Category: Anatomy Of:

How To Tuesday #25 - Part 2 of Anatomy of a Commercial Portrait Shoot

May 10, 2016

If you remember in the last installment of How To Tuesday’s “Anatomy of a Commercial Portrait Shoot” we talked about what kind of set up and logistics went into our recent shoot with New Orleans based St. Charles Vision.

Let’s take a look at what all that hard work gets us, and then i’ll fill in the blanks on how we got there…


Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and the Bangas. 

 Lu Brow, executive bar chef for the Commander

Lu Brow, executive bar chef for the Commander’s Family of Restaurants. 

 Brent Houzenga, Artist. You

Brent Houzenga, Artist. You’ve seen his art cars EVERYWHERE!

  ...because i know you

…because i know you’re wondering! f8 for max sharpness from Eye to Ear ya Hear?

 T. Cole Newton, owner 12 Mile Limit

T. Cole Newton, owner 12 Mile Limit

As I said in my last HTT post, alot of time was taken in the planning phase of this shoot to test out multiple light schemes, edit them, and get approval from the client. Here is a quick look at the exact lighting and camera setttings I used for each of these portraits.


 Here is our exact lighting setup for the St. Charles Vision shoot. See Susan Spaid at work!

Here is our exact lighting setup for the St. Charles Vision shoot. See Susan Spaid at work!

KEY LIGHT – Paul C. Buff White Lightning 1600 + 60″ Octabank + 45º angle directly in front.

HAIR LIGHT – PCB – WL – 800 + 8.5″ High Output Reflector + 30º Grid

BACK LIGHT – PCB – Alien Bee 800 + 35″ Softbox + directly at Background

FILL – 5 in 1 Reflector on Silver as Bounce Back Light + 4’x4′ diffusion flag underneath chin

In order to get the background to be perfectly uniform and exactly the same in each shot, I decided not to trust my roll paper and light setup. I had it back there mostly as a guide and not the final background. If you notice here, this is what my portraits looked like straight out of the camera with NO edits:

You will notice that our lighting is pretty much right on where we need to be. With some minor retouching left to do in Lightroom, all there is to fix is the background. For shoots like this where I am photographing more than 1 person and I need consistency in color for my backgrounds, I will photograph a full frame capture of the background and use that as my final background template which I will drop in later. 

 A full screen capture of my roll background. I will use this later when placing the final portraits

A full screen capture of my roll background. I will use this later when placing the final portraits

Once I have cut out each portrait I can place that layer on the same background so there is consistency throughout the entire shoot. I will experiment with a filter on the background to try some new things. I am confident at this point that the lighting ratios are good for my portraits and I can try some creative options on my background.

As you see, there are so many layers to producing, shooting, and delivering a high quality commercial portrait that is ready for print or web. Open communication with the client is so important so that you can hear out their goals and vision. They are coming to you with a vision in their hearts and a budget in their head…and it’s up to you to make those two meet your vision and creative bottom line.

Believe it or not, over the years I have enjoyed the bidding process and early creative client meetings more than the shoot itself. In the early stages of planning for a commercial portrait shoot there is so much abstract talk and logistics about how the deliverables should feel…how the people should look…what kind of lighting I can use…what new way I can create to help me communicate my clients vision, that when the shoot is finally here – it feels as if the work is already done. But again…it’s not.


Even though the heavy lifting of pre planning, schedule coordinations, and crew organization have taken place there is always the Day Of Shoot to look forward to. What day will we have?Will we be coaxing raw emotion and feeling out of someone who’s had a long day already at 10am? Will our star show up with a black eye? (It’s happened) Will there be malfunctioning gear (happens too often) or did we forget Gaffe tape and only bring Gorilla Tape? The more experiences I have  the more ready and comfortable I become with anything life throws at me. Each day and moment is a lesson waiting to be learned…hope I taught you something here…

Jazz Festin' in a Cadillac with LYFT, Trombone Shorty, and New Breed Brass Band

 I shot New Breed Brass Band for LYFT and Trombone Shorty Present: Jazz on Demand 2016

I shot New Breed Brass Band for LYFT and Trombone Shorty Present: Jazz on Demand 2016

Ok, so picture this: You are looking for a ride from the Fairgrounds or to the Fairgrounds for the 1st day of Jazz Fest 2016. You open your LYFT app and type in your destination. Ten minutes later, you get picked up a LYFT SUV (you know it’s LYFT by the pink mustache on the dash, really) with tinted windows, sit down, and music starts playing. The music is not on the radio or a CD player – it’s a LIVE BAND rocking in the backseat complete with a photo booth to mark the occasion. A genius marketing ploy if you ask me.

 Trombone Shorty for  LYFT and Trombone Shorty Present: Jazz on Demand , photo Zack Smith

Trombone Shorty for LYFT and Trombone Shorty Present: Jazz on Demand , photo Zack Smith

But before all that jazz got to happen, we did a super fun and quick photo shoot with non other than the man himself, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. A little backstory: Troy and I rehearsed and recorded in the same studio a while back and passed each other in the halls many times over the course of a few years. Always a super nice guy, always saying hi and a bringing you in for a slap and embrace. We had always wanted to work together on something and I can’t tell you how many times we talked about it… “shoot soon?” “let’s do a cool photo shoot” ” yes, soon!” was always how we parted ways. So I was over the moon when I got the call from LYFT to photograph this campaign and heard he was going to be available for the early part of the session.

The folks at LYFT were a young, energetic, and organized group. I really enjoyed working with Lauren and the crew from LYFT, as well as the New Breed Brass Band which featured Troy’s nephew on snare and leading the band. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story…



How to Tuesday #24 Anatomy of a Commercial Shoot : Behind the Scenes with St. Charles Vision

April 24, 2016

I really do love a good creative collaboration. In the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with so many talented local creative industries, businesses, and individuals that I look at every working opportunity now as a collaboration and not just a job. When I am hired for a photoshoot I want to know what my client is thinking short term and long term. I want to know the deliverables will “feel” to them when the images are done and placed in an ad, on a website, or a brochure. Knowing how to use a camera and showing up with a bunch of lights is such a small part of the equation of a commercial portrait shoot.

 Yes we do bring out all the gear for just a head shot! Curving & Carving Light! ©Zack Smith

Yes we do bring out all the gear for just a head shot! Curving & Carving Light! ©Zack Smith

I recently had the privilege of working again with New Orleans based St. Charles Vision and their Director of Marketing and Operations, Matt Rosenthal on a very exciting project. Matt and I met multiple times in person to discuss the finer details of what they were looking for. We discussed the overall goals of the campaign, backgrounds, lighting aesthetics and looked at examples of portraits that myself and other photographers had done for inspiration. I spent a day photographing some friends in my studio to get some lighting ratios and schemes for Matt to look at…even collaborated with my pals at Flavor Paper and Sarah and Alex for some mood board background ideas…

I really loved the fact that Matt and I talked about once a week, checking in on his model selections, lighting ideas and day of shoot schedule. I assembled an amazing crew consisting of two lighting assistants and a digital tech which we used to import the images directly into Lightroom so the client could view in real time. There really is nothing like tethering to Lightroom so the client doesn’t have to look over your shoulder every shot. You really do feel like everyone is in on the creative process! We even created a custom Preset Edit for the images so the client could view the edits I would be doing later!

A Little Bit about Tethering Your Camera to your Computer

Tethering is very easy. Getting a long enough cord will help you spread out your work station and give you room between the camera and the computer. You want to have the freedom of space around your camera to help you compose and work with the model, and you want the computer in it’s own world so that the client and the digital tech can talk and edit without disrupting the flow of the shoot. I use Lightroom, and there is an easy drop down menu that says “Start Tethered Capture”, and you can get going. You can also tether capture in Bridge, Capture One, and other programs…Stay tuned for a future How To Tuesday on Tethering!

Behind the Scenes at NOLA Spaces

I chose to work with the wonderful NOLA Spaces again for many reasons. NOLA Spaces has great hourly room rates, window light, large open rooms, wifi, surround sound, and are always great to work with! I hired Susan Spaid for Hair and Makeup and she was wonderful working with our super talented New Orleans movers and shakers…T. Cole Newton (12 Mile Limit), Tarronia Ball (Tank of Tank and the Bangas), Lu Brow (Swizzle Stick Bar and Brennan’s), and Brent Houzenga (Artist).

Tech Specs of our Lighting Setup – Trusty and Lightweight Paul C. Buff

The great thing about doing light tests prior to a big shoot day is that you can arrive on site and already have a solid game plan of how you are going to light your portrait. Sometimes you can’t do early testing, but If you can I highly recommend it.

Our KEY light was a 1600 Paul C. Buff White Lightning with a 60″ Octabox softbox. Our background was a “Fashion Grey” seamless lit by a 800 Alien Bee with a 10″x36″ stripbox. We had ad 1600 White Lightning with a 30º grid for our hair light/rim light and a large 5 in 1 reflector on the white side bouncing light in the left hand side of the model. We also had a 4’x4′ diffuser panel directly under the subject. We wanted to soften the light under the chin but also leave a little contrast there for the face.

The Hair Light was set at 2 stops above the Key Light so that it is almost over exposing the skin. The purpose of the Hair Light is to create contrast which allows the subject to feel like it’s popping out of the background. 

For example: If the Key light metered at f8 @ 1/125 at ISO 100, then you would want your Hair Light to meter at f16. This means in order to get the Middle Grey exposure of light from the Hair Light you would need to be at f16. But since your camera is set at f8 (or near it) due to the Key Light..then the Hair light is 2 stops brighter….get it?

 Sorry! You

Sorry! You’ll have to wait till next week for the final shots!!

You’ll have to wait till next week to see the final ads for St. Charles vision! Stay tuned to this blog for the final selects..in the mean time – get out there and shoot! experiment! have fun!



HOW TO TUESDAY #11 - The Anatomy of an Advertising Photoshoot: Why Client Meetings, Location Scouting, and Prep Work is so Important. Part 2 of 2

January 5, 2016

In HOW TO TUESDAY #9 we talked about how important it was to have face to face meetings with clients. I feel that no matter how large or small the client or how small or grand the budget may be it is so important to use face to face meetings as your #1 fact finding mission that will set the vibe of the entire shoot. Take a quick read of HTT#9 and then come back to this post when you are ready to move on to Part 2 – Location Scouting and Prep Work.

As we learned in HTT#9 I was working with the New Orleans ad agency Peter Mayer on a new portrait photography campaign for Hancock Bank on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At our first meeting I found out we would be shooting at locations already picked out by the agency and their client, but unfamiliar to me. The locations were very specific: The Friendship Tree on the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus and a lighthouse at the new Gulfport marina. I had never been to these locations and were unfamiliar about the surroundings, parking, accessibility, and if any permits were required. Luckily the agency had already taken care of the permitting, but it was up to me to visit the locations to determine a few Key Components When Location Scouting to insure a successful shoot:

1. Finding the Best Light – doing some prep work on sun direction will help even before you leave the house. Plugging in each location’s address in Google Maps will tell the you the orientation of your location. From here you can even get an idea of some possible Backgrounds using the Streetview option. (more on Backgrounds later…) Using the LightTrac app on your smartphone will tell you the direction of light at your location at any time of day. It helps to notice the direction of light at each Magic Hour – Sunrise and Sunset. (Click the link for tips on Natural Light and Strobe Portraits in HTT#5) These are your ideal shooting times if you can make it work. 

2. See it for Yourself – the absolute best thing you can do after mapping out the Best Light for each location is to get in the car and hit the road to see these locations with your eyes and through the lens. By doing this you can put yourself in the right position and in the best light with the perfect lens before all the hustle and bustle happens on shoot day.

+ for my shoot with Peter Mayer, I was able to visit each location at both Magic Hours of Sunrise and Sunset. This provided me with first hand experience of what my light looked light, what backgrounds were available for each portrait, and it put me in a good position to figure out shoot logistics like travel time, gear load out options, and where the closest coffee shop was 🙂

+ I have a little tactic I call getting the Real Background. When I am location scouting for portraits I like to focus where my subject will be so that the background will appear as it should when someone is in front of it. Shooting a sharp and in focus background does nothing for you or the agency you are working with if you don’t have a softer option to show what it will actually look like when your subject is in front of you.

3. The Walk-Around – When I have taken a few shots of the #1 Location, I always do a 360 degree turn, and then walk around the entire location just to be sure I am not missing anything. This is a great tactic to get you thinking out of the box and not just what’s on the paper. I often find my best locations here as I can get outside the bubble and relax my mind. (hint hint, click for HTT#7 on this very subject!)


We started the day at sunrise at the Lighthouse shooting to the West since the sunrise was in a perfect position to illuminate our subject and the structure evenly. We only added some hair light (Paul C Buff White Lightning 800x) and a large softbox for some fill light (White Lightning 1600x) but let the soft rising sun do the rest.


Here’s the Peter Mayer team as stand-in’s for a possible shot. Notice the dedication!


Here’s the final shot with final editing treatment.

 Here is the location we ended up using. The sun was rising just behind us with a warm glow, but to the West was our perfect soft blue light we could control!

Here is the location we ended up using. The sun was rising just behind us with a warm glow, but to the West was our perfect soft blue light we could control!

We ended the day with the low setting sun behind our subject at the College. We had to use a 4’x4′ diffusion panel to shade our subject mostly to keep her comfortable but also to shield her from the direct sunlight. Controlling the ambient light in any outdoor portrait shoot is your most important element since it provides your background light source. You can only do so much to control your Subject Light Source but not alot can be done to control your Background Light Source if your background is big and especially far away. One great way to keep your Background Light in check is to shoot in times where the sun is lower in the horizon: Magic Hour Morning and Magic Hour Afternoon. ( I can’t say that enough!)

 I used the bird to act as a stand-in.

I used the bird to act as a stand-in.

 Here is the location the client ended up choosing, which was actually not on the initial location list. This was found doing my Walk-Around.

Here is the location the client ended up choosing, which was actually not on the initial location list. This was found doing my Walk-Around.

 Note: I did put a full power 1600w strobe right on the eagle in the background to give it some more detail. You can see the difference in these two images.

Note: I did put a full power 1600w strobe right on the eagle in the background to give it some more detail. You can see the difference in these two images.

 Notice this image is out of focus.

Notice this image is out of focus.

 This is not the Friendship Tree, but a much cleaner and open tree across the street that we ended up using for a second shot.

This is not the Friendship Tree, but a much cleaner and open tree across the street that we ended up using for a second shot.

There you have it. There are so many components to organizing, scheduling, and executing a comfortable and creative photoshoot. While many of these tasks even by themselves may seem daunting, by working on them one at a time and adding them slowly to your repertoire you will soon have your tool belt full of helpful techniques and tips for any shoot. Make sure you SIGN UP for my mailing list on the HOMEPAGE to get How To Tuesday in your INBOX! 

Take advantage of these short days and low sun! Shoot for the Wall!




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!


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