With a ten-year banking career, a wife and two children at home, and a serious yearning to be a photographer full-time, Michael Smith was in a position many serious hobbyist photographers have found themselves in. He wanted to shoot for a living. Originally solely interested in landscape and nature photography, a coworker in approached him in desperation after their professional photographer bailed a short time before the wedding. Grudgingly and with the proviso it was understood he didn’t photograph people, Smith accepted the assignment.
“I always thought nature photography was more up my alley,” says Smith. “There’s nothing moving. It suits my speed. Shooting people didn’t appeal to me because of the constant movement and change. Teaching people how to move didn’t interest me. Then I started doing it, and I surprisingly found I loved the challenge. I couldn’t wait until my next session. Here it is a few years later and I find I love the dynamics, the diversity, the differences in the people I shoot. I can mold a session to their personality. It was a really nice surprise, especially when I shoot people in nature settings.”
In May, Smith made the leap to full-time photography. He is careful to be judicious with his time, pouring all his effort into fewer weddings. “I’m very fortunate. I’m not looking to blow out fifty weddings a year. If I can provide for my family and be secure, I’ll be set. This is my passion and my art. It’s a dream job.”
“I’m shooting the Mamiya RZ67,” he reports. “I’m leaning toward eventually shooting film full-time at weddings. Definitely all the intimate and portrait shots at weddings are done with film now. I have the 120 and 220 backs for the RZ67. I’ve been using the Polaroid back on it now quite a bit. It’s great to bring to sessions and weddings. The clients love it. It really gives a unique feel, and I like doing things a little differently than every other photographer.”
A typical portait session for Smith now involves a whole roll of 35mm film, a roll of instant, a roll of Instax mini from Fujifilm and a roll of medium format. He’s found shooting across a variety of cameras and formats brings out things in both himself as an artist and his clients. “They love all the different formats. They get so excited to keep the instant film. It makes the client so happy, and this is possible, in part, with the Mamiya. I can flop out three different backs to shoot two different formats in one session, and it’s wonderful.”
A big proponent of remaining creative, Smith can draw the distinction between paying jobs and shooting for himself. “I know wedding photographers who only shoot weddings,” he says. “After the first hundred they stop innovating, and it all looks the same. I don’t know how they keep doing it. A lot of them forget to step back and shoot out of their element.”
To get the below photo at a night wedding, Smith shot Ilford 3200 120 film at f/4.5, manually metered. “I’m unsure of the shutterspeed, but I believe it was around 30-60,” he says.
“I bought the f/2.8 110mm Mamiya lens. My goal is to use it in a manner it hasn’t often been used. It’s a lot of experimentation, but I love it. I’m really excited about the Impossible Project. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I never had a chance to shoot real Polaroid because I got started late. I’ve been using the Fujifilm Instant ever since.”
Smith is relentlessly drawn to shooting in available light. “My goal is to do more fashion, but not studio fashion. Fashion on location is more exciting to me. Doing that and a combination of luxury weddings would make me very happy.”
“Everything about shooting film excites me,” says Smith. “Even the lensflares are beautiful, and add to the photograph. There’s something about the physicalness of the camera. When clients hear the sound of the shutter for the first time, they know it’s real-photography time. I also discovered that before I was seriously shooting film, I was trying to mimic film digitally. Now, it’s the real thing.” Indeed, Michael Smith. Indeed.
Written by Ron Egatz