Fierce Red-Head Mountain Top Shoot (free video!)

Creating the image in your mind is never easy, but today I will show you how to make it possible using flash and just how easy it can really be! This past fall, I ventured out to Colorado to work with a really cool lighting company called Westcott. They hired me to go into some crazy locations and show off the power of their lighting modifiers and what they can do. We shot a whole bunch of videos that I will share with you all for FREE, and one of them was with their fierce red-head on top of a mountain. We headed up to this sweet location where the trees broke open and allowed us to see the landscape of Colorado in the background. The issue was: The natural light was terrible! At that time of day, with our subject placed where we could see the beautiful mountains in the background, the light was basically unusable without some serious diffusion panels and reflectors to help. What I LOVE about using flash, is that I can create incredible images no matter what the ambient light is doing. Then, when we ALSO have great ambient light, I can make an image that is crazy cool. Step 1 First thing I did was simply put a flash in a SIMILAR position as the sun light (in this case to camera left). Step 2 I placed the center of that light (my Elinchrom Ranger AS Speed) with the attached Rapid Box XXL from Westcott on it slightly above the center of her eye line. Placing in at this height is CRITICAL to the catch light... Read More

Does “Diffusion” Actually Soften Light?

“Soft light is a thing of beauty in photography – finding it is the real trick.” -Zach Gray There is some information in the photography world that says diffusion can make your flash images look better by “softening” the light. Today we are going to explore this and see if it is true or false. When we first started shooting, the first thing we bought was a Canon 580ex speedlight so we could light our subjects at dark receptions. The issue with that light was if we pointed it directly at our subject, or even moved it off-camera and pointed it at our subject, we would get lots of contrast and “hard” lighting on our subjects. Hard lighting is caused by having a small light source and the result is having “specular highlights” or bright spots right next to dark spots that create lots of contrast. You can see when you use a small light source like the one used above, that you get a very defined line from highlight to shadow, and the skin can look worse than it really is. There are some hot spots on the right side of the frame and you can see that “specularity” we mention earlier.  This lighting is not right or wrong, but it definitely is not forgiving when not used just right. Does Diffusion Really Solve this Problem and make light softer?  Early on, we got sold on this idea that if you added “diffusion” (or something that evened out the light coming from our flash), we could then get soft light. The myth here is that there is only a partial truth in that.... Read More

The Night My House Burned Down | Part III

“Thoughts create beliefs in the conscious mind; once sent to the subconscious, those beliefs become feelings and actions. If your subconscious computes that you will likely succeed at something, it brings all your powers to bear to make it come true. If it computes that you’ll fail, it will generate behavior to make that come true–that’s what it means to be self-destructive.” -Tim Sanders, Today We Are Rich It has taken me years to get the courage to write part 1 of this series (and even longer to access the tools to make it a reality in my life). I have mulled over writing part 3 of this series for weeks now, and the reason is that truthfully, I was afraid to write it. Afraid that you all might think we should be talking about marketing strategy, or off-camera lighting instead of vulnerability, trauma, and how to change our core belief systems. But today I am stepping into those fears and writing what we know we need to send you regardless of that fear, and if you don’t want to read it, that’s totally fine! We have a great shooting and marketing piece coming your way soon enough. Fear causes people to freeze and to not act, and fear typically is a symptom of shame in my life. Shame that someone will not like what we say, or not like who we are, or not like the direction we are headed. But that is OK. Shame, fear and the controls we put into place to manage them are NOT something we want in our lives anymore! Welcome to part... Read More

The Night My House Burned Down | Part II

Last week’s email really struck a chord with many of you. We received over 150 emails, and some of you shared heart-breaking stories of pain, feelings of defeat, struggle, hope, joy and gladness. We want to say thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time to share. No one is perfect, and we all have our own stuff to deal with and hurdles to overcome, regardless of how perfect things may seem from the outside. We hope to continue to be a voice that has meaning in your lives and speaks truth. Last week I (Zach) covered how I developed a mind-set of powerlessness. This week we are going to dive deeper into that mind-set and show you how to recognize it, and once you expose it to the light, work through the steps to defeat it in order to create a life that is limitless. “Powerlessness is one of the primary effects of poverty.” Danny Silk, Culture of Honor Winning in life or business is dependent on exposing the lies we have believed, and bringing truth into our minds and hearts. When we do that, we open our self up to the limitless possibilities of what we can do when we believe that anything is possible. Let’s get started. Poverty is infectious. I am not talking about money, influence or how much stuff you have. I am talking about an impoverished mind. Thinking this way is dangerous, destructive and holds many people down. Today I want to lift you UP and show you that poverty does not have to overtake you. Once I was exposed to the truth of how I thought,... Read More

The night my house burned to the ground…

It was 1985 and I was sound asleep in bed at 4am. I woke up to the fire alarm and I (Zach) remember thinking at that young age, “Man, mom is cooking again…” and I went back to sleep. But my house WAS on fire. My mother woke me and my 3 siblings (Gabriel, Abigail and Sarah) and we gathered in the living room where flames were running up the wall. We sat on the couch and watched the reflection of the fire on our TV while we waiting for everyone to group up. We ran out of the house wearing nothing but our winter boots and pajamas as fire blew the windows out behind us when we opened the back door. We just escaped with our lives. I was 6 years old, and my dad was not there. My dad had left my mother and us 4 kids the year before, and now here we were alone in the dark of that 4am Northern, MN winter, and we had lost everything. It all went up in flames. And from that day on I felt like my childhood did as well. That was the first of many traumas in my life over the next decade that included abuse, neglect, and a max of a 3rd grade education that caused me to believe one thing… I am Powerless over my Fate. And this is what I begin speaking to myself internally for many years to come. This became who I was and who I told myself I was destined to be. But the story doesn’t end there. After spending 10... Read More

Video | Behind the Scenes with the George Twins!

I finally can post up the video of the shoot we did last fall of the  George Twins! I shot their promo material for their YouTube Channel and their marketing and some of their recent videos have gotten up to 4.5 million views! These guys are about to explode and I am so stoked I got to shoot them early on! I just wrapped a second shoot of them last week and have more videos coming with some cool behind the scenes teaching you how I did it all! Check out the behind the scenes video at link below, and while you are there, follow our Youtube channel for more videos that will give your brand a kick in the pants! CLICK HERE to see the video! PS. Are you interested in learning more studio lighting techniques? Check out our RAW DVD for only... Read More

…and the point is??

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What in the world am I doing here and why am I doing this?” “There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” -Greg Mckeown, Essentialism What am I focused on? As I (Zach) was on a four hour flight from Nashville to Las Vagas for WPPI two weeks ago, I was reading Essentialism by Greg Mckeown. In his book he asks, “What is your highest point of contribution?” … In essence he’s asking, “What is the one thing that actually matters more in your life and business?” When I took a moment to answer this question something very interesting happened to me… I had no answer. I sat for about 30 minutes pondering what my highest point of contribution was in our business. Still, I didn’t know what it was. Jody and I were headed out to the biggest wedding and portrait convention in the USA to teach, speak, lead workshops and connect with the people and companies that we work with, and this question kept nagging me… WHY are we here and WHAT are we doing this for?  Do you ever find yourself asking that question? Spread too thin Oftentimes our lives are so busy just trying to stay afloat with our shoots, clients, spouse, kids, grocery runs, managing the books, cleaning, and just LIFE that it’s hard to have time to focus on what’s really important. Sometimes we... Read More

George Twins Promo Shoot #2

This is my (Zach’s) second time working with the amazing George Twins. I shot all of their promo work for their Youtube channel back in 2014 and am proud that I got to be on the team! One of their recent videos even hit over 2.4 million views!   Here is some of the work that I did for the continuing promo. This year they are putting out 12 singles, one each month, of new originals and covers and will use some of these images for that as well as Youtube. I also shot video of the entire shoot, and am cutting together some really cool behind the scenes for anyone wanting to know exactly how I shot this!... Read More

Reciprocity & Why you Need some NOW!

    When we first got married we read a book called The Most Important Year, and one of the chapters was called the “Yes Spiral.” It taught us that if I (Zach) said yes to 99% of Jody’s requests (even if they were inconvenient), that she would want to say yes to more of the things I asked of her. Simple, yet powerful. This is called Reciprocity. The idea that if I do something for you, then you feel obligated to do something for me and the cycle repeats. (Tweet this message out to your network!) You NEED this bad right now in your business. You need to be trying to out-serve the community that you are in. If you are shooting weddings, find out what wedding planners need and offer it to them. If you work with venues in your area, find out what they need and offer it to them TODAY! Don’t wait! Everyone has some needs that overlap, like being appreciated, loved and made to feel important. Use social media, coffee and dinner hang outs to reinforce this need in others. This is how we initially built our brand and trust us, it works. This is Chris and Kira from Chris Willis Photography who drove 4 hours round trip on Saturday to come and help me (Zach) with my George Twins shoot. Why did they come all that way to help me for free? Reciprocity. They follow our online content that we give away, and wanted to come and give back. I then decided to give more and had lunch with them and we talked about business and personal stuff and I am... Read More

Early Bird Savings of $200 expires TODAY at Noon CST!

There are only a few remaining seats left to our Nashville Spring workshops! Do not wait to snag your spot to revolutionize your shooting and business! Below are the remaining seats! 1st Weekend V.I.P, Sat-Tuesday: SOLD OUT Sunday, May 3rd | IN-CAMERA: Shooting: SOLD OUT Monday, May 4th | IN-CAMERA: Light: SOLD OUT Tuesday, May 5th | Business & Marketing: Limited Seats Remaining Register NOW for the 1st weekend. (Payment plans available!) 2nd Weekend V.I.P, Sat-Tuesday: SOLD OUT Sunday, May 17th | IN-CAMERA: Shooting: 3 seats remaining Monday, May 18th | IN-CAMERA: Light: SOLD OUT Tuesday, May 19th | Business & Marketing: Seats Remaining Register NOW for the 2nd weekend.  (Payment plans available!) For more specific information on each class, visit this blog... Read More

6 keys to Accomplishing More in Less Time

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” Elbert Hubbard After 8 years of working in the same room with my incredibly talented wife, something interesting happened. She moved. Now, she didn’t move out of the house or anything, just to her own office down the hall. It didn’t happen because she was annoyed with me (well…. maybe a little), and not beacause we don’t communicate well. We just needed a little extra space, and because we have the room in our new house, we did it. What it reminded me of was something more important about work space that we wanted to share with you all. Having a focused space for work is critical to getting tasks accomplished and having your time spent working be effective. Here are the 6 keys to accomplishing more in less time. 1. Get a door. If you have to hang a sheet up in your living room to clearly define your working space, clean out a bedroom that is not being used, or rent some cheap office space, you NEED a private place to do work. When you go in, you work, and when you leave, you are done working. Create that separation and you will get more things done in a shorter amount of time. 2. Eat & Read each morning.  My goal is to spend 10-15 minutes reading something that nourishes my mind and soul, and to eat well each morning. Every other day my goal is to spend 10 minutes working out using Burst Training... Read More

The Wedding of Rebecca & Ross | Canada

Ross & Rebecca, along with daughter Alyssa, were a joy to work with in Canada this past weekend.  Ross is a film landscape shooter and Rebecca is a wedding photographer and their wedding (and bridal party) was a blast!   Below is a highlight of the day and some of my favorite parts!   We shot a family session the day before the wedding at a stunning park that had some sick fall leaves and we shot film and digital for this session.   The wedding day itself was a tricky one with on and off rain and some tough shooting situations, but our job as photographers is to make great images no matter what, and the day turned out great!!   I (Zach) shot this wedding with my good friend and great photographer Matt Britton who rocked it with me!     My second shooter Matt rocking the off-camera light!   Congrats you two! Can’t wait to hang again soon (maybe at... Read More

IN-THE-RAW Video Teaching Series

We have just released the brand new In the Raw Video Series!       Why In the Raw?   – How to shoot more creative portraits – Using Multiple Lights indoors – Ground Glass photography for in-camera effects – Full Post-Production workflow for the entire shoot including Photoshop enhancement of images ….. Much much more! GUESSING IS FRUSTRATING How did they do that?? How many times have you seen an image from a photographer wondering how in the world they were able to capture that? What gear did they use? How did they shoot it? What were their camera settings? What post processing was done to the image? It’s so frustrating having to guess at all those unknowns.   WE ALL START SOMEWHERE When I (Zach) was trying to learn more about creative lighting and portraiture I was devouring any resource that I could – from books to blogs – you name it (and no, at that time big, online teaching resources were non-existent). I found it so hard to get detailed instructions on how to shoot creative lighting images, and was frustrated not knowing all the nitty-gritty details of how to specifically do it.   I DID THE HARD WORK After reading and watching whatever content was available, I went out, I spent hours practicing, and had a LOT of trial and error refining these techniques on my own. I finally was able to get my creative portraiture to a skill and level that I was proud of, and I knew exactly what I was doing. I could now take the knowledge I knew and add it... Read More

Creative Portraiture| Andy Davis, Part II

Welcome to Part II of the Andy Davis creative portraiture shoot!  If you want to read up on part 1, you can do that HERE. This is the first shoot featured on our brand new, about to release In the Raw video teaching series. For those of you who may have missed what In the Raw is, it’s where I (Zach), bring you along to creative shoots I have and I share how I execute the shoot from all aspects including gear, client interaction, lighting, editing and more. These shoots are rough and raw and I’m excited to share them! This video series does not kick off until Tuesday, August 19th so in the meantime, enjoy Part II of Andy’s shoot! Today we are going to break down one of the crazier shots that I did for this shoot.   This image, believe it or not, was shot this way in the camera using what is called a “ground glass” technique. Ground glass is the glass that you looked through on old Twin Lens Reflex style cameras (and many others).   You can pick up old cameras that don’t even work for a few bucks and what we are after is NOT the cameras ability to shoot, but what it looks like when you look into the optics before you shoot. Those optics can give you all kinds of cool effects and looks for your finals shot. In the below image, you can see part of the twin reflex cameras optics.   This is what you would see if you were looking down through the optics of the old... Read More

Creative Portraiture | Andy Davis, Part I

We are starting a new video teaching series for you guys called In the RAW! This series is brought to you by Zach where he brings you along to creative shoots he has and you get to learn how he executes the shoot from all aspects including gear, client interaction, lighting, editing and more. This video series does not kick off until Tuesday, August 19th so in the meantime, we wanted to share with you the first shoot that will be featured in this series. Enjoy! – Zach & Jody PS. Let us know by your comments if you are diggin’ the content and videos (yup, we said videos! Stay tuned for more info). If you love it then we’ll keep them coming! In the Raw Andy Davis | Artist Shoot, Part I Over this In the Raw 2-part series, I am going to break down some of the studio and on-location set-ups for my shoot with musician Andy Davis who plays guitar for The Band Perry. Andy asked me to shoot his upcoming album release images and I was excited to work on something creative and fun with him, and here are the results and breakdowns of parts of the shoot! For part 1, I will walk you guys through the lighting set-up for the pallet wall part of the shoot which was one of Andy’s favorite set-ups of the day. The entire shoot except for my outdoor shots, were all taken at Westlight Studios in Franklin, TN where I live. They have all these amazing backdrops, props and walls that I used for the shoot which made... Read More

Gear Review – Fuji x100s

 (This is a fairly long review, so get ready)! Jody and I drove a few thousand miles over the last 2 weeks on a trip to visit my side of the family (more on that trip coming!), and our son, Jax would be meeting family he had never seen and because we would have some new memories coming our way, we wanted to be sure we were able to capture those moments. We have a decent little Canon point and shoot that we spent about $400 on a few years back, but the high ISO is bad and the camera is very slow in every way. We also have our iPhones, but as many of you may know, iPhone images are great if you look at them on an iPhone. If you try and print them or blow them up in any way, they tend to look pretty rough. So what is the solution for a photographer to take great images and have control over their personal photos, without having to use our HUGE dSLR cameras and dealing with switching lenses? We have always wanted a camera that was compact (but not too small) that takes awesome quality shots, is fast and can handle varying lighting conditions on manual and auto. The Fuji Hype   Before buying something like this, I ALWAYS rent it to make sure it lives up to the hype, so I rented this bad boy from my good friends over at Lens Rentals who have been awesome to work with! The Fuji x100s has been hyped up a lot since the intro of the x100 in 2011.... Read More

How to create a Painterly Effect on your Images

I (Zach) have been asked a few times why some of my images or backgrounds have a painted look and how I create that effect. Today, I am going to show you how to do it. The Artists Just 3 days ago, I photographed the Matt & Ben from Likewise near my house in Franklin, TN. We are updating their promo shots and  getting them a cover shot for a new single. We had a stellar day with some blue skies and some nice clouds, and even though the direction of the shoot was not necessarily that style, we wanted to capture a few images of it all. Sometimes you want to go in one direction for a shoot, but something else you do ends up being the favorite from the day. Getting the Painted Look We then headed to this spot that had a nice open view of the afternoon sky and set up. The reason that the images have a “painted” look, is 3 fold which I will break down for you.   Key 1. Large Light Source (image of the 59 inch Zeppelin Modifier used for this shoot to give you an idea of the size) Many of you know this and we preach it all the time, but the larger the light source the softer the light. What I sometimes forget to mention, is that large, soft light looks like it is Painted On to your subject because of the way it creates beautiful (soft) transitions between highlight and shadow. Small light sources create much harsher shadow lines and therefore looks much more “flashy” and a lot less painted.... Read More

How to achieve ultra-soft lighting with flash

There is nothing more beautiful than some buttery natural light at just the right time of day. But what if you want to get that ultra-soft looking light when using flash? Many times flash can look, well, “flashy.” But, if we really know how to finess it and move that light to the right position, we can truly get some very soft light that looks incredible. We have starting using what is called Feathering, in order to make any light modifier (large or small) look softer that it normally does. We do this by moving the light off-center so it is not directly pointing at our subject. When you do this, you help even out the light (since light tends to be strongest in the center of most light sources), and the results can be stunning. In the video below that we shot with our friends over at Westcott Lighting, you will notice that instead of shooting the light straight at her and above (glamour lighting) I tilted the light so it was almost pointing downward to the floor, then moved the light slightly in front of her so just the very edge of the light source was hitting her. When done properly, this evens out the light source and lets just the ultra soft edging of the light hit and light her face.   Check out the video below which showcases just how we accomplished this lighting! Light pointing down and slightly in front of our subject. with reflector underneath (Clam Shell Lighting) No reflector underneath.   To see another example of what else  light feathering can do, check... Read More

3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits

What if you could use the lighting gear that is probably already in your camera bag to shoot incredible lit shots of your couple’s that LOOK LIKE you used studio strobes? You can!     On Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks we will show you the 3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits that look like you had large studio strobes on your shot!   1. Modifiers: When you use the RIGHT modifier for your speedlights, you can create stunning portraits with minimal amounts of gear. The MAIN light is the most important one because it will give the majority of the light to your subjects face and body. We have been using the Westcott Rapid box for speedlights because it does a few things REALLY well. It is EASY and Fast to set up (pops open like an umbrella). It is very light weight which is great for not adding sweat to your already long days shooting. The QUALITY of the light is outstanding! The reason the light is so good, is because the Rapid Box does a great job of spreading the light out evenly when it comes out the front of the box and therefore creates ultra soft, buttery light which looks great on anyone! The other two modifiers on this shot (which are not necessary to use, but fun to have in the shot), are two Westcott Rapid Box strip banks. 2. Control (Ambient Light Only) Control over your modifier and Speedlight POWER is critical to making the images work for your style. For the style of this shot, we wanted it to look more like we were... Read More

4 easy tips so your spouse won’t drive you CRAZY!

For the next 4 weeks we will be answering your TOP questions here every single Tuesday! -Working as a Team- David Whikehart from Asked: “My wife and I work as a team – as you do. I’d be interested to know how you divide up your workload at a wedding. This can sometimes be a source of friction between my wife and I.”   Great question David! What Jody and I do, is try and tag team the entire day together. The most important thing we can do is be on the same team throughout a wedding as it is stressful work. Working with a spouse is NOT like working with a second shooter or assistant, and if one of you treats the other as such, your job is gonna pretty much suck! Believe it or not, our main purpose at a wedding is not to get great images, but rather to have fun with each other. When Jody and I are enjoying what we do and working together as a team, we feel inspired, and when we’re inspired, that is when we do our best work and end up taking great images (which of course IS the primary goal!). Friction in a marriage is normal and a good thing. My old pastor said that marriage is like taking two rough stones, putting them in a bag and shaking it. Eventually they make each other smooth, but the process is not always easy and sometimes hurts. So Jody and I want to spend our time challenging each other in ways that can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable, like... Read More

Artist Album Cover Shoot |Lainey Wright

We photographed new recording Artist Lainey Wright awhile back and are stoked to share not only the images with you, but some behind the scenes shots and set ups as well! Check out the shoot! We started off shooting in the amazing Westlight Studio in Franklin, TN which has some awesome set-ups and gear for any type of photo and even some video work! Check them out if you’re interested in a rental and tell them we sent you. Here is the set-up of this series of images. I loved the natural light coming through the windows, and after our direction meeting with the artist, we knew that she wanted a softer look to the shots. So, with that in mind, we intentionally slowed the shutter down to drag some of that natural light in and wrap around Lainey to give it that soft airy look. We also have a large, 39 inch Deep Octo light modifier from Elinchrom as our main light pictured to the left, and two 40 degree grid back lights for separation. We decided to do one contrasty lit shot on this background, even though I knew she wanted that soft look to the shots. She ended up picking one of these images, so we are glad we did it! We set up a 22 inch silver soft Beauty Light which gives a very directional light that is ultra soft when used in close. We then added a 40 degree grid to the background light and the kicker light pictured to camera right in the behind the scenes shot. We dropped the kicker light -1 stop lower... Read More

Friday Finds | Color Calibration

The Spyder 4 Elite is what we use to calibrate all of our monitors in our studio to ensure that what we see on the screen, is what we will get back in print. Calibrating your monitor is an absolute necessity if you want to make sure your bride and groom’s faces don’t end up orange in their album. :) The Spyder 4 Elite is really versatile and can tweak any monitor you have including your laptop, your iPhone or even the flat screen TV you use for showcasing images to your clients at in-home sales sessions! All you do is download the software, place the Spyder over your screen, and it shoots out and array of colors and contrast settings and then reads it, tweaks it and streamlines your color, brightness and contrast. It is amazing! If you have never calibrated your monitor, when you first do this, it can freak you out since everything might look way different. But just remember, it always looked that way, you just didn’t realize it. :) A few things to keep in mind when it comes to color calibration and editing: Laptops screens for the most part can never really be calibrated as they are not able to accurately show colors, contrast ratios and are not designed for editing. They also can shift their color in a matter of days or weeks and need to constantly be re-calibrated just to be in the ballpark (and many can’t even be adjusted to any real accuracy at all). If you are in the habit of heading to your favorite coffee shop with your laptop to adjust color and tweak... Read More

Promo Shoot Fashion Lighting

We had the awesome fun of shooting Stephen Knuth & Scarlett Lillian‘s promo material for their new blog site back in April, and now we wanted to take you through a few of the images and show you exactly how we did some of the more advanced off-camera lighting techniques that we used. You ready? Here we go! Today we are going to show you exactly how we pulled this shot off in Jacksonville, Florida while shooting this promo. We shot a lot of cool shots in a local restaurant that had a really cool vibe, then headed back toward the Knuth’s place for the last set-up. On the way, we spotted this really cool metal door behind an old abandoned building, so we headed over to check it out. This area was in the shade from the hot sun, and some light was bouncing off the sky and coming back into this open shaded area. I (Zach) knew that the in-direct sun that was coming into this area would act as a great fill-light (to fill in any shadows that we would create with the flashes), so we decided to shoot it. That is the exciting thing about flash photography, is even though the lighting here was nothing too killer, we could shape and create a look with our flashes and make it look really cool! Here is the set up. The natural light, as you can see in the above shot, was metered at F/5, ISO 50 at 1/100th of a second. So, in order to pull of the shot, all we really had to do was... Read More