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Category: Documentary Photography

How to take great vacation and travel photography with any camera or smartphone

September 10, 2018

 This family just crushed Chicago and I've got the photos to prove it! This family just crushed Chicago and I’ve got the photos to prove it!

Want to know how I take great vacation and travel photos? 

Well my first piece of advice is: don’t wait until the sun sets over Lake Michigan during your first time to Chicago to get that great family shot! Practice at home, shoot every day, and SHOOT FOR THE WALL! While you are practicing, if you are in the New Orleans area – take my photography workshops and photography classes! You can always visit my web page and see what I am offering by clicking HERE and signing up for my mailing list by clicking at the bottom of this below. But first let’s get to the lesson…

 Great travel photography begins with having the right gear to catch those magic moments, but more importantly it Great travel photography begins with having the right gear to catch those magic moments, but more importantly it’s about knowing the WHY and shooting with intention!

Aside from packing enough clothes, shoes, and diapers (yes diapers) on your holiday travel trip, photography is always a big part of any vacation or trip. What camera should you pack? How many lenses should you bring? What will TSA let you travel with? Travel logistics non-withstanding, how can you make those travel photos stand out? Well, you don’t have to be the next Lee Friedlander to capture compelling and beautiful travel or vacation photos. In fact, you don’t even need an expensive DSLR, let alone lug around a heavy tripod, lenses, filters and flashes.

All you need is a decent camera or even your Smartphone or iPhone. This lesson is made to help you take great vacation and travel photographs using the camera you have. 

Vacation photography is all about capturing the right moments and telling a story in every shot. If you don’t have an eye for good photos, more expensive tools aren’t the solution. For me I really enjoy keeping it simple. For this recent trip to Chicago with my family I only brought my Canon 50mm 1.2 lens with me. One set of eyes ( i mean, focal length…) allowed me to walk closer to my subject and find the right angle. When I bring a zoom lens with me, I am tempted to use the zoom instead of getting closer to the action. 

 I love the 1.2 aperture on the Canon 50mm! I shot this flower bouquet while waiting for our first ever deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati I love the 1.2 aperture on the Canon 50mm! I shot this flower bouquet while waiting for our first ever deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. Now I am wondering, can you FedEx pizza? Asking for a friend.

Follow these Tips for Better travel and Vacation Photos!

My mantra has always been “Shoot For The Wall” which in a nutshell means – shoot with intention and purpose so that your images are good enough to print on the wall. No matter if you don’t have a wall to print on, the most important thing to remember here is to shoot with intention. and know the WHY of every photograph. You can really shoot with intention with any camera. Here are some simple steps i’ve put together for you!

Shoot in good light – If you are taking landscape photos, the best time to shoot would be during the sunrise and sunset and keep your back to the sun. I would also suggest that you plan your shooting on a cloudy day. The idea is to avoid the direct sun shining into the camera or phone so get up a little early or stay out a little longer! Soft natural light makes any subject look more interesting so the magic hour or diffused light is best! 

 You You’ll see my daughter Vega and wife in alot of these photos of Chicago. Notice the even, low contrast light and converging lines at the Navy Pier. Such a beautiful place!  Here I kept the sun at my back and waited for the moment when he looked through his arms! Here I kept the sun at my back and waited for the moment when he looked through his arms!

Capture feelings – Good photgraphs capture a moment, but great photographs portray an emotion. Instead of telling your family to stop and pose for the camera, allow them to move freely so you can capture a real moment. I know this is easier said than done while chasing kids, changing your settings and trying to have a good time. The more you do this, the better you will get at it! I promise! Creating great photography habits you can always have with you.

Choose the right background – Most people don’t understand this, but backgrounds can make or break photograph. Once you have your subject identified, it’s time to concentrate on making sure the background is not distracting. Try and take your time and don’t just place your subject anywhere. The background should complement the subject versus overshadowing it. Your eyes should always land on your subject and not get pulled to the background. Same with foregrounds! If you allow a small foreground element into your frame – like a tree or a flower – it helps add more depth to the scene but make sure it doesn’t take away!

Create Space and Get Abstract! – If you are following my advice you are going to take some great vacation and travel photographs. What happens when you’ve mastered the art of travel photography and you have dozens of magic moments of your family, and the food, and the mountains and you just…want…something….different! Think outside of the box and look for patterns at the brunch restaurant, focus close on rain drops on the hotel window (every vacation has a rain day right? Order in!), and create some space!

Ok, so my #1 advice for how to take great vacation and travel photography?

Practice Practice Practice! Don’t wait until the sun sets over Lake Michigan during your first time to Chicago to get that great family shot! Practice at home, shoot every day, and SHOOT FOR THE WALL! If you are in the New Orleans area – take my photography workshops! You can always visit my web page and see what I am offering by clicking HERE and signing up for my mailing list by clicking below!! Please share this post!!!

Chewbacchus Mardi Gras Photography Gallery: It's a Psychadelic Prism Party

February 5, 2018

How to photograph in the rain? JUST DO IT.

Saturday night Margaret Orr, Carl Arredondo and all the weather casters called for %70 rain starting at the exact time the Chewbacchus parade was supposed to roll. In my many years teaching outdoor photography workshops in New Orleans and playing the “rain waiting game” I always default to my stick it out or die mantra: “you don’t get reflections without the rain”

Myself and a fearless group of 10 photographers joined together in faith the rain would halt for our 3 mile march in the parade, and it did. What came of our interior view of the most creative walking parade during Carnival is nothing short of fantastic. I wanted to share my documentation of the parade through the lens of my minimalist old school creative team of my Canon 5D Mark IV, 40mm 2.8 ‘pancake’ lens and my left hand gripping my Fractal Filter set.

Mardi Gras is best photographed through a twisted lens…

In my almost 20 years of photographing the many layers of a New Orleans Mardi Gras, my most treasured photographs are the years I took my creativity to task. In 2003 I brought out only my Holga camera and never too one exposure as I only created exposures using full rolls. In 2008 I only brought out one Lensbaby. This year I had my 40mm 2.8 which I used exclusively with my Fractal Filters and absolutely LOVED the outcome…so come with me on my Psychadelic Prism Party at Chewbacchus 2018!

Mardi Gras: A Feast for the Senses for it is the Playground of Creatives...

March 1, 2017
 Winners...my favorite costumes were these two

Winners…my favorite costumes were these two “House Ornament” lions…

Mardi Gras 2017 Photo Gallery: #Colourgasm

Photographs really do tell a story don’t they? One photograph can say so many different things to many people, and a series of images may tell one singular story so well, that we all agree. I hope you take a second to look at these images and agree with me –

Mardi Gras is a feast for the senses because it is the playground of the creatives…

If you just took a second to look around you, take it all in, you realized that New Orleans was one heartbeat, one song, one love on Mardi Gras day. It was something I had sorely missed after 3 years not participating in the revelry. Yes, I had put together some great marching bands for Chewbacchus and Krewe Du Vieux but that was more like creative WORK rather than creative PLAY. And I was due for some play. 

Being able to create a costume with my family meant the world to me, as this was our daughter Vega’s 1st Mardi Gras day (definitely not her 1st parade…she’s a pro). My wife and her dressed as slick Owl’s and I the moss laden tree. At the last minute I abandoned the costume for the easy of use carrying the “dad bag” full of baby needs and wants, and my camera. In year’s past partying took precedent over bringing out my good working cameras, but today was different and it had to be documented. 

ALL MARDI GRAS NEW ORLEANS PHOTOGRAPHS HERE ©ZACK SMITH…SO ENJOY HERE! 

Pls Share! Feel free to link this page post!!

 

Can photographers document as an observer but still stay connected? My experience as a street culture photographer in New Orleans, Louisiana

August 10, 2016
 Treme Brass Band, Baby Dolls, Grand Marshall. Add sax, trumpet, drums and all those parts make the whole.

Treme Brass Band, Baby Dolls, Grand Marshall. Add sax, trumpet, drums and all those parts make the whole.

As I sit here sifting through Lightroom tagging, keywording and editing the 9,206 images I made at this year’s Satchmo Summerfest  I can’t help but relive all of the amazing moments over the last few days. As festival, wedding, or conference photographers can attest, photographing these multifaceted events are intense when you are doing it and intense when it’s over! During these events I am so focused trying to anticipate the magic moment when background and subject come together in a way that pleases both the client, and hopefully my own aesthetic. We can’t forget why we are there – we got hired to be there and to bring our eye to the event and we must never ever forget that. 

It’s hard to be in the moment and feel the music, when your first priority is observer and documentarian.

 Can we really feel a part of a moment if we are always documenting it? I doubt it, but we do it.

Can we really feel a part of a moment if we are always documenting it? I doubt it, but we do it.

I mean, can we really honestly say we are part of the second line and feeling the music while we are documenting the action? I really thinks it’s impossible. I can understand being lost in the moment and dancing in the streets from house to bar to house to bar with camera wailing wildly in the air only to pause to expose, compose, and capture. But is that really practical? Do you think you’d really get a high percentage of great shots? In my opinion I don’t think so. If your duty as a photographer is to document for a purpose and have a true intention of “why” you are photographing and “what” you are documenting, then you must be an Focused Intentional Observer. While we are not a part of the action, we need to be dedicated to the action’s flow and timing so that we move and breath like the action but are ready to detach, and compose.

Really, I can go on and philosophize about 2nd line photography in New Orleans, but I won’t. I’ll just see you on the streets..it’s been a long time coming. Zack

 

 

 

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…

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!

 

 

The Bywater Barber Photo Gallery: When Good People Do Good Things...People Gather.

 This is one content barber...hard work pays off at FACTOTUM Barber Shop in the Bywater. 

This is one content barber…hard work pays off at FACTOTUM Barber Shop in the Bywater. 

Happiness Is Contagious. Bless You.

There’s something contagious about happiness, the kind of happiness you see on a strangers face when they aren’t looking or the slight buzz you get when you are around someone who has found their place. Happiness is a state of mind brought on by years of hard work and enjoyed in small moments of truth. 

 Why get a logo by  Erik with a K ? Because they

Why get a logo by Erik with a K ? Because they’re damn beautiful that’s why…

The truth is, I recently booked a haircut with my friend Jason’s new Barber shop in the Bywater, FACTOTUM. You know when someone’s put in the work and is right where they need to be? That would be Jason and FACTOTUM. As I arrived he was finishing the haircut of a gentleman in a wheelchair, a friend of the neighborhood over there on Piety St. Jason took his time with the fellow, and even wheeled him across the street, where he sat until I was done with mine.

There’s new things happening in the Bywater. New owners of old establishments, new homes being moved into while old friends move out. Change and evolution of any place is inevitable. That’s New Orleans now – changing, growing, expanding, contracting. People moving and building their dreams trying to make things better for themselves and their families. Enjoy this gallery of a place built by hard work, run by a very happy guy, and book your appointment now ya hairy goon.

All photographs ©Zack Smith Photography May 2016. No unauthorized use or downloads please.

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…

 

 

"Only the Best" Zack Smith Photography's Top Moments from the 2016 French Quarter Fest

April 12, 2016
 Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. rallies the energetic crowd at the GE Capital Stage at the  2016  French Quarter Fest in New Orleans. ©Zack Smith

Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. rallies the energetic crowd at the GE Capital Stage at the 2016  French Quarter Fest in New Orleans. ©Zack Smith

My feet hurt, my legs are beat down and my shoulders sore – my heart is filled with accomplishment to put another stellar document of French Quarter Fest in the books. I am honored to be hired and give then task to “find the magic” and tell the story of the largest free festival in the U.S., and often have to pinch myself during the day.

I love photographing this festival but since I don’t shoot festivals all year (or even that often), the first few hours of the first day is often a challenge. Getting my “fest legs” (as we call it in the biz..) is priority #1 as I have to navigate through throngs of eager music loving crowds to get to a stage, a food booth, or sponsor in order to fulfill my duties. Once I am able to move along at the festival’s natural pace, I can them begin to tap into the magic of the festival as I start to notice the patterns of light through the day, the way people move, and the music on stage. I really could not do this without great shoes, sunscreen, water, and my Black Rapid RS-DR 1 strap. As I run around and navigate through record crowds of 760,000+ to hit my marks, I know my cameras are where I need them when running, and at rest. When it’s time to capture the magic – my Canon 5DMII  with the 70-200 2.8 and 6D 35mm 1.4 / 16-35 2.8 are right where they need to be…It’s a serendipitous moment when the Festival Universe comes together and the moments really do FIND YOU…

I have countless duties and marks to hit during the day from musicians, food booths, sponsors, and operational layouts, but I always find ways to get my own creative checklist going. Here are some of my favorite moments throughout French Quarter Fest 2016 – and I do call them moments for a reason. Every one I photograph here, and everywhere I go it is a true collaboration of time, place, coincidence, and things planned. I’m never “taking pictures” at a festival – I like to feel I am listening to it tell it’s own story as I am just along for the ride. I am forever grateful to the folks at French Quarter Festival Inc for giving me this opportunity to work with them to photograph this amazing festival of love, life, and celebration of all things New Orleans.

Feel free to spread this link around to your friends! Tag them, comment on this post and get involved – hopefully I’ll see you on the streets soon!

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! 

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