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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll want to read this one again and again.
It's not every day that Sir Richard Branson shows up on your doorstep in a space suit. But today was the day. I've waited months for the arrival of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography and the wait was worth it.

In 250 pages, Miami celebrity photographer, Brian Smith shares insights learned over 30 years; in a career that has taken him all over the globe and...
Published on October 8, 2012 by Syl Arena

versus
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Short stories come up short...
This book is a series of very short stories taken from the authors many celebrity shoots. Focus on the "very short". For instance his shoots with Venus and Serena Williams...the first story is 9 lines long. The second is 13 lines long. The third is 14 lines long...and all of these are 1/2 page lines... Bill Gates is a short 4 paragraph story about how they got the...
Published 21 months ago by rick


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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll want to read this one again and again., October 8, 2012
By 
Syl Arena (Paso Robles, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
It's not every day that Sir Richard Branson shows up on your doorstep in a space suit. But today was the day. I've waited months for the arrival of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography and the wait was worth it.

In 250 pages, Miami celebrity photographer, Brian Smith shares insights learned over 30 years; in a career that has taken him all over the globe and put him in front of the world's most famous and infamous personas. This is a book of great photography and great advice.

I love the fresh, bold style of the book. The photographs are big and plentiful. The writing is conversational and engaging. You won't have to read across pages and pages to understand what Brian is sharing. Every two-page spread presents another shoot--each with its own concise insights and tips.

Brian grouped nearly 100 shoots into chapters; each centered around a theme:

1. Connect With Your Subject
2. Find The Place
3. Find the Angle
4. Tell the Story
5. Sweat the Small Stuff
6. Don't Mess with a Good Thing
7. Pose, Gesture, Emotion
8. Less is More
9. See the Light
10. Group Portraits Without Formality
11. Create the Look
12. Lights, Camera, Lens

Within the chapters, each spread is headlined with a bit of advise, such as: Unclutter Your Mind, Light to Let Them Move, Keep It Real, Leave `Em Laughing... Then, each spread provides one or more portraits and commentary about the shoot. So many photo books get bogged down with pages of words. Brian made sure that this is a book of great photos from cover to cover. Then he balanced the photos with insights that only an A-list shooter could share.

Just to manage your expectations, this is not a book that focuses on techniques. There are no lighting diagrams or set shots. There are no details about camera, lens, or exposure. Gear talk is minimal, but, again, precise. All of this is fine with me. There are many books that tell you how to manage gear. There are precious few books that give you front row access to the creation of so many iconic photographs.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great portraits and stories, October 17, 2012
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This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
I've been following Brian Smith's portrait photography for a while and have been eagerly waiting for the release of this book with high expectations. The book is now available and delivers. Great background stories on the images. Great printing of the images. So many books are all about the "technical" details, but portrait photography is more about psychology and how to work with people. Brian gives the background stories. He talks about how he interacted with the subjects, or with their PR folks. Yes, the technical stuff is still there with chapters covering it, but the overall story is about the interaction. Anyone can list f/stops and ISO, and the like--but those things are usually so specific to a situation and might not apply to your situations. Few authors talk about the experience. That's where this book shines. More important than 1/60 at f/5.6, how do you prepare for your photo session when you only have 15 minutes with your subject? Or how do you turn that 15 minutes into 30? How do you get someone to go along with that crazy idea you have for a photograph? How do you get the best out of your subjects? The start is to read this book. Then go out and make beautiful portraits.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars See it as a chat session with a seasoned pro, December 14, 2012
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This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
Some of the reviews are glowing with praise, some disappointed by the lack of clear instruction.

This book is not full of instruction or theory, but has a very consistent structure and approach. I see it the sort of advice an advanced amateur or beginning pro would get if they spent a couple of hours with a likeable, open and knowledgable pro.

The content is largely a rundown on notable photo sessions, explaining why he did things more than how. You can deduce most of the how if you have experience with lighting, and he provides sidebar definitions of most of the more technical terms. The explanations are 'slice of life' style, such as having to wait until the middle of the night to start a 3pm shoot with a rap star, or how he works with stylists. He provides enough information so I can think 'yes, I can shoot that' and he does it without overblowing the details.

You know, it really isn't that helpful to know what f-stop he used or his exact lighting positions or strengths. You won't get that level of detail here. If you don't know how to set up lights and balance with ambient light and depth of field, you might find the book frustratingly missing the instruction you need.

But once you feel you can do that, go have a chat with a seasoned pro who is not going to spoonfeed you, but will give you an insight into how real commercial shoots work. The writing is engaging, open and frank and often inspiring.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars photography book that is inspirational, full of ideas and enjoyable to read. Recommended!, January 13, 2013
This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
Are you a photographer who has looked at an issue of Newsweek, Time Magazine, GQ, Vogue and other major publications and wondered, how did this photographer capture this moment?

Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Smith has been a person who has had his photos of celebrities, business executives and major athletes grace the cover and also featured in major publications and with his book "Secrets of Great Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous", Smith shares his stories of how photographs came to be.

But what Smith does to help photographers learn from his experience by breaking down his advice in several chapters.

Featured are the following chapters in the book:

1. Connect With Your Subject

In one example, Smith discusses the importance of connecting with the person you are going to shoot. A photo shoot for "Art & Soul" and how he was able to capture celebrities laughing naturally. And Smith discusses how he tries to keep people relaxed and try to get them to laugh. But also how shooting strangers, especially many of them can help and more.

2. Find the Place

Location is always important. But what happens when you only have so much time or the weather is not exactly cooperating? In this chapter, Smith discusses how one should get to know the area where a photoshoot takes place, to also try to capture what an editor wants. For "Us Weekly", Smith had to photograph "Burn Notice" star Jeffrey Donovan and capture the feel of Miami. But with the clouds dark and gray, what can Smith do? So, he found a blue mosaic tile and managed to use that as his shot as a backdrop and it worked!

3. Find the Angle

Smith discusses how finding the right vantage point can set the mood for your photo. One shot featured Calvin Ayre, CEO and founder of the online gambling site bodog.com and as a billionaire, he chose to shoot Ayre in pool for Forbes. But to show the high life, feature a woman's legs spread and you can see Ayre right between the legs in the pool and balancing the shot with two more women in bikini on his right. The photo shot ground level, was able to capture Ayre but also the high life via poolside.

Another example was to capture pro golfer Camilo Vilegas in his Spider-Man push up move on the green, but to shoot with a wide-angle lens capturing the hole, the golf ball but behind it is Vilegas with his signature move. And the decision to shoot via wide-angle led to the photo's efficacy for the cover of "Golf Magazine".

4. Tell the Story

Smith knows that not every picture is worth a thousand words but the value of an image depends on how much you give it to say. One example is of Burger King VP Russ Klein for "Advertising Age". Smith wanted to capture Smith eating a burger with the actual Burger King and not do the banal office shot but something fun and also related to the company. Originally wanting to take Smith to an actual Burger King store, the franchise offered the company cafeteria and for the most part, achieving a successful photo.

5. Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes to get the photo, you need to get someone to do things that is necessary for the shot. For a "Business Week" photo shoot, Smith wanted to capture a photo of Bill Gates with stars in the background but didn't want him wearing his button down shirt. Back then (before Steve Jobs was known for his black turtlenecks), he wanted Bill Gates to wear one and his assistant was able to get him to wear one.

Another example is with tennis star Daniela Hantuchova for "The Players Club". With only two hours to shoot multiple shops and also factoring hair and make-up, Smith talks about the importance of scouting the locations and pre-light multiple setups.

Another example is being creative with a set budget that one has for a photoshoot. And for The Bee Gees, he came up with an idea for having a room painted in gold, along with 100 LP's painted in gold. And then shooting all three men in the gold interior with LPS hanging on the walls, ceiling and floor.

Also, is behind-the-scenes information with Fazia Ali, producer and stylist with what is important duties for a stylist during a photoshoot, also behind-the-scenes on what crew may be involved in a major celebrity photoshoot and more!

6. Don't Mess With a Good Thing

In a photo shoot, know when to stand back and let your subject take over. One example features Shaquille O'Neal for a photoshoot for "USA Weekend" and when actor Jamie Foxx came to visit. And because of the height difference, instead of shooting closeup, Smith chose to shoot the two with Foxx on his tip-toes and it became a cool shot.

Another example was for "Premiere" magazine and capturing Antonio Banderas for "Desperado" and Banderas improvising on camera.

7. Pose Gesture Emotion

Making your subjects relaxed, comfortable and engaged. Examples include how Smith used a 70mm lens to shot a portrait of Anne Hathaway for "Art & Soul". How he wanted to focus on Hathaway's eyes and the use of a wind machine to give a right amount of wind for the shot but how her hands were positioned. Other photos show how hand gestures can make a shot. From Antonio Banderas caressing a glass block to Meatloaf having his hand on his head.

8. Less is More

Clearing all distractions from a photo can be very important. Keep it simple! An example features Smith working on a cover for "Forbes" and in order to get an eye-catching cover of Don King, he focused on the hair and the lighting with a black drop. Keeping the photoshoot simple but capturing things brilliantly.

9. See the Light

Understanding portrait lights is important and concentrating on what light can do and the quality of light can affect the mood of a shot. An example features model Cindy Margolis as he had eight strobes used in the shot. One at the model while six were gaffer taped behind the back of the large beach balls and how illuminating the beach balls made a difference. Another example featured Mireya Manor for "National Geographic Books" and in a jungle with not much light. So, he used strobist techniques to light the model.

The chapter has the most pages as it shows how Smith accomplished lighting for several photos.

10. Group Portraits Without Formality

How to shoot group photos and position them. An example would be with Crispin Porter + Bogusky who was agency of the year and would be featured in "Advertising Age", and for this shot, Smith discusses how important it was to have subjects in various distances. For another photoshoot for "Sports Illustrated" on the men who created Gatorade, Smith wanted too have the yellow Gatorade show up on the shot and how he used an Octobank to capture this group photo.

11. Create the Look

This chapter deals with Film Look photo filters in apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic.

12. Lights, Camera, Lens

Brian Smith talks about the lighting gear he uses and discusses the various lighting gear used on the photos featured in the book. Also, what kind of gear you would expect to see inside Brian Smith's bag when traveling to a photo shoot. Also, discussion on his favorite lens.

EXTRA: Assignments

Excited after reading the book? Brian Smith gives you an assignment such as "One Lens One Week", "One Light One Week", "Shoot 50 Strangers", etc.

EXTRA: Q&A with Brian Smith

A short Q&A with the Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer.

JUDGMENT CALL:

"Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous" is not a book about lighting placement or strobist techniques, nor is it a book about how one is able to setup a shot such as one of Brian Smith's famous photos. But what Smith provides the reader and photographer is how he was able to capture a shot and the story behind it.

How was he able to capture this athlete in this position? Why did he use soft light to shoot an actress? How did he get this actor to shoot at a local restaurant or bar? There is a story behind every photoshoot but what makes this book quite special is you are learning from one of the well-known photographers out there, one who's work has been featured on covers for major publications, featured in many articles and more than likely, shots that you have seen in one of the major entertainment or industry-related magazines.

The book is well-written, not to cerebral, easy to follow but most importantly down to the point of telling the story and possibly helping inspire the reader to go out and go out shooting and experimenting with various shots.

Granted, not everyone is going to have the kind of gear that Brian Smith owns, nor will they have a several thousand dollar budget for a photoshoot but what Smith wants to people to learn is how the basics apply to his work. Keeping things simple. Learning about lighting, learning about your lens, learning about how you can connect to your subject.

Overall, "Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous" by Brian Smith is a fantastic book written by a photographer who has taken well-known photos with great advice, but it's important to note that if you are a photographer who wants to know about strobist techniques or learn of how he shot these images, this is not the book you are looking for.

"Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous" is about ideas but also that priceless advice that one can learn from a veteran and well-known professional photographer.

A photography book that is inspirational, full of ideas and enjoyable to read. "Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous" by Brian Smith is recommended!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the two books you'll ever need..., October 28, 2012
This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
... on photography (...and I own pretty much every book on that subject that has ever been written, just can't resist.)

In essence, Brian Smith puts up beautiful photos, then adds an entertaining story that losely outlines the creative process next to it. All of the pictures amplify his subjects masterfully instead of putting them into a random concept shoot for the heck of it. He doesn't cover technique (thankfully, there are tons of books for that), and the insight on how he approaches shoots and achieves those results is invaluble.

The best book I've seen so far on how to put together an image. Strongly recommended!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Short stories come up short..., February 22, 2013
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This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
This book is a series of very short stories taken from the authors many celebrity shoots. Focus on the "very short". For instance his shoots with Venus and Serena Williams...the first story is 9 lines long. The second is 13 lines long. The third is 14 lines long...and all of these are 1/2 page lines... Bill Gates is a short 4 paragraph story about how they got the subject (Gates) to wear a black turtleneck. And on and on the book goes. Even a master of the short story would have difficulty conveying anything substantial in such short snipets.
There is very little detail about the shoots, less about the interaction of personalities between photographer and subject and almost nothing about camera technique or lighting. This guy is the real deal...he gets a lot of work photographing the rich and famous. It's just that his writing about his work seems detached...it comes up short...in my opinion...very short.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn from the best, October 8, 2012
This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
As expected from such a talented, award-winning photographer it's terrific.... see, there are tons of books on lighting and technique by lots of photographers and frankly it can get a bit noisy and monotonous... but Brian Smith delivers - not only on the substance behind the pictures, but with the portraits themselves... awesome work. This isn't an ABC how-to book for photography, but rather a book that helps create a mindset on how to approach, and survive, the often capricious world of high stakes portraiture.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enjoyable Book, October 4, 2013
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This book is not a how to book to teach techniques, but it doesn't advertise to be that. It is a good book to look over a great photographer's shoulder a little bit. There are lots of great lessons about the people side of photography.

I really enjoyed the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, March 19, 2013
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This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
A really interesting book by a very interesting guy. I love the style of the book, the prose and the way it is organized. However, I would like some more technical details -- not too many but a few more would make it right.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrait book to read again and again, January 3, 2013
This review is from: Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter) (Paperback)
So this is the first ever review I've done on Amazon. I'm already familiar with Brian Smith's work from Art & Soul, so was immediately interested on the release of this book. Initially I was going for a kindle version, but decided at the last moment to go for a print edition. I'm glad I did, because seeing photos in print is how photos are meant to be viewed.

The sheer variety of location and subject, as well as the stories on each image make this a book to come back to again and again. It's not written as a formula book, but each photo contains a nugget, sometimes 2 or 3, of wisdom on working with people, as well as getting the best of them. I can often have a few books on the go, but I literally couldn't stop reading this. It's entertaining and educational, with plenty of humor, with some dry wit for good measure. Brian has a relaxed style of writing that makes the time fly as you read.

I've tweeted this as the best book I've read from 2012, and I'll no doubt be going back to it again, even just for the photos themselves.
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Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous (Voices That Matter)
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