Brian Smith enjoys his career as a commercial photographer more than his work as a photojournalist at the Kansas City Star in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Being at a newspaper that big soured me because there was a big separation between journalist and commercial photographers,” Smith said. “I didn’t like the arrogance of the journalist photographers, but they would ask me to set the lighting for their portrait shots. When I looked around at the guys I met on the commercial side of photography, they looked like they were having more of a good time.”
While Smith and his wife Shoko started up BPD Studios in Boston—even opening their first brick and mortar studio in Kansas City in 2004—they decided to relocate and brought the company to Utah 17 years ago.
“Our first Utah studio was in Bluffdale, and we were there for five years,” Shoko said. “Then we moved to a studio downtown for 10 years.”
In 2019, the two, and their 10-year-old son, moved to Summit Park and opened up a shop in Prospector Square.
“We haven’t really mingled in Park City because COVID-19 hit shortly after we moved up here,” Smith said. “So, we’re looking forward to getting more involved in the community.”
Commercial photography is different from capture-the-moment news photography because of the science behind the shots, including lighting, composition and filters, said Shoko, BPD Studio’s designer.
“It’s more like technical photography,” she said. “If the client does not have a designer or an ad agency with them, we offer more full-packaged service by putting a team together.”
For up-and-coming companies or those who are rebranding, BPD Studios can become a one-stop shop, Shoko said.
“That will include creating websites, catalogs, ads and social media content, using photography as the center of gravity,” she said. Our other shoots vary depending on the scale of the project. Sometimes we need more than a photographer and an assistant. We bring in models, stylists, assistants, wardrobe as needed and scout and coordinate locations and logistics.”
Sometimes a project takes just the two of them, and sometimes the Smiths will hire additional help, Shoko said.
“We act as a ‘virtual agency’ and bring in necessary freelancers to provide a comprehensive service that’s catered to clients’ needs,” she said. “(While) the core team is two of us, we bring in a videographer, UI/UX designer and a creative copy writer as needed in those occasions.”
The list of BPD Studios’ clients include Black Diamond, Cotopaxi, Neways, OC Tanner jewelers, the Polynesian Culture Center in Hawaii, Sundance Institute, Universal Studios and USANA.
When setting up a session, Brian Smith likes to talk with the product’s designers if they are available.
“They can tell me why they designed something the way they did, the function of it and why they used the materials they did,” he said. “That way, when I go to shoot, I can bring those things out in the photography because I know the reasons why they put all this effort in design, creating and manufacturing. I think it would defeat the purpose of taking photographs that smooth over the work.”
Brian’s interest in photography started back when he was 14.
“I got a job at Dairy Queen and it was horrible, so I decided to apply to other places,” he said. “I applied at a camera shop that had a print lab. I lied and said I knew about photography and print, and they hired me.”
Brian worked at the studio through high school and while he attended Northwest Missouri State University.
“That’s where I learned about cameras and printing, because no one came in the evening, so I would tear cameras apart and put them back together,” he said. “In high school, I wasn’t on staff for the yearbook and the newspaper, but I would do a lot of printing for them because they didn’t like to do that. They would leave money in the darkroom, and I would print all their contact sheets and stuff.”
During college, the administration found Brian had a printing and photography background.
“Their on-staff marketing photographer left, so they needed someone to fill in,” he said. “I had a public relations major that was a commercial photography degree I created through the PR department.”
For his internship, Brian worked in Tokyo with Pentax Cameras.
“I thought I would go into some part of photography, and I was doing journalism stuff on the side,” he said. “I really liked photography once I got into the commercial side. I liked the problem-solving side of it. I like how sometimes you have to reverse-engineer something to get what you want.”
Brain met Shoko while in college, where she landed after moving to the United States from her hometown of Higashimurayama, located in the western portion of Tokyo.
“When I graduated high school, I had my heart set on going to college in the United States,” she said. “Independence, Missouri, and Higashimurayama are sister cities, and they had exchange-student programs.”
Shoko met Brian at Northwest University while working on her first major, computer science.
“My major was computer science.I took two programming classes, and I hated it,” she said.
“So in my second or third semester, I took an interactive art class, and that was the beginning of it all. I was already in graphic design a little bit, and I noticed I could major in art and get a four-year degree.”
Shoko finished her general education and then transferred to the Boston Art Institute to further her schooling.
“I found there that the education I was getting wasn’t worth the price my parents were paying for,” she said. “I felt guilty, so I decided to go back to Missouri and attend Central Missouri State University, which had a fantastic art department. I graduated there with a commercial arts degree with a graphic design emphasis. I became a graphic designer and worked in design for art agencies until 10 years ago.”
When the Smiths decided to create their own business, Brian checked out some website domain names.
He found there was already a Brian Smith who won a Pulitzer Prize, and then there was a Brian F. Smith who designed golf courses. So, he created his own domain name, which is short for Blue Photography Designs.
The company’s donkey logo is symbolic in part for hard work, Brain said.
“A lot of companies we have worked with started small, and we helped them establish the look and feel of their products,” he said. “When they got really big, we helped them set up their own in-house studios. So, we do the hard work, like Donkeys who get work done.”