DPP Home Profiles Bruce Smith - Beyond The Girl

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bruce Smith - Beyond The Girl

Bruce Smith's 30-year career of bringing vitality and life to fashion springs from an inner energy that erupts in his on-set enthusiasm and animation

“She saw my work and she said that it was nice work, but that they were just pictures of pretty girls. They weren't really fashion pictures. I was a little bit insulted by that, but I came away thinking about it, and I started looking at my pictures and realized that she was actually right. The model is there to enhance and help make the shapes that you want, but it eventually has to help sell the garment.”

This was advice Smith took to heart and helped him to refine his eye. It was a sensibility that shaped his work, especially his extensive commissions to photograph the garments produced by the bridal industry.

Smith arrived to this field at a time when bridal photography was about the fine details of the dress. The resulting poses and photography were often rigid and static. It served the purpose of showing off the craftsmanship behind the gowns, but lacked the vitality that Smith hoped to embody in all his work.

Digital Growing Pains

Budgets are always tight, so there was little willingness to experiment and try something different. Smith discovered that despite his own doubts about this emerging technology, it created opportunities for his way of seeing.

“I was contracted to a luxury clothing catalog at that time, and each season I was spending about £4,000 just on film for each season's shoot and then another £5,000 on processing costs,” Smith says, explaining his first transition to a Leaf digital capture system. “For the first season, we shot both digital and film, and if the digital files worked out okay, we wouldn't have to process the film and save on that cost. By the time we got to the next season, we had moved through the teething process and were shooting completely digital, and within two seasons, the digital system had paid for itself.”

The digital transition wasn't always an easy or a pleasant one. Besides the learning curve demanded by the technology, it also changed the way Smith worked with the hair stylists, makeup people and the art directors who stood around his studio while he worked. One particular art director comes to mind.

“I had an art director who was sitting at the computer while I was shooting, and he was deleting files as we went along,” says Smith. “Then he said, ‘We got the picture!' I said hold on a minute, and when I realized what he had been doing, I explained to him that I'm the one making the pictures. I'm the one who knows how it's working, and I know when I can get something better from it or not. And I stop shooting when I know that I have the picture. There's no way that I'm going to stop shooting because some art director says we have the picture.”

The transition has proved to be a more pleasant overall experience, though Smith often leaves much of the technology to his assistants. He wants to focus on shooting and not wondering whether the images are downloading to his computer. He wants his full attention on the clothing, the model and the emotional connection between them. While the needs of the clients are constantly there, Smith always strives for those moments when he knows he has what he has come for. He's never satisfied until that happens.

“To be a fashion photographer, I have to put all my heart and soul into my pictures,” says Smith, who now shoots with the Nikon D2x, D2h and D200 cameras. “My clients are used to looking at some very high-quality images, and I have to compete with that.”

Smith's choice to shoot with the Nikon system rather than a medium-format digital back is a simple one for him. “I fall asleep between frames,” he says. “These backs have amazing detail and they're so sharp, but if you don't have content in your pictures, it doesn't matter how many pixels you have. It's about what you put into it; for me, that means shooting fast. I need the 35mm-style cameras to shoot at my pace.”


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