What Makes You Click?

What Makes You Click? Q & A with Miami Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer Brian Smith

Back in the day, when shooting on film for the Miami Herald, photographers often made film runs for each other to meet deadline. The photographer would continue shooting while the first batch of Tri-X would get processed in our lab. On this day I made a run for Brian Smith at a late night press conference. There was Brian all set up with light stands and his portable Norman 200Bs on either side of the makeshift platform assembled for the speaker. I was amazed at how he would go through so much trouble to light up such a mundane event. No one else was doing it.

Q; Brian, what motivates you to strive for the extraordinary in your work?

It’s probably just my mid-western work ethic showing through. If you’re going to do something – do it well.

Q; Who influenced you most in your career?

There are a lot of photographers who I look up to for different reasons. Gregory Heisler was a mentor for his expertise in lighting and the thought he puts into his portraits. George Hurrell and Irving Penn were two of my favorite portrait photographers. No one has ever captured Hollywood glamour better than Hurrell and Penn’s portraiture continued to evolve through his remarkable career. Elliott Erwitt’s photographs prove that photography is a great way to share a smile. Elliott loves what he does and it shows in every photograph he takes.

Q; You travel for days at a time and work long hours including weekends. So often that puts a strain on a marriage. How do you balance your busy schedule and family life with Fazia?

I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to work and travel with my wife Fazia for the past 20 years. You really need a crew on most portrait shoots and she’s so versatile that she can do anything from hair & make-up to styling to production on our shoots allowing us to work and travel together as we collaborate on everything.

Q; What is your relationship with Sony and why?

I’m one of seven photographers in Sony’s Artisans of Imagery program. We speak at schools and trade shows around the country. Sony approached me when they were developing their pro a900 camera. They gave me their previous camera and asked for feedback. I was blown away by the quality of their Zeiss lenses, so I gave them a list of what I thought should be included in the new camera. When the new camera came out with all the stuff I asked for I was even more impressed that they asked what they should do next.

Q; You have a talent for impersonations, has that ever helped you put a subject at ease?

Getting your subjects to laugh can really help the mood of a shoot, but since many of the people I shoot make people laugh for a living, I never try to upstage a professional. Of course it’s a huge compliment when you make a comedian crack up.

Q: How did you begin to conceptualize the ART & SOUL book project?

Kayla Lindquist of Sony approached me with the idea for ART & SOUL which was to partner with The Creative Coalition to photograph stars during Oscars Week 2009 and get them to write in a journal something about what the arts means to them. From our very first shoot of Tim Daly we realized we’d struck gold. So we just kept shooting and building upon the idea. When an incredible great project gets dropped in your lap, you’ve simply got to take it all the way.

Q; Start to finish, how long did it take you to complete the book?

The book was shot in 20 days over a 15 month period. It then took another 6 months to get our publisher to green-light the book and then production took another 6 months for me to edit, retouch and lay the book out.

Q: Did all your photo sessions for the book go as planned?

Better than I could have possibly imagined. There was something really special about this project from the very start. Because the project was about the arts, so we naturally focused upon that first defining moment when the arts clicked for them. Even the most celebrated star were transported back to their first school play when their biggest stage was shared with school assemblies and their entourage and stretch limo were their friends in the back of mom’s minivan.

Q: Regarding photography equipment used for ART & SOUL, what’s in the bag?

Sony a900 camera
Sony Zeiss 24-70/2.8 lens
Sony Zeiss 85/1.4 lens
Sony Zeiss 135/1.8 lens
Sony 100/2.8 Macro lens
PocketWizard Transceivers

Q: What’s your advice for a young photographer?

Learn to work with people. If you’re going to be a photographer you have to know how to work with people. The best advice I was ever given was to go out and shoot portraits of 50 strangers that reveled something about who they were. It’s an exercise that I’ve done throughout my career.

Q: Do you always hang out at nudist colonies?

Just for work…the true joy of portrait photography is meeting all types of people and finding a way to tell their stories. Sports Illustrated called with the best words a photographer can ever hear are “We have a shoot that is perfect for you..” the only way that get’s better is if their next words are “Nudist Golf…”

Brian will be a guest speaker and available for book signing at:

8pm Thursday, October 20, 2011
Books & Books / Coral Gables
265 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, Fl. 33134

Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts
By Brian Smith and Robin Bronk

ART & SOUL is a large-format glossy coffee-table book, featuring intimate portraits of celebrities from the entertainment industry including film, television, music and stage. The stunning images, shot by Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Brian Smith, are accompanied by personal testimonials from each artist expressing the importance of the arts in our culture and the positive impact it has on our lives.

The notes – in each artist’s own handwriting – range from whimsical to weighty, but all offer insight into the individual’s background and how their lives were shaped by art.

Celebrities photographed for the book include such luminaries as: Anne Hathaway, Samuel L. Jackson, Adrien Brody, Adrian Grenier, Kelsey Grammer, Joe Mantegna, Alyssa Milano, Harry Belafonte, Amanda Peet, John Turturro, Kerry Washington, Zooey Deschanel and many more.

The book is created in partnership with The Creative Coalition, the premier public advocacy charity, founded by prominent figures in the entertainment industry. It is an important part of a campaign to focus national attention on the need to ensure that arts in America thrive and flourish.

A terrific gift, ART & SOUL helps to support the arts, inspiring future generations of creative artists.

Read More of Photographer Brian Smith’s Interviews


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