Location Scouting for the Perfect Headshot. You Should Lose Some Sleep Over It!
I think photographing the perfect head shot should be an intense job. You should lose sleep over the head shot, you should adequately scout locations even for the simplest portrait. It’s always the unassuming jobs that have the most hidden outcomes. I have never taken a head shot job for granted even when the deliverable is your standard 85mm/100mm tightly cropped vertical oriented composition of a content business-like head. (and inhale!)
Head shots take an even more studious approach to fully understanding every detail about your backgrounds, lighting schemes, and especially your subject! In scouting locations for head shots I always include one or two “scenes” we can shoot some head shots with simple backgrounds using natural light. This way you can get your subject comfortable and establish a rapport before you pull out the 60″ Octabanks, hair lights, and start popping off strobes. This way you can get to know your subject in these early moments especially if it’s the first time you have met. What you will find out is that this person is more than just a “tightly cropped head shot” and is a dynamic and probably interesting person!
Great environmental portrait photography means getting there early!
I then like to then find a more “environmental” scene that can tell the story of my subject a little better than just a plain background. Getting to scout your location before hand at around the same time as you’ll do your shoot will give you a much better idea how your ambient light will play in your outdoors setting, if you choose that. In the end, if you scouted properly, you will be delivering a set of photographs that have multiple ambiance, feeling, and style. Kind of like your subject.
Enjoy these location shots from a scout I did today…in a few weeks I will show you my finished head shots!
In this week’s How to Tuesday Photography Techniques and Tips, we will splash into a better understanding of the effects of different shutters speeds on moving water. I recently spent a short weekend in the beautiful hills of Brevard, North Carolina shooting a wedding. On my way back I went the long way (duh!) and made a pass through Henderson County to the Dupont State Recreational Forest. There I hiked the .3 miles to Triple Falls Waterfall, one of six beautiful waterfalls on this sprawling nature preserve. What better way to show you the effects of how shutter speed effects a moving object than with a study on a waterfall!
Recommended Gear for Long Exposure Landscape Photography.
3. Notepad or app (Evernote is great for this) for taking notes
4. Circular Polarizers and/or Neutral Density Filters
Faster Shutter Speed – Frozen Motion
Think of a faster shutter speed as you hear a quick click of the shutter….“SNAP”! – Faster shutter speeds, as you know, are all relative…but in this context we we are talking about 1/80th of a second, 1/125, 1/250. After that the water really looks the same – you really do reach diminishing returns on the shutter speed effect after a certain point.
Slower Shutter Speed – More Motion
This one is always easy to remember, and I like to think of a slow shutter speed as a making a “mini-movie”. The reels are spinning, and it’s time for nature to act…Lights, Camera, Action! Here is the metadata on some different slow shutter speeds and the effects it has on water. Remember, the camera MUST be stabilized to see the true effects, or your entire image will be shaky.
Yes, I am ready for it all to end. I have been away from home 3 weekends in a row and I have to say I miss my wife, my dog, and our oasis in St. Bernard Parish. It all started with Labor Day Weekend shooting Bayou Country Superfest at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Every year this is the weekend it first starts feeling REALLY HOT. Add in the hot pavement around the stadium, and 12 hour shooting days, then you have a backbreaker of a weekend. (SEE Gallery HERE) To add insult to injury, all the music sounds the same coming out of a different face on the stage. I don’t want to get carried away at what I think about today’s “country” music, but I was more than happy the weekend after that to be playing music in New York. You can read all about that weekend here…
This Saturday and Sunday I was in the small town of Brevard, North Carolina to photograph a friend’s wedding and I took it upon myself to walk around the beautiful campus of The Brevard School of Music Center where the wedding took place. The campus is amazing and straight out of Sleepaway Camp or Friday the 13th without all the murder and sound effects. Replace the macabre with ducks, clear ponds, pristine wooded hills and serenity..and there you have it. On my way back to the airport I decided to wake up early and get lost driving through Henderson County on my way up to The Dupont State Recreation area, Triple Falls waterfall, and the 1945 constructed home of American hero, and poet, Carl Sandburg. Not bad for a few hours on the way home…
Bayou Country Superfest photographs I am super proud of.
Since it’s inception in 2010 I have been the photographer for the Bayou Country Superfest, which is also put on by Festival Productions who puts on Jazz Fest. After “opting out” of Jazz Fest this year, I stayed on as photographer for the Bayou Country Superfest for reasons other than loving the music. The good thing about shooting music in this case is that you (well, I) can detach yourself from the situation and follow the (mostly choreographed) moments and tune out the newest face of country. Each year I do get some images I am proud of. Saddle up podnuh and see what Nashville has to offer this year…
I recently got back from a super quick 36 hour trip to New York. I don’t recommend going anywhere as vivid and lush as New York City for only 36 hours. You spend most of the time in transit or sleeping – but you can only try to make up for it in other ways. The other ways I am talking about was my set of music with long time friend Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers as our duo drum/fiddle “Pilette’s Ghost”. I also walked around ALOT. I enjoyed walking around the West Village and then again in the Lower East Side, as our gig was at famed improvisational composer/musician John Zorn’s club, The Stone. It was good to get some fresh landscapes in front of me, catch up on some reading and hit my favorite spot for the best coffee beans…McNulty’s.
When I arrived in NY I met up with old friends and ate one of the best falafel sandwiches ever at Mamoun’s and I have to thank LJ Goldstein for that suggestion (sorry I didn’t bring one back). The next morning I walked around and photographed the West Village, then met up with the band. Louis rented an AirBnB for their week long residency and it’s front door sat facing the Hell’s Angels Clubhouse on E 3rd Street. As I walked up, six pairs of eyes watched my every move as 6 mouths continued their conversations.
I walked into the apartment and I could already feel the Louisiana camaraderie bubble over as talk of the previous night’s set began. Ryan Brasseaux, Bryan Webre, and Kirkland Middleton II were talking about the music and the moments as we all sat down to rehearse for Saturday’s show.
Later in the day Spider and Louise Stacy met us at the apartment. We packed out instruments and set out to busk in the New York Subway…
How to Improve Your Night and Long Exposure Photography
Who doesn’t love great long exposure night photography? I can speak for myself, I love looking at it and I love making it happen. There’s an unexplainable joy that comes from creative night photography. I have been teaching New Orleans longest running Night Photography course called NOLA @ Night since 2002 and each outing reveals something totally different and exciting. Why do you think I still teach it!?
want to join our next night photography workshop? Click below!
This hands-on photography workshop is the only class you will need to learn the ropes shooting the beautiful soft light of a Crescent City summer night! Long time New Orleans photographer and instructor Zack Smith will teach you how to get the most out of your camera wether you are a beginner or are an advanced shooter looking to gain more knowledge.
From the multicolor subtleties that exist in the dying of the light, to the glow of civil twilight I am perplexed and in awe at each sunset. As the city lights fight off the day you can see there’s a new sheriff in town as the hum of the human night sky wins over the glow of twilight.
Tips for Getting the Best Exposure at Night on Your Digital Cameras
Go HERE to learn some initial pointers for shooting at Night in How To Tuesday #8….
1. Location Scouting Beforehand – All of my best night photography is planned. I rarely walk around with all of my gear “hoping” to find a good composition. Over the years I have taken the time to find the best places to shoot at night because there are so many factors that play into a good night photography. Background, light, location of the sunset, location of streetlights and much more. These factors will play into your shots later one when the sun sets, and knowing where they are before can help speed the process of location selections.
+ Pick Your Location/Subject
+ If you want BLUE/dark behind your subject at Twilight, then your back must be to the setting sun. If you want more REDS/yellow, then your subject should be west facing
+ Spot our your street lights and lamp posts. These will NOT be on during the day, but at night they could take over your shot and cause lens flare (SEE HTT#8)
2. Using Speed Lights – I like to think of long exposure photography as making a mini-movie with a still shot. You have thirty seconds to multiple minutes to create, carve, and cast your light and shadows around a single. No matter what you do sometimes, you have compositions with varying degrees of Exposure Values, meaning: there are some areas that receive too much light and some that don’t get enough. You can combat this by using a hand held flash (even battery powered studio strobes!) to illuminate the shadow areas. Try this a few times by setting your camera on it’s self timer to give you time to walk to the shadow area.
3. Bring a Friend and have an Adventure – the best thing about photographing at night is that no two nights are the same. The sun will set differently, the trees and the city will respond in a way you never imagined. This is a good opportunity to bring a fellow photographer with you to be your second shooter, lighting guru, or just to have someone to enjoy the journey. As always, be aware of your surroundings at all times: watch for cars at night and don’t venture off to areas you are not 100% familiar with. When you are constantly behind the camera, your wits aren’t exactly in the right place – bring a friend!
I have always loved the photography of Walker Evans. I am more specifically enamored and the same time perplexed by his very “straight” street photography. You know the ones, very flat, but contrasty straight forward views of homes and businesses. You know, the barbershops, auto repair, and general street life shots? To me they hold a piece of history about the humans who lived, loved, and worked there and they offer our eyes today a sense of place to see how “we” used to live. But the perplexing thing about these historical images is that I have never been inclined to just shoot street view compositions or New Orleans architectural facades…ever. For me there’s got to be a story and I find the human story as it’s told by the human is far more interesting…until now.
It wasn’t until I moved out to St. Bernard Parish that I began driving up and down, up and down the same streets to get into “the city” to do jobs for clients. The City, I mean New Orleans.
From my house, I take St. Bernard Highway, which turns into St. Claude at the Orleans Parish Line, then at Elysian Fields, turns into Rampart St. and on through the French Quarter and beyond. Right around where I live, you got this sign:
Yeah, did you know there was a State Park ‘down the road’?
You can literally walk out of Preservation Hall to Rampart Street, go Right (or East) and for the next 6 miles (5.9 to be exact) see first hand how fast and furious New Orleans is changing. By the time you get to the Chalmette Battlefield (see my most recent Gallery here) you will have seen 6 miles of a landscape that won’t look anything like it does now in 5 years. You already see it changing, growing, expanding, contracting. And for this reason, I started to see where Walker Evans was right. I having been seeing my 6 mile route into the city change so fast over the last 3 years I decided it was time to put my lens to this evolving story and see for myself how fast things change…and how much they do stay the same.
I have seen the streetcar tracks start laying down to now almost being done. I have seen small shops pop up on St. Claude, bars, too many restaurants to name. I have also seen the corner stores shut down and the mom and pop stores close. I have seen Family Dollar’s open up next door to each other and across the street from Dollar Generals as they compete for the lowest price and least healthy options for the people they serve. Vacant lots now hold promise instead of neglect. It’s funny how the glass can go half full in the blink of an eye.
Enjoy my drive from St. Bernard Highway through St. Claude Avenue to Rampart Street
As all photographers know it sometimes takes a lifetime to own just the right gear you can need for any type of shoot. Not only is the best gear usually the most expensive, but there is always some sort of “upgrade” or “v 2.1” right around the corner just teasing your inquisitive nature. As our buying habits are different I can only speak for myself when I say that I usually make do with what I have. But that is changing.
In my early days of shooting strictly film, I was limited to a 24mm, 50mm, an 85 lens for my Nikon n90s (remember those!) when I was shooting alot of low lit night club concerts at Tipitinas and street photography in New Orleans. In these early years, I was regulated to those three lenses, which I then mastered as those focal lengths became synonymous in how I saw the world.
After years of using multiple camera formats and focal lengths, ignorance is definitely bliss since I have TOO many choices. This for me, is a good thing. I really do enjoy diagnosing my client’s visual problems when I have multiple formats, focal lengths and lighting choices to apply to each photoshoot. I am no longer limited to certain focal lengths that I own.
As I write this, I still do not own everything I want and I don’t think I will EVER have every lens or light I’ll ever need or own. So when my vision requires a piece of gear I currently do not own, I often turn to renting gear for the specific shoot.
For my recent shoot with Dirty Coast t-shirts and an upcoming Deftones show at the Saenger Theatre I rented the Canon 35mm f1.4 and the Canon 50mm 1.2 from one of my favorite rental spots – www.lensrentals.com. The prices are fair and the return is made easy by a ready to go UPS return sticker. Oh, and they have EVERYTHING…
35mm 1.4 probably my favorite new lens…
Canon 50 1.2 was so much fun to shoot!
At this point I can’t afford each of these lenses..it’s just not in the short term budget. But renting them for specific shoots suits me just fine. Take a look at a couple of images I shot with these lenses at the Dirty Coast shoot. NOTE: All images shot at each lenses Max Aperture i.e. 35mm @ 1.4 and 50mm @ 1.2. I absolutely love being able shoot at 1.4 and 1.2..but it takes ALOT of practice at nailing the shot! Most importantly, you have to realize that you have such a small focus range/depth and that any slight movement from subject or camera, you risk a soft focus point…or missed all together. But when you nail it…You KNOW IT.
I just love that nice shallow depth of filed and bokeh with the 50mm 1.2!
The 50mm 1.2 had great focus lock, and found the subject at any depth.
Especially in low light, the 50mm 1.2 was bright, and it was easy to focus with low nat light
So, probably my “next” lens…(meaning, pennies are being saved as we speak) is the Canon 35mm 1.4. I first rented the lens for this years French Quarter Festival (you can see my gallery here) and I don’t think it left my Mark 3 at all. I guess I am becoming comfortable with the close range and intimate engagement the 35mm focal length gives me. Combine that with the tack sharp focusing, maximum light gathering, and beautiful bokeh at 1.4 – It’s a lens I can’t live without too much longer out of my bag. I am not there yet…so that’s why I rent. Here are a few of my favorite 35mm 1.4 shots from the last few shoots.
I do like the bokeh on the 35mm more than the 50mm 1.2. I find its a bit softer…
Here are some more 35mm @ 1.4 – I can’t get enough!
There you have it. A few of my favorite shots from two of my favorite new lenses. At price tags of $1,349 for the 50mm 1.2 and $1,799 for the 35mm 1.4, I don’t think I’ll be buying soon. For $165 I could rent both of them for a week, shoot a ton of personal and client work while counting and saving those pennies…
As a photographer living in the greatest city in the world, there is no place I would rather be. I have been documenting the unique music and culture of New Orleans since I permanently moved here in the fall of 2000. Originally from Lafayette, I am no stranger to unique cultures and the power they bring to the storyline of a unique city. As a photographer in New Orleans I feel a strong sense of responsibility with the images I make and the relationships I make. I need to make sure I show the music, the street, the Indians and the clubs in the best light and make sure I give back in any way I can.
In this age of a rapidly evolving technology that allows us to document every moment and minute of our lives I feel it is the photographers and culture bearers of this great city to form stronger relationships so that we can BOTH tell the story of this great city in a way that fosters trust, respect, and responsibility. That is why I, along with Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Louisiana Cultural Vistas Magazine, put together a panel discussion with New Orleans photographers and culture bearers to discuss these topics and more. The video is finally here online. I will preface that the entire video is not online because I felt there was some of the discussion that warranted omitting.
I am grateful to all those who were present. We had a PACKED house of over 80 people who were present to discuss how responsible photographers need to be as documenters of culture and how we can work together with the culture bearers we photograph. As I continue to talk with black masking culture bearers I learn how complicated the relationships and groups tend to be, but hope that we can start a thread that continues through all groups that relies on trust, responsibility and giving back.
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