Louisiana is full of character – and characters – and photographer Brian Smale covered plenty of both during multiple projects for Emeril Lagasse cookbooks. “Technically, these were cookbook shots. But the assignment was more like, ‘go to New Orleans and shoot anything or anyone that has to do with food,’ Brian says.

A couple stands in front of their fruit stand covered with homemade signs, from photographer Brian Smale

“That first job turned into several years of going down there and exploring the culture and flavors of Louisiana, for three cookbooks and restaurant displays,” Brian says. The project took him from catfish streams to pepper farms, front porches to fruit stands.

A man holds two giant catfish, from photographer Brian Smale

“Emeril was a dream to work with,” says Brian. “He’s full of ideas and was open to just about anything I wanted to shoot. He just trusted me to bring back what we needed.” With no art director on the project, Brian and Emeril worked together on the vision, with Brian executing alone or with an assistant.

A man in a field with his hat pulled low over his eyes, from photographer Brian Smale

Asked whether he got star struck, Brian laughs. “Back then, Emeril was just getting started, so there weren’t any distractions of celebrity. He’s the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet.” And, it turns out, useful in other ways. When Brian brought another client to Emeril’s restaurant without a reservation, Emeril instructed the host to find a table for him in the crowded restaurant. That client is now Brian’s wife.

A man holding a boat pole wears a “where’s the beef” shirt, from photographer Brian Smale

Over his highly productive career, Brian has partnered with A-list clients from Rolling Stone magazine to Microsoft to USAA, constantly developing and refining his approach to portrait work along the way. He is also recognized for his portfolio of landscape and corporate work.

A farmworker shoulders a heavy box of peppers, from photographer Brian Smale

“I really try to bring something new everytime,” says Brian. “You say ‘portait’ and everyone pictures a head and shoulders shot. But I think of it as photographing people, and there are a million ways to do that.” You can see more of Brian’s commercial, portrait and personal work right here.

A man sits on the porch steps playing his fiddle, from photographer Brian Smale