distractions that pull your eye away from the subject, such as "plants growing out of someone's head."
Look at the light. Notice light and shadows. "Strong sun can make harsh shadows and contrasty photos. Open shade and reflected light generally is more flattering in portraits of people."