On photography and design — SI’s Brad Smith at #SNDDC

How do you strike a delicate balance between photography and visual presentation? Brad Smith, the world-renowned Directory of Photography for Sports Illustrated, will share his experiences at SNDDC in a conversation with Mary Anne Golon of The Washington Post and Tim Ball of the Bay Area News Group.

Can you share some details about your position?
What’s an average day?

I oversee the visual component of the Sports Illustrated brand. This includes not only the anchor of our franchise, the printed version of Sports Illustrated, but every one of the additional platforms. Our tablet version, the .com group, the Instagram account, as well as an SI Kids magazine and our Golf magazine. An average day starts with the magazine, securing the images for that, and then creating photo components for each of the other areas. Ideally, we can cross pollinate our efforts throughout. Making sure that all of those areas are fed, not only with an eye on the present, but also for future use. In addition, planning large events such as the Olympics, takes years of preparation, and I work to maintain that connection between the current and the future.

What is your visual philosophy? How do you involve yourself in design conversations?

My philosophy is to secure visual evidence of the world we cover. In my case, sports. I want the action to be the most compelling possible, to create a sense of being at the event itself. It’s why we’re the leader in innovations regarding sports photography (like net cams and underwater housings and robotics and overhead remotes). I want the feature work to be a photographer’s record of an event, to be our eyes, to show us something we’ve never seen. To let us inside the world of the athletes we cover. I work hand in hand with our Creative Director on large feature and portrait shoots, collaborating on everything from concepts to clothing.

What has been your favorite project to work on this year? Over your career?

Well, this year just started… But last year, one of my favorite projects of all time was the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. We brought 3000 people from Boston together, firemen, police, survivors, runner, politicians, first responders, in an effort to visually record them taking back their city. It was large scale, it was significant, it was a small contribution in the healing process of an entire city.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role as Director of Photography?

The most challenging role is juggling all of the various portions of the SI brand that require the highest level of photography. Trying to keep everything going at once, making sure each aspect is attended to. The most important photo is the one you’re working on, and I have dozens of those situations per day. The second most difficult part is finding enough assignments for all of the great photographers out there. I don’t have enough pages for all the photographers I want to work with.

What do you believe is most important in maintaining a strong relationship between photo editor and designer?

Communication. No surprises. And trust.

How do you tackle more conceptual or feature-driven stories?

I think of them as reporters. That’s what I tell photographers who shoot those type of stories, after they have their basic have-to-have photos, shoot as if a writer isn’t showing up. Ever. You tell me the story, with your photos. Get your list, make sure you have that, then you’re on your own.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Everywhere. Literally everywhere. I keep a notebook by the bed for ideas, I have stacks of post-its at home for magazines, and I record all types of nonsense on my phone that inspires me. That’s the great part: It can come from anywhere.

We’re profiling #SNDDC speakers as we lead up to the annual workshop. Brad’s session is slated for 1:45 p.m. on April 10. To register for the workshop, which runs April 9-11 in Washington, D.C., click here.

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.

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