There are lots of photographers who aren’t talked about as much as they should be these days despite the incredible work that they’ve done. And one of those is Matthew Jordan Smith. Smith is a photographer who did incredible work before the Instagram and Facebook algorithms started to dominate everything. Many of his images are timeless, which is evident in his work on his website. There’s no emphasis on the clothes or anything like this that makes it seem like the image was shot during the 90s or those trends have come back. Instead, it puts the beauty of who people are front and center. There are other great tips you can learn from him, though.
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Looking vs. Seeing
“I think I’ve always seen images like this in my head. It feels so natural to me. I’m not sure when the idea first hit me to bring the image to life because these images have been in my head for decades. I can tell you this, however. I began working on the first Still…Motion images in 2014. I’ve been going to visit parts of Japan since 2008, and at times I would see images of someone being still in the midst of a sea of movement.”Matthew Jordan Smith
Matthew shares one big tip with us: the idea of looking vs seeing. When you look at a scene, all you’re doing is documenting it. But you see a creative vision — and then you work to make that manifest in a still image. That’s a quote from an interview we did with him a while back.
He often goes about scouting for the location, looking for the right light, and
Do it In Camera (When You Can)
Smith has never been a big fan of fixing a photograph in post-production. Sure, you can do so yourself if you wish. But truly realizing an image and making it stand out from others is much more effective when you do it in-camera. Any algorithm or AI imagery generator can try making the same image you did. However, they can’t quite mimic your creative vision. I’m specifically saying “they” in that sentence because it’s a process between a human and AI making the image. That’s all done via compositing and setting up exact shading, etc. But getting that photo in camera? That requires so much more effort and pre-planning.
For the record, he doesn’t really use post-production for the work that he does for fun. But for his commercial work, it’s a different story.
An organic moment and mood can’t be mimicked in post-production. It’s something that has to happen in front of the camera. You, as a photographer, have to be part of that and not just shoot it at 20 frames a second.
Work for the Shot and Make it Timeless.
One of Matthew Jordan Smith’s most famous images is a photograph he did of Tyra Banks several years ago using Ring Flash. To make the image, he went all out using lighting flags, a ring flash, giving her breaks, etc. Most of the process wasn’t done in post-production — which means that he was far more creative in real life.
- The distance of light from the subject is a big deal: getting too close to a subject and a ring flash might give you that Terry Richardson-style look.
- Make a sweet spot: Position your subject in just the right area of the frame to make everything else work for that subject.
- Specific props: In this case, he only used black backgrounds and side pieces
- Use flags: Flags helped focus and add direction to the light. It also cuts out any extraneous light. Using light, like a flash, is a process that requires you to see the scene and not just look at it.
He talks about the image being timeless because there are no clothes or hairstyles in the image that take center stage. Instead, it’s just a shot of Tyra lit by a ring flash and blending into the background.