Paparazzi Exposed: Inside the World of Megabuck Celebrity Photos

Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt pose at the premiere of "Salt" in Hollywood, California July 19, 2010. (Reuters)

Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt pose at the premiere of "Salt" in Hollywood, California July 19, 2010. (Reuters)

Even if you never think about celebrities, chances are if you go grocery shopping and stand in the check-out line, you can't help but check out photos of what they're wearing, who they're dating and what trouble they're getting into.

And the demand for celebrity pictures worldwide is greater than ever.

The traffic on celebrity gossip sites alone has surged to it's highest point in two years, with over 55 million people a month clicking for the latest on Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jen Aniston an the rest of the Hollywood crew.

Michael Lavalette, managing editor of GossipCenter.com tells Fox411 that "the revenue stream from celebrity pictures totals $3 billion."

Who brings in the most clicks on his site?

"The 'Twilight' stars Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and anything Kardashian" he says.

Lavalette says a photo of Brad and Angelina with their brood could go for $20,000 on the web, $50,000 for TV, and $100,000 for print. Compare that to a picture of Leann Rimes and Eddie Cibrian on their honeymoon which probably fetched around $5,000 for the web, up to $15,000 on TV, and between $30,000-$50,000 in print.

GossipCenter.com relies heavily on photo agencies such as Getty, Wire Image and Splash News, all of which are multi-million dollar businesses. Lavalette says photo agencies break 80 percent of the day-to-day stories in entertainment news, providing the filler shots that keep sites churning.

So how do they get all those candid shots of hundreds of stars? The agencies contract celebrity photographers like Dave Kotinsky, who said he was forced to sell his wedding/portrait business after the economy slowed and had to get back into shooting celebrities to make a living. 

Kotinsky tells FOX411 an amazing stakeout shot could fetch $30,000, but a run-of-the-mill quarter page pic in a magazine goes for $200-250, and his agency takes a 50 percent cut.

"It's not as lucrative as people think. They think 'wow you got a shot of Snooki, you're made.' It's not really like that," he said. "You really need to build a decent amount of photos to make like a decent living off of it."

He also says the paparazzi business has changed dramatically because so many web sites have eaten away at profits. "The value of the photos has come down a lot, but you have opportunities to sell a lot more photos."

As for the photos, Lavalette says a lot of the celebrity pics are actually staged by the stars themselves. "When someone has a movie coming out, all the sudden you see them a lot at the photo agencies, but then for months afterwards, you won't catch a glimpse."

The paparazzi get tips from publicists, store owners and even celebs themselves. All of those photos of Kim Kardashian walking the beach with her fiance or partying at her bachelorette party? Lavalette and Kotinsky say she has a relationship with a big photo agency so she can control her image. "Instead of having paparazzi follow her around, she releases the photo, and that actually lowers the value for the paparazzi to go after her," says Kotinsky. Remember when Brad and Angelina sold their first twin baby pics for a reported $14 million and gave the money to charity instead so the paparazzi couldn't make cash off of it? Same deal. 

So, what if you spot a celeb in a scandalous situation? Could you sell your cell phone shot to a magazine?

"If it's a story breaker, you could get big money, but if it's just an everyday shot, you won’t get anything," Lavalette said. "You need a lot more skills than just a camera phone to get into major magazines.  The photo's gotta be technically perfect, the lighting perfect, the focus perfect, just dead on,"  Kotinsky added.

And a lot of celeb photogs do care about their reputation. "It's all about trust. The actor doesn't forget and neither does their publicist," Kotinsky said. "I wouldn't shoot somebody in a bad situation, falling down drunk at a club, and then have to see them in two weeks at an event."