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!

Zack