But airport work pays significantly less, photographers said. Vera said he cut back on his airport work after a November encounter with Mike Tyson at LAX that left him bloody. (Authorities declined to charge either man.) He said he found he could make double the money by stationing himself outside the homes of tabloid staples like Lindsay Lohan and Jesse James.
"The airport is a great place to work, but you can make a lot more money doorstepping," Vera said.
Blanco said he makes about $3,000 a month plus commissions on photo sales.
"It's less stressful [at the airport], but it is still very stressful," Blanco said as he eyed a black Range Rover pulling up to the curb.
If tips are scarce, photographers make their own luck by "fishing" — strolling the terminal baggage claims and entrances for shots. Airport paparazzi scour crowds less for actual famous people than for signs that actual famous people are about to appear. A shiny black Escalade with tinted windows. A muscle-bound man with an earpiece. And, above all, the "star greeter," hired by movie studios and other companies to whisk VIPs through lines at the airport. Airport photographers tend to memorize the greeters' faces, walks, wardrobes and client lists.
On a recent afternoon, Vera, 51, was prowling the Bradley terminal when he spotted a greeter by the curb.
"He's the biggest greeter in the airport. We may have struck gold," he said.
It had been a so-so day so far. He'd happened upon Helen Hunt over by American Airlines. "This won't sell now, but who knows? Maybe someday," he said of the video of the actress. He had a tip that an "American Idol" judge would be touching down later in the afternoon. But the greeter at the curb suggested a massive star.
"My heart starts pounding. It's the most incredible feeling," he said.
Ten minutes later, a black SUV pulled up. The greeter opened the door, and Vera gripped the bag holding his camera. Out stepped a portly bald man with glasses. Vera's shoulders slumped.
"That's nobody. Maybe a writer or something. Nobody," he said, crestfallen.