Location: Los Angeles, CA
Sebastian Smith was born in the back seat of a Cadillac, in Biloxi, Mississippi. Devoting his adolescence to drag racing, dare devil stunts and petty theft, he left home at sixteen and took a job as an elephant trainer in Delhi. After achieving the distinct honor of blessing the sacred royal herd in the Ganges River, he roamed the world, taking a variety of jobs. He was a bullfighter in Spain, a cigar tester in Cuba and a fortune cookie writer in Beijing. He is anywhere and everywhere. This international man of travel and imagery is perhaps even in your backyard, at this very moment, drinking your whiskey, grilling up T-Bone steaks and lobster tails, in anticipation of your return home. In a non-creepy kind of way, of course.
I never went to school for photography. Ironically, I found photography when I was a police officer. I pulled this guy over and was about to write him three tickets when I saw that he had camera equipment in the back seat of his car. I asked him if he was a photographer, and he said, “Yes.” I told him that I would rip up the tickets if he would teach me photography. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned either from a teacher or mentor?
Lesson 1: I learned to live as if I already have my dream clients and then figure out the series of chess moves to get there. Lesson 2: Get up and make something happen. Vogue will never call if you just sit on your couch flipping peanuts all day.
What was your first photography job?
I shot some portraits here and there, and maybe a model test or two, but I got my big break when I moved to New York City. After being in Manhattan for only two months, I landed the Vera Wang Lookbook. That was my first real job.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is still in school?
Art is a dirty word, but if you do choose to be an artist, especially in the photographic field, you must learn the business side of photography. Being an artist is fun and all, but what fun is it if you struggle all of your life?
What inspires you about photography?
Creating a standalone, iconic masterpiece that holds its own as a single image, but tells a different story when it’s among a collective of editorial images.
What makes you go out and shoot?
I carry a camera everywhere, so I assume it must be pure passion that drives me. Photography is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. I use a Sony NEX-5 when I’m on the fly and when the project I’m working on calls for streamlining my gear. I shot a magazine editorial with it that was brilliant, and the client actually commented on the quality of the images.
What do you like best about the whole process?
If we’re talking specifically about the creative process, the preproduction part is amazing. That’s where the shoot starts to grow legs and come to life. With every editorial story I shoot, I create mood and storyboards that cover everything from color palettes to lighting scenarios and includes the fashion, hair, makeup and styling influences, as well as historical and emotional references. It’s a difficult part of the process, but probably just as much fun as shooting sometimes.
How long have you been shooting?
What do you think it takes to be successful in today’s challenging and competitive marketplace?
Most importantly, one must become the Michael Phelps of photography. This means that you can’t look left or right and think you’ll be the best in the world. You have to swim forward, making yourself your own competition. With that, if you’re always comparing your images to other photographers, you’re destined to fail. It’s always nice to see what others are doing, but focus on your own work, and you’ll achieve your goals. Slip just one bit, and the next hungry photographer will take your place.
To see more of Sebastian Smith’s photography, go to www.sebastiansmithphoto.com.