In his hectic life, beauty and celebrity photographer Matthew Jordan Smith depends on the lights he uses for work. “My passion for photography lies in the ability to freeze a moment that’s never coming back. Everything is evolving and changing around us, but with a lens and good lights at hand, I can create and capture a moment and make it last forever.”
Matthew Jordan Smith lives in Tokyo and leads a life with a lot of travelling around the world as a beauty and celebrity photographer.
“To stay relevant and create beautiful images, I need to keep moving, constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. The moment I find myself doing the same thing over and over, that's when I know it's time for me to change things.” Matthew says.
Beauty is in the ever changing
Matthew chose beauty photography because of his desire to show a different perspective on traditional beauty and to capture moments that will never come back.
“That’s what beauty is to me; something fleeting and ever changing. You can find it in different things: the sun shining through a window, someone’s smile, water on a plant – it’s there for a second and then it’s gone forever. I’m very fortunate to be able to catch and create these things with my lens, and with the right light I know I can create something fantastic.”
The light sets the feeling
Matthew often uses the Profoto D2 because it is dependable, exceptionally fast and very easy to control in terms of output, power, weight and speed.
“I love all kinds of lights but the D2 gives me such a wide range of possibilities, and because of its speed, it is easy to freeze one moment and get a slight variation of that particular moment quickly,” Matthew says.
Bridging the gap with celebrity photography
Matthew mainly does beauty and celebrity photography, two disciplines that are quite different although the goal is always the same.
“If I’m shooting a celebrity I want to show the best side of that person and create a portrait that is truly iconic. I like to think of it as the photo becoming the way to bridge the gap between the viewer and the celebrity, a way to connect and come closer. For commercial clients it’s different, it’s a shot where there is a product or a place I need to promote. In these cases, I aim to make the shot so special that the viewer will stop for a second when they see it. In both types of shoots I try to go beyond the client’s needs and wishes and create something extraordinary,” Matthew says.
The tools are evident for the right light
Finding the right and most beautiful light can sometimes be challenging.
“When planning for a shoot I always make sure I have several modifiers including a beauty dish with a grid. The benefit of the new Profoto Softlight Kit is the ability to go anywhere with all the tools I need in one convenient package. And now I can have my softlight reflector, my grid and my diffuser in one neat durable but soft padded carry bag. I love that I have the option to carry it or hang it over my shoulder! I've wanted a case for my softlight reflectors for a long time, and now I have it.”
Dream big and create greater
After having accepted the brief from a client Matthew puts together a moodboard or lookbook with images from his own life or Pinterest to visualize his vision of the shoot for the client.
“My motto when I work is: dream big! What I mean by this is to always strive to use the best of my creativity, because I’m quite convinced that the more creative I am, the more creative I become. Like Maya Angelou once said, creativity creates more creativity.”
Shoot 1: D2 + Softlight Reflector
“For this headshot, I wanted to have a light that was softish but not too soft. I'm not a fan of the softbox look at all. I love the feeling of soft but with more punch and clarity, this is one of the main reasons why I love the softlight modifier so much. I often use it only for this reason. The bare dish gives me the clarity and punch I want.”
Shoot 2: D2 + Softlight Reflector with Diffuser
“There are times when I want to take a bit of the edge off without compromising the look I love so much with the bare beauty dish. In this image below, I added the Profoto Diffuser just the right amount, so that there’s just a hint of diffusion. That small difference actually makes a big difference.”
Shoot 3: D2 + Softlight Reflector with Grid
“This is one of my favorite ways to use the softlight reflector. The grid is a very important part of my work because it helps me put the light exactly where I want it. It also gives me a more dramatic look. With the grid, my images become sexier, moodier and stand out. Having the right tools is so important and I am so happy I have all the tools I need in one easy package.”
Shoot 4: Two D2 + Softlight Reflectors with Grids
“In this image below, I used two white beauty dishes. One on camera from the left as my main light, and then another behind the models, also from the left. The purpose of the back light was to give just a slight “kiss of light” on the back edge to help separate and enhance the beauty of the image. Without the back light the image seems a bit conventional. By adding the back light with a grid I can control my light exactly the way I want and give it the look and feel to grab the viewer's attention.”
Shoot 5: Catching the feeling of movement
“Tokyo is a city that's always on the move. When I first arrived here, I started working more with movement and this image evolved from life in Japan. I wanted to show the feeling of movement but still have a sharp image, so I began playing with rear curtain sync, using several lights. On my main light, I use a grid so that it’s only going where I need it: at the end of the model’s movement. The first part of the exposure is where the model moves. The movement is captured by putting gels over my lights and using them only as an ambient source. This way I get to capture movement and then freeze it at the end with my Profoto D2 strobe head. I love shooting this way and plan to do more with movement in the near future.”
Inspiration is all around us
“I take my inspiration from life itself! I find it in small things in my everyday life in Tokyo, or when I travel and experience new things and meet new and interesting people. I believe that as an artist you need to get out and live a full life - that’s when inspiration to create hits you. Inspiration is around us all the time, it’s just a matter of knowing where and how to look for it, Matthew says.
Matthew Jordan Smith’s tips for beauty photography
- Test your modifiers. Before you go on a job you have to test and try how your modifiers best fit your style and gear, this way you will understand all options.
- Don’t ever guess! Measure your light and have the right exposer. It saves time and will make you look more professional.
This is Matthew Jordan Smith
Hometown: Born and raised in New York City, currently living in Tokyo
Type of photography: Beauty and celebrity photos
What I wish to achieve with my photos: Iconic pictures that will last forever
Life motto: Dream big! The more creativity you use, the more it grows
Who is my role model/inspiration: Gordon Parks who took powerful, iconic, beautiful images