Category: How To Tuesday

Zack Smith Interview: Coffee with Kevin of Coast Roast in New Orleans, LA

September 5, 2016

I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with Kevin Pedeaux of Coast Roast Coffee to talk shop. I enjoy talking about my photographic journey with those that are following similar paths. Kevin was an avid photographer in New Orleans years ago, even so much as doing the weekend art markets around town and doing well. Here is the full interview from our talk in early September of 2016.

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.

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!


How To Tuesday #31 - Keeping Your Copyright or Cash Out?

June 29, 2016

“Know when to walk away…know when to run…” Don Schlitz, Writer The Gambler, made #1 by Kenny Rogers.

Don was a smart guy. After shopping the song around a few times, he recorded it himself. It never went above #65 on the charts until Kenny Rogers got his pipes (and hair!) on it. Don never walked away, never ran. He knew when to hold ’em. The ultimate gambler, it’s still his song.

In a perfect world I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to make my own hours, set my rates, and take comfort in the fact that I am creating images that will last. For me it’s less about what my day rate is or how much gear I have accrued. For me, the most treasured moments from my journey behind the lens always come from the magical manifestation of ideas into the world. I love getting in a client’s head and figuring out their visual dilemma. Whether it is an advertising firm photographing bankers or an artist debating how high to hang a 12 foot canvas fish over a rotting pier. These are the moments I love like a mad scientist erecting the lightning rod.

Photography: The Magical Manifestation

I see myself as a tinkerer of the abstract visual map in a person’s mind – piecing together the ideas and emotions they have to make something tangible and real. Man, I don’t know about you but I want to keep those images forever! So much thought, time, energy and empathy go into this process. It’s brutal and overwhelming yet so rewarding. Even though I am doing a “job” for a client I look at it as an investment in my future: how I get new jobs, how I create new relationships, and how I value the images in my archive.  But at the same time, I have to understand that a client who is paying their hard earned budget for these images sometimes need to have the comfort of unrestricted use.

The reasons behind this digression to the abstract has a lot to do with how more and more clients are approaching the Image Rights and Copyright line item in recent proposals. Not since around 2012 has this discussion come up so frequently. In my 12 years of working as a professional photographer and working in the realm of contracts, Usage Rights and Work For Hire’s, I have never seen so many clients want “The Full Buyout” so much as in the last few years. I understand the client’s need and it is warranted, so what does a photographer do?

In the terms of this discussion, The Full Buyout means that the client assumes all Copyright of the images shot and edited on a photo shoot and you then hand over (usually in a dual signed agreement) your rights to the images. This means without a special written line in your agreement, you can’t use any of these images anymore. 

So, what does a photographer do?

As much as I am hesitant to hand over my Copyright of my images, I have to weigh the possible future resale of those images versus the buyout. I have to ask myself: Do I think these images will have a resale value to me in other markets? In the editorial world this is common if I were to photograph a musician and later on another magazine calls wanting to know if I had any existing stock of said musician. If I still owned the copyright, then I am free to negotiate. 

If there is a person in the shot, would a simple Talent Release allow me to then market the images for commercial use on stock sites or local jobs? These things must be considered before you consider a full buyout. Remember the joy of the magical manifestation of the visual problem? Is the answer worth the cash or the copyright?

How To Tuesday #28 - What is the Magnetic Lasso tool and how do I use it?

June 8, 2016

In this week’s How To Tuesday Photo Techniques and Tips we’ll learn what the Magnetic Lasso Tool is and how to use it. Enjoy this short video tutorial while you work along side in Photoshop! Don’t forget to sign up for your weekly email of Photo Galleries, Workshops, and Videos!

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 #23 How To Create a Quick Logo Watermark In Photoshop

April 18, 2016

In today’s How To Tuesday Photography Techniques and Tips, I will show you a very quick way to create a logo watermark in photoshop that you can use for any photo, any time. There are many ways to create a watermark and I find this the easiest.

Why Watermark Your Photos?

With the influx of new social media and sharing platforms that demand our photos constantly (and our precious time!) we want to make sure our images are out there in the world promoting our business but always remind folks where it came from. Even though most sites only require low resolution upload sizes, we are not setting a good precedent by putting our hard earned art out there without any way to identify it. Although it is the safest practice, some online publications and blogs require that you do NOT watermark your images. In this case, making sure that your images are enriched with identifying and clear Metadata within the file, and your file name has your name or business name in it. 

Go ahead, watch the video!



How Your Documentary Photographs can be turned into Editorial Gold! How To Tuesday #20

March 7, 2016

Today we will show how one photograph and it’s contents can be repurposed to tell a larger story while showing you another reason why it is so important to Own Your Photo and Shoot RAW!

A few things to remember 1st:

1. Always keep Ownership of your Images

2. Always Shoot RAW!

As we slide into festival season in New Orleans, I am being called on to provide images I have shot for festivals to be used for commercial and editorial purposes. In How To Tuesday #18 we learned how to photograph a silhouette, and I showed an example of the image I shot of accordion player Anthony Dopsie at Jazz Fest. In that situation I was able to provide my initial client (Jazz Fest) with the image they needed to document his set at the Fais Do Do stage, but then eventually use that same image for the recent Louisiana Office of Tourism campaign. In the first instance I did not need a model release since I was shooting documentary for the festival, but in the second instance I absolutely needed a model release since his image would be used for an advertising campaign to promote Louisiana. 

As a photographer you should always try to retain ownership of your photography so that when situations arise like this, you are in a position to have some bargaining power!

Recently, New Orleans’ Gambit Weekly contacted me and wanted to use this photo for their upcoming cover story on Fairs and Festivals:

I love the shot and remembered the day I took it. I think everyone that was outside that Jazz Fest day remembers the skywriter and the messages they were posting up for the city to see. This image for me just came together and I was happy to be at the Fais Do Do Stage again! I positioned myself to get the entire stage in the shot and waited a few minutes for the heart to be in the best part of the composition. 

When Gambit approached me they mentioned wanting to crop the photo to make it work with their layout. After seeing what they wanted to do I was fine with it, but I had to go back and edit the photo to make the editing flow a little smoother. If you notice in the image above I over-dodged the stage and band (props to Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole!). I did this because I wanted the viewers eyes to float back and forth to the other eye-leading element: the sky heart. In this new Gambit crop, I did not have the sky heart and feared that the over-dodging of the stage would be distracting to the new layout. I ended up going back to the RAW file and making the “Gambit-crop” (as i called it), then I desaturated the stage and didn’t dodge it as much with the selective adjustment tool in Lightroom. Here is the final version:

As you notice your eye doesn’t sit on the stage as long as it did in the uncropped version. I ended up liking what Gambit did in adding their masthead as if it were written by the sky writer, nice touch guys.

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