Commercial Portraits

2017 Year In Photos: New Places, Photographing Faces and Things I Said I Would Never Do by Zack Smith

What's the big deal about babies, business headshots and and studios anyway?


2017 has been a whirlwind of a year. A year of many firsts and falls and get backups. I never thought I would be shooting so many headshots, open a studio on Magazine Street and photograph thousands of images of a baby. Well, she is my baby.

I mean really, look at that angelic face, who wouldn't want to photograph her for, like, ever? Well I never thought I would be photographing kids, ever! In the last 6 months I have even worked with kids on New Orleans Tourism shoots, French Market Corporation shoots and photographing some friends kids. Never. Say. Never...

You can learn so much as a photographer by stepping outside of your comfort zone.

 In my line of work I get hired because I can provide for my client a consistent, structured, and creative result for their visual branding needs. This type of commercial photography takes alot time and energy spent talking and emailing about ideas, aesthetic, and how images will be used ad nauseam. I talk with my clients about lighting schemes, compositions, and the exact number of images produced and where how the deliverables will be implemented into their website and marketing materials. Needless to say there is a lot of control that goes into producing and photographing the type of work I do. There is absolutely NO controlling a kid. You just. got. to. BE. 

There are tricks to make kids smile, I just use patience. Or, have a kid and hang around for the magic.

With the birth of our daughter Vega, I went into full "dad mode" and have never looked back. I keep my family safe, practice unconditional love, and never ever have a camera further than 1 foot from my shutter finger. The faces and moments are far too many to record, but I am sure as hell giving it my best shot. I don't want to miss anything, and the odds are I will get some really really bad shots and a few great ones. As a professional photographer that does NOT specialize in newborn or kids or "tween" photography, I can't use this fatherly approach. I am totally fine with that. I have great respect for the newborn, kid, and family photographers out there who are blessed with the patience and wherewithal to coax the emotion out of a group of strangers.

There are tricks to make adults relax, and it's not saying "act natural" during a professional headshot.


Oh, another thing I said I would never do? Professional business headshots. To me, in my up and coming days as a seeker of adventure and experience TTL (through the lens for those that know) I was dead set on letting the music and culture of my surroundings guide my creative muse as well as my business plan. What I did not realize was that I was possibly missing out on meeting passionate entrepreneurs and dedicated CEO's of New Orleans. I couldn't see the forest for the trees, especially stumbling through the 6th ward on a Sunday at 4:30pm, beer in one hand and camera in the other. Yeah, I was having a blast and finding my way and I wouldn't trade it for a moment. 

2017 has had more purpose infused in every shutter click and proposal sent.

I am photographing not only for me, but for my family, my daughter, and for my city. 2017 was the year I completed 10 produced day shoots with talent and 160 hours of events and festivals for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Orleans Tourism and Marketing. I photographed 15 new produced lifestyle photoshoots for Chase Bank's new branding and mobile app. 2017 had me in three different cities producing original lifestyle tourism photographs for Brand USA, our country's tourism agency. Again I was honored to be principal photographer for French Quarter Fest, Satchmo Fest, Bayou Country Superfest, three stellar music festivals in New Orleans. 


In 2017 I took my business public. I opened my first photography studio on Magazine Street in New Orleans.


In my 20th year of photographing the world around me and my 13th year of photography being my sole source of income - I bit the bullet and opened my studio. My dojo, my HQ, the new home of ideas and momentum.

Hanging a shingle on Magazine Street, opening my first brick and mortar studio when the world is my studio.

Since 1997 the world has been my studio. I have always enjoyed a natural curiosity and wonder about the qualities and effects of light. I love the low winter sun in the country and the high contrasty light of noon day sun in a downtown metropolis. Light has character and depth, and when combined with telling a story of a singular person or event the possibilities are endless. For me the impetus to open a studio had to do with the increasing amount of business headshots I was getting commissioned for and the need to have more space at home with our growing baby. Having an photography studio and office space afforded me the luxury of leaving the work "at work" and having the house be where the home and family were. I love it this way. I also am thankful of the path that brought me here as for 20 years I was and still am a student of light. I have the ability to make a studio anywhere - in a field, in an office, on a hill, in a swamp. I know light, I respect light, I am nothing with out it.


My 2017 photography workshop series saw new moments and magic made. Photographers were born and snapshots were left in the dust.

This year was a year of rebirth for my photography workshop series, an ever evolving organism that I have curating since 2014. While I continue to host my staple workshops like Learn Digital Photography, Learn Lightroom and Photoshop, and Night Photography Workshop (formerly NOLA @ Night) I have added a few new ones. Workshops like Natural Light Photography Workshop held at Crescent Park and the Street Documentary Photography Worksop held in partnership with the French Market Corporation has allowed me to host new ideas that stem from my workshops. People have ideas of what they want to shoot and I figure out how to make it happen with the most impact for their knowledge and the community. 

Photo by Stephen Barnes from the Street Documentary Workshop, 2017

Photo by Stephen Barnes from the Street Documentary Workshop, 2017

Even though there were so many new moments made in 2017, I still keep one foot in the swamp, one foot in the music, faces, and culture I love so much. Here are some more highlights from 2017. Stay in touch friends, more exciting things happening. Here is a little reward for reading - my 2018 Photography Workshops which are open for enrollment now!

Sylvan Esso at The CIVIC Theatre in New Orleans @2017 Zack Smith Photography

Sylvan Esso at The CIVIC Theatre in New Orleans @2017 Zack Smith Photography

Audubon Park Reflections, December 2017 - ©Zack Smith Photography

Audubon Park Reflections, December 2017 - ©Zack Smith Photography

Tharrison and Voice on Royal Street. Image produced for New Orleans Tourism ©2017 Zack Smith

Tharrison and Voice on Royal Street. Image produced for New Orleans Tourism ©2017 Zack Smith

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.


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 the people should look...what kind of lighting I can use...what new way I can create to help me communicate my clients vision, that when the shoot is finally here - it feels as if the work is already done. But's not.


Even though the heavy lifting of pre planning, schedule coordinations, and crew organization have taken place there is always the Day Of Shoot to look forward to. What day will we have?Will we be coaxing raw emotion and feeling out of someone who's had a long day already at 10am? Will our star show up with a black eye? (It's happened) Will there be malfunctioning gear (happens too often) or did we forget Gaffe tape and only bring Gorilla Tape? The more experiences I have  the more ready and comfortable I become with anything life throws at me. Each day and moment is a lesson waiting to be learned...hope I taught you something here...

How to Tuesday #24 Anatomy of a Commercial Shoot : Behind the Scenes with St. Charles Vision by Zack Smith

I really do love a good creative collaboration. In the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with so many talented local creative industries, businesses, and individuals that I look at every working opportunity now as a collaboration and not just a job. When I am hired for a photoshoot I want to know what my client is thinking short term and long term. I want to know the deliverables will "feel" to them when the images are done and placed in an ad, on a website, or a brochure. Knowing how to use a camera and showing up with a bunch of lights is such a small part of the equation of a commercial portrait shoot.

Yes we do bring out all the gear for just a head shot! Curving & Carving Light! ©Zack Smith

Yes we do bring out all the gear for just a head shot! Curving & Carving Light! ©Zack Smith

I recently had the privilege of working again with New Orleans based St. Charles Vision and their Director of Marketing and Operations, Matt Rosenthal on a very exciting project. Matt and I met multiple times in person to discuss the finer details of what they were looking for. We discussed the overall goals of the campaign, backgrounds, lighting aesthetics and looked at examples of portraits that myself and other photographers had done for inspiration. I spent a day photographing some friends in my studio to get some lighting ratios and schemes for Matt to look at...even collaborated with my pals at Flavor Paper and Sarah and Alex for some mood board background ideas...

I really loved the fact that Matt and I talked about once a week, checking in on his model selections, lighting ideas and day of shoot schedule. I assembled an amazing crew consisting of two lighting assistants and a digital tech which we used to import the images directly into Lightroom so the client could view in real time. There really is nothing like tethering to Lightroom so the client doesn't have to look over your shoulder every shot. You really do feel like everyone is in on the creative process! We even created a custom Preset Edit for the images so the client could view the edits I would be doing later!

A Little Bit about Tethering Your Camera to your Computer

Tethering is very easy. Getting a long enough cord will help you spread out your work station and give you room between the camera and the computer. You want to have the freedom of space around your camera to help you compose and work with the model, and you want the computer in it's own world so that the client and the digital tech can talk and edit without disrupting the flow of the shoot. I use Lightroom, and there is an easy drop down menu that says "Start Tethered Capture", and you can get going. You can also tether capture in Bridge, Capture One, and other programs...Stay tuned for a future How To Tuesday on Tethering!

Behind the Scenes at NOLA Spaces

I chose to work with the wonderful NOLA Spaces again for many reasons. NOLA Spaces has great hourly room rates, window light, large open rooms, wifi, surround sound, and are always great to work with! I hired Susan Spaid for Hair and Makeup and she was wonderful working with our super talented New Orleans movers and shakers...T. Cole Newton (12 Mile Limit), Tarronia Ball (Tank of Tank and the Bangas), Lu Brow (Swizzle Stick Bar and Brennan's), and Brent Houzenga (Artist).

Tech Specs of our Lighting Setup - Trusty and Lightweight Paul C. Buff

The great thing about doing light tests prior to a big shoot day is that you can arrive on site and already have a solid game plan of how you are going to light your portrait. Sometimes you can't do early testing, but If you can I highly recommend it.

Our KEY light was a 1600 Paul C. Buff White Lightning with a 60" Octabox softbox. Our background was a "Fashion Grey" seamless lit by a 800 Alien Bee with a 10"x36" stripbox. We had ad 1600 White Lightning with a 30º grid for our hair light/rim light and a large 5 in 1 reflector on the white side bouncing light in the left hand side of the model. We also had a 4'x4' diffuser panel directly under the subject. We wanted to soften the light under the chin but also leave a little contrast there for the face.

The Hair Light was set at 2 stops above the Key Light so that it is almost over exposing the skin. The purpose of the Hair Light is to create contrast which allows the subject to feel like it's popping out of the background. 

For example: If the Key light metered at f8 @ 1/125 at ISO 100, then you would want your Hair Light to meter at f16. This means in order to get the Middle Grey exposure of light from the Hair Light you would need to be at f16. But since your camera is set at f8 (or near it) due to the Key Light..then the Hair light is 2 stops brighter....get it?

Sorry! You'll have to wait till next week for the final shots!!

Sorry! You'll have to wait till next week for the final shots!!

You'll have to wait till next week to see the final ads for St. Charles vision! Stay tuned to this blog for the final the mean time - get out there and shoot! experiment! have fun!



How to Tuesday #9 - The Anatomy Of An Advertising Photo Shoot : Why Client Meetings, Location Scouting, and Prep Work is so important. part 1 of 2. by Zack Smith


Recent Ad Campaigns for Hancock Bank with New Orleans agency, Peter Mayer. 2015 - read more about how we got these images below.

Tellings stories is what we do. Photographers are visual storytellers no matter how you look at it. The world you see and what you have to say is told through the lens of your camera. Over the years you acquire more tangible tools to better construct the story like: lenses, lights and light modifiers, tripods, and better camera bodies. During this time you also learn better ways of improving your creative aesthetic factors such as composition, subject/background agreement, and editing. Aside from the evolution of these technical and aesthetic factors you also have to be aware of how your individual job proficiency is evolving. 

Are you listening deeply to the clients visual problem? Are you using your experience to connect their issues and goals with the talents and tools you bring to the table? "Congrats you got the job!", but are you coordinating the execution and delivery of these images in a cohesive and structured manner? These are some of the situations that I am continually working to improve in my photographic approach to client work and my anatomy of a shoot. I hope to take you through my steps to insure a successful Shoot Prep, Location Scout, Shoot, and Delivery every time.


I always make it a point to meet with new clients face to face when we begin the initial planning phases of a photo shoot. No matter how small a job, being able to talk about your clients needs and creative direction in person gives both of you a comfortable setting to plan the logistics of your shoot. Even though all of this can take place on the phone, and usually does with out of town clients, being face to face allows you to read body language, improvise on ideas and enjoy personable dialogue. I always feel more connected to a client when we can meet in person and I suggest that to any photographer with a first time client. This meeting is important for you as the visual problem solver to ask the important questions that are essential to delivering the home run photograph at the end of the day. 

When I first met with the creative team at revered New Orleans ad agency Peter Mayer, there was a general excitement about the room. Their team was looking to create new, personable, yet powerful portraits of the presidents of various Hancock Banks on the Gulf Coast. The goal was to connect the new bank's identity with it's current community and introduce themselves to potential new communities in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. By using popular landmarks all along the coast, our goal was to connect the human to the land in a comfortable and fun way. My goal here was to ask as many questions as I could about the deliverables (photos to be delivered, edited and finished) like:

- what orientation should we compose the shots? Knowing if they wanted to use horizontal or vertical photos in their layouts would help me later when scouting locations, shoot-time of day, and lighting options.

- what were some lighting Yes's and No No's - how creative or subtle should we go with our lighting and light modifier choices? This answer will give me an idea of how much gear of my own will be used as opposed to what we may need to rent.

- how many days do we have to complete the job and how many people are we shooting? - The Peter Mayer team already had this well laid out. We had a certain number of executives and due to their busy schedules, only a few windows of opportunity to shoot them. In the end, we did a sunrise shoot for one exec, and an afternoon/evening shoot for the other. I was extremely thankful that the PM team had this under control. When planning a large location shoot such as this, it is a relief to know that you have help coordinating talent. You can get bogged down when dealing with these factors let alone everything else on your plate in the coming days.

I left the meeting with a clear idea of what we were going to do, but needed to scout the locations out on the Mississippi coast to know exactly what the chosen locations would look like at the projected times. I can't say enough wonderful things about the Peter Mayer team. Their genuine enthusiasm about their client and their openness for suggestions by me, made me excited for our project. These moments always give me satisfaction in my heart that I love what I do and that I am right where i need to be: being creative in a creative community.

PART 2  - Scouting and Prepping


I'll See You Next Week for Part 2 of "Anatomy of an Advertising Photo Shoot" where we talk about how to properly scout your locations to ensure you are your best on shoot day! - SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG! Just click the RSS feed above and get your updates how you want them!


2014 - Spicy Start - New Ways to Turnaround by Zack Smith

New Work with Tabasco, Seth Walker and Time Warner-Cable...but I see turnaround times shrinking fast!

This year is gotten off to a pretty good start: a nice new round of client proposals and my first product shoot of the year for the McIlhenny Company and a new spice Tabasco is launching..I got to use my new studio out in the Parish as Tamara and I knocked it out in a half day on our way to a 24 hour turnaround on edits..not bad. I'll send some photos when the ads are in..

I have seen a reoccurring trend happening in the last few years with corporate clients as it pertains to turnaround times. It used to be at least a 1-2 week turnaround time if we were dealing with film, since we had to process, scan, edit and send actual proof "sheets". In the last 10 years i was getting an average of 5-7 days turnaround with digital for large clients (most working w/ a creative team, and/or Marketing Department). This is ok if you have your digital editing workflow down and you can pump out some selects and low-res proofs to the client immediately after a shoot. Normally if the shoot entails 1 or 2 setups and the edits are not too intense, then 24 hour turnarounds are not too bad but communication should be at an all time high since timing is crucial - and re-edits are often needed.

In this case, I had a great time setting up the product shot in trying to achieve my goal of in-camera editing and leaving not much for me to do in post, and it worked. The only big issue was that the one configuration of bottles I did not shoot was what they wanted I had to hire my good friend Saki w/ Lumos Retouching to do some fancy post editing and she killed it in a short amount of time.

Next time I will photograph each and every configuration humanly possible so that I don't have to hire out for editing, it's just easier that way. It only takes a few more minutes and you don't to re-set the lights!

Later on this month I have a job with Time Warner Cable, Jensen Tuna Company, Seth Walker-musician, and starting to gear up for marching in some Mardi Gras parades. 2014 doesn't stop...Rotary Downs album release March 22nd, playing Jazz Fest 1st Friday, also - my solo photography show at

Scott Edwards Gallery

opening April 12th! More details....

Be on the lookout: i will be announcing my RAW Workflow Workshop at the Propeller March 27th

I just got back from a deer hunt in Luverne, Alabama, and waking up before the sun was a great opportunity for some sunrise photography! Enjoy!