How Blair Caldwell, Beyoncé’s go-to photographer, uses AI to make his job ‘so easy’

In 2006, while his high school classmates were busy with extracurriculars like football, basketball, and other sports “on grassy old fields,” Blair Caldwell was hyper-focused on honing a new passion he discovered his sophomore year while waiting for a ride home from school.

Since his parents would pick him up late due to their demanding work schedules, Caldwell would pass the time by staging photoshoots with his older sister, who loved modeling. He captured his shots on a Razr flip phone he borrowed from his sister. 

“My sister and I would take that time after school to go to the library to print out all the photos I had taken of her,” the Tyler, Texas native told Fortune. “Eventually, instead of doing homework, we would be emailing photos to the printers in the library.”

It wasn’t long before the images caused a buzz around the school. “My sister’s friends started noticing her photos and asked who took them,” Caldwell recalled. “She told them it was me, and from then on, I started taking pictures of everyone.”

Caldwell’s newfound popularity as a photographer motivated him to dream bigger.

“I would write it on my homework,” he said. “When I got done early in class, I would turn my paper over and just draw Hollywood and cameras and all that stuff.”

Now 33, Caldwell has a successful career as one of Hollywood’s well-established photographers, snapping celebrities like Grammy award winners Beyoncé, Cardi B, and SZA, plus the likes of Kylie Jenner, Normani, and Michael B. Jordan.

In an interview with Fortune, the photographer revealed how he went from juggling novel jobs to shooting Hollywood’s most notable stars, and how he’s leveraging artificial intelligence for his most recent work. 

The art of opportunity

The path to Hollywood success for Caldwell wasn’t glamorous at first, and started with just $1,000 in his bank account.

After graduating from The Art Institute of Dallas with an associate’s degree in photography, Caldwell packed up his belongings and moved over 1,300 miles to Los Angeles, a city he’d idolized as a child watching music videos on MTV and BET. 

“My family was like, ‘okay, go, just make sure you’ve got a plan,” he said. “I literally had no plan … I hit the ground running.”

To make ends meet while finding gigs, Caldwell accepted an array of odd jobs, like auditioning for competition shows including The X Factor, The Voice, and American Idol, volunteering to be a live-studio audience member, and offering to take $50 headshots for people in a local park.

“I was doing whatever I could to try and get my name out there and try to get in touch with someone that can help me get to the next spot,” Caldwell said.

His connections paid off. While sleeping on a mattress in a friend’s living room, Caldwell was awoken by an urgent phone call from his mentor in the city, asking if he could conduct a photoshoot for R&B singer Chrisette Michele. Without any preparation or planning, Caldwell immediately grabbed his equipment and sped off to meet the artist, who needed to document her Grammy nomination. 

Caldwell said Michele “took me under her wing” and enlisted him to travel around the country with her, shooting album covers, maintaining her YouTube vlog, and capturing images for her Instagram account. 

Other stars took notice. Glee actress Amber Riley and then-Fifth Harmony singer Normani asked Caldwell for their own shoots. 

“I remember [Normani] saying, ‘I want to hire you as my personal photographer,’” said Caldwell. “ I finally felt like I was getting my foot in the door.”

Opportunity calls

As his résumé grew, so did the amount of calls he fielded from eager clients, including a chance in 2018 to photograph one of music’s biggest titans. But it was an opportunity he almost turned down. 

“I was sitting in church one day, and I got a text: ‘Are you available to do photos?’” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘sure, who’s it for?’”

His question went unanswered, and his friend replied saying their mysterious client could not be disclosed. 

“I was like, I have to go lead worship at six o’clock, so I kinda need to know who this is because I can’t just leave church,” he said. “At that time, I literally was begging God to give me a sign to show me something.”

Caldwell had convinced himself that he hit the end of the road in his career, and would have to stop pursuing his dream in order to secure a traditional 9-to-5 job for stability. But he gave this mysterious opportunity a shot: He drove his car—a 2007 Toyota Scion that “only blew out cold air”—up the Los Angeles hills to an unknown location for the shoot. 

When he arrived, he was greeted by a drop-top baby blue Rolls-Royce in the driveway, plus a security guard at the entrance who requested that he sign a paper. 

“I didn’t read it. I didn’t care,” Caldwell recalled. “I said, ‘I’m just glad to sign it.’”

As he made his way past security, he spotted a woman on a balcony. “She said, ‘how are you? I’m Beyoncé.’”

Over the course of the photoshoot, the two bonded over Caldwell’s accent and their shared Texas roots. 

“I just couldn’t believe it, everything I had prayed for had come,” Caldwell said. “That was the beginning of everything.”


Days after his first photoshoot with Beyoncé, Caldwell eagerly refreshed his Instagram feed, waiting to see the pictures he just captured pop up on his timeline. Eventually, a few days of anticipation turned into a month, and the original cloud-nine feeling started to fade.

“I thought that she hated the photos because I didn’t see them come out,” he said, recalling times he couldn’t get out of bed until four o’clock in the afternoon from depression.

But a month later, while sitting in a living room with friends, Caldwell received another vague text asking if he knew how to shoot live shows, a skill he learned while working with his earlier clients Chrisette Michelle and Amber Riley. He rushed to the location, and was greeted with dancers, bands, lighting crews, and videographers all preparing for one of Beyoncé’s most notable productions yet: her 2018 “Homecoming” performance at Coachella

“It was just like a huge entertainment college,” Caldwell said. “I just was bright like a kid on my first day with my little bag.”

An homage to Black HBCU culture, the performance netted 41 million viewers in 232 countries, surpassing the record of most-viewed performance at any festival.

Today, Caldwell still serves as the singer’s frequent photographer—he even did the cover art for Beyonce’s eighth studio album, Cowboy Carter, which released Friday.

AI-infused photography

Capturing Beyoncé’s Coachella performance required Caldwell to present his vision to her team with mood boards well ahead of the performance, a strategy he previously had not followed. Years later, he’s embraced the mood-boards strategy and is utilizing a new tool to make them more effective: artificial intelligence.

Caldwell says tools like AI platform Tome refine his workflows and cut down on production time by planning shoots in advance.

“When I discovered Tome, it was as if I had an assistant helping me,” he said. “I would input some images, and Tome’s AI would lay it out in a visually compelling way that helped not only me to crystallize my vision, but it actually became something I could share with clients.”

Although he’s still tinkering with the technology, Caldwell says he can appreciate the versatility of AI.

“If I needed to find photos, I could just type in the type of photos I wanted and AI would find the right picture,” Caldwell said. “It’s literally a lifesaver … it’s made my job so easy.”

The AI tool helps Caldwell visualize the “mood, aesthetic, lighting, clothing, scenery and photographic style” he aims for in each shoot.

“I do love that it gives you an outlook on what you might not have,” he said. “You can be looking for something in particular and an AI will give me an example of what I’m looking for, but show me in a different way.”

A 2023 Pew survey shows Americans are increasingly cautious about the growing role of AI in their lives and jobs, but Caldwell says he’s in favor of the tech and doesn’t believe AI will replace human photographers anytime soon. 

“[Photography] is real, shooting someone is real,” Caldwell said. “Being in front of someone is an experience.”

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