Month: December 2015

How To Tuesday #10 - Taking Your Own Photo Medicine

December 28, 2015

First off – you guys will have to wait untill next Tuesday for Part 2 of “Anatomy of an Advertising Photoshoot” as I am still on a vacation and couldn’t get it out in time. But I am happy to share that How To Tuesday really does work! 

I am able to really take my advice and get outside of my comfort zones of amenities and habits. After being able to disconnect fully from my work-life I felt immediately at ease. Bringing only my Canon G7x on this trip I was able to simplify my “camera eye” and go for very specific shots.  

 Helen in Downtown Tulum

Helen in Downtown Tulum

 a beach goer keeps her fire going on the Tulum beach

a beach goer keeps her fire going on the Tulum beach

I am eagerly awaiting being in the more colonial and less touristy areas of the Yucatan Penninsula… 

How to Tuesday #9 - The Anatomy Of An Advertising Photo Shoot : Why Client Meetings, Location Scouting, and Prep Work is so important. part 1 of 2.

December 22, 2015

Recent Ad Campaigns for Hancock Bank with New Orleans agency, Peter Mayer. 2015 – read more about how we got these images below.

Tellings stories is what we do. Photographers are visual storytellers no matter how you look at it. The world you see and what you have to say is told through the lens of your camera. Over the years you acquire more tangible tools to better construct the story like: lenses, lights and light modifiers, tripods, and better camera bodies. During this time you also learn better ways of improving your creative aesthetic factors such as composition, subject/background agreement, and editing. Aside from the evolution of these technical and aesthetic factors you also have to be aware of how your individual job proficiency is evolving. 

Are you listening deeply to the clients visual problem? Are you using your experience to connect their issues and goals with the talents and tools you bring to the table? “Congrats you got the job!”, but are you coordinating the execution and delivery of these images in a cohesive and structured manner? These are some of the situations that I am continually working to improve in my photographic approach to client work and my anatomy of a shoot. I hope to take you through my steps to insure a successful Shoot Prep, Location Scout, Shoot, and Delivery every time.


I always make it a point to meet with new clients face to face when we begin the initial planning phases of a photo shoot. No matter how small a job, being able to talk about your clients needs and creative direction in person gives both of you a comfortable setting to plan the logistics of your shoot. Even though all of this can take place on the phone, and usually does with out of town clients, being face to face allows you to read body language, improvise on ideas and enjoy personable dialogue. I always feel more connected to a client when we can meet in person and I suggest that to any photographer with a first time client. This meeting is important for you as the visual problem solver to ask the important questions that are essential to delivering the home run photograph at the end of the day. 

When I first met with the creative team at revered New Orleans ad agency Peter Mayer, there was a general excitement about the room. Their team was looking to create new, personable, yet powerful portraits of the presidents of various Hancock Banks on the Gulf Coast. The goal was to connect the new bank’s identity with it’s current community and introduce themselves to potential new communities in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. By using popular landmarks all along the coast, our goal was to connect the human to the land in a comfortable and fun way. My goal here was to ask as many questions as I could about the deliverables (photos to be delivered, edited and finished) like:

what orientation should we compose the shots? Knowing if they wanted to use horizontal or vertical photos in their layouts would help me later when scouting locations, shoot-time of day, and lighting options.

– what were some lighting Yes’s and No No’s – how creative or subtle should we go with our lighting and light modifier choices? This answer will give me an idea of how much gear of my own will be used as opposed to what we may need to rent.

– how many days do we have to complete the job and how many people are we shooting? The Peter Mayer team already had this well laid out. We had a certain number of executives and due to their busy schedules, only a few windows of opportunity to shoot them. In the end, we did a sunrise shoot for one exec, and an afternoon/evening shoot for the other. I was extremely thankful that the PM team had this under control. When planning a large location shoot such as this, it is a relief to know that you have help coordinating talent. You can get bogged down when dealing with these factors let alone everything else on your plate in the coming days.

I left the meeting with a clear idea of what we were going to do, but needed to scout the locations out on the Mississippi coast to know exactly what the chosen locations would look like at the projected times. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Peter Mayer team. Their genuine enthusiasm about their client and their openness for suggestions by me, made me excited for our project. These moments always give me satisfaction in my heart that I love what I do and that I am right where i need to be: being creative in a creative community.

PART 2  – Scouting and Prepping

I’ll See You Next Week for Part 2 of “Anatomy of an Advertising Photo Shoot” where we talk about how to properly scout your locations to ensure you are your best on shoot day! – SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG! Just click the RSS feed above and get your updates how you want them!


Tips for E-Commerce Product Photography/My Dog Tonka makes his debut on Amazon.com / Special Promo Code Inside!

December 18, 2015

My dog is famous. Your dog may be on the internet via Instagram, Facebook, or the many photos you took of them on your cell phone. I’m not bashing, I’m just saying my dog is famous. My 10 month old Old English Bulldog is indeed internet famous by way of our many Facebook posts and Tweets, but he has also met Santa. You heard me, the man in Red. Jolly Saint Nick. Mr. Claus if you’re not nasty. Here’s how…

I was recently hired to help a company advertise their new product, a Christmas pet bundle that includes a stocking filled with 4 dog toys and a holiday themed collar. The stocking included some fun toys for a dog and I wanted to find a way to set their product apart from the rest of the pack in this busy holiday season. The first suggestion I made was to make their photography the best for that category. After doing research on the subject, I found that this wouldn’t be too hard since most of the toy bundles for dogs I was finding were shot with poor lighting, bad composition, and were not reflective of how much FUN a dog stocking bundle could be to give to your dog!

I started surfing around for some Santa pics and found so many great ones. I then brought my Paul C Buff 1600 watt light kit n the kitchen and began doing mockups of our dog Tonka staring off into space and playing with the toys in the bundle. Before crafting some photomerges in Photoshop I sent the best photos I did of Tonka to my favorite cut out artists at Misterclipping. I have been using them for clients such as Krewe du Optic, King James and the Special Men, and Lebardo Scrubs.

I designed a few more funny action shots of Tonka with Santa that highlighted the clients product in the best way possible. I also did some product shots in my studio that I also sent to Misterclippings and they turned out great, as usual. In conclusion, finding out as much as you can about your clients product and how they want to represent it is the first step you need to take in formulating a good plan of attack. Next, you will want to research as many competitor products in the similar category as possible. Knowing how the rest of the field is photographing, listing, and marketing their products will give you some guidelines on how you can make yours stand out from the crowd. Consistent and colorful lighting will drive more viewers to your product and increase their conversion rate.

As a big THANK YOU for taking part in this post and reading it, I am giving you a PROMO CODE coupon for this very same Christmas Pet Bundle!

Click the photos below or THIS LINK & enter TOPDOG15 at checkout for %15 off! Order today and get before Christmas with 2-day Free Shipping!

Merry Christmas from TONKA and Zack Smith Photography.

HOW TO TUESDAY #8 - how to get better photographs of the full moon on Christmas night

December 15, 2015

Did you know there will be a full moon on Christmas night? If you are like me, you’ll want to make sure you get some practice in for when Santa crosses in front of the moon so you don’t miss your chance to get a once in a lifetime shot. The choice is wether to silhouette Santa or exposure for him and his sleigh of mighty reindeer. What is a photographer to do? Why don’t we start with the exposure on the full moon image above and go from there…

Conditions: August 10th, 8:20 pm Clear Sky, Super Moon

Settings Used: Canon 5D Mark3, 70-200 2.8L, 2x Extender, ISO 1000, 1/1000 @ 5.6 @ 400mm

Editing: Adobe Camera Raw 

There you have it. I have bared all for you to see, the gig is up, my secret is out. Why would I show you all my settings? For one: because the more information we share the better we all become – we raise the bar of our own community and everyone wins.

Getting back to Santa…..so if there is no light on Santa, then we should have a silhouette, right? I hate to tell you but, no. Factors such as: Atmospheric Conditions, Cloud Cover, and Time of Moon rise (and “Santa Sleigh Speed”) can contribute to variations in exposure, composition, and our final image. The best way to approach this shot is to come at it like we do any tricky night situation:

1. Take our UV filters OFF – doing this will cancel any specular highlights from creating highlight spots in your image. 

2. Stabilize! Turn VR/IR On, Use a Tripod, or lean up against something.

3. Set the lowest ISO possible that gives you the best shutter speed. Remember the Earth is moving so our exposures can’t bee too long.

4. If you are handholding, Double your focal length to get your shutter speed…ex: If you are shooting at 400mm = then your shutter speed should be at least 1/800 – get it?

5. Set your AF to Center Point, Spot Meter off of the Moon and “Find the “O”...take a test shot, then over expose or under expose depending on how you want your shot to look. I would suggest bracketing 1 stop Over/Under “0” (so that’s 3 total shots) since the moon will be reflecting so much light we may want to composite in Photoshop later.

See that was easy! Be sure to post your photos and share them with me! Find me on Facebook or use the hashtag #zsworkshops for whatever you do..i’ll find it!


HOW TO TUESDAY #7 - Finding Inspiration and Photographing Outside of Your Comfort Zone

December 8, 2015

I learned so much in the last year, doing research, visiting, and photographing the many talented artists that were featured in My Louisiana Muse. Not only did I get to photograph these Louisiana artists in their inspiring sacred spaces, I got to hear from the horses’ mouths on what makes them “tick”.

No other message rang louder than what musician Tommy Michot said about making Gumbo. Living in South Louisiana sometimes our greatest teachers are food. Tommy was recounting his days living in Utah and telling me that it was there, so far away from his hometown of Lafayette, that he learned to make his first gumbo. He recounted that being so far away from home made him adapt and learn the things that made him feel closer to home in a way. I feel the same way about photography. 

There are some weeks when I feel like I am in the circular whizzing treadmill of Bid, Proposal, Shoot, Edit, and Deliver…. Repeat, Rest, Repeat. This part of being a freelance photographer can wear on your soul and your creativity for sure! Now don’t get me wrong, I find ways to be creative on the jobs I go for and the proposals I create and I do still feel in full control of my content and direction. But the grind wears on you! One technique I have used and often use is to “step outside the bubble”.

In order to be able to step outside of the ‘treadmill’, I like to simplify my creative photographic approach on any given day. Here are several ways I change up my routine and find some creativity when life gets too much like the hamster:

1. One Lens. All Day. Try taking out just a fixed prime lens, like a 50mm or a 35mm and force yourself to document your day with one focal length. I find that by limiting my field of view, it forces me to find new ways to compose my story.

2. ‘Feels Weird, Looks Good’. Try photographing subject matter which you don’t normally shoot. If you are timid around people, ask a stranger to take their portrait. If you don’t photograph landscapes, go on an “architecture walk” in the French Quarter and find some houses to photograph. It’s funny the way new opportunities present themselves when you are “out of your bubble”. (I often use ‘feels weird looks good’ when photographing portraits of people who aren’t used to getting their picture taken. I can sense they are uneasy at times, and I say it….it really works, try it!)

3. Try New Editing Techniques. We all have a certain editing comfort zone we gravitate towards when putting the final creative touches to a photograph. Next time you are in front of some of your work, try a new edit – play around with some filters, clarity, and some contrast. When you shoot RAW you have no excuse NOT to experiment!

4. Put the Camera down and Pick Up a Book. I am a bonafide book reader. I love to read and I get so much inspiration from books. Books on artists, creativity, and non-fiction give me ideas that make me want to go and DO. Sometimes putting the camera down and picking up a book can lead to new projects or new insights on existing projects.

5. Go. See. Involve. Anywhere you live there is a gallery with some photography on the wall, a museum, or a great coffee shop exhibit. Art and photography are all around us even if we are not attuned to it in nature, someone else is. Spend a few hours at a museum or photography gallery or just pick up a photo book. I recently stopped by our friend Scott Edwards’ gallery this week to pickup some early Christmas gifts. His new and used photography book collection is amazing. I had to buy some for myself!

These are just a few practices I use to mix up my status quo when the treadmill gets a little too monotonous. What are some tactics YOU employ to burst out of your Bubble??


Photo Set: Allen Toussaint Memorial Services. Orpheum Theatre, New Orleans, LA Friday, November 20th

December 7, 2015

I was honored to be able to photograph a moving send off to a wonderful man on November 20th, 2015. I have photographed many New Orleans 2nd Lines and events but no other memorial service had more passion, love, and deep emotions such as the memorial service for New Orleans icon, Allen Toussaint, at the Orpheum Theatre. I present to you my favorite images. Big thanks to Festival Productions for having me to document the services.

Photography in the Lost and Found: Photographers..get a system now! How proper categorization of your work can lead to quicker dollars!

December 1, 2015

As a working professional photographer, proper organization of my digital files could make or break my next opportunity for income. I have learned this the hard way as I do most valuable lessons I hold dear!

SCENARIO A – Editor emails photographer (in this case, me) and asks if they have a certain file of Musician “A” performing at Music Festival “A” for a feature photo in an upcoming article. Job pays $$.

If you know anything about the current state of the editorial world where “we need this photo YESTERDAY” has quickly become “Can you REPLY to this email with SAID PHOTO?”, and we think nothing of it. Photography acquisition has always been and still is the LAST segment to be put into editorial content, so when someone is looking for a photo, that means the deadline is looming and the copy editor has left for the day. As a freelance photographer you really have no time to spare in locating the image, checking the file names and rights, and sending the image over (if all checks out of course). BUT WHERE DID THE IMAGE GO!!! (that was me screaming)

Back in the film days finding an image (if you remembered to file it away) was easy. Walk over to the binder of Festival “A” from the year in question and by alphabetical order (or by day) find Musician “A”, scan and send over. Well, yesteryears “yesterday” is now, RIGHT NOW!

Whatever post production software you use (Lightroom, Photoshop Suite, etc.) you must get with a program you can stick with and create a NEW HABIT OF ORDER. 

Above is my sample filing for any of my hard drives or cloud based storage. Most of my client work revolves around:


You have one of my main folders being PORTRAITS, and inside of it you have the person I photographed. Inside of that is a RAW folder where all of the RAW files go with their sidecars (.XMP files / metadata etc.), and along side of it are the different OUTPUT file types that are associated with any job. Sometime we’ll have folders like PSD, RAW Select, or even TIFF. I like to keep my RAW folders separate so that I can always go back to the source files and edit out a different file at any time while my other folders remain untouched.

Whatever your system is, get one and stick with it!

Good Habits Create Good Muscle Memory!

While you are here..take a peek at my new E-COMMERCE Gallery where you can purchase prints and take some of my work home with you for the holidays. Order by December 15th and get your order in by December 24th!


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