Brian Smith values 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 in such a big newspaper soured me because there was a big separation between reporters and commercial photographers,” Smith said. “I didn’t like the arrogance of the journalist photographers, but they asked me to adjust the lighting for their portraits. When I looked around at the guys I met on the business side of photography, they seemed like they were having more of a good time.
While Smith and his wife Shoko started BPD Studios in Boston, even opening their first brick-and-mortar studio in Kansas City in 2004, they decided to move and brought the company to Utah 17 years ago. .
“Our first studio in Utah was in Bluffdale, and we stayed there for five years,” Shoko said. “Then we moved to a downtown studio for 10 years.”
In 2019, the two, and their 10-year-old son, moved to Summit Park and opened a boutique in Prospector Square.
“We didn’t really mix in Park City because COVID-19 happened shortly after we moved here,” Smith said. “So we look forward to getting more involved in the community.”
Commercial photography is different from news photography capturing the moment because of the science behind the shots, including lighting, composition and filters, said Shoko, the designer of BPD Studio.
“It’s more like technical photography,” she says. “If the client does not have a designer or ad agency with them, we provide a more comprehensive service by building a team.”
For emerging companies or those rebranding, BPD Studios can become a one-stop-shop, Shoko said.
“This will include creating websites, catalogs, advertisements and social media content, using photography as the center of gravity,” she said. “Our other shoots vary depending on the scope of the project. Sometimes we need more than a photographer and an assistant. We bring in models, stylists, assistants, wardrobes as needed and source and coordinate locations and logistics.
Sometimes a project only takes two of them, and sometimes the Smiths will hire extra help, Shoko said.
“We act as a ‘virtual agency’ and bring in the necessary freelancers to provide a comprehensive service that meets client needs,” she said. “(While) the core team is two people, we bring in a videographer, UI/UX designer and creative writer as needed on these occasions.”
BPD Studios client list includes Black Diamond, Cotopaxi, Neways, OC Tanner jewelers, Polynesian Culture Center in Hawaii, Sundance Institute, Universal Studios and USANA.
When setting up a session, Brian Smith likes to chat with the designers of the product if they are available.
“They can tell me why they designed something the way they did, its function and why they used the materials they made,” he said. “That way when I go to take pictures I can bring out those things in the photography because I know the reasons why they put all that effort into designing and creating and making. I think that would go to counter to the objective of taking pictures that smooth the work.
Brian’s interest in photography dates back to the age of 14.
“I got a job at Dairy Queen and it was horrible so I decided to apply elsewhere,” he said. “I applied to a camera store that had a printing lab. I lied and said I knew about photography and printing, and they hired me.
Brian worked at the studio through high school and while attending Northwest Missouri State University.
“That’s where I learned about cameras and printing, because no one came in the evenings, so I took the cameras apart and put them back together,” he said. “In high school, I wasn’t on the yearbook and newspaper staff, but I did a lot of printing for them because they didn’t like doing it. They left money in the darkroom and I printed all their contact sheets and everything.
While in college, the administration discovered that Brian had a background in printing and photography.
“Their team marketing photographer left, so they needed someone to replace him,” he said. “I had a PR major which was a degree in commercial photography that I created through the PR department.”
For his internship, Brian worked in Tokyo with Pentax Cameras.
“I thought I was going to get into some photography, and I was doing journalism on the side,” he said. “I really liked photography once I got into the commercial realm. I liked the problem-solving aspect. I love how sometimes you have to reverse engineer to get what you want.
Brain met Shoko in college, where she landed after moving to the United States from her hometown of Higashimurayama, located in the western part of Tokyo.
“When I graduated from 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 student exchange programs.”
Shoko met Brian at Northwestern University while working on her first computer science major.
“My major was computer science. I took two programming courses and hated it,” she said.
“So in my second or third semester, I took an interactive art class, and that was the start of everything. I was already a bit into graphic design, and I noticed that I could specialize in art and graduate in four years.
Shoko completed her general studies, then transferred to the Boston Art Institute to continue her studies.
“I discovered that the education I was getting was not worth the price my parents were paying,” she said. “I felt guilty, so I decided to move back to Missouri and attend Central Missouri State University, which had a fantastic art department. I got a degree there in commercial arts with a major in graphic design. I became a graphic designer and worked in design for art agencies until 10 years ago.
When the Smiths decided to start their own business, Brian checked out some website domain names.
He discovered that 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 partly symbolizes hard work, Brain said.
“A lot of companies we’ve worked with started small and we helped them establish the look 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 doing the work.