Zack photographing Delfeayo Marsalis in 2017. Come behind the scenes of focal length and learn to see like the camera!
Rob your eyes from their sense of sight and gift your ears the color of sound. Close your eyes anywhere in New Orleans to hear the sounds of history, joy, sorrow and struggle. It’s like a song that continues to be written as you walk the streets listening for the next verse in the city’s sweet ballad.
Hear the song, see the shadows, feel the light from the sun.
Walk with a 50 and zoom on the run…
As photographers we need to be in the moment sometimes to really feel when a photograph needs to be made. We are makers, we are doers, and we are definitely not takers. In order to truly KNOW what the camera sees we need to OWN our Focal Length.
NOTE: I have blogged about focal length and the Zen of it a few times, you can read and see more about how I explore the world with a fixed gaze. Click on any post to read in a new window. But please continue to read on.
Think of your specific focal length as a new pair of prescription glasses. It takes some time to get used to the perspective…
I would like to introduce the photographs used in this uniquely New Orleans gallery to show you how I see with a lens. I try to create the new visual reality while telling my client’s story. I recently had a wonderfully busy week photographing musician Delfeayo Marsalis, trumpeter Mark Lawrence Johnson, Dirty Coast tshirts, and more. I’d like to use the photographs I took “on the side” to explain my relationship with focal length and learning to see like the camera.
Choosing which lens to use on your subject also means to dictate how your background will relate.
I feel I am able to tell the story of someone, or some business, as I relate their visual needs to the way the story unfolds in front of a particular focal length. For instance, photographing an image of a tee shirt really close up is very important to my client but do I want to photograph it with a wide angle lens (like 20mm, 24mm) to widen my perspective angle and distort the image? Photographing with a wider angle lens at a close up subject will distort the subject, but it will also separate it from the background which could be appealing. On the other hand I could photograph that shirt with a longer focal length (120mm to 200mm) to compress the background and give the effect of shallow depth of field at most any aperture combination. The further the background is from my subject, the more soft and diffused the bokeh will be.
Whatever funny saying or trick to help you remember what focal length will do to help you craft your composition, figure it out! One that I like to use is “Longer Lens brings the Background In”. This little saying will remind you to use your longer focal lengths like 100mm and above to bring the background closer. Bringing the background closer to your subject will give a more important stature to the background, allowing a closer relationship with subject and giving it more meaning. Using a wider angle lens will do the exact opposite.
My Photography Workshops help you Get a Philosophy…
Since I have been teaching photography in New Orleans (c. 2002) I have always taught that you must have a subject, the subject must have a story, and the subject will help you set the settings. You will never be able to choose which focal length to use properly when you don’t know how the image will tell the story of the subject. As you can see in the photographs above, background has SO MUCH to do with the story of the subject. In any one of Zack Smith Photography Workshops, you will learn the tools and workflow necessary to help you make the decisions on what focal length to use when, where, and why!
Before I even start to post images, I have to preface that most festival photography I do is a two way street of collaboration, happenstance, timing, and planning. The more I photograph a festival, the more I get in touch with how the many moving parts operate as individual creative cogs in the system, and how they work as a whole. French Quarter Festis one of my favorite events to photograph because there are so many passionate players that make up this system. The second liners, the brass bands, the costuming revelers, the musicians in each band, the food vendors, painters, and let’s not forget the festival organizers. Without EACH and EVERY one of those players acting, doing, performing to the BEST of their abilities for the time they are on stage, street, or on the schedule – none of my photographs get made. None of my photographs can be what they are here without the blood, sweat, and tears each person puts into doing their Best at the Fest. So – thank you to all who came out, showed up, and left it ALL out on the streets of New Orleans during French Quarter Fest 2017.
Amidst all the music, food, and culture of a New Orleans music festival, I still need to remember I am there for my client.
Throughout the year my clients and subjects are as diverse as the fish in the sea. I am constantly rotating between event photography, commercial portraiture, corporate and author head shots, and four glorious times of the year: festival photography in New Orleans. Each photographic genre and client are equally different, have different needs, and I must help them communicate their visual goals so I can be of value to their mission to their business and clients. But as with working with any client I need to be aware of the moving parts that make up the story so I can document it properly, while being true to my client’s needs and true to my creative vision. During a music festival all of these things often culminate into each and every image. As I walk from stage to stage the story changes and as the light changes my backgrounds evolve and my subjects continue to dodge and move.
The hardest part about photographing a music festival is that when you tap into a particular festival’s energy and story it is hard to pay attention to anything else. Sometimes that means you miss so much of the wonderful music. It is crazy to think that the number one reason so many thousands of people attend a festival is for the music, and through the many hours walking around each stage in front of the horns, the drums and voices galore I hear little. But in a wonderful way I see the music.
Can a photographer multi-task creatively as well as efficiently?
I am very grateful to have worked with so many great musicians and artists in New Orleans over the last 17 years that I get to photograph them in this manner. That is one of the reasons it is very important for me to keep my copyright and maintain my usage terms with each festival that I shoot so that I can provide the many hard working artists the ability to use the images I shoot to help their business and career. French Quarter Fest, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Satchmo Fest, and Voodoo Music and Arts Experience understand that. In a way, it’s great for them as well, seeing their stages and brand get used again and again to help promote the music. It really is one big family…
New Orleans is a small and vibrantly creative city, so it makes sense to help the others around you get better because in the end we all are affected positively when we help each other. I’m not sure how this translates to larger cities but I’m sure it’s the same. Be Nice, Do Good Work, and Stick Around!
The Society Brass Band warms up before the opening day march through the French Quarter.
Dancing Man 504 and Spidey 504 lead the 2nd Line Parade on opening day of French Quarter Fest 2017
Trumpeter Brice Miller leads the Mahogany Brass Band through the French Quarter to open French Quarter Fest.
Grand Marshall of the Mahogany Brass Band, Percy Ellis, leads the band through the French Quarter
The Mahogany Brass Band marches down Bourbon Street on opening day of the Festival. Band leader Brice Miller sings with trumpet in hand and head raised high.
A musician stands before the opening day parade for French Quarter Fest on St. Ann St. in the French Quarter.
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole entertain on the Chevron Stage.
Aaron Neville performs on the Abita Beer Stage, this was his first French Quarter Fest show.
Drummer Simon Lott plays with singer Ingrid Lucia on the Jack Daniels stage. It was hard to choose which “Simon face” to show…probably the toughest edit decision ever! Thanks Simon!
New Orleans has it’s priorities straight: Music, Booze, and Church…the “other” Holy Trinity.
Clint Maedgen of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band walks amongst the shadows of his bandmates.
Ok it’s annoying, but I am guilty of it more than this guy…all day long.
Singer Nayo Jones opens up day two of French Quarter Fest on Friday, April 7th.
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux was the prettiest all weekend long on the Abita Stage.
This fest goer and her guy enjoy a cool snowball from Plum Street Snowballs.
Cedryl Ballou found where the camera guy was…
Cedryl Ballou was so grateful to the crowd and festival today on the Chevron Cajun/Zydeco Stage. And he let them know by putting in a great set of music!
Dr. Jimbo Walsh sounded so great with Washboard Rodeo on his bass Ukulele??
Neti Vann of Washboard Rodeo.
Matt Rhody of Washboard Rodeo.
aaaaaand Washboard Chaz of Washboard Rodeo.
Irma Thomas’s voice is still impeccable, deep, and with so much range. She sounded and looked fantastic.
Dancers at the Chevron Cajun/Zydeco stage.
LaTasha Covington on washboard amidst a sea of fans at the Cajun/Zydeco Stage.
Sunpie Barnes and LaTasha Covington of Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots
Mario Abney is a talented singer, trumpeter, drummer, and dancer! This set was one of my highlights from French Quarter Fest – Mario put on a clinic in almost every way and the crowd was with him every second!
Cory Henry took the night on with a killer band at the Jack Daniels stage. Twilight is always my favorite time to shoot at any festival, with only 15 minutes to create, you must be in position and be ready!
One of my favorite people around, Big Chief Juan Pardo, always knows where I will be without missing a beat. In the back row is another friend Danny Abel on guitar, and in front on trombone – bandleader Corey Henry.
Crowds await the chimes of St. Louis Cathedral to ring them in Saturday’s fest.
A swing dancing couple enjoy the sounds of Aurora Nealand’s band at the French Market Stage.
Valerie Sassafrass sings, dances, and entertains the crowd at the Palm Court. One of my highlights!
In demand tuba player Jon Gross plays with so many people during the day, a costume change is necessary.
504ever All Stars opened up the weekend at the famed Preservation Hall, ushering in the soul and spirit of an evolving music brass tradition in New Orleans.
Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers plays to a sea of people at the Cajun/Zydeco Stage. By far my favorite stage to photograph was this one, maybe it’s my roots or the company.
Andre Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers. I had a blast using my Paul C. Buff Alien Bees on this stage as fill and back light. On rare occasions i got to use my Neutral Density filters and 35mm 1.4 lens @ 1.4. What a killer combo…
Luke Spurr Allen performs with the help of old friends Alex McMurray and Casey McAllister. These guys have been friends of mine for some time, I always enjoy watching these three – but today wasn’t long enough at all…
Here I got to use the full power of the Alien Bee strobe, well needed when the band is in shade. Amy, our stage manager, worked the crowd up for me for this shot. See, it really does take more than just one person to make a great photograph.
Dwayne Dopsie is one hell of a player, and mentor. He wasn’t afraid to share the spotlight with the next generation of musicians, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Another reason why I love some side fill, in moderation though as the light can tend to get a little “hollywood” at times.
A hula hooper starts a “Hula Circle” at the Soul Rebels Saturday close out. Imaging a mosh pit, but smiling women with hula hoops. Same intensity, ferocity, and strength..but smiling you know? I know I am pushing my limits with ISO 4000 but when kept small it looks just fine.
I was captivated by this woman and her umbrella as she perused paintings during the Pirate’s Alley Art Contest display. What I soon realized was that she was looking through eventual winner Young Allen’s beautiful watercolors.
It’s time for music, Drew Simon of T’Monde allowed me a little “light test” action to get my strobes right at the Cajun and Zydeco Stage. Thanks Drew!
I am so happy i caught this moment! When musician, French Quarter resident and 2017 poster artist Tony Green’s set was underway, a special guest arrived. The man with the umbrella is featured in Tony’s second line that is this years poster, it was like life imitating art imitating life.
Poster artist and guitarist Tony Green talks to the crowd during his set at the Rouses Stage on Royal St. This is by far my favorite background to stage shoot at French Quarter Festival. Look at the corner back there…it’s amazing! I wish this stage had no cover, but that’s pretty selfish thinking…the musicians would cook! Anyway, Tony is talking not about his songs or painting, but about his band – “surround yourself with players better than you, it will make you better” Well said Tony, well said.
Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers played a brilliant set at the GE Capital Stage.
Aurora Nealand is Rory Danger and Rory is Aurora. It’s complicated…you gotta see their show to understand! Here Rory accepts the “Key to the Aquarium” from the Audubon Nature Institute….I am still not sure if all the animals are still there.
Always having fun, always clowning is Anthony Dopsie. He knows where I am as well as his brother Dwayne Dopsie and Anthony’s son Mike Dopsie in the background. I was loving my backlit strobes for this stage, I’m hooked!
I never will grow tired of shooting Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. His energy, enthusiasm, and respect for the crowd and culture goes without saying.
Two of my favorite people in the world are onstage right here playing together as the Joe Cabral Thrio: Joe Cabral and James Singleton. I think that attitude and grace in life are transferred to creativity and power on stage. These guys were my favorite set of the entire weekend. You can see how amazing the French Quarter stages provide the ultimate backdrop for using my 50mm and 35mm 1.4 lenses! LOVE.
Another wonderful human and drummer make up the 3rd in the Joe Cabral Thrio, Doug Garrison. Converging Lines anyone?
Joe Cabral Thrio play out to folks passing by.
Richard Anderson of the Kinfolk Brass Band and band mates await their call to the stage at the historic Preservation Hall.
Papa Mali sounded terrific at the Abita Stage during French Quarter Fest.
Washboard player Jayme Romain for Corey Ledet’s band had some unreal pipes as well as rhythm!
When is Jennifer Jones NOT looking amazing! I think she might be the most photographed New Orleans celebrity never credited! So if you have photographer her – send her pics! I can connect youl
It was an amazing moment when Rockin’ Dopsie Jr joined Corey Ledet on stage to close out the 2017 French Quarter Fest. Corey asked his whole band “except for the drummer, we gonna do it old school” to leave so they could have this moment. Amazing.
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Watch this Video for my Natural Light Window Portrait Tutorial and see the final edits!
How to Photograph Portraits using Natural Window Light! Watch as I set up and explain an easy portrait scenario using the natural light at the TASC Performance New Orleans store on Magazine Street! I have to thank my friend Ava for modeling, photographer Sarrah Danziger (www.sarrahdanziger.com) for the LIVE shoot, and Amanda, Seth, and Regan for the help at TASC!
Using a store window to shoot natural light portraits is easy, fun, and you can do it too!
As I have always said – “let the subject set the settings” and the rest will follow. In this 15 minute photography video tutorial I show you the nuts and bolts and basic settings to help you get your best natural light portraits yet. From putting the lens on the camera body to the final Lightroom edits, watch the video above and then see the edits below! No secrets here! Watch as I show you in real time how to quickly switch back and forth from shallow depth of field to extended depth of field to get two types of backgrounds and change your perspective!
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