How to Location Scout on Another Amazing Louisiana Swamp Photoshoot. Album Artwork for Cajun Music Veteran Bruce Daigrepont / by Zack Smith

I love photographing the Louisiana landscape, and a photo shoot in the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin with a Cajun musician is by far my favorite!

In this week's How To Tuesday I will show you first hand how I location scout for portrait shoots. In a perfect situation I will arrive at the location a few days or weeks before the shoot, arriving at the same time we want to shoot so that the light is close to what it will be like when our talent (i.e. client, musician, artist, etc.) is on set. The one thing I never want to do when photographing anyone (especially when they are paying!) is to waste their time looking around for locations, testing lights, and composing backgrounds on shoot day. You not only waste valuable time ( LIGHT! ) but you look to them like you are doing things last minute and have not put their concerns at the forefront of your project.  

This location scout is a bit different. Since the location was 2 hours from my home, and the client was trying to work in a specific budget, I could not put a location scout fee in the proposal. In this case, I went ahead with the job since I knew the area fairly well, and felt that if I communicated with my client that there would be some minimal location scouting we could do it together...as a team. This continued the collaborative spirit we had been accustomed to on this job so far. Good thing this wasn't just ANY portrait shoot....What more would I want in a situation like this: World Famous Award Winning Cajun musician Bruce Daigrepont playing his accordion in the quiet swamps of Pierre Part, Louisiana on an album cover photo shoot? One answer...MORE CAMERAS! aaaand ROLLING!

Here I am photographing Bruce with my trusty Hasselblad and Paul C. Buff 60" Octabank!

Here I am photographing Bruce with my trusty Hasselblad and Paul C. Buff 60" Octabank!

I'll back up that story just a bit and start from the beginning. Bruce Daigrepont and I have known each other for some time. Years ago when I would teach my popular "New Orleans at Night" photography class at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art, we would have a section of the class where we'd shoot live music in a low lit New Orleans bar. On the last Sunday of each class I would bring 6-8 students and their cameras to invade Bruce's long running "Tipitina's Cajun Fais Do Do" concert at Tipitina's on Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon in New Orleans. This is New Orleans' longest running regular show dating back to 1986 when Bruce brought the show from the Maple Leaf Bar. Bruce has been a great friend in my photographic journey, always clowning and giving me some great shots as I photograph him every year at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest as official photographer.

Late in 2015 I met with Bruce as he was wanting to create some conceptual photography for the album cover and artwork for his upcoming release: "Bienvenue Dans La Sud de Louisiane!" (Welcome to South Louisiana!). We came up with a clever approach to build a wooden sign that listed the unique towns of Louisiana that he name checked in the title track. We hired my good friends at Pompadour Productions who make the most incredible art signage you have EVER seen. Wyo and Scott consulted with me and Bruce on the style of the font, the lettering, and even found the old wood to paint it on. 

Pompadour did an AMAZING JOB on the sign, the lettering, style and feel so that it was authentic!

Pompadour did an AMAZING JOB on the sign, the lettering, style and feel so that it was authentic!

After shooting the My Louisiana Muse project in and around Lake Verrett, I knew the area pretty well and was assured I could get some shots, especially when you name drop a guy like Nick Slie in those parts. We ended up attaining the help and guidance of a local named Billy Zeller, who just happened to be an old family friend of Nick, who showed us to the backyard of a home no one lived in and assured us " well, their not home, so I think it's ok" - that was enough for me! Enjoy this photo set of images from our shoot. Some behind the scenes images by Lemar Arceneaux and Sarrah Danziger.

In Pierre Part we had to scout out locations first, composing different scenes without Bruce.

In Pierre Part we had to scout out locations first, composing different scenes without Bruce.

This was a VERY interesting background, but we felt it may be to intrusive w/ the NO TRESSPASSING...

This was a VERY interesting background, but we felt it may be to intrusive w/ the NO TRESSPASSING...

Even when Lemar stood in for Bruce (pretending to hold an accordion) the background of moss and cypress looked so perfect. But that structure in the background was a bit distracting. We kept walking!

Even when Lemar stood in for Bruce (pretending to hold an accordion) the background of moss and cypress looked so perfect. But that structure in the background was a bit distracting. We kept walking!

There were so many great backgrounds. This particular one was great because of the converging lines, but we had to keep in mind we needed head space to put the type in for the album title. That's always something to consider when location scouting for album or magazine covers. What is the layout?

There were so many great backgrounds. This particular one was great because of the converging lines, but we had to keep in mind we needed head space to put the type in for the album title. That's always something to consider when location scouting for album or magazine covers. What is the layout?

I find that a good landscape composition can always fit a human somewhere. I always like to let the environment dictate my composition and exposure, and then I add the person and lights later.

I find that a good landscape composition can always fit a human somewhere. I always like to let the environment dictate my composition and exposure, and then I add the person and lights later.

We arrived early for the shoot so we had time to leisurely scout locations. On a walk, we went up to Lake Verret and looked around there for backgrounds. Again, there were so many!

We arrived early for the shoot so we had time to leisurely scout locations. On a walk, we went up to Lake Verret and looked around there for backgrounds. Again, there were so many!

Closer to Lake Verret we started to feel a bit more comfortable with selecting a spot. Even Lemar was learning how to hold the 'ghost accordion'. I value the help I get on shoot with Lemar and Sarrah. When you are really ready to take location portraiture to the next level, finding great assistants who see like you do and know your equipment is beyond the most valuable tool in your chest.

Closer to Lake Verret we started to feel a bit more comfortable with selecting a spot. Even Lemar was learning how to hold the 'ghost accordion'. I value the help I get on shoot with Lemar and Sarrah. When you are really ready to take location portraiture to the next level, finding great assistants who see like you do and know your equipment is beyond the most valuable tool in your chest.

Getting warmer! The Louisiana Cypress swamp is something so magical that when you are in the right place, you have a feeling of being surrounded by these welcoming arms full of shade and color. Here, we found our location.

Getting warmer! The Louisiana Cypress swamp is something so magical that when you are in the right place, you have a feeling of being surrounded by these welcoming arms full of shade and color. Here, we found our location.

EQUIPMENT on LOCATION

Just a little bit about what equipment you bring on location. Ultimately I am of the "less is more" school, but I used to find that when I was on location I was always at the whim of my creative spirit and would find myself reaching for some lens, or light, or filter that ultimately wasn't there. So recently I have begun figuring out new ways to creatively pack for location shoots. I visualize our creative direction and try to pack as if I were on the shoot, and reaching for something I needed. This seems to work as I now can be miles away from my studio (and civilization for that fact) and have what I need. These days I may bring too much equipment on a location shoot, but I am never without the tools I need. I have been loving my Paul C. Buff lights and modifiers for location shoots. Not only are they very light and easy to pack, they thrive in environments where I need them to be my Key Light, Background, and Fill Light - all being powered by the Vagabond Battery. This battery can not only power my lights, but charge my cell phone, power a hot light or LED, and provide consistent power if I need it....anyway, back to the swamp!

After setting up our Paul C. Buff White Alien Bee for a fill and our 60" octabox with a White Lightning 1600, we did a few exposure tests and then we were ready to shoot with Bruce!

After setting up our Paul C. Buff White Alien Bee for a fill and our 60" octabox with a White Lightning 1600, we did a few exposure tests and then we were ready to shoot with Bruce!

Bruce looks great on this old pier that juts out to Lake Verret in Pierre Part.

Bruce looks great on this old pier that juts out to Lake Verret in Pierre Part.

Here's a photo of Bruce and myself after a long but creative day! Photo: Sarrah Danziger

Here's a photo of Bruce and myself after a long but creative day! Photo: Sarrah Danziger