Category: Portrait Photography

Great Family Photography Techniques for the Best Holiday Portrait Ever!

December 21, 2018
 The Rhein family photographed at Audubon Park in New Orleans. 2018 Zack Smith Photography

The Rhein family photographed at Audubon Park in New Orleans. 2018 Zack Smith Photography

Want to know how you can take relaxed natural light family holiday portraits this season?

So I know the situation you are in. It’s the holidays, it’s stressful, you are busy, but you have this rare moment when your entire family is not only in the same state…they are all at the same house! I’ll try to make this easy for you wether you are in the bayou, the park, or even your New Orleans uptown backyard – YOU can make a great family portrait with any camera. But let’s at least make it interesting!

Once you practice thinking beyond the cliché, ideas flow. And you can capture great fall family pictures with any camera. Could be even your smartphone or iPhone. Here are some tips for taking awesome family photos this season.   

 Millie poses with her flowers in New Orleans. ©2018 Zack Smith Photography

Millie poses with her flowers in New Orleans. ©2018 Zack Smith Photography

How to use natural light for family photos

The weather changes during fall, so does the sunlight. To make the most of natural light in your fall family photos, consider heading outside with your family during the golden hour, which is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. The soft, warm tones of golden light make any subject look more fascinating.  

But even if you’re shooting in the middle of the day, the low winter sun is always nice, just find a shady area to place your subjects. As I always say – you will get the BEST RESULTS by making sure your subject is in the same light as your background. This helps avoid any harsh shadows on them due to the direct sun. You can also shoot on a cloudy day, but don’t forget to set the camera’s white balance right; otherwise it might show a slightly bluish color tone ( you can always readjust in post later, especially if you shoot RAW)

Need some Expert HELP? My 2019 Photography Workshop Calendar is OUT – CLICK HERE

During the autumn season, the sun shines at a low angle and creates long, deep shadows in the afternoon. One good idea would be to include those shadows in your frame in order to capture the essence of the season. 

So if we are thinking out of the box, a good idea would be using the bright sunlight as a strong backlight. Place your subjects with the sun behind them and use a reflector to bounce back fill lights onto their face. For the lack of a proper reflector, you can use a large white paper or Polystyrene plate. Or if you don’t have that just go for it and make sure you have the shutter on continuous and high speed!

Best tips for photographing outdoors

If you’re shooting on a sunny day, setting the exposure right could be a challenge. This is where you can use the Sunny 16 rule, which suggests setting the aperture at f/16 and then setting the shutter speed reciprocal to your ISO value.

Check out my very 1st blog post for how to do the Sunny 16 Rule! CLICK HERE

For instance, set your aperture at f/16. Now if ISO is 200, your shutter speed should be 1/200 seconds.  If ISO is 100, shutter speed will be 1/100 seconds.

When taking solo shots or close-ups, you should consider using a long lens (100mm or above) to help add a nice bokeh effect to your photos. (like the photo of Millie above) If you’re taking a long shot of your family, however, use a slightly shorter focal length lens (70mm or below). Also, consider including some elements of the nature (such as, leaves or branches of a tree) in the foreground to add depth to your fall family pictures.

Best tips for capturing fall colors in family pictures

First things first, choose the right location for your fall family photos. It could be your local park, a pumpkin patch, a farm house or a countryside trail, but make sure the place has abundance of reds, yellows and oranges for colorful fall photography.

 Maggie poses with Chloe. Notice the soft out of focus backgrounds. ©Zack Smith Photography.

Maggie poses with Chloe. Notice the soft out of focus backgrounds. ©Zack Smith Photography.

Using a longer focal-length lens is always a good way to isolate the stunning fall colors in your photograph. You can also use the sunlight to your advantage. For instance, take a close shot of a backlit leaf to make the colors look more vivid. Even when you’re taking a wide landscape shot, consider using the sun as your backlight to help capture the beautiful fall foliage colors. 

Another good idea would be adjusting the camera’s color saturation setting to a slightly higher level, so that you get more intense colors.  Alternatively, it is possible to increase color saturation or adjust colors during your photo editing phase.

The colors of autumn vary depending on when you’re shooting. Ideally, you should shoot at different times of a day to capture the many different colors of the season.

Choosing what colors your family members should wear is also important. Ideally, try wearing complementary colors. For instance, a blue dress looks stunning against the orange and red fall foliage.

Finally, experiment with the camera angle. Get low or shoot from a high angle to make the fall colors come alive in your frame. Also combining this technique with “same light on subject and background” can give you great even results like this portrait of the Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art

 The Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art. ©Zack Smith Photography

The Krieg family at New Orleans Museum of Art. ©Zack Smith Photography

As always…have fun and shoot for the wall! Keep in touch with you family photo session photography and comment on this post!

That time I got to photograph inside the hippest office in downtown New Orleans?

You know when you visit an office or a home a few times and you really really want to photograph inside it but all the photographing is usually done outside the house?

 Each set of portraits were done in locations around Peter Mayer

Each set of portraits were done in locations around Peter Mayer’s modern yet rustic office.

Well, I got to photograph inside the house. Well, the office that is. A few months back I had the pleasure of photographing staff portraits of the Peter Mayer ad and marketing firm in New Orleans, LA. They have just finished their new website and wanted new staff portraits to populate the new site. (check their new website HERE

The Peter Mayer agency has been at the industry forefront since 1967, right here in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Peter Mayer is one of those old school/new school types of agencies. They understand the history of the power of pen and image and understand the current trends enough to create lasting brands. We know this, well, because they have been on the industry forefront since 1967, operating right out of New Orleans, Louisiana. I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing Peter Mayer and his two sons, Josh and Mark for New Orleans Magazine back in 2007 (you can see that pic on their site here – PHOTO)

Over the last few years I have been lucky to work with them on a number of client jobs. Working with the teams from Peter Mayer is always a creative and collaborative experience for me as I learn so much every time I work with them. So, I was truly honored that they asked me to photograph their staff portraits – at their office! As I might have mentioned before, every time I walk into their office there is a different background that pops out waiting to be photographed. A dark corner, a silver-light lit atrium all begging for their closeup…Their office is rustic yet sleek, modern yet classic in style and vibe. It’s the ultimate studio. And it was mine for two days…

Each of these portraits you see here were taken in 4 different areas of their office. We used a similar, often exact, light setup as to try and maintain the feel of the shots as a whole even though we changed location. This was difficult to do at times, so we always had the camera tethering to Lightroom (click for past Blog on Tethering) and then to a 38″ monitor so we could see what we were getting. Being able to tether your workflow, including the preset Black and White filter, and project the finals while you are shooting proved very useful here!

I look forward to more photo shoots with Peter Mayer, and it has been a delight to see how many recognizable brands, images, and moments that were created right there in that office on Camp St. Happy to be in that #….




How To Tuesday #35 - Portrait Photography Lighting 101: When to choose...what to use?

July 31, 2016

How do we know when to use lighting for a portrait, and then what light do we use?

I think when we are learning how to first shoot portraits, lighting is probably the last thing on our minds. I remember when I first started shooting portraits, the most important thing buzzing around my head was “I hope I look like I know what I doing” especially if that person was paying me to be there! I was still fidgeting with my camera, lenses, and all the while I was hoping that the client didn’t get distracted or bored. The absolute last thing on my mind was what kind of lighting is suitable for this portrait and how can I utilize the FREE light first.

Let the Subject Set the Settings…

When we are first setting up for a portrait shoot the easiest way I have found to help with choosing the right exposure (aperture, ISO, shutter speed), lens (focal length), composition and lighting, is to ask – What Does My Subject Want. What’s the story I am trying relay here? How does my subject want to be presented? I am going to use an example from my recent photo shoot with the super creative folks at Dirty Coast Press in New Orleans, to answer that question.

Question 1 – What is the Goal of this Portrait?

Ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish. In the case of this shoot, I needed to showcase the t-shirts and their design, show how well they fit on the person, and make sure the design was visible and lit well. If that’s my first goal, I also had ulterior motives like: I need great joy and energy from each subject who was wearing the shirt, I needed the background to NOT be distracting, I needed my subject facing the lens at all times but still look “natural”. 

Search for the Available Light first when looking to set the “base” of light for your portrait

Sometimes the natural light is all you need to properly light someone. When looking for an easy and quick shot at One Eyed Jacks for the Booker shirt, i just used the available window light to illuminate my subject and the background. NOTE: we must always take into consideration how our backgrounds are lit as well – they will continue to tell the story of the portrait in a way that completes the photograph.

In the shot above, I had to slow down my shutter speed and use a very wide aperture (1.8) to get as much light as possible. But in the shot below, I am outside in the shade and there is plenty of natural light available to photograph my subjects. NOTE: this wall that’s covered in vegetation is one of my favorite backgrounds in New Orleans. The streets of New Orleans constantly offer up their natural settings for your best portraits…

Natural light portraits make your life so much easier…you can just flow with your subjects’ moods and connect with them so much easier. As the day comes to a close, we can still utilize the ambient light from a window, but we may need to add light to our backgrounds if they are not close enough to expose properly. In the portrait below, we had enough light on Rodney but not enough on the background. In other situations maybe that would ok – but remember that we have a duty to our client to show their products and make them shine. Even though that shirt wall is out of focus and in the background, I wanted to direct your eye there to let you know that visiting their store would reveal even more creative designs. 

As you may be able to tell, I added a warm orange gel to my Alien Bee 800 with a 30º grid attached and had the left side of his face take the window light. That grid on my background light allowed me to “focus” my light to a particular section of the wall, as well as “pop” a little light on the right side of Rodney’s head. You can say I got a 2-fer on that background light – background AND rim light!

Learn these mixed light portrait techniques and more at my workshop August 20th!

I will be talking about and demonstrating these exact techniques at my “Art of the Photographic Portrait Workshop” August 20th at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art. Be one of the lucky ones who SIGNS UP NOW before it’s too late! This class is limited to 8 participants so we can keep the class small and learn BIG


Art of the Photographic Portrait - The Portrait IS the story your subject reads with their eyes

July 29, 2016

Photographing a portrait of someone must tell the story, learning the story must come before you put camera to eye…

Over the years I have loved photographing my friend Arlyn Jiminez, who is also a superbly talented metal artist. He makes sculptures for his own art but for commissions as well. Here and there some galleries even show his work… Ariodante Gallery in New Orleans will be showing some work of his in the near future..stay tuned.

I wanted to go by Arlyn’s studio sculpture studio in New Orleans to demonstrate some mixed lighting portraits using some new gear I got. I will be doing alot of this type of instruction in my “Art of the Photographic Portrait” photography workshop on August 20th at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art, but I wanted to show those interested what is possible….really, anything is!

Explaining the 3 Light Portrait Setup

I was using a 3 strobe setup, also know as a 3 Light Setup, using natural light, and 3 Paul C. Buff Strobes with grids and colored gels. In the shot above I had no gel on a 30º grid on his face, a blue gel w/ a 40º grid on the tools in the foreground, and a orange gel on a 10º grid for the warm look on the background. I had a video done of this setup you can see here:

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