Andrea Stocco wearing the electroencephalography cap he uses in research.

Brian Smale: The Portrait Photographer who hated Portraits

While it’s true that Portrait Photographer Brian Smale has built his career on shots of people from the waist up, it’s also true that he isn’t much interested in recreating the standard headshot. “I get a lot of inspiration from the subject,” says Brian. “I try to make the image relevant to the story we’re telling, whether for advertising or editorial. I try to have fun.”

Joseph Sirosh, CVP of Information Management & Machine Learning Group at Microsoft
Over his decades long and well-awarded career, Brian has photographed everyone from inventors to politicians to famous musicians. “A lot of people are shy – they’re real people who aren’t used to being in front of the camera. To get them to relax, I find humor often works – especially jokes that would appeal to a 6th grader, ” explains Brian of his camera-side manner.
Peter Kahn, a Professor at the University of Washington who researched whether people prefer looking at real trees or videos of trees.
One shoot that stands out in particular was an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine in Central Park. “It was a musician and I was a big fan, so I was really excited. But it was immediately obvious he just didn’t want to be there. He gave me 20 minutes, then literally bolted. My last vision of him was of him actually running away from the shoot.”
Microsoft executives got to have fun with their most recent headshots.
Thankfully, most people are game for a little fun. Like the headshots Brian recently shot for Microsoft involving executives acting out their secret talents. Or the portrait of an inventor wearing a literal thinking cap – a sci-fi looking contraption that can control the brain of someone in another room. For more serious subjects, Brian reaches into the environment of the subject, like his Underwriter Labs portrait taken in the Ballistics test lab.
Derek Gardner at work in the ballistics test lab at Underwriter Labs
Next up for the busy portrait photographer are more projects for frequent client Microsoft – though of course, he refuses to let their collaborations become routine. Brian also keeps busy with a strong roster of healthcare clients. And if he gets a spare moment, “I might try to catch up on my 2016 paperwork,” he laughs. “But that probably won’t happen.”
James Whittaker, who trains Microsoft employees in public speaking.

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