Month: February 2016

Learning the Land by Location Scouting - How to Turn a Simple Walk into Pre-Production on your Next Shoot!

February 29, 2016

I keep a little black book. Well, it’s a small yellow “pad” application inside my iphone that keeps all of my Locations and Notes as I drive and walk from job to job, studio to home and coffee shop to coffee shop. I am always looking for unique environments to serve as backgrounds and layers for future shoots. As you may have been reading this photography blog (which I have had here since 2006….!) I do feel my purpose is to help others around me in the photography community, but there is ONE thing I don’t share too much of: my locations. I have always felt that learning how to use strobes, how to pose portraits and edit in lightroom are skills that can be learned over time. Some learn it faster, some take more time. Finding the right location, and especially the perfect background for any subject’s story, I feel is the one part of the creative photographic process that evolves even slower. It’s tough to teach since it’s so personal. 

There are a few techniques I can share with you about Location Scouting for your next photoshoot, and it’s an easy one.

I suggest to portrait photographers to always snap photos of your locations and share them with your Google Drive or email AS SOON AS YOU CAN! I don’t know about you but I always am inspired at the wrong time…either I am late and driving somewhere, I don’t have a camera on me, or the light just isn’t right. Well, that’s the point of documenting a location by any means necessary. No matter if the light isn’t just perfect, or your idea is not fully formed, you have the location logged either by photo or a written description. Here are some photos I have taken with my “location scout hat” on…you never know what you might find on walk Learning the Land…

Click on the Photo to Expand and Learn the Technique!

5 Easy Portrait Photography Tips to help you Connect With Your Subjects! How To Tuesday #19!

February 29, 2016

You could be photographing a CEO’s headshot or your own family Christmas photo, by connecting with your subject on a deeper level it will always result in a more powerful portrait.

Whether I am photographing a business person, a musician, or a family of six, I am always faced with the duty of making the best photographs of them that they will be happy with while still being creative. Over the last 15 years photographing people in the loudest most awkward situations to the subtle and quiet intimate times, there are a few techniques and practices I use to make sure I am confident in my approach and that my subjects react to me in the most natural way possible. 

 Artist Melissa Bonin with one of her paintings at Lake Martin, Louisiana in 2015. Through many days of research and conversations we knew we had to be at the lake one hour before sunrise to be setup and ready for the magic of the morning

Artist Melissa Bonin with one of her paintings at Lake Martin, Louisiana in 2015. Through many days of research and conversations we knew we had to be at the lake one hour before sunrise to be setup and ready for the magic of the morning ‘golden hour’.

1. Do Your Homework and Know Your Subject

Anytime I am about to photograph someone, I always do my research on them beforehand. Even if it’s only to review what the shoot is about and why we are heading out to a remote swamp (yes!), it always helps me to get my mind and intentions focused on my subject and the story. I like to research my subject’s likes and dislikes, review their latest album if it’s a musician, or even request mixed songs from the album cover we are shooting the next day. I always like to have topics to talk about with my subject so that we can establish a rapport and maybe even a friendship along the way.

2.  Prepare to K.I.S.S. and Make it Count

Hey now! By reviewing your gear the night before and detailing your intention behind your shoot, you will know what gear to bring and what to leave behind...Keep It Simple Stupid! When I only bring the gear I need for a particular shoot, I can manage my conversations with my subject much easier and not worry about the hassle of gear I will need. I find that when I am able connect with my subject and not be concerned too much about light modifiers and stands, we can both find a place that is collaborative and comfortable much faster! QUICK TIP: If you don’t feel comfortable yet with a new light you just bought, don’t bring it until you can change it’s settings with your eyes closed. Just because you got some new gear and are chomping at the bit to use it and impress the new big client, doesn’t mean you need to bring it out right away.

 Washboard Chaz photographed at Chaz Fest in 2010. I used 1 camera, 1 lens. No lights no nothing. I made it easy and comfortable amidst a loud music festival!

Washboard Chaz photographed at Chaz Fest in 2010. I used 1 camera, 1 lens. No lights no nothing. I made it easy and comfortable amidst a loud music festival!

3. Shoot with Intention and Have a Goal in Mind

I always make a point to meet with my subjects in person before our shoot. If all my subject has time for is a phone call, I’ll take that as a great opportunity to talk with them about Why we are shooting, Where the images will go, Where we are going , and How I want to make this photograph the best thing they have seen. Detailing my intention and sharing ideas on photographic techniques I have to meet their goals, I have begun a unique collaborative environment that has already started to build a relationship. 

4. Bring a Familiar Face and Familiar Place

Having your subject bring a friend join the photo shoot can create a comfortable support system for your subject if you feel there may be some nerves present when the big shoot day happens. I like to always review our location together so that if we need some privacy and less of a public place, we can easily find that at the last minute if need be. 

5. Most Importantly – Have Fun

If you really do enjoy what you do as a photographer it should be present in the way you walk, talk, and hold the camera. Make a new friend, experience life through a strangers eyes and practice empathy! Do these things before you put that camera in between your face and theirs and I guarantee a level of comfort and trust will begin to emerge in your work, and thusly in your subjects eyes and pose!


I’ve been shooting musician Luke Winslow-King for a few years now and we have a comfortable rapport. This image above is from our first shoot together and by following these tips…we were able to get some great shots and start a great relationship of creative collaborating!

Silhouette Photography Gallery from Zack Smith Photography

February 22, 2016

I wanted to share some of my favorite silhouette photographs over the last few years to give you a glimpse into the numerous situations you may find yourself in that warrant a silhouette. What I am trying to say is….Silhouettes are EVERYWHERE! If your intention is to silhouette your subject, then that should be your goal for the day. If you want to learn more about how I use silhouettes in a professional setting, see my most recent How To Tuesday and Click Here!

Find a Strong Subject with Good Shape. Make sure your background is reflecting MORE LIGHT, and just Expose for the Background. If your subject is reflecting back less light (or is darker) then you will get a silhouette right in the camera most of the time! 

Below are some of my favorite silhouettes through the years. Bellydancer Layla Isis, Tin Men, Tao Seeger and Ben Jaffe are just a few…click and enjoy!

Learn how to Photograph a Silhouette and more in this week's Photography Techniques and Tips - HOW TO TUESDAY #18

Learn How to Photograph a Silhouette Portrait in any situation!

I have to say, this last week was a great week for Acadiana area artists. Being from Lafayette and living and working in New Orleans, I love when I get to work with Cajun and Zydeco artists in any way shape or form. I recently got to work one artist from Lafayette that I’ve been photographing for quite a while. 

Anthony Dopsie and the Jazz Fest Silhouette

After shooting as one of the staff photographers for The Jazz and Heritage Festival for 7 years, I have amassed an impressive archive of festival photography. In addition to doing my duty for the festival and getting the shots required to tell the story of the music, food, and fun – I make sure I get photos that I can use for later. I make sure I photograph my friends hanging out in the crowd, I do well lit backstage portraits of musicians, friends and strangers. One aside to this story, most young photographers are always asking me “can you get on stage?” as if being on stage you get the ‘best’ shots. I always tell them that you are more limited from the stage than anywhere else, and the best shot would be “15 feet in the air, in the middle of the crowd”. It’s funny, but kind of true.

There are a few moments when being on stage can really help you: The Backlit Over Exposed Crowd Musician Portrait. Say what!? One of my favorite stages to shoot is the Fais Do Do Stage, mainly because I love the music on that stage (mostly Cajun and Zydeco) but you can get some great silhouette photos (SEE the NEW Gallery) of the musicians since the crowd has more light on them than the stage. The best way to describe what a silhouette is when you set your exposure for a brighter background then the subject that is in front of it. If the subject is in a darker area, then it will be rendered as a silhouette.

I recently was contacted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism as they were looking for a silhouette or partially silhouetted musician playing at a non-descript music festival. Knowing that I had tons of this, I went straight to my Jazz Fest archives and looked up all the Cajun and Zydeco bands I photographed. I usually always get on stage when Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters play because of the ongoing relationship I have with them. Any time they see me shooting, I always get direct engagement, especially from accordion player Anthony Dopsie. I found one shot from a few years back of the PERFECT silhouette of Anthony, sent it to the agency working for the client and they loved it. The photograph ended up being used in their ad “Come for a Feast – Stay for a Fest”

Anthony was super excited as was I. As you see in the photo above, I exposed for the crowd in the back meaning I wanted the crowd to dictate what my shutter speed and aperture were, and just let my subject (Anthony) fall where it may knowing it would be underexposed. My exposure here was:

In this case of wanting a silhouette I could not set my camera on a Priority Exposure Mode like Aperture or Shutter Priority. Using Manual Exposure (always!) I can use my Spot Meter to read the light from the background to begin my exposure. I set my aperture at 2.8 so that the crowd would only be recognizable as a soft mass of people as I didn’t want the viewers eye to go there. Once I set my aperture at 2.8, I read the Spot Meter and I could then bring my shutter speed to 1/800 which gave me the exposure I wanted which was had the Meter reading “0” or right at 2/3 of a stop below. Having my ISO low at 320 enabled me to crop the image without losing much detail. Here’s the original image before the crop:

It was great working with the Louisiana Office of Tourism to help promote the greatest things about Louisiana! Food, Music, and Acadiana! Allons a Lafayette! 

How to Photograph New Orleans Festivals with Zack Smith Photography! Improve your photography with these simple tips from "Tips from the Pro" on WWL-TV

February 17, 2016

PHOTO SET: New Orleans Vietnamese Lunar New Years Celebration

February 14, 2016


New Orleans Vietnamese Lunar New Year Celebration – a day of documentary photography.

The Vietnamese New Year (Tet) is the biggest celebration in Vietnamese culture. Each year the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in the New Orleans East neighborhood holds a three-day celebration of it’s unique culture, food, and traditions.

The event features food, carnival games, dragon dances, concerts and other surprises to celebrate the Lunar New Year and ancient traditions of Vietnamese heritage. Many Vietnamese resettled in America as the Communist regime took over and many of these families settled in South Louisiana.

In the immediate Post-Katrina landscape, this exact Vietnamese community were resilient in rebuilding, connecting, and strengthening their neighborhoods and resettling efforts. I actually live about 5 miles from this community so I decided to strap on my Black Rapid RS Extreme Sport, Canon 5D Mark III and my Sigma 50mm 1.4 and see what I could see. I wanted this document to be simple, effortless, and fit a vision I had of telling the story through a particular “eye”.

Choosing 1.4, and 1.8 on my aperture, I could adjust my shutter speed as I went in and out of the harsh sun/shadows contrast on this day. I had on my Circular Polarizer to help knock down the exposure since I wanted to shoot at 100 ISO and such a wide aperture. I really could have used my 4x Neutral Density Filter though, I never got to use my speed light…next time!

Ponderosa Portraits: The Night I Photographed Legends as Portrait Photographer at The Stomp

February 12, 2016

Since 2001 I had found a way to setup comfortable and quiet photography portrait areas amongst loud and raucous festivals in New Orleans…

On May 5th 2001 I set up a white bed sheet between two trees on Sauvage and Grand Route St. John streets, just two blocks from the entrance to the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. There, for 8 hours, I photographed people as they walked in. My approach and execution were quick and Doctor’s Convention-style:

Me: “OK one photo just looking in the camera and no expression”


Me: “And now do whatever you want!”

SNAP – and hand over business card – thank you.

Since then I have had 5 years photographing backstage portraits at The Voodoo Music Experience (Voodoo Fest), 7 Years at Chaz Fest, and a host of one-off backstage happenings. By far the most rewarding and fun of the “one offs” was the Ponderosa Stomp in 2013. I have to thank Dr. Ira for giving me the this wonderful opportunity and a small corner in a side room at the Rock n Bowl I set up a simple brown muslin where I was to photograph the legends of rock and roll, one on one, just me and them. I usually know most of the people I am about to photograph but this time I knew none. I was not hip to their music or any of the stories surrounding them. As you may or may not know, the artists booked at The Ponderosa Stomp have usually enjoyed the successes of their hit songs decades ago and have been brought back on stage by the festival to show them how much they are still loved and revered. It really is a beautiful thing.

I have had the privilege of photographing artists in their prime, before their prime, and after their prime. But the constant between them all is that they love what they do, and what they do is what they love. Being witness and recorder to that gives me great pleasure and reminds me I do love what I do, and do what I love.

How To Tuesday #16 - The Anatomy of a Photograph: An inside look into the photographer's settings and metadata

February 8, 2016

I often have people ask me what my settings were on portrait and documentary shoots so that they may gain understanding about the HOW and WHY of a photograph. I have never been one to hide how I make my photographs and I am happy to share with you a little “behind the scenes” look into my setups and camera settings. 

As a new Lightroom convert (student is more like it!) It is really easy for me to show you a screen grab of some of my recent images which shows all the important metadata and camera settings. The instant teaching power that digital photography has makes it so easy for us to view our settings immediately after we shoot it so we can make some quick adjustments. When we are in editing mode back at the office, we can use this important metadata to learn about our mistakes and successes as well as notice interesting patterns in our shooting styles. I hope you can gain some insight to your photography by taking a sneak peek into mine!

 Rebirth Brass Band shot at the Michael Jackson Memorial 2nd Line. June 28th, 2009.  ©Zack Smith Photography

Rebirth Brass Band shot at the Michael Jackson Memorial 2nd Line. June 28th, 2009.  ©Zack Smith Photography

 2nd Line Funeral for New Orleans Musician, Allen Toussaint. Friday, November 20th 2016

2nd Line Funeral for New Orleans Musician, Allen Toussaint. Friday, November 20th 2016

Late last year I had the privilege to photograph the funeral ceremony of New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint. You can see my gallery HERE. This is a great photo to see how I did it because the settings were very easy and no artificial light was needed. Above this photo is an image from my document of the Michael Jackson Memorial 2nd Line back in 2009. The metadata on these images are easy to read and replicate since there was no artificial light. You can easily read the file number, name, shoot date/time, and file size in the upper left hand corner. I really do notice time of day when I am looking at my metadata. Knowing when the good light will be available for you at each time of year can help you plan on what gear and grip to bring. In this case, no extra gear was necessary since I had to move around pretty quickly and make myself “small”. In the bottom right hand corner you can see all of cameras settings from Time, Exposure, Focal Length, ISO, and Lens.

 Musician and Composer Brendan Connelly standing between his custom designed offices, 2016  ©Zack Smith Photography

Musician and Composer Brendan Connelly standing between his custom designed offices, 2016 ©Zack Smith Photography

Here again, you can see the file name, date shot, and resolution in the upper left hand corner. For this portrait of musician and theatre composer Brendan Connelly, we decided to use his new custom designed and built offices as our dominating background. The colors were popping, the converging lines were leading my eyes and all we needed was light. The time of day we shot was not optimal for using only ambient light, so we had to add some….

2 light setupKey Light: Paul C. Buff White Lightning 1600 with 60″ Octabank Softbox 45º angle pointing down at my subject, about 10′ in the air. The light is 6 feet to my left / to my subjects right side. My Rim Light is a Paul C. Buff White Lightning 1600 w/ a 30º grid and set 2 stops higher in power than my key light. It is positioned directly behind my subject. Lights were set off using Pocket Wizard Transceivers.  (if you are unfamiliar with the products, highlight them and google it!)

 Cajun Musician Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers photographed for the French Quarter Fest 2016 Poster ©Zack Smith Photography

Cajun Musician Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers photographed for the French Quarter Fest 2016 Poster ©Zack Smith Photography

By now you can easily navigate your way around the metadata and cross reference the previous shot of Brendan to see what has changed. If you look closely will see the light on their face is the same, but the Rim Light is different. The great thing about learning to read metadata is that once you get good at it, you start to get good at reading photos. My lighting scheme is almost identical to the previous portrait but my Rim Light is off to the Left hand side of Louis, and not directly behind like the Brendan photo. As long as my shutter speed is in sync, i only need my aperture to adjust depth and light intake and my ISO to brighten or darken my entire scene.

Here a few more easy reads with some different Meta Data…have fun, and don’t forget to ask ANY questions you want by COMMENTING on this blog post!!

 Chalmette Battlefiled Foggy Morning, January 21, 2016  ©Zack Smith Photography

Chalmette Battlefiled Foggy Morning, January 21, 2016 ©Zack Smith Photography

 A Chewbacchus Parade reveler gives his best Star Wars gaze! January 30th, 2016, Marigny - New Olreans  ©Zack Smith Photography

A Chewbacchus Parade reveler gives his best Star Wars gaze! January 30th, 2016, Marigny – New Olreans ©Zack Smith Photography

 Revelers at the Michael Jackson Memorial 2nd Line. June 28th, 2009. New Orleans ©Zack Smith Photography

Revelers at the Michael Jackson Memorial 2nd Line. June 28th, 2009. New Orleans ©Zack Smith Photography

Throwback Tuesday Gallery : Mardi Gras Morning 2013 with Big Chief Juan Pardo

February 8, 2016

In 2013 I had the honor of documenting Big Chief Juan Pardo emerge from way Uptown with his tribe of Indians, family, and musicians. He stopped traffic, crossed paths with Big Chief Bo Dollis (R.I.P. Bo), and didn’t stop or bow down for anyone….

There is something so special about the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Wether what you love is the tradition, beauty, or something personal I urge you to always GIVE BACK to any of the cultures you document. So many people travel from far and wide to photograph Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs but never end up making a print or online gallery for the people they shot. I promise you this: the amount of effort made to GIVE BACK is far outweighed by what you GET BACK. Trust me! 

I made a nice hard cover book for Juan and his family and made a few prints. I wouldn’t think twice about doing this for him or anyone else now, it’s just a new habit I don’t mind having. 

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