Category: Night Photography Tips

Improve your night and low Light Photography with these tips and techniques!

October 19, 2017

What are the best Night Photography and Golden Hour Techniques to get your best shots when it counts? 

Night photography is beautiful if you shoot it just right and can be truly amazing when you have a great subject. However, because of the darkness and it’s contrasting nature to city lights and ambient light, night scenes can be difficult to shoot, especially if you are a beginner in night photography. Over the course of my 20 years shooting low light photography around New Orleans, I have garnered a few tips I want to share with you.

 The Crescent City Connection in New Orleans as seen in twilight. ©Zack Smith Photography

The Crescent City Connection in New Orleans as seen in twilight. ©Zack Smith Photography

These Four Steps Will improve your Night photography Immediately!

1. Use a Tripod for Long Exposure Shots

2. Reduce your ISO to decrease sensor noise

3. Always have a subject!

4. Start shooting during Magic Hour and Twilight!


Long exposure photography, or slow-shutter photography, involves using a long-duration shutter speed to capture stationary elements of a scene while smudging the moving elements. You’ve probably seen images of rolling mountain tops with blurred lights from cars passing by. But I want to bring our focus into the darker more mysterious side of photography: the night.

One of the downsides of using the long exposure method is that the slightest movement could throw off your shot and make the whole thing blurry. Because your camera will, in essence, take a longer time to take the photo, any movement can disrupt the clarity of your subject. Tripods can be pricy, but it will come in handy to every photographer! Invest in a good one.

BLOG THROWBACK: How to Purchase Your Next Tripod (click the link to read!)

BLOG THROWBACK 2 – Firework Photography Tips Blog Post!

PRO TIP: To reduce digital noise (not as cool as “grain” from our film days”) shoot at lower ISO’s so that your quality will increase, and you are forced to shoot at even longer shutter speeds!


You can use creative flash photography to enhance movement, depth, and action in any low light or night scene.  An off-camera flash can be used to put emphasis on a subject while preserving the darkness in the background. This technique can be trick at first but I suggest setting your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture first, THEN adjusting and adding your flash. I find that shooting my aperture wide open to a larger f-stop (2.8 or so) allows me to get all of the ambient light I need for that “glow”. My shutter speed is set to how much “movement” I want in the shot (see the photo below) and my flash power is set to Manual power. I don’t want to use TTL because the flash can get confused, so I start at 1/8 power and test. 

 I used a flash for this long exposure photograph while marching with the Tulane Green Wave Brass Band during Mardi Gras! 

I used a flash for this long exposure photograph while marching with the Tulane Green Wave Brass Band during Mardi Gras! 


There are a number of “hours” that have the potential to give you a beautiful shot. You can dabble in twilight photography to start. Twilight is the time of day that lies between daylight and darkness. It is great to photograph reflective surfaces during this time to catch the sky in perhaps its most beautiful state. Don’t know when twilight is? I currently use a few apps to help me determine when twilight is, anywhere I am!

The Photographers Ephemerus – this great app for iphone tells me when sunset is, civil twilight, and nautical twilight for anywhere…and anytime!

The Twilight Calculator – this is a great website telling me all about the phases of twilight and when and where i can see them! This even tells me more about the Blue Hour…oooohh!

What is the Golden Hour of Photography and why is it so Magic?

The Golden Hour of photography is an amazing time to get out there and shoot. The Golden Hour (also known as the Magic Hour) is probably the best known and it is the time shortly after sunrise when the daylight is red but still soft. Even though this happens just after sunrise, it also happens right before sunset and is so great when the light is even and the sun is low on the horizon. This is my favorite time to shoot portrait photography since I can use the sun at my back for warm, even light that emanates from my subject all the way back to infinity. I can also shoot directly into the sun for warm silhouettes and add a fill flash. 

 Blue Hour Portrait with 90º placed strobe of Luke Winslow King ©2016 Zack Smith Photography

Blue Hour Portrait with 90º placed strobe of Luke Winslow King ©2016 Zack Smith Photography

What is the Blue Hour and how do I photograph it well?

The blue hour is the time of day right when the sun sets below the horizon (or right before it rises) and is typical of when the city lights have an exposure value that is very similar or equal to the ambient sky. This allows us to expose both a city and the sunset with an exposure that showcases all of the wonderful colors!

Civil twilight photography occurs when the sun is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. It is the brightest form of twilight when there is enough natural light that outdoor activities can be completed without the help of things like street lights and ambient light from cafes and bars. (We are in New Orleans right?)

 You know it

You know it’s Twilight and Blue Hour when it’s easy to do silhouettes against the night sky.

So why don’t you give blue hour photography a shot. Again, this time  is during twilight in the morning and in the evening when the sun is right below the horizon. This is just after civil twilight and you’ll know this when you begin to see street lamps flicker on and lamps and lights in homes match the exposure of the night sky!

 When the Orange Couch coffee shop glows in the twilight, you know it

When the Orange Couch coffee shop glows in the twilight, you know it’s the perfect time where ambient and artificial combine for the perfect exposure! ©Zack Smith Photography

Regardless of whatever hour you’re trying to shoot, it is important to plan out your shoot ahead of time. To do this, find an app that can help you calculate and plan your photoshoots. These apps are relatively inexpensive, have versions across all app stores, and can work in any location in the world!

Another way to be prepared is to pack up all of your essentials, including cleaning cloths and a cleaning kit. These will be essential to you. As the temperature drops at night, condensation may begin to form on your equipment. This isn’t a big deal for tripods and camera bags, but if condensation gets on your lens, it could mess up an otherwise perfect shot!

Why not take a Night Photography Workshop in New Orleans?

So you think you got all this? Maybe want to get out there and try it yourself? When in doubt, you can always take a workshop. As you know me, I am always trying to figure out the best way to educate you online, but also in person. On Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 from 5:30 to 10 p.m. I am offering my popular “NOLA @ Night French Quarter and City Park” night photography course! The workshop is hands-on and will help you learn the ropes of shooting the beautiful soft light of a Crescent City night. The workshop is great for photographers of all levels and costs only $175. Take advantage of having me show you the settings as you walk around the French Quarter and City Park!

I’ve been teaching this course for 14 years. First, we will start out in the French Quarter for introductions and a PowerPoint presentation filled with some information. After that, we will head out and begin our night photography expedition.

The French Quarter shooting session will be held from 5:20 to 7:30 p.m. After that, we will meet at Morning Call, a coffee shop in the area, at 8 p.m. and do some City Park shooting from 8 to 10 p.m. 

Be sure to bring the lenses you want to shoot with. Wide angle lenses are great to have when shooting night time photography. You must also bring your tripod, and a cable release and small pen light is recommended. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for walking.

Refunds will be given up to 72 hours before the night of the workshop. A half refund will be given 24 hours before, and no refund will be available the day of the workshop.




How to Photograph the Super Moon in New Orleans - November 14, 2016

November 11, 2016
 Learn how to Photograph the NOLA Supermoon!

Learn how to Photograph the NOLA Supermoon!

Photographing the Full Moon is hard. It’s bright, it’s moving, and it’s far far away…

There are some very simple tactics I can show you to photograph your best Full Moon ever. Back in 2014 I taught very fun workshop called “Shoot the Supermoon” and it was an amazing night. Together with about 10 New Orleans photographers we waited at the banks of the Mississippi River, cameras ready, for the blood red supermoon to rise. We were poised and prepared, we knew where it was coming from and when it would rise. It was only a matter of time. 

With some helpful smartphone apps, some 2x extenders and long lenses even YOU can successfully photograph a full moon.

On Novmeber 14th, 2014 the moon will RISE 5:38pm at 56.2º N/NE. You can open your COMPASS App and see where it will rise – I would suggest going to an area that has less light pollution (not downtown) and where your horizon is visible. (note: use the MOONRISE app and COMPASS app)

To be able to capture the moon at it’s LARGEST it is best to photograph is CLOSE to the horizon. The rising moon that close to the horizon has a visual effect that makes it appear larger to us than it really is, and it is stunning!

If you want to get a FULL frame, or close to it, shot of the rising full moon on Monday I suggest you rent or purchase a 2x extender for your lens. A 300mm or 500mm lens will get very close, but if you don’t have that lens, you can easily attach a 2x extender to any (canon or nikon etc) 70-200mm lens (which alot of folks have).

If you hurry, you can RENT a 2x extender from Lensrentals.com and they will ship it to you by Monday. Make sure you call them and note that you need it before nightfall.

For your EXPOSURE it is best to expose for the moon as the moon is reflecting the sun’s bright light and will be brighter than you think! You may have to stop down to get more detail in the moon’s craters, so I would suggest always stop down on your SHUTTER SPEED to allow you the possibility to hand hold if you do not have a tripod. If you have a tripod – USE IT!

For MORE INFO and EDITING tips go to my “Christmas Night Full Moon” Blog post from 2015 HERE!

ALSO! http://www.timeanddate.com/moon/usa/new-orleans for easy to read images like this!:



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

New Orleans 4th of July Firework Photography Quick Tips Video from Zack and WWL

July 3, 2016

You can sign up for my New Orleans Photography Workshop on Firework Photography by clicking HERE!. Space is filling fast in this exciting class so sign up now..but until then enjoy the video!

Take a look at my most recent segment on WWL-TV’s “Tips from the Pro” where I discuss the most basic principals of successful firework photography…Location, Stabilization, and Remote Operation. Click the link below to learn for yourself before the fireworks at City Park and on July 4th at the Dueling Barges Show on the Mississippi River!


Is it just too hot to photograph a new orleans summer? Not for Magic Hour Photography.

January 19, 2016

I hear it day in day out “it’s too hot to shoot” or “I can only last an hour in this heat!”. Photographers all over the city are complaining that they can’t hone their craft when it’s so hot outside that they end up not shooting at all! During these sweltering summer months in New Orleans  (really, anywhere now!)  you need to wake up early or stay out late to get the most out of your outdoor photography. Magic Hour photography is a GREAT way to get out there for longer periods without draining your energy and staying creative. 

 A row of homes on Claiborne Avenue

There’s the Magic Hour in photography where the sun hangs low in it’s ascent or descent on our willing horizon. Photographers that chase this light know that it is never an hour, or even a half of one hour…it’s really an elusive moment that comes and goes. On a drive to mid-city New Orleans from my home in Chalmette I was winked at by the world’s eye. The sun was calling, and I laid chase.

 The battle of Warm and Cool is in perfect symmetry and motion during the Magic Hour

The battle of Warm and Cool is in perfect symmetry and motion during the Magic Hour

Photographing in this low sun immediately makes the light so much softer and this is best represented in how our overall tonal range is expressed. When you photograph when the sun is directly overhead, or even close to the middle of the day, you will see how far apart in exposure the shadows are from the highlights. It is very hard to capture all of the rich details when your contrast is so high. 

 Being in focus has nothing to do with sharpness sometimes...

Being in focus has nothing to do with sharpness sometimes…

Are there some photography classes in New Orleans that teach Magic Hour Photography?

Over the course of the last 15 years I have taught “NOLA at NIGHT”, an introduction to long exposure night photography and low light photography. Over the last few years I have begun this photography workshop before Magic Hour so that we can shoot in this great low light before it turns night. You can always see the next Night Photography Workshop I have have by going to my webpage here! 

 We stared each other in the eye knowing the chase was over, only to begin again

We stared each other in the eye knowing the chase was over, only to begin again

HOW TO TUESDAY #8 - how to get better photographs of the full moon on Christmas night

December 15, 2015

Did you know there will be a full moon on Christmas night? If you are like me, you’ll want to make sure you get some practice in for when Santa crosses in front of the moon so you don’t miss your chance to get a once in a lifetime shot. The choice is wether to silhouette Santa or exposure for him and his sleigh of mighty reindeer. What is a photographer to do? Why don’t we start with the exposure on the full moon image above and go from there…

Conditions: August 10th, 8:20 pm Clear Sky, Super Moon

Settings Used: Canon 5D Mark3, 70-200 2.8L, 2x Extender, ISO 1000, 1/1000 @ 5.6 @ 400mm

Editing: Adobe Camera Raw 

There you have it. I have bared all for you to see, the gig is up, my secret is out. Why would I show you all my settings? For one: because the more information we share the better we all become – we raise the bar of our own community and everyone wins.

Getting back to Santa…..so if there is no light on Santa, then we should have a silhouette, right? I hate to tell you but, no. Factors such as: Atmospheric Conditions, Cloud Cover, and Time of Moon rise (and “Santa Sleigh Speed”) can contribute to variations in exposure, composition, and our final image. The best way to approach this shot is to come at it like we do any tricky night situation:

1. Take our UV filters OFF – doing this will cancel any specular highlights from creating highlight spots in your image. 

2. Stabilize! Turn VR/IR On, Use a Tripod, or lean up against something.

3. Set the lowest ISO possible that gives you the best shutter speed. Remember the Earth is moving so our exposures can’t bee too long.

4. If you are handholding, Double your focal length to get your shutter speed…ex: If you are shooting at 400mm = then your shutter speed should be at least 1/800 – get it?

5. Set your AF to Center Point, Spot Meter off of the Moon and “Find the “O”...take a test shot, then over expose or under expose depending on how you want your shot to look. I would suggest bracketing 1 stop Over/Under “0” (so that’s 3 total shots) since the moon will be reflecting so much light we may want to composite in Photoshop later.

See that was easy! Be sure to post your photos and share them with me! Find me on Facebook or use the hashtag #zsworkshops for whatever you do..i’ll find it!


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