Photo Tips, Tricks and Techniques from a Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer, Brian Smith

by Team Sony 02/18/2012

What are the nuanced techniques that seasoned photographers keep to themselves? What must have gear do they always include in their camera bag?  How do I pick a professional photographer for family portraits, weddings, etc?

If you want this kind of insight, you’ll have to make friends with a professional photographer, pay big bucks for photography classes or spend a whole lot of time surfing the web.  Either that or simply hang with us here as we catch up with Brian Smith, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and one of our Sony “Artisans of Imagery”  – our dedicated group of professional photographers who are passionate about Sony gear.

Brian’s gearing up for a few days at one of the biggest photography shows of the year, the Wedding and Portrait Photographer conference and trade show (WPPI), and took a few minutes to answer some questions about his craft.

Q: What are the must have tools for photographers who are stepping up and getting more serious about their photos?

You obviously want to buy quality gear, but so much really comes down to paying attention to the small details such as where you shoot – picking a background that will enhance your shot and eliminating distracting elements that draw you eye away from what’s important. Try to pay attention to everything. How the subject is posed, if they could turn their hips slightly to make their shape sexier, what they are doing with their hands, if the lighting would look better on their face if they turned just a bit more toward the light. The small things make a huge difference in photographs so pay attention to them.

Q: What’s your favorite lens to use for portrait photography?

My favorite lens for portraits is Sony’s CZ 24-70/2.8. At 70mm it’s not quite as long as more traditional portrait lenses like 85, 100 or 135mm lenses which I like since it allows for a more intimate feeling on set when you can almost whisper your directions to your subject instead of SHOUTING from across the room. I use the 45-60mm range for 1/2 body portraits. For a full length portrait I may shoot anywhere between 28-50mm. I’ll shoot at 24mm if I want the shot to be more “in your face” or to include a lot of environment around the subject.

Q: How do you approach a subject if you don’t know them? Say you’re inspired by someone when you’re out and about. Is there etiquette for doing portraits of strangers?

The key in approaching anyone is being sincere. Tell them why you’d like to take their photograph. ” I love the jacket you’re wearing, could I get a photograph of you against this wall?” of “You have a really amazing face, could I take a portrait of you?” And when you don’t speak the language, smile a lot and try to look really friendly and harmless…

Q: What’s in your camera bag? What’s the one thing in there you can’t live without? Let’s say your accessory bag got lost at the airport how would you survive a photography session?  

I always hand carry my roller bag on the plane – usually with a second laptop bag that holds extra glass, hard drives or accessories. That way even if, god forbid, the lights or stands don’t make it, I always show up with my camera. The one other thing I couldn’t live without when traveling is a great pair of in-ear headphones to I drown out the airplane noise and relax with the movie or my tunes.
Q: Since you’re getting ready for WPPI, how about some tips to make things easier for brides and grooms. What should they look for when trying to finding a wedding photographer and key questions they should ask when interviewing potential wedding photographers?

Look at their website or portfolio to see if their work matches the look and feel you envision for the wedding. If you’re planning a destination wedding, look to see how good is the photographer at capturing the bride and groom in an exotic environment and making you feel like you were there. If you’re planning a big production look for a photographer who has shot big weddings and can navigate the chaos. On the other hand if you’re planning a small ceremony and really want intimate photographs of both families, you don’t want to hire Cecil deMille.

Q: How do you capture the subject’s true personality?  

You talk to them. Get a sense of who they are. Not just what they say, but how they say it. A good photographer is essentially a “5-Minute Psychologist”. You have to figure out what makes your subject tick and capture their personality.

Q: Any tips for dealing with celebrities?  

Follow all the above. Don’t recite their filmography. Instead, try to figure out what really interests them. If you do it well, they may just forget they’re on a photo shoot.
Finally, you may have seen Brian on THE X FACTOR™ earlier this year. He gave the competition finalist some photography tips for taking great photos and how to make sure to have great photos taken of them. We wanted to give you the chance to win a Sony NEX-5N. All you have to do is leave a comment with your favorite photography tip for taking portraits or wedding photos.  It can be something you already know or something you learned from these tips from Brian. See the official rules below for all the contest details!  Post your comment by 5PM February 22, 2012. We’ll announce a random winner on Monday 2/27 after 9am. a photo shoot.

Brian Smith’s work can also be seen in his latest book, ART & SOUL done in partnership with The Creative Coalition and Sony. It features his portraits of celebrities paired with their hand-written thoughts about the importance of the arts and arts education: You can find Brian on his blog and on Twitter™ by Following @BrianSmithPhoto.





1.             THE SWEEPSTAKES: The Sony Wedding & Portrait Photographer Sweepstakes (“Sweepstakes”) consists of one (1) prize for a randomly selected entrant.

2.             HOW TO ENTER: To enter the Sweepstakes the entrant must post one (1) comment response including a helpful tip for portrait or wedding photography to the Sony Blog post “Tips, Tricks and Techniques from Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer Brian Smith” at between 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, February 18, 2012 and 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, February 22, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”).  Limit one (1) entry per person.

3.             WINNERS:  One (1) winner will be selected at random from valid entries and will be announced February 27, 2012. Sony’s decisions shall be final in all matters pertaining to this Sweepstakes.

4.             PRIZES:  There will be one 1st prize. The first prize winner will receive one (1) Sony α NEX-5N camera, approximate value $499.99.  All prizes in this Sweepstakes are nontransferable and non-substitutable except that Sony may, at its sole discretion, substitute a Prize or any component thereof with one of equal or greater value.  Odds of winning prizes depends on number of eligible entries received.

5.             ELIGIBILITY: The Sweepstakes is open only to residents of the United States who are 18 years or older at time of participation. No Sony employees, or friends or family of employees, are eligible to enter or win.

6.             RELEASE: By acceptance of a Prize, the winner releases Sony from and against any and all liability and claims or causes of action, including, but not limited to, personal injury, death, or damage to or loss of property with respect to all aspects of this Sweepstakes, including those arising out of participation in this Sweepstakes, any Prize related activity whether sponsored by Sony or third parties, or the acceptance or possession or use/misuse of the Prize or any component of the Prize.

7.             LIMITATIONS OF LIABILITY: Any entrant who attempts to interfere with the proper play of this Sweepstakes will be disqualified from participation in the Sweepstakes.  Persons found tampering with or abusing any aspect of this Sweepstakes, as solely determined by Sony, will be disqualified and may be subject to prosecution. If in the judgment of Sony, the Sweepstakes is compromised by viruses, bugs, non-authorized human intervention or other causes beyond the control of Sony, which corrupt the administration, security, fairness or proper play of the Sweepstakes, Sony reserves the right, in its sole discretion to discontinue, modify, suspend or terminate the Sweepstakes and proceed in a manner it deems fair and reasonable, including the selection of winners from among eligible entries received prior to such discontinuation, modification, suspension or termination. Any personally identifiable information collected during an entrant’s participation in this Sweepstakes will be collected by Sony and used by Sony and its agents solely for purposes of the proper administration and fulfillment of the Sweepstakes as described in these Official Sweepstakes Rules or as stated in Sony’s Privacy Policy at ANY ATTEMPT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SONY RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES OR OTHER REMEDIES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON(S) RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTEMPT TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.  SONY MAKES NO WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR NONINFRINGEMENT.

8.             DISPUTES: Issues concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Official Sweepstakes Rules shall be governed by the laws of the State of Delaware. All disputes arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes will be resolved individually, and without resort to class action. Should there be a conflict between the laws of the State of Delaware and any other laws, the conflict will be resolved in favor of the laws of the State of Delaware. All judgments or awards shall be limited to actual incurred out-of-pocket expenses (excluding attorneys’ fees) associated with participation in this Sweepstakes and shall not include any indirect, punitive, incidental and/or consequential damages.

9.             GENERAL: By participating in the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to these Sweepstakes Rules and the decisions of Sony, which are final and binding in all matters and all respects relating to this Sweepstakes. This Sweepstakes is void where prohibited by law. Acceptance of a Prize constitutes the winner’s consent to the use of his/her name, biographical information, photograph, and/or likeness for advertising and publicity purposes as determined by Sony or its designees without further compensation, except where prohibited by law. All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply. Sony is not responsible for any entries that are lost, late, undelivered, or misdelivered.

10.           WINNERS LIST: For the names of the winners send your request and a self-addressed stamped envelope to Sony Wedding & Portrait Photographer Sweepstakes at 16530 Via Esprillo, San Diego, CA 92127.


Sponsor:  Sony Electronics Inc., 16530 Via Esprillo, San Diego, CA 92127.


These Sweepstakes Rules may not be reprinted or republished in whole or in part without the prior written permission of Sony Electronics Inc.

Copyright 2012 Sony Electronics Inc. All rights reserved.

**UPDATE*** 2/27 The contest is closed and we have contacted the winner! Thank you for the great comments everyone!


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Add Comment

  1. Tampa wedding photographer wrote: January 8, 2013 8:12pm

    There are many technical challenges to successful wedding photography and it can be a stressful day even for the most professional photographers. Thanks for sharing many great techniques.

  2. Michelle McKane wrote: January 10, 2013 12:07pm

    great post. thank you

  3. TNB wrote: April 14, 2013 2:39pm

    I enjoyed reading your post. I have been a wedding photographer for seven years. I love sony products. Current(DSLR a850 SLT a77 Sony 16-35mm 2.8 Sony 24-70mm 2.8 Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 Sony 50mm 1.4 Two HVL 58 flash, Blackrappet, Two Gery Phong. Customers love my work, Had to learn the a77, still a work in progress.

    1. Kathleen wrote: April 16, 2013 2:39pm

      Glad you found the post helpful! And thank you for the support.


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