Los Angeles (AFP) - With Hollywood A-listers self-quarantined in their sprawling mansions due to the novel coronavirus, Los Angeles' notorious paparazzi have almost nobody to shoot -- despite soaring demand for celebrity pictures.
The trendy nightclubs, restaurants and movie sets which are typically surrounded by photographers at all hours have been closed since California went into pandemic lockdown a month ago.
This has meant images of gossip magazine staples such as Ben Affleck walking his dogs, or Cameron Diaz popping out for groceries, are a hot commodity, with dozens of paparazzi vying for the same photos.
"Every photo is with sunglasses and a mask on at this point... those are the only pictures you're going to get," said Randy Bauer, founder of celebrity photo agency Bauer-Griffin.
"It's really not a pretty situation," he added.
Bauer estimates that his agency's photo output dropped almost overnight by 95 percent after stay-at-home orders were issued and most businesses shuttered.
His agency, which employs around 20 photographers mainly on a freelance basis, went from issuing up to 7,000 celebrity photographs a month to around 500.
"That's if we're lucky," he told AFP. "The whole thing has been turned upside down."
- 'Bittersweet' -
Paparazzi are just one of countless strands of the Hollywood entertainment industry decimated by the lockdown.
With movie premieres canceled, traditional red-carpet photographers are also out of work.
Ironically, the absence of these glitzy images -- used by newspaper, magazines and television networks around the world -- has heightened demand for the street snaps delivered by paparazzi.
Even images of D-listers who previously wouldn't have drawn global interest are being greedily snapped up by showbiz publishers.
"It's very bittersweet, because we've got the demand, but no supply!" said Bauer. "But you can't have it all."
And there is another silver lining for those still in the paparazzi game.
The long-lens nature of street shots -- often taken from cars -- at least allows for social distancing, in contrast to the massed photographers previously breathing down each other's necks at premieres or outside clubs.
- 'Waiting, waiting' -
Of course, the industry's controversial reputation means sympathy for paparazzi is likely to be limited.
"Some outside my house right now. Waiting, waiting for a walk that will never happen," wrote model Chrissy Teigen this week in a tweet that drew 350,000 "likes."
Photographer Mark Karloff, speaking on a recent episode of his "Paparazzi Podcast," admitted that "obviously the general public's gonna give us a big boohoo about, you know, paparazzi struggling."
"But we are family guys -- we have kids, we have family -- and we're human as well," he said.
Bauer, who had photographers permanently stationed outside top celebrity hangouts like Craig's Restaurant in West Hollywood, now advises freelancers on applying for unemployment.
For the first time, gig workers are eligible for benefits due to the coronavirus, providing paparazzi with some relief.
- 'Wild West' -
Still, with celebrity sightings in such short supply, the prospect of a big payday continues to draw many out to the same handful of Hollywood stars' homes.
"It was like the Wild West man," said Karloff's podcast co-host, who goes by the alias "Jedi."
"I'd drive past Kate Hudson's house and see four or five different guys there. I'd drive past Reese (Witherspoon) and see a bunch there as well. There were just guys everywhere."
And there is always Affleck -- who, according to Bauer, is now spotted out walking with new girlfriend Ana de Armas "more than he was before corona."
"A lot of times I was wondering why we were seeing so many celebrities out walking their dogs... what's happening?" he said.
"And then I just realized... the dog walkers aren't going to come to the house to do it. So they have to walk their own dogs."