How To Tuesday

New Orleans Photography Moments: Learning how to "see" like the camera sometimes means to close your eyes by Zack Smith

Zack photographing Delfeayo Marsalis in 2017. Come behind the scenes of focal length and learn to see like the camera! 

Zack photographing Delfeayo Marsalis in 2017. Come behind the scenes of focal length and learn to see like the camera! 

Rob your eyes from their sense of sight and gift your ears the color of sound. Close your eyes anywhere in New Orleans to hear the sounds of history, joy, sorrow and struggle. It's like a song that continues to be written as you walk the streets listening for the next verse in the city's sweet ballad.

Hear the song, see the shadows, feel the light from the sun.

Walk with a 50 and zoom on the run...

As photographers we need to be in the moment sometimes to really feel when a photograph needs to be made. We are makers, we are doers, and we are definitely not takers. In order to truly KNOW what the camera sees we need to OWN our Focal Length. 

NOTE: I have blogged about focal length and the Zen of it a few times, you can read and see more about how I explore the world with a fixed gaze. Click on any post to read in a new window. But please continue to read on.

"Finding Inspiration with a Prime" Dec 2015

 "85mm Walking with a Prime" -

"French Quarter Prime Walk" (JULY2016)  

Image of trumpeter in New Orleans shot on a fixed 50mm lens at an aperture of 1.2. ©2017 Zack Smith Photography. CLIENT: Mark Lawrence Johnson

Think of your specific focal length as a new pair of prescription glasses. It takes some time to get used to the perspective...

I would like to introduce the photographs used in this uniquely New Orleans gallery to show you how I see with a lens. I try to create the new visual reality while telling my client's story. I recently had a wonderfully busy week photographing musician Delfeayo Marsalis, trumpeter Mark Lawrence Johnson, Dirty Coast tshirts, and more. I'd like to use the photographs I took "on the side" to explain my relationship with focal length and learning to see like the camera. 

Choosing which lens to use on your subject also means to dictate how your background will relate.

I feel I am able to tell the story of someone, or some business, as I relate their visual needs to the way the story unfolds in front of a particular focal length. For instance, photographing an image of a tee shirt really close up is very important to my client but do I want to photograph it with a wide angle lens (like 20mm, 24mm) to widen my perspective angle and distort the image? Photographing with a wider angle lens at a close up subject will distort the subject, but it will also separate it from the background which could be appealing. On the other hand I could photograph that shirt with a longer focal length (120mm to 200mm) to compress the background and give the effect of shallow depth of field at most any aperture combination. The further the background is from my subject, the more soft and diffused the bokeh will be. 

Mark Johnson photographed on the Mississippi River in New Orleans with a 100mm focal length at 2.8 aperture. ©2017 Zack Smith Photography

Dirty Coast Press photoshoot (photo boil?) where I used 100mm at 2.8 aperture to bring in the background and frame my subjects. ©2017 Zack Smith Photography

Dirty Coast Press photoshoot (photo boil?) where I used 100mm at 2.8 aperture to bring in the background and frame my subjects. ©2017 Zack Smith Photography

A longer lens will bring the background in...

Whatever funny saying or trick to help you remember what focal length will do to help you craft your composition, figure it out! One that I like to use is "Longer Lens brings the Background In". This little saying will remind you to use your longer focal lengths like 100mm and above to bring the background closer. Bringing the background closer to your subject will give a more important stature to the background, allowing a closer relationship with subject and giving it more meaning. Using a wider angle lens will do the exact opposite.

When I chose a 24mm lens at 2.8 aperture for this shot, my idea was to have the menu frame his head and be out of focus. So i chose 24mm and had my subject get in position. Sometimes you have to work for the shot! ©2017 Zack Smith Photography

When I chose a 24mm lens at 2.8 aperture for this shot, my idea was to have the menu frame his head and be out of focus. So i chose 24mm and had my subject get in position. Sometimes you have to work for the shot! ©2017 Zack Smith Photography

My Photography Workshops help you Get a Philosophy...

Since I have been teaching photography in New Orleans (c. 2002) I have always taught that you must have a subject, the subject must have a story, and the subject will help you set the settings. You will never be able to choose which focal length to use properly when you don't know how the image will tell the story of the subject. As you can see in the photographs above, background has SO MUCH to do with the story of the subject. In any one of Zack Smith Photography Workshops, you will learn the tools and workflow necessary to help you make the decisions on what focal length to use when, where, and why! 

Stay in touch!



Stop the Madness! So will your new Digital Camera instantly make you a professional? Nope. by Zack Smith


How To Tuesday asks the tough questions photographers face every day in an easy to read way!

I have been teaching beginner photography to beginners and mentoring professional photographers for many years in the New Orleans area. From time to time I am contacted by photographers from around the country who are on vacation in the city and want a customized mentorship for a few hours while their family hits a tourist trap. I have taught and mentored photographers in the Gulf Coast region since the early 2000's and am reminded of the many insights I've gained from these years of perspective.

plus ca change plus ca la meme chose....

New cameras and new technology come and go, but the CORE principles of great photography remain true.

When I first began this journey of educating photographers, I was teaching film photographers how to load film, shoot night photography, and master their concert photography skills in low light. From the old Nikon n90s to the newest Canon 5D Mark IV I always return to the basics when teaching people how to get the best photographs - KNOW YOUR TOOLS and GET A PHILOSOPHY! The cameras that are coming out now have so many added features that may help us fine tune our camera settings to fit our specialized needs, but in the end we still rely heavily on finding the comfort zone of creativity in mastering Focal Length, Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. 

I recently purchased a new Canon 5D Mark IV, and I love it but how will it make me a better photographer?

Just by dropping some well saved monies to buy the new-ish Canon should that make my images that much better than the Mark 3? Yes, and no. As I still need to rely on my master of light, focal length, and depth - there are some newly added features that advance my workflow as a professional. But does this camera make me better? I feel it gives me a deeper feeling of confidence with more focus points to choose from, and I feel that it allows me to toggle through menu options easier with the touch screen. Yes, all that is good but it's not going to make me a better photographer.

The reason I write this blog post is that I have been seeing more and more the bubbling up resentment of long time professional photographers towards the less knowledgable image creators. This sentiment, I feel, has popped up in the recent years due to the increase in quality of DSLR's and the downtick in prices. Add in the power of marketing and social media, and the once iPhone shooter can spend 3K on new camera gear and immediately start putting out some impressive work in a short amount of time. (and I say impressive by the sheer volume, not astounding quality). Just because one purchases a nice camera, doesn't make them a pro and just because that newbie is taking on clients, shouldn't mean that the professionals jobs are at stake. Or does it?

In my almost 20 years of taking on photographic clients, I have seen a few things remain constant:

+ The ability for a creative visual professional to solve a clients visual problems begins and ends with the consistency to produce high quality work in all facets and eras of their careers.

+ Through economic recession, hurricanes, and life downturns the professional photographer maintains their equipment insurance, invests in their business, creates marketing and business plans that reflect their markets ability to support them. They use their master of Focal Length, Aperture, and Shutter speed and ISO to tell the compelling stories in ways that are unique to them, and their client. 

+ Trends come and go and the creators never stop yearning for more knowledge of them themselves, the competition, and their art. Look inward, look ahead, never look back.

Spring has Sprung! New Gear New Techniques: How to Shoot Fill Flash Portraits into the Sun. by Zack Smith

How did I make this photograph you ask? Get inspired by Louisiana, befriend a tree, and wait for the fog....

ISO 100, 1/125 at f1.6 with Variable Neutral Density filter at 8 stops on my 35mm on Canon MarkIV, self timer. Canon 580EX off camera flash at 1/1 (full power) Orange Gel.

ISO 100, 1/125 at f1.6 with Variable Neutral Density filter at 8 stops on my 35mm on Canon MarkIV, self timer. Canon 580EX off camera flash at 1/1 (full power) Orange Gel.

What gets you off your couch? What motivates you to pick up your camera and find the next great photograph in New Orleans, Lafayette, Baton Rouge or Bunkie? For me, nothing gets me out of the office like a new lens, flash, or gadget to help tell the story in a different way. As you know I have been photographing that amazing oak tree at the Chalmette National Historic Battlefield for almost over a year. You can see some of my galleries on this blog (CLICK for one here!) where I have photographed this tree at sunrise, sunset, in the fog, and in an impending rain deluge! I have awoken from deep couch sleep to peer out of my window and see the sun 20º above the horizon knowing that tree was perfectly backlit. I'd race out the house with my 17-40mm f4 lens and get what I could. I enjoyed posting my photo galleries and explorations in light, but I needed some new inspiration: NEW GEAR!

Learning my new DSLR and flash was going to be on the fly and inspired by Louisiana

I don't have alot of time these days to be with that tree, so I have to photograph it when the moment hits. Usually the perfect combination of fog and sunrise will get me out the house, but with my recent acquisition of some new lenses have me very excited to see my tree in a very different way. When I shoot music festivals in Louisiana there are a few lenses I like to bring with me: a wide angle for getting those large establishing shots, my telephoto for when I am shooting from the photo pit at a far away stage, and a few primes for nice creative depth of field. You can see some of my recent music festival photographs at my Voodoo Fest Gallery and French Quarter Fest galleries.

Remember our lenses are our eyes and how we see the world through our camera

I have been playing around with the new 35mm 1.4 L lens and loving it. I have been working around with my 8 Stop Variable Neutral Density filter, shooting at 1.4 with my Canon 580EX speed lights. The only way that I can photograph into the sun AND use my flashes is to knock down the light that is entering my lens. As you know, our cameras have a sync speed that must be met so the light from our flash can be exposed on the sensor while not being interrupted by the camera's shutter. Most cameras sync speeds are at 1/200, 1/180 or around that speed. When you set your shutter speed FASTER than that (1/320 or 1/500 for example) the shutter is moving too fast across the sensor plane and your flash cannot get through, thus leaving you with a black bar across the image:

Let's talk about how I got the photograph at the header of this post - photographing shallow depth of field portraits using studio flash.

I recently purchased the Pocket Wizard TTL Wireless Radio 5 Pack for Canon, allowing me to control the output of my off camera Canon speedlights from my camera. This allows me to place my flash near my subject, then adjust the power of the flash from my camera thus helping me work faster and smarter!

I setup my 580EX at full power 1/1 in manual mode and put an orange gel taped to the front of it. I set a prefocus on the bench with my lens on Auto Focus, then set it back to Manual Focus. This is very important because if we tap the shutter again, the camera might want to focus on something else and all our hard work is for naught as our subject will be soft! Taking a test shot, I then zoomed into the shot to see if I was in focus. We need to remember that what we see on our LCD screen always looks great, especially when our focal point at f1.6 is only about 6 inches! We really have to get into the habit of zooming into our photographs so we learn how to see the actual focus. This is a great photo-habit to have!

After I took a few test shots with the bench, I was able to sit down (on the wet morning dew bench of course) and get in the shot. I forgot to mention that I was using my tripod for this shot, but at this point I assumed you knew that! I wanted this shot to be iconic in a different way as I have always shot the tree and very seldom am I in the shot. Thinking about the new gear that i just acquired I wanted to see if I could put all the pieces together and make one striking Louisiana inspired self portrait. Thanks for reading, and get out there...SHOOT FOR THE WALL!

Remember its FESTIVAL TIME IN NEW ORLEANS! Spots are open for my French Quarter Fest Photography Workshop so CLICK HERE to sign up now!

High Resolutions: Photographing with Intention and Purpose in 2017 by Zack Smith

Need A Photo Resolution for 2017? Why Not Shoot With Intention And Purpose?

Can we all agree on a few things?

Can we all agree that every great photograph has a subject? Ok? Good. If you don't believe me then pull out the nearest photo book on the shelf and open it up to one of your favorite photographs. I guarantee there is a place in the photograph that your eye settles to by way of the photographer's placement of that subject. Here are a few photographs I selected from my favorites of Voodoo Fest 2016 to show you what i am talking about. Even though I am running like a mad man from stage to stage, chasing the light and following the music, I always have to consider my subject. What's my best composition, where's the best exposure, how long is too long to wait, wait, wait, wait, for the moment to engage the shutter?

Silhouetted dancer at Voodoo Fest 2016

Silhouetted dancer at Voodoo Fest 2016

Dancers with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Dancers with Preservation Hall Jazz Band


I intentionally did this by using lines that have directed your eye there, or by the subject having components that reflect more light than other objects. There are various ways to direct our viewers to where we want them to go in our photos, so that in turn, they look at them! Yet, we must be calculated about this compositional decision. We must have a plan to have a subject, create depth, and photograph creatively. We must have purpose and intention when that camera meets the eye, when we become observer to director.

Here are a 3 proven techniques I have used to make sure I am creating my next photograph with intention and purpose.

1. Let the Subject Set the Settings - be ready for the shot by pre-setting your aperture and focal length before you start shooting! Your subject will dictate what your depth of field should be and if you want to "freeze" the action with your shutter speed. Why not pre-set Aperture or Shutter speed, and move on?

2. Practice "Photo Patience" - don't be in such a hurry to "get the shot" and move on. Sometimes the best shots happen when your face isn't jammed into the back of your camera. Stick around and witness your scene change as the Earth spins and the shadows get lower. Have a seat, put the camera down, and just

3. Review Corner to Corner - when reviewing (playback) your images, make sure you review with your eyes from corner to corner, starting at one edge and slowly working your way to the opposite edge. You are looking for objects, highlights, or features that distract from your subject. If the point is to have the viewer see the subject, then we don't want to have any extraneous things taking them away from it.

So as 2017 approaches make sure you have some New Year's Resolutions planned that are strictly photographic, truly creative, and purposefully intentional!



How To Tuesday #40 : Lightroom Video Tutorial "Two Exposure Photo Merge" by Zack Smith

It's often impossible to capture every detail we see with our eyes in one exposure in the camera. Lightroom's "photo merge" and compositing is a game changer when you want that accurate exposure value representation.

We have all been there before: you find yourself in front of a beautiful blazing sunrise with a cool complimenting cloud cover. The middle and foreground swoop towards you in an underexposed but soft gradation of tones. You snap an exposure but you can't get all the components of the picture in one exposure. You either blow out the highlights, or underexpose the shadows! What do you do?

The foreground looks great...but the sun and clouds are overexposed!

The foreground looks great...but the sun and clouds are overexposed!

The sun and clouds look great, but the foreground is underexposed!

The sun and clouds look great, but the foreground is underexposed!

Back in the old days of film you had to bring with you a few extra bags and hip pouches of polarizers, neutral density filters, graduated filters and more just to get the most out of a difficult landscape exposure. Have no fear, we now have Lightroom

Take a few minutes and watch me combine these two images shot at Crescent Park in New Orleans on my recent "Sunrise: Sunset Photography Workshop"

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

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. by Zack Smith


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 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 #31 - Keeping Your Copyright or Cash Out? by Zack Smith

"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 #25 - Part 2 of Anatomy of a Commercial Portrait Shoot by Zack Smith

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. 

Tarriona "Tank" Ball of Tank and the Bangas. 

Lu Brow, executive bar chef for the Commander's Family of Restaurants. 

Lu Brow, executive bar chef for the Commander's Family of Restaurants. 

Brent Houzenga, Artist. You've seen his art cars EVERYWHERE!

Brent Houzenga, Artist. You've seen his art cars EVERYWHERE!

...because i know you're wondering! f8 for max sharpness from Eye to Ear ya Hear?

...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 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'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 by Zack Smith

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 by Zack Smith

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 by Zack Smith

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.

5 Easy Portrait Photography Tips to help you Connect With Your Subjects! How To Tuesday #19! by Zack Smith

You could be photographing a CEO's headshot or your own family Christmas photo, by connecting with your subject on a deeper level it will always result in a more powerful portrait.

Whether I am photographing a business person, a musician, or a family of six, I am always faced with the duty of making the best photographs of them that they will be happy with while still being creative. Over the last 15 years photographing people in the loudest most awkward situations to the subtle and quiet intimate times, there are a few techniques and practices I use to make sure I am confident in my approach and that my subjects react to me in the most natural way possible. 

Artist Melissa Bonin with one of her paintings at Lake Martin, Louisiana in 2015. Through many days of research and conversations we knew we had to be at the lake one hour before sunrise to be setup and ready for the magic of the morning 'golden hour'.

Artist Melissa Bonin with one of her paintings at Lake Martin, Louisiana in 2015. Through many days of research and conversations we knew we had to be at the lake one hour before sunrise to be setup and ready for the magic of the morning 'golden hour'.

1. Do Your Homework and Know Your Subject

Anytime I am about to photograph someone, I always do my research on them beforehand. Even if it's only to review what the shoot is about and why we are heading out to a remote swamp (yes!), it always helps me to get my mind and intentions focused on my subject and the story. I like to research my subject's likes and dislikes, review their latest album if it's a musician, or even request mixed songs from the album cover we are shooting the next day. I always like to have topics to talk about with my subject so that we can establish a rapport and maybe even a friendship along the way.

2.  Prepare to K.I.S.S. and Make it Count

Hey now! By reviewing your gear the night before and detailing your intention behind your shoot, you will know what gear to bring and what to leave behind...Keep It Simple Stupid! When I only bring the gear I need for a particular shoot, I can manage my conversations with my subject much easier and not worry about the hassle of gear I will need. I find that when I am able connect with my subject and not be concerned too much about light modifiers and stands, we can both find a place that is collaborative and comfortable much faster! QUICK TIP: If you don't feel comfortable yet with a new light you just bought, don't bring it until you can change it's settings with your eyes closed. Just because you got some new gear and are chomping at the bit to use it and impress the new big client, doesn't mean you need to bring it out right away.

Washboard Chaz photographed at Chaz Fest in 2010. I used 1 camera, 1 lens. No lights no nothing. I made it easy and comfortable amidst a loud music festival!

Washboard Chaz photographed at Chaz Fest in 2010. I used 1 camera, 1 lens. No lights no nothing. I made it easy and comfortable amidst a loud music festival!

3. Shoot with Intention and Have a Goal in Mind

I always make a point to meet with my subjects in person before our shoot. If all my subject has time for is a phone call, I'll take that as a great opportunity to talk with them about Why we are shooting, Where the images will go, Where we are going , and How I want to make this photograph the best thing they have seen. Detailing my intention and sharing ideas on photographic techniques I have to meet their goals, I have begun a unique collaborative environment that has already started to build a relationship. 

4. Bring a Familiar Face and Familiar Place

Having your subject bring a friend join the photo shoot can create a comfortable support system for your subject if you feel there may be some nerves present when the big shoot day happens. I like to always review our location together so that if we need some privacy and less of a public place, we can easily find that at the last minute if need be. 

5. Most Importantly - Have Fun

If you really do enjoy what you do as a photographer it should be present in the way you walk, talk, and hold the camera. Make a new friend, experience life through a strangers eyes and practice empathy! Do these things before you put that camera in between your face and theirs and I guarantee a level of comfort and trust will begin to emerge in your work, and thusly in your subjects eyes and pose!

I've been shooting musician Luke Winslow-King for a few years now and we have a comfortable rapport. This image above is from our first shoot together and by following these tips...we were able to get some great shots and start a great relationship of creative collaborating!

I've been shooting musician Luke Winslow-King for a few years now and we have a comfortable rapport. This image above is from our first shoot together and by following these tips...we were able to get some great shots and start a great relationship of creative collaborating!

Learn how to Photograph a Silhouette and more in this week's Photography Techniques and Tips - HOW TO TUESDAY #18 by Zack Smith

Learn How to Photograph a Silhouette Portrait in any situation!

I have to say, this last week was a great week for Acadiana area artists. Being from Lafayette and living and working in New Orleans, I love when I get to work with Cajun and Zydeco artists in any way shape or form. I recently got to work one artist from Lafayette that I've been photographing for quite a while. 

Anthony Dopsie and the Jazz Fest Silhouette

After shooting as one of the staff photographers for The Jazz and Heritage Festival for 7 years, I have amassed an impressive archive of festival photography. In addition to doing my duty for the festival and getting the shots required to tell the story of the music, food, and fun - I make sure I get photos that I can use for later. I make sure I photograph my friends hanging out in the crowd, I do well lit backstage portraits of musicians, friends and strangers. One aside to this story, most young photographers are always asking me "can you get on stage?" as if being on stage you get the 'best' shots. I always tell them that you are more limited from the stage than anywhere else, and the best shot would be "15 feet in the air, in the middle of the crowd". It's funny, but kind of true.

There are a few moments when being on stage can really help you: The Backlit Over Exposed Crowd Musician Portrait. Say what!? One of my favorite stages to shoot is the Fais Do Do Stage, mainly because I love the music on that stage (mostly Cajun and Zydeco) but you can get some great silhouette photos (SEE the NEW Gallery) of the musicians since the crowd has more light on them than the stage. The best way to describe what a silhouette is when you set your exposure for a brighter background then the subject that is in front of it. If the subject is in a darker area, then it will be rendered as a silhouette.

I recently was contacted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism as they were looking for a silhouette or partially silhouetted musician playing at a non-descript music festival. Knowing that I had tons of this, I went straight to my Jazz Fest archives and looked up all the Cajun and Zydeco bands I photographed. I usually always get on stage when Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters play because of the ongoing relationship I have with them. Any time they see me shooting, I always get direct engagement, especially from accordion player Anthony Dopsie. I found one shot from a few years back of the PERFECT silhouette of Anthony, sent it to the agency working for the client and they loved it. The photograph ended up being used in their ad "Come for a Feast - Stay for a Fest"

Anthony was super excited as was I. As you see in the photo above, I exposed for the crowd in the back meaning I wanted the crowd to dictate what my shutter speed and aperture were, and just let my subject (Anthony) fall where it may knowing it would be underexposed. My exposure here was:

In this case of wanting a silhouette I could not set my camera on a Priority Exposure Mode like Aperture or Shutter Priority. Using Manual Exposure (always!) I can use my Spot Meter to read the light from the background to begin my exposure. I set my aperture at 2.8 so that the crowd would only be recognizable as a soft mass of people as I didn't want the viewers eye to go there. Once I set my aperture at 2.8, I read the Spot Meter and I could then bring my shutter speed to 1/800 which gave me the exposure I wanted which was had the Meter reading "0" or right at 2/3 of a stop below. Having my ISO low at 320 enabled me to crop the image without losing much detail. Here's the original image before the crop:

It was great working with the Louisiana Office of Tourism to help promote the greatest things about Louisiana! Food, Music, and Acadiana! Allons a Lafayette! 

How to use the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop to clean up your images : How To Tuesday #17 by Zack Smith

I am super excited to debut a new format for How To Tuesday : The Video Tutorial. Bare with me in the early stages of this new way of teaching, I may run a little long winded here and there but it's great information!

Today we will go "behind the scenes" on some of my favorite New Orleans festival photographs and show you how to use the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tools in Photoshop to clean up and get your images ready for web or print. Enjoy!

Want to Improve Your Instagram Photography ? Instagram Tips for Photographers and First Timers! by Zack Smith

Let's connect now - CLICK to Follow Me on IG!

Let's connect now - CLICK to Follow Me on IG! - Get These Tips and More on my Instagram Feed! Let's Connect! 

I am sure by now you have all heard of Instagram. Photographers, if you are not on Instagram right now, that progress bar on your App download of Instagram should be inching closer to OPEN right NOW! Wether you use Instagram or not, you can't deny that it is the fastest growing photo sharing community out there. As of September 2015, Instagram has racked up over 400 million users surpassing Twitter (Source: CNBC), and is gaining steadily. The app has evolved over recent months from only showing your "square cropped" images to allowing 3rd party layout systems to integrate your natural rectangle compositions, collages, and multi-panel grid mosaics. Along with being able to write (not limited by characters like Twitter) about each photo, use hashtags, and Tag other photographers, Instagram is a must-have for photographers and visual story tellers who want to use the App as their "digital wall" and expand their online community. 

New "Layouts" 3rd Party App for Instagram!

New "Layouts" 3rd Party App for Instagram!

I was urged to join Instagram by my good pal Stirling Barrett over at Krewe du Optic ("dude, you're NOT ON INSTAGRAM?!), being the marketing guru Stirling is, it didn't take me too long to realize the engagement power of this wonderful app. 170 Weeks and 754 posts later, I am now able to update my followers/friends on my photography projects, my "How To Tuesday" blog, Behind the Scenes from shoots, and just about any cool life-event I care to post to my favorite Digital Wall. I want you to keep thinking of it as a Digital the wall at your home or at a gallery, you only put up your BEST WORK. I hope these Tips to Improve Your Instagram Photography will do just that...


If you are already on Instagram, skip to the next step. If you are ready to download, there are a few key points I'd like to share to make your experience worthwhile. When you first join, use one of your main email addresses so that you can easily login, change your settings, and authorize the App. You can also easily start multiple Instagram accounts but you will have to use other email addresses. Choose a User Name that says something about you, one of your main projects, or something fun you will remember. Adding your website in the "Link in Profile" will allow your friends and followers to hyperlink to your website or anywhere you'd like to take them. This is a great way to bring potential clients and friends to your "home" or wherever your customized photography experience (or pitch) can continue. Think of Instagram as just another pathway to your website! Make sue you don't click PRIVATE ACCOUNT if you want people to see your work!


Before you go off posting random shots of your burnt toast, breakfast, and the tips of your shoes all day...make a plan of how you want your Instagram Gallery to look to the viewer. If you want their experience to be a hodgpodge of images from your life, so be it. I like to use Instagram as a more calculated view of my many experiences in photography. I really to think about how the image will look when posted, what I can write about, and if two, or even three photos could tell the story better than just one. SHOOT FOR THE WALL!


Photo using Converging Lines to lead the eye

Photo using Converging Lines to lead the eye

Using Rule of Thirds to simplify your Horizons!

Using Rule of Thirds to simplify your Horizons!

Leading Lines all over the CBD in New Orleans!

Leading Lines all over the CBD in New Orleans!

All the rules you learned with your DSLR or point and shoot remain the same. Converging Lines/Leading Lines, Rule of Thirds, Negative Space - all apply here. If you take the time to set your horizons straight, watch your backgrounds and always have a're on your way to Instagram Glory!


It doesn't matter what kind of phone you are using Instagram with, if you are composing photos from in-phone you must have GOOD LIGHT. Always have the sun AT YOUR BACK, meaning the sun is shining from behind you and illuminating where you are pointing the phone/camera. The more even the light is on your subject and background the better the photos will be. Shooting during the GOLDEN HOUR (see my most recent gallery!) with the sun setting low will get you some beautiful warm tones and even light over your scene. Harsh overhead mid-day sun will still produce hard shadows and squinting subjects. 


2 Images put together in the PhotoBlender app

2 Images put together in the PhotoBlender app

2 Images put together in the PhotoBlender app

2 Images put together in the PhotoBlender app

Soft Focus, and Vignette filter in Instagram App

Soft Focus, and Vignette filter in Instagram App

Once you've gotten a good composition and pressed the blue shutter button, your app gives you some handy editing options. Below you will see some FILTERS from "Clarendon" to "Moon" and others. If you click one, it sets that pre-set color, contrast and vignette on your photo. You can scroll all the way to right and MANAGE your Filters and even add new ones! Pressing the middle button "FLUX" in your Instagram editing screen will adjust contrast. With the small WRENCH tool on the right you can open a whole new set of Fine Tune editing features like: Adjust, Brightness, Contrast, Vignette, and more...experiment and have fun!

++ You can also download some great 3rd party editing apps to breath new life into your images if you get tired of the Instagram presets. Some of my favorites are:

- Snapseed, PhotoBlender, PhotoCandy, Edit.Lab, Cinemagraph, iWatermark, and Lightroom. 


WiFi connected cameras make it so easy to shoot with your DSLR or fancy point and shoot then easily upload to your phone, and then Instagram! I do this alot when I am shooting with my Canon 6D and my Canon G7x. I like to be able to use any lens or exposure setting I can dream of and not be limited by my iPhone lenses and exposure shortcomings. Once you get the image saved in your camera, you can then use your Instagram filters and 3rd party apps to enhance your photos even more!


The SHARE button can bring you to other Apps

The SHARE button can bring you to other Apps

You can easily connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to your Instagram feed and share directly to those accounts. This is a fast and easy way to let your friends on your other accounts know that you have something cool going on at your NEW Instagram account! Professional photographers like this feature so that they don't have to share the same photo three times on all of their accounts and can just click SHARE, and voila!


If you don't quite fully understand what "hashtags" are..don't be embarrassed - none of us knew at some point. Now we know, and there you go. Using unique and both popular hashtags (all you do is press the # symbol before a word in your photo description) allows whatever app you are using (Twitter, Facebook etc) to collect and aggregate these tags and the photos they are associated with to one place for a collection. Unique hashtags allow you to locate images along the Instagram's history and you can just type in .... #neworleans and see what comes up. Giving your images descriptor hashtags can help others interested in what you do an easy way to find you..THUS helping you create a larger community. The more tools we have to connect us with other like minded or interesting image makers the better! We can all learn from each other and share our experiences through these applications. Join my Instagram feed to see how I use Hashtags!

These are just a few tips to help you get started or improve your use of the wonderful Instagram app. The key word here is CONNECTIVITY...this app allows us to connect to others with our images. The image is paramount, the image is king. It's on the WALL to look at for a reason! GET OUT THERE AND SHOOT FOR THE WALL!

February 2nd, 2016








How To Tuesday #14 Our Guest Blogger Blake Haney Talks Creative Collaboration! by Zack Smith

As photographers and imaging artists know, the word "workflow" can mean many things. Workflow for me is an evolving process of how I see my world and I how I relate the story to it's medium. There are so many ways to tell a story, and now with the increasing number of social media platforms; an endless amount of ways to show it. These are good problems to have as visual storytellers and I look forward to the new ways to share the world around me with each new online community.

My new workflow includes my understanding these new communities. I have to continually be aware of how these communities see, listen, and follow content. In learning how each community ingests images and stories, I see the components of my storytelling change...for example: I will compose each scene differently in my head to fit the the end medium. Images for Twitter may not be suitable for the way Instagram is laid out and.Facebook requires and allows more words to flesh out a story. These are things I am constantly thinking about....more on that later.

For the first time on my photography blog I am featuring a guest blogger. It's time for some fresh legs in this race, and some new eyes on this composition! Not only is Blake Haney an outstanding member of the local creative community, he has been a collaborator of mine for the last 15 years. I have learned so much from his insights on art, design, and community that I think his message is suitable for this week's HOW TO TUESDAY. 

Blake does many things...but as Creative Director of the Canary Collective, Blake's actual JOB is to offer ideas, creative execution and the tools his clients need to launch, revamp, and sustain healthy brands and growing communities. There's that word again, community! OK! let's let Blake talk...

Image from Blakes Twitter Account - @humidhaney

The opportunities for a photographer, like all visual artists, has increased over the past few years as new mediums for expression and story telling have entered the main stream. With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the landscape changed dramatically while the introduction of social media and the obsession of the image has become part of our mainstream culture.

These new tools are a double edged sword for the photographer. Used the right way, a photographer can connect with a much larger audience in ways that never existed just a few years ago. Yet with the smart phones, there now exists a mindset that anyone can be a photographer and anyone can freely express and share their images. The same goes for music, therefore, it has never been so easy to share your work and ideas with the world. One problem is that this world is now inundated with so many choice vying for our attention. Your work can be discovered by the world for almost no cost but there is a hidden cost. The work has the high potential to be lost in all the noise that fights for our attention.

If I were to give advice to a photographer, it would be to collaborate with others and offer your imagery to a writer or writers to help produce stories. Two online outlets I would recommend are and

With each site there is a very intuitive editor to allow you to present your content without the clutter and noise of a template or surrounding advertising platform to distract the viewer. Each has a built in audience that appreciates quality work. Use them to post your images and share your insights and ideas. You can explain how it was shot, where, the equipment, the reasoning, and why it spoke to you...

1.     Be transparent in the process.

2.     Educate the public through your work.

3.     Work with an illustrator and writer to help spin a tale with your images.

4.     Collaborate on a story about a mood, place, event or person. Watch as those you work with take your work and add a new dimension!

5.     Spread the work via the free channels online and give everyone their credit.

6.     Use the shared audience and communities of all those you work with and respect. Watch as your work and name are engaged with and hopefully amplified by those that respect your work.

Blake Haney

Creative Director – The Canary Collective ,  Dirty Coast, and

January 26th, 2016

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