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The Damage: Fiona McClymont uncovers the cost of the high and low life of a paparazzo

A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say. The right picture at the right time could also be worth enormous sums of money. With one photo, a paparazzo can earn what more serious photojournalists would struggle to earn in a year or more. Although the public professes to hate the paparazzi, our insatiable desire for photos of the stars at play keeps the men behind the lenses in plentiful employment. No longer limited to a flashbulb and a Lambretta (as was the character Paparazzo in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, from which the name derives), paparazzi have access to increasingly sophisticated equipment and will often follow their targets for days or weeks. According to a leading paparazzo based in LA, who agreed to spill the beans only in return for anonymity (threatening me with photos of myself hanging out my undies if his identity is revealed), the cost of staking out a major star until the picture has been obtained, works out like this.

Locate target Last-minute flight to LA following call from British tabloid, pounds 500; two days at Marriott Hotel until targets are located, pounds 150; payments to autograph hunters for tip-offs about celebrities' whereabouts, pounds 80; private detective to trace stars, pounds 115; copy of "shoot sheet" (which films are being shot where in LA) from LAPD, pounds 6.50

Aim Sandwiches for two days' of waiting around, pounds 10; car hire (some paparazzi use two or three in rotation to avoid detection, with tinted windows, of course), pounds 160; two nights at target's hotel (say, Four Seasons in Carlsbad, near San Diego), pounds 630; sweeteners to stop valet parkers, maids and other staff interfering (at pounds 65 a time), pounds 195

Shoot Professional artillery of cameras and lenses, pounds 8,500; compact camera for hiding in pocket, pounds 65; two days' rental of 800mm lens, which can see for up to half a mile, pounds 100; binoculars, pounds 260; boat hire to get within view of private beach, pounds 520; helicopter for when subject proves especially elusive, pounds 975; full developing kit for hotel room, pounds 250; computer equipment and scanner to send shots to picture editor, pounds 1,600

Total pounds 14,116.50