Leaf User Interview

Brian Smith Celebrity and Star Athlete Portrait Photographer

from Leaf User:

Brian Smith’s 25-year career definitely hasn’t been dull. His broad range of work was honed during his 10 years as a news photographer, culminating in being awarded the Pulitzer Prize. “That was my training ground,” he reflects, “Newspaper photography lets you shoot a lot – a lot of times that means three assignments a day. It was almost like grad school. But I realized during these years that I wanted to spend more time with the people I photographed.”

Converting to Digital

He made the move into magazine shooting and advertising, which gave Smith more time to put into his assignments, while also offering him more resources. He was shooting medium format film with a Mamiya RZ, Mamiya 7 and Fuji 680. He recently made the switch to digital, and has been using a Leaf Aptus 75 for about a year. “I was a tough sell on digital because I wasn’t a convert to digital until I could get the look I was used to from medium format film,” he says, “It wasn’t until I started shooting with Leaf that I felt the same results. You’re back to a shallower depth of field. The sensor size plays a big part in this.” Smith finds that Leaf’s full 16-bit capture more accurately matches the subtle gradations of film. Plus, compared to even high-end 35mm digital, there’s no anti-aliasing filter so the raw captures don’t start out as mush. “I actually dial down sharpening to next to nothing because the sharpness is amazing.”

Speed and Quality

The two biggest things Smith was looking at in considering a medium-format digital back were speed and quality. When working with busy people every second counts. When it comes to capture rate fractions of a second can make the difference between catching and missing a shot. “I tried everything side by side” Smith says, “and the skin tones were much more realistic with Leaf than with anything else. Other backs had a much more ‘digital’ look. Leaf images were more film-like, which matched the look I wanted to achieve without having to fight the files every time.” He adds that, in terms of bit depth, he can take the file and do amazing color adjustments and that the file integrity holds up well under re-touching. “I’m able to get a lot of the look I was used to in film without degrading the image.” He uses a Leaf digital back because of the quality it delivers. “It’s a case of when it’s even more important to me than to some of the clients,” he confides. “In general, photographers can see a huge difference even if clients can’t. I use my Aptus to get the quality I want.”

Perfect Partner for Realizing Your Vision

Smith is almost always called for bold, dynamic, and colorful images. When photographing a celebrity or an athlete, they’ll dictate the time of the shoot, so he’s found ways to light up his shots, often adding a strobe light. “A lot of what I’m trying to do is somewhat more humorous and playful. Depending on what I’m shooting.” For this he relies on his Leaf back to get the results he needs, even under extreme conditions. Take for example last year’s shoot in the British Virgin Islands for Time Magazine to photograph flamboyant Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand empire and who’s now expanding into commercial sub-orbital space travel with Virgin Galactic. “With Branson dressed in a spacesuit, we were able to shoot really quickly just as the sun came up,” Smith describes. With rapidly changing light, the Leaf Aptus 75 kept the rhythm going, adding a lot to the speed and the amount of material they were able to shoot. Smith experienced the same when photographing professional athletes, where just as in sports, fractions of a second make the difference between success and failure. When Smith was assigned by ESPN the Magazine to shoot last year’s Home-Run King, Ryan Howard, before a game against the Florida Marlins, he was told that he had only 10 minutes to shoot before batting practice, and had to be packed up and out of there before any other players took the field. “Shooting with a Profoto 7B strobe, the Leaf Aptus 75 outpaced the recycle of the strobes, and I never had to slow down to wait for the back to catch up,” he explains, “so, when my 10 minutes were up, I had everything I needed and more – tight, medium and loose shots of Howard holding his bat and action shots of his home-run swing and follow-through. The quality was incredible. The 33MP back captures even the finest detail – every thread in his uniform. The gloss of the lacquer on his bat looked like glass. Everything the magazine could ask for – priceless.”

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