Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“Do Good Work, Stick Around, and Be Nice To People” - ZSP Photography Philosophy #1 for 2015

“Do Good Work, Stick Around, and Be Nice To People”

This saying really has been my motto for quite some time. I remember moving to New Orleans in the fall of 2000 and hitting the streets hard, knocking on doors, looking for work. I had no idea what i was doing, but a few years went by and i became a little more comfortable and established in city. When Katrina came, that seemed to wash all that work away - but my ability to return fast to the city i loved to create in, AND continue good work, really helped my networking. You can use these tips as well and apply them to what you do - they really work for just about anything.

With My ZSP Photography Philosophy series i will try to relay some insights i have gained on photography, the business of photography, working with clients, and life in general. I hope you enjoy.

photo ©Zack Smith - "Seth Walker, 2014 St. Bernard"

Do Good Work 
Means what it means, but more specifically to always be true to your passion and your craft. Your interests will change as you learn more about yourself and your world. But what should not change is your truthful devotion to your art, your continual education as it pertains to your medium, market and message, and the strive for honest expectations.

Stick Around 
You need to know your surroundings before you can begin to tell it’s story. Anyone w/ a camera can take a pretty picture - but only someone with intimate knowledge of their subject and environment can move your soul. The more you know of a place, the more you are familiar with it and those that inhabit it and thus - the more they are familiar and trusting of YOU.

Be Nice To People - that’s pretty self explanatory. What goes around comes around really does hold true in life and especially in your market for whatever you do. Do all three of things things and good things will come to you.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Photos - Just the Tip's n Tricks!

Right around now i start getting a bunch of emails from people, former students, current students, all asking about "what kind of camera should i get for xmas", "what lens should i get", or "how can i take a better family photo at Christmas dinner". Well, this Blog's for You!

Stocking Stuffers

In the small window of December when the economy seems to get a little better and we start spending that saved money on new gear, we want to make it count. It's not often we have the extra money to buy new camera gear, or even have someone that WANTS To buy it for us! (must be nice)

1) My suggestion to you: sit down for about 10 minutes and Meditate on your Photographic Year. What were you high points? Low points? Do you remember when you "just couldn't get that shot", or "couldn't get close/wide enough"? Remembering these moments will help you figure out what you really need to get better photographs, not what WANT right now in this rare moment of purchase power.

2) Follow the Light! - like the Magi followed that Star, you may be lacking in the light department if you want to do ANY Christmas family portraits indoors. If you are shooting outdoors, you are probably fine when shooting during the day. But these short daylight days get shorter when lunch lasts 4 hours and all those damn TV timeouts stretch the noon game beyond sunset! Jeez!

Check out www.KEH.com and pickup a USED speed light that has a swivel and rotating head. The best way you will cover an entire room is to NOT use you pop up flash, but to light the whole room w/ your new speed light. Angle that puppy to the ceiling (if it's light/white colored) or bounce it behind you to the white window curtains to give you a good soft light coverage of your portrait.

3) Is it Prime Time? - I would say that if you can't find direction in the last two helpful hints, then it must be PRIME TIME! Ask yourself - "Self? (yes) what is my favorite Focal Length?" and you might answer..."i don't know...zoom?" NO! I suggest you check out your Metadata in Bridge or Lightroom and look at a group of your BEST photo shoots...then, look at the data to find out what Focal Length you:

- shot the most at
- selected the most at
- did final edits on

This will give you an idea of what your Favorite Focal length is...then, if you do not have a sharp prime version of this lens...go buy that! Example:

This is the metadata from my recent live music shoot. Looks like i hover around 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, and 200mm. This tells me i would benefit from 50mm, possibly and 85mm, or 100mm prime lens - giving me that maximum sharpness, and 2.8/1.8/1.4 possibility!!

If you have any more questions....let em fly!!!! it's open season! PULL!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Zack Smith Photography puts out 3 albums in 3 weeks!

Well, not really. But three album covers i produced and shot are coming out at the end of this year. I am very happy and proud of the work. Two of the albums were done by talented young New Olreans artists Alex Bosworth (amazing songwriter, voice, piano/guitar) and Andrew Block (in demand guitarist/session dude), and the other was done for season vet's Debbie Davis and Matt Perrine. I am so honored to have worked on them, and been able to create unique photographs that speak to these artists vision, and present them in a way they want to be seen. This is my favorite part of the job..

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I'ts Easy if You Try, Photographing Kids in the 3rd Wave

For years and years i would turn down photographing children. I didn't want to photograph them by themselves, or with their parents. The ideas of chasing a kid around a park, or someones living room, made me cringe and i would then "politely decline and recommend"...

Politely Decline and Recommend. Politely Decline and Recommend....what i was doing, was Accepting Defeat and Throwing Away Money.

So, what was it that i didn't like about photographing kids...control. I had no control over what they did, how they looked, if they stared at the camera or not. So if there were so many variables I could not CONTROL, right? I did this so often for so many years, i missed the "first wave" of friends with kids who wanted some photos from me...and the 2nd wave heard from the 1st wave that i "didn't shoot kids"...

But then the 3rd wave came, and this turned out to be My Wave...

I decided to reduce my variables all together:

Go to City Park (you WILL FIND a great background) Bring nothing that plugs in, takes batteries, or requires over 15 minutes of set up time.

I set up a 30x30" diffuser panel on a C-stand and dropped a 20lb shot bag (filled with rocks from City Park). My assistant Tamara bounced light back into the diffused area where the kids sat w/ an elliptical 5 in 1 on the Silver side.

Doing it this way allowed me to concentrate on my settings and the kids only. Not recycle time, color temp, shadows on the face - i let go of control and gained freedom in the end.

Canon 6D, 70-200mm 2.8 @ 2.8/200mm
allowed me to bring that moss in the background to just right degree of softness as to not distract from my subject. Here's a few i like, w/ minimal editing. 

Global Edits in ACR - +whites, +clarity, +contrast - Selective Adjustment Brush on Right Side of Face.

I added that last shot in to show another way to have freedom..just let the kid GO. After trying to corral them under the diffused light, all they wanted to do was move. And if we are trying to always capture someone in their natural state, in their best way...then we had to let em go.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Photographer, Teach Thyself!

Truer words could not have been said, but by whom? We've all heard it said "Physician Heal thyself", "Doctor, heal thyself"and we take it to mean just what is says, right? The doctor and physician's life is spent healing and curing everyone else, but little time is taken to look at his own life and fix what needs to be fixed. Over that last few weeks in my classes, that person who said that had been me...and i had finally begun to listen to what i had been saying...

As photographers we need to continually be learning ourselves, but more specifically as an educator, I, continually need to be teaching myself. Shit, even taking my own advice would work now and again. Over the last 12 or so years i have been teaching various courses in photography, i continue to echo the words "muscle memory" as it pertains to learning the features and functions and F-stops of an SLR. Little did i realize that the practice of "muscle memory" in any facet of life can yield positive outcomes.

Yesterday i gave my lecture in Portrait photography to my Intermediate DSLR class at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art. In this course we go over the many studio strobes, light modifiers, and tools used to get the most out of studio and location portrait photography -  (in 3 hours). Needless to say it's alot of information in a short amount of time, but i have gotten good at the Speed Round of Knowledge...lucky for my students there's a Power Point and a Dropbox link of the info in their inbox later in the week. It's a LONG day for me going over X-rite Color Checkers, Expo Discs, Light Meters, Modifiers (soft boxes, parabolic umbrellas, grids, and such...) and strobes in the 1st half of the day, then switching over to photograph one of the models' at the Academy, Annika. We use Natural Light, 1-Reflector and 2-Reflector lighting schemes, as well as 1 and 2 strobe setups indoor and out. Did i mention this is all in 3 hours?

Here's a little sampling of what we learn..in that short amount of time - the model is the talented Annika, and i am assisted by my students.



 Sunny 16 and More!

Diffusion + Strobes

Low Light/Night Portraits

What i continually learn at each of these classes is the basics of what i take for granted every time i set up an elaborate lighting scheme - i am reminded of the core basics of photography and what is so amazingly SIMPLE about achieve great photography. To me it seems so easy, but to the mind just learning and trying to wrap their heads around the technical and mechanical craziness to get to the creative freedom...it's got to be frustrating. So we go slow. We start at the beginning and layer knowledge each week - we do assignments based on that new knowledge and we critique each week. But just doing this is never enough - we need to create new Muscle Memory by shooting every day, or at least turning the damn camera on! Once the camera is learned, muscle memory takes over and the camera becomes an extension of your story telling abilities....

Over this last year, i have given around 5 photography workshops via Zack Smith Photography Worskhops (www.zspworkshops.com) covering many topics. NOLA at NIGHT is one of my flagship workshops as i have been teaching it since around 2002. I also do: Fashion Photography Portraits, Festival Photography, How to Shoot French Quarter Festival and Studio on the Geaux. Sign up for my mailing list by going to my workshop page and scrolling down - or just hit me up here. Thank you for all the continued support!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Shoot What You Love

"tv in ditch" 1997 baton rouge, one of my first negatives shot, and processed in my bathroom

Shoot What you Love has always been my motto in a sense for so many things. The reason i got into photography is because i started seeing things in my world that i could not write something to accurately capture it - the scene and experience had to be photographed. To be more accurate, i saw a TV in a ditch. Yes a TV, in a ditch. I saw the TV and it really hit home everything i was thinking that Fall of 1997. As the internet was just getting going, my already saturated mind was reeling from ADD medication and over stimuli of school and life, i saw the symbol i was searching for that said to me "ditch what you know, and begin your journey"...so i did....but that's a different story.

Today's story reflects on the best way to become comfortable with learning a camera and having that camera be an extension of your creativity in the way thoughts process words, and mouths scream its command...

"Shoot What You Love" is something i always say to my students when they hit the wall, and are having trouble finding inspiration. As you may know, you will NEVER learn how to use the camera in a creative way if you learn on subject matter you have no emotional connection to. It's the truth! You must find what you know the best in this world, what you treasure most, and SHOOT IT!

I have been following that adage since DAY 1, learning my cameras and myself by following what i love to do - music, people, travel, experience. This journey has brought me to where i am now - and i find that journey now turning to a greater, more important photographic and creative experience. I have been developing projects now that tell stories on such a large level that it's hard to keep up...but i do....

I am happy that i have stuck with what i have been teaching for my own self..because i have to admit i do stray from my own teachings especially when it comes to INTENTION IN COMPOSITION and  PURPOSE IN PRESENTATION...

i find myself sometimes shooting for the JOB...and not the WALL. I have noticed this when i have taken on jobs that i will absolutely NEVER print..and i begin to approach them differently..disregarding high ISO's, putting on too much Clarity...but the Client loves the image. So, is what i am doing wrong? Have i strayed from doing shoots of things i do not love, for the money? In a way yes - but i have justified doing those $ jobs to fun the BIGGER PICTURE that continues me on the journey of Shoot What you Love as i continue to tell my story....

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Do what you love and never work...

You've heard that old adage before right?

"Do what you love and never work a day in your life?"

Yea, it make sense on some levels, but when you do what you love for a living, don't you have to work hard at it to get to the level you need to be so that it doesn't feel like work...it's just you getting better at what you do? I feel that. I know you do too, if you are nodding your head right now.

Today was a good day. The house is clean, i got some good emails, and i got to see a few cross sections of good friends all at once. I went to my friend Veronica Russel's memorial send off, 2nd line, what have you at One Eyed Jacks tonight. V did so many things in her life with PASSION, she did them so well because she LOVED what she did...and that showed in the quality of her acting, the fierceness of her rollerblading/ass-kicking, the avant-ness of her "Noise", and the attention to historical detail of her clothing. She had to work to get to to where she was, and she continued to work hard. Miss you much.

Here's to working hard at loving what you do.  you gotta love that...


Ricky Monie, Ronnie Numbers, Preservation Hall band, and Johnny T.."working" and "loving"