Finding Beauty: Matthew Jordan Smith’s creativeLIVE session

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Introduction

creativeLIVE, the brainchild of photographer Chase Jarvis, bills itself as a “live, worldwide creative classroom.” The concept is simple: bring in some of the best talent in the photographic industry and have them do a workshop that’s streamed live over the Internet for free.

Downloadable videos of the event are made available for sale to those who can’t stay and watch it live. If you pay before the workshop ends, you get the videos at a discounted rate.

The concept has been wildly successful, boasting names like Zack Arias, Vincent Laforet, Bambi Cantrell, Sue Bryce (coming soon) and Sandy Puc (also coming soon). Recently, renowned photographer Matthew Jordan Smith signed on to do a three-day seminar on Fashion and Beauty Photography.

All three days were captured on video, and after watching all of it – some of it twice – I can honestly say that this should be required watching for any fashion, beauty, or portrait photographer, regardless of experience level.

The Content

Matthew discusses storyboarding concepts before shooting.
Matthew discusses storyboarding concepts before shooting.

Three days of classes are compressed down to about 15 hours of video. That’s a good thing – the editing process appears to have lopped off a lot of extraneous moments (people working on setup, breaks, etc.) that were in the live broadcast.

What you get is the meat, and boy, is it good.

Matthew Jordan Smith has been in the photographic industry for a while now, and his portfolio is pretty impressive. Celebrities like Tyra Banks, Oprah, Jamie Foxx, and Aretha Franklin have spent time in front of his camera, and his advertising clients include Tommy Hilfiger, Olay, and Wells Fargo. His photographic credentials are, obviously, impeccable.

What took me by surprise is how good a teacher he is.

Matthew’s creativeLIVE project is kind of ambitious: in three days, he essentially performs a brain dump of what he knows about fashion and beauty photography. That’s not something that an ill-prepared or poor teacher can pull off; it’s too much to do in a short period of time, and I’ve seen some pretty decent instructors fall flat on their face when attempting something like this.

Fortunately, Matthew delivers, and does so with aplomb.

Day One is a lecture series where he covers the basics of beauty and fashion photography, and lays out his plan for the next couple of days. He touches on the cast and crew for his shoots, and goes over storyboarding and pre-production. There’s also some discussion on lighting and modifiers, though that’s something that he goes into more detail about on the following day.

Day Two is the first shoot, and it’s all about Beauty. Here’s where he goes into lighting quite a bit, explaining his setup and the thought process behind it. He then discusses wardrobe and makeup, which is then followed by the shoot itself.

There are three “looks” that he shoots, cycling through wardrobe and makeup changes for each one. The day ends with a wrap-up Q&A, as well as a preview of the next day.

Going over preproduction and lighting
Going over preproduction and lighting

Day Three is the Fashion shoot, and once again, there are multiple looks that Matthew runs through. There is a good bit of instruction on fashion lighting at the start, and Q&A sessions are interspersed throughout the day, taking place mostly in-between the shoots.

Some of the in-studio participants also get to shoot during the session, and Matthew provides instruction and guidance to them as they work with the models.

The session ends with a great little piece called “Everything has a beginning and an ending.” This short video serves to encapsulate three days of learning in about five minutes. Again, this is something that a lot of teachers can’t do very well, but Matthew can, and it’s further demonstration of his skill as a teacher.

The Delivery

When you first glance at Matthew, the phrase “Gentle Giant” comes to mind. He’s a powerfully built man who wouldn’t look out of place in a black suit, guarding the President of the United States.

His smile and mannerisms, however, belie that initial fleeting impression and five seconds after you meet or see him on-screen, his passion for what he does is so evident that you can’t help but be put at ease.

That passion for photography is combined with a wealth of knowledge that makes him a formidable teacher. I can count on both hands the number of photographers I know of who can combine a very high level of competence in the technical aspects of photography with a deep understanding and appreciation for its artistic facets.

Matthew knows his light modifiers as well as he knows his models’ mannerisms, and can manipulate both so well that he makes it look deceptively easy. This is a guy who’s so technically precise that he wants to know the exact meter reading of light on a subject within a tenth of a stop, but can then turn around and launch into a discussion on mood and inspiration, then bring it back to practical advice on the business of photography.

Working with a model for one of the Fashion looks
Working with a model for one of the Fashion looks

Throughout the seminar, he addresses every incoming question, be it from the live studio audience or the folks watching online, with what seems like infinite and inexhaustible patience. He comes off as sincere, enthusiastic and seems genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to answer the constant stream of incoming queries.

Conclusion

Those looking for technical information about lighting will find plenty of it here, though it is a bit Profoto-centric. If you’re looking for business advice, you’ll find that here as well. Creative conseling? Check. Pre-production and logistics? Yup. Working with models, posing, hair and makeup? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Good photographers don’t always make good teachers. Good teachers aren’t always good photographers. When you get someone who is a combination of both, it’s worth taking the time to sit down and learn from them.

And, when you have someone like Matthew Jordan Smith providing hours upon hours of instruction, that experience isn’t just essential, it’s enjoyable.

I rate this session from creativeLIVE a must-watch. It is available from creativeLIVE.com for $149.

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