Don Smith, CEO of SCF Arizona

Back in July launched a brand new magazine in the Phoenix-area, C-Level Magazine. C-Level is a local magazine featuring the area's most successful corporate leaders of various industries, but aside from being just a profile on that person, it features their thoughts on leadership, business, economy, and character.

Enter SCF Arizona CEO Don Smith:

As an editorial photographer, I have the privilege to meet many different people, who do many different jobs, and have many different personalities. My job is to show a magazine reader not just what this person looks like, if they aren't already familiar with them, but to show them who they are. I work hard to visually tell the story of each of my subjects, I want the viewer to be able to see what they are like through a contextualized portrait of this individual.
When I got the assignment to photograph Don Smith, I didn't know much about him. I was familiar with SCF Arizona, but not Don. I did my initial location research, the shoot would take place in the SCF tower  in downtown Phoenix. I gathered as much information as I could about the building, exterior images, lobby photos, hallways, anything I could find. Anytime I'm shooting at a location I haven't personally seen, I want to get as much information as I can, I want to know what I'm walking into. About Don though, I didn't do much more than check out some headshots to recognize him once on-location.
On the day of the shoot, winds were seemingly hurricane force... outside the building shots were canned. I stepped inside, large heavy gear cart in tow, and met with the communications director in the lobby. After an especially high-speed elevator ride to the top-floor, he escorted me into Don's office. Don was in a meeting, so I'd have about 20 minutes to set up and be ready. The first thing I noticed was the view, an amazing view from the 14th floor stretching from Piestewa Peak to Camelback Mountain. I knew I wanted to include the view but left the how's for later. The safe shots were all there too: desk - check, conference table - check, etc. I wouldn't have any trouble getting a handful of different looks from Don's office.
I set up for all shoots the same way, I set up every light and lightstand I bring, that day was 5 lights, I test them and set pocketwizards to all of them. While I setting up I'm planning not only my shots, but the order I want to shoot them, I'd have exactly one hour with Don, and I'd need to be efficient. Though I knew that I'd never use all 5 lights on this particular shoot, I didn't want to waste anybody's time by setting up additional lights mid-shoot or compromise a shot by not lighting it well. Most of the lights would just be a backup in case of technical issues, standing by and ready to go, or standing by as rim lights, accent lights, etc., if a specific shot would benefit from such.
Don's meeting finished early. About 5 minutes into my set-up early. Behind my calm demeanor and confident attitude as we shook hands was a little bit of panic. I was not ready. Luckily, Don just settled into his desk and we had casual conversation as I finished setting up my gear. I was genuinely impressed by Don's sincerity and authenticity as we spoke and began to photograph. He struck me as a kind man and a good leader. I could tell he was a 'lead from the front' type of guy.
We casually went through every shot I planned in my head, and never broke conversation one time. Between Don, SCF's communications director, C-Level's publisher, and myself, the atmosphere felt like a group of friend's talking business, leadership, economy, among a dozen other things. Except for the incessant firing of strobe lights, of course.
The final shots took us to the balcony, the wind was being blocked by the building, and I even though I teased the fantastic view a little from the conference table shots, I didn't want to pass on the downtown skyline. Don was game for every shot, and in testament to his personality he was authentically laughing in about half of my frames just from the causal conversation amongst the group.
After a full hour of shooting in and out of his office, and a couple of clothing changes, we wrapped the shoot. Not once, in the hour I spent with Don, did anything except kindness and humility come out of him. It was one of the smoothest shoots I've ever had the opportunity to work. I look forward to reading the full article in C-Level, and I hope you enjoy the photos.


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