Putting his subjects at ease is equally as important to Spain-Smith. Among his tactics: making them laugh within minutes, making eye contact, speaking with them confidently, and preparing for the shoot by researching the subject beforehand. “Conversing with the person you’re about to photograph exposes things you have in common and helps you develop rapport.”
Spain-Smith began shooting digitally three years ago. Still very much a film shooter, especially with his Mamiya RZ, he selects the right tool for the job.
Not surprisingly, when capturing digitally, Spain-Smith never releases RAW files to the client, preferring to color correct all images first.
“You can shoot with the best camera in the world and have the highest-end screen and fastest hard drive known to man, but being able to produce outstanding color consistently is the hardest, most important, aspect we've had to learn.”
When shooting digitally, he captures all images in RAW mode then processes them in Photoshop CS on his Mac G5 and G4. As the client views the images with the production crew, the images can also be viewed on the set. On location, he views all images on his 17-inch Mac PowerBook G4.
Once files have been confirmed and transferred from Lexar Media 40x cards or from his Phase One digital back onto the hard drive, everything is immediately burned onto DVDs for safe-keeping and archiving.Erin Henry for Karin Models Letecia Herrara for Irene Marie Model Management
Spain-Smith credits those around him, including studio manager Robin Lickliter, for his studio’s success. “While it takes a fine eye and instinct to succeed, you also need a business plan that puts a business-minded person behind the scenes.”
Makes sense. So does Spain-Smith's philosophy on what's important. “Reputation and relationships in this business are the main things that attract clients and keeps them coming back,” he says. “Being genuine about your passion as a talented artist is sometimes best conveyed in person. You have to stay grounded and approachable because as good as you may be, there's always someone better. Being genuine can make all the difference in the world.”
Spain-Smith on Safari
On the heels of his most recent trip to Africa comes “Visions of Africa,” an exhibit of Spain-Smith's work that was on display at the Matthew Izzo Gallery in Philadelphia through early March.
The vibrant images exude his calm, colorful, and passionate style. From his captivating images of Africa’s leopards and lions to his radiant portraiture of the populace, the exhibition is all Spain-Smith.
It comes down to instinct and inspiration. As he explains, “Whether you shoot portraits, food, models, or cardboard boxes, finding what inspires you in each shoot and project you accept is the only way to stay on top.”
The images in the gallery showing were amassed during two separate trips to the African continent. The first trip was purely for personal reasons. "I always wanted to share my love of animals and diverse cultures," he points out. The second trip combined an editorial assignment with expanding his African wildlife image bank in preparation for the gallery showing.
Although at first it may not seem that his safari shoots and his commercial assignments are even remotely related, Spain-Smith connects the dots for us: