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Date: 19/05/2014 | By: Heather

The Sony A7r and celebrity portrait photography: An Interview with Brian Smith

Brian Smith Sony A7r and celebrity portraits

The Sony A7r and celebrity portrait photography: An Interview with Brian Smith

Welcome to our series of 100 interviews we will be holding with professional photographers who use mirrorless cameras for work! “Switching to a smaller and lighter system” has become somewhat of a buzz phrase as of late, but many working photographers take this philosophy seriously. From medical reasons such as resolving back and shoulder pain to the simple realisation that bigger does not mean better, photographers are turning to mirrorless systems now more than ever before.

This week’s interview is with Brian Smith, an American photographer who uses the Sony A7r and specialises in celebrity portraiture of actors, politicians, athletes and business leaders. His work has been featured in a plethora of famous publications including TIME, New York Times Magazine, Forbes, and Sports Illustrated. He is also a Sony Artisan of Imagery.

Visit Brian’s photography website

Follow Brian on Twitter | Linkedin | Facebook

All the images contained in this article are property of Brian Smith.

1. Who is ‘Brian Smith’ in three simple sentences?

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Smith is the luckiest guy on the planet. He’s told Bill Gates exactly what to do for an entire hour, appeared on The X Factor, exhibited at the Library of Congress, dined with the President and 3,000 of their closest friends, written an Amazon Best Seller, shared cupcakes with Anne Hathaway, gotten drunk with George Clooney and married the most beautiful woman he ever laid eyes on…

2. You have been a prolific portrait photographer for over 30 years, shooting high-profile celebrities, athletes and executives. What it is you are looking for in a person’s face when shooting him or her?

The main thing you’re looking for in a portrait is to feel some sort of connection with the person in the photograph. A good portrait should reveal something about who they are or some aspect of their personality.

, , f/ , ISO

3. Is there a particular shooting session that holds a special place in your memory?

It’s hard to top flying down to Sir Richard Branson’s private island for Time Magazine to photograph the billionaire wearing a spacesuit surrounded by the waters of the Caribbean at sunrise… Although…an amazing shoot of the lovely Anne Hathaway was right up there with it. Especially when Anne showed up with cupcakes for my crew.

4. How has your gear evolved over the 30 years of your activity?

I’ve used everything from sub-35mm to 8×10. They’re just different tools for different jobs. Throughout the history of photography, the tools are constantly evolving. Some people enjoy that evolution, but others lock in on a certain thing and don’t want it to ever change. Either approach is fine – whatever best allows you to achieve your vision.

, 5/544, f/ , ISO 200

5. Has the compact size of the A7/A7r changed the way you work? What role do these new cameras play in your professional photography today?

My back feels a whole lot better at the end of a long day…

6. There aren’t many FE lenses available yet for the new system but which are your go-to lenses (including third party lenses) and why? Which lenses would you like to see from Sony in the near future?

I really LOVE the FE 55mm/1.8 and FE 35mm/2.8. I’d love to see a line-up of 1.8 Zeiss primes like 21mm/1.8, 35mm/1.8 and 85mm/1.8 to join the FE 55mm/1.8

A7r, 1/640, f/ 63/10, ISO 200
A7r, 1/640, f/ 6.3, ISO 200

7. If you had to recommend three must-have accessories for your Sony cameras, what would they be?

Sony BC-TRW Battery Charger with Spare Batteries.

RRS Quick Release Plate or L-bracket

Lens Mount Adapter for your Favorite Full-frame Lenses

8. After many months of experience using the A7/A7r on the job, is there anything you would change about these cameras?

I’d happily give up 1/8000 sec shutter speed for /250 flash sync.

A7r, 1/4000, f/ 22/10, ISO 200
A7r, 1/4000, f/ 2.2, ISO 200

9. What has been your most challenging shoot so far with the A7/A7r cameras? How did you overcome the difficulties?

It took me two months how to figure out how to set the Control wheel to adjust flexible focus point.

Menu > Custom Settings 6 > Custom Key Settings > 2 > Center Button > Standard

In this setting, you simply press the Center button to make the focus point active and move it around by pressing left/right/up/down on the control dial. You can also change the size of the flexible focus point by rotating the dial.

10. Tell us about your newest book ‘Sony A7/A7R: From Snapshots to Great Shots’. What can this book give A7/A7r users that they cannot learn from the manual or online?

The manual does a good job explaining how to adjust all the camera settings. ‘Sony A7/A7R: From Snapshots to Great Shots’ picks up where it leaves off – explaining what all the settings do and how to use them to get better photos.

We included an entire chapter on lens mount adapters since many owners want to use the legacy glass they already own.

11. Have you tried the upcoming Sony A7s? Do you feel that its incredibly vast ISO range will encourage even more professionals to jump onto the mirrorless bandwagon?

I haven’t gotten my hands on one yet since I was speaking at Photoshop World when the A7S was announced at NAB. Every motion photographer I know is totally geeked out over this one, and I’ve also gotten lots of calls from photojournalists who want it for low light.

A7r, 1/640, f/ 56/10, ISO 200
A7r, 1/640, f/ 5.6, ISO 200

12. In your career you have also held a lot of exhibitions. How is it different seeing your pictures in large scale print? Is it in that moment that your image really comes alive?

There is something really inspiring about seeing your work printed 4×6 feet. I’m amazed at the detail in Sony A7R images at that size.

13. There are many interesting compact mirrorless systems out there at the moment. If you hadn’t chosen to go down the Sony route, would you have chosen another mirrorless system? Which one and why?

Once Sony broke the full-frame mirrorless barrier, I don’t have much interest in smaller sensors, yet I will have to say that I like the simple design of the Leica T built around the Sony NEX-6 sensor.

14. Do you think mirrorless cameras will eventually replace the DSLR as the professional’s primary work system?

At the moment it depends what you shoot, but at the speed that mirrorless is advancing, they may soon overcome any advantages DSLRs might still hold.

A7r, 1/320, f/ 56/10, ISO 200
A7r, 1/320, f/ 5.6, ISO 200

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Brian!

Have a question to ask Brian about the Sony A7r or his work as a celebrity portrait photographer? Leave it in the comments section below!


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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mathieu

    Why not an A7 or A7 mark II? It has a better AF system (phase detection) and 5fps which could be a good compromise between your a37 and the A7r.

  • kamanakai

    i have a quick question, i use a a37 and get great images with its 7fps burst mode. at the same time, the amount of photos in a sequence i get in my shots (surfing or waves) is too much sometimes. hearing the fact the a7r only has 4fps, i thought to myself, well hmm, if i can shoot at 1/8000 at 4fps, i could still capture a the image of the wave freezing in the photo while it breaks, just not as much photos as the sequence shots on my a37. it all about timing i figure. i know there are crop factors with telephoto lenses and this camera, but im planning on getting the 70-200mm SEL G lens, which is made for the a7r. my question is, with the right equation, can i still capture amazing surf photos of photo with this set up? and yes i heard about the a6000, i know that would be better for action shots, but im doing a combo of different types of photography and this full frame camera would fit in perfectly for nature shots here, landscapes, and modeling photos. please let me know! aloha


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