Meet Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and SONY Artisan, Brian Smith!
I know what you are thinking…”wait a minute…he’s not an Amazing Mom!” 🙂 Yep, your right. But…Brian is freaking AMAZING! And somehow, he has graciously made time in his busy schedule and accepted the invitation to be here today to talk about shooting celebrity portraits, his new book Art & Soul, and how to win the Pulitzer Prize. But that’s not all! Brian Smith is ALSO going to be with us tomorrow night on the forum for our 2 hour Ask & Learn! I personally promised him you would ALL come with questions, small and big ones, so mark your calendars ladies for this awesome treat! 🙂
For those of you who feel intimidated to ask Brian a question, keep reading this fantastic interview we had. Brian is completely approachable, super giving and just all around FUNNY! I first met him through SONY three years ago, and he has a heart of gold. I am truly honored to be a SONY Artisan alongside someone like Brian. If you ever wanted to connect with a celebrity photographer, today and tomorrow night is your chance!
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Smith is the luckiest guy on the planet. He’s told Bill Gates exactly what to do for an entire hour, had an exhibit at the Library of Congress, dined with the President and 3,000 of their closest friends, had cupcakes with Anne Hathaway, gotten drunk with George Clooney and married the most beautiful woman he ever laid eyes on…
And now, on to our interview!
Q: What’s your first memory of photography? Or being enthralled with picture taking?
I think everybody from my era remembers the magic the first time they watched a print develop in the darkroom. It’s kind of sad that many people starting out now will never have that experience. The real magic came when I had my first photo published in the local newspaper when I was in high school. I shot sports for my hometown newspaper and still remember the first time I went out to the doorstep and picked up a paper with one of my photographs. It was a bit surreal. A few years later I had my first magazine photo in LIFE and I was absolutely and totally hooked.
Patience. Patience. Patience.
Sometimes it feels like you are rolling a boulder up a hill. You just take it one step at a time and hope the thing doesn’t flatten you when it slips. It seems like you are barely moving and every step is a huge effort. Then all of a sudden you get over a ridge and that damn rock starts to roll and pick up momentum. Well you know what? There are more hills ahead of you, but you’ll get over those too. Don’t give up. A lot of people before you had to push that same rock. Enjoy the journey…
Q: What’s the best advice you have about running a business?
Surround yourself with people far smarter that you. In my case that’s my wife Fazia, so I should also add more talented…and way better looking…
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received, in regards to shooting?
The best advice I ever got was when I had just started and applied for an internship at a newspaper. Their chief photographer looked at my photos and said “all this shows me is that you know how to focus a telephoto lens. Go out and shoot portraits of 50 strangers that reveal something about who they are.” There is no better exercise to make you comfortable with the people you photograph. I never got that job – but I got much more than I could have asked for.
Q: What is a common mistake you see many new photographers make? How would you advise them differently?
This is a great question, I would love to dive into this during the Ask and Learn Session tomorrow evening!
Q: You’ve created a whole book around Arts Education support, such an important issue. What got you interested in this topic to go to this length of supporting it?
I suppose I should say something profound, but to be honest it was a just a great project dropped in my lap by a lovely lady – Kayla Lindquist who runs Sony’s Artisans of Imagery program. It was supposed to be a quick three-day portrait shoot of celebrities with The Creative Coalitions during Oscars Week 2009. We asked each celebrity to write what the arts means to them. Tim Daly was the first person I shot and on my 10th frame we stopped to look at the shot. We both knew we’d hit on something great. So like any photographer, I turned a quick 3-day shoot into 20 days of shooting 25,000 photographs around the country over the next 15 months to produce the 256-page over-sized coffee table book ART & SOUL.
The moral of this story is don’t ever let a photographer paint your house, they’ll still be getting it “just right” decades from now when you pull up to your house in your Jetsons’ rocket car… (hilarious Brian!)
I still get nervous. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t slept a wink the night before a big shoot – just going over every detail to make certain everything is taken care of and I know what I’m going to do. But one of the great things I’ve learned from the ART & SOUL project is not to over-think things. We shot 250 people over the course of 20 days and you quickly realize it’s all going to work out if you just chill out a bit and let things unfold. Celebrities are so used to being directed that it can be an incredibly freeing experience when they ask what you want them to do and you say, “you can do anything you want – let’s just have some fun.”
The first thing to remember about marketing is that it all begins around content. But there is so much to talk about. Let’s talk about all of this at the Ask & Learn tomorrow night on the forum.
My workhorse cameras are a pair of Sony a900 DSLR cameras. But I also love the Sony NEX-5 for travel, and I’ve got a Cyber-shot WX9 that I slip in my pocket for those times when you never know where a great shot my pop up in front of you.
If you held a gun to my head…not that MeRa has ever done this…and told me I could only shoot with one lens, it would be Sony’s CZ 24-70/2.8. It’s insanely sharp for a zoom lens and just the perfect range for portraits from shooting wide environmental portraits at 24mm to 3/4 body shots around 45mm and for tightly framed portraits. I like to be in close at 70mm where you can whisper to your subject instead of shouting from across the room like you would if you were shooting with a long telephoto lens.