June 13, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

”With regular people, it’s not so hard to take an honest picture,” notes photographer Martin Schoeller, ”but celebrities tend to always be posing. Actors never stop acting. It’s hard to get a picture that feels like you’re seeing the person and not just the face they are putting on.”

Hard, but not impossible, as Schoeller — a frequent ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY contributor and one of the most in-demand editorial photographers working today — demonstrates in his new book, Close Up ($55, teNeues Publishing). The 112-page tome displays 75 famous faces — culled from more than 300 shoots between 1996 and the present — in incredibly tight portraits that are stunning for their intimacy and unretouched honesty. Forced out of their comfort zones by what Schoeller, 37, calls ”an uncomfortable situation where it’s bright and the lights are really kind of close,” his subjects reveal a humanity rarely seen in modern portraiture.

The German-born Schoeller developed and refined his ”big head” portrait technique, as he describes it, while working as an assistant to photographer Annie Leibovitz in the mid-’90s. He set out on his own in 1996 with the intention of creating photos that ”are more than just pretty colors and nice lighting and interesting clothes.” He adds, ”I never had a problem getting close to people, and I think that’s what it comes down to: Your personality comes through in your pictures.”

Here, Schoeller shares his insights on a selection of portraits from Close Up, though he insists that it’s not his job to judge his subjects. ”The judging,” he says, ”is up to the viewer.”

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