portrait photography

New Orleans can be an improvisation both musically and photographically... by Zack Smith

Simon Lott AKA Context Killer, HIP FEST 2014 - ©Zack Smith Photography

Simon Lott AKA Context Killer, HIP FEST 2014 - ©Zack Smith Photography

I have posted these images from HIP FEST in 2014, but I thought it was a good opportunity to relive them again. I was recently contacted by New Orleans musician/drummer/improviser/composer Marcello Bennetti to work on an image I shot of him for his upcoming record. The image in question ( i won't show it here...) was from a series of backstage portraits I made at HIP FEST at the Blue Nile, where over two nights various sets of improvised music was played by shuffling trio's and quartets.

My backstage portrait setup was visual improvisation...

Local and out of town improvisors like Aurora Nealand, Brad Walker, and Paul Thibodeaux (REDRAWBLACK), Simon Lott, and organizer Jeff Albert, played out there and right on music downstairs at the club. Upstairs I wanted to do my own improv with lights. I ended up bringing three Paul C. Buff Alien Bee strobes only and bounced a red gel strobe on the background, and fired off two 30º gridded strobes perpendicular to my subject's faces. I wanted to create harsh side lighting, with a dark center strip on their face. Here are my results photographing Cliff Hines, Rob Mazurek, Nathan Lambertson, Gianluca Petrella, Jeff Albert, Simon Lott, Johnny Vidacovich, and REDRAWBLACK (Nealand, Walker, Thibodeaux)

Check out some more live photography from that event at their website - http://noise-nola.org/category/hip-fest-2014/

When agency, photographer, and client communicate, they are able to Creatively Collaborate! by Zack Smith


When you really take the time to look at a body of advertising or creative branded content, you truly see that there are more than just one cook in the kitchen. Notice the placement of the type, the size and it's font. Notice the negative space allowed by a photograph to boost what would be a blank space into a colorful background for an apt page title. See the subject in position, smiling, balanced, and lit to make your eyes move over the page slowly with precision and tact? Yeah, I notice that too!


Being able to coordinate these subtleties of a large scale photoshoot and Annual Report takes the utmost patience and clear communication between Agency, Photographer, and Client. I recently had this experience when working with the New Orleans branding and web design agency, Design the Planet, and the LSU Health Foundation to produce a series of portraits and photographs for their 2016 Annual Report and website. In order to get the most out of each portrait we made location scouting a top priority. Each doctor, organization, or donor we photographed were on seriously tight schedules and we could not take up more time than needed. 


After each scout, I knew what lighting we would need to create each dynamic portrait. At each shoot we were able to arrive a few hours early and setup only the gear needed for each shot, nothing more and nothing less. Having Adrienne Folse at the agency be the liaison for the client helped me efficiently communicate with each person as to the best time to scout, and then ultimately, to shoot. As agency head, Adrienne was also on each shoot helping with all facets of the shot - something I happen to enjoy on such an important shoot. 


What I gained from this experience is that when you have open communication as to what the goals are from each photograph, where they are going, and how they will be viewed can do nothing but help you with composition, exposure, and even focal length. I have always said "let the subject set the settings" and I still stand by that, but these helpful insights will only benefit the shared outcome of the next amazing portrait you make.


How to Tuesday #38: Creativity abounds at the Louisiana Photography Society in Baton Rouge. Watch my talk on "Using the Free Light First" to get your best portraits yet.. by Zack Smith



There is a vibrant, engaging, and creative photographic community in the Baton Rouge area. I was honored to be the guest speaker for the Louisiana Photographic Society's monthly meeting in Baton Rouge last week and I was blown away at the amount of folks that showed up and filled the Goodwood Library theatre on a Thursday night. After my talk on "Using the Free Light First" I stuck around and took part in their photo contest, something they do every month, and saw some truly wonderful photography. 

Over the last few months Baton Rouge has been tested. From the police shooting deaths, riots, and recent flooding that devastated so many homes and business and uprooted lives, the people of Baton Rouge have been through so much. So seeing that many photographers, image makers, and visual artists in that room made me feel very special. Photography is powerful as a storyteller of all things external and internal.  Photography is a communicator, reaching out amongst a community to help, heal, and create. Thank you LPS for letting me see the strength of our community...

I hope you enjoy my talk, I had the sense to Facebook Live the entire talk and the camera didn't stop, fall, or take a call from a salesman. Go figure! Go enjoy "Using the Free Light First" and SUBSCRIBE to my YOUTUBE Channel!



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


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

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

Let the Subject Set the Settings...

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

Question 1 - What is the Goal of this Portrait?

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


Behind the Scenes for St. Charles Vision Portrait Shoot #2 - NOLA "Distinctive" by Zack Smith

Heading into Overdrive and BTS (Behind the Scenes) at the St. Charles Vision "Distinctive" New Orleans portrait photo shoot

In this second installment of St. Charles Vision's "Distinctive" New Orleans portrait campaign, we photographed chefs Kristen Essig co-owner of Coquette, Aaron Burgau of Patois and Central City BBQ, Thomas Mann, artist, and trombone player extraordinaire and all around nice fellow, Delfayo Marsalis. New Orleans is ripe with creatives, and I am honored to be around their energy and have the privilege to photograph them. Thanks again to Matt at St. Charles Vision for including me in this very cool collaborative photographic project. Here are some of my favorite Behind the Scenes shots from our shoot last week held at Room #1 at NOLA Spaces in New Orleans. Hair and makeup by Susan Spaid, assisted by Lamar Arceneaux and Sarrah Danziger, Cameron Wood digital tech.



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 feel...how 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 again...it'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...

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!

THROWBACK SATURDAY! HOW TO TUESDAY #5 - Photographing in Natural Light versus Strobes when photographing families and kids by Zack Smith


Here's a throwback to How To Tuesday #5 where I explain when to use natural light for portraits and when/how to add strobes. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop "Art of the Photographic Portrait" August 20th in New Orleans - space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Now I will be honest. I don't market myself as a family and kid photographer in New Orleans not because I "hate shooting kids uyhhhhhhgggh" - no, that's not me. I make myself available to photograph families and kids, and I also photograph weddings too. I just don't market myself as a wedding or family photographer. It's not you, it's me.

It's not kitchen, it's the cook! Why light matters more than a camera when doing natural light portraits.

I have seen the trends over the last 15 years evolve so much. Owning a high res digital camera has become so commonplace that there are "photographers" cropping up every day with their own blog, website, and business plan, but have no real grasp on the many other ways to light a portrait other than available light. This is good and bad. For one, you can become an expert at one type of lighting scheme and do really well at it. But secondly, when presented with a light change or problem, you are stuck. This can also hamper your creative impulses when having to pigeonhole your execution to one type of light.

This rapid influx of a very similar type of portrait style has taken over the market so much that clients want this particular feel for everything. Blown out sky's, washed out backgrounds, all to get the skin tones nice and even - but what is that worth? There is a time and place for natural light and strobeless photography but knowing when to use it and when not to use it can be a key component in any photographers tool bag. 


I think when doing a portrait outdoors and your background is darker then your subjects skin...it's GOOD TO USE NATURAL LIGHT

Thanks to my sister-in-law's daughter Madeline for this rocking pose!

This technique will keep your highlights away from your corners and drive the viewers eyes to your subject. Shooting a shallow depth of field will allow you to blur out any details that may take away from your subject. Photographing kids outdoors using only natural light will allow you to set your focus on the tracking feature and high frame rate so you never miss a moment.

When do I use strobes and natural light?

I love finding unique places in our community to bring my subjects. You will find treasures in the Louisiana landscape in any parish, you just have to look. I like to scout first with my portrait lens to frame up some sample compositions. In order to get an accurate representation of what I am going to get when I put people in it, I focus in the foreground and NOT on my whole scene so I can see what the blurred background will be like. 

When photographing a portrait and including the environment, you are often left with your subject squinting a bit. One easy answer to this is to diffuse the sun with a large diffusion disc (or a 5 in 1 w/ the wrapper/reflectors taken off)


The diffuser will block the sun and then you can use your strobe to light the subject. All you need to do is first is to set your exposure for the AESTHETIC you want for the shot and make sure your background is exposed properly....diffuse your subject...then add the light. If your subjects are too bright...then turn down the power on the strobe - or back it up! Easy!


There you have it. Yes it can get confusing and complicated when you bring in strobes but there is nothing better for matching "subject to background light" than a nice big softbox. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop "Art of the Photographic Portrait" August 20th in New Orleans - space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! Zack

My 2013 Best Of and Worst Of by Zack Smith

As the year ends, and a new one begins i can't help but reflect and get philosophical about life, the world, photography and art and culture. So as i make you sit through my rants to get to my BEST OF 2013...enjoy


What is social media becoming? The show flyer pileup on a pole on Frenchmen Street.

First off, i feel that social media is helpful, but is becoming the show flyer wall on Frenchmen St. You know the one, 20-30 flyers tacked to each other that comes off the wall 4" thick? As one flyer's date passes, another gets nailed to it - but when you walk back and realize that there's so much information thatyou can read one clearly...they all become stuck together on the wall: their words stuck together in our heads our brains can't process them. We now have FB, twitter, instagram, tumblr, vine, and who knows what else that's competing for our eyes, our time, our $ - i look out at the world and see the tops of peoples heads walking towards me, staring at their phones...Soon you'll be the smart advertiser and post your adds in sidewalk chalk. Let it rain, Let it rain...

What is Photography? "JPGrapher's Dumbdown" What is a JPGrapher??

From 2001-2003 i worked the sales counter at Lakeside Camera and saw digital start its slow creep into the local commercial world as local photographers were pawning their old Hasselblads and Mamiyas (i still have 2 from that period i bought at Cost+10%) and "trading up" for the NEW Nikon D1x - 5.4 MP and the Canon D30 w/ a whopping 3.3 MP - read the

reviews here!!!

.What i saw slowly happen, was the dumbdown of what a "good photograph" is being: as our eyes and lives slowly turned more to the backlit world of our now pixelized-life. All the new photographers in the digital age (JPGraphers) know nothing about film, but more importantly about light - their end result of a stunning photograph starts w/ a 2" LCD screen and ends with a 17" LCD screen...of course its' gonna look RAD! - I see more an more every day what people think a good photograph is, and it's becoming more technically poor, not lit well, and probably would stand the test of time on a wall. Will we be using computers in 20 years? Will we be admiring the prints of Herman Leonard, Ansel Adams? Trust me folks, THE PROOF IS, WILL BE, AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN....IN THE PRINT.

Here's to 2014. Good intentions, Great content. - Do Good Work, and Stick Around!

See you on the Streets


 Aerials shot during French Quarter Fest 2013

 Chalmette Battlefield Graveyard

 Maggie Koerner

 Kronos Quartet

 Josef Makkos and his Newspapers

 Gambit Weekly Cover shot, December 2013

 PitFire Grill

 Tulane University Marching Band at New Orleans Bowl

 David Batiste at Ponderosa Stomp

 Eddie Daniels

 Chris Clark

 Cindy Scott

 Honey Island Swamp Band

 Kuffa and Ryan

 Marco Benevento

 Best Damn Booze Photographer, Sara Essex

 Sweet Crude

 Young Pinstripe Brass Band

 Zion Harmonizers

I love collaborating with like minded folks to make stunning, creative, and lasting images in New Orleans, Louisiana.

And 2013 wouldn't have been what it was w/o the excellent client of Krewe du Optic and Stirling Barret. KDO is why i photograph - i love collaborating w/ like minded folks to make stunning, creative, and lasting images. Here are some of my favorite from the 2013 campaign...

Zack Smith Photography Current Shows! by Zack Smith

Yep that's me, I tell stories and take pictures. You can currently see a few of my ongoing collections at these fine establishments. I am excited to be showing my Voodoo Fest portraits from 2008-2012 at St. Lawrence, Chaz Fest Portraits at Three Muses, and Musician Portraits at Satsuma Cafe uptown!

Great poster design by the one and only Scott Campbell.

We had a GREAT day at my BBQ Print Sale! Thank you for showing up! by Zack Smith

Yeah, I am known to have a BBQ and sell my prints at home, you didn't know that?

We had a great day at my BBQ Print Sale at my house. So many folks showed up to hang out, buy prints, and offer up booze and food and take photos at our BOOYA! Photo Booth in the back, done by Mandy Thomas. I really can't do what i do w/ out the support of my community here. The artists and musicians i encounter and work with continually support what i do - and when i hear it from them i know they're not blowing smoke up my ass. They mean it...thanks y'all.