On Set with SNL Studio Photographer Mary Ellen Matthews

Chris Rock x3 on cream background, tipping his hat to you

Live From New York

Mary Ellen Matthews, Saturday Night Live’s head photographer, has spent time with nearly everyone who has visited 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Maybe not everyone, but definitely a majority of the good humans who have appeared or are regulars on SNL over the years have been in front of Mary Ellen’s camera. It turns out Mary Ellen is also one of the good humans—and was kind enough to spend some time with Whalebone Magazine for the following photo journal on her encounters at SNL and the stories behind her iconic creative work, which has helped memorialize visits to Studio 8H for everyone from Tom Hanks to Tina Fey to Eddie Murphy and many others.

Kristen Wiig with big sunflower and big braid and wearing a yellow dress with flower print.

Kristen Wiig

“I think that photo is from her first or second time hosting—I just had this idea of her holding a giant flower. It escalated into this giant braid and Tom Broecker, our costume designer, had the right dress for it. Kristen just had the perfect expression, looking into the sun—it’s always a little bit of a collaborative effort.”

Will Ferrell as a tennis player playing his opponent, Will Ferrell.

Will Ferrell

“This was his idea—he wanted to do this tennis moment. So again, working with Tom Broecker, our incredible costume designer, we researched both players’ looks to get it just right.”

Chris Rock x3 on cream background, tipping his hat to yo. He's wearing converse, black pants, black shirt, and white suspenders.

Chris Rock

“That was our first show during COVID. When we came back and we had to manage everything with all these new protocols—everyone was still kind of in shock about it all, not knowing how to proceed. Thankfully we had Chris, who obviously knows the studio, knows everyone, made it easier for everyone to work in this strange and challenging new season.”

Melissa McCarthy and a little bird on her finger share secrets. She wears a yellow dress with puffy sleeves against a gradient background of yellow and purple.

Melissa McCarthy

“I’ll keep saying it, but all these people are just so fun to work with. And Melissa just dives into everything and is such a great collaborator. I try to collect some props before each shoot so we can play and create a scenario. Melissa chose the bird and put it on her finger, which was so dainty and it’s a beautiful little moment.”

John Mulaney looking out of rainy window, longing for you.

John Mulaney

“He is so much fun to work with, to collaborate with. He’s up for anything. I thought of this rainy window, and how would he react to it? Of course, he got to the perfect place, the longing behind the rainy window, trying to get to the other side of comedy.”

Aziz Ansari jumping in the air with legs out and eyes wide. He wears a blue suit and black shirt.

Aziz Ansari

“I just love the energy with the jump shot. It’s a frozen moment of exuberance. He just nailed it. He nailed that jump.”

Maya Rudolph in pink shirt on green bakcground.

Maya Rudolph

“Just Maya being beautiful Maya. And working with color and graphics in post-production to make the shoot pop.”

Paul Rudd with sunglasses and scarf blowing in the wind as his hands are on a steering wheel...driving?

Paul Rudd

“I believe this was a season finale, which is always kind of like, oh, we’re about to jump into summer— so I always go for something beachy or summery. I don’t know why, I just had this idea of him in a convertible with a scarf in the wind.”