How To Tuesday

How to get the sun to starburst in your photos! by Zack Smith Photography

You’ve seen those amazing landscape photographs of someone you are following on instagram and you can’t get that starburst your of your head. How do you get the sun to starburst and make it look like a star?

Sun starburst techniques are very easy!

To achieve a proper sun star burst photography effect you need to stop down your aperture to at least 16 or lower. Setting your aperture to f22 would be an ideas pace to start. Since the unencumbered (nothing blocking it) bright sun is what you want to affect, you probably have a bright sunny day to work with so shooting at f22 will allow your shutter to be safe to shoot at around 1/320 or 1/125. I know this because I am basing this exposure on the Sunny 16 Rule. Don’t know what the Sunny 16 Rule is? Well head to this quick link to find out!

CLICK to learn the Sunny 16 Rule! ——->

I shot this sun starburst at Crescent Park in New Orleans!

I shot this sun starburst at Crescent Park in New Orleans!

How to photograph children in the most creative and unique way this holiday season. by Zack Smith Photography

Emelie Thomson photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in New Orleans, 2018

Emelie Thomson photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in New Orleans, 2018

If you know me, I have never been one to photograph many kids, babies, or even teens. But after having a child of my own I have really enjoyed documenting my daughter’s personality through her experiences at learning and loving life. Parents often ask me, “how can I photograph my kids in a more creative and fun way”?


Interested in learning more about my child portrait services?


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I don’t think there is an easy answer to photographing kids as they are all different and require a different approach to getting them to be their best selves when the camera is up and ready. I made this blog post to help you with photographing your kids in time for the upcoming holidays. I hope this will help you capture their natural beauty and adventurous spirit at the house and at your next family gathering!

Liam Rhein photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018

Liam Rhein photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018

Maggie Rhein photographed in Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018.

Maggie Rhein photographed in Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018.

Before you capture a photo, capture a child’s heart

One common mistake people make when photographing kids is trying too hard to make things happen as planned. For instance, trying to make them smile when they don’t want to, or trying to direct the shoot too much. I feel it just doesn’t work that way for kids. Instead, aim for fun times; and good photos will just happen. Speak to them in their language and spark their imagination at all times keeping them interested in the process. Most professional photographers swear by one simple thumb rule; Before you capture kids’ photos, capture their heart. PERIOD. This might mean asking some questions about their day, what foods they like, or even if they like cameras (see?) before you even touch the camera, or starting a conversation about their hobbies. The idea is to make them feel at ease before you get started. That way, you have a better chance of getting their attention during the shoot. Preparation for photographing children should start weeks in advance. But what should you be doing during that phase? Here are some tips and ideas.

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Choosing the right location for your child’s photoshoot

When choosing a location for your kids or teens’ portrait session, consider a few questions. Maybe you have a favorite spot in mind or a location that speaks to you on an emotional level. That’s great, but what about consulting with the parents to find out if there is a place that they kid has a connection to where they feel comfortable and even playful? Try photographing at their favorite park or playground with the caveat that after the shoot they get playtime?

How is the lighting condition? – Just choosing a brightly-lit location is not enough. You need a place with enough open shades, so you can avoid shooting in the direct sun. As we know already direct sunlight creates harsh shadows – not good for children portraits unless you are shooting in full sun as a side light or diffusing it with a 5 in 1 reflector. Alternatively, shoot in the magic hour, which is an hour or so after the sunrise or an hour before the sunset.

Poet and Cecil at the cypress tree. Notice how the tree motif is a pleasing background for this portrait.

Poet and Cecil at the cypress tree. Notice how the tree motif is a pleasing background for this portrait.

Ask yourself, does the location offer visual variety? Choosing the right background will help make your kid portraits look more vivid and lively. Choose a location that offers enough visual variety. For instance, try going to an area near you where there are brightly colored houses, manicured fences with ivy and oak trees to accompany the composition to direct the viewer’s eyes towards the subject, while also adding more depth to your photo.

Having kids “go on an adventure” sparks their imagination and creativity and you just point and click!

Having kids “go on an adventure” sparks their imagination and creativity and you just point and click!

Choosing what to wear to the photoshoot is important!

Before you can decide what to wear, you need to know what not to wear. There is no set rule, but I like to tell parents to avoid busy prints and patterns as they do not translate well on camera. Bright colors are great but make sure you avoid harsh colors like neon, black, deep red and deep green as they could reflect onto your kids’ skin to make them look unnatural. It is also a good idea to avoid distracting logos and slogan shirts. If you’re photographing kids in natural light, avoid white shirts as they make it more difficult to set exposure if you are using auto.

Point being: the focus should be on your kids rather than on their outfits. If you’re still not sure what to wear, here are some good examples.

·      Light blue overalls with matching headbands  

·      Seersuckers in pastel colors for your teens

·      Double denim for your teen boys

·      Basic neutrals or soft floral dresses for babies

Another important thing is that your kids’ outfits should be comfortable to wear and easy to maintain. Never let them wear hard-to-pull-on tights on a photo shoot. You cannot expect a happy mood from someone in physical discomfort, right?

Stellar Rooftop Photography! How to use slow sync and drag the shutter for a moving effect! by Zack Smith Photography

Musician Peyton McMahon amongst the skyscrapers of New Orleans. ©Zack Smith Photography. My exposure here is 1/2" shutter speed while moving my camera from right to left. f2.8, and my flash was on a stand to the right my camera set at 1/8 power pointed at Peyton.

Musician Peyton McMahon amongst the skyscrapers of New Orleans. ©Zack Smith Photography. My exposure here is 1/2" shutter speed while moving my camera from right to left. f2.8, and my flash was on a stand to the right my camera set at 1/8 power pointed at Peyton.

What is Slow Sync and how can I do it?

With so many photography terms used to describe certain techniques and tricks, it's hard to know how to navigate and learn new skills. I hope today's How To Tuesday can dispel some of the myths behind one of the coolest, and easiest photography techniques out there. Slow sync refers to using a slow shutter speed in conjunction with firing your camera flash, usually is low ambient light situations. You will often see websites talking about Rear Sync, and Rear Curtain Sync. These are features that alot of newer Digital SLR, point and shoots, and even older cameras have as an auto feature. Here I will tell you how to manually do this yourself, taking the guesswork out of the process and allowing you to use the Slow Sync Flash method in many situations!

Breaking down slow sync, what does it mean?

Slow is describing the slow (or longer) amount of time the shutter is left open and Sync is describing the flash firing during the time the shutter is open, allowing the light to sync with the shutter and then expose on your camera sensor. Combine those two features, and what you have is a longer shutter speed exposing in lower light situations, sometimes creating motion, and your flash exposing your subject oftentimes "freezing" it amongst the moving backgrounds. 

Using the slow sync technique, you can create stylistic "movement" in your images which can showcase an even more intimate depth to your image and subject story. As I have always said, we are telling stories of our subject in a 2D world while they exist in 3D. How do we create depth where there is none? Creating depth is easy with using shallow depth of field by selecting wider apertures (lower aperture numbers) and select rules of composition like Converging Lines. Slow sync with flash is another great way to create that depth.

What do I set my camera to for slow sync?

While every situation will be different, you can take these steps to work towards success. As with any experimentation with a new photography technique you must use the advantage you have: image playback! Make sure you set your camera to show your exposure (Canon: Info, Nikon: display) so you can make the adjustments to shutter and aperture independently. 

First you must be in Manual Exposure so you can set your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed independently. Make sure you are in an environment with a background that's interesting, but not too bright. You want to be shooting at twilight, dusk, or a low lit situation. Your background MUST be subtly brighter than the light on your subject. These scenes are found at night outdoor weddings. sunsets, and like my rooftop scene of Peyton. Start by setting your ISO to 800, set your shutter speed to 1" (one second) and your aperture wide open to the widest aperture available. I like to start here because when I take the photo, I can then dissect what is wrong, and just change ONE variable (shutter, f-stop, etc...). I usually start with my flash on manual settings, and at 1/8th power. 

I set my auto focus point to the middle spot focus, that being the most effective one in low light situations.

PRO TIP: if your subject is right in front of you, select the default Auto Focus mode which selects the "closest object" and is very effective in low light!

Here I will do a test shot:

If my subject is too bright and over exposed, I'll turn down the power of my flash and do another test shot until i get it right.

If my background is too dark i will open up my shutter to longer, like 2" and do a test shot. If I find my subject is getting blurry, then that means I need to increase my ISO. This way our background is going to get more exposure, and we can make adjustments to our flash after.

Keep in mind we will always be adjusting our aperture, shutterspeed, ISO, or flash output. But once you do this a few times, you will get the hang of it. I hope that by  using my starting exposure settings you will get Slow Sync Portraiture in a flash! Got success? Post a link and share it in the Comments below!

 

 

 

Photographing the Solar Eclipse in New Orleans by Zack Smith Photography

For viewing and photographing the Solar Eclipse in New Orleans, you'll need some special gear!

For viewing and photographing the Solar Eclipse in New Orleans, you'll need some special gear!

Just imagine all of the wonderful photographs that will be taken during this solar eclipse, the first in 99 years that can be seen in some capacity from coast to coast. I think we as a New Orleans photography community need to step up and represent how our images are made and show em how we do it! That's why I am organizing a Solar Eclipse Photo Meet Up where we can view and photograph the solar eclipse together! In this post we'll talk about the gear needed and how we can SAFELY view and document the eclipse.

11:30 Lafayette Square, New Orleans is where I will be!

From noon to 3pm on Monday, August 21st you will be able to view the solar eclipse in New Orleans. While we won't be able to view a 100% totality event we will be able to see %75-%80 of a solar eclipse, which is pretty damn cool. There are safe ways to view and photograph the solar eclipse in New Orleans and I hope to help you also figure out creative ways to document this event is well. It is great if you can capture such a wonderful event on record, but doing it with creativity and style is where we want to be. Please read this post fully and share, but MEETUP with me at Lafayette Square at 11:30 on Monday, August 21st to shoot and view. Follow the links to buy your own gear but i'll have a few glasses for you.

 

Where will sun will be at noon in New Orleans?

The best app I have for this is The Photographers Ephemerus and SUN CALC (see here) and can be downloaded for iphone and android. This app helps me figure out the best spot to be in during special moon events like the supermoon, and now the solar eclipse. Here is a screenshot from 12pm on Monday, August 21st in New Orleans from both apps.

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Photographing the Solar Eclipse needs to be done with special equipment.  Lens filters are always required to view and photograph the eclipse. We need to protect our own eyes too!.Telescopes, binoculars, and cameras need solar filters for two reasons: to protect them from intense sunlight and to ensure that you don't accidentally look at the Sun through an unfiltered instrument.

Our challenge is to obtain a set of photographs that captures these fleeting phenomena. During the total phase, all solar filters must be removed. This is because the sun’s corona has a surface brightness a million times fainter than the sun’s visible disk or photosphere, so photographs of the corona must be made without a filter. Furthermore, it is completely safe to view the totally eclipsed sun directly with the naked eye. No filters are needed, and in fact, they would completely hide the view. (SOURCE:  NIKONUSA)

Never look at the sun without  approved solar filtration over your eyes. Permanent, irreversible eye damage and/or blindness can result in seconds. Never point your camera into the sun without an approved solar filter over your camera lens(es). Not using a solar filter at eclipse magnifications will ruin your camera in seconds. Never improvise, modify or use general photography neutral density filters. When it comes to solar filters, you have several options: filter sheet, screw-on front filter, or a solar filter that mounts between the camera and lens on an interchangeable-lens setup.

GLASSES - LINK HERE, and HERE at BH Photo

SOLAR FILTERS for PHOTOGRAPHY - BH PHOTO

(Source - Great article from B&H - https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/how-photograph-solar-eclipse )

The best strategy is to choose one aperture and bracket the exposures over a range of shutter speeds from 1/1000 second to 1 second. You should rehearse the actions of setting up the camera and adjusting exposures because it is common for photographers to become easily distracted when viewing this phase of the solar eclipse, so much so that you forget to make pictures.

Use live view or an electronic viewfinder for the “what you see is what you get” advantage. It is also safer for your eyes to NOT be looking through an optical finder if you ignored my advice about securely mounting a filter.

Check out Mr. Eclipse's Solar Exposure Guide here - this looks really confusing but the more you read it, makes total sense. You are going to be constantly opening either your shutter speed, aperture, or ND filter as the sun reaches totality (thus decreasing in intensity) but then stopping down again as it moves out of totality (having to put our glasses on again)

This map shows the path of Totality of the Solar Eclipse (SOURCE: www.timeanddate.com)

This map shows the path of Totality of the Solar Eclipse (SOURCE: www.timeanddate.com)

Solar eclipses may be viewed and photographed but you need to take safety into account. You can photograph a solar eclipse with any type of camera, but the longer the focal length of the lens (at least 300mm) the larger the images of the sun you’ll be able to make. Purchasing an Extender for your telephoto is key, but 300mm should be a good start. If you can get 400mm, or even 600mm you will be getting closer!.

One great way to tell the story is to get wide, and silhouette the crowd, silhouette buildings that tell a more creative story of an eclipse. Why shoot real close to the sun when you can make it more interesting with the world around you?

Mastering Focal length: Learning how to "see" like the camera sometimes means to close your eyes by Zack Smith Photography

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

 

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

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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.

New Gear New Techniques: How to Shoot Fill Flash Portraits into the Sun and Pocketwizard TTL Product Test by Zack Smith Photography

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 Photography

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

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Dancers with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Dancers with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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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 watch...observe...be.

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!

Remember....SHOOT FOR THE WALL!

Zack

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

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 Photography

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 Photography

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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. 

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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 up...one 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!

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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.

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I set my focus point to the box closest to his eye, then recompose, and shoot.

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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 Photography

"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 Photography

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.

LIGHT SCHEME

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.

SHOOT DAY MAGIC

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 Photography

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 Photography

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 Photography

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.

Learning the Land by Location Scouting - How to Turn a Simple Walk into Pre-Production on your Next Shoot! by Zack Smith Photography

I keep a little black book. Well, it's a small yellow "pad" application inside my iphone that keeps all of my Locations and Notes as I drive and walk from job to job, studio to home and coffee shop to coffee shop. I am always looking for unique environments to serve as backgrounds and layers for future shoots. As you may have been reading this photography blog (which I have had here since 2006....!) I do feel my purpose is to help others around me in the photography community, but there is ONE thing I don't share too much of: my locations. I have always felt that learning how to use strobes, how to pose portraits and edit in lightroom are skills that can be learned over time. Some learn it faster, some take more time. Finding the right location, and especially the perfect background for any subject's story, I feel is the one part of the creative photographic process that evolves even slower. It's tough to teach since it's so personal. 

There are a few techniques I can share with you about Location Scouting for your next photoshoot, and it's an easy one.

I suggest to portrait photographers to always snap photos of your locations and share them with your Google Drive or email AS SOON AS YOU CAN! I don't know about you but I always am inspired at the wrong time...either I am late and driving somewhere, I don't have a camera on me, or the light just isn't right. Well, that's the point of documenting a location by any means necessary. No matter if the light isn't just perfect, or your idea is not fully formed, you have the location logged either by photo or a written description. Here are some photos I have taken with my "location scout hat" on...you never know what you might find on walk Learning the Land...

Click on the Photo to Expand and Learn the Technique!