All images by Brian Smith. Used with permission.
Photographer Brian Smith has been shooting for many years and has produced work that you’re bound to have seen if you pay attention to pop culture at all. Brian’s unique creative vision is whimsical, playful, fun, elegant, and somehow or another manages to squeeze reality into that balance. He has a gift, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Based in Miami, Brian Smith “is the luckiest guy on the planet.” according to a bio he sent for this interview. He won a Pulitzer Prize at 25, he’s told Bill Gates exactly what to do for an entire hour, appeared on The X Factor, exhibited at the Library of Congress, dined with the President, hung with Richard Branson on Necker Island, gotten drunk with George Clooney, and shared cupcakes with Anne Hathaway.
Pretty cool, huh?
Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post from Sony.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Brian: I started shooting sports for my hometown newspaper when I was in high school. It was cool to pick up the paper and see one of my shots on the cover of the sports section the next day. I keep shooting through college and when my first magazine photo was published in LIFE magazine, I was hooked.
Phoblographer: What made you get into portraiture, editorial and commercial work if you were a photojournalist before?
Brian: I spent a decade shooting for newspapers. That’s a really great to start out because you shoot 2-3 jobs a day so you learn really, really fast. I shot everything from college and pro sports to news to fashion and food. But I really loved shooting portraits because it allowed me to spend time with people – rather than shoot them from across a stadium with a 600mm lens.
Phoblographer: You’ve been a user of Sony products for a really long time now. So what makes you stick with them?
Brian: Sony keeps rolling out ground-breaking technology while the other guys seem locked into making minor tweaks to the same gear they’ve made for the last decade. But what I really love about Sony is that despite their technology they still listen to how the gear actually works for photographers and what they can do to make it better.
Phoblographer: You’ve been shooting for many, many years. What do you feel makes an image a signature Brian Smith photo? In other words, what’s typically going through your mind as you shoot and edit; and what things do you generally do to your scenes and images that help make them a photo that someone will recognize as something you’ve shot?
Brian: I don’t give it a lot of thought. Probably the best advice I can give is not to worry about creating a signature “look”. Just shoot from the heart and have fun.
Phoblographer: What pieces of your kit are your favorite? The a6000? The a7r II? Or what about the older 135mm f1.8?
Brian: I’ve got a ton of gear – but my normal kit is pretty pared down. I normally use a pair of a7R II cameras plus an a7S II when the light get really low.
Phoblographer: How do you feel Sony products help you to achieve the creative vision that you’re typically trying to create?
Brian: This sounds rather counter-intuitive but Sony builds technology that allows me to forget about…technology. When you know the gear will allow you to create the images that you visualize, you simply forget about your gear and concentrate on what’s in front of your lens.
Phoblographer: What do you feel has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years as a photographer?
Brian: Go into every shoot with a plan but be ready to throw the plan out and go 180 degrees in the opposite direction if there’s something better.
Phoblographer: When you’re not photographing celebrities, athletes and models what’s the portrait taking process typically like for you, We imagine that it’s a very back and forth conversation for you?
Brian: I simply want them to relax and feel comfortable. If their personality is high energy we’ll go that way. If they like it mellow, then we can go that way. Ultimately I want the shoot to be about them – not me.
Phoblographer: So what’s typically in your camera bag these days?
Brian: I normally pack pair of a7R II cameras plus an a7S II, the lenses depend on the shoot but I generally take the FE 16-35 F4, FE 55 F1.8, FE 90 F2.8, FE 70-200 F4 and a pair of A-mount lenses: 24-70 F2.8 ZA II and 135 F1.8 ZA with a LA-EA3 adapter, flash triggers, SDXC cards and batteries in a roller bag. Of course all the grip and lighting gear gets packed in their own cases – not the camera bag.
Phoblographer: Let’s talk lighting! How did you learn to light and where in your career (specifically what shoot) do you feel that your lighting game really changed?
Brian: Coming from a photojournalism background I really had to figure it out on my own. I was definitely influenced by a handful of photographers – especially Greg Heisler – he’s truly a master of lighting. I also pay a lot of attention to the way natural light bounces around and to artificial light at night or indoors. When I see beautiful light I’ll file that away and might work in something similar on a shoot one day in the future.
Phoblographer: What technical skills do you feel photographers really need to master these days?
Brian: Technically I think the average photographer is much, much better than a decade ago. The latest technology has certainly played a role. Probably the biggest thing is immediacy of seeing images as you shoot them rather than waiting until you process the film. My suggestion is to go the other way with a no-tech camera like a Diana: Fixed lens, no preview, and limited controls, all combine to make it great camera to teach you about “seeing”.