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Behind the lens with Taylor Swift

Emily Tebbetts saw singer/songwriter Taylor Swift perform at a free show in a West Virginia park in the summer of 2007, shortly before the starlet gained international fame. Five years later, Tebbetts met Swift in person, when she won the Sony “Up Close” contest and became her personal photographer for the day.

Tebbetts, a fourth-year communication studies major at Northeastern, edged out 2,700 photographers in the contest, which ran in September and lasted only 80 hours. Photographers submitted their portfolios on Facebook, and Internet voting determined the top 100 candidates. Sony’s internal judging panel, including Sony photographers Nigel Barker, Matthew Jordan Smith and Brian Smith, narrowed down the field, and Tebbetts ultimately interviewed in Nashville, Tenn., as one of two finalists.

Tebbetts photographed Swift as the singer filmed a commercial for Sony’s new NEX-5R camera.

“It felt like I was dreaming the whole time,” said Tebbetts, who described Swift as funny, down to earth and appreciative of her fans. “It was so exciting. I couldn’t believe I got this amazing opportunity.”

Tebbetts got a firsthand look at how a commercial is produced and gained valuable experience behind the lens. For starters, she worked with a lighter, more compact camera than usual. (“My neck didn’t hurt by the end of the day,” she joked). Swift’s comfort in front of the lens, moreover, made it easy for Tebbetts to take a series of posed and action shots documenting the singer’s day.

In addition, Tebbetts received on-the-set pointers from Barker, who suggested the most interesting angles and lighting scenarios to best capture the star.

Tebbetts has had a passion for photography for many years, but her love for the art form blossomed during her senior year of high school. Her portfolio now includes a range of work, comprising photos of models, musicians, brides and fashionistas.

Since the commercial aired, Tebbetts has received an influx of job offers. Sony also invited her to be a camera assistant for the “HitRecord ” Tour in November, a gig that took her to Philadelphia, Cornell University and the University of Rhode Island, and featured actor Joseph Gordon Levitt, the founder of the online collaborative production company.

Jason Cromer, senior manager for Brand Experience at Sony Electronics, called Tebbetts a great fit for both assignments and noted that the Sony team was impressed with her determination and work ethic.

“Emily is a great photographer who does amazing work,” he said. “It’s been a really great partnership with her.”

The life-changing experience also gave Tebbetts a chance to think about her potential career path. Noting her strong interest in working at a nonprofit and continuing to amass an impressive photography portfolio, she said, “Wherever life wants to take me, and wherever I’m going in that moment, I think I’ll end up in a good place as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”

“That’s the beauty of Northeastern,” she added. “You get to try everything out and see what works for you, get real-world experience and figure out what you want to do.”

See the commercial here: