I Saw This Five Miles Away ::

June 23, 2010 | • Discussion • Workshop

I saw this picture five miles away. I knew exactly what it would look like…

Five miles away.

Tonight we had what we have been referring to as the “OneGuy” workshop. Some of you may remember that Meg and I got stuck in Italy thanks to the Ksadf;ljasdflkjsdikill volcano in Iceland. Because we were stranded there for an extra six days we had to cancel a OneLight workshop. That was a mess.

One of the guys who signed up for that workshop wrote to us and said that if he could just come in for an evening one on one session that would be good. He needed some specific answers to some specific questions. Since we had to cancel the workshop we were willing to do whatever we could to accommodate his request. So tonight, we had a OneGuy workshop. Well, that’s not completely true, OneLight alum Perry came by to hang out as well. Perry brought Lauren. Lauren was our subject for the evening.

So we worked inside a bit and then got in a few cars to head out on location. I had one specific spot in mind with a great east facing shooting position with a nice big view of the sky. I love sky shots. I just do. Anyway… As we pulled out I looked to the West and the most brilliant cloud formations were popping up. The sky to the East was blank. Nothing. Not a single cloud. My mind started going through all the west facing locations that I knew of that were in close proximity to the studio because we were losing light and I had to get those clouds.

My mind was racing and as cliché as it may seem for Atlanta, the only spot I knew where I could get those clouds in a shot and get there in time was the Jackson St. bridge. It is “the” ATL skyline shooting position. I can’t tell you how many hip hop videos have been shot on that bridge or how many photo shoots you can see on any given day happening there. Heck, when we rolled up there was an engagement session being shot there.

… But I saw this picture. I looked at the clouds. I saw the frame they were making in the sky. I knew if I dropped down a bit with my 35mm lens I could place Lauren right smack dab in the middle of them and the exposure of the sky was to the point that I should be able to pull this off at f2.8 and a decent shutter of 250th or 125th. I knew I wanted f2.8 so that the clouds would go out of focus. I knew my 35mm lens would hold enough depth of field to see the texture of the clouds but not be too sharp. I knew the location and I knew I could not only frame her within the clouds but within a few buildings in the skyline. I knew exactly what this frame was going to look like while I was still driving down the street.

I’m not trying to show off. I’m not trying to act like a photo ninja. I’m trying to drive home the point that IF you know your gear you can pre-visualize the pictures you want to make. You can be driving to a location knowing exactly which lens you are going to grab, which modifier you want, and what the basic idea of exposure should be. How do you come to this intimate knowledge of your gear, your light, and your exposure? How?

By shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, and shooting some more.

If you aren’t actively working with your gear and shooting pictures on a regular basis then you aren’t learning and you aren’t growing and you’ll never get very far with your craft. Plain and simple.

I quit my day job 6.5 years ago to become a full time photographer. I’d say I hit this level of comfort with my gear, my light, and my exposure in the last year or so. Let’s just say it took five years of shooting two to four jobs a week to get there.

The photo above isn’t the best shot I’ve ever taken but it is exactly how I knew it would look when I was still five miles away from the spot.

How much are you shooting? Enough or do you need to be getting out there some more? I’m not shooting enough. Yes I can nail this shot but the next shots in my mind… I don’t know how I’m going to approach those yet. I still have a lot to learn.

Cheers, Zack


  • Rod Leland said on June 23, 2010

    Awesome Frame, Zack. I always tell people that “The closer I get to what I see in my head, the better the photo will be.” Right on! What was the source for this? Looks softer than a BD, the go-to Wescott Softbox?

  • zack said on June 23, 2010

    Rod – It was a Nikon SB-80dx in a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox.


  • Amanda said on June 23, 2010

    This is amazing!!! I’m finding that it’s becoming easier to visualize the shot before it happens, the more I get out and shoot! You are sooooo right about this!!!

    I am doing a photo walk next month at night and I have this exact picture in my head of what I want to do. It’s very similar to yours!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Nancy Lehrer said on June 23, 2010

    Thanks for the post. Verifies the old musician’s joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice”.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Tim Harman said on June 23, 2010

    gorgeous shot man.

  • Robin Sarac said on June 23, 2010

    Damn, you make it hard for a guy to use tried and true excuses, Zack. 😉

    Will shoot tomorrow evening right after work.

  • Elise Rusk said on June 23, 2010

    Another aha moment. Thank you so much.

  • Matt Stevens said on June 23, 2010

    Zack, great photo and post as always. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, reaching the point lately where I’ve stopped taking photos, fearing the outcome. Your videos and posts have been an inspiration for me to get my butt in gear. It’s time for me to shoot, shoot, shoot. Thanks!

  • Phat Photographer said on June 23, 2010

    Pretty sure I could write a post where I saw the shot, got my camera and lighting in place and the toddler dashed off… (I do children’s photography)

  • Whitney Ward said on June 23, 2010

    Thank you SO much for sharing your passion with the rest of us, you are AMAZING Zack! =)

  • Martin said on June 23, 2010

    i love this kind of posts zack, nicely done.

  • Mandie said on June 23, 2010

    Amazing. Yup, knowing the equipment is where it’s at… I’m still learning a lot, but after 14 years of shooting in manual it’s getting more intuitive each shoot. Shoot shoot shoot! Gorgeous models don’t hurt the shot, either, he he…

    Absolutely beautiful, Zack.

  • Thomas said on June 23, 2010

    So true about shooting everyday. I’m thinking about doing Project 365. But after reading your last post on dedpxl “Pwned”, I’m a little apprehensive.

  • numbeos said on June 23, 2010

    Nice post Zack..Got mine “bees” recently and trying to learn what I have by shooting and shooting…

  • Niels and Everlien said on June 23, 2010

    Great shot Zack. Thumbs up!

  • Justin Trapp said on June 23, 2010

    Hey Dude, side note, I still cannot watch the creative lice download i purchased for your sessions. I have emailed them twice with no response. Do you have a contact I can get in touch with???

  • Justin Trapp said on June 23, 2010

    Creative Lice? haha creative live

  • Ben I said on June 23, 2010

    You F*CKING rock!
    Your advise and gentle kicks in the ass are awesome.

  • Robert Lowry said on June 23, 2010

    Nice one. I guessed a 33″ shoot through (falloff looked steeper on my monitor), hotshoe strobe @ 1\2 pwr, iso 200, at 1\200th sec. and the afore mentioned f2.8.

    I was close :)

    thx again Zack for the Creative Live workshop.

  • Michelle said on June 23, 2010

    Thanks for the reminder. Great story. :) You inspire us!

  • Mart said on June 23, 2010

    Dude, as ever you get to the point with no BS around. I dont shoot enough of late. You know the old excuse to much of the day job etc, etc. Well enough of that. I have just called friends and organised a shoot tonight. Thanks for the kick up the but once again.

  • Marshall said on June 23, 2010

    I need to hear this. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Practice, practice, practice. GOYA. By the way, the watermark’s dope.

  • Justine Armil Cardell So said on June 23, 2010

    I’ve been following your work and your my idol. I want to become just like you. And like you always say “We gotta start somewhere”, well I’ll start by growing a beard. Hehehe. Kidding aside, I’m almost there. Hehehe.

    Keep up the good work Zack. Continue inspiring us.

  • Kevin Wrenn Photography said on June 23, 2010

    Great photo Zack and great post all around!

  • Kate Hailey said on June 23, 2010

    Zack, I agree, just like many things in life, the more we do them, the more we learn, become comfortable and things just kind of fall into place, it’s second nature.

    I’m on the path and things are getting clearer.

    Thanks for sharing, as usual! :)

  • Mark said on June 23, 2010

    I’d love to shoot more, but I’m a shut-in.

  • Fortunatas said on June 23, 2010

    Thanks, Zarias! I do follow your advise that’s why I started 365 photos per 365 days project.

  • Ned said on June 23, 2010

    The more I shoot the more I realize that shooting is the ONLY way to learn. Every single time I shoot I learn something new. Just last night I was shooting shore birds in flight in rapidly falling light and I realized how comfortable I was managing many variables at once to ensure I got the shot. Not that many years back I would have whiffed it by not reacting quickly enough.
    Whenever people ask how I learned photography it really boils down to the one word answer…shoot…not the answer most are looking for…

  • A Whites Photography said on June 23, 2010


    Spectacular shot. Framing, Skintone, lighting..Perfect.

    I shoot as muchs as I can but I still have the one problem…the misses complaining about not makng any money while doing free work.

    But I still learn my gear and settings more and more everyday. Thanks for sharing this photo and story with all of us.

  • Howard Haby said on June 23, 2010

    Great photograph!! When I first saw it, I was thinking it was the same location as the one you got kicked out of on your Onelight DVD, except I think that was on top of an are college. Anyway, nice work.

  • Howard Haby said on June 23, 2010

    Oops… art college I meant to say.

  • Tim Skipper said on June 23, 2010

    Zack as always your work is amazing. I am somewhat the same way. I see images in my head way ahead of time. The difference is sometimes I get it right, sometimes it has to go back to the black board.

    You know I’m like four hours southwest of you. One day I’m going to have to come to Atlanta just so I can hang with you and absorb some of your greatness.

  • Steve G said on June 23, 2010

    Amazing work as always Zack! I need to be shooting more period. Thank you for the post and inspiration!

  • bryan karl lathrop said on June 23, 2010

    gorgeous. epic the way the clouds frame her.

  • Heinz Schmidt said on June 23, 2010

    Great shot mate! Love the effect the lighting has on the colors in the shot… and with a speedlight! Awesome!

  • adam said on June 23, 2010

    i’m a lurker and usually don’t comment, but this is probably the most beautiful shot i’ve seen here. love it!

  • Dan Kaufman said on June 23, 2010

    Ditto Zack. I can agree fully with the “Practice makes Perfect” dictum; and will add to that you’ve got to make mistakes to really know what you’r doing. “Mistakes” show us the limits.

  • joe said on June 23, 2010

    Love the shot! One light in a small box??

  • ardean said on June 23, 2010

    that is my current plan of attache – just shoot – as much as I can. Yes I’d love to make money [actually, I’m broke and have no job as of June 30], but regardless, I’m booking as many shoots as i can with models on a trade basis so I can just shoot, learn and build :-)

  • ardean said on June 23, 2010

    okay, that was supposed to say ‘attack’ and not attache. I swear, I’m getting old, cause I’m swapping words like that, like no one bizness :-)

  • Baker said on June 23, 2010

    This shot is stunning…appreciate your thoughts (genius). Thanks.

  • Kimberley said on June 23, 2010

    Thanks Zack for sharing that… You have hit the nail on the head on what has been a big “personal” issue with myself and the frustrations I face when trying to get a specific shot. Almost 1 year in and it is what I am doing..:) Shooting shooting shooting. Thanks for the encouraged reminder, that it just takes time..

  • Surly said on June 23, 2010

    Zack – relative to this post, I can’t decide if I should ask you to read my latest blog post. I guess I just did. http://tinyurl.com/2eqzzsa

  • Ari said on June 23, 2010

    I love that feeling of nailing a shot. It’s like catching up with your future self, where everything comes together.

  • zack said on June 23, 2010

    That’s a great way of putting it Ari.


  • Larry B said on June 23, 2010

    I shoot far too little and spend waaaay too much time “learning” from videos. (Photography is not my job BTW.) I’m at the point, with a couple of my favorite photography training DVDs, that I can just about recite the scripts. But I’m not shooting a lot. On my way to work today I promised myself that I’ll be doing at least one shoot every day, from now on.

    Today’s post was designed for me. – Thanks!

  • steve said on June 23, 2010

    I love sky shots too, I just do. Your sky shot from your post from July 09 is one of my favorties.

  • Debbi said on June 23, 2010

    Wow, Funny, my first thought was I NEED TO BUY THAT LENS! Then I realized, I need A ZACK on my shoulder not the lens!
    Love it and thanks Zack!

  • Dilip Bhoye said on June 23, 2010

    Great post Zack, absolute motivation.

  • Kevin Williams (@kevwilfoto) said on June 23, 2010

    Excellent shot! I can totally see how you would visualize that and pull it off so well. Of ours, that’s 20/20 hindsight on my part now. Congrats on executing on your vision so well.

    No, I totally don’t shoot enough. Not even close. I’d love to shoot four or five hours a day, but my day job sucks 12 hours per weekday. After that, I’m spent. You inspired me to do a 365 project and it’s coming along OK, but there’s usually no vision in the images, just marking “done” on my to-do list.

    Thanks for the motivation and inspiration!!

  • Chrisdavid42 said on June 23, 2010

    So much works with this shot. the blue in her eyeshadow matches the sky, the cant of her shoulders mimics the buildings behind her, the simple horizontal and vertical lines and dark color of her dress mimics the buildings as well. I really love this shot, and am guessing that much of those details you see unconsciously. Keep up the blogging and educating, you continue to inspire me on a regular basis.

  • sloanie said on June 23, 2010


    Great post. Earlier today I read a short article on luminous landscape called “the case against zooms”, and it basically said the same thing except only with respect to lenses, not light– that if you use a prime lens long enough, you no longer have to look through the viewfinder to know what the camera will capture, that using a zoom lens can be an obstacle to learning how to visualize / pre-visualize.

    I think I’ll keep on shooting prime… and I think it’s about time to start learning how to use off camera light :S

  • Jorge Moreno Jr said on June 23, 2010

    simply amazing. the light control is out of this world. thanks for sharing!

  • Dana Goodson said on June 23, 2010

    Pretty awesome! I’m one of your workshop students for Monday! Yay for me! See you Sunday night! :o)

  • Chuck D said on June 23, 2010

    Another dope shot..

  • Easton Shultz said on June 24, 2010

    Those clouds are stunning They frame the model perfectly. I could imagine the panic to take advantage of them. Gorgeous photograph. Beautiful work as usual Zack.

  • diego tabango said on June 24, 2010

    man that little sb in the 28 inch apollo softbox throws some nice light.

  • coralee said on June 24, 2010

    Zack, looking at this photo kicked my ass into gear about finally ordering the 28″ softbox. My question is…I will be using it with a hotshoe flash for location shooting (such as this) but saw that it was only rated up to 500watts…does that mean that I’m s.o.l if I want to use it with my alien bee B800 (even though I never use it at full power)? Just wanted to make sure as I only have b800’s. Thanks again for all that you do! :) xo

  • Willie Fagan said on June 24, 2010

    Hi Zach,
    Love the shot and the concept of pre-knowledge!
    The exif indicates ISO 100.

    Do you use that often? As base on D3 is 200, what advantages/disadvantages do you think there are with going to ‘Lo’ ISO on D3?
    Appreciate your response.
    Regards from Australia.

  • zack said on June 24, 2010

    Willie – Some say you lose some dynalic range dropping to low 1. I don’t see it.


  • Terry G. said on June 24, 2010

    Zack, I must say, ever since I watched your live broadcast 2 weeks ago, you’ve inspired me to the n’th degree. I love these simple yet VERY effective photo shoots of yours. I will be getting my first modifier (60″ umbrella) to use with my sb-600 and can’t wait to experiment with it.
    Thanks again for sharing your talent/wisdom with us. MUCH appreciated.

  • Brian said on June 24, 2010

    Thank you Zach. It’s posts like these that inspire me to get out and practice!

  • Robert said on June 24, 2010

    Hey Zack thanks for sharing this , what i got out of this is practice makes perfect , i have not gone out with the little gear i got because of i am a bit timid of looking like some sort of pro them coming out with some nasty results,but seing you place the numbers of the settings makes me feel confident enough to go out getting busy,always thanks for sharing,,,,

  • Keith said on June 24, 2010

    Award winning shot Zack.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Ricky Lopez said on June 24, 2010

    You inspire me to learn to the dot a single SB photoshooting.
    You say the picture above isnt your best, but it is amazing..

  • Bryan Mitchell said on June 24, 2010

    I know exactly what you mean about a shot being in your head. I saw this shot for months – http://www.portraits.bryanmitchell.com/2010/05/sweet-portraits-of-miss-westwood/ – and when I finally shot it the image on the screen was the image in my head, light and all. Took me a lot longer to get here. 20 years, keep inspiring us all Zack, young and old. And congrats on all your success. BTW I can’t get enough of Listener. LOVE IT! Thanks.

  • Andrea Brown said on June 24, 2010

    10,000 hours of practice.

    Great reminder.

  • Thijs said on June 25, 2010

    This is exactly what i need a kick onder my buttom! Im buying photography stuff alot. But dont use it on a daily basis. More like two week basis. Im more planning how im going to differentiate myself from the masses and marketing and networking and stuff like that. You know what im off, pick up my gear and shoot someone!

  • kamophotography said on June 25, 2010

    G’day Zac, you are an inspiration to a new comer like me and this has given me alot of tips and I thank you again mate. Cheers buddy

    All the way from down under Sydney Oz

  • Ian Bail said on June 26, 2010

    Another G’day from Oz, and once again, thanks Zac for the important obvious point of shoot shoot shoot shoot etc….. you can’t say more, and your photo tells us all exactly why it’s so important – very nice shot indeed ! So, off I go to the highlands of Papua New Guinea tomorrow arvo for two weeks of shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot… you get the picture. Man I hope i get just one great picture… Looking forward to your next instalment. Ian

  • IPBrian said on June 28, 2010

    Great shot Zack. You are so right about the need to practice. I need that reminder frequently. Thanks for all you do!

  • Collin said on June 30, 2010

    Thanks Zack – I needed this this morning. I just did a shoot where I expected 10 -15 people to show up for protriateThanks Zack – I needed that this morning. I just did a shoot where I expected 10 -15 people to show up for portraits – I had 2. The shots turned out ok – but just ok. I want everything to be super right out of the camera. I had to do a good bit of PS work to make them happen. I learned. Thanks.

  • Inguan said on June 30, 2010

    I like same when i get all in my head and then i say ” I knew exactly what it would look like…”

  • RT Dalsin said on July 2, 2010

    Thanks Zack!

  • Denley said on July 9, 2010

    Very inspirational article, Zack.

    Thank you.

    Please do let me know when you’re in the San Diego area.

  • David Pexton said on July 20, 2010

    You stole my shot! He he he

    I love your work by the way!

  • David Pexton said on July 20, 2010

    actually your clouds pi$$ over mine. Really lovely.

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