Month: November 2015

Of a New Orleans Second Line, Funerals, and Street Photography Papparazzi, My Life as a Witness

November 30, 2015
 A musician holds his trombone as close as he does the Allen Toussaint memorial program book. 11/20/15 ©Zack Smith Photography

A musician holds his trombone as close as he does the Allen Toussaint memorial program book. 11/20/15 ©Zack Smith Photography

As I was about to head out the door this morning I remembered I had such a strange dream last night. We were at the funeral for a still living New Orleans music legend and I was going to say some words. Now let me get this straight – I did not personally know this person but for some reason they asked me to say some parting words. When the moderator soon called my name as “Alex” to come up and talk, I smiled, as people do call me that sometimes ( there’s also Josh and Max, but more on that later). As I got up to speak, I saw a who’s who of New Orleans musicians I had photographed over the years looking on and I got kind of nervous. I rarely get nervous for speaking, but on occasions where I am not prepared I do get quite anxious. 

As I got up to talk I realized that what I had to say only lasted a short while, and the rest of my speech became papers and papers of photography workshop notes, items not relevant to my crowd or the occasion. Just then my step mother walks up and says in a few subtle words, to “wrap it up” and I did.

So what does it mean? I don’t know. I think it’s the spirit land telling me to hustle on getting these Allen Toussaint Memorial images done so I can share them with the world in a proper way. After so many opportunities I still feel awkward shooting a New Orleans funeral. Ernie K Doe, Antoinette K-Doe, Tootie Montana, Uncle Lionel, have all been attended and shot by me but never in a good comfort zone. Rarely have I personally known the person, and on the occasions that I did, taking out and shoving my camera in front of someone to take a picture of the casket is the last thing I want to do. I saw so much of this attitude and aggressiveness at the Toussaint memorial: people arguing about someone “being in their spot” or “too close to my camera”. Even though I was documenting the event for the producers of the memorial and the Toussaint family, I never felt the need to mark my territory or stake my claim on the asphalt for the good shot. 

At times I felt fine just where I was because that’s where I needed to be. I saw that day not as an event we were watching but a shared communion of the grace Mr. Toussaint left behind. His message and his magic have helped us live the stories we could only live in New Orleans as the soundtracks to our lives. His kindness and smile will be missed but his music is alive.

THROWBACK SATURDAY! HOW TO TUESDAY #5 - Photographing in Natural Light versus Strobes when photographing families and kids

November 24, 2015

Here’s a throwback to How To Tuesday #5 where I explain when to use natural light for portraits and when/how to add strobes. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop “Art of the Photographic Portrait” August 20th in New Orleans – space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Now I will be honest. I don’t market myself as a family and kid photographer in New Orleans not because I “hate shooting kids uyhhhhhhgggh” – no, that’s not me. I make myself available to photograph families and kids, and I also photograph weddings too. I just don’t market myself as a wedding or family photographer. It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s not kitchen, it’s the cook! Why light matters more than a camera when doing natural light portraits.

I have seen the trends over the last 15 years evolve so much. Owning a high res digital camera has become so commonplace that there are “photographers” cropping up every day with their own blog, website, and business plan, but have no real grasp on the many other ways to light a portrait other than available light. This is good and bad. For one, you can become an expert at one type of lighting scheme and do really well at it. But secondly, when presented with a light change or problem, you are stuck. This can also hamper your creative impulses when having to pigeonhole your execution to one type of light.

This rapid influx of a very similar type of portrait style has taken over the market so much that clients want this particular feel for everything. Blown out sky’s, washed out backgrounds, all to get the skin tones nice and even – but what is that worth? There is a time and place for natural light and strobeless photography but knowing when to use it and when not to use it can be a key component in any photographers tool bag. 


I think when doing a portrait outdoors and your background is darker then your subjects skin…it’s GOOD TO USE NATURAL LIGHT

 Thanks to my sister-in-law

This technique will keep your highlights away from your corners and drive the viewers eyes to your subject. Shooting a shallow depth of field will allow you to blur out any details that may take away from your subject. Photographing kids outdoors using only natural light will allow you to set your focus on the tracking feature and high frame rate so you never miss a moment.

When do I use strobes and natural light?

I love finding unique places in our community to bring my subjects. You will find treasures in the Louisiana landscape in any parish, you just have to look. I like to scout first with my portrait lens to frame up some sample compositions. In order to get an accurate representation of what I am going to get when I put people in it, I focus in the foreground and NOT on my whole scene so I can see what the blurred background will be like. 

When photographing a portrait and including the environment, you are often left with your subject squinting a bit. One easy answer to this is to diffuse the sun with a large diffusion disc (or a 5 in 1 w/ the wrapper/reflectors taken off)

The diffuser will block the sun and then you can use your strobe to light the subject. All you need to do is first is to set your exposure for the AESTHETIC you want for the shot and make sure your background is exposed properly….diffuse your subject…then add the light. If your subjects are too bright…then turn down the power on the strobe – or back it up! Easy!

There you have it. Yes it can get confusing and complicated when you bring in strobes but there is nothing better for matching “subject to background light” than a nice big softbox. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop “Art of the Photographic Portrait” August 20th in New Orleans – space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! Zack

Arts Council New Orleans Luna Féte photo walk - it's a pop up, meetup, get up New Orleans photo workshop!

November 23, 2015

I am honored to work with the Arts Council New Orleans again on a very special project. As we inch closer to New Orleans’ Tri-Centennial celebration in 2018, The Arts Council has been ramping their own celebration with LUNA Féte. 

LUNA (Light Up NOLA Arts) Féte is a visionary initiative created by the Arts Council New Orleans to utilize our city’s iconic architecture as the canvas for contemporary light installation, motion graphics, and video mapping practices to create a series of artistic large-scale outdoor architectural projection mapping installations across the city leading up to New Orleans’ 2018 Tri-Centennial celebrations.

And during this, I will take 20 participants on a Night Photowalk through the artistically lit New Orleans landscape as the city will be lit by these one of a kind installations and interactive displays. With cameras and tripods in hand, we will visit at least 5 installations that are part of  This event is FREE but limited to 20 participants on ONE NIGHT ONLY. We will have a security guard walking with the group.

WORKSHOP SIGNUP – click here!!!

I see this as a unique what for amateurs and pros to begin documenting the city as we celebrate 300 years of the most unique art, culture, and uniqueness any city in the world has ever  known. We are a young city, in the course of humanity, but we have an identity that must be protected and celebrated. f8 and Be There, Shoot for the Wall…whatever your motto is – turn on your cameras and tell the story of New Orleans like never before….


HOW TO TUESDAY'S #4 - Can You Afford to Be Creative? Digital Photography and the Evolution of the Business Side of Creativity

November 17, 2015

I still feel that my calling to photography is stronger than ever. My desire to use the camera as a tool to tell a story is continuing to evolve as is my ability to communicate with my subject.  What I wasn’t expecting was the amount of computer work, accounting, and file management that goes with it all. In my early days of film photography I found solace and a wellspring of creativity in the darkroom. I just do not get the same “buzz” as I did developing silver prints as I do editing 1000’s of images from an event. But that’s the trade off right?

Our ability to shoot with these extremely high resolution digital cameras, while storing hundreds of images at at time, gives us the opportunity to take on more clients of our choosing so that we can afford to be creative. In the beginning, my goals and priorities stated that “I could not afford NOT to be creative” so that all resources, time, and energy went to creating. Times do change, for the better though.

With new added responsibilities in life and in business, I find myself investing in more “adult” purchases such as Cloud Storage, Photography Insurance, Web Design, and awesome rolling Pelican Cases (there’s some joy in adult decisions!). While these investments certainly won’t help me communicate better with my clients and increase my SEO, they will help ease my mind. The more I can compartmentalize the business side of photography then the more I can open up the pathways that help me create with vigor, direction, and purpose. I do feel our True Vision lies within the innate and strong connection to our abilities and the mastery of our skill. Before we can even go there, we need to have a strong foundation that can support responsible creativity – what’s the point of making amazingly creative photography if there is no system to protect it, you, and your future?

Think about…and then sleep easy.

So there you have my insights what’s been going on inside my head, now I want to show you whats been blasting out of my screen. I want to leave you with a few helpful links on getting your Photography Workflow in a good place that is efficient, non-destructive, and gets you back out on the street shooting. At Zack Smith Photography Workshops we just wrapped up “Just Shoot RAW: Workflow for Photographers” where we talked about how to manage your files (life!) in the Adobe Creative Cloud system using Bridge, Adobe Camera RAW, and Photoshop. So many helpful links and techniques were talked about, some I will share with you here.

COLOR SPACEwhich should I choose??






I also want to stick in a little promotion for a very old friend, photographer and educator, Dave Marx. Dave and I met and became fast friends during the summer of 2000 when we both attended the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, MT. I can’t say enough great things about the training and life experiences I had that summer, but I can say that a few of the dear friends I made there are doing very well at their craft. Dave has made a name for himself as a Lightroom expert and has a wonderful YouTube Channel you should all go check out now…

Make sure you sign up for the newsletter on this website! I have some VERY EXCITING announcements happening in the next few days and I don’t want you to miss them! Here are a few parting shots of a quick photo essay that takes us from Arizona to Delacroix, and Chalmette to New Orleans. Yes, there’s a theme….can you spot it?

Next week: Part 2 of Natural Light Portrait Photography and Mixed Light Portraits


HOW TO TUESDAY'S #3 - Tis the Season! Portrait Lighting Made Easy: Photograph great portraits in any situation!

November 11, 2015

Hello everyone! I first want to apologize for getting your edition of “HOW TO TUESDAY’S” out so late. I had a two day job this week that had me up early and working late. I will do better next week getting this to your inbox before noon so you can get started shooting.

Portrait Lighting Made Easy – Studio on the Geaux Holiday style!

Getting the family portrait right this month can be as crucial as how long to keep the oyster dressing in the oven. Whether you are about to shoot your own family holiday card photos or have been deemed “Thanksgiving Photographer”, then this Zack Smith Photography HOW TO TUESDAY photo technique is for you. 

All you aspiring photographers out there will find these following techniques helpful as well as you begin to book more head shots and portrait commissions to round out your growing business. 

If you remember last weeks HTT on “Letting the Subject set the Settings”, you can start setting your camera up for any portrait shoot before the situation arises. But let’s make our starting point real easy and find a shaded area where the SUBJECT is in the SAME LIGHT as the BACKGROUND. This easy tip can help you get an even exposure throughout your shot so that there will be little editing of your RAW files and you will be able to see your end result pretty much straight out of the camera.



By choosing a shallow depth of field (f 3.5, f 2.8 and lower) you can blur out the background and make the viewers eyes go right to your subject. Let’s look at a few more from my archives. Remember : SAME LIGHT ON SUBJECT AND BACKGROUND





You can use that same technique and apply it to portraits in the direct sun, making sure your subject is still in the SAME light as your BACKGROUND…



I guarantee these simple techniques will assist you out in your holiday portrait photography duties. Remember the key to ultimately SEE like your camera sees is to hit the street and practice these techniques. That’s it for this week!

Keep Shooting for the Wall!


HOW TO TUESDAY'S #2 - "Let the Subject Set the Settings"

November 3, 2015

Welcome back to “How To Tuesday’s” – your FREE Weekly photography technique and tips blog hosted by Zack Smith Photography. I hope you made some use of “The Sunny 16 Rule of Exposure” and did some shooting over the last week. We’ve had some rainy days in the Gulf Coast but some great overcast ones as well. I always say – “You don’t get reflections without the rain” so here’s another tip to get you out there shooting.

 Unless you bring your own bucket of water with you - you have to have a little rain to get gorgeous puddle reflections of popular New Orleans institutions ©Zack Smith

Unless you bring your own bucket of water with you – you have to have a little rain to get gorgeous puddle reflections of popular New Orleans institutions ©Zack Smith

Over the last 10+ years teaching photography I have found that there are a few common “road bumps”  that folks have when first trying to get comfortable with the camera and how it sees. Our goal with learning the camera is to “see” like it “sees” and that can mean many things. ISO, White Balance, focal length, aperture and shutter speed are just a few that come to mind…and that’s only the beginning. There are a few helpful guides I would like to pass on that can help break down the many settings that get in the way of us being creative and comfortable with our new “eyes”….

“Let the Subject Set the Settings”

Our goal is to put ourselves in a position to use the camera as an extension of our creativity that is of a second nature ability. We want to be able to see a moment and instinctively raise our camera to our eyes, press the button and VOILA! A print suitable for the wall is born. Well, we can do that! There are a few steps we can take that will have us ready to shoot like Lee Friedlander on the streets of NOLA and Clarence John Laughlin with his subjects in the swamps. All of our answers lie in HOW WE UNDERSTAND OUR SUBJECT. The more functions we can preset for any situation will allow us to create quicker. (Don’t forget to SEE the Clarence John Laughlin show at Scott Edwards Gallery on your next walk!)

By studying the TYPE OF LIGHT, LIGHT DIRECTION, and LIGHT QUALITY we can set a few things and get them out of the way…

ISO – We want to choose the lowest ISO possible for any given situation to achieve maximum sharpness and quality. SUBJECT – Is it in the shade? Direct Sun? Dark overcast, Inside? Set the ISO accordingly.

White Balance – we want to set the WB to the appropriate setting to adjust the color temperature and mood. SUBJECT – Dial in the WB setting to what type of Color Temperature your subject is in – not what light YOU are in.

Aperture – By pre-setting Depth of Field we can achieve the FEEL or AESTHETIC before shooting! SUBJECT – does your subject need to be separated from the background? Does it need to be integrated into the background to relay an added storyline? f2.8 for Shallow D.O.F., f16 for extended D.O.F. (these are just suggestions)

Focal Length – The story you are are about to tell of your subject will be dictated how it is composed in your frame, so pre-selecting a Focal Length (35mm, 50mm, or 100mm for example) can make for a quicker transition into actual shooting. If you are shooting a head shot portrait, pre set at 85mm-120mm – if you are shooting landscapes, stay around 24mm-35mm. 

Focus – Is your subject moving? Is it still? Selecting One Shot (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon) for still objects and AI Servo or AF-C for tracking subjects that are moving, you can get yet another setting out of the way!

The Goal here is to get as much set in your camera as possible so you can immediately start shooting in any situation. The quicker we have some KEY SETTINGS (ISO, WB, Fstop, Focal Length, Focus) locked away, we can start to place our subject in our frame and let the creative juices flow. Don’t get bogged down by your cameras settings, just follow these helpful pre-sets and you’ll be on your way. I have made a single graphic that you can print out at 4×6 @ 300dpi or save for reference in any shooting situation. Have fun, and keep Shooting for the Wall!

 My longtime friend and awesome assistant Tamara is letting you know....YOU GOT THIS! Print this 4x6 card out and keep it in your bag! ©zack smith photography 2015

My longtime friend and awesome assistant Tamara is letting you know….YOU GOT THIS! Print this 4×6 card out and keep it in your bag! ©zack smith photography 2015

Subscribe Now!

Get email updates on new Photography Workshops, Blog Posts, New Orleans Photo Galleries and more from the world of Zack Smith Photography!

Thank you for signing up for my newsletter! I send one out every week, or two and you can always opt out any time!

Beginner Digital