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Celebrity and Fashion Photographer / Director Rachell Smith

We asked Rachell Smith about her career, what challenges there are for aspiring photographers and what the most (and least), enjoyable part of her job is.

Rachell Smith is a London-based celebrity and fashion photographer/director. She has collaborated with a diverse range of clients, including publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, prestigious organisations like BAFTA and HBO, and captured images of celebrities like Austin Butler, Ana De Armas, Kate Hudson, Lily Reinhart, and many more. Rachell is currently working on the launch of an online magazine called Defined in 2024, which will focus exclusively on talent features.

1. Did you always want to be a photographer?
I discovered my passion for photography at the age of 16, while I was painting portraits from photographs I had taken of people in my local town. Realising that photography held a deeper significance for me than painting, I embarked on a full-time photography journey from the age of 16 to 21. My passion for photography remains as vibrant as it was back then. Photography is fascinating because each picture is different, and I still find it exciting

How did you start your career as a photographer?
After graduating from the University of the Arts, I spent a few years assisting the renowned photographer Rankin. This experience gave me a deep understanding of how the industry works, the various aspects of photoshoots, and the use of lighting. With this knowledge, I created a portfolio of images I was proud of and contacted clients whose work aligned with my style. While some artists may find it challenging to handle the business side of their careers, I've always enjoyed connecting with people and using their feedback to help me grow.

3. Have you always worked in fashion photography? If not, how did you get into it?
I've consistently been a part of the fashion industry, but I don't limit myself to being solely a fashion photographer. I collaborate across various genres within the entertainment and beauty sectors. I've always had a strong passion for photographing people, and I treat every person I capture with respect and care.

4. How would you describe your photography aesthetic? How did you develop your style?
Discovering my style was a journey that unfolded gradually. Some artists have an immediate connection with their signature style, but for me, it evolved over time, I developed it through many photo shoots and personal projects. I found myself drawn to studio work, where my aesthetic embraces clean, iconic imagery with a play of light and shadow. Instead of using lots of props and complex set designs, I focus on making a comfortable environment for my subjects so they can show their best selves.

5. What advice would you give to someone who would like a future as a fashion photographer?
Begin by asking yourself, "What do I truly want? What resonates with me?" Start with test shoots and build a portfolio that authentically represents you. Avoid the temptation to imitate others; instead, focus on your values. While it's natural to make comparisons, especially in the age of social media, always remember who you are and stay true to your unique style.

It's crucial to invest as much effort in promoting your work to the right audience as you do in creating it.

6. What challenges do you think there are for people who want to be fashion photographers? Have you seen changes in the industry since you started?
Competition is tough, but the industry is always changing and creating constant opportunities. Emerging brands are continually seeking fresh talent, offering an exciting path for new photographers. The key challenge lies in balancing the art with the business aspect. It's crucial to invest as much effort in promoting your work to the right audience as you do in creating it. For fashion clients, having proficiency in both still photography and moving image can be a significant advantage, though not mandatory.

One significant change I've seen is how social media has become more influential. Social media campaigns have increased the need for images and content. As a result, photo shoots now require more content, which means we need to be efficient without sacrificing quality.

7. What's the best part of the job? What’s the least enjoyable part of the job?
There are numerous aspects of the job that I cherish, including meeting new people, collaborating with fellow creatives, experiencing the energy on set, creating images, playing with lighting, developing ideas, crafting mood boards, and the opportunity to travel. The least enjoyable aspect is when the workload becomes overwhelming, but I make an effort to avoid this scenario. I aim to allocate equal time and energy to all my clients and collaborators.

8. How do you go about starting a new project?

For personal projects, I begin by coming up with an idea and then describe it briefly in a few keywords or a short paragraph. After that, I search for inspiration to put together a mood board that illustrates my vision to the team. This helps provide them with a starting point for their creative input. I gather inspiration by doing research related to the project's themes and blend that with my own vision for the final result.

9. What materials / tech do you use? Is there any particular technology you would recommend to people who are just starting out?
I primarily shoot with a Canon R5 and favour prime lenses such as the 50mm. My workflow involves digital photography tethered to my laptop, utilising the Capture One application. Capture One allows me to tailor the image profile to my desired aesthetics and provides instant results. However, there's no one-size-fits-all camera or application - personal preference plays a significant role. For lighting, I lean towards ProFoto, ARRI, and Aputure.

10. What does a typical day look like for you when you’re on a shoot?
On a shoot day, I always start with my Starbucks frappuccino, a personal obsession of mine. I make it a point to greet every member of the team and hold an initial group chat to align our creative energies. This involves the hair, makeup, and styling teams. I work closely with my assistants to fine-tune the lighting setup and ensure that we're ready for the talent's arrival. There's always soft music in the background, and the atmosphere is infused with positive vibes. I bring high energy to my shoots, and as the day unfolds, the excitement intensifies.

Follow Defined on Instagram at @definedmag, and Rachell @rachell_photo.