A Snapshot of Caitee Smith

Written by Keyli Peralta 03/11/2016

"I had the pleasure of meeting photographer Caitee Smith in the very cozy and eclectic Grey Dog cafe located in Chelsea. Even with a very busy schedule, Caitee kindly agreed to meet me after rushing from her Photoshop class at the Fashion Institute of Technology. If you were to visit Caitee’s website: caiteesmithphotography.com, besides finding a well organized, aesthetically pleasing site, you would also be able to learn some basics about the girl behind the camera. Besides being a photographer, Caitee is also a web designer, a social media manager, and a nanny. Online you would come to know Caitee as a talented photographer, but in person I had the pleasure of learning more about the creative field of photography, as well as the privilege of meeting a truly genuine, and authentic person.


Caitee grew up down south in New Orleans and Dallas, but she has called Brooklyn home for two years now. Her photography started at the age of fourteen with a simple point and shoot Nikon camera. After ten years of taking pictures Caitee has acquired a collection of cameras. Her main digital camera is a Canon 5D Mark III and her backup is a Canon 40D, while her main film single-lens reflex camera is her Canon EOS Elan II and her backup is a Minolta Maxxum 300si. In regards to the benefits of film versus digital photography Caitee says that while digital is easier to work with, film is more interesting for the creative brain because “with film you have be more calculating since there is only a limited amount of exposures in a roll of film. You can’t just click, click, click.” Other photographers with a creative brain that Caitee looks up to includes Lynssey Addario, recent author of “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”, and Tim Hetherington, a conflict photographer who recently passed away while working.


What Caitee has in common with these photographers is that her ultimate goal is to work as a conflict photographer and capture the action that is going on in the world. If she could travel anywhere, Caitee and her camera would go to Africa, South-East Asia, or a Middle Eastern war zone. Even though sometimes Caitee feels like journalists sometimes exploit conflict situations, she would still put herself in those situations because, “If you imagine a world without photography you have nothing. A photo is a single moment in time that can never be reproduced, recreated, or imitated ever again. It is literally freezing time.”


This type of photography suits Caitee’s editorial photographic style. Her photos tell stories without needing any words. You can see the natural progression of what is happening in her pictures. Hopefully, one day her photos will grace the pages of National Geographic, a publication Caitee hopes to someday be featured in. Ever since she was fourteen years old, and just starting off her photography, issues of National Geographic would stack up in her home. Through those issues she became familiar with and grew to admire Addario and Hetherington’s work. However, Caitee decided not to commit herself to strictly pursuing photography, “The starving artist life has never appealed to me so I went from wanting to do photography, to wanting to do fashion, to wanting to do international relations to wanting to do psychology.” Her move to New York helped renew her passion for photography, “I had just kind of gave up on the dream and then I moved to the city and everything changed. I took an intro to photography class at FIT and I was totally in my element.” At FIT Caitee has encountered amazing professors and people who are interested in the same things as her. Currently in her Photoshop class Caitee has also been picking up a few new tricks but she tries to use the program minimally in her work. While she does use Lightroom for fixing exposures, or lifting shadows, Caitee’s motto when it comes to Photoshop is that it’s “better to be under edited than over edited.” Most people would be pretty tired after working two jobs but since Caitee likes to stay pretty busy these courses at FIT help Caitee learn some new things about her craft.


On a typical day Caitee will work at her web design job from nine to four and than nanny from two to six. She became a web designer as a way to get involved with her dad’s marketing company. It became her primary career and just by glancing at Caitee’s photography website it is evident that she is good at what she does. Caitee also handles the social media for the web design company she works for and this experience has allowed her to successfully use social media in order to gain clients for her photography. Her job as a nanny has also influenced her photography. Caitee’s ability to interact with children has helped her in making sure her subjects are relaxed while capturing them on film. Often times Caitee would bring her camera while watching the kids she nannies and practice taking photos with them. Caitee’s trick to making sure the photos turn out well is by trying to maintain authenticity, “I really appreciate being natural, being myself, and letting them be themselves. I totally get posing but I prefer natural posing, and candid shots.” Since Caitee is really busy during the week with working, her shoots are usually jam packed on Saturdays and than she will spend hours editing on Sundays.


The shoots Caitee will usually do ranges from landscapes, fashion shoots, and just recently she even did a maternity shoot. Her preference is to shoot anything that involves people but recently she has been primarily working with fashion bloggers. Her account on Model Mayhem, (a sort of LinkedIn for the fashion world), has made it easy to connect with photographers, makeup artists, and models in the fashion world. On most days Caitee’s own fashion sense can be described as pretty simple but some days she tries to mix up her usual jeans, t-shirt, and boots with some interesting pieces like her Adidas leopard sneakers and her Brooks Brothers duffle coat which has incidentally been in her family for 20+ years.


Caitee’s fashion shoots are different from what she wants to do with conflict photography but she still enjoys doing it. However she still finds ways to delve a little deeper with her work. Currently she is working on a series of shoots titled “The Lives of New Yorkers” which is similar to Humans of New York where she interviews the subjects of her shoots. The photos are very candid in nature and she has gotten some inspiring responses to her questions such as the response she got from her friend Meghan about changing the world. Meghan said that she would strive for a world that has more compassion because “People forget what it's like to not be as well-endowed as others…We all need to fight the good fight, because in the end we only have each other.” Hopefully through her photography Caitee is able to inspire others to make a difference but so far the photos the photos that have been most inspiring to her were both scenery shots she has taken.


One photo was of a giant oak tree dipped into a giant lake where the ice was frozen over it, but the ice was all broken up. Another one of her favorites is a beautiful sunrise shot taken while she was standing on a porch that had rocking chairs. These pictures are special to Caitee because she feels like anyone who knows her could imagine her taking those shots in that moment.


If there is one thing Caitee would want viewers to take away from her work it would be the importance of capturing authenticity, “I would just hope that they would be able to see a picture of somebody and grasp how they were feeling in that moment.” Eventually, Caitee hopes to one day have her own studio back upstate and travel the world, but for now as long as she continues doing something in the creative world she’ll be happy."