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Color Commander - The Radiant Hues & Views of Michael Spain-Smith



Erin Henry for Karin Models

Perhaps as striking as his imagery is the insight Michael Spain-Smith shares into what it takes to be a success. This fashion and beauty photographer shoots straight from the hip when it comes to what's important—the art, the craft, and day-to-day life of running one's business. [Editor’s Note: David, as in Michael David Studio, is his middle name.]

“Never forget that your reputation, not only as an artist, but as a person with a down-to-earth demeanor, will go very far in developing relationships in an industry where this is not the norm,” Spain-Smith states. This kind of vision doesn't come from a viewfinder, it comes from the heart, and it’s part of what keeps him in demand.

His inspiration includes, “always striving to become a more well-rounded and well-traveled photographer and person,” and pushing himself artistically to work without boundaries.

He credits many talented artists with inspiring his work, reserving highest praise for his wife, Dana, and her father, Bernard Spain, for their business instincts. “Their business and marketing knowledge and personal support have given me the courage to achieve things I never dreamed possible.”

Multiple Genres, A Singular Vision

Aside from growing his business, Spain-Smith says that this drive to broaden his view and creativity keeps his work evolving. From his fashion and beauty to product and portrait work there's an omnipresent thread, a distinctive style, that weaves it all together.

It was 1994 when Spain-Smith started out in Philadelphia assisting portrait and wedding photographers, shooting a variety of assignments. Before long, he had moved on to New York to assist fashion and beauty photographers. In 1997, he founded Michael David Photography Studio in Philadelphia. Today, he also has offices in New York and Miami.

"The New York and Miami offices give us a home away from home to cast models, meet with clients, and travel between cities more productively,” he notes. “And, we've attracted national clients who come to Philadelphia to work in a creative environment without the equipment and studio rental rates that shooting in New York City demands.” To accommodate his diverse clientele and projects, the Philadelphia daylight studio is well outfitted for film shoots and digital capture.

(Above) Letecia Herrara for Irene Marie Model Management Cindy Taylor for Irene Marie Model Management and Handprint Letecia Herrara for Irene Marie Model Management

His assignments traverse the advertising, catalog, and editorial realms, for clients including Comcast, Foxwoods Resort Casinos, Neiman Marcus, Laurent-Perrier, World’s Leading Cruise Lines, Toyota, Maxim, People, Philadelphia Style, Women’s Wear Daily, and Inc. In addition to being drawn to Spain-Smith for his personal style, clients flock to him for his exquisite command of color.

“My trademark is vibrant, saturated colors that produce work meant to evoke an emotional response,” he explains. “I light with whatever hits me to do the job the best way possible. There are so many camera platforms, film and digital options, and lighting and grip options to choose from, and technology introduces even more choices each year.”

Painting with Color and Light

Notwithstanding developments in digital technology, it has been said that Spain-Smith’s strongest images have been captured with his Mamiya RZ67, a 110mm lens, black & white film, a white board, and an open door or window light.

This master of light sees the stunning in the simple. “Sometimes the simplicity of the lighting and set or location is what makes the shot,” he reflects. “All of the fancy gear and equipment are only tools. If you're confident in your ability as a photographer, one light and a white wall is all that may be needed to shoot a magazine cover or the most important portrait of your career.”
Split equally between studio and location work, Spain-Smith prepares for both in much the same way. “Models are always cast,” he notes. “Meeting someone in person can reveal a lot. Beyond features, personality can be critical in executing the client's needs.”

He credits the hair and makeup pros, the retouchers, the assistants and grip for providing the talent and creativity needed to produce the quality of work they do.

“A good team vibe can create spectacular images because the flow of a shoot is directly affected by the timing and performance of each person involved. I prefer to have a set where everybody is free to pull me aside and share their ideas. The minute you forget you can learn something from someone else is when you stop growing as an artist. Having clients leave with great images and a good feeling about the shoot is always our goal.”

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