💯💯💯 "I've worked in sports for years on some level or another. I've never hit a home run in my life so it's like, that's the average person. I love photography. I had no desire ever in my life to go take photos for a living and schlep my portfolio around and get told "no" a bunch of times. Zero. I'm happy doing exactly what I do. I couldn't be happier. And it's been the most rewarding existence I think I could ever have imagined." Brad Smith
Brad Smith has one of the most incredible careers in photography one could fathom, and he's accomplished it without putting a camera to his eye. His life as a photo editor branches from the White House, to publications like The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, to his current position as the VP of Photography at WWE. In this episode, we peel back the curtain on what a photo editor does and what kind of skills and instincts he/she must develop.
Creative Consulting: www.bradsmithcreative.com
Photo Editing Workshop: The Art of Photo Editing at Summit Workshops
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Michael Der 0:30
Alright, folks, welcome to another episode of Artrepreneurs, I am so thrilled for this conversation because we're really going to peel back the curtain on something that a lot of photographers, myself included, know very, very little about. We're going to be diving in on the role of a photo editor and how it can impact your career in photography. And to help me do that is my esteemed guest, who has had an unbelievable career as an award winning photo editor for publications such as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and is now the Vice President of photography at the WWE has been a selfless educator for a number of great workshops such as Eddie Adams, and of course, summit workshops, and his creative consulting services offer photographers like you and me the opportunity to have our work reviewed and presented in the best possible light. You can learn more about it at Brad Smith creative.com. This is just an absolute honor. For me, it's a pleasure to bring him in my guest is the wonderfully generous, Brad Smith. Brad, thank you for being here. Welcome to the show.
Brad Smith 1:26
No, it's my pleasure. I'm happy to join you. And I'm excited to talk to you tonight. It's honestly, you get a very small opportunity and window to talk about photo editing versus just photography in general. So I'm happy to do it. Thank you for inviting me.
Michael Der 1:39
Absolutely. Well, I mean, I know at a look at your resume, and it's almost impossible to know where to begin. So what I'd love to do, what I'd love to start off with is just what makes you tick, from your days at Time Inc, to the Clinton administration at the White House to the numerous Olympics and Super Bowls, and whatever have you. I don't believe you can have a career like yours without having a strong passion for what you do. So I'll just ask, what is it that drives you about life in storytelling?
Brad Smith 2:09
I would say that it starts young for me, and probably for most people, you just have a love for what photography brings to the table. And I was never as drawn to art, for instance, or even music as much as I was photography. Some people have a more varied background there. But I just I love photography from the beginning. And I was like a child borrowing my dad's camera, going out with my high school friends, I grew up in a lot of places, my father was in the Navy, but by high school, I was in kind of a rural part of Florida. And, you know, my friends would go hunting, and I lived, you know, in that area and had a truck like everybody else, but I never shot a gun in my life, I bring a camera and take pictures. You know, I mean, I always just kind of like that part. And I'd love the power of photography. And I'd love the idea of how photographs can tell their own story. You know, I've never felt that it's all about the article. And there's pictures err on the side, maybe you notice them. I'm just the opposite. I'm looking at the pictures and trying to gather caption information and see what it's about. And where does it fit into the story. I see it that way. So I love storytelling, and I love using photography for that.
Michael Der 3:17
Well, I love the energy, it's a great answer. You've just got boundless enthusiasm about the work that you do. And I want to give you the floor for a minute to tell us about Brad Smith creative.com. In particular, how it relates to photographers, the people listening to this podcast, how this can get them to the next level, how they can approach their desired publications. With a little bit more specificity and a little bit more direction.
Brad Smith 3:39
It kind of has a few parts to it. The majority of it is individual photographers, I also work with corporations that have visual assets, but don't quite know what to do with their visual assets. They, they have this great opportunity and this plethora of images to use, and don't know how to organize them, catalogue them, use them again and find them. And I work with those companies as well and consulting. But the real part of it and my favorite part of it is dealing one on one with photographers, and it's everything from young photographers trying to figure out which direction ago a lot of like mid career photographers and towards the end of their career photographers get in touch with me, because basically they need a reboot. And they're just looking to re energize and we're figuring out a way to kind of restructure, and then launch back out into the world their brand. It reminds me of when you go to buy a house. And when you go to buy a house. It's funny, if you look at a bunch of houses in some area, at some point, you start saying to yourself or your partner. Wow, they haven't redone this house since and you guess the era that they kind of stopped in and then never bought a new anything for 20 years, you know, and so you can tell by the furniture and the carpet and the refrigerator and stuff.
Brad Smith 4:52
And honestly, photographers are often the same way. I'll look at their stuff and say wow, you haven't added a new photo in 10 years. Right and all your photos are
Brad Smith 4:59
centered around things you did 15 years ago. And that's great, it's nostalgia. And it's great to have a conversation and a glass of wine and talk to your buddies about it. But it doesn't get you work moving forward, because you have to stay current. And you have to show that what you can do, can live in today's world, and I help with that a great deal. portfolio review, we not so much like design, like I'm not a designer, necessarily, but I work with them on image selection, and what's going to have impact what's going to get jobs, what's going to be able to have their work noticed and stand out from other photographers, because that's always the big question that photographers have. So I really enjoy working with because they all have a different story, they've all kind of hit a hit a rock where they need to kind of just have a little push, they're all talented already. They don't need me, you know, to talk about how to take a better picture, they pretty much have that down, it's just getting out of their own way and letting the work speak for itself. I help them do that.
Michael Der 5:52
Well, that's an outstanding service, I know that's something that I'll probably be in touch with you about, that's something that a direction of mine, it's always been an issue about like how to niche down choosing from which images are really going to be the strongest ones. because like you said it, it really plateaus happen creative plateaus happen, we kind of always feel stuck every once in a while. That's a great service, I want to get back into the weeds a little bit here on what a photo editors life looks like what that job entails, what would you say is your primary responsibility as a photo editor.
Brad Smith 6:22
So I'm going to go back a few years when I was really more of a photo editor. Now I oversee like still photography for like a billion dollar entertainment company. So it's a different thing I manage, you know, a lot of people and images coming in. So it's different. But when I was doing more of the photo editing, the parts are kind of broken down into either you have assigned a photographer for original content, or you're pulling it off the wires or stock photography or something like that. So you have to kind of figure out where your images are coming from. And you're basically given a task by someone else, that's the first thing photo editors really need to remember is that you work for someone else, you're essentially in the service industry in a way. And your job is to provide visuals that are going to be attached to another product, whether the products that advertisement, or whether the products and editorial based or whether it's for commercial use, or whatever it is, it's probably going to be attached to something else. And if you can kind of remember, I'm part of this group, and I'm part of this team, then you're going to be fine. If you think what you're doing is the end all be all, then you're not going to be so the key is to kind of remember, I'm part of this, and we're all trying to reach the same goal. So how do I secure those images. And for me, I spent the majority of my time more often than not either selling photos in the beginning working for agencies, or buying photos, from an editorial point of view for sports illustrated in New York Times, those two jobs were a little over 20 years total between them. So that's a pretty big chunk of my life, right? And I'm just trying to fill pages, I'm trying to find the image that can fill the pages of a newspaper or a magazine or whatever, for those places. So that's my main objective is to figure out what the story is talk to the writers, the avenue we're going, is it this way? Is it that way? What's the lead photo, once you kind of get that out of the way everything kind of stumbles down like a pyramid, you know, you start up here, once you get that one, it all builds after that, and it's pretty easy. So it's a matter of just finding the images that go with it. And what I did learn quickly as those images could come from anywhere, I always thought it was me and new working. And I would hire you. And you'd send me 10 rolls of film, and I'd process it or you'd ingest 1000 pictures into your computer and send it to me, and I'd look at them. However the situation was at the time. And then I'd pick the 100 favorites, and I'd show them to somebody and they'd run and that would be the end of it. And they would always be like that. And it was only sometimes like that, you know, I'm calling museums. I'm calling people's homes and asking them to take a picture of a picture to send to me. Do you know what a scanner is? No. Can you just take a picture of it with your phone? I don't know, how do you have a sister? Do you have a kid? You know, it's like, I'll get them from anywhere I have to get them from and I have and we all have all photo editors are securing images from all over the planet from all over the resources are endless for it. And that's kind of the fun part. It's like a scavenger hunt to find those images.
Michael Der 9:15
What do you think it takes? I mean, I'm always interested about instinct. You know, some people have business instinct, some photographers have problem solving instincts or whatever have you. What does it take to be a good photo editor beyond what we've just talked about?
Brad Smith 9:27
The ones that I would say that have served me the best. And I'll just speak for myself and working primarily in the fields that I have is, number one, I have a visual sense of what works and what doesn't work. I can tell you, I think this photo is better than that photo, even though they look relatively similar, and I can tell you why. You may not agree with me but I have an idea of which is the better image. And if you can kind of tell that and you can see which pictures are the better pictures. That's where you start. That's your building block. Then after that, the key points to me are being
Brad Smith 9:59
organized an understanding that this is a long term project, this isn't finding one photo and putting it somewhere. And then going home, there's all kinds of levels to it, the number of things that could happen and go forth, I don't even want to go into them all because there's so many there's billing and there's, you know, rights grabs, and there's Can I use it here, and can I only use it here, and there's fee structures and etc, etc. And then thirdly, and this is something I can't stress enough is remember, I work for a team, I work with a team. And I have a long term goal of staying with this team. So I don't go in there thinking I'm smarter than everybody else. And this photo is going to be chosen, because I'm going to argue for it and make a big deal about it. Because I won't be working there next week, I want to keep working, they're able to express my opinion until I like an image. And hopefully they respect that and we can kind of work together. But you have to be professional. Remember, you're part of this team. So working within and showing respect to what they do. And not just thinking what you do is the only thing that matters, you have to be respectful of the photographers and the agencies that provide you with images of the art directors who lay it out and design it of the editor, or whoever it is, overall, who's responsible at the end of the day for everything. And if you're respectful of what they do, they'll be respectful of what you do. And then you can all kind of work together, I find that that's the the best way to go. And those three things have carried me, you know, some kind of visual competence, some types of organizational skills, and just being a professional and an adult, basically, you know, in trying to kind of make it all work. So that tomorrow you wake up and you enjoy where you're going and want to go to work and do it all over again.
Michael Der 11:37
Right. And I think that what you were just talking about being kind of at the epicenter of this whole creative team. You're not just talking about the creative team, you're talking about the business people like the publishers or wherever marketing is involved and budgeting that chaos is interesting to me. How do you manage that? I mean, obviously, there's a synergy that needs to be there, is there anything that you can think of as being very pivotal in your ability to manage that.
Brad Smith 12:02
I would say that again, though, that number two is really key is being organized. And understanding where that is and not losing track of your budget and having an idea of where it is all year round. The worst thing is to find out as you enter the fourth quarter of any company's year, that you're X number of dollars over budget. And that's a surprise to you. That's a huge problem. And it's your own fault. If you are, whatever their system is, wherever you work, that's your problem if you find out your 42% over budget, because you're not going to make it up and that last quarter, and you're going to be over budget and then suddenly, that's your whole year was centered around the fact you were over budget. So finding that and understanding that is important number two, and this I would apply to a number of things, and probably a number of the questions you'll end up having tonight will fall into this category. And that's keeping the key people in the loop of what's going on. The only thing worse than me finding out that I'm 40% over budget entering the fourth quarter on in October is my boss finding it out in October. And that would be wherever I worked, if it's a surprise to me, Imagine how they're gonna feel. So understanding that part of it is kind of the key and being organized around it and kind of understanding how it flows, I have an understanding. And I think one of my skill sets at this point I've kind of developed is, I can see the big picture, I can see how the year plays out, I can tell you what part of the year I can put in to buy equipment. And I can tell you what part of the year I'm going to hire new photographers. And I can tell you this is the time of year I'm going to try new photography, because I'm going to bring some new stuff and new assets into our database. And I can see the whole year as it plays out ahead of time. If you can see the bigger picture, that's when you get invited to be a manager and you get invited to kind of be photo director and you get invited to oversee departments like I am now with the WWE. It's because I can see things beyond just getting through the day. If your whole thing is just getting to five o'clock, and taking a breath and starting over the next day. You can't run it apartment like that you have to have vision. And then you have to have a belief in that vision. And you have to have people a above you who will listen to you and understand what you're doing and hopefully agree with you and people behind you and with you who want to work with you and make it happen.
Michael Der 14:19
I wanted to touch back on something you were talking about, which is kind of that visual acumen that that recognition of between what is a a good picture or a great picture? But then one that might be a powerful, usable image? Is that a teachable thing is that innate? Do you think? How much do you credit just your natural instincts there, versus you learn that as you went on and got your reps?
Brad Smith 14:43
I think it helped that I was already visually interested I guess is the best way I would put it as a as a kid and as a high schooler and a college student whatever. I was already kind of visually interested. And that part helps and I understood how photography works. So I understand the basics of like a camera and what a picture should be and things should be in focus
Brad Smith 15:00
So this is how they should be kind of arranged. And this is composition. And this is where the field should go. And there should be depth to it, etc, you learn all kind of the basic things, you put that in the back of your brain, right? And you just kind of sit on it. And then at some point, you realize that the difference is, a good photo editor finds the photos they're supposed to find, right? I mean, they're there right in front of you, whether it's sports, or news or whatever, you just have to go in and find them, it's not that hard, a great photo editor, find something nobody expected, they find the photo like this one nobody was looking for. And I found it, look at this, let me show you. Either you crop it or do something with it, I had the great benefit of working for some incredibly talented, wonderful photo editors, and they had careers in photography. And they taught me tremendous things, about pictures and about looking at pictures and understanding pictures and, and the power of them and how it didn't matter if it was still like food. Or if it was the pope coming around in his Popemobile, or whether it's a presidential inauguration or a winning touchdown, it didn't matter. All of these images have impact and all of them have value, how much value? That's what you have to determine, and where does the value get displaced into the universe. Those are the things you get to decide on where they should go. And I worked for Elliot on the font at sigma who's a huge influence in the photo industry. Kathy Ryan, longtime photo director at the New York Times Sunday magazine, I worked with her and for her at sigma.
Brad Smith 16:32
Michelle McNally at the New York Times, Karen malarkey at Sports Illustrated and Phil Jackie was another great one in Sports Illustrated. And I would say probably those five people more than anyone else kind of just kept talking about photography and how powerful the photo was. And, and it was never a question to them, whether it stood its ground with words or whether it had equal value or whatever, of course it did. And you believe in that. And you kind of learn from that. So from that, once you start believing in the power of the photos, then you can see the photos in a different way that allow you to kind of choose these images on what can be used and what can't be used. And I think you have to have an open mind, you also almost have to forget everything you knew and start all over again, because every photo is a little different. And you can't come in like you're in a bubble, it's like I'm only looking for this. And if I don't find this, that it doesn't work, you have to allow yourself some some visual freedom. And once you can kind of do that, then so many more images come across the spectrum for you to choose from.
Michael Der 17:31
Is the photo editor mostly responsible for hiring photographers? Or is that like a responsibility? That's depending on the publication occasionally shared with maybe like a dp or an art director? I think that's very confusing for a lot of photographers to determine who I should and shouldn't be contacting?
Brad Smith 17:46
Yeah, and that's a really great question. And it does depend on the particular publication, I would say at a newspaper, for instance, a daily newspaper, which has more assignments than a magazine would in six weeks, it has so many to fill all the sections let's, let's just talk big Washington Post LA Times, New York Times those kind of newspapers, massive amount of images in that paper. And it's too big for the DP or anybody at that level to be assigning all the photography, it doesn't work that way. They can't, they've put people in the position to succeed, right? I've given you the tools, you're responsible for sports, you're responsible for arts and leisure, etc. And those people at a newspaper, they're doing the hiring, whoever the photo editor is, and the science section, they're doing the hiring of who the photography is coming from, you work for a magazine, let's say Vanity Fair, you know, here's a monthly magazine, great visual magazine, whoever their photo director is, probably has more input into which photographers are being hired smaller staff, less photography being assigned, more centered on the fact that it's monthly, therefore, it's, it's a, an intensified kind of thing where it has to play out and it has to have legs, because by the time that photography comes in, it sits around for a few weeks, people have to still like it two weeks from now. So it's a different type of responsibility. And it's a smaller group kind of going forward. So they would probably have more responsibility. So newspaper, I'd find whoever the photo editor is in a section you think you could work with number one, and then they always have some kind of local assigning editor for like the metro section or whatever. But each one of the sections also has a photo person, you just have to figure out who that is. And that's who you want to meet at a newspaper. And the same thing for a wire service AP or Getty or something, you know, just figure out who the assignment editors are. That's their actual job as they assign people. So the assignment for Getty and AP, find out who that is and which area of photography you like. That's who you want to meet magazines, especially the monthly is it's definitely you want to try to get in with the director of photography, but if you can't, anyone below them certainly is involved in the process, even if they're just recommending you because there's nothing more fun than finding somebody and discovering something
Brad Smith 20:00
Buddy and saying, Yeah, I found that guy I hired her first, you know, I give her her first job. And every time I say it, my wife is like, Oh, yeah, here we go again.
Brad Smith 20:10
And it's like, very like proud. You know, it's like very exciting. So even though you may not be the assigning person, Vanity Fair, this is how you make your mark as an editor, not only picking pictures, but bringing in new photography for them to look at and bringing in kind of your own clients. You know what I mean? It's almost Yeah, when people that cut hair for a living, and they go to a different salon, one of the things they have to bring is all the people that cut hair for with them. They're hoping nobody stopped by you have to, like bring people with you. And photo editors. I like that they bring these other photographers I like and if they can match up where you work, you can really, really make your mark there.
Michael Der 20:47
I was gonna say me, you just brought that up in terms of like, how cool is that for you to look back and say, you know what I gave this person their first cover, or their first job or their first publication, whatever it may be something that's very big and can elevate that person's life as well as make an imprint on the community that's consuming that content as well. That's got to be very cool and fulfilling to you.
Brad Smith 21:06
It absolutely is. And I think one of the things with photo editors that gets lost is they're really busy. And by the time you even see the fruits of that labor, they've moved on to three more stories. Yeah. So number one, one of the biggest complaints about photographers is they don't get enough feedback on their work for people that they work for. Right? That's definitely high up on the list. And it's 100% true. And I've been there I unlike guilty of it, like every other photo editor. And one of the problems is, you don't get to just sit around the chair and say that was a great week, we did good. Let's let's go back to work in like three weeks and see what happens. You know, it's like, you've already moved on to two more stories, and you forgot, you forgot to call, you know, Mary and tell her what a great job she did. But the point is that when you find out about that, and one of the things that's great about maybe your first cover, or they write you a note or whatever, is that if you step back for a second, you can realize how important it was to that person to be in the publication how much it meant to that photographer. And this is where you realize subconsciously or not, wow, I'm building a relationship with this photographer, like, this is my photographer. Now they love me, I've given them jobs, they like the way I work, I love their work, we have a relationship now. And this is, you know, this is how you build it. It's from that trust, where you work together and you work well together, and they will work harder for you than they will for somebody else. And they'll cancel something that that you're really it's really important to or whatever, you know, it's like, that kind of thing makes a difference down the road, right? Because you have to have people who will do that for you just as they do as well. So it's like, that type of thing where you can have that happen, and you find out, wow, I gave them their first job, and they're really still telling you about it 20 years later, or whatever you realize it meant so much to them, right? And I've had that I can't even count them now at this point. So it says a lot. But they all mean something and they're super important. And yeah, it's it's a great feeling I can't deny it. It's, it's one of the true guilty pleasures of a photo editor is is the success of the photographer's you've hired,
Michael Der 23:08
how important is it to have like a really extensive contact list, I would imagine that yours is significantly higher than let's say photographers who has a client list, your photographer list has to be immense,
Brad Smith 23:18
I would say that it's important within the realm of wherever it is you work. If I work for a magazine that's completely regional, and it's all about New England, then, you know, guess where my photographers live, you know. So that kind of thing is one thing. But I had never worked for anything that wasn't global to some degree. I worked for an agency, a photo agency that was global, I worked for Time Inc, which is global New York Times, the White House, WWE, all these packages are our, you know, international completely. So my photography list is pretty significant. And it's also all over the world. And I am able to kind of contact people but let's not forget that it's not it's there's a parallel path here going. At the same time, there's two cars traveling down the same highway and two different lanes, right? One is carrying all my contacts that I have, there's this person in London and this person, you know, in Tokyo and this person in Los Angeles, and I've got those, but then over in this other car, traveling down the road, are all the people I know in the photo business, right? It's you I could call you one day and say, Hey, you know anybody in Orange County that could shoot bah, bah, bah, for me. And I can make that call because now I know you and stuff that's also part of my contact list, then being able to recommend somebody and help me out. That's part of that same package. It's not just me, selfishly having a bunch of names and whoever I call that's it. It's also me reaching out and asking other photo editors. Hey, when you guys are shooting in Barcelona, who do you use for portraits? You know, right? Maybe I know maybe I don't know. But I can always find somebody you know, we've had the WWE had a couple of shows over the years in some odd places around the world.
Brad Smith 25:00
Saudi Arabia and Japan and South America in places where I don't necessarily always want to put somebody on an airplane, well, you know, try to find a photographer and another timezone in another language. It's not exactly completely in the phone book, you have to kind of navigate not only your list, but someone else's list, and you kind of combine them as one thing. So that's where those relationships really help out and knowing people for a long time and working together, and again, they're only helpful because I'm respectful, and I would help them at the same time, etc, right? If I just been a jerk for 40 years, then I probably wouldn't be, you know, they probably wouldn't want to borrow the time to help me as much as they do. But they know if they need something from me, I'll help them. And that's, that's the universe you should be living in where we all kind of work together. Right. And I'm a firm believer that's, that's what drives us forward is working together as a collaborative.
Michael Der 25:55
I'm curious about archiving. And I just want to kind of go into that a little bit touch on that, what role does that play in what you do as an editor or even for, let's say, a big company like the WWE? What are the kind of basics of a good archiving system? And why is that important for us,
Brad Smith 26:13
it all comes down to me for that life insurance commercial that I might have mentioned to you on the phone the other day that was on the TV years ago, which was life insurance, it's not for you, it's for those you leave behind. And I've always looked at photo archiving is exactly that, I can figure out where the stuff I just assigned last week is right right here on my desktop, or whatever, you know, I mean, that's fine. But guess what, one day, I'm not going to work here anymore. Or one day, I'm going to go on vacation, and somebody's going to be sitting where I am, or whatever, there's a situation that is, inevitably it's not maybe it's coming up where somebody is going to have to have access to those photos, and it's not going to be me, right, and you can't be the only person that has the key to the vault, you know, you have to share this information. So developing an archive system, whatever it is, I've never worked anywhere that didn't have a really standard archive system and how they work stuff, The New York Times, obviously does. And the sigma, the French news agency I worked for does and even the White House. And the key is having somebody that's organized, can keep up with the pace and understanding the value of you can't put enough information into that photo into the metadata. And by that I mean keywords, and all the basic AP principles of who, what, where, when and why. Right, you have to put all those things, you need dates, you need to spell things out, you don't put all our for Oregon, you write out the word Oregon, and you write the people's names, their full names, you know, you don't write but if his name is Richard or whatever, you write the full thing down. And then you use keywords, you know, and those keywords, then narrow the search down even more when inevitably somebody has to go look for that stuff. And that the value of that I can't even put a price on it. Because what good does it do to take the photographs to be put into a system, whatever it is, if no one can find them, right? It's as if you never took the photo in the first place. And it doesn't matter if you're a photographer, and this is your smallish kind of group of photos you've taken over the last 10 years. Or if you're the New York Times, and you have millions of assets that are in their database somewhere that you have to find. And they're both significant. And they both allow your images to have history and your your they allow your images to be a part of the universe for as long as they want to be a part of the universe. Because if you cut it off with those captions, it's as if you've killed it and left it to die out in the desert.
Michael Der 28:37
I feel like content creators in today's generation are just now using that word of like evergreen content. And for me, it's kind of like photo editors probably just see that as their daily lives. It's how they view imagery. That's how they view the potential value in all your images. Because you never know what's going to eventually become topical irrelevant down the line.
Brad Smith 28:55
Yeah, that's true. It all has a lifespan. And it doesn't mean it doesn't have multiple lifespans. But it could be worth something a great deal now. And I talk about that in like this workshop I teach on photo editing. One of the things is there's a guy who took some photos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and he took them when she was starting literally her first day at work. And she stands and talks to the press and and Chief Justice Rehnquist comes out and and introduces her and say hi, then they walk up the steps of the Supreme Court together and there's their first day, it's like a photo op thing they do, right. And so he shot those things for the New York Times, whatever decades ago that Justice Ginsburg came on to the Supreme Court. They didn't have any life whatsoever at the time, nothing. They didn't even think the times use them. They use like a little tiny picture inside. They were nothing. Then suddenly, she becomes part of our pop culture. And she's an icon to millions of people and women and kids and everybody else. And then she passes away and suddenly his pictures are now there's a whole new life of these photos and they've people are asking for
Brad Smith 29:59
Print, they love the picture bumper, the thing that they didn't use back then. But now it has life. And I'm going to tell you, it's not the photo that lets it have life. It's the fact that he could find the photo. That's why it has, you know, because somebody was able to kind of make it emerge back onto the scene again, you look at Pete Souza as an example, right. So the guy is the White House photographer for eight years for Obama, wonderful coverage, great photographer, I've known Pete for years, wonderful, man, I like him, great pictures, etc. Pete Souza now literally makes a living on photos he already took, right. He goes around and gives talks, and he sells prints and has books and whenever all on stuff he's already done, all of that is based on and no disrespect to P. But it's based on the fact that they had a great archival library system at the White House. Now he can find those photos, you know, that whole thing where he's posting photos all the time, that kind of coincided with the different administration, etc, etc. It's a great idea, but you can't find the photos, it doesn't work. It's because of that system in place that he's even able to kind of do that. That's how important that system is, we're able to see these images, right forever. And our kids are if they want to because someone created a system. So we could retrieve
Michael Der 31:14
Did you have any experience obviously, when the industry started to transition from film to digital, were you in charge of any of that type of archiving and dealing with that type of amount of data.
Brad Smith 31:27
So when that transition was made, I was still with timing in the Sports Illustrated group. And I had nothing and I've never had anything to do with developing the system by any means. We just transferred what we were doing by hand and a typewriter or whatever, maybe a computer and a sticker, or literally with a pin on the slide. And we were writing the captions, you know, somebody scores a touchdown in 1979, or something on this slide with a pen. And that was the captured information, right? So all we did was transfer that same template into the new template. I mean, it's still the same process, I have a picture, there's information about it, I have to put it somewhere back in the day, you literally wrote it on the slide mount physically on the slide mount. Now it's on it's in a different platform, and it finds a different home. But it's still the same principle. Yeah.
Michael Der 32:17
How is working or editing for let's say, the WWE what you do now different than what you did for SSI, or a newspaper or what you did at the White House? I don't want you to go super granular, but how is that different going from each publication and each entity
Brad Smith 32:35
you kind of have a feel for what their objectives are, what their history is, what they're moving towards. So you kind of have a feel for the the environment to begin with. Right? The White House is purely historical documentation of an event. That's all the White House does. It covers, whatever that President, whether it's Trump or Bush, or Clinton, or Obama, it doesn't matter if you are documenting that administration through photography, and then you're archiving it so it can go to the historical records and the National Archives and people can look it up. That's what you're doing is documenting the presidency once once you realize that's it, how you want to do it is the question. But that's its basic goal, then the magazine world, you are more flexible, because you are documenting alongside probably a writer who's writing a story and your images have to coincide. Whereas the photography at the White House, I'm just documenting what he does, nobody's writing a story. So I have to make sure that I get a picture of Dave over here, I just have to shoot everything and document everything. When you work for a magazine or a newspaper, you want it to kind of travel in the same area, or at least in the same atmosphere as the writers writing, right? It has to kind of go together because they're telling a story simultaneously. Then for an entertainment company like mine, or Disney or somebody like that the WWE is I'm photographing literally everything we do on TV. So if they have matches for two or three hours at night, where they're covering it like it's a sporting event, but we're also backstage, and we're doing studio, and we're also not this year, but in the last year but previous years, we're doing community service things with Boys and Girls Clubs and anti bullying campaigns and so forth like that. So hospital visits, make a wish and things we cover that as well. All of that is tied in to cover and what you're doing, again, is covering your company, but that company is using those images for marketing and promotion and for goodwill and to give pictures to people and that kind of thing. You know, it's all used at the way a company does it. You have a far more greater license and an entertainment company than you would at an editorial company right editorially, I'm supposed to be photographing whatever happens and I'm not supposed to move stuff. not supposed to go over your desk and move a Pepsi can off your desk. That that's what's in there. I'm supposed to cover it for the New York Times, right and entertainment.
Brad Smith 35:00
company, it's just the opposite. I want to make it look as perfect as possible because I'm trying to sell a product, right? I mean, that's what entertainment comes. Do you work for Disney? You know, you're trying to make it look a certain way that magic kingdom? Have you ever seen Disney put out a bad photo of the Magic Kingdom? No, you know, they don't go to exploring all types of photography and what confused little kids. It's the same beautiful picture of fireworks, hockey faces and smiling every day. And that's kind of where we are, you know, it's an entertainment company. I'm here to kind of promote our product, it's fun, it's a way to kind of have a good time for a few hours, you spend a few dollars and buy a ticket and enjoy yourself. I just want people to do that. So those photos reflect that. So there's a big difference in that. But the joining principle is you're taking a photo that illustrates the product, whether it's a White House's a product, the story that they wrote for the near times as a product. WrestleMania is a product. Yeah, they're all products, and you're just taking the photographs to kind of work and layer within that product.
Michael Der 36:03
Okay. Yep. I'm curious about the genesis of project ideas, you know, the the creative process that goes through? Maybe it's a feature for a an individual athlete for Sports Illustrated, maybe it's a creative concept for WrestleMania. Who's making these decisions? And how does the editor play a role in that creative process?
Brad Smith 36:26
So if we look at it from an editorial point of view, let's say newspaper or a magazine as an example, yeah, that storyline is almost always generated by somebody on the writing side, almost all kinds, because you have love these three, not counting the business side, which sells ads, and does marketing and whatever. And now more recently, in life in general, you have a social side that does what it does, which is basically just promote what somebody else has already done. But then you have, for the editorial side, you've got an art department, you have a photo department. And then you have the writers, and those writers are almost always coming up with the ideas, or at least most of the ideas are generated through things. They think of their reporters, their writers, the men and women who do that. They know the subjects, and they come up with the ideas, then the rest of us come on and say how can we show this story? Do we hire an illustrator? Do we hire a photographer? Do we do a map? Is it a graphic, whatever, but their story is almost always generated by writers. So you have to work with them. And again, I go back to the earlier part about working within this team. Yeah, I'm a part of this, right. And maybe the writer came up with the idea. But that's what they can't live without me. Because if they don't want photos, then they can work at the Wall Street Journal, you know, because everybody else has photography that goes with their stories, and I'm the one that's going to produce it. So you need me, I need you, we work together. And I say that in a very loving way. And that's not combative. But I feel like if you work together respectfully, you get better product.
Michael Der 38:00
How is it managing a live event? Something that's massive? Maybe it's the Super Bowl or the Olympics, I know you've done a plenty of those WrestleMania. Of course, we've mentioned, which is a huge event. Talk to me about that process, like what does your life look like in that lens as opposed to your daily or weekly publications for a magazine?
Brad Smith 38:21
Right, I would say that the key thing for that is having the vision again to see the bigger picture of how it's all gonna play out. And I don't mean like which team is going to win the Super I work 19 Super Bowls all together. And I oversaw the coverage on a few of those more often I was just part of a team. But I oversaw the coverage of a few. I went to nine Olympics inaugurations for president peace treaty signings, and then, of course, WrestleMania is massive, we have 80 90,000 people jammed into a football stadium, right? And you're there for like noon till midnight, it's all day. So the key thing is to see from start to finish, how is this gonna play out? I can't just react as it goes along. I can't kind of guess I can't just say, you know, just go take some pictures. And we'll see afterwards how it works out. Right. So any one of those things, whether it's the Olympics, or whether it is a Superbowl, or whether it's WrestleMania. The key is to see it from start to finish in your mind. The second part is hire enough photographers to produce the coverage, you want to see what you envisioned beforehand. Then third, and this is the most important part. I don't want an all star team, right? This is check your ego at the door time. I want 10 photographers, 12 photographers, eight whatever the number is for the event, probably about a dozen to cover WrestleMania and probably about five Sports Illustrated, probably close to that many to cover like a Super Bowl, right? I don't send that many people to the Olympics, but they're working harder, more days kind of thing. But the point is, if you go to a standalone event, which is not the Olympics but more like a Super Bowl or WrestleMania, which is one day you have to know your role.
Brad Smith 40:00
You have to understand this is what I'm supposed to do. Right? Right. This is what I'm doing. I'm guarding this guy. I don't do anything but guard this guy. If you ever seen little kids play soccer. So when they're like five years old, wherever the ball goes, they all go as a collective, you kind of Amoeba unit that flied certain slides from the ball, right? That's the exact opposite of how you cover WrestleMania I can't have everybody go to the ring and do whatever's in the ring. And I can't everybody rushed to one endzone because there might be a touchdown. Because there are other things going on. I have a flyover with airplanes, I've got fireworks, I've got fans up here. I've got a laser show. I've got entrances, I have stuff in the ring. Everybody has to know their role. And they have to stay back and guard their man. That's seriously how it has to work. And I go over that ahead of time, there's no questions at the end of our meeting before the show of what your role is, this is where you shoot this is my expectations of what I want to talk to them and get information to it's not just me deciding but you know, we work together, but everybody has to know their role. And that's the key thing to managing those big events that there's no, there's nobody left hanging in the wind as to what they're supposed to do. Everybody knows their responsibility, what the expectations are. And someone is in charge, making those decisions, seeing it out ahead of time. And I can see how WrestleMania plays out from the first time and the lights still kind of shining, and then it gets dark. And then when the fireworks are going to come. And I know this is a big thing. And the entrance is great because there's fire or whatever you know, and I can see the whole thing. And if you can do that, then everybody's in their spot, because you kind of have seen the movie already. And you know where people are supposed to be right? It's kind of like that, if that makes any sense. That's kind of what it is. Right?
Michael Der 41:43
It seems like you have so much preparation involved with this, you know, you don't leave any stone unturned. That being said, photography seems to always be for at least for me and my colleagues, it's about problem solving. There's always something that goes wrong or something doesn't go as expected. What kind of problems do you encounter? When you're in that field, whether it's for the WWE for any other jobs that you've had any project you've had? What a problems look like to you? And how do you solve them,
Brad Smith 42:10
going back to the first part of your sentence about a lot of preparation? It is it's Yeah, it's like Thanksgiving, you know, which takes six days to get ready eight hours that day, and 14 minutes to eat.
Brad Smith 42:22
Or the Kentucky Derby is like that three minutes to run around a track. And he'd been there for two days sending up photos. So it's like that kind of thing. And these events are like that. My key thing is, be prepared to fail. I always assume every one of these events I go to, it's not if something's going to go wrong, it's just what's going to go wrong. Something will and wrong is probably the wrong word. It's probably more like something is not going to be what you expected. I have to adapt now, right now on the spot in real time I need to adapt. If somebody gets sick, what do I have to do? If somebody's remotes aren't firing? What do I have to do? If it starts to rain? What do I have to do? I mean, all these things, I kind of assume all those things ahead of time, in part because it's part of the planning process, and you can't look at it as it's all going to go well, you should look at it that's going to fail, for sure. And absolutely every part of it's going to fail, then I have a backup plan and an idea for every one of those things when it doesn't work. I also have learned enough over the years to and this is a key to life in general hire really smart people. Yeah, who worked for me who can figure things out, I've got a guy that I'm telling if my remotes don't work, I've got a guy 20 times smarter than me, that will figure out how the remotes work. I'm not getting up there on a ladder and figuring it out. I've hired the guy to get up on the ladder, figure it out. I mean, I put these people in place. And they're all there for a reason. They're not my buddies that I want to just bring for a party, like you're here to service this company and provide images. That's your task. And I think understanding that things are going to go left or right instead of the other way ahead of time allows you to kind of slowly take a breath and already understand this is my backup plan.
Michael Der 44:05
For those of who might be interested in this type of work. Maybe they're pivoting from photography, maybe they're seeking this out. What did you go to school for this? Did you learn the skills in education? Or was it just kind of your first job? And then secondly, like how do people get their foot in the door if they want to pursue being a photo editor?
Brad Smith 44:24
I don't know how rare I am. So I don't really know what to compare it to. Because I often wished I asked more people how they got into it over the years because it's only interesting to me. Now. It wasn't interesting to me and right when I was younger at the time. I just loved photography. There's photographers who like photography, but what they really mean is they like their photography. Right? Right. And that's fine, but it's like that's where they live. This is atmosphere of like, I like my stuff. And if I didn't shoot it well, it didn't really happen. They're probably not good photo editors. Yeah, you need people that like photography, including other people's biography. That's the key.
Brad Smith 45:00
I always knew I loved other people's photography, I love stuff that they could do that I couldn't do that they shot in a way I would never think to shoot. And I like looking at it and figuring out where it should go and how it should be used. And that was my enthusiasm from the beginning. It doesn't mean you can't transition some great photo editors were photographers, I don't know the math, but if I had to break it down, it's certainly a pretty significant percentage of photo editors, at some point, made their life career and made their living on taking photographs, right, I just wasn't one of them. But certainly a lot of them do. And they just bring a different, they bring a different game to it, once they can let go their own photography, they're really productive, because they're very smart. And they know what to do. The opportunities for photo editors is you have to have a visual palette, you have to understand how visuals work within our world. And if you can see that and understand that you can transfer it to any number of positions, like we talked about on the phone, you know, it's this is a big, huge industry, right? And only small little percentage actually makes a living taking photos, the rest of us do all kinds of other things, you know, to support it and find out what your strength is. And I think I mentioned to you, at some point in your life, go for a walk by yourself, sit somewhere and have an honest conversation about what your skill set is, what am I comfortable doing? What do I love doing? What do I really want to do? And if it's only take photos, then go do that. But if there's other things that are options, and there's so many opportunities, and photo editing is just one of them? The best one, but there's just one of them. Right?
Michael Der 46:34
Well, I loved what you had mentioned in our previous phone call about how that there are more. What was the saying there were more people that work for the Yankees than play for the Yankees.
Brad Smith 46:42
All right, yeah. I I have too many sports metaphors. So it's a great one, though. But it's totally true. You know, everybody wants to play for the Yankees. But look at me, I've worked in sports for years in some level or another. I've never hit a homerun in my life. You know, I mean, so it's like, that's the average person does that over the other thing. So if that's the opportunity, and I love photography, I had no desire ever in my life to go take fights for a living, and slap my portfolio around and get
Brad Smith 47:11
zero, I'm happy doing exactly what I do. I'm couldn't be happier. And it's been like the most rewarding existence I think I could ever have imagined, it's been tremendously rewarding. For me,
Michael Der 47:23
I think it's such a good lesson for people hearing this because I don't know of a person that may have led a more visually rich life than you. And yet you don't pick up the camera. As a job. That's a lesson there. I think everybody that is a creative feels this stigma of well, I can't back down, I can't pivot or I can't change the career path. Because once I'm no longer a photographer, I'm no longer photographer. I'm no longer creative. And that's just not the case.
Brad Smith 47:50
Completely not the case. It's so true, because it starts with a hiring the photographers, that's an art to itself right there. Despite what photographers will tell you, they are not all created equal, right. And they can't all do everything on the planet as far as taking photos, and some are better at some things than others. That's a reality. And that's every job in the world from working at McDonald's to Walmart to the New York Times, you know, people have different skill sets and different skill levels. And again, another stupid sports analogy that I say it all the time, there's a reason a team has a leadoff hitter and the number nine hitter, right, they both play on the same team. But guess what, they're not the same player. Sorry, they're not. But you know, they both contribute, they both have value. And I think that that's the same thing with photographers. And I mean, that is in pay attention to who you hire and why you hired them and what they can bring to the table. There's your creative MBA right there, I hired Cindy to do this job that of Bob to do this job because she's better for it. Because she can do this there. There's my creative, right, but right there, I've already established the creative input by hiring the creative person. So you, you have a lot of input into it, and a lot of say so and how it goes. And it's, it's richly rewarding. If you're all ideas to be part of that process. It's a really great way to do it. You can't bring to the table, I couldn't be a photographer. So I'm gonna do this. And I feel like a failed whatever, blah, blah, blah. Because if that's how you feel, hopefully you get over it soon, you'll be pointed to be a fraud at some point if that you keep that so it kind of just have to go to a little therapy and get over that and then move on to the next part.
Michael Der 49:25
What is the freelancing ecosystem look like there for editors? Do you work project a project for different clients? Is that something that exists? Or is it like you just have to get in with a publication first, I'm just trying to get an idea for somebody that doesn't have a whole lot of work experience as a photo editor, how they get their foot in the door, and how do they start?
Brad Smith 49:41
best way for them to start is to have some degree of photographic background. But the way you could kind of backdoor it and learn the system and learn what you're doing without it is to get into one of the other components of photo editing, which you could find a place that they just need somebody to enter data in for the metadata.
Brad Smith 50:00
For the captions, then you're doing archive work, and you're not really the photo person, but you could kind of pay attention and learn on the job. And six months later, you could say, I want to be a photo editor, I've been here, I understand photography, I've been writing captions for AP for six months, or whatever, you know. And I think that's probably a way you could kind of circumvent it, if you don't really have that full on experience, or you're not impressing anybody with your photo skills. That's probably a way to kind of do that. But the opportunities there there, um, yeah, wire service is, and maybe you're not going to be on staff in a newspaper right away, or maybe ever, you know, it kind of depends. But there are opportunities, because even if they're not on staff, they still need photo op, right? You kind of create this resume and portfolio anyway, at least in your head of work you've done and like I said, you still do those things you're supposed to do, you're digitally competent, you have a decent reputation is a good person that people like to work with. And somebody or photographer can recommend you or whatever, people will find things for you. You know, people don't want high maintenance people. They don't want to hire people who complain about everything. They don't want to hire people who think they know everything, and editors are all stupid, and bla bla bla. So I mean, they just want people to work with on the visual part of it. And those opportunities are definitely there. And there's plenty of photo editors who make a career having X number of clients, and they work on a book, they work on a project. They work freelance for this person, they know somebody who's wealthy, who has images that they spend a year archiving for some family, it could be literally anything. And I think it's, it's as big as you allow your imagination and your effort to kind of see, right, if you only think I can do this one or two things, then you're only gonna do this one or two things. But if you kind of expand that opportunity in your head, then it will present itself,
Michael Der 51:45
I want to kind of shift to your relationship with other photographers and how photographers that are listening to this now can use this information to benefit their own relationships. And so obviously, our goal is to get our portfolios on the desks of other editors to have it seen. And that's obviously easier said than done. I'd love to pick your brain on what you think helps photographers stand out as they pitch to editors, are there any couple little strategies that you think have worked really well, for photographers in the past, other than just their work is outstanding?
Brad Smith 52:16
I think that what makes you stand out is and it's hard to kind of really pinpoint, but that's where a really strong portfolio and someone's helped you edit that portfolio and really put together a strong way where you have no weak links in your chain. That is where you stand out because you only have top of the line Wow, one image after another is really impressing somebody and leaving and memorable impact on them. number one. Number two, they want to work with you because they like the person you are and you have a reputation and people can vouch for you and you aren't this person that's high maintenance, or is going to make waves because that all sounds good from an artist point of view that I'm doing this and I stand up for this. And that's all great. But I'm hiring you to go to somebody's house to photograph them. Who am I hiring the guy who's late and like is rude on the phone and hung up on me or can't writing complete sentences in an email or the person who looks like a decent adult that can represent me when I go because I'm probably not going on the shoot. Right? That's the other thing photographers, they know this. It's not like you have to remind them, but certainly young photographers, chances are I'm never going on the photoshoot with you. I've hired more photographers that I've never met in my life that I've hired photographers that actually have met. So you know, because they're all over the country. I don't necessarily meet them, but I hire them. And I'm taking a risk, but I'm calling you and asking do you know anybody who could do this type of thing could go to a hospital and be quiet and sensitive to the environment or that type of thing, right. And these things are really important. And the mistake you would make is that if you think it's only your photography, that's getting you the job, then that's the mistake you make, if you think that's what speaking for you, and it's the only thing you have, it's definitely one of the assets that I'm hiring, but I'm hiring somebody that I want to work with, I'm hiring somebody that I enjoy talking to, that I know isn't going to embarrass me on a job that I know is going to represent me and my company in a professional way, when they get hired, I'm not going to hire somebody who I know for a fact has a history of complaining about art directors and photo editors being stupid on Facebook, you know, right? And there's plenty of that going on. And if that's your thing, good for you. I'm never gonna hire you ever, because of what you're doing there, you're going to be doing with me, because at some point, you're going to be disappointed. And if that's how you handle yourself, I don't want you working for me. So I think the key thing is to remember that your photography is certainly really high up there. But if you think it's the only thing that's going to get you hired, you're wrong.
Brad Smith 54:48
Well, I think that's a good lesson in that we are an extension of you. So we have to represent you as the brand as well as the publication. That's that's very important. I think it's a really good
Michael Der 54:59
Lesson, you did answer a lot of my next questions, which were what were your pet peeves about photographers that are reaching out to you? So you kind of already did some of that they're going back to the visuals, though, is there anything that you see a lot of maybe it's a trend, maybe it's something that's just overkill that it was very cool the first time but now the 30th time or the 100th time, it's just kind of old hat. Is there anything that you're seeing visually, that is, you know, no longer unique and becoming a little bit tired?
Brad Smith 55:23
That has happened X number of times over the 40 years? I've been doing okay, you know, and it's happened. There's, there's cross processing back in the day, and there's this and that, you know, I mean, it's like, that's kind of trends, they come and go, and that's fine. They're fun for a while. Wow, look, a fisheye lens. Wow, that's really awesome. Once, it's not awesome. So then, right now I see, we know who Mark Peterson is right? The journalists, then photo journalist, and he is wonderful is, is a friend of mine. He's a wonderful, lovely man. And he's really talented. And there are a lot of people out there that have kind of taken his style of really harsh flash and the way he's done it is like, still amazing and wonderful. And I never get tired of looking at it. But the imitators of that thinking, This is what people want, or whatever. It's like, that's one of the things that and I even see that in wrestling, not my wrestling, but like independent circuit wrestling, where they're in a small place with like, 20 people or something. And they using this like really bold flash on camera thing. And it's like, it doesn't really work. For me, that's one of the things that just like I've seen this before, I don't really need to see it again. And I think that if you're doing it for the right reasons, it'll play out for you. If you kind of thought of this, and this is your thing, and you really like it or even even if you saw it somewhere else, but you really have cultivated into making it your own, organically that'll just kind of come out and it'll work. But if all you're doing is copying, because you think this is what people want now, then it won't work. Yeah. And I used to have a guy that worked for me shooting sports, and whatever appeared in the paper on Tuesday, which was from an a Monday event. When I would send him to a game on Tuesday, he would try to reshoot what ran in the paper on Tuesday for the Wednesday paper because it ran it's like, well, it only ran because we liked it. I'm not running it because I want you to shoot it again. But that's how he kind of thought, right? Like he's already seen it. And that was going to run again. I think if you pick it for that reason, or choose that kind of style for that reason, it won't work because it's not it's not sincere. Yeah. Does that make sense does, you know any of those things will be kind of cool and work if it's really sincere and you like it. But as you said, You can't stick with it forever, you have to kind of know when to evolve and let go. And as an artist, you should always be doing that anyway, and not just based upon editorial or commercial trends on what works, you should just be doing that as a natural artist and a creative person.
Michael Der 57:45
It just got me thinking about the word style, as you were just talking about this. Photographers always feel like they have either a style or they're trying to get to a style, is that something that you feel photo editors or DPS or whoever attach themselves to? Or does that something that they have to kind of detach themselves from in order to be accessible and find out okay, this is really the the image that hits and not go into? Well, this kind of feels like my style.
Brad Smith 58:12
I think that what happens when you have that style. And when art directors like it, especially are creative directors and so forth, like a style. I think it's it's a comfort zone, it's like, I know what I'm going to get here, and is very comfortable for me. And it may not be setting new trends. But I know it's not going to be a failure, because I already know ahead of time, it's going to work because I have a visual idea to some degree of what it's going to look like premeditated, I kind of know, that's the comfort level of it. And that's, that's your unwillingness to take a risk and staying in that comfort zone speaking to. And we all have that in all kinds of aspects of our life, forget the photography, we have it and all kinds of things, right? It makes sense. But the reward, to step outside that box and try something new, a new food, or a new kind of music, or go visit a city or talk to people you never spoke to before, for whatever reason. I mean, the reward for that risk is almost always so purely great that it's worth doing all the time. Doing it just for the sake of doing it isn't really the reasoning either. But there's something in the middle there.
Michael Der 59:23
You know, photographers often get anxiety before projects before shoot, you know, it's it's mostly just a fear of what if the image doesn't hit? What if the work doesn't resonate with people? Do you ever get anxiety before a production any type of project even no matter how small or how large but particularly how large You know, when you get the big events? Is there anything that gives you that anxiety and what do you do to kind of combat that?
Brad Smith 59:46
Yeah, well, first of all, I would say that it's not often it's always photographers get that anxiety because even though we're all in these other fields like photo editing, and I'm talking about or renting equipment or managing a studio, you can't deny all joking
Brad Smith 1:00:00
side, who does the heavy lifting here? You know, where, where's all this stuff that we're working for come from? It's from that really talented photographer, right? And I've always said, you want to know how to get great photographs, you hire great photographers, it's pretty simple, you know, and it's all the pressure that was on them. Let's not be kidding ourselves. So there is anxiety. And there's understandably and they almost always produce, which is really amazing and rewarding and fun. But then on the other end of the photo editor, yeah, there's always the opportunity to kind of think about the fact that this is not going to work out, I think it's probably not going to work. Because of this, it won't work. Because of that I have all these reasons, it's not going to work in my head. And the reality is that, then the photographer is no longer really the problem, unless that's just your thing is to blame the photographer. But at the end of the day, I could blame him and said, he or she did this, it's still my responsibility to produce a photograph. All that is is a story for me to tell somebody, well, that's not what happened. And then like, that's great. Your job was still to get here at four o'clock, I don't care that somebody ran into you. My job is to produce photographs and get them to a client. So I think that photo editors in general, pray and hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And they kind of like get that in their head. Because chances are, I've hired use during some normal hour of the day. I've called you a 10. In the morning, I've emailed you some directions at noon, I check to see if you're okay, at three. And at seven, you go and shoot it. And at seven o'clock, guess what I'm doing? I'm watching TV.
Brad Smith 1:01:33
I'm having dinner with my wife, seven o'clock. And then at 830. I hope there's a text that comes and say it went really well talk to you tomorrow. I mean, that's kind of the process. Right? Right. And it almost always does be honest with you. I think that the key is to understand, what is my contingency plan? Is this a one off? Am I never gonna see this person ever again? And I can't photograph them ever again. Dude, did I pick up archived photos or stock photos of this person just in case the photoshoot doesn't work out? Did I prepare myself in that way for it? But yeah, I think you do worry a little bit because because you care, you know, and you know, you want it to work out? Well, you want the photographer to have enjoyed it and work with you again, you want your client, whoever it is you work for to enjoy it, and want to hire you again or keep you on or whatever. And you want people to be proud of you. And the work you do. It's a natural inclination, right? So there is that anxiety. But you know, for the most part, I have to tell you 99 out of 100 times, it always works out for me. So
Michael Der 1:02:35
are there any mistakes that you've made over the course of your career that really stand out as a really big learning lesson, something that you've now since done everything in your power to avoid doing that again?
Brad Smith 1:02:46
Yeah, I would say that the two mistakes I kind of made. One was actually an editing error. And one was more kind of a long term error. The editing error is what I literally made a mistake by not pulling out what should have been the best photo from a set of slides from a car race. And it was this somebody crossed the finish line of a race and they stuck their hand out the window and did like a little fist sign or thumbs up or something like that. And I don't really know what happened, I can't really think about it now and think, Oh, I thought it wasn't any good or something. I just missed it. I was getting it. This was when I had slides, light table and a loop. And I just missed it. And that guy, that photographer came to the office like three days later, when he saw because it's all shipped back to them at that time, right? They get a box of slides in the mail. And he went back over it. And he saw that photo and said, Are you kidding me. And he came back in the office and I was so scared and humiliated. And like, you cannot be more humble than a guy driving up from New Jersey all the way to Manhattan to show your boss a photo that you missed. But you know, that's not a fun conversation. And I gotta tell you, from that point on, I was like, I am not taking this for granted, this guy worked really hard for these photographs. And I didn't pay enough attention to it. It's my fault completely. I will never disrespect the work he does ever again by not whatever it was that I missed it for a reason. talking to somebody or not paying attention or watching TV or whatever. I won't ever do that again. I'll give it and I'll never miss that photo ever again. Then the other one is more of kind of, I wish I had kind of mistake and I wish I had kind of understood the long game. And what I mean by that is there were so many of those mentors. I look back now and see how valuable Kathy Ryan was and Leon the font and Michelle McNally and Karen malarkey and those people and Phil Jackie and cetera. But at the time, it was like this is serving me right this minute. I can't see how it's gonna affect me 10 years from now or whatever, I can only feel it like this week. It's helping me because you're young. Right? And you don't think in terms of long term you think of like Thursday. So you know, Thursday's a long term.
Brad Smith 1:04:59
You're young. So, you know, I'm, I'm thinking that I wish I had listened to what they were saying a little more as they were kind of mentoring in a way that they're working with you and stuff. And I picked up things, but I wish I had appreciated it more and paid more attention to it. And it took me longer as a result to be part of what I am now very comfortable in, which is the photo community count. But it took me longer to get there than I wish it had. Because I was just worried about the day that was in front of me, instead of realizing, oh, this is a career, what am I going to do in 20 years. So now I'm going to still be in this relationship with these people that I've known, and they can help me and now I get it, like everybody else, you know, now I get it. But I wish I had paid more attention to the obvious things in front of me. And that's, that's what I would tell young photographers and photo editors is. And it doesn't necessarily have to be some person who's 40 years older than you, it could be somebody two years old or whatever. It's just a mentor, as a mentor, you know, right? Like, it's, it's a really good thing to have, because we're in this together. And you can learn a lot from people if you just kind of take a breath and put your ego aside and listen a little bit. So I wish I'd done more of that. In the beginning, especially.
Michael Der 1:06:09
We've just got a few more questions here. And, you know, this has been just such an outstanding wealth of knowledge here. What's your favorite project that you've been a part of? And what is a project that you would like to take on down the road?
Brad Smith 1:06:22
Well, I would say my favorite project, I worked at the New York Times, and I worked with a guy named Alan Schwartz and Alan Schwartz was a writer at the times and the sports section when I worked there, and he basically, he won't get any credit now because it's all kind of all Mish mashed and blown together. And everybody's claiming credit for this and that, but he's the one that really pushed the NFL to admit that head traumas were an issue before he kind of started talking about all of the concussion issues and, and all of the players that are dying, had all these issues with their brain when they left him for science. And it's like, this guy's got the brain of a 19 year old and he's 38 years old or whatever, you know that? Yeah. And it's horrible situation, and the NFL pretended it wasn't happening. And in the same way that big tobacco pretended, you know, lung cancer clearly is not connected to smoking. That's ridiculous. And that's what they literally said to Congress. And that's kind of what the NFL said, they're not connected, right? We have scientists that have told us this. And he did all these stories. And I worked with him on these long term stories for like two years with him doing all that work all the photos for that story. And they may not have been the greatest photos in the world, to be honest with you, because it's about head traumas. But it was certainly significant. And it changed things. And eventually, the NFL long as it took came around. And they changed the way they play football and the way they'd have equipment and the protocols for head traumas all was shifted, in part not completely because of but in significant part, because of guy like Alan Schwartz, who wrote these stories, and to be a part of that was really, incredibly fulfilling and a wonderful thing. And I've had so many great photo projects that I've worked on that are more photo centered, you know, it's like setting up, you know, a peace treaty signing with the arafat in Clinton and everybody at the White House on the lawn and getting photos. That's pretty significant. and stuff like that, you know, that's kind of a big deal. So, I mean, those types of things. were fun, too. But as far as something that really resonated, you know, and had more long term effects on people that you'll never meet in your life, it was the story with Alan Schwartz.
Brad Smith 1:08:27
And then what would I like to do? The funny thing is, I got into this business, because I'm in high school, and this is a absolute True story. I'm in high school, and I'm sitting next to people and I wasn't very good student in high school at all. I was probably taking a class for the second time, I'm sure. And I was like, sitting there talking to them. And they're talking about what college they're going to go to and I'm like, oh, college. Yeah, right. Like everything is going over my head because I haven't paid attention for 12 years. And then they're talking about what do you want to do for a living? You know, it's like, they're like talking like law school and med school and, and I'm not kidding, I blurted out, I want to be the guy that picks pictures that go in a calendar. That's what I want. Wow. I like that literally was what I thought would be the greatest job on Earth. Is he like 15 sunsets and picture that the 12 that look the best and you stick one in each month and you're done. It's like, what can be better than that? Like, you know, so like, I thought, the best job ever. I tell you that story, because to this day, I've never photo edited a calendar.
Brad Smith 1:09:27
And I keep waiting for somebody
Brad Smith 1:09:31
photo editor for our calendar on Barnes in New England.
Brad Smith 1:09:36
Or waterfalls in Iceland. Right? Oh, I haven't been able to do it yet. But that's that's my golden goose right there is I'm waiting for a big calendar company to give me a call.
Michael Der 1:09:48
That's hysterical. I mean, you seem so close to pure manifestation though. Like that's as good as you can get. Yeah,
Brad Smith 1:09:55
that's very true. And you know, I'm not appreciative and not
Brad Smith 1:10:00
aware of where I stand as far as being able to have done so many things I've had literally, I've traveled around the world, all on photos. Yeah, you know, I mean, literally, sir, circled the globe a couple of times. I've been all over the place. I gave a gift on behalf of the president united states and Nelson Mandela and a receiving line. It's like this. That's so ridiculous. What am I doing that for? And that's like, there's something wrong with this picture, right? I'm standing on the sidelines during a Super Bowl, you know, and I'm like, I'm like, holy cow. This is the kickoff of the Super Bowl. Yeah. You know, Derek Jeter is falling off a ball and batting practice. And I'm throwing it back to the pitching coach. While I'm waiting for a Yankee World Series to start, it's just out of the world ridiculous the things I've been able to do. And so nobody's, nobody's been luckier than I am, and happier about what they do than I am. It's just like, it's, I feel like it's just still a dream. So lucky to do it. So it's been, it's been a pretty wonderful ride. And I hope everybody loves their job half as much as I do.
Michael Der 1:11:00
It comes across as very evident. And that actually answered my next question, which was, what is the best part about what you do? So I'll just go to the final question is, what is the worst part about what you do?
Brad Smith 1:11:10
Oh, well, Hmm, that's a good question. And I would say that the, I would say that the worst part about it and not getting into like, you know, hiring and firing that kind of stuff that obviously has its own issues. And that's, that's a horrible thing. But I think the worst part about what I do as a photo editor over my career in general is, is telling a photographer having a conversation photographer, that a photo they took, didn't make it into whatever that publication was, either the story didn't run at all, or they chose somebody else's photo, or whatever. That's a really difficult conversation to have. And
Brad Smith 1:11:48
at some points in your life, especially in the beginning, you have that conversation by shifting all the blame before other people, right? for other people that photographer will never meet. It's like, it's all their fault, and stuff. But later, you kind of like say, Well, how did I contribute to this? You know, did I not fight for it enough? Did I pick the wrong photos or whatever. And, you know, I realize how hard photographers work, they work ridiculously hard. And I've spent a lot of time in sports. And other than conflicts, you know, around the world. I don't think any photographers physically work harder than sports photographers. It's like, incredible soccer and football, especially huge fields running up and down, you know, it's like, it's not for the meek, it's really, really a labor intensive job. And the men and the women that do it, my hat's off to you, because it's really, really intense. And stuffs happening in real time, it doesn't get happening, it doesn't do it. Again, there's no do overs, it's happening at a rate of speed that you can't even comprehend. Because we're not professional athletes, you can't even understand how high they jump and how hard they hit and how fast they throw. It's like off the charts, and you're taking photos of it and in real time, right. So knowing how hard they work and appreciating it, if something doesn't work in their favor, and it doesn't run, that's a heartbreaking conversation, especially if they thought they had the cover or, you know, it was a lead photo, but they picked somebody else, or whatever, you know, and it's,
Brad Smith 1:13:10
that's, that's a, that's a gut wrenching for me, you know, as far as photography goes, kind of, because it's disappointing. on their end, they were looking for something, you know, they thought they get the cover to Sports Illustrated, or the front page of the New York Times or, or whatever it is, you know, and when it doesn't work, that's a hard phone call to make, and I don't really enjoy it, but it's a necessary phone call now I look at it as something that can build to make them better for the next time. Before I just looked at it as a massive disappointment on your end. And like, how can I get out of this phone call fast enough? And how can I move on to something else? You know, because it was like, you know, telling your mom, you got to do it.
Brad Smith 1:13:48
I gotta go out and play. It's kind of your goal is to get out of the house. But now it's like, you know, well, let's talk about it. What can we do different than next time. So there is kind of a little reward at the end of it. But, you know, I know how hard they work. And I really want them all to succeed as much as possible, because they deserve it.
Michael Der 1:14:06
Well, I greatly appreciate that optimistic spin on it, you know, at the end there. So, Brad, thank you so much for making the time today. This was an absolute pleasure. You not only shed some light on what you do, but also you showed us that you can still lead a visually rich life without picking up a camera and I think that's a very important thing to note. I do want to remind everybody where they can find you and your Services website is Brad Smith creative.com summit workshops.com. There are three dates available for this month, March 16, to 18th and 20th. I believe it's called the art of photo editing with Brad Smith and a group of accomplished speakers such as Jose Lopez, Jason Myers and Jim server.
Brad Smith 1:14:47
And we've added a few more we have Linda Epstein from the US State Department is coming with us to talk about archiving from the State Department so that Maria McAllister is a big photo editor in New York in New York City and she's going to
Brad Smith 1:15:00
Come talk about how to selection process and stuff. So it's gonna be a really good workshop. It's exciting. And I enjoy just talking about photo editing. And I always thought the photo editing would be a certain group of people that just want to be photo editors. But in fact, it's, it's a larger group than that's a lot of photographers that just kind of work in a silo. And they just want to know how photo edit even works. And then right other people thinking, oh, maybe I could do this part time or whatever, this it's a pretty broad audience. And it's three days, two hours each day, it's an easy class to take. It's a great zoom class, a lot of great visuals, and through summit workshops, it's a lot of fun.
Michael Der 1:15:32
Wonderful, I'll link that in the show notes for everyone as well. Brad, just, you know, the sheer fact that you have made your insane wealth of information and knowledge accessible to everybody, like photographers like myself, I think is such a credit to you. Really appreciate that. Are there any last words that you'd like to leave the audience? Any call to action or anything to promote?
Brad Smith 1:15:54
Yeah, I would just say that I have like two things to say. One is that if you love a photograph, and it means something to you, then don't let anybody convince you otherwise, it has value, you know, and again, I can't tell you the number of times like you have, I guarantee you, family members coming up to, hey, do you like this photograph that they took, and they're like, you know, just your family members, like, I works these like sells cars, or whatever? And you're like, my answer has always been Do you like this photograph? He goes, Yeah, I love the way it looks nice. And my mom looks nice. I said, then it's the best photograph ever. And I mean, and that's how I kind of feel about it. You know, it's like, don't get bogged down in all the details that people have to worry about and stuff. If it means something to you and the like it just embrace the value that it's giving you right, then yeah. And then the other thing I would say is, thank you to you for putting on this show and sharing information with people, they're starting out. And it's a huge, huge value for our community in general. And it's something people need. And you know, so many photographers come out of photo school, knowing how to work their cameras, and then that's it. They don't know anything about the other part, because that's really not part of the curriculum. And they've got to find that information Fast and Furious. And this is a good resource for them. So thank you for doing what you do. And it's an honor that you invited me, I really appreciate it.
Michael Der 1:17:10
Thank you so much. It means the world to me. So there you have it, folks, that is our farewell queue for today. Entrepreneurs season one continues next week with new content launching every Friday. Thank you once again to Brad Smith for jumping on the pod and to everyone else for tuning in. My name is Michael Der I'm out for now and have a great rest of your day. And I'll catch you guys next week.
Michael Der 1:17:33
Thank you for listening to entrepreneurs. You've made it all the way to the end, and I can't thank you enough for being part of this amazing community. If there's any part of this episode that resonated with you if there's anything that you heard that might inspire you to action, please tag us on Instagram at entrepreneurs pod and let us know your favorite moment of this episode. And for those of you who have questions for the show and would like to hear it featured in a future episode, go to speak pipe comm slash entrepreneurs and record your question that will be answered either by myself or one of my expert guests. It can be about art, business or life. Just go to speak pipe.com slash entrepreneurs and record your question. Thank you again for tuning in and have a great rest of your day.
Photo Editor / Vice President for Photography for the WWE
Brad Smith is an award-winning photo editor with over 35 years of experience in visual storytelling. He’s worked in the sports industry as Director of Photography at Time Inc. Sports Publications, twice garnering Sports Illustrated the Henry Luce Award for Magazine Cover of the Year, and as Senior Sports Photo Editor at The New York Times, receiving First Place in Photo Editing for Picture of the Year (POY) on several occasions. He’s managed live edits for some of the most visually stimulating sports events in the world, coordinating and editing photography for numerous Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, and Final Fours. He has also delivered historical presidential moments as the Associate Director of Photography for the White House during the Clinton administration, and covered events with unparalleled import, such as 9/11. Currently he’s the Vice President for Photography for the WWE, a massive entertainment company, overseeing the global photography division.
As a consultant, Smith has worked with a wide variety of clients. He created the Photo Division for the XFL on behalf of the league, securing a network of photographers for each team and establishing digital fee structures, XFL photo contracts, and working templates for each team. He also assisted in negotiating XFL’s syndication agreement with Getty Images and continued to act as primary consultant for all still visuals related to the league. Additionally, Smith has been a consultant to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, creating a template that developed an infrastructure for a national database of sports photographers, as well as a consultant to Sony, assisting their effort to increase their market share of United States sports photographers.
Smith is an actively supportive member of the photography community. He’s on the Advisory Board at Photo Start, a Kenya-based nonprofit team of photographers, artists, and teachers who provide opportunities for impoverished youth, and he’s on the Creative Board at NYC Salt, an organization that empowers underserved NYC youth through photography, videos, and exposure to the visual industry. Formerly, Smith served on the Board of Directors for the National Press Photographers Association, today’s leading advocacy for visual journalists, and the renowned photojournalism seminar, The Eddie Adams Workshop.
He is on the faculty at FOTOfusion at Palm Beach Photographic Centre, Summit Workshops held in various locations worldwide, and the annual Southeastern Photojournalism Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.