Take Stock Of Your Brand’s Photography

The Singer

The journey seems simple enough to embark upon, based on a theme or key message, you seek out an image that will best match your layout.

You hit up a stock photography website and begin keying in crafty queries like “team collaborating”, “woman on laptop”, or “friends having dinner”… it all starts out innocently enough. But you’ve been down this road before and here you are again, spending hours on this mind-numbing exercise of making a weak, off-brand, image fit your powerful concept.

33portfolio june 08

As a tool to get you in the neighborhood, stock photography has a role, but to sell you the right house in that neighborhood, it is a poor agent. Realize that once you have made the crucial decisions for your creative campaign or initiative stylistically; it is only the beginning of a set of decisions that will create a unique and own-able experience.

Kelly as a blonde

It is now time to align on talented resources, including a director of photography who understands the nuances of bringing together the right talent including subjects, settings, lighting, wardrobe, makeup and even video to capture your story.

Beckman Roth Ogozalek

This well-honed process also includes the appropriate preproduction meetings and a strategic roadmap to capture any and all assets that will inform your library, so you can unfurl your story or campaign efficiently and logically with your brand’s own personality firmly at the wheel.

CRB Rockville

Especially key to your campaign is the image library and how generous a photo shoot can be to provide enough images to remain flexible for your overall needs.

Kline Lifestyle

In summary, stock can serve its purpose for comps and ad lobs, but for authentic, on-brand campaigns, nothing works like a custom photo library.


Zave Smith



Posted in advertising, Art, Art & Design, Blogroll, Business, children, Commercial Photography, Creativity, digital photography, lifestyle photography, Micro Stock, modeling, non profits, Philadelphia, Photography., portraits, Seeing, stock photography, Tourism, Uncategorized, video, zave smith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Mom and daughters

First portrait of 2019.
Posted in advertising, Advertising Week, Art, Art & Design, beauty, Commercial Photography, Creativity, digital photography, documentary Photography, family, lifestyle photography, Philadelphia, Photography., portraits, Uncategorized, winter, zave smith | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Portraits: Artist of the Month. Ricardo​ Rivera

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I first met Ricardo Rivera at an Art Directors Club event. I had been enjoying the evening when I met an equally inebriated Ricardo Rivera.  Here was an artist whose methods and work were completely different than mine and most other artists I know.  His canvases were both huge and kinetic featuring large outdoor gardens, entire sides of buildings, and clubs filled with dancers and people from all walks of life enjoying themselves to the max.

You can see his work at https://www.klip.tv/contact/

Our Artist Portraits live here: https://www.zavesmith.com/Personal-Projects/Instagram-Portrait-Series/1

Posted in advertising, Art, Art & Design, beauty, Business, Commercial Photography, Creativity, digital photography, documentary Photography, lifestyle photography, portraits, Uncategorized, zave smith | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portraits of Susan and Fritz

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Susan and Fitz are two retired school teachers who bought and renovated a one-room schoolhouse in Bucks County and filled it with art that they collected on during their retirement travels. They just charmed me.


#portraits, #philadelphia, #retired, #art, #school, #buckscounty, #charming, #personalities, #love, #marriage, #asmp, #workbook, #renovations,

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Amateur or Professional

Philadelphia’s Dragon Festival 2018

Amateur, professional, why does it matter?  Both can create outstanding work and both can create garbage.  In fact, in my career, I have manufactured both a few outstanding images and a lot of stuff that was less visually inspiring.

Often, images that might look less interesting to see were often very interesting to create since they can at times require solving some complex technical issues or even though the images seem simple, they really helped a client out.

When I graduated school with my BFA, I had a real attitude about “commercial photographers”.  I was an “ARTIST”!

But with marriage and kids, and therefore the need to earn some real dollars, I pursued a commercial career.  It has been mainly a blast.  I have met and worked with incredible and creative people.  I have learned a ton about other businesses, institutions and what not.  I have traveled on somebody else’s dime and along the way, I made images that helped people smile.

I know whom I am, I was never on the “A” list but I am a strong B to B+.  I earned a bit less than I desired but that could be said for many of us in many careers.  I raised to incredible kids and sustained a healthy loving marriage.  But most importantly, after 30 plus years, I am still working and still enjoying it all.  And I am still growing as a photographer.

In my mind, photography is not about gear, earnings, or prestige, though all those come into play.  Photography is about creating images that help us see and understand what it means to be a human being.  That pursuit, understanding, is well worth the trip.

Zave Smith

Posted in advertising, Art, Art & Design, Blogroll, Commercial Photography, Creativity, digital photography, lifestyle photography, modeling, Philadelphia, Photography., stock photography, Tourism, Travel, zave smith | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Headshot, Portrait or Lifestyle Photography?

A middle age women working out at Valley Forge National Park.



Headshot, Portrait or Lifestyle Photography. What is the difference?

This seems like a very simple straightforward question that usually requires a bit of clarification. What is my client really asking for? A headshot, portrait or a business lifestyle shoot?

There are simple but important differences between these three types of commercial photography and that difference is the intent.



The reason that people value a headshot enough to pay for one, is that they need to look good.  A headshot is created to attract business. Clients requesting head shots want to look good and display an air of confidence.  My goal when shooting a headshot is not only to find the angle and lighting that flatters my subject but to help them relax, be themselves and most importantly, feel confident in front of the camera.

To help my subjects look both good and confident I have learned to actively listen, to be curious and open my heart to my subject’s stories.  While the pace of a headshot shoot only gives me a moment or two with each subject I can still engage my subjects and allow them to feel a sense of their own accomplishments which gives them confidence and the glow of success. With the very shy I might have to give them a few pointers on how to stand and look at a camera, but I tend to keep this to a minimum.

I also find that most people look their best when they are moving. I don’t require my subjects to stand in one spot. I give them space to move around so they can express themselves. Still photography does not mean someone can’t be moving. Do you know somebody who is in a grumpy mood?  Ask them to do three jumping jacks. I assure you that they will be smiling when they are done.



Ricardo Rivera of Klip


Portraits are about revelation.  A good portrait allows the viewer in to learn, discover and feel like that they have met my subject.  While my approach and methods have a lot in common with headshots, the pace is much slower. The shoot is more introspective. The background stops being just a background and takes on a strong supporting role carrying the viewer’s eyes to where I want them to go. The lighting creates a mood that helps reveal the subject’s personality. The background is personal and gives clues about whom we are meeting in this photograph.  Good portraits feel intimate and are an interesting interplay between the viewer and the subject.



A middle age women working out at Valley Forge National Park.

With lifestyle photography, the subject is the action. The goal of creating lifestyle photography is to show people, looking like they are having a good time, doing something cool. When we think of the word “cool” we don’t usually picture an accountant sitting at a desk, yet, often that is the job we are being hired to do, make that office worker look cool.   When shooting lifestyle photography, we like to show clean and clutter free spaces. The lighting feels open, and a  strong graphic composition can turn the person at a desk into a cover story.  The best lifestyle shots have elements of portraiture mixed in.  When a sense of humanity and personality is added to our lifestyle photographs, the scenes become more relatable and authentic.  A good lifestyle photograph makes you think this is an exciting place to be.

Like all art, all these ideas and rules are meant to, and often, are broken.  Like how a poet uses grammar, it is nice to have a starting foundation to build our visual poems.

Headshot, portrait or lifestyle? The difference is intent.  Are we tasked with flattering somebody, revealing our subject or giving a sense of what life is like at that company or institution?  Once we know what the intent is, a photographic plan can easily follow.


Zave Smith



Posted in advertising, Art, Art & Design, Blogroll, Commercial Photography, digital photography, lawyers, lifestyle photography, modeling, Philadelphia, Photography., portraits, stock photography, Uncategorized, zave smith | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Evening Of Sofa Size Portraits


We were tucked into a small corner, next to a bar with 200 people milling about. The Art Directors Club of Philadelphia had asked us to create portraits of all the attendees of this year’s Louix’s Awards. This was not a step and repeat or goofy photo booth. Our mission, in the middle of this chaos, was to build a portrait studio and create images that were both visually compelling and revealed something about our subjects. We would have a minute or two per person.

This was fifth time I had set up a full studio in the middle of a chaotic event. On the previous occasions I shot in B&W on white seamless paper, a set up that allows for easy control of exposure and shadows. I did not want to repeat myself. Inspired by the Vanity Fair Oscar Party Portraits, I wanted to move away from a high key look to do something more glamorous.

My business and design partner, Michael McDonald and I wanted to create a set that felt regal and afforded opportunity for visual variety. We also wanted a set that inspired our sitters to let their guard down. We knew that we would have to fit this set into an area not my bigger than a walk in closet. We found a nice divan sofa on Overstock.com, we then headed down to fabric row and bought 40 yards of a rich purple fabric for the background.

Hanging the fabric and arranging the lighting was challenging in a space that measured twelve foot wide and maybe fifteen foot long. We needed enough space between the divan sofa and the background that shadows would not be a problem. We needed enough width to cover group shots and not have our light stands poking into the frame. We wanted enough length that we could shoot with a longer portrait lens. None of this happened.

I like a bit of chaos on my shoots. It helps focus the mind and induces creativity. Here I had all the chaos I needed. My subjects often could not hear my directions above the noise of the band and the chatter. If I tried to use a lens longer than a 50mm, I ended up in the middle of the bar’s drink line. When suddenly I had a group instead of a single subject and wanted to move the key light to cover them I would have to ask people waiting in line for a drink to move. I had no time to check my histograms so I spent the evening guessing my exposures when I had to adjust the lights.

Ninety minutes and 84 unique portraits later the awards show began. It was time to pack it up. Within a week we posted the portraits on our Xhilarate website. Over a hundred unique viewers stopped to look during the first 3 days with 63% of them being first time visitors to our website. About half the those viewers spent time looking at the rest of work. This year Louix’s Awards Show had about 200 guests. I am sure that at more than half of them will remember us by name as crazy guys in the corner who create interesting portraits.


Posted in Ad Age, advertising, Advertising Week, American Dream, Art, Art & Design, Commercial Photography, Creativity, digital photography, lifestyle photography, Philadelphia, Photography., portraits, Uncategorized, zave smith | Leave a comment