Jimi Smith Is Changing The Game On Swimming Pool Photography
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Jimi Smith captures the most beautiful and inspiring luxury swimming pool shots from the nations top designers and builders.
If you're a #designer, #builder or #homeowner and you want to have your pool or project #photographed, you need to call Jimi Smith. He's the only travelling #photographer who specializes in #swimming #pools, knows how to operate your pool automation, and takes the most awe-inspiring, #artistic, and #surreal photos.
He's also been on the cover of Luxury Pools Magazine for three separate issues and featured on the Pool Chasers Podcast. Check out their episode on Jimi to learn a little bit about the man behind the lens and his journey. You won't be disappointed!
At some point in your life you've probably had someone show you a beautiful image and say "the picture just doesn't do it justice" and they're probably right. Most photos don't accurately portray the full beauty of a landscape for instance. Especially in the pool industry.
Swimming pools nowadays are #artistically and #architecturally designed to resemble something closer to watery art. Luxury pools can have design features like movable floors, acrylic panels, glass tile finishes and underwater speakers that easily put them in the 6 to 7 figure price range. And if you're going through the trouble of #designing and #building a pool that's as #artistic, #innovative and #expensive as some of the ones you see in magazines, then you should at least make sure you get some "money shots" when they're done.
Currently the closest thing I’ve found to displaying these beautiful vessels for what they truly are, is Jimi Smith Photography. Notably, Jimi James Smith. His outdoor swimming pool photos are by far the best I’ve personally ever seen. They’re truly exceptional. In fact, his photos are so good they've now been on the cover of Luxury Pools Magazine for two consecutive issues which is a pretty big deal. And just recently, he snagged his third cover shot on the magazine. To give you an idea, #Luxury #Pools is the swimming pool industries #premier #outdoor #living #magazine that basically showcases the best pools from the industries top #designers and #builders. It's also my pick for The Best Pool Magazine For Design Inspiration.
So industry elite like Ryan Hughes Design/Build, Jeromey Naugle - Premier Paradise, Jimmy Reed - Rock Solid Tile, Kurt Kraisinger - Lorax Design Group, Ryan Clow - Fluidity, Randy Angell - RAD, Josh Buzzel - Regal Pools, Ben Lassiter - Design Ecology, Howard Roberts - Liquidscapes, and Shane Leblanc to name a few, call Jimi to take near perfect photos of their finished pool projects so they can use them for #award submissions, #magazine articles and social media #marketing. In 2018 alone, Jimi was contracted by pool pros across the #country and #overseas to photograph 150 #poolscapes and logged over 70k miles in air miles.
To be fair, there are plenty of #Architectural #Photographers that take great photos of backyards and swimming pools. We even use some for our projects at Aquatic Consultants, Inc. and we don't have any complaints. Claudia Uribe who shoots a lot for Ocean Home Magazine, Joe Traina who also shoots swimming pools with images in Luxury Pools Magazine, Lifestyle Production Group who does great videos and photos, and Craig Denis who shoots some great exteriors, are all tremendously talented. But, in my opinion, regarding swimming pools, Jimis shots are just better. His ability to capture the qualities of the water and surrounding environment in such #vivid and #colorful context while having a complete understanding of the pool and it's functions, really puts him in a league of his own. So we've also already reached out to him about potentially photographing a couple of our upcoming projects.
Changing the game
Jimi Smith is really the only photographer who's specialized in the field of swimming pools. The same way we have professional Interior photographers, Architectural photographers, Landscape photographers, Wildlife photographers, and even Fashion photographers, Jimi Smith might be the only professional luxury swimming pool photographer. And the same way that a good wildlife photographer has an appreciation for animals and an intimate understanding of their behavioral traits, Jimi understands the different design features like a vanishing edge or knife edge condition, knows how to capture the qualities of the water and fire elements, and he knows how to control the pool functions. And although it may seem like any professional photographer who's halfway decent at their job could probably take a great swimming pool photo, there's a reason Jimis work stands out.
Pools are highly aesthetic, fully functioning bodies of water and their design elements, edge conditions, water or fire features are typically controlled by an automation software. The same way high end homes have automation control like a C4, Savant or Lutron setup, swimming pools have their own control system for all the pool functions. In fact, sometimes the pool automation is tied into the home automation for a singular control setup.
Pool features like the water over a vanishing edge wall, deck jets, led lights, fire features, heating, cooling, wind controls and water leveling are all programmed through the pool automation to turn on and off the required pumps, valves, or ignitions that operate them. Not to mention, luxury pools nowadays can have over 64 different functions with all the bells and whistles they come with. There are pools with movable floors, led light shows, pop up tvs, automatic covers that come out of the floor, bubblers, jets, deck jets, swim jets, waterfalls, water walls, fluvo cascades, rain cascades, water and fire bowls, and even underwater speakers. And most of these elements need to be considered when photographing the pool.
Not only does Jimi understand that a vanishing edge or knife edge pool is designed to bring out the reflective qualities of the vessel but he also knows how to turn off the filter or overflow system and any other water features that might cause surface turbulence in the water, in order to capture the highest reflective properties possible. He also knows how to turn on a fire feature in case he wants to show that reflection on the still pool water.
Jimi not only knows how to operate these features with Jandys iAqualink, Pentairs Intellitouch or Haywards Omni Logic panel as if he were your own personal pool tech., but he also has their pool automation apps on his phone so he can easily control all the pool functions from his pocket. All he needs is some login info.
These seemingly subtle intricacies are what make a huge impact in Jimis photos and it's not something you can learn in school. Unfortunately, they don't currently teach Brian Van Bowers, "Beauty of the Edge" class or train you on Jandys iAqualink controls but without this set of self taught skills, you'd need the homeowner and a pool tech. present to do that job. And if you couldn't get everyone there at the same time, you'd just have to shoot the pool as-is with whatever features are on or not and since most people aren't home all day, most of the cool pool functions stay off too.
I doubt even the best architectural photographers would know how to work any of these features or even want to attempt to start pressing buttons after seeing what a set of controls and equipment looks like for a luxury swimming pool.
It really takes a set of unique skills to properly photograph a fully functioning body of water like some you see in Luxury Pools Magazine and Jimis ability to understand and operate a swimming pool and its features is what makes him truly unique to the industry.
In order to #photograph swimming pools with such attention to detail, Jimi had to develop his own #unique #process. One that previously didn't exist in the world of swimming pools simply because there wasn't anyone else doing what he does. So he really studied the pool industry, tailored his images, and refined his process along the way. He layers #multiple #exposures and uses #artificial #lighting to capture the main elements of the #pool, #spa, #deck and #landscape separately and then uses a lighting tool to blend them all together into a single photo. It's otherwise impossible to photograph the various elements in focus with a single shot.
Take the fire feature in the above image for instance and how sharp the flames look. You're probably more accustom to seeing an image of a swimming pool that has a fire feature or waterfall that's out of focus. These types of images are taken in a single shot using only one exposure or shutter speed and don't account for the movement of fire or water. And you can't clearly capture both a perfect reflection on a still body of water and a perfectly sharp flame in the same shot. One of them will end up out of focus. So moving elements such as fire or water require additional shots with different exposure times in order to look still.
To give you an idea, slower shutter speeds are often selected to suggest the movement of an object in a still photograph. Excessively fast shutter speeds can cause a moving subject to appear unnaturally frozen. For instance, a running person may be caught with both feet in the air with all indication of movement lost in the frozen moment.
When a slower shutter speed is selected, a longer time passes from the moment the shutter opens till the moment it closes. More time is available for movement in the subject to be recorded by the camera as a blur.
So Jimi uses different #exposure #speeds to capture all the different #still and #moving elements individually. He takes multiple photos with multiple exposures of all the specific components he wants to include in the photo, from the same camera position on his #tripod. Then he digitally #blends or #layers them all together into a single shot. So instead of blurry fire or "troll hair" as he calls it, the result is a sharp, still flame or perfectly visible cascade stream. The fire in the image above is perfectly in focus because it was taken as a separate photo with a different exposure speed.
So although you're only visually seeing one image, they can actually be 25-30 separate images layered on top of one another and the shoots alone can take hours just to capture the multiple photos needed. Some of the larger projects with numerous features and edge conditions can even take 30-40 shots to achieve a single photo. Talk about a tedious task. But the result is truly amazing. Check out the before and after below:
#Timing and #lighting are also extremely important. Jimi likes to shoot most of his photos in the evenings unless there's a view that really requires a sunrise shot. It's also more convenient for the clients because lets face it, no one wants to be woken up at the crack of dawn by the photographer. Especially one with a dog :)
Plus, this is when Jimi gets the best lighting. In #photography these hours are referred to as Golden hour, the hour leading up to sunset or Blue hour, the following hour when the sky really lights up with #pastel #colors. He shoots past sunset into #Bluehour or #Twilight because there's a 10-15 minute window right around when the sun hits the horizon where the #ambient light and #artificial light become the same. The ambient light from the sun drops down low enough to match the artificial lights created by the pool, house or landscape lighting which puts them in the same exposure and creates the perfect natural illumination for Jimi to work with. In other words, this is when the magic happens.
Throughout this process, the camera is also constantly snapping images from the tripod while Jimi runs around with his second camera and even sometimes his phone to take alternate shots of different angles while using his remote to continuously snap photos from the tripod. In fact, he shows up at least 2 hours before a shoot, sets up and basically shoots through and past sunset to capture his photographs which he refers to "moments in time."
He also sometimes uses artificial lighting. For example, if there's a pool finished with beautiful Lightstreams Glass Tile, Jimi will use his flash not to simply add light but to bring out the #texture and #qualities of the #tile. Since photography is two dimensional,
adding a flash to create depth will make the photo seem more #realistic and in Jimi's case, make his photos really pop and come to life. In fact, some of his photos capture the product so well, even tile manufacturers have reached out to him asking to use his shots to showcase their tiles.
It's not as easy as it sounds either. Dealing with both #ambient and #artificial lighting can be difficult. In fact, #Architectural, #Interior, and #Landscape Photographers typically only have to deal with one type of lighting. Architectural and Interior photographers really only work with indoor lighting and Landscape photographers usually only have to worry about natural lighting from the sun. But because most swimming pools are located outdoors and have their own interior pool lights as well as artificial outdoor lighting from the home and landscape, Jimi has to deal with both. He has to maneuver around the artificial lighting provided by the pool, deck and landscape as well as the ambient outdoor lighting which takes years of experience to master.
Who Should Hire Jimi?
If you have a pool project that you think is worthy of an award like one of Luxury Pools Magazines Pinnacle Awards, an FSPA award, or Pebble Techs Words Greatest Pools Award, or even an architectural design award in the swimming pool design category, you should definitely hire Jimi Smith. Or, if you're a homeowner who's got the cash for a specialized, travelling, luxury swimming pool photographer who shoots award winning and front cover photos, there's no question.
But hiring Jimi isn't for everyone and I don't recommend using his services on every pool either. As awesome as it is to say you had your pool photographed by the imfamous Jimi Smith, I think you should hold off for that one project that's really worth it. It makes for a better photo and a better use of the money, in my opinion. I've already seen a handful of projects that Jimi shot, that I wouldn't exactly have hired him on if it were my project. The pools were fine, I just didn't think they were really worthy of a Jimi Smith stamp. For the most part they were pretty standard, backyard pools without much of a landscape or view. And that's not to say every project doesn't deserve the best photo possible, or that a specific project isn't good enough, but some projects just make for a better photo and there are plenty of local photographers that can take a great image. I just don't think it's necessary to fly out the best luxury swimming pool photographer on every project if it isn't special.
Not to mention, professional photographers aren't exactly cheap. Especially a travelling one. But all things considered, Jimis prices are actually pretty reasonable compared to other professional photographers with the exception that you have to cover the travelling expenses. He also doesn't put pricing on his website because he doesn't usually like to discuss the cost unless you contact him directly which makes it easier for him to know who's serious. I can't give you any numbers but what I can say is that Jimi charges about what a regular professional photographer would charge and actually, he's probably a little cheaper. The only exception is that he's not local so you'll also have to cover his travelling expenses like a flight, hotel and a rental car. But, you'll definitely get a better photo than any other photographer in my opinion so for the right pool, hiring Jimi's the right price.
It also never hurts to reach out to Jimi regardless of the types of pools you build. Jimi's actually a great dude and he leaves a lot of money on the table because he'd rather help people capture beautiful shots for a fair price than just rack up a bunch of dough. It's fairly obvious after talking to him for even just a couple minutes that he's not in it for the money.
For instance, when Jimi travels to Texas, which he did 5 different times last year, if he's going to shoot 3 different pools for 3 different people, in Houston, Dallas and Austin, instead of charging them all a standard fee, he'll split the travel expenses between all three parties to make it cheaper for everyone. In some cases where it makes sense, he'll even rent a car and drive a couple hours instead of catching a quick flight just to save people some money. He'll even shack up with a friend if he's got one in the area instead of paying for a hotel room.
And there's no doubt that even if he didn't do those kinds of things, and he charged everyone the same travel expense, stayed in 5 star hotels and flew first class everywhere, people would still pay for his services. I know I would. He could easily travel first class on the clients dime, make a killing and shoot just as many pools but that's just not Jimi.
So even if you don't design and build million dollar pools, and your average pool is around $50k, although Jimi may not be your go-to photographer, he lends a helping hand where he can. He actually took the time to help a Texas pool builder who had no pool photos on his website, get a couple signature Jimi Smith photos on the site and even helped him create his Instagram profile. That's a true story. And when the builder actually got a job from it, he called Jimi to thank him.
I wish everybody could hire Jimi. Unfortunately there's not enough Jimi to go around :) but he's working on that too. For now, you'll most likely have to wait about 2 months for him to get out to you from the time he puts you on his schedule. You could say he's fairly busy now that the industry knows who he is and the work he's capable of producing. There are times when Jimi shoots a different pool everyday. Just last month, he shot over 30 pools which is crazy. He also travels pretty much year round bouncing between cities and states photographing nearly everyday. Last year in 2018 he left the Virgin Islands in April and didn't get back until November.
Check out his travel log from April 2nd through November 22nd in 2018.
He even said in a recent Tributarys E-zine article, that one of the hardest things he had to learn last year was how to manage his time in the air. He was pretty much a one man show managing his travel schedule, travelling, shooting the photos, and editing them. So he's recently been training an editor which gives him more time to focus on shooting. Now, he sends his files off to the only person in the country who's been trained to edit his style of photography.
If you do decide to put Jimi on the schedule, it's also a good idea to send him a 3d video of the project (if you have one) beforehand so he can properly plan his shots. It gives him the time to visualize his approach and makes it easier to discuss the project with you and ask any questions he may have.
At this point it's safe to say that Jimi obviously knows what he's doing. He has a degree in #Fine #Art #Photography and has some serious camera equipment to prove it. He brings $40,000-45,000.00 worth of #photography #equipment with him to each job. He uses a professional grade, full frame Nikon D810 Full Frame DSLR Camera and actually brings a backup in case one takes a dump in the field. That's about $6,000.00 worth of camera alone.
Jimi also carries 3 types of lenses for his cameras: #wide angle, #tilt shift, and #zoom. These lenses allow him to manipulate the #optics of the image and give him control of the #perspectives for straight lines and adaptable #focuses. He typically sticks to a 50 millimeter zoom which is exactly the same view as the human eye or switches to a 70 millimeter for closeups.
Additionally, Jimi uses the Profoto B1X which according to their website is the best selling battery-powered TTL #flash on the market. It can produce 400 flashes at full power which achieves light brighter than daylight and can throw light across an entire backyard in one pop. - that's pretty cool. He's also got a beauty dish or "umbrella" to soften the light or control how it moves over an object.
But that's not all. Jimi's also an amateur "pilot." He flies the Mavik 2 Pro Drone to get those always cool aerial shots which adds another layer of creativity to his work.
But without a doubt, Jimi's most valuable piece of equipment isn't in his photography bag. It's in his ability to #creatively and #skillfully capture something beautiful. - what a cliche, I know. It's also worth noting that Jimi has also been known to do just about anything for a good shot including going for a swim and getting in the pool or even hanging upside down. It really all starts and ends with Jimi.