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"The Best Photography Advice I Ever Got" with Brian Smith

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Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Brian Smith has been featured in LIFE, Time, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, and many other publications. His newest book, Secrets of Great Portrait Photography, chronicles the stories behind his best photos over the past 30 years. His advice is driven by a central theme—take the time to get to know your subject.
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Brian Smith

Job Experience:

Celebrity portrait photographer for magazines and advertising. Author of Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts and Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous coming Fall 2012 from Peachpit's New Riders.

Most Notable Achievement:

Pulitzer Prize

Favorite Camera:

Sony a900


When I was first starting out, I showed my portfolio to the chief photographer at my state’s largest newspaper hoping to land an internship. As he looked over all the sports action photographs I’d shot, he just shook his head and told me, all my photos showed was that I could focus a telephoto lens. To be a good photojournalist, he explained, you have to learn how to get close to people. He told me to put away my telephoto lenses, introduce myself to fifty strangers, and shoot a portrait of each that revealed something about each person’s personality. That was the best advice I’ve ever received.

It’s a great way to get over any fears you might have of approaching strangers, because it teaches you to be comfortable interacting with the people you photograph. Introducing yourself, explaining why you’d like to photograph them, putting them at ease, and finding a way to capture the personality of a stranger you meet on the street is pretty much the same process I go through every time I photograph a celebrity for the first time.

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