Westfield High School graduate Emily Tebbetts enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime when she won Sony's "Up Close" contest and had the chance to spend the day as Taylor Swift's personal photographer.
A commercial featuring the 21-year-old communication studies major and the 23-year-old singer/songwriter has been airing since November (see attached video) but for Tebbetts the excitement began in September when a friend from Westfield suggested she enter the Internet-based contest.
The Northeastern University student said she was just settling into her Boston apartment when she submitted her work online and life has been a whirlwind ever since.
Jason Cromer, senior manager for Brand Experience at Sony Electronics, explained what he described as the rigorous review process that garnered more than 2,800 applicants in the mere 80 hours the contest was live. After being voted through to the top 100 by her peers, Tebbetts was still standing as the pool was whittled down to 20. Cromer said when it came time for the final five to be interviewed, Tebbetts' name was the only one that appeared on each of the lists of Sony's panel of judges, which included photographers Nigel Barker, Matthew Jordan Smith and Brian Smith.
Tebbetts traveled to Nashville in late September for the final round. "It was kind of surreal," she said. "It was so crazy but yet so normal at the same time. I wasn't really nervous. I felt more like I was in a dream—is this really happening?"
A Swift fan since before the crossover country star "blew up," Tebbetts said Swift, whom she documented for a day, lived up to her lofty expectations.
"I'd heard how kind she was and she was really nice and funny and sarcastic," Tebbetts said. "She made me feel comfortable and welcome."
The self-taught photographer said the experience was invaluable. From seeing how an entire day of work is edited down to a 30-second commercial to working with professionals and observing how numerous moving pieces come together, Tebbetts, who "thrives on craziness," said working with Sony's equipment was eye-opening as well.
While shooting the Grammy award winner, Tebbetts used Sony’s new NEX-5R camera, which she said was easy to use and just as sharp but much less bulky than her usual "huge" camera that can quickly become a literal pain in the neck.
Cromer said Tebbetts had "a lot thrown at her" and "handled it all with incredible poise." Since the commercial, Sony has continued to partner with Tebbetts by asking her to serve as a camera assistant for the hitRECord Tour, featuring actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Tebbetts has also had the chance to test drive some of Sony's newest creations, including the A99, which she noted she's "in love with."
"She's fantastic," Cromer said. "We're definitely fans of her work. She's a great photographer and we can't wait to get the equipment into her hands and get her feedback."
Tebbetts said she never could have dreamt things would have turned out as they have since she entered the contest, especially when she recalled that she really didn't pursue her passion for photography until her senior year at WHS. In what she described as her “defining moment," Tebbetts said as her senior project she decided to create a portfolio and challenged herself to find a designer who would hire her to shoot her line.
"Everything's happened so quickly," she said. "It's been such a blessing. I'm so grateful and I know how lucky I am to have this opportunity."
Since her commercial with Swift began airing, Tebbetts said she has received a tremendous outpouring of support and good wishes.
"Everyone has been so kind about it and wished me the best," she said. "I didn't realize how many people would see it. I never imagined I'd be in a commercial."
The artist looks forward to returning to Westfield this spring to pursue professional opportunities while completing her degree. She will be available for family and individual photo shoots while in town.