3 Tips From an Iconic Celebrity Photographer

Brian Smith has made quite the name for himself as an iconic celebrity photographer over the past 30 years. He has not only worked with some of the most famous people in the world but has won numerous prestigious awards, including a Pulitzer, written a best-selling book, and exhibited his work at the Library of Congress. How did he get to where he is today? By being confident, flexible, willing to take risks. Check out this video where Smith shares the best advice he ever received from a photographer—plus a few tidbits of his own:

1. Lighting is the Foundation

First and foremost, even before he brings a camera in, Smith always starts with lighting. As he says, subjects who have been in front of a camera a lot generally know when the lighting is good so you don’t want it to be a concern. You want all the technical aspects to fade into the background and everything just to be about them.

“You want to create a situation where your subject walks in to a set that’s beautifully lit, they look great, and suddenly they’re at ease.”

portrait lighting

2. Don’t Over-Direct!

It can be incredibly challenging to create a defining photograph of someone who’s been photographed a thousand times. The trick is to have a lot of fun with it and let the person you’re photographing be themselves. Try not to over-direct, but instead be open to change.

If you’ve got a great concept, go with it, but if your subject wants to take things in a different direction, be open and flexible—let them know it’s a collaboration. Ego aside, they may have a better idea than you, so don’t get in the way of a better photograph than the one you had planned.

“That’s where the mojo comes from—it comes from planning and then being willing to deviate from that plan.”

jose canseco photo

3. Photograph 50 Strangers

Smith’s biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to be a portrait photographer is go out there and learn to work with people and shoot a lot of photographs. Go up to people on the street, introduce yourself, tell them what you’re doing, and take a photograph of them.

“Learn to approach strangers because you’re going to do that forever.”

One of the greatest pieces of advice Smith ever got was when he was starting out. He was told to go out and find 50 strangers, approach them, and take a portrait of them that said something about who they were. If you can do this, you’re on your way to becoming a great portrait photographer!

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