Lost Bayou Ramblers

How to shoot prism photography: Prisming for Beginners in the Streets of New Orleans by Zack Smith

Do you want to learn how to use prisms for photography? Look no further

 

Before you read this NOTE! I will be bringing ALL OF MY PRISMS with me for the Mardi Gras Photography Workshop in New Orleans on Saturday, February 3rd. CLICK HERE to learn more and sign up!

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As a photographer do you ever get stuck in a creative rut? Creative gridlock happens to me more often than I care to admit, but luckily I found my new muse to get the ideas running full speed again. I discovered prism photography by happenstance one day while on Instagram and it ignited one of those infectious Google Search Time Warps where I was searching and researching Google on prism photography, prisms, and photographers who use prisms. I found so much great inspiration in those searches, and I came away with buying a set of old school original prisms from Amlong Crystals and some very new school prisms from Get Fractals.

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Prism photography is easy, just experiment!

Yes, you probably recognize this type of prism from physics class in grade school.  Did you know that when held up to your lens you can not only project the full spectrum of light into your lens but reflect anything within a 180 degree radius into your lens? Creative rut be damned! I also bought a Crystal Sphere set as well and have been experimenting with that. Normally, prisms are sometimes used for the internal reflection at the surfaces rather than for dispersion. (duh!) If light inside the prism hits one of the surfaces at a sufficiently steep angle, total internal reflection occurs as all of the light is reflected. This makes a prism a useful substitute for a mirror in some situations. (did you know you can also use a mirror?) Does this make you want to walk the streets with one of these? Me too!

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For me, whenever I get my hands on a new way of seeing, like a prism for photography, I immediately take to the streets and the swamps of Louisiana to try it out. What better environment to get out of your creative rut!

Street Walking Documentary In New Orleans With Prism Photography

There are so many variations you can make to your composition by the way you hold the prism to your lens. I suggest (and many other prism photographers) to use at least a 50mm, or something close to that so you can cover the full front of the lens and focal length with your prism. In most cases I was using the cylindrical prism held horizontally in front of the lens. I was holding it directly up to the UV filter so I could balance and stabilize the prism. This I found very hard to do, because you only have so many hands to hold the camera stable, hold the prism stable, and create a good composition at the same time. This was a challenge, but I managed.

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Prism Photography Of Musicians In The Sweaty Swamps Of New Orleans' Couterie Forest

As you all know me by now, or are just learning, I shoot ALOT of New Orleans and Louisiana musicians. Being a musician most of my life, it's the circle of people I have been around the longest and can effectively communicate their visual needs and creative ideas with ease. One of the longest relationships I've had in this manner is with the Lafayette based Lost Bayou Ramblers. I have been photographing this band's promotional photography since 2000 and anytime they need new imagery for an album release, new member add, or a big gig - they call me. I am very grateful to have this relationship because these guys let me get as creative and "out there" as I want. There's a certain trust afforded here, and I am thankful for that...because I get to use prisms!

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How to Use Prisms with Photography

But what exactly is prism photography? Prism photography, also known as prisming, uses a prism-shaped, clear object in conjunction with a camera lens to produce artistic distortions. Using a prism while photographing is relatively simple. You just have to twist the prism in front of your lenses to give the illusion of a curve or bend in your surroundings on your camera. It does take some practice, but using a prism works a lot better than using mirrors or photoshoot techniques because it actually looks pretty natural.

Most photographers prefer to use a wider lens between 24 mm and 50 mm. You should start by using a wider aperture to let light into the lens. You can expect to see things like rainbows, prism-shaped light flares, curves in your image, and so much more. Using a prism in your creative photoshoots can leave you or your client with breath-taking photos that will be great for your portfolio and their personal keepsake.

If you are eager to try and use a prism in your photography, you can purchase one for as little as $12 on Amazon. Be sure to get one that isn’t too big. Most photographers are happy with a 6-inch prism. Sometimes, you may find that your fingers are getting in the way of your shot. Move your fingers to a point on the prism where they aren’t visible. Just be cautious when you are photographing your subject and you will be fine.

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

6" Amlong Prism held vertical.

6" Amlong Prism held vertical.

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

6" Amlong Prism held vertical

Circular Sphere - Amlong

Circular Sphere - Amlong

Amlong 6" crystal prism held horizontally

Amlong 6" crystal prism held horizontally

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Get Fractal Filter Set

I was really able to control and master my prism photography with the set of "finger filter" prisms from Get Fractal. The set came in three and were housed in a pouch you can lock on your belt. I brought the filter set to photograph Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans and was loving the way it made my portraits of musicians like no one else's. 

Jams seen through my fractal filter from Get Fractals. These filters allow you to have more control with the filter. So cool!

Jams seen through my fractal filter from Get Fractals. These filters allow you to have more control with the filter. So cool!

Pscyh-a-Tuba!!! Jon and Jason at French Quarter Fest shot through a Fractal Filter.

Pscyh-a-Tuba!!! Jon and Jason at French Quarter Fest shot through a Fractal Filter.

Dancin Man 504 - Birthday Boy shot in Prisms during Satchmo Fest in New Orleans!

Dancin Man 504 - Birthday Boy shot in Prisms during Satchmo Fest in New Orleans!

Freddie Lonzo photographed through my Fractal Filter Prism!

Freddie Lonzo photographed through my Fractal Filter Prism!

"This is where we make ART" New Portraits Have Begun in a Sacred Space by Zack Smith

New Orleans is and always will be a sacred space that pulls the creativity from those that are ready to give.

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Don't think for a second I am not grateful about the amount of amazing gifts New Orleans gives. Most of all this city allows the artist to create freely, experiment at will, and be a force in any way under her skies. Since I moved here permanently in 2000 I have always had the need to organize my thoughts, make art, create moments, in a way I have never before. I am very grateful to have begun a new portrait series in thanks to the wonderful creators and organizers of New Orleans' newest force - The New Orleans Airlift's Music Box performance space. These guys are nothing new to creating groundbreaking art and installation in town, but they now have a new home, and are letting me photograph there....alot

I began this series last week and was able to witness some quiet rehearsal moments when the legend Rickie Lee Jones began whisper-singing into an effects laden phone, stretching from an old telephone booth.

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Louis Michot from the Lost Bayou Ramblers sauntered over with his violin so his tune was in earshot, unplugged and raw like amazing Music Box performance space. I go to hear a few tunes as I setup to make portraits of these amazing musicians. I am forever grateful at the opportunity to create art at this wonderful space.  

Am I lucky to live here, or am I lucky to have migrated east continually since my birth in Lafayette, Louisiana? I keep moving east...east...and south. I moved through Baton Rouge, and when I began my New Orleans life I started uptown and moved east through the Irish Channel of New Orleans. I lived in the Garden District before living in the Treme. I lived in the Bywater, Holy Cross, and now St. Bernard Parish. I keep moving east, south, east but I keep moving inward and outward and out in my own life and creative journey. The roots continue deeper and connect with others like myself. I am grateful the The New Orleans Airlifts' Music Box started in the Bywater, went to City Park, and then moved East, South, and landed where it is now in the 9th Ward. Come share the journey....

The organizers, Delaney, Taylor, and Jay have been nothing but warm and open, inviting me to create in a place like no other. As I said before, New Orleans has a way of bringing out the best in artists, and the Music Box, I think, is the living and breathing musical reality of that. Go see a show...INFO HERE

Spider Stacy of the Pogues plays inside the Tintinnabulation by artist Angaliska Polachek

Spider Stacy of the Pogues plays inside the Tintinnabulation by artist Angaliska Polachek

Rickie Lee Jones at the Music Box in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Rickie Lee Jones at the Music Box in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

It was a pleasure to meet Langhorn Slim at the Music Box. Thank man...

It was a pleasure to meet Langhorn Slim at the Music Box. Thank man...

36 Hours in New York as a Musician and Observer - A Photo Gallery by Zack Smith

I recently got back from a super quick 36 hour trip to New York. I don't recommend going anywhere as vivid and lush as New York City for only 36 hours. You spend most of the time in transit or sleeping - but you can only try to make up for it in other ways. The other ways I am talking about was my set of music with long time friend Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers as our duo drum/fiddle "Pilette's Ghost". I also walked around ALOT. I enjoyed walking around the West Village and then again in the Lower East Side, as our gig was at famed improvisational composer/musician John Zorn's club, The Stone. It was good to get some fresh landscapes in front of me, catch up on some reading and hit my favorite spot for the best coffee beans...McNulty's.

When I arrived in NY I met up with old friends and ate one of the best falafel sandwiches ever at Mamoun's and I have to thank LJ Goldstein for that suggestion (sorry I didn't bring one back). The next morning I walked around and photographed the West Village, then met up with the band. Louis rented an AirBnB for their week long residency and it's front door sat facing the Hell's Angels Clubhouse on E 3rd Street. As I walked up, six pairs of eyes watched my every move as 6 mouths continued their conversations.

I walked into the apartment and I could already feel the Louisiana camaraderie bubble over as talk of the previous night's set began. Ryan Brasseaux, Bryan Webre, and Kirkland Middleton II were talking about the music and the moments as we all sat down to rehearse for Saturday's show.

Later in the day Spider and Louise Stacy met us at the apartment. We packed out instruments and set out to busk in the New York Subway...