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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brian Smith: Art & Soul

Brian Smith crafts a series of celebrity portraits for a cause that’s close to home

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John Turturro
“I tried to make the light optimal for each person,” he says, “but also not to the point where I had to constantly say, ‘No, you can’t look that way, turn back this way, stop, oh, wait.’ When people are very animated, you want that looseness. I tell people constantly not to get in the way of a great photograph, not to let a technique become the sole emphasis. Sometimes a photograph really needs something, but I’ve photographed enough celebrities over the years to know that when somebody’s really responsive in front of a camera, the last thing in the world you want to do is say, ‘Well, hold on a second while I move this light.’

“The key light on most of the shots is a Profoto Beauty Dish and Grid,” Smith continues. “We kept that throughout. There’s a second light—in some cases, it’s the only light—a giant wall of light coming straight on. That’s what’s providing the fill. I always start with a single light source and then only add a second or third if I feel like I need it because I want to concentrate on that main light. I think a lot of times that’s one of the keys: not to get bogged down where it’s all about the equipment and all about cross shadows and backlights.”

By all accounts, Smith is accustomed to landing assignments in which he’s shooting in a colorful South Florida style, so confining himself and his subjects to a tiny black box with a single light source was atypical. Perhaps that slight discomfort was partly why he was able to craft such sublime portraits.

Debi Mazur
“This was a big departure for me,” he says. “Typically, because I’m based here in Miami, so many times, they’ve assigned 10 shoots in New York, and they’re all in studios, and it’s gray and dingy, and it’s like people want to see big, bright, beautiful colors. That tends to be what I get assigned a lot. When you pull all of the background elements that I’m used to working with—in terms of environment and color and light—how do you tell these people’s stories with nothing other than a black background and pose and gesture and expression?”

Obviously, his efforts were spot on. Not only did Smith create photographs that his team and The Creative Coalition couldn’t be happier with, but the subjects had a great time working on the project, as well—a true testament to the photographer, no doubt.

“One of the greatest compliments I had from the people I was photographing,” Smith explains, “as they’d get ready to leave, they were like, ‘That was the easiest shoot we’ve ever done.’ That was great, and I think that was one thing I learned from, as well. If you keep things a little bit simpler, what can be an arduous process for a lot of people becomes a pleasure. The best thing in the world is having someone go up to their publicists and say, ‘This was great. I wish all photo shoots were like that.’”


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