CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Omar Cruz; Cruz’s portraits of Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, Daddy Yankee

FROM TOP: Cruz’s portraits of Eva Longoria Parker, Juanes and Celia Cruz

What does it take to be a great photographer? Sure, there’s the whole technical mastery of light and framing. But the mark of a quality lensman lies in capturing the essence of a subject. Over the past decade, Miami-based photographer Omar Cruz has perfected this ability, forming intimate connections with his models and drawing out sides not readily apparent— especially when it comes to the biggest Latino stars in the world.

Cruz’s portraits have been seen everywhere from the pages of People and People en Español’s 50 Most Beautiful People issues to the backdrops of Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour. His celebrity subjects have included Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Julio Iglesias, Roselyn Sanchez, Eva Longoria Parker, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Shakira and Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Frankly, if you’re a Latin celebrity and haven’t been photographed by Cruz, then you haven’t really made it yet. So what’s behind his top-shelf reputation for producing intimate portrayals of superstars?

“When I’m shooting a celebrity, I become their friend for that moment,” Cruz explains. “I get to know them. I take them by the hand and direct them to where I want them to go. Part of being a good photographer is forming that relationship with your subject. That’s not something everyone can do.”

Born in New York City, Cruz was raised in Puerto Rico, his family home. He returned to New York to study at the Germain School of Photography and then went back to San Juan, where he quickly became the go-to photog for the Latin music industry. It wasn’t long before Cruz’s images were seen in publications such as Time and Vanity Fair. Around a decade ago, he began to travel every other week to Miami, where the Latin entertainment industry was exploding. It was then that he decided to set up shop in the Magic City.

“I came to Miami when it was booming. And at the same time it was becoming ground zero for the Latin entertainment industry. All the stars had homes here. So I knew I had to be here, as well,” he says. (His Do Not Disturb production company, now based in downtown Miami, handles his advertising work as well as the sale of his art pieces.) “I’ve definitely grown to love it here—more now than even before, because Miami has gone from a city that was very superficial to a place that embraces art.”

As for his favorite celebrity subject? “Easy: Celia Cruz,” he says of the Cuban legend. “She was having so much fun, she made everyone around her feel amazing. That joy comes through in the photo. And it’s a joy I feel when I realize that I’m doing what I love for a living.”

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