Month: July 2016

How To Tuesday #35 - Portrait Photography Lighting 101: When to choose...what to use?

July 31, 2016

How do we know when to use lighting for a portrait, and then what light do we use?

I think when we are learning how to first shoot portraits, lighting is probably the last thing on our minds. I remember when I first started shooting portraits, the most important thing buzzing around my head was “I hope I look like I know what I doing” especially if that person was paying me to be there! I was still fidgeting with my camera, lenses, and all the while I was hoping that the client didn’t get distracted or bored. The absolute last thing on my mind was what kind of lighting is suitable for this portrait and how can I utilize the FREE light first.

Let the Subject Set the Settings…

When we are first setting up for a portrait shoot the easiest way I have found to help with choosing the right exposure (aperture, ISO, shutter speed), lens (focal length), composition and lighting, is to ask – What Does My Subject Want. What’s the story I am trying relay here? How does my subject want to be presented? I am going to use an example from my recent photo shoot with the super creative folks at Dirty Coast Press in New Orleans, to answer that question.

Question 1 – What is the Goal of this Portrait?

Ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish. In the case of this shoot, I needed to showcase the t-shirts and their design, show how well they fit on the person, and make sure the design was visible and lit well. If that’s my first goal, I also had ulterior motives like: I need great joy and energy from each subject who was wearing the shirt, I needed the background to NOT be distracting, I needed my subject facing the lens at all times but still look “natural”. 

Search for the Available Light first when looking to set the “base” of light for your portrait

Sometimes the natural light is all you need to properly light someone. When looking for an easy and quick shot at One Eyed Jacks for the Booker shirt, i just used the available window light to illuminate my subject and the background. NOTE: we must always take into consideration how our backgrounds are lit as well – they will continue to tell the story of the portrait in a way that completes the photograph.

In the shot above, I had to slow down my shutter speed and use a very wide aperture (1.8) to get as much light as possible. But in the shot below, I am outside in the shade and there is plenty of natural light available to photograph my subjects. NOTE: this wall that’s covered in vegetation is one of my favorite backgrounds in New Orleans. The streets of New Orleans constantly offer up their natural settings for your best portraits…

Natural light portraits make your life so much easier…you can just flow with your subjects’ moods and connect with them so much easier. As the day comes to a close, we can still utilize the ambient light from a window, but we may need to add light to our backgrounds if they are not close enough to expose properly. In the portrait below, we had enough light on Rodney but not enough on the background. In other situations maybe that would ok – but remember that we have a duty to our client to show their products and make them shine. Even though that shirt wall is out of focus and in the background, I wanted to direct your eye there to let you know that visiting their store would reveal even more creative designs. 

As you may be able to tell, I added a warm orange gel to my Alien Bee 800 with a 30º grid attached and had the left side of his face take the window light. That grid on my background light allowed me to “focus” my light to a particular section of the wall, as well as “pop” a little light on the right side of Rodney’s head. You can say I got a 2-fer on that background light – background AND rim light!

Learn these mixed light portrait techniques and more at my workshop August 20th!

I will be talking about and demonstrating these exact techniques at my “Art of the Photographic Portrait Workshop” August 20th at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art. Be one of the lucky ones who SIGNS UP NOW before it’s too late! This class is limited to 8 participants so we can keep the class small and learn BIG


Art of the Photographic Portrait - The Portrait IS the story your subject reads with their eyes

July 29, 2016

Photographing a portrait of someone must tell the story, learning the story must come before you put camera to eye…

Over the years I have loved photographing my friend Arlyn Jiminez, who is also a superbly talented metal artist. He makes sculptures for his own art but for commissions as well. Here and there some galleries even show his work… Ariodante Gallery in New Orleans will be showing some work of his in the near future..stay tuned.

I wanted to go by Arlyn’s studio sculpture studio in New Orleans to demonstrate some mixed lighting portraits using some new gear I got. I will be doing alot of this type of instruction in my “Art of the Photographic Portrait” photography workshop on August 20th at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art, but I wanted to show those interested what is possible….really, anything is!

Explaining the 3 Light Portrait Setup

I was using a 3 strobe setup, also know as a 3 Light Setup, using natural light, and 3 Paul C. Buff Strobes with grids and colored gels. In the shot above I had no gel on a 30º grid on his face, a blue gel w/ a 40º grid on the tools in the foreground, and a orange gel on a 10º grid for the warm look on the background. I had a video done of this setup you can see here:

Shooting with the Prime Lens New Orleans French Quarter Gallery - July 2016

In preparation for my latest NOLA @ Night French Quarter and City Park photography workshop, I walked the French Quarter with my 35mm 1.4 prime and had a blast. I noticed that shadows play a big part in the quarter whether or not the sun is out, or the night is in full effect. There is also something very liberating when confined to see in only one focal length…here’s what I saw

How to Tuesday #34 - Learning Portrait photography sometimes starts with learning where and how to focus.

July 25, 2016

As beginning photographers there’s alot on our minds. Aside from going through our mental checklist of various Must Do’s like:

How to Turn Camera On / How to Hold Camera Correct / Set Correct ISO / Where is  my Shutter Speed Wheel? / and the list goes on…

Sometimes it’s the easiest factors of photography that escape us like – Where Do I Set My Focus? I think I can help in this department, so let’s go through a few scenarios and break them down…

Where Do I set my Focus Point and which Focus Point do I use when photographing Portraits?

Most of the time, I mean 99.9% of the time, in portrait photography you will want to focus on the eyes of your subject. If they eyes are the stairway to the soul (as some may say) then you want your viewers to be looking directly into the eyes of your subject. If you have the ability to have your subject’s eyes facing you then it will be easy to find the focus and lock in tight. 

As  you see in my portrait of the lovely Jodi, my focus point is at her eyes. I deliberately set my Auto Focus Point at her eyes and set my Auto Focus there, then recomposed and snapped this shot. I was using my Paul C. Buff 60″ octabank on her left side..and see that nice warm glowing hair light on her right side? Well that was the soft setting sun popping that warm glow for us! Two light set up…one artificial, and one natural. As you can see, photographing portraits at the Golden Hour in Louisiana is one of my favorite things to do!

How do I set my auto focus point for the eyes in my portrait photography?

In all cameras, we have the ability to get OFF of our Default Modes (these are modes of focus, ISO, and other features that come standard w/ the camera when we first turn it on) and customize our photographic experience. Keep in mind, when we first turn our cameras on, our Auto Focus default mode will be set on a “focus to nearest” feature, meaning the camera wants to focus on the “closest object”. If our subjects are always the first thing we see in our compositions, this default feature would work perfect…but that’s not always the case! In the terms of this How To Tuesday, we want to depart from the default setting, and go to the Single Point AF feature. In the Single Point AF we can move/toggle the focus point to the place we want our camera to focus…and in this case it’s the EYES!

In the above photo of Luke, you can see my how my multi point focus pattern lays over my full composition. Note the middle box is highlighted as that is my favorite focus point…but in this case I want to be able to utilize my focus points to find Luke’s eye, then recompose the least amount of distance from Focus Point to Final Composition. This way I know I will be in focus no matter what aperture.

I set my focus point to the box closest to his eye, then recompose, and shoot.

Learning to properly auto focus during portraits will take some time, but you will learn!

This kind of technique doesn’t come naturally for all photographers. Some of us hold our strengths in the creative aesthetic moments and we cringe when “another damn button” needs to be pressed or clicked to make our job easier. If you are a portrait photographer that doesn’t want your subject’s eyes to be in the middle of the frame every time, this is one feature you will need to learn! Practice! Practice! Practice! Practice your portrait photography on a tree, a house, a pet! Do whatever it takes to get comfortable so that you can utilize this feature as second nature!

If you think you’d like to learn how to use these tactics and much much more in a real life portrait setting, then you should check out my NEXT WORKSHOP – “Art of the Photographic Portrait” on August 20th in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Using my roots to connect in deeper conversations in the No Man's Land of Vermillion Parish

July 21, 2016

My roots and cultural threads are often needed to make connections when photographing the landscapes of Louisiana and emotional terrain clients and subjects.

On a recent photo shoot in the wilds of the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, deep in the Louisiana coastal marshes of Vermillion Parish, I needed more than extra batteries and secure digital memory cards to creatively photograph our team’s experience there. Yesterday I joined an amazing team from the Audubon Louisiana institute, Rainey Sanctuary, and Cultural Vistas Magazine to document new tactics taken on by Audubon Louisiana to revitalize portions of the battered Louisiana coast due to pipeline cutting, saltwater intrusion, and storms. I found it very necessary to use my knowledge of Vermillion Bay, Lafayette, and the smaller surrounding towns’ culture and music to make connections with our guides and host…vital when wanting to photograph the story behind the story.

Located on a peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico, the sanctuary is a prime example of the land loss crisis threatening communities, industries and wildlife across coastal Louisiana. This land loss has been worsened by storms like Rita and Ike, which decimated much of the property and turned hundreds of acres of the sanctuary into open water. I was so honored to be able to work on this job as part of an article, video, and documentary produced by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ Cultural Vistas magazine. 

This wildlife sanctuary just south of Vermillion Bay is closed off to the public. Being one of the few photographers to be granted access to this cultural gem was not lost on me as I toured it’s vast channels and waterways.

The National Audubon Society’s oldest and largest bird sanctuary is held here, spanning 26,000 acres in Vermilion Parish, and I was there to photograph the discussion of it’s history and importance to bird populations, and overview of the various restoration efforts underway that has made Rainey a living laboratory of coastal restoration to inform private landowners across the Louisiana coast. I was inundated with a vast coastal knowledge from conservationists, ornithologists, and preservationists like never before. 

Audubon has been a Louisiana landowner since 1924, and seeks to endow Louisiana landowners with a better understanding of available self-powered, affordable marsh creation techniques to restore land on their own properties. The Sanctuary provides critical migratory and  nesting habitat for over 200 species of birds, including some threatened species. Even though the day we went in July was probably the slowest time for any type of bird action, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, counted over 35 unique bird species in our 6 hours on site. 

As a lifelong resident of Louisiana and lover of her people and cultures, I feel it is my duty to make sure I do what I can with my talents and creative energy to make sure our land is protected for the future generations. Stay tuned for the article and corresponding video in the coming months!




Photo Gallery: Walking with the Prime

July 18, 2016

Learning photography is learning to see differently, and then becoming comfortable with your new eyes.

One challenge I like to give people who are just learning photography is to “hang out with a prime”. Whether they have a fixed 50mm or 85mm lens doesn’t matter to me, they can easily just stay at any focal length on a zoom lens they have, and experiment. Being able to identify and become familiar with how your world looks at each focal length is a priceless lesson for any photographer, especially the beginner. I often bring out my small 85mm 1.8 and keep it in the truck…you never know what you might see…

Behind the Scenes for St. Charles Vision Portrait Shoot #2 - NOLA "Distinctive"

Heading into Overdrive and BTS (Behind the Scenes) at the St. Charles Vision “Distinctive” New Orleans portrait photo shoot

In this second installment of St. Charles Vision’s “Distinctive” New Orleans portrait campaign, we photographed chefs Kristen Essig co-owner of Coquette, Aaron Burgau of Patois and Central City BBQ, Thomas Mann, artist, and trombone player extraordinaire and all around nice fellow, Delfayo Marsalis. New Orleans is ripe with creatives, and I am honored to be around their energy and have the privilege to photograph them. Thanks again to Matt at St. Charles Vision for including me in this very cool collaborative photographic project. Here are some of my favorite Behind the Scenes shots from our shoot last week held at Room #1 at NOLA Spaces in New Orleans. Hair and makeup by Susan Spaid, assisted by Lamar Arceneaux and Sarrah Danziger, Cameron Wood digital tech.



HOW TO TUESDAY #32 Finding the WHY as a Visual Artist and Letting it Drive your WHERE

July 11, 2016

First a little background on the “why” of this Blog.

In 2008 I began offering a Digital 101 photography course through the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts where I have been teaching since around 2003. This course was designed for the “right out the box” shooter and the DSLR novice who wanted to get a handle on the external, internal, and “what the hell does this button do” features of their new, or new-ish cameras. In those courses I had alot of people come in with Camera Overkill. That’s when someone suggests, or you buy, a camera that is too advanced for your current photographic and technical knowledge and you become overwhelmed. I often see this person get frustrated and either abandon the camera, or photography all together, and go back to what they show with before – usually a cell phone.

Every once an a while I would have those students that were so dedicated to learning their camera that they dedicated their days, nights, and weekends to it. The camera became their pillow, their steering wheel, their cell phone. Sometimes you could see a clear voice in their work through consistency in composition, color styles, and they way they related to their subject. You could tell they “got” it….I believe these students, though early in their careers, had already identified their “why”. Some did not know it, some did. But their “why” gave their search for knowledge a real purpose. The oft confusing terminologies of aperture, depth of field, pixels, and shutter speed made sense not because they were smarter than the rest…but they could see the light at the end of the photographic tunnel. They had the “WHY”

Last year I paused on teaching this Digital 101 course and started to offer a new course called Portfolio Critique and Project Mentorship. With 6 photographers in this class, we are just about to finish our last class this week and it has been a joy to teach. These 6 photographers are all at different levels in their careers but there is so much promise since there is a clear WHY in all the work they do. Each photographer has keen sense of who they are, what they want to shoot, and this class is geared to help them navigate the best way to get their work out there. I guess you could call this class the WHERE of photography…find your WHY and then your WHERE and you’re there. (Hey, that’s catchy…)

As visual storytellers we are driven by the WHY. Over the years we have mastered the tools of our trade and are thus allowed the freedom to use them in ways we never dreamed, and are only limited by our imagination.

See like the Camera. Photographers should try this little meditation

1. Put the Camera Down

2. Sit in a Quiet Room without your phone, TV, or radio to disturb you

3. Close Your Eyes…and Clear Your Mind

When you get there…try to envision your camera as a microphone or writing pad instead. How easy the words flow on page and how they sound in your years. Think how effortless it is to get the story. If photography could be that easy…that effortless…what would you photograph and why?

Try this at home. Find the WHY….then get out THERE!


Beauty and the Beast by The Performing Arts Academy. This Parish Got Talent.

Performance photography gallery showcases performers from the St. Bernard area.

Being connected, staying engaged and entertained are the three things I look for in a performance. Over my 20 years of photographing performances of all types of music, theater, and dance I have seen my fair share of talented ensembles. The most recent performance of “Beauty and the Beast” by The Performing Arts Academy ranks up there in my books as being one of the most stellar casts, clever lighting and stage productions, and live orchestra combos I have ever seen. In each performance I saw, all actors hit their marks, all spot lights tracked and followed with guided precision all the while keeping the story engaging and the audience enthralled. The cleverly hand constructed sets and backdrops were life like and the depth and textures of each scene made you feel as though the stage continued through each forest scene and enchanted castle set.

Oh, did I mention that the cast, crew, technical, and grips were all kids from St. Bernard Parish? Sorry, that must have slipped my mind, mostly because I now rank this group up with the professionals I have seen over the years and therefore have transcended age and are just plain talented artists. The singing ability of some of these kids ranging in ages of 6 to 19 I’d put up with any group leading a band on Frenchmen St. or even at an LPO concert at The Orpheum. I am very, very serious about this…I was blown away at the talent and professionalism of this group of kids and the talented mentors around them. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed this performance by The Performing Arts Academy led by artistic director Arianna Cassar.

My sincere thanks to Jimmy Delery for the introduction to Mr. Charles Cassar and this wonderful world of talent and possibilities in St. Bernard…catch a show soon!

Please enjoy this photo gallery by clicking on the arrows besides the photo!



POP...SPARKLE....and FADE - 4th of July Fireworks Photography Recap

July 5, 2016

Zack Smith Photography Workshops fireworks Photo Gallery Showcase

Last night’s 4th of July fireworks display was epic. Big kudos to Go 4th On The River’s Dueling Barge show and all the sponsors who made it happen. Zack Smith Photography Workshops got a HUGE boost from the folks at The French Market Corporation and Crescent Park for securing us an excellent viewing area! Be on the lookout for more images coming from our 10 lucky workshop photographers but I hope these will tide you over!

I have included the Exposures for these photos so you know how shutter speed affects the trails of each firework…the longer the shutter speed, the longer the tail.

  320 / 30 seconds / f20 / 40mm / 5DMKIII

  ISO 320 / f13 / 20 seconds / 21mm / 5DMKIII

  ISO 320 / f13 / 8 seconds / 85mm / 5DMKIII

  ISO 320 / f13 / 8 seconds / 85mm / 5DMKIII

  ISO 320 / f22 / 30 seconds / 40mm / Canon 5DMKIII

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