Q&A: ANTHONY SMITH / THE4COLOR

Anthony Smith shoots MTB and makes it look damn pretty and exciting. He’s also our very first MTB related Q&A, so click below to learn more about him and his work.

Be sure to follow him on IG as well.

Let’s start off with some quick basics. Name, age and location.

Anthony Smith – I’m 39 years old and I currently live in Boise, ID with my wife and two dogs.

You popped up on my radar a little while back, thanks to Christian Rigal tagging you in his Instagram feed. As you know, Christian transitioned from BMX to riding MTB and you ended up shooting with him. Were you aware of “BMX rail slayer Christian” prior to this? 

Absolutely. Growing up I spent just as much time on my BMX as I did my MTB. I’ve always taken big inspiration from the riding, photography, and filmmaking in BMX, so I was a big fan of Christian’s riding / videography long before we ever linked up to shoot.

How did you two link up? 

I used to live in Bellingham, WA, and he was rolling through town last summer on his way to Crankworx. We were able to meet up for a ride on my local trails with Mike Hoder. It was rad seeing those guys ride some of my favorite jump trails in Bellingham. The following week in Whistler we got some time shoot and got the image that ran with Christian’s Defgrip Q&A.

It’s not uncommon for some BMX riders to venture into MTB at some point in their career. As a photographer and observer, what are some advantages and (possibly) disadvantages to having a BMX background in the MTB world? 

There are none! I love seeing how BMX riders interpret the terrain on a mountain bike. It’s super exciting to watch. At the end of the day it’s just fun on two wheels. It’s great to see more riders from the BMX world getting into it.

Moving on to your photography. I was immediately stoked on your photos when I ended up scrolling through your Instagram. Great action shots, moody woods, rad portraits etc… What would you say is your favorite environment and style of MTB to shoot? What really gets you stoked?

When I feel like I’m getting a photo that really captures the feeling of being there or produces an emotional response I’m the most satisfied with my work. That’s always the big challenge – trying to shoot a photo that represents what that moment feels like, and not getting hung up with creating a literal representation of what it looks like. Easier said than done, but that’s the common thread with all my favorite photos over the years.

What are some challenges to shooting in the woods and how much gear do you take with you?

The biggest challenge is kind of what I talked about above. Trying to convey what that section of trail feels like. That being said I’m always trying to shoot in natural light, so making sure that’s working in my favor is always tough. I’d take a cold we miserable day in the woods with nice even light over a sunny day anytime.

Most of the time when I’m shooting, I’m on my bike and riding with all the gear I want to use, so I try to keep my kit pretty slim. That usually means just a body and 3 to 4 lenses at the most. It’s a good balance with everything I need and a pack that’s light enough to ride all day with.  

Speaking of, let’s geek out on camera equipment for all the photographers out there. What can be found in your camera bag on a normal basis? (feel free to be as detailed as you like with the equipment)

When I’m on the bike it’s usually a Canon 1DX II, 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. Every now and then I carry a 50 prime if I have a specific shot in mind, but usually I can get what I need with that range of zooms in almost any situation.

What about at home? What are you working on there?

My favorite part of the home set up is my Epson V850 scanner. I mostly just shoot personal work on film, but I find the slow process of going through the images and scanning them really cathartic even though it’s a bit time consuming. It feels like a chance to just take the whole photographic process really slow and think about the images in a different way. The rest of my home set up is super low key though. I just run a mac mini, and BenQ 27-inch monitor. On the road I have a bare bones mac book pro.

How much of your time revolves around post-production work, and do you have set tweaks/filters to expedite your workflow? 

During my time at Bike Magazine I got really quick with my editing workflow and post production. There was such a high volume of images we worked with at Bike that I really had to trust my gut and make quick calls on images. There was never time to second guess or just let things marinate. It’s definitely the skill I’m most grateful for from my time there. Now that I’m just on my own shooting I feel really confident in making selects and knowing what kind of look and feel I want in post. I definitely didn’t have that confidence as a young photographer starting out. It’s cool to notice that progression as I get older. For the processing I have a bunch of presets made for different lighting conditions or scenes. It just gets images at a good spot really fast and I can make minor tweaks from there. I really try to nail the composition and exposer in camera, so in a perfect world the post worked doesn’t take all that long. I’m just giving it the flavor I like with the tones and such.

What photographers do you find inspiring or look up too?

As a young photographer I was really influenced by Stephen Wilde’s work. He was a senior photographer at Bike Magazine long before I was ever involved. His images encapsulated that idea of capturing the feeling of a scene, they broke so many of the traditional rules of photography, but the substance those photos was captivating. It really made me examine why those photos had that effect on me, and made me want to take risks and not get hung up on doing it right, but just doing what felt right. His approach was fearless.

You were the Director of Photography for BIKE magazine for a number of years, what did that job entail? 

My time at Bike was really special. I owe everything in my career to the years I spent there. I started as a photo intern there in 2007. At the time I was still studying photography at an art school in Vancouver – The Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Stepping into the photo department at Bike was a crash course in what it took to shoot professionally as an action sports / MTB photographer. At the time about 75 percent of the images in the mag were still shot on film. It was incredible to be able to experience the tail end of the analog workflow at the mag.

In 2010 I came aboard as a full-time staff member as the assistant photo editor, and in 2014 took over as photo editor, eventually having the tittle as Directory of Photography the last year of so that I was there.

At Bike we always saw the strength of our visual voice as the diversity of our contributor base. Anyone and everyone were encouraged to submit. That meant we had an incredibly diverse worldwide contributor base. A big part of the daily workflow was making images selects from constant flow of submissions to populate an entire volume of 8 print issues, along with having content available to satisfy the of the daily digital needs. The best part of the job was working so closely with all the photographers. They were a constant source of inspiration.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the media landscape is drastically ever-changing and largely video based these days. Even though brands/people will always need still imagery, do you find it difficult to be a photographer these days?

The only thing that’s stayed constant about photography during the time I’ve been working professionally is the pace of change. I try not to get hung up on how it used to be and just embrace the ever-changing landscape. I feel so lucky that I have a career shooing photo, so I wouldn’t say that anything is difficult. Working a job I hated wishing I could do this for a living would be difficult. I just try and think of that scenario anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed. 

What are some brands and gigs that keep you busy nowadays? 

It’s been a really fun mix of editorial and commercial work lately, but I’m really making an effort to make time for personal work these days. That’s a big priority. I’ve let that slip the past few years and it definitely made me feel like I was just getting the job done rather than exploring new ideas. When I was still in school, I was in such a good habit of making work just to see where it led and what new ideas and projects that spurred on. Embracing that curiosity and allowing myself to spend time making work that isn’t for any other purpose than exploration has really helped breath the passion back into photography for me. It’s made me feel like I’m in a really good place creatively at the moment.

BMX photographers often run into interesting situations (the public, security guards etc…) while shooting out in the streets. Do you have any interesting or funny stories from shooting in the woods?  

Wildlife encounters always get the blood pumping. A couple years ago we were on a trip up in BC. The lodge we were at warned us about a family of grizzly’s in the area, but we were a big group, so nobody gave it much thought. A few mornings later we we’re climbing into the alpine and ran into this mom and two cubs as we crested a rise. They were about 100 feet from us. Luckily the started running downhill as soon as they saw us, but to see a grizzly run full speed downhill was incredible. They were shockingly fast! Really made you realize that you’d have no chance of outrunning it if it came at you. It was cool to see, but I’m good if that’s the last time I ever see a grizzly in the wild.

We’ve skipped the stock “how did you get into photography” question, but tell me what KEEPS you into photography? 

I touched on it above, but not forgetting why I started shooting photos in the first place. It’s as simple as I’ve always just really love shooting photos regardless of who sees it or what it’s for. At the end of the day the actual act of taking the photo has never changed. Before social media or shooting professionally it was just the simple joy of making pictures that captivated me. I feel it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. Keeping that honest passion for shooting, and making time for it, has an infectious energy in all aspects of my work.

Thanks for your time. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up? 

Thanks so much for the opportunity!

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