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What is The Sunny 16 Rule and how can it help you learn manual exposure!

October 27, 2015
 Actor Nick Slie as the Loup Garou...seen in the Swamps of Pierre Part!!! ©Zack Smith Photography

Actor Nick Slie as the Loup Garou…seen in the Swamps of Pierre Part!!! ©Zack Smith Photography



Welcome to the first edition of Zack Smith Photography’s “How to Tuesdays” where I will teach you some of the most common, and slightly random, techniques and share helpful insight and tips on photography’s most interesting and fun topics. Have a question or topic involving portrait and commercial photography, editing workflow and more you’d like to see covered in the next “How To” Tuesdays? Be sure to comment below with your question or topic, or email me at zack@zacksmith.com and I’ll answer your questions right here In an upcoming post. The Sunny 16 Rule is a great way to determine the proper exposure settings for your shot. However, explaining the Sunny 16 Rule will require some background information on your camera:


Exposure settings are decided by the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. When these settings are correct, a photographer can expect to take the best shot of his or her subject. So here is some information on each one:

The aperture is simply a hole within the camera’s lens. Through that hole, light travels into the camera body. The larger the hole is, the more light can pass through to reach the camera’s sensor. The aperture also controls the depth of field, which is the part of a shot that appears to be sharp. When the aperture is small, the depth of field is large, and when the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. The aperture is normally expressed in the photography world with an F followed by a number. This is known as the focal ratio. The number following the F is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens.

The ISO is the level of sensitivity your camera has to the available light. A lower number represents a lower sensitivity to light, while higher numbers equal more sensitivity. Grain and noise in images increase as the ISO increases. These settings will need to change based on your scene. When you are outside, your setting will be a lot different than it is when you are shooting darker indoor scenes.

Lastly, the shutter speed is the amount of time that passes between a camera’s shutter opening and closing. It basically determines how long the light gets to the camera’s senor. Shutter speeds are normally measured with fractions of a speed less than one second. Fast speeds help freeze motion and are typically great for sporting events and other action shots. Slower speeds allow more light into the camera’s sensor and are great for posed photos in darker environments.


Thanks to the development brought on by the rise of digital camera technology, cameras now have their own light meter. The light meter is built in to most cameras. The meter reacts to how intense the light in the shoot location is as read by the camera. The meter collects the light, which is passed through the camera’s lens and measures the intensity of that light.

Light meters put you in the right neighborhood for how your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed should be set. So basically, the light meter is a God-send for people who are looking to make sure their photo isn’t too over- or under-exposed.

But the light meter does have its downsides.


Obviously, the light meter can be a useful tool in deciding the correct camera settings to shoot with. But the meter comes with some downsides. One downside comes with rooms or outdoor scenes with extreme light contrasts. For example, there may be a very shady area on a sunny day that throws off the meter, or a dark or very light corner of a room. In more recent years, some cameras have been built with additional light meters that can spot read different areas of a photo to address this problem.


Anyone who owns a camera that was created in the last few years will have a light meter in built into their camera. However, many photographers seldom use the light meters nowadays.

Although cameras have evolved so much so that photographers can purchase cameras with anywhere between one and 12 built-in light meters, photographers rarely actually use the light meter to find the correct exposure settings for their environment. This is because the photographer can just take a photo and review your image quickly to know what settings need to be changed. If you are overexposed, you know you can stop down, and if you are underexposed, you know you can open up. If things look right, you can start shooting. So, the light meter isn’t typically used in today’s digital age.


What if there was a way to have a starting point in deciding what settings you need for the perfect exposure? That is where the Sunny 16 Rule comes into play. The Sunny 16 Rule is a way to meter for correct exposure in daylight scenes without using the camera’s meter or simply guessing the right aperture, ISO, and shutter speed settings.

Back when many photographers used their light meters, a photographer would be in a lot of trouble if his batteries ran out. Say the photographer is using on his meter to read light out in the swamps of Louisiana while photographing the elusive Loup Garou (werewolf), he wouldn’t be able to meter and read the scene, meaning he could miss his once-in-a-lifetime shot. The Sunny 16 Rule is the perfect way to assure you will get the shot you’re looking for without having to toy with the light meter and settings excessively.

So here is the rule: The rule states that, to properly expose for the highlights of a subject directly lit by the sun, your exposure should be set specifically so that your aperture is set to F16, and your shutter speed is 1/ISO.


To put it in simpler terms, that means if you set your aperture at F16, and your shutter speed is at 1/ISO (if you’re using 400 ISO, then your shutter speed is 1/400), you can take a test shot and the subject illuminated by the sun will be perfectly exposed. So, for that photographer in the swamps of Louisiana, the Loup Garou, which is illuminated by the sun, will be perfectly exposed.


But why is the Sunny 16 Rule so much more convenient than using the light meter? Let’s take our Loup Garou into account for a moment. If he is hard to catch on camera, you will need to be ready and able to photograph him whenever he comes into the shot. If you are using the camera’s light meter, you must take time to use the meter to survey the light and set your camera. However, if you use the Sunny 16 Rule in your outdoor scene, all you have to do is take a test shot. If you feel you have to adjust the settings a bit after taking your test shot, you can.


If more light is needed, open up. You can open up either your aperture one stop to F11 (3 clicks to the LEFT) or your shutter speed to 1/200 (same!) will give you more light all over, but make sure the change works well with your aesthetic (more on that soon!).

If it is cloudy outside, change your aperture one stop to F8, or even F5.6 at 1/ISO. You can always review your shot to see what the image will look like. Make sure not to open up more than your depth of field. Remember that your depth of field determines what part of the image is in focus. If you have your aperture all the way open, your image won’t be very sharp. Choose the setting that will allow you to get all of the Loup Garou in focus.


In conclusion, using the Sunny 16 Rule is a great way to get a start in deciding what your exposure settings need to be in any day-lit scene. It is typically a much easier and faster way to get your camera photoshoot ready!

That’s it for this week’s “How To” Tuesday. Next up:

“How To” Tuesdays #2 – Let your subject set the settings: How to navigate the many settings on your camera to get the perfect composition and exposure!


Zack smith is a fine art and commercial portrait photographer who has documented the social, musical and cultural landscapes of Louisiana for the past 15 years. As a musician, artist, and storyteller, Smith believes the world gets smaller as we celebrate our similarities and connect through our traditions and stories.

Smith’s work has appeared in numerous ad campaigns, and he has done work for The Louisiana Public Health Institute, New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Commission, Getty Mages, NIKE, Russell Simmons, YAMAHA, St. Charles Vision, Krewe du Optic, Dirty Coast, and SOPO among others.





The Sunny 16 rule is a GREAT way to get a starting exposure in any day lit scene!

FOLLOW this BLOG and stay in touch for next week’s “HOW TO TUESDAY’s”

#2 – LET THE SUBJECT SET THE SETTINGS!!! – how to navigate the many settings on your camera to get the perfect composition and exposure!


Photographer gets NOLA.com write up...

October 8, 2015

I am very thankful to have had a wonderful talk with Annette from NOLA.com about my recent My Louisiana Muse exhibit and other things happening since my move out to St. Bernard Parish. I feel like things are just starting to get going out here as I begin to connect w/ the creative community that’s peppered around this wonderful historic parish. I have to thank Bill and Chris at the Mereaux Foundation for sending Annette my way! Check out the Mereaux Foundation and Docville Farms next time you are out my way!


 Bayou Bienvenue Sunset as seen from my Quadcopter - 2014 Chalmette, LA

Bayou Bienvenue Sunset as seen from my Quadcopter – 2014 Chalmette, LA

Collaborations: Pelias and Payton, Paintin' and Playin'

October 7, 2015

I have often repeated the phrase “Stick Around, Do Good Work, and Be Nice To People” many times recently to those who have asked me how I get to do what I do and how I got here. Well it is really easy when you break down that phrase. Sometimes all you need is one of those 3 concepts to find yourself in an interesting and possibly life changing situation…

I cherish the friendships I have made in my 15+ years living, creating, and collaborating in this amazing city. I recently got a call from a dear friend, Anastasia Pelias, telling me that…”well, me and Nicholas Payton have been creating live art at my studio and, we are meeting for one of the last times and we don’t have any photos!” – That was the gist of it, and I really didn’t ask what for or why, but just “when and where”. Anastasia has been a good friend and supporter of what I do dating back to the early 2000’s. I have always enjoyed her uplifting spirit and kind nature towards me and those around her. Please check out her work…. 

I had never met Nicholas Payton (but I do love this set with George Porter Jr. at Bear Creek – yes, he’s playing the trumpet and keys) but was very excited to be able to witness and record their collaboration. He arrived quickly with his keyboards and some amps and was fast to setup and play to Stasi’s already colorful dripping canvas.

 Nicholas Payton and Anastasia Pelias at Pelia

Nicholas Payton and Anastasia Pelias at Pelia’s uptown New Orleans studio. 2015.


Pelias’s Peds

"While I was away..." My photography life during the production of My Louisiana Muse didn't just sit back and watch...

September 23, 2015

During the last month and half my time (and my life!) had been occupied by the My Louisiana Muse project, but that didn’t mean my commercial work had slowed down. In fact, I have never been busier with work that thankfully feeds the soul and challenges my abilities.

 Stills I shot for Live Nation to promote their Bold Sphere Music Series at Champions Square. Getting to photograph the 610 Stompers is ALWAYS a trip...

Stills I shot for Live Nation to promote their Bold Sphere Music Series at Champions Square. Getting to photograph the 610 Stompers is ALWAYS a trip…

 New Orleans Burlesque superstar Trixie Minx for the Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square. 

New Orleans Burlesque superstar Trixie Minx for the Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square. 

I was looking forward to shooting the still photography campaign for the Bold Sphere Music series at Champions Square for Live Nation. There were 10 “local famous” folks to shoot from 8p-12am at the venue and everyone was eager to get started. You really do count your blessings when you get to photograph Trixie Minx, the 610 Stompers, chef Alon Shaya, Fleurty Girl and Demo Diva and it never feels like “work”…We even had a live band on stage rocking the entire shoot! Big shout out to the Cardinal Sons!

 I got to document local artist

I got to document local artist “BMike” Brandan Odums  (Project BE originator) as he constructed a beautiful mural in New Orleans East. Client: RUSH Card/LaundryService

 A still from

A still from “BMike” and his “Peace Wall” installation in New Orleans East. Client: RUSH Card/LaundryService

I photographed Bmike and his crew for 4 days in early September. His crew consisted of friends, family, and well wishers who came by to help paint base colors, play tracks from their new records, and just hang out to support. The wall turned out beautifully despite the midnight taggers and unrelenting rain and heat. Click HERE for more images from this shoot for RUSH Card and Laundry Service.

 Press day unveil for the

Press day unveil for the “Peace Wall” by local artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums. Client: RUSH Card/LaundryService

 The pristinely renovated Orpheum Theatre on Opening Night, September 17th 2015. 

The pristinely renovated Orpheum Theatre on Opening Night, September 17th 2015. 

 I was hired by the  Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra  to document the evening concert at the Orpheum. This was their first time playing there since 2005 and Katrina.

I was hired by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to document the evening concert at the Orpheum. This was their first time playing there since 2005 and Katrina.

 Words were hard to describe the feelings that night. People tried to explain their feelings and express the longing, joy, and comfort they had in being

Words were hard to describe the feelings that night. People tried to explain their feelings and express the longing, joy, and comfort they had in being “home”…but when the music began the story became clear: The LPO was finally home.

I was honored to have been there to shoot the opening night events, but was really proud to see the documentary I co-produced with Elephant Quilt Productions for the LPO’s 25th Anniversary. You can watch it on my YOUTUBE Channel HERE.

"How we are connected as Humans" - More musings on My Louisiana Muse

August 20, 2015

My Louisiana Muse has shown me the deeper ways that we are all connected as human beings and even more so as artists. We are connected through how we interpret the “message of inspiration” coming to us as an outside sound, light, or experience. We can tie in this moment to our already formed ideas and thoughts and from here can decide wether to tell that story.

Inspiration is a subconscious deeper meaning (feeling) and knowledge of our existence and how we fit into our world on a micro scale. As I write this I realize that each artist I interviewed for this project didn’t necessarily know each other, but when I told them about each other’s projects their eyes lit up. Just think if we could have these great Louisiana photographers, painters, and poets all in one room meeting each other, talking, creating, inspiring. Having this show on September 12th at the Jazz and Heritage Gallery brings the project full circle. I am anticipating a sense of completion in getting my work done and on the walls, but to me that’s just the drapes in a big mansion of people talking, creating, and inspiring.

"Creativity in Diversification" photography lecture uploaded to YOUTUBE!

August 11, 2015

My good buddy Ben Samuels did a great job capturing and editing my lecture and photography presentation at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities/Cultural Vistas “Happy Hour” series in June. I was honored to be asked to speak at this well put together event. I was able to showcase the different phases of my photography career through images, and also talk about where I am now, while taking questions from the crowd. I hope you enjoy!

Bromoiling has Begun for My Louisiana Muse

July 19, 2015

I decide it was time to knock the cobwebs off of my Bromoil technique as it has been about a decade. Yes, I mean 10 years. I have been very happy with my re-entry into the darkroom making prints for the My Louisiana Muse series, as it didn’t take too long to get the hang of it. The Fomabrome prints were bleaching well and the ink was taking to them nicely…

The Last "P" in the 3 P's of My Louisiana Muse: Poverty Point

July 17, 2015

            I have to thank my friend, and past director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts Rose Courville, for giving me a few great Louisiana artists for the My Louisiana Muse project. Rose told me about the photographer Jenny Ellerbe who was producing some great black and white documentary shots of rural North Louisiana. After looking Jenny up and speaking with her about my project, we realized that her new photo essay documenting the Poverty Point World Heritage Site and the many Indian mounds of North Louisiana, was the perfect addition to My Louisiana Muse.

 Photographer Jenny Ellerbe at the Poverty Point mound. ©Zack Smith Photography 2015

Photographer Jenny Ellerbe at the Poverty Point mound. ©Zack Smith Photography 2015

I had heard of Poverty Point as a child growing up in Lafayette. I knew that it was some sort of Indian mound, and what I learned that day walking around the mounds really blew me away. The mounds were created by humans and little is known about them to this day. Where exactly did they come from? Why did they leave? But one fact is for certain: the mounds were built by American Indians and at one time were an ancient residential, trade and ceremonial center that predates the Great Pyramids. We have this in Louisiana!

At this point in my journey documenting these artists all around Louisiana, some major themes are beginning to drive my own inspiration and inquisitiveness. There exists a very strong and coherent connection to each artist I have spoken with where the land of Louisiana, in some way, is the powerful factor that inspires.  With Adam Morales it was the driftwood and God showing him the way and with Melissa Bonin it was the swamp. Our surroundings and the land are our first teacher, as the poet Darrell Bourque would say, so we can assume we are continuing to learn from our 1st teacher as we explore the themes of our own calling and art.

Jenny Ellerbe has been documenting not only the Poverty Point mounds, but also the efforts of local preservationists to locate, preserve, and learn from the many existing mounds on private property in the area. Ellerbe’s latest gallery show – Shared Earth presents this ongoing struggle to save these gold mines of knowledge so that we can learn from civilizations past.

At the end of the sweltering summer day atop this large mound, I had a vision of these people as they lived and worked the land. The land gave them water to drink and food to eat, and using primitive tools they crafted individual rows of dirt for their living space. I began to see their connections to the land, and our connections to them. The My Louisiana Muse story began to come full circle at a blistering pace. It was time to head back to send all this film off … and photograph another day.

Do Your Research, Learn Your Tools & Grow Your Business Keyword Research, Meta-Data, Google Analytics, & SEO - OOOh My Gawd!

February 3, 2015

Learning & Relearning Your Tools

Very little is ever described as “typical” or “normal” when working full-time as a professional freelance photographer. The life of a photographer may seem far from hard work when you are given the freedom to truly enjoy your art form of creative expression when working behind the camera. However, the actual time spent behind the camera is minimal compared to the amount of time spent on scouting locations, pre/post production edits, answering emails/phone calls, marketing for new clients and managing social media. Due to the photography industry functioning on a day-to-day basis, we are faced with many challenges such as not often knowing ahead of time what days you will be working and how to plan each week accordingly to ensure everything gets done. In the end, I do feel as though I am one of the luck ones because I am right where I am supposed to be, doing what I love best and YES, in the magical city of New Orleans where I can just hit the streets and find inspiration.

Although life is great and my books are full, I have lacked in making time for the other important aspects of my business such as the time for “learning and relearning” my tools. To explain in further detail, photographers develop their own personal style of shooting that over time embeds into their lives creating a safe approach and comfort zone that becomes second nature. You can enjoy these “comfort zones” created along the way however, they do manifest. I find once these habits and traits become second nature, we rarely make the time to dip into the well for additional knowledge and opportunities that could be very insightful and invaluable to one’s business

Case In Point

The inspiration behind this blog entry was introduced after taking the time to explore in more depth some of those “additional features” within my Canon 6D. It wasn’t long after that I discovered a very valuable tool within the GPS feature that could be be of great use when scouting multiple locations for future photo shoots. Not only does this feature record exact pin point locations (when turned on), but also updates the GPS coordinates every few seconds.

Tools In Action

I was recently in City Park scouting locations for a local musician’s upcoming photo shoot. Thanks to the excellent communication from this particular musician regarding her desired needs for this photo, I was able to zone in on specific details which then led me to the perfect locations. As I began to get lost in City Park’s beautiful Couturie Forest, I turned on my newly discovered GPS feature giving me the freedom to walk around aimlessly chasing the light…instead of chasing location points.

After a quick YouTube Tutorial on the GPS feature, I downloaded the photos to my Canon Utility App and was able to view all of the photos. Each photo had its own red dropped “pin” representing the specific location where the photo was taken. I realized very quickly that this feature was going to be helpful in more than one way. First, I no longer needed to be concerned geographically with location points and more importantly, was able to concentrate on the task at hand which was finding the perfect backgrounds & lighting for the upcoming photo shoot.

My Canon Utility Map of photos in the Couturie Forest at City Park

Musician Dayna Kurtz

For some of you, you probably already know that your camera or phone has this GPS feature! However, the GPS feature is just one representation of many other features available for you to use that possibly was either unknown and/or of no use to you before.

Our photography styles and approach gradually evolve and change over time bringing new tools and opportunities that enable a new level of sanity. With inspiring innovation and improved execution, the photography industry is always changing which means the tools in use are changing as well. Do yourself a favor and make time to “learn and relearn” your cameras tools. You too will discover one or many invaluable tools available that are ready to assist you on your next photo shoot!

If you found out something recently please share it with me here on this blog so we can help others!


Almost one month into 2015 and it feels very full..full of life, full of new beginnings and full of new frontiers. To start, I have moved into the final stages of completing my new website, Zack Smith Photography, and counting down until the final launch…stay tuned for upcoming announcements! The layout and structure for the website incorporates useful and information-rich content including new features such as direct links to my all of my social media, “Zack Smith Photography Blog”, and “Zack Smith Photography Workshops” providing user-friendly navigation giving way to a more seamless overall experience. I will also be including access to an online gallery where select pieces of my work can be viewed and purchased directly. In the meantime, please keep in touch with my Facebook page – Zack Smith Photography for photography happenings and tips.

All of these changes have been made possible by the talented and creative, Tom Williams of Tomfoolery Design, the man behind the all of the magic who continues to work hard to make me look good. I’ve got to say thanks to you Tom for creating my new new brand identity….feels good.

BUT…. a good website is only “skin” deep…Luckily, I have been along side my inspiring wife as she diligently explores in more depth things such as branding, web presence, online marketing, and the overwhelming power behind what the internet can do for you. She has open my eyes up to new and exciting ways to promote my business including the HUGE potential for success. I learned that purty pictures will not get you clients and although i have great content through this blog (c.2006) there are so many other factors to consider when managing the online presence of your business.

Universe Calling. Hello?

Through all of this new information coming at us full speed, it is very hard to know what will work and if it will be useful in the end. One thing I have learned is that the Universe sometimes brings people into your life when you need them most. For example, Helen, my wife, recently was introduced to a new friend who ironically enough was in town for a conference to present on the subject of internet marketing/SEO. One can waste some time sifting through all the noise on the internet and rarely come in contact with one person who has all the valuable information needed to fully connect the dots. The following day, this new friend met with Helen to share some key information and help her with a better understanding of the overall picture. We are so thankful to our new friend and now absorbing all of his words of wisdom via his website, blog, and youtube videos. His name is Andy Crestodina and his stellar blog is Orbit Media. He continually updates his blog with relevant and insightful information on how to get your website and brand out there in the most rewarding way. The information he provides on such topics as “Creating Content for the Lead Generation Funnel” and “7Dead Ends on your Website” are revealing and challenging. Helen just started reading his book “Content Chemisty” which I obviously have to wait in line for but either way…I really urge you to check out Andy Crestodina! Good stuff folks. Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of work ahead but I’ve never been more ready…

Please stay tuned for the full launch of 2015 Zack Smith Photography Website coming soon to a location near you!

“Do Good Work, Stick Around, and Be Nice To People” - ZSP Photography Philosophy #1 for 2015

January 6, 2015
“Do Good Work, Stick Around, and Be Nice To People”

This saying really has been my motto for quite some time. I remember moving to New Orleans in the fall of 2000 and hitting the streets hard, knocking on doors, looking for work. I had no idea what i was doing, but a few years went by and i became a little more comfortable and established in city. When Katrina came, that seemed to wash all that work away – but my ability to return fast to the city i loved to create in, AND continue good work, really helped my networking. You can use these tips as well and apply them to what you do – they really work for just about anything.

With My ZSP Photography Philosophy series i will try to relay some insights i have gained on photography, the business of photography, working with clients, and life in general. I hope you enjoy.

photo ©Zack Smith – “Seth Walker, 2014 St. Bernard”

Do Good Work 
Means what it means, but more specifically to always be true to your passion and your craft. Your interests will change as you learn more about yourself and your world. But what should not change is your truthful devotion to your art, your continual education as it pertains to your medium, market and message, and the strive for honest expectations.

Stick Around 
You need to know your surroundings before you can begin to tell it’s story. Anyone w/ a camera can take a pretty picture – but only someone with intimate knowledge of their subject and environment can move your soul. The more you know of a place, the more you are familiar with it and those that inhabit it and thus – the more they are familiar and trusting of YOU.

Be Nice To People – that’s pretty self explanatory. What goes around comes around really does hold true in life and especially in your market for whatever you do. Do all three of things things and good things will come to you.

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