My big break

Bruce Smith worked as a pho­tog­ra­pher’s as­sis­tant be­fore step­ping out on his own in Lon­don in the 1980s. Now based in Paris, he has es­tab­lished The Bruce Smith Pho­tog­ra­phy Academy. He is also the au­thor of Pro Dig­i­tal Fash­ion Pho­tog­ra­phy. www.bruce­smith­pho

NPhoto - - Contents - Keith Wil­son

Fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Bruce Smith re­veals the Nikon, and the shot, that turned his ca­reer around

“The way I see it, Nikon saved my life!” So de­clares Liver­pool-born fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Bruce Smith, when re­call­ing the years when he strug­gled to fo­cus the cam­era prop­erly be­cause of poor eye­sight. Thirty years ago, aut­o­fo­cus was a de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy, and was yet to fea­ture in pro­fes­sional-grade SLR cam­eras. How­ever, the launch of the Nikon F4 in 1988 changed that for­ever, con­vinc­ing even the most scep­ti­cal of pro­fes­sion­als that the days of man­ual fo­cus were all but over.

At the time, Bruce was work­ing for Carl­ton Stu­dios in Lon­don, but not as a pho­tog­ra­pher. “My eye­sight is very bad and I gave up shoot­ing free­lance and got a job in sell­ing and pro­duc­tion. I was get­ting work for seven other pho­tog­ra­phers at the stu­dio.” Frus­trated and de­pressed by not tak­ing pictures, Bruce would set up a test shoot ev­ery month or two “to keep my hand in”. His cam­era of choice in those days was a Bron­ica medium-for­mat cam­era. All that changed soon af­ter the launch of the Nikon F4.

“One of my col­leagues bought an F4 body as soon as it came out,” Bruce says. “It was the first aut­o­fo­cus pro­fes­sional body when it came onto the mar­ket, and I thought, ‘That’s my saviour!’ So I bought one with a few lenses. The way I see it, Nikon saved my life! I am in fo­cus be­cause of the F4.”

The im­age here was one of the first pictures Smith shot with his new F4, taken on one of his test shoots while still do­ing his pro­duc­tion job at Carl­ton Stu­dios. “It’s called ‘Tulip An­gel’. It’s a very sim­ple pic­ture, black and white, shot on film. I’ve still got the con­tact sheet. Tech­ni­cally, it was very easy. It was shot in the stu­dio at 1/250 sec at f/8 with a big Oc­tal­ite with no dif­fus­ing screen over it.”

The break­through

It may have only been a test shot, but this im­age led to some­thing far more com­mer­cial that helped Bruce to the next level in his ca­reer. He ex­plains: “The com­bi­na­tion of that pic­ture and an ear­lier pic­ture of a model in a black patterned dress, called ‘An­gela’, that I shot with a Bron­ica on my very first fash­ion shoot, got me a great job of shoot­ing an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign for Häa­gen-Dazs. Lots of other jobs have come be­cause of the com­bi­na­tion of those two pictures: the emo­tion and feel­ing in one and the light­ing and be­liev­able real­ity story in the other. This was when my ca­reer took off.”

To­day, Bruce Smith is based in Paris and well es­tab­lished as one of Europe’s lead­ing fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phers, with a client list of in­ter­na­tional lifestyle and fash­ion brands. Since hav­ing his pro­fes­sional life saved by aut­o­fo­cus and the Nikon F4, he has es­tab­lished his own pho­tog­ra­phy academy teach­ing fash­ion, boudoir and fine-art nude shoot­ing tech­niques. He has also pub­lished sev­eral fine-art pho­tog­ra­phy books, in­clud­ing Pro Dig­i­tal Fash­ion Pho­tog­ra­phy (known as Fash­ion Pho­tog­ra­phy: A

Com­plete Guide in the US). “Aut­o­fo­cus is so taken for granted these days now,” he muses. “Can you imag­ine how many peo­ple wouldn’t be pho­tog­ra­phers to­day be­cause they couldn’t do with­out it?”

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