After studying economics in the early 1970s, Herb Ritts worked for the family business selling garden furniture for movie sets. The job, which exposed him to film celebrities, gave Ritts the opportunity to develop his interest in photography into a career. During the 1970s and 1980s Ritts gained increasing recognition for the distinctive "look" of his magazine, advertising and video work. He was a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Rolling Stone. He was also the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and was, ultimately, embraced by the fine arts establishment; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston held a major retrospective of his work in 1996.
Ritts captured the "Material Girl" as her character in 1985 hit movie Desperately Seeking Susan. Already a super star, Madonna appeared on the cover of Time earlier that year. Four years later, Ritts directed the video for Madonna's 1989 mega hit "Cherish".