Street Photography :: Photography Is An Enigma

This week Complex Magazine named me as one of the top 50 street photographers right now. I’m part honored and part embarrassed by this. Part of it has confirmed something inside of me. Part of this has depressed the hell out of me. On one hand I feel empowered to go deeper and on the other hand I feel I owe a lot of street photographers an apology. If I had a third hand I owe some photographers a big thank you. Let’s see. Can I be more random? How about this. This post is best read late at night while listening to “Last Confession” by Hilltop Hoods.

I’m honored that my street photography work seems to be gaining a lot of traction right now. It confirms in me that shooting what excites me the most, and putting that work into the world, will get it noticed. I feel empowered to go deeper into the genre of street work and find ways to translate it to commercial work.

I’m embarrassed by it because there are a lot of street photographers who eat, breathe, and sleep street photography. It’s what they do. It’s who they are. Cement, asphalt, juxtaposition, humanity, and the like, are the building blocks of their DNA and many of them aren’t on that list. For me, street photography is sort of a hobby. Street photography is a sort of subculture of photography as I see it.

I come from punk roots and the first half of my high school experience was partially spent being bullied by the older punks because I didn’t deserve to wear Doc Martens. I had to prove my worth. There was a saying of something about knowing your roots before you got your boots. Back then there were only two stores in Atlanta that carried Docs. Now you can buy Docs at any mall in America. The assimilation of subculture into suburban culture kills the special shine of subculture. It dulled the shine of Docs. It dulled Harley Davidson. It’s Starbucks becoming the McDonalds of coffee. All to be found on every corner of every house farm and condo complex in America. Found in every Applebee’s parking lot. Ooops. Random bells are going off again.

I’m not a street photographer but dang it all, I love it. It’s my favorite thing to shoot these days. If I could shut the doors to my studio and live on the streets with a camera I’d be a happy man. But my family would be living on the streets with me and then I’d not be a happy man.

Photography is such an ugly bitch and a gorgeous siren all at once. It’s such a moving target. It’s a flux of oasis and mirage. It’s an enigma. Following your heart and your passion seems to grow a perfect storm of joy and fear. I was telling someone this tonight and they aptly replied, “Those are equally strong motivators.” Yes they are. We just came home from a family road trip through West Texas and we watched a lot of storms cross the land. Big Texas storms are gorgeous at a distance and scary as hell in the middle of them. A fitting metaphor about being a full time photographer.

Yesterday I filmed a short intro to an upcoming blog post calling out some crap happening in a part of our industry. I felt this future post needs a personal introduction because I call a certain person out, along with their crap website they’re spreading around, and I wanted to be sure you heard my exact voice so it doesn’t get lost in translation. I see this “system” thing as an ongoing process of the assimilation of photography into suburban culture. Every photographer I’ve ever met wants nothing to do with “corporate culture”. Yet you look out at the landscape of the photography industry and find it to be more and more corporate. Corporations survive on systems. Repetition. Sameness. A leads to B leads to C. You’re not supposed to go from A to C to 5 to R to D.

Corporations can’t survive without linear systems and that thought process is leaking, nay, pouring into certain parts of the photography world. Follow these five steps. These ten steps. This 30 or 40 day process. Use this vendor then this vendor then deliver via this vendor. 10,000 other photographers are doing this thing. Here are your flash cards of what to say to get this photograph. Then use this automated system to process it. Then use this exact process to deliver it. Follow up in these three steps. Make sure you use this specific brand of camera and this specific lens set to these settings to ensure maximum effectiveness. Sun flare through an 85mm lens in a field at sunset anyone? Shot with a 5d? Anyone? We’ve all done it. The goal is to learn to stop doing it or elevate it beyond what has ever been done with a girl. On a vintage piece of furniture. In a field. At sunset.*

Look out in the landscape. See how difficult it is to find something different. You’ve got to strip mine the entire industry to find something of a brilliant gem. I came across such a gem this week. Carl Spring from the UK shoots a lot of concerts. A genre covered in every imaginable way possible. Carl has come up with something that isn’t new per se but has given it a new narrative I’ve not seen before. It’s called “A second with ____”. When he’s shooting a show he takes some exposures for one second. We’ve seen motion blur a billion times but now it has a new story. A new way to think about it and a new angle to view it from. It’s a gem found in the mountain. 500px picked it up on their blog and there’s a great back story on how he came up with this personal project. This is one of my favorites from his ongoing series…

It’s pretty beautiful especially with the narrative Carl is building with it. Eff you Carl. Wish I had thought of it. Aren’t all these great ideas something we see and wonder why we didn’t think of it ourselves? I’ll tell you why we didn’t think of it. It’s not due to the lack of pain meds Carl was on. No. It’s because photography, in the pure sense of it, is an individual art form. It’s personal. It’s who you are. It’s a Lone Ranger kind of job. We’re all floating in this sea together but at the end of the day, you’re on your own whether you sink or swim or get to your final destination. The coast guard comes by every day and plucks people out of this ocean. Some are just too tired to keep going. Some have died. Some are on a yacht. Most of us are on a plank but still happy to be in the water and wouldn’t have it any other way. If we die, we die trying.

Photography is done by individuals. Photographers look to the leaders and want to be like them but the problem is they can’t fit in the mold. The mold wasn’t made for them. Leaders sometimes get confused and think that the mold they are in can be repackaged. It worked for them why can’t it work for others? So the mold building process gets packaged up and sold but people find it hard to fit into without looking exactly like the person who made the mold. Even after crawling in the mold of another they aren’t getting the same clients/money/photos/etc. What came easy for one person will be utterly impossible for someone else to replicate. Because it’s personal.

None of us will ever be Dan Winters. Ever. If I could shoot portraits like anyone it would probably be Dan Winters. I know his work before I ever see his byline. It can be the simplest of a photograph with the simplest of light and it is undeniably Dan Winters. That MF’er can put his finger print on every image he shoots. I’d go to 20 of his workshops if I could but I’d be trying to get in his mold. I can’t. He’s already occupying it. Eff you Dan Winters. You’re a gem in the mountain.

I can’t count the number of days I spent as a photography student and photography assistant wondering how people crossed the chasm of “learning about photography” to “doing photography full time.” I saw myself and my peers standing on one side of the chasm and the folks we learned from and assisted standing on the other side of the chasm. Somewhere there must be a worm hole that transports one across because there sure as hell wasn’t a bridge in sight. I think it’s a series of chasms because I look at folks like Jeremy Cowart and wonder how in the hell he got this job or that job. I’ve personally asked him about this and it was some odd random thing that led to some other thing that led to him having Minnie Driver in front of his damn camera. Eff you Jeremy.

I moved into a new studio last year to accomodate all the work a client was sending me. How did I get that sort of client? Meg sang at church one morning. A lady stopped her to compliment her on the song she sang. They ended up becoming friends. Her husband is an Art Director. He went on to work for this client and needed some stuff shot. It was a 30 day project that’s been going on for three years. How’s that for a wormhole? Everyone! Send your wife to church, have her sing a song, then talk to the spouse of anyone that talks to her after the church service! You too will soon find success!

If you aren’t close to getting clobbered for a photograph then you aren’t trying hard enough. :)

Someone recently said of me on a forum something that went along the lines of…

“I don’t know how he (speaking of me) has so many followers. His photography isn’t all that special. There are so many other photographers doing real work out there yet this guy (again, speaking of me) has everyone thinking he’s great.”

That’s not a direct quote but it’s close. To whomever you are… There’s a lot of truth in your sentiment. I agree with you. It’s what continues to push me deeper into photography. The only thing incorrect in your statement is that I am somehow actively trying to get people to believe something about me. I’m just doing what I do; that would be whacking around in the wilderness trying to figure out WTF I’m doing with my life and my craft. At least I’m not a photographer that found a better deal in teaching and selling crap and stopped shooting pictures.

Gads. Let me get this rabbit trail back on track to my third hand. Those to thank. I’ve always been a fan of Bresson and Doisneau. I’ve always loved the street genre. I love anything urban. Street art. Street food. Street culture. Street photography. Once I got on I was introduced to a whole new generation of street shooters. RichNYC, Fixelzero, Anton_In_NYC, wesq, and many others (sionfullana, texturl, _raygun, eros_sana, rottenronin, et al). I have them to thank for opening my eyes to the iPhone being a street camera and being an amazing gallery space for it.

I want to thank Vincent Laforet. I heard someone ask him why he wasn’t teaching more. His reply was something along the lines of, “I’m in my 30’s. This is the time I need to be creating my work. I can’t do that if I’m teaching all the time.” That hit me square in the chest. Thanks to David Hobby who continues to find ways to turn his camera on his local community. Big thanks to Daniel Milnor for a talk he gave to me over a beer at PhotoPlus last year. I’m on my own but I’m not alone. Neither are you.

Big thanks as well to Jason. He was a rep for a vendor in our industry and his job was to attend as many workshops and seminars as he could. He once told me that he’d sit in the back of many workshops and hang his head low. He said, “If you handed many of these teachers a single roll of film they couldn’t do their job.” I shot a roll of film the next week because I feared I’d become that person. I’m happy to report that I can do my job on film.

I also want to thank the leaders in this industry who pretty much hung up their cameras to teach, sell stuff, and start web sites dedicated to helping people become the thing they stopped being in order to start websites and workshops to help people be what they aren’t anymore. Should I repeat that for the choir?

As a teacher. As a guy with stuff to sell. As a person who has been paid by a camera company to give their products a run for the money, I don’t want to be the person who hangs up the camera. Those who stopped fishing to sell bait motivate me to keep fishing. To keep trying harder to be a photographer than to be one who talks about being a photographer.

Are you this person? I honestly want to encourage you to stop talking about being a photographer for a little while, pick up your damn camera, and go be a photographer for awhile. Find a personal project to work on. Find an organization you can donate your time to and don’t just shoot their fund raising galla. Don’t wimp out and shoot portraits of the executive committee. Do something unique. Do something difficult. Do something really different then what you’ve done before. Prove not only to this industry that you still have your chops but prove it to yourself. You want to help people really be a better photographer then go do the same for yourself first. Put your oxygen mask on before helping others. Do you want to be the personal trainer that runs with your students or the kind that sits in the shade and yells from a megaphone? I fear becoming this type of person. This fear pushed me to find something; I hit the streets with an x100. I fell in love with it. Still am. I’m running.

A lot of you leaders block the cynics and critics of you. Embrace them. Follow them. Listen to what they have to say. There’s truth in the trolls. Learn. Pick up your camera. Turn your haters into your motivators. Quit acting like you’re 12. Run you MF’ers. Run




*Meg here. Just as long as what you’ve done with the girl, on a vintage piece of furniture, in a field, at sunset only involved the camera. And taking pictures with the camera. With her clothes on. Just sayin’.**

** I love you Meg. :)

This will be my last confession

This industry can leave harsh impressions

I have little faith, forgive me for my past discretions

But we live and learn that history and pass the lessons

The day this is work, the love of it dies

A handful make it, the others will strive

And hunger can drive hatred but such is this life

I guess jealousy’s the curse that the struggle inspires

These critics seek to break and divide

I know I’m bitter but my faith is divine

Take it in stride, yeah I act like I hate it at times

But I found love through this music and a place to reside

For every friend, I have an eager opponent

For every cent I spent on meagre components

I gave something back so I don’t feel the need for atonement

Cause we all get our hands dirty when we’re seizing the moment

And we always took the lead, peers would follow

And paid for everything that we cleared or borrowed

If my son can benefit from what you see here, my sorrow’s

Justified, just that I might not be here tomorrow


When it rains, it pours, when you’re soaked and the world

Tries to fuck with ya, trust in ya own and yourself

My biggest fear’s to die not knowing you well

And I ain’t afraid to die, I’m afraid of going to hell

– Hilltop Hoods


  • Christopher Michael said on June 10, 2012

    Sweet Post…I love the quote, “I’m not a street photographer but dang it all, I love it. It’s my favorite thing to shoot these days. If I could shut the doors to my studio and live on the streets with a camera I’d be a happy man. But my family would be living on the streets with me and then I’d not be a happy man.”

  • B W said on June 10, 2012


  • Shay Nartker said on June 10, 2012

    its funny. this evening i was sitting alone in my home. (my wife being out of town) i was sitting on my couch looking through some photographs i had taken earlier today and wished i could have done a better job. i then threw myself into a self pitty session wondering why i wasn’t the next big thing. your post tonight, zack, speaks wonders. what you have said is exactly what i have been struggling with. i, as many, get frustrated with the industry, and as one friend and i discussed this evening, anymore photography seems to be a battle of who has the best gear. whatever happened to real, true, hear felt images? whatever happened to passion behind the lens? when did photography become such a game of who has he best post processing, and not about what is being captured? thank you for this post, and thank you for being such a “heart-on your-sleeve” kind of guy. you make photography fun. you give the up and coming photog’s hope. please, continue to inspire.

  • Aaron Hardin said on June 10, 2012

    Just had three clients back out on me in less than 2 months. Last client wanted 50mm 1.2, not creation. They wanted BOKEHRRIFFFFIIC and not moment. They wanted what is being taught and sold and hyped. They want Big Mac. I find that I walk a road somewhere between thinking that my vision is valid or that I am totally deluded. But how can you not click the world as you see it, feel it, smell it, touch it? Daniel Milnor has been a good encouragement to me as well. Thanks for being somewhat of a photographer’s prophet. It is nice to hear that we aren’t alone, though we walk with no one. I have taken two trips to Ethiopia with only a bag of Tri-x and an old canadian Leica with a 35mm. Most scoffed. Each hand check in the airport terminal was a pain. But it just seems like the right thing to do. Don’t my subjects deserve a piece of me as they give pieces of themselves in return? Thanks for your words and if you get a free moment, take a gander at my website. It would be nice to know that someone I respect has at least laid eyes on my work overseas.

  • Zack said on June 10, 2012

    @Aaron – Eyes laid. Your Abyssinia project is hauntingly good. Solid work holmes.


  • xphaqtor said on June 10, 2012

    This is awesome. Thank you.

  • Mick Buston said on June 10, 2012

    Someday we will meet and I am going to treat you to a night of Newcastle Brown Ale for all the sense you speak – really is a pleasure to hear somebody talk about how hard this whole gig is but how it is even harder to not do. Feels sometimes like I wish I had never found myself behind a camera but am compelled to keep enduring the pain to find that ‘sweet spot’ when it all comes together and nothing else in the world matters.
    You are not a photo god, nor an industry rock star, you appear to be just like the rest of us but with greater visibility. Thank you

  • Piotr said on June 10, 2012

    You are a honest person and it is why I love you.

  • Dallas Dahms said on June 10, 2012

    What I like about you, Zack, is that you’re a toiler. That’s a R at the end, not a T.

    Whenever I feel like packing it in (which is often) I come and read your blog and remember why I love taking pictures in the first place.

    Thanks for the constant inspiration.

  • Ian Mckenzie said on June 10, 2012

    Sadly you’re right. So many of us only aspire to being Big Mac’s. Both shooters and consumers.

  • Bill Gellerman said on June 10, 2012

    Great Great truth here Zack. When and if you have a chance check out Kara has been an inspiration, she does things that will change the community we live in and the lives of the people who witness her work. She is doing it, because she loves it. So your “pick up your camera and find a personal project” is really spot on man.

    God Bless Brother. Cheers!


  • Rusty Tripod said on June 10, 2012

    Your street shots are admirable, enviable, and worthy of note. The comments on “The System” and so many “teaching” former photographers is right on. The quality of your work and the genuineness of the expressions that you capture in so many of your shots are motivational. Each of us needs to continue to explore, experience, and to photograph from our individual visions and motivation. Thanks for the bold thoughts, timely and expressive language, and the sincerity of your role as teacher and model.

  • Michael Paul said on June 10, 2012

    I just wanted to thank you for this. I recently wrote a blog post on why I love Street Photography and how sometimes, between clients, I just need to shoot for and just please myself. Your post definitely hit me at the right moment.
    Thanks, Zack

  • Glenn said on June 10, 2012

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Clive Litchfield said on June 10, 2012

    Starbucks get a grip for fecks sake, it’s quality not quantity you dicks, who the feck wants a bucket of coffee, not me that’s for definite.
    Waiting for the return of the X100 away to cure sticking aperture blades and on return shall go back to photographing and leave the ranting alone.
    Zack you should write more I like the prose.

  • Rich Beaubien said on June 10, 2012

    Great stuff Zack. Im a 60+ photographer I work mostly commercial – mostly catalog photos – right now I’m in NYC ‘on the job, but soon I’ll retire so I’ve really been cranking up the stuff I do ‘for fun.’

    I just love how you took that rabbit path to those last few paragraphs. But mainly I just want to say thanks for the inspiration and affirmation of my own direction with that “you’re not on your own.”

    Thanks again

  • Russ Robinson said on June 10, 2012

    You bring the term “keeping it real” to a whole nutha level. There were so many scathing revelations in this post– all right on the money– that I don’t even know where to start. Brilliant commentary, sir. Just brilliant.

  • Martin said on June 10, 2012

    I just printed this out and stuck it to the wall next to my desk. With a Kabar.

  • Wes Allen said on June 10, 2012

    Always from the heart. And you always share some amazing music: About halfway through one of their albums I just bought. Aussie hip-hop, who knew?

  • Fran Ruchalski said on June 10, 2012

    This is the reason I still think so highly of you, Zack. Because you are who you are, without the BS. You’re still a photographer, whatever that entails. And you’re still not sure of it either. I don’t always like your work; I don’t have to. And I don’t try to emulate you. I’m not you and I never will be. But you continue to challenge and inspire us who are on this journey with you.

    I’ve reached a fork in the road with my own work, and it’s the state of the industry and thinking like this that has brought me here. I sure as hell don’t want to jump on the latest photography rockstar’s bandwagon. I don’t know where I’m going at this point, but I sure as hell am enjoying the ride.

  • Rob Knight said on June 10, 2012

    I love making pictures, but I never wanted to be a “professional photographer”. I’ve been a tattooist for 23 years, and the LAST thing I want is another art-for-hire job. I want to be able to shoot what I want because I love to. I got into teaching photography a couple of years ago because I’m a big nerd and I know more of the technical camera stuff than a lot if folks. I figured that would keep money in my pocket for lenses and things without having to shoot weddings or senior portraits. After a year and a half at a local “school” teaching camera 101 I realized that I was talking about photography WAY more than practicing it. I didn’t want to be someone who thought of his camera like a ball and chain, but i wasn’t using my camera at all. The Laforet quote in your post sounded very familiar to me. I was like “how the fuck can I teach “photography” if I’m not actually making photos myself?”. This year is about me finding my vision and enjoying the process. I still teach a little, but mainly I just take people to places I love and help them enjoy their cameras.
    I always scoffed at the idea that a particular piece of equipment would re-energize a person’s “love for photography” or some such nonsense. I thought the process was not that important. I apologize to you, Zack, and everyone else who ever said such a thing. I got a little micro 4/3 camera last year and now I’m having fun again. I don’t have to have a rolling suitcase full of gear to make a freakin picture. I have stopped thinking about the machine and started looking through it and pressing the button. I get it now… Sometimes the machine can set you free.

    Great post, man. Maybe my $.02 doesn’t relate, but I sure feel like it does.

  • Jeremy Moore said on June 10, 2012

    Wow man, just wow…..! Beautiful post.

  • Jeff Dolan said on June 10, 2012


    As you continue to live the artistic life and bleed on the page for the benefit of your fellow artists, shame on those who hate on you without first knowing your heart. I believe everyone’s art is only as wonderful as their heart, and you my friend, have a big heart! Thank you for remaining faithful.

  • Gabe Sturdevant said on June 10, 2012


    Amazing as always. Was just discussing this with my fiance last week. She said the “9-5” job isn’t so bad if you make it through summer. I said yea, but its soul sucking and you cant create, you can only do. You are not you, your not running your life.

    Its hard, but I would rather make a living hustling my ass off and be rewarded by pride, than have my work dictated to me, and get paid based on what they think my efforts are worth.

    After reading this, I picked up my camera for the first time in two weeks. Almost cried because I know how much photography means to me. My fiance does not get it, others dont get it, but damn it, I do.

  • rjbrabdury said on June 10, 2012


    Great and honest post. I think its all too easy to fall in to the trap trying to hard to become someone other than your self ( I hope I don’t)… is it a result of a seemingly lazy got have it all now modern day attitude? Or a lack of real education and close Naive eyes to whats really going on in these BS follow my system sites and blog posts? May be its going to take someone like your self Zack to start to open people eyes. I’m looking forward to your future blog posts on this topic (I know its been eating away at you) better out than in.. I for one will be listening.

    Also regarding workshops, they can be a strange beast… cost allot of money, no real way to ensure your will be getting value for money given allot are sugar coated with fancy website and promo material / rock star names. I have been on a few that have been no more than a 2 hour slide show of images.. no meat to sink your teeth into and to top it off any shooting was done with a group of 20 photographers with one model and lights running TT Hell. I am now being very selective on which workshops my hard earned money will pay for.

    Not surprise you said Eff you to Dan Winters.. his work is amazing, shot mostly with film?.. something I am ashamed to admit I have not really done yet (Must change that), his work seems to have a painting kind of feel. Love the shot of Denzel Washington. Thank you for introducing me to his work.

    @Meg that edit comment cracked me up.


  • Jeremy Cowart said on June 10, 2012

    You keeping talking about all this photography crap but sometimes it’s your writing that really wows me. This is a good example. You think it’s easy to write like this but it’s not. Just comes totally natural for you. Jerkface. :) Haha but seriously, amazing post as always. Thanks for your honesty and for inspiring us all. Now I’m going to have to go out and do some street photography thanks to this stupid inspiring post. :)

  • Zack said on June 10, 2012

    @Jeremy – That means the world to me coming from you. Thanks holmes.


  • Jeremy Cowart said on June 10, 2012

    And I promise next time to not ruin your pretty blog posts with smiley faces. :)

  • C.C. Chapman said on June 10, 2012

    Thank you for writing this. You’ve got a hell of a way with words as well as images.

    Haters are going to hate and humble people like yourself are always going to run into them.

    This heart felt post really resonated and hit home. Thanks for writing it and sharing it.

    Keep on shooting!

  • Zack said on June 10, 2012

    Thanks CC.


  • Suzanne Goodwin said on June 10, 2012


    You are one of the few well-followed photographers out there whose work and words I’ve not questioned on some level.

    Your honesty has had a real and tangible effect on my own attitude towards my own work and life. When I’m having an “I suck” day, I remember how you’ve kept on pushing to accomplish and move forward. That makes a difference to me and I gather, many others.

    FWIW, I really like your street photography. To me it stands out because of how you capture small moments that are so easily overlooked in everyday life. They’re the tiny pieces of real life that happen in between all the business we impose on ourselves. This work has meaning.

    Thanks for telling your truth.

  • Zack said on June 10, 2012

    @Suzanne – Thanks for your kind words and thanks to everyone else as well.

    I love your quote “all the business we impose on ourselves.” There’s a title to a personal project if I’ve ever heard one. You should do something with that.


  • Tim Roper said on June 10, 2012

    As inspired and inspiring as “Transform.” Obviously no one can post such deep, cherished thoughts all the time–which makes it even more powerful when they do.

  • Libby said on June 10, 2012

    The Crap Peddlers – boy I can’t wait. I’ve had 2 disturbing accounts come to me in the past month from workshop attendees who did not do the proper research before buying in. They got screwed. And more like this appearing on the web each day. Preying on unknowing housewives who want to make pictures pretty in order to line your own f_cking pockets is not business, it’s freaking robbery.

    You go get ’em Zack. I’m with ya.

  • Bryon Lippincott said on June 10, 2012

    Well put Zack. I needed to hear all of it, it is important to hear that the cookie cutter mold will never fit each of us. And that different is good. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Jeff Arrington said on June 10, 2012

    Thanks Zack for keepin it real in a weird F-ing world. I enjoy your work.
    and thanks for the x-100 review. I was on the fence until I read yours.
    Keep giving us what comes from you heart. screw the trolls!

  • Alan Morris said on June 10, 2012

    What gives your work value to me is that you speak from the heart of an artist and are full of passion about life. Your photos reflect who you are. From the viewpoint of this 70 year old lover of photography, you are a breathe of fresh air. Along with Trey Ratcliff, I think you two are some of the most open giving photographers on the internet. Your “soul is on fire” to borrow a phrase from Eldridge Cleaver. And that makes you interesting, worth watching and listening to.

  • Guillermo Reyes said on June 10, 2012


    You are more than a photographer to some of us, you are a true inspiration and I really mean it. There are indeed millions of photographers out there but little as humble and generous as you are.

    You have come a long way from when you started and now you are in the top 50, you should be proud man. You are there not only for you photographs but as a down to earth guy that loves to share his ideas and aren’t afraid of speaking your mind.

    Keep doing what you do, because your a damn good at.


  • Marc said on June 10, 2012

    Guess Jeremy C. said it best…Zack’s writing, particularly if its about more important issues than lens, cameras and gear reviews, is just as suburb as his photography skills. I, as a none native speaker, could almost feel his emotions and passion while writing this blogpost.
    From the heart.



  • Joris said on June 10, 2012

    I am under the impression that your war against David Jay is somehow personal and not only against his system. I have a 2-year old boy and I’ve learned to reward the good stuff and ignore the bad. The more you talk about DJ and the supposed crappy website he is selling (why is it crappy? Shouldn’t you be more specific?), the more people now him and buy his stuff. Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity…

    Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate your work (and I’ve even bought your DVD), but it would be wise to ignore him if you don’t like what he does to the industry.

  • Zack said on June 10, 2012

    @Joris – I agree with you. It’s what I should do but it keeps digging on me and I have to go ahead and get it out of my “system”. I assure you that all the personal gripes I have with specific folks are kept private. I never air my personal gripes publicly. I’ve tried to engage DJ in a civil discussion about it as many others have and he won’t have anything to do with it. He ignores us all and tells his mousketeers to not listen to his critics as well. You’re right in that it’s not only against his system. His system represents a lot of problems in that specific part of the industry. I go into specifics in the upcoming blog post. I’ll get it out of my system once and for all and move on with my life. Promise. :)


  • Gerhard Egger said on June 10, 2012

    Zack, i have given you stick on this blog and still keep on coming back. This post explains why!

  • Che said on June 10, 2012

    I come here to get reality checks and ….I love it. Keep it real, Zack.

    This is the reason why i will be an artist and a student of the craft first…..forever. I do what I do, because I love it. Because I feel in my element. Because it took me 30 years to figure out this is what I wanted to do and I want to figure it all out myself….and occasionally ask for help. Thanks so much for your post… KIRs


  • T. Ritter said on June 10, 2012

    These thoughts are why people follow Zack. I’m considerably older but find Zacks photography and thoughts a very Zen like experience. Thank you and please don’t lose your independence.

  • Michael Anthony murphy said on June 10, 2012

    Beautiful post. You are a huge inspiration.

    I typically get pissed when you don’t blog for extended periods but when you finally do, you mind eff me, every time.

    Well done.

    Thank you!

  • Rick Lacoume said on June 10, 2012

    You’re definitly hard core old school!! Thanks for all you do. I’m still trying to learn these Effn reciprocals.

  • funnyface said on June 11, 2012

    “@Jeremy – That means the world to me coming from you. Thanks holmes.”

    ZACK! it’s HOMES, not holmes. c’mon, man!

    <3 ya.

  • Peggy Attaway said on June 11, 2012

    Zack…you keep pushing forward and posting what your heart leads you to post.. I respect the opinion above about letting it go with the other guy but seriously there are toooo many Big Mac folks being led to the Koolaid and it disrespects everything the pioneers of our industry worked to build. If I had any suggestion, while you have a captive audience, help educate the public what a technically proficient photograph has when a client commissions an artist to work for them. Show the people what sharp is, what blown out highlights are, what really bad chromatic aberrations are, what unmanaged DOF is and so on.. Perhaps the clients and consumers are who need the lessons. Cheers to you Zack… as long as we are not drinking the Koolaide~

  • Howard Haby said on June 11, 2012

    Zack man, I wish you had the time to post more to your blog. I’ve been following you for the last few years, and I’m so happy that you’ve been able to keep shooting and support your family. So happy for all your success. It’s blog posts like this that inspire me, especially any time I’m tempted to be like everyone else, find a quick route to where I want to be, and become a cookie cutter photographer. Wedding season is only gearing up for me right now, I’ll carry the feeling I got from reading this post in my heart and mind. This was just honest and solid. Thanks.

  • Sandrino said on June 11, 2012

    1)congrats on the top 50…..just keep shooting and you will make the top 10:-)

    2)Whatcha selling man? Where can I buy this “Street Photography” inspiration ? …….ahh forget it I will just go out and shoot.

    Keep posting and shooting but best of all keep making it your own!

  • Paul Bowers said on June 11, 2012

    Zake…thanks for the article, the advice and for being an unintentionally mentor. I have been trying to decide which would benefit me most…going to a well-known photographers two day course or increasing my lens inventory. The first could give me the mental skills to improve my photos, while the second could increase the quality and depth of my portfolio.
    Thanks to your article, I will do neither.

    You see, I had fallen into the trap of “wanting” people to appreciate my work…grab a quick pat on the back. If I could just attend (fill in the blank)’s class or get that fast lens, then surely that would do the trick. At my age, you would think I know better.

    Until recently, I hadn’t really thought or cared about how people viewed my photos. If I liked them…that was good enough for me. Being a classic Type A personality, I harder on myself that anyone else will ever be. I shoot photography because it gives me the ability to capture the beauty around me that I unfortunately take for granted.

    So, instead of attending a class or buying a new piece of glass, I will instead pick up my camera and do the thing that will improve my photography the most…go out and shoot the world…as I see it.

    Thanks again for your insight and your view of true people on the street.

  • Paul Bowers said on June 11, 2012

    Zack…Can’t believe I misspelled your name…1000 apologizes:))

  • Meg said on June 11, 2012

    @funnyface I would like to submit that the usage of “holmes” or “homes”, and the correct usage of said colloquialisms, is entirely up for debate. There doesn’t appear to be a definitive right answer; if one Googles “holmes or homes slang” there are a variety of opinions and definitions. If it were up to me it would be neither because I am, obviously, a bit of a grammar and vocabulary nazi. 😉

  • Robert Orsa said on June 11, 2012


    A very intriguing and disturbing piece of writing here. I appreciate how open you are with your thoughts and ideas. Let me start off by saying I love your work. I own your DVD and can attribute much of what I’ve learned about light to you. My goal, which seems to go against what you believe, is to light JUST LIKE YOU. I want to apply the techniques you teach. So after reading this piece, I feel as if there is nothing original about me. But we both (hopefully) know that’s not true. Even though I’ve learned lighting from you does not make my images identical to yours. I’m not you; and vice versa. I’m not upset that you thought of something before I did; rather, I’m grateful. I take what I’ve learned from you and apply it to my vision. So I don’t understand your half-jokingly attitude of being discouraged that others came up with ideas before you did. First of all, are there really any original ideas still out there? Assuming there are, does it make them great ideas just because someone thought of it before someone else? Sometimes there’s a good reason someone didn’t go with an idea. I digress here but I recall the days of my “Art Appreciation” class back in college. We studied a piece of canvas painted entirely yellow that sold for an insane amount of money. The justification was that no one had thought of it before. I tell you I had zero “appreciation” for that piece of “art.” So who cares who came up with an idea. Just keep doing what you do and what you love. Why do you say you’re not a street photographer? Because you have not paid your dues? If that’s what you shoot, that’s what you are. You ARE a street photographer. You ARE a music photographer. You ARE a ____________ photographer. You don’t have to fit in one box. No one can say otherwise. Accept your recognition, and keep going and do what you do. Just keep growing at your your craft. If the phone stops ringing with clients that want you to shoot however you want, then like the rest of us, to pay the bills you might have to do some jobs that don’t fit your vision. Not every job we get allows us to shoot for ourselves, but make sure to keep shooting for yourself in between. If this does not apply to you, then you are more blessed than you may realize!


  • Dario said on June 11, 2012

    What you most it’s inspiring people. You inspired lot of people with “one light” and with your video on “creative live”. Who cares about “top monkey in a list of 50 best monkey”… really who cares, tomorrow will be others.
    Today you are shooting what you love, and feeding your family with a camera, and sharing all this to us. That’s a lot more.

  • Gordon Fraser said on June 11, 2012

    Zack, As always, an interesting post. I saw your tweet about wanting to call out said photographer and I looked him up. His site did make me a cringe a little. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about it.
    I am not a professional photographer. I love my photography and if there was a way I could swap my current job for what I wanted to do and still be able to pay my bills I would. I cannot though. So for now I can view all this going down from the sidelines.
    Street photography. I enjoy it too. It’s not the thing I’d love to do forever myself but I do like it. However, you talk about girls on chairs at sunsets etc…well, there are PLENTY of cliche’s in street photography as well. i should know, I’ve done them! I actually think that with street, just as with everything else, you need to take those derivative pictures to get them out of your system and to let you SEE your own vision.

    Kepp up the good work.


  • Sean McCormack said on June 11, 2012

    Hey Zack, congrats on making that top 50. The #de_VICE stuff was sufficiently astute and story telling as any master street photographer.

    I thought that the lead in for the future post was going to be about DJ. The cult of personality strikes in every facet of our lives these days. The reality shows with models, chefs, mingers, hairdressers, etc etc all create celebrity where people used to just get on with their work. I’m not talking about being recognized for your ability, which is good and leads to more work, but being inflated and put on a pedestal.

    You’ve always been the reluctant hero, but still unafraid to call it like it is. I really admire that. It doesn’t make me want to worship you, but it does make you someone that would make a good, honest and reliable friend.

    I totally loved the networking story. My photo marketing on a local level is abysmal. And it is in photography that I’m trying to make a living. Not with Lightroom, or software, with photography. Am I grateful that people buy my stuff? Yes, Yes, a thousand times yes, but it’s the rise and fall in my photography that’s the crux. Sometimes I love it so much I hate it! I guess that’s part of the passion for it. Making me so happy and still making me so sad as I strive to be better, to have my own completely unique style.

    Big thanks for a beautiful post, filled with joy and rage.

  • Rory Laubscher said on June 11, 2012

    Thanks for another awesome piece of writing.
    I honestly love it when your philosophical side comes out on the blog. Always food for thought.
    This piece brings to mind a Theodore Roosevelt quote that I often find myself falling back on.

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    Keep up the good fight man, there are a ton of us who have benefited greatly from the example you set.

  • Mitchell Masilun said on June 11, 2012


    Thanks for this post, I have just made the transition to a “pro” photographer (again) and a lot of what you said just hit me where it matters. I got to this place doing many of the things you said-because I love it-and now struggle to figure out what is not only my role but also my goal within photography itself.

    Magazine assignments, workshops, 365 project, personal projects, charity work, talks, blog, website…It’s becoming overwhelming, and the feeling I get when taking pictures is loosing is luster…

    That Texas storm looked beautiful, now I’m in the thick of it and drowning, thanks for keeping me afloat. The things I see you going through, and being able to talk so openly and eloquently about them…well.just.thanks.

    If you are ever in Beijing, it would be my pleasure and honor to buy you a beer.


  • Eileen said on June 11, 2012

    Thank you for the inspiration. Besides being an amazing photographer, you are a damn good writer. Eff you Zack.

  • dtbsz said on June 11, 2012

    I’m gonna’ tweet this: “We just came home from a family road trip through West Texas and we watched a lot of storms cross the land. Big Texas storms are gorgeous at a distance and scary as hell in the middle of them. A fitting metaphor about being a full time photographer.”

    You are kinda like the steve jobs of the photo industry zack :)


  • Sergiu said on June 11, 2012

    very inspirational bro.Too many wannabies that claim to be mentors and such.A lot of them have lost the passion long time ago.

  • JC Ruiz said on June 11, 2012

    Pure truth.

  • Brian Hirschy said on June 11, 2012

    Thanks Zack.

  • Oscar Spearman said on June 11, 2012

    Wow, Zack! IT’S YOUR FAULT!

    I burnt my kids’ waffles this morning reading this blog entry. It so engaged me that I lost track of time. Thanks buddy!

    When I met you a few years ago at your studio for a mixer with Syl Arena, I knew then that you were/are a grounded photographer who’s work is packed with substance. I’m a fellow Atlantian and am only now exploring the richness of this city’s street culture. From the 4th Ward to the West End, Buckhead and everywhere in between, life is happening while I’m sitting here at this @#$% computer.

    I don’t comment that often, but know that’s following your work Brother!

    I hopped the MARTA late one evening and started shooting. I was drawn to the night aboard the Northbound train. No words could describe the feeling I experienced.

    I stumbled onto the “Hot Corner Festival” in Athens, GA Saturday (6/9/12) and was lost in the moment, in the culture, in the history.

    Thanks for sharing your work and not being a punk and holding back. Love you brother! (no homo)

  • Bret Douglas said on June 11, 2012

    What if a Magic Genie offered you this proposition:
    “I will make you the greatest photographer in the world, but nobody else can know about it.”

    Would you take it?

    Please release me.

  • Patrick Downs (@PatDownsPhotos) said on June 11, 2012

    re “…It can be the simplest of a photograph with the simplest of light and it is undeniably Dan Winters. That MF’er can put his finger print on every image he shoots. I’d go to 20 of his workshops if I could but I’d be trying to get in his mold. I can’t. He’s already occupying it. Eff you Dan Winters. You’re a gem in the mountain.”

    ROFL! I love that you give credit where it’s due, are humble, reveal who inspires you, and call out the fakes. Good job! ~Pat

  • Ted said on June 11, 2012

    Many cheers to you and Meg, Zack!

  • SimonC said on June 11, 2012

    Zack – well given it’s 2am here and ‘the Hoods’ are from my hometown this all made perfect sense – and confession in return, I read your words more than I view your pics – but panic not, I have reduced my viewing of everyone’s pics to my benefit I’m sure…I’ve never wandered the streets with cameras full of film more than I have of late and 20 years in to this journey have truly felt I am starting to really ‘hit it’ right now.
    Thanks so much for providing such generous content and best wishes to you,
    (ok I do look at your pics a bit…)

  • Rye said on June 11, 2012

    thanks for slapping the truth on our foreheads. i think the real reason why those top 10 are on the top 10 is they are out shooting more often than they are in here. if you ask them something about technique, they’d probably tell you to feel the scene and not the dials.

  • Leif Hurst said on June 11, 2012

    Brilliant writing. Thanks again for taking the time to jot down the craziness in your brain for the rest of the world to see. It’s frantic, harsh, but inspiring.

    I keep thinking that when everyone in the world is zigging, you keep looking for a way to zag.

  • Jeremy Hall said on June 11, 2012

    Jeremy Cowart’s response is right on; you’re writing is as engaging as your photography. The brutal honesty and raw thoughts always throw me into a tailspin of deep thoughts and frankly self-doubt. As only a semi-serious hobbyist, I really wonder if I have it in me to do anything unique and interesting. I keep plugging along with the basic paid gigs to pay for the addiction and try to fit in some personal exploration along the way. Every time I create something I’m proud of, I put it out there and realize it’s nothing special. I put the camera into the case and swear it’s not coming out again. Eventually it does, and I keep trying. I keep telling myself this is the best creative exploration I can manage and just keep at it.

    Thanks for the continued real talk and push to keep trying.

  • lynn said on June 11, 2012

    Zach, A few years ago “transformed” literally transformed my career. I was so overwhelmed with all the “noise” of the industry that I was about to loose it. I am a wedding photographer and have been shooting weddings for almost 10 years. A lot of the photographers you speak of are wedding photographers and the photography industry is not all to blame. The wedding industry has also sold out and photographers sadly have been a part of that process. 2 1/2 years ago I decided to do everything I could to become the best photographer I could be. I did a mentorship with one of the best photographers I know, I watched all your web critiques, I studied the one light tutorial, I refused to sell out to actions, workshops, and gimmicks (except a shoot sac, I did buy one of those). And here I am days away from celebrating 5 years in business and I am almost certain I am DONE! There is this part of me that says I should invest in new branding, kiss some wedding planner ass, and sell my photography soul to the devil. But then there’s this other side of me, the side that has learned to trust God and listen to that little voice that is telling me all m hard work will not be in vain. Life is a journey and although I am certain I am not going to be a world famous wedding photographer, all the skills I have learned both business and photographically are going to pay off down the road. In November I am going to travel to Haiti to photo document a NPOs trip to Haiti. I will also photograph all of the students and orphans at the school/orphanage that we support. I look forward to the journey ahead of me as a photographer. Your “transform” video directly impacted my life forever. I know you think your journey is about being a photographer, but I am certain that your “work” is to be a voice in the noise. Keep up the good work.

  • funnyface said on June 11, 2012

    @Meg re: Holmes. I stand corrected, “homie,” or “holmie?”

    I DO like your point in the blog addendum about the girl in the field “with her clothes on.” I was thinking about that, as a matter of fact, and wondering if it is single men who most often shoot the ladies w/o garments… as a married man and father of two daughters, there’s no way disrobing will be going during one of my photo sessions.

  • Shawn said on June 11, 2012

    your honesty and brutal truth in words is just as powerful as your images.

    i needed to read this today as bad as you needed to write it over the weekend. Ive been struggling in my own motivation…to shoot, to edit, to market…..this was the slap in the face wake up call that followed the bucket of freezing cold ice water.

    thank you….

  • Zack said on June 11, 2012

    @Shawn and others – Thank you for your kind words. Glad to be of service.


  • D. Travis North said on June 11, 2012

    On the topic of people not getting why you are so popular (the forum post you called out), I think there are two main reasons why we all follow you:
    1) You’re incredibly Humble. I saw a video of you once talking to an auditorium and you joked that you wish you had your light meter – not because you wanted to use it for its purpose, but because taking light readings around the room would give you time to think. It was intended as a joke, but there was a lot of honesty there. You’re not putting yourself on a pedestal above everyone else, and your approach is by the seat of your pants – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. Difference is that you admit it.

    2) You keep yourself in check. You do teach sometimes and you do reviews sometimes – and I’m glad for that as there’s a lot to learn from you – but you often revisit your approach (like you are now) and knock yourself down a few pegs. There are many who would approach the Street Photographer’s list and say thank you and sit down (and there’s nothing wrong with that). But you have instead acknowledged and promoted a few specific people that you admire (thanks for that, I have some new people to watch).

    There are other reasons, I’m sure…but those are the two big ones.

    I guess my point is that there is a wholesomeness in your work and I think we can all identify with that. I’ll be blunt in saying that you’re not the most fantastic photographer out there, but you are very accessible and you are very HUMAN. You’re approachable, you look like you have fun with and I dare anyone to challenge your love for the art. And what is photography without love?

    As always, great to read your down-to-earth view of the Photography world. Thanks for sharing with us yet again (and hopefully always).

  • Odell Hussey said on June 11, 2012


    Thanks for the post and thanks for continuing to speak the truth. I enjoy your perspective and your continuing to motivate others to get out and take pictures. Street Photography was my baby for years. I use to walk the streets of San Francisco at least three times week with my camera. I loved it so much, just walking the pavement searching for something or someone who caught my eye. I always felt like it was a form therapy for me. It helped clear my head of doubt and allowed me to feel free to create. I put together two books on the subject matter through blurb, but never got much love for it. Probably because I am a horribly self promoter, that’s always been my weak spot. My point is Street Photography can be a thankless area to focus on. But it can also fill you up with so much joy. It is real, nothing fake about it for the most part, there is element of danger and rawness to it. It’s not war photography, but it can get pretty close depending where you are. I find my self doing less of it these days as I try to figure out how to make living from photography. I’m still trying to carve out a living from this craft I love.

    You have reminded me to keep at it, even before this post of yours … last week I got out from behind my computer. I was feeling so much frustration that things weren’t moving forward with my photography. I motivated myself to go out searching for new subjects, people I didn’t know. On my first round I didn’t find anyone, but found this skate park in West Oakland, great spot but no was there. I headed back home feeling like I had failed, but was able to motivate my self to go back there. It paid off, I met some skaters and took some great flicks of them. It felt great to get out, to make effort, and make photos. That is the most important thing as you have highlighted, make an effort!

    Thank you,
    Odell Hussey

  • Madelyn said on June 11, 2012

    There are great truths in this post. Thanks for keeping it real, dude. I really want to attend one of your workshops but I’m worried that I will be judged because I do use Showit software haha….. I don’t buy into Mousekateer ways, just enjoy being able to have artistic freedom in my web design. Any how, keep up what you’re doing- your photography and words are inspiration for us all.

  • Harv said on June 11, 2012

    Hi Zack, hope you’re well.
    You wrote “Yesterday I filmed a short intro to an upcoming blog post calling out some crap happening in a part of our industry. I felt this future post needs a personal introduction because I call a certain person out, along with their crap website they’re spreading around, and I wanted to be sure you heard my exact voice so it doesn’t get lost in translation. I see this “system” thing as an ongoing process of the assimilation of photography into suburban culture.”
    I know exactly what you mean by this, I’ve had discussions with many photographers who feel the same way. My only word of caution is do you really need to “call a certain person out” as you put it ? I completely understand where you’re coming from, but naming the person/website could get ugly further down the line. If you feel that’s what you have to do, then that’s what you have to do.

  • Zack said on June 11, 2012

    @Harv – I’m not going to straight up name him or link to him but those in the know will know who I’m talking about.

  • Leif Hurst said on June 11, 2012

    Unfortunately, people need a system:

    Can’t stick to a diet, get a system of foods that you are forced to stick to.

    Can’t lose weight, swollow this pill once a day. (you’ll find that most people are too lazy to remember to take the pill)

    Can’t keep your head straight to do your work, follow these steps to be more “productive.”

    Attention spans are shrinking (most of you won’t get this far into the reply to read this) and the easiest fix, usually sells, as long as it’s wrapped up in the buzzwords of the day. It doesn’t matter any more if it works or not. People are simply lazy and they want things spoon fed to them in bullet points. Systems lack the creativity to deal with situations when things don’t go your way. You can’t be on a big job and system your way out of bad light, failing gear, or terrible subjects.

    I still believe that those that are willing to put in the hard work, time, and patience will surely rise to the top. Those that are looking for the “quick fix” will just hop from one system to another before fizzling out of the craft. Once it becomes work, their camera will go on craigslist to fuel yet another hopeful spirit.

  • Adam Lerner said on June 11, 2012


    It’s awesome how you put to words shit going down a lot of us are NOT OKAY with. And rather than just sucking it up and quietly being annoyed, you grab your keyboard and brain dump with purpose. Being a photographer is such a solitary craft, yet there is much comfort in the community and knowledge shared and your writings are no exception. Thanks for stirring the pot and keeping the conversation going.

  • Eric Uys said on June 11, 2012

    great post zackar! sorry i could not say more, too busy working on top secret new big project which no one has ever seen before. starving blind midgets who play darts with their feet

  • Jim Bowman said on June 11, 2012

    Absolutely Awe Inspiring. 3 cheers Zack.

  • Peter macDonald said on June 12, 2012

    Well said mate and congratulations. While street photography isn’t my forte what you are saying applies to any person in a creative endeavor.
    With one street and two residents there’s not much chance to do what you excel at, but I get by.
    It is nice to be able to tap into articles like yours, heavy stuff, lightly and well written. Thanks.

  • Christopher Grisanti said on June 12, 2012

    Maybe your best post ever, Zack. It made me think about a few things:
    -A facebook friend, who is a young aspiring photographer, recently posted that she was reviewing photographer’s websites and asked herself, “What kind of style do I want to emulate?” It was disheartening, and I responded that it’s OK to be inspired by others, but to develop her own style.
    -I got so tired of seeing the same type of images cranked out by thousands of photographers – more often than not crisp, clean, vibrant and over-processed – that I did a personal project using only an old Polaroid 200 camera & instant film. And followed that up with super high ISO/out of focus images. It was all very liberating. (By the way, I have a framed enlargement on my living room wall that gets a lot of attention – it was shot with a $9 disposable film camera.)
    -And this morning, I photographed an elementary school for their website. I was taken into a class with a handful of special needs students. One little boy, probably about 7 years old, was born with no arms. I was told he refused to wear a helmet (think about it. . .if he trips, he has nothing to break his fall). As photographers, we all have “safety nets”. But I was encouraged by this little guy’s bravery, and I can only hope it will lead to more daring photography on my part.
    Keep up the great work, Zack.

  • David Moore said on June 12, 2012

    Its funny, you seem to work on a cycle similar to me, but you just are saying the things at times I need to hear them.

    I spent probably the last three or four years taking why I started doing photography and squeezing that out in a ringer to get to formulaic mediocrity and success. You love music, I love cars. I wanted to convey the motion the speed the color the beauty the power that I saw in these cars I LOVED. But I started wanting to be in magazines or sell the photos to owners so I devolved into taking lots of really ok snapshots of cars. Not more than a couple weeks ago I remembered what I started all this for. It took looking at photos from 6 years ago and seeing that I was doing a better job of it then because I didn’t sit and worry about this that and the other thing. I went “wholly crape that’s awesome and I am going to take an awesome photo of that”

    I picked up a camera because I had something to say, then forgot it when everyone else told me I should say something else.

    I follow your blocs and your twitter because I like the artist you are and also because you share the struggle to become the artist you think you can be. Today I had the thought “the more I do the more I need to do, but the more I know I can do” the further I push myself in photography the further I rralise I can go. That is why I am there with you not understanding really why these photographers seem to forget the photography and push seminars. I just couldn’t imagine putting photography aside.

    Ok that went on and on. Sorry.


  • Abelardo said on June 12, 2012

    “Photography is done by individuals. Photographers look to the leaders and want to be like them but the problem is they can’t fit in the mold. The mold wasn’t made for them.”

    That’s it!!

    Respect, you give so much to the community, I don’t understand those who complain about your followers.

    BTW I’m one of those who start working with one light (inspired by your work).

  • Matt said on June 12, 2012

    My wife has a lovely voice, so I sent her to church. She sang. Beautifully.
    She provided joy for many but made no friends that day.
    No Art Director hired me.

    Your system sucks.
    I want my money back.

  • Zack said on June 12, 2012

    @Matt – Hahahahaha! You’re not doing it right! :)


  • Max Almonte said on June 12, 2012

    ZACK you son of a gun…. You have slapped me in the face once more :) with your blog post. Man! Sometimes we as photographers, wether is starting out, being out there, or really thinking hard about what to do next it comes down to one thing “ANALYSIS PARALYSIS”. We focus our minds so much on what should be our next project that we leave our gear catching dust like that old baseball glove we used to use to play catch. Love the Hashtag #shutupandshoot… The only reason why I follow you as a photographer over the many is because I sense a connection in honesty, humbleness, and straight-up-ness! (Call it a new word)lol. Your work speaks for itself, so no need to mention I follow you work and not you because it will be oxymoron from my part. Sometimes I have felt that my work is not gratifying and that’s what keeps me on the lookout and pushing to become one of the elite. Even if it takes me 10 years to be successful, at least that’s 10 years less than retirement age and 10 years less working in my crappy job. I have had convos with other photographers friends and when I speak about your work to them is like “he is OK”, to me inside thoughts “Wow you really won’t learn if you don’t at least respect a tiny bit other people work” I learn at least something even if the other one is a crappy photographer and if my work is more cleaner than them, I was once in that crappy situation and that’s what i see. Thanks ZACK for the trememdous BLOG and MOTIVATION man. You need to come to NYC and do some workshops.

  • Antony Sastre said on June 12, 2012

    Thank you!

  • Fergus Randall said on June 13, 2012

    Once again, Zack, you’ve nailed it. I’m forever trying to tell friends to forget about running out and buying a MkIII to take pictures of cats because you took a decent shot with the iPhone.

    @Wes: As an Australian and if you’re into hip-hop, let me strongly suggest you check out Horrorshow, Phatchance, Drakezilla (this one has a free album up), Bliss n Eso

  • Chris said on June 13, 2012

    Thank you.

  • Rex Gigout said on June 13, 2012

    Thanks, Zack and Meg! Stay humble, Zack, and keep doing good work.

  • Andrew said on June 13, 2012

    Hmmm this upcoming post wouldn’t have anything to do with someone who’s name rhymes with “Flott Zelby” by any chance would it?

  • Barry said on June 13, 2012


    Oh the irony is just eating at me :)

  • Zack said on June 13, 2012

    @Barry – I know right? :)

  • Greg said on June 13, 2012

    Zack-Thanks for the kick in the ass!

  • michael said on June 13, 2012

    Before I say anything for the record I think DJ is a total fuksock. Also Zacks One Light DVD probably did more for me and my photography than any book,program,system possible. So before the fan bois jump on me , Im not a hater.

    That being said I wish this whole movement of bashing DJ would just die. The people who follow Zack and the people who follow DJ are in two different sections in the grocery store. But photographers more than anyone else Ive ever met seem to need something to throw darts at. I only shoot film guy bashes me for cross processing in lightroom. Starving introspective street photographer bashes me for for shooting a client in a chair in a field. Its like there is a need to have a piñata at all times. I guess photography is never going to be a team sport.

    Not everyone has be Andy Warhol. Its ok to be Bob. The guy who shoots local families because he enjoys it. I think a lot of people who do follow Zack are like Bob. Zack showed the Bobs how to do awesome things with just one light. If at the end of the day thats the mark you left, I think its pretty good one. I hate to see people be sort of condensending in a way just because someone isn’t a cutting edge innovator.

    My point is, live and let live. If someone wants to be in the DJ cult, it doesn’t effect me. I don’t care. While your blog post was interesting, when you post a shot and tell me how you did it and how you lit it….. I hang on every word bc thats why I
    follow you.

    I had a shoot today and 90% of what I did with my lighting I learned from you. I also made sure to take a vintage chair. I was going to wear my Doc Martins but I didn’t want to seem spiteful.

    Anyhow cheers. I really love what you do and thats why I just hate to see you spend your energy on num nards like DJ.

  • Zack said on June 13, 2012

    Michael – Well said and point taken and I agree and yet here I go. :) It’s not a post so much about DJ as a person but as the dumbing down of our industry. Everyone likes to say a raising tide raises all boats and all that but people are building boats out of paper these days and making fun of the Bob’s who sailed these seas long before we showed up. I’m tired of the pissing on the shoulders we stand on. That’s why I’m speaking out.


    PS – Fucksock. Ha! Hadn’t heard that one before!

  • michael said on June 13, 2012

    I see what you are saying. I think for me the issue is when a DJ discussion starts you ned up having people post and they just pile on people who are just doing what they are doing because they are just getting into this. We all have/had a progression and hopefully that progression never stops for our photography. We all have shots in our hard drive that makes us cringe. Be it selective coloring, hand heart on a baby belly, and yes even the chair in the field. But we’ve all been there and its important to remember that when critiquing

    My issue for DJ and why I think he’s a Ho-Tard isn’t really with photography. DJ realized the same thing that you did. That people new to photography are impressionable. Where you took the path of “Hey Bob, this is what I do with one light, it could probably help you ” ….DJ took a vampiric approach thats geared towards catching the fish before they are big enough to swim on their own and getting a monthly payment from them. I see people who were where I was 4 years ago and I feel bad they are being taken advantage of. But , like I said before if that makes them feel better and helps them Im not going to judge.

    Anyhow thanks for taking the time to reply. Take care.

  • Nathan Smith said on June 13, 2012

    Hmm.. Not sure why I hadn’t read this blog post before now, but it pretty much sums up how I have been feeling for well over a year now. I have been trying to fit that mold because, well I didn’t know any better. Last year I went full time into photography as a business and learned one important thing! I HATED PHOTOGRAPHY!!

    After having a camera in my hands for well over 20 years, shooting for fun, myself, and the creation of art and images, I had come to HATE the medium. I knew exactly why too. I tried to create a business out of my pasion, BUT it did it someone else’s way and not my own.

    This year I went back to shooting for myself. I LOVE photography again. I enjoy actually picking up my camera and taking photos. I will still be pursuing a business with it, just in my way. A slower more meaningful way. Something that allows me to create images I enjoy for the people that don’t stick me in the same box as everyone else. Until then I am shooing the things that intrest me.

    So thanks.. thanks for this reassurance that we are not all supposed to be photog-borg. That the struggle between my photo creation and business is SUPPOSED to be challenging and difficult. Maybe once the right pieces fall into place and it becomes easier AND I still want to touch my camera THEN I will know that I am doing it right.

  • Wilfredo said on June 13, 2012

    Nailed it again Zack..As Jeremy said, your writing is speak from the heart bro…and that is why I have continued to follow your path since 2008 – that passion of yours it’s contagious.


  • Vern said on June 13, 2012

    Zack, I follow you not because you are an awesome photographer, but because you don’t b.s. anyone. You care about your work and you care about others work. I personally can’t afford the workshops, but I can afford to read and those words have been a huge eye opener.

    Thank You.

  • AlexMenendez said on June 13, 2012


  • Kyle said on June 13, 2012

    “At least I’m not a photographer that found a better deal in teaching and selling crap and stopped shooting pictures.”

    Really? I’m pretty certain you learned photography from teachers when you went to school for it. Your “photo knowledge” wasn’t just a magical gift from God. There are plenty of teachers who are active as photographers and still make excellent work. Your post is immature and ignorant. You are just acting like a bully who makes himself feel better by putting other people down. I expected better of you.

  • Zack said on June 13, 2012

    @Kyle – I did go to school and my teachers all continued to shoot. I’m not talking about just photo teachers in general. Of course we need teachers. I still seek teachers. I have a lot to learn. I love photographers who share.

    I’m talking about a lot of folks who just got started in photography and then bowed out, stopped shooting, yet still hang around trying to help people be something they aren’t any more. I can’t kill all the teachers since I am one as well. I could teach full time right now and stop shooting. I don’t want to be that person. I’ll quit being an effective teacher.

    I’m sorry you feel I’m putting people down. I was hoping to encourage the “voices” in our industry who stopped shooting to go pick up a camera and lead with a lens instead of all the talk. I’m hoping to encourage myself to do the same.


  • Zack said on June 13, 2012

    @Kyle – Secondly, I do appreciate your honesty and candor.


  • May said on June 13, 2012

    Zack, been sending the hubs to play guitar in the church christian contemporary band. He rocks it out every week. His groupies made up of mature church ladies are growing but I am still awaiting for that “Project”. What gives?! Ha!

  • Laura said on June 13, 2012

    “Photography is such an ugly bitch and a gorgeous siren all at once.” Best. Quote.

  • Bret Douglas said on June 14, 2012

    Why do you hate Mother Teresa, hoss?

  • Bret Douglas said on June 14, 2012

    I wonder if you aren’t giving this DJ clown too much free pub. Thankfully, I had never heard of him before reading this blog post, but I managed to track him down on Facebook and find the infamous thread. I still can’t believe he offered to team up with you. Well, actually I do believe that since he’s out for the buck, but I can’t believe he thought you would even consider it.
    I couldn’t resist leaving my own comment which is printed below.

    David Jay wants to team up with Zack Arias? Really?
    David isn’t qualified to comb Zack’s beard. He should be teaming up with Ken Rockwell or some other faux photographer.
    “The System” is to photography what American Idol is to music. David says, “Give me your money and I’ll make you a Star, just like I did my friend, Jasmine Juarez.”
    Quick, name 3 American Idol winners!
    Yeah, didn’t think so….

  • kyle baker said on June 14, 2012

    zack, i agree 100%.the industry needs more creativity, more individuality and more personal vision.
    This post is exactly why I love your blog

  • Kyle said on June 14, 2012

    Thanks for the response, I was happy to see the clarification of your intent. I agree that teachers need to remain active in the field and cannot be effective if they stop shooting themselves. I understand that sometimes writers need to use inflammatory language to grab the readers attention and that the real view on the subject is generally not that extreme.


  • greg thurtle said on June 14, 2012

    Nicely written and some good points. Very honest and down to earth long may it continue

  • ksgal said on June 14, 2012

    Zack, just in case – you may want to check out some of these vidios – Satire is great

    And I think someone already beat you to it…

    Keep showing us how you do it! Thanks!

  • ksgal said on June 14, 2012

    O.M.G. just found this one, please get you or Meg to watch it!

  • PeteSuttonFineArt said on June 15, 2012

    You have a way of speaking what I think. As an artist, I constantly struggle to challenge and improve myself. I have spent the last three years shooting things the way I want to and not the way others in my “neighborhood” do. It seems to finally beginning to pay off. I stress for perfection, not the perfect photo, but what I envisioned before I clicked the shutter. I know if I am to be an artist I will constantly looking for the next great image. It is an addition and a high. Always move forward, alway learn. I am expanding my learning by teaching. It makes me think about what I am doing and why I am doing it.
    Thanks for the honesty and inspiration.

  • Alex Sablan said on June 15, 2012

    I was going to leave a long insightful response to your wonderful insight, but instead I am motivated to just #shutupandshoot.

    Thanks again for being an inspiration.

  • Frank Grygier said on June 15, 2012

    Zack, Your humility is your strength. It is who you are that touches so many. The doors that open are meant to be. I like your pictures too!

  • Geno said on June 16, 2012

    Yo Bro – nice homeslice of humble pie! You’re a down-to-earth cat – keep it real and God bless ya and yer kin!

  • Ryan said on June 16, 2012

    Honest and inspirational. You make me want to go out and shoot. Thanks Zack.

  • jay.eads said on June 16, 2012

    eff dan winters. i am rarely impressed with his portraits. then i keep looking. and coming back. and thinking about them. and then i am trying to figure out why. then i think he’s a genius… until the next time when i am unimpressed. lather, rinse, repeat. eff dan winters.

    f him to h.

    keep the streets alive in heart heart in whatever way you can… you clearly have a love for them, and it truly shows. not that it mattered until you got top 50!!! 😉 kudos ferreal.

  • Edgar said on June 16, 2012

    Thanks a lot for not playing the rock star on us starting in photography.

    Your words are totally inspiring and motivating because they are full of reality.

    And I think you do deserve to be in the top street photographer and I do believe your work is great!


  • Ed Devereaux said on June 17, 2012

    Damn Zack, you are the man. Why are you special, you show your true self in your work, words and actions and that is admirable in this world of hidden agendas.

  • Ahmad Al-Joboori said on June 18, 2012

    this post is a pure art, not to many photos it’s because “less is more”… PURE ART

  • Wagner said on June 18, 2012

    dude, that complex list is an absolute joke. your photography is just the commercial stuff the media wants. your street work is nice but far from being in any list and shows it is a hobby. seriously, and you had to mention you’re in it. haha! nice ego!

  • Zack said on June 18, 2012

    @Wagner – Glad to be of service.


  • Juliette said on June 18, 2012

    I love your sincerity Zack. And I love how you share your REAL self. That’s awesome. I hope to bump into you on the streets out there shooting. We’re bound to run into each other in ATL!

  • Todd Arena said on June 19, 2012

    Zack, I know what you’re sayin’ – but maybe you’re a way better street photographer than you might even think you are, dude. We all are our own worst critics. *preaching to the choir* again…

  • Paul Bence said on June 19, 2012

    A few honest words.

    1. You write with humour and honesty.
    2. You shoot decent pictures.
    3. Your generous with advice.

    For me those three things are already a huge give for one man so from me, thank you. Since I’ve started in photography some 7 years ago your advice and honesty has been like a little beacon of truth amongst all the other fog and smokescreen that somehow manages to float around the internet.

    I think the best thing about photography is there’s always someone better/different to you and that’s the thing that pushes me to try a little harder.

    Cheers mate

  • Scott said on June 20, 2012


    I first read your blog when you posted on shooting with white backgrounds. I stayed. I continued to read your blog. I probably always well, as long as you continue posting.


    Because I hear voices in my head. They scream at me when there are images to be made. They whisper thoughts on how to tweak an image as I am creating one. Your blog is the only one where I get a sense that someone else hears those same voices. That first post I read was a “how to”, but it sure as hell didn’t read like any other “how to” post I have ever read. Your blog has soul. Just like your images.


  • Iain Anderson said on June 21, 2012

    Eff you Zack… going out right now, damn MF’er – (that’s Medium Formatter,.. right? :)

  • silmasan said on June 21, 2012

    Zack… are you god? Cause I’m hearing voices too…

    (Meg, are you married to a god?) ^^

  • James M said on June 21, 2012


    After meeting you a couple times (and before I met you in person) I think I know why you have followers. It’s you man, you are honest and straight up (only way to be in my opinoin). The biggest impact you had in my life is seeing the images you come up with having only a single light. As others have said as well I take what you teach and apply it to what I do if I can, (or work on it until I can do it sucessfully). I think that other people see your work and know that most of your work is in camera work and that you dont need a lot of stuff to produce great images. This is what pushes me all the time… (I smack myself when I think.. “I can just fix it in photo shop!!” lol)

    One other thing is that you teach well and others see that, you help others learn and they appreciate it and take it to heart. It’s your style of teaching and helping others that shows who you (and Meg!) are.

    This was pretty cool also…
    “A lot of you leaders block the cynics and critics of you. Embrace them. Follow them. Listen to what they have to say. There’s truth in the trolls. Learn. Pick up your camera. Turn your haters into your motivators. Quit acting like you’re 12. Run you MF’ers. Run”

    accepting feedback whether good or bad is key as there is always someting to learn (even if it’s learing how off the wall people can be) in this industry especially from the ones starting out due to their drive, open mindedness and willingness to break all the rules sometimes or all the time lol.

    Thanks to you ( and Meg) for all that you guys do and provide for this industry. Keep on doing what you do man because we love seeing your work and learning from you and others willing to teach.

    P.S. if you’re in LA it’s fun challenge time, I have an idea to throw out there if others are up for it also.

  • Ramiro said on June 25, 2012

    Hey Zack, thanx for this post. This one hit home really hard for me because I am going through some of that, where I’ve tried to be respectful of what others are doing and make my own mold as it were, but others in my area don’t give a damn about others and they just outright copying what others are doing. The problem is that it’s not just the copying, but the undercutting everyone else that just is Effing ridiculous. I am seriously considering just throwing in the towel…extremely frustrated right now. But thanx for sharing, I have always looked up to you and followed you since that OneLight in Chicago, hopefully I can make it out of this rut soon. Thanx again man and many blessings on all you do. – Ramiro

  • Alex Coghe said on June 25, 2012

    Thanks for this post. I admit it is the first itme that I read your blog. And I find this auto-analysis a great article.

  • Carlos said on June 26, 2012

    I really liked your post. Your line of “stop talking about being a photographer for a little while, pick up your damn camera, and go be a photographer for awhile.” really resonated with me. I’ve been doing that alot lately. It has motivated me to stop talking about photography, go pick up my camera again and just be a photographer. Thank you

  • james said on June 27, 2012

    Zack, thanks for letting us peek in on your introspection. I enjoy your blogging and more importantly, it does inspire me both in my own photography and in other aspects of life. I believe that many artist (especially those with family) struggle with the “art vs. business vs. more success” implementation. And the compromise that must be made to be responsible must also affect the quality of the art. It is only fair that one love (your family) must affect the other (your love of creating art). The quandary is how to do both with quality and integrity (and keep the success demon at bay). Your time on the street may be less, but your writing is better and better and your family is not on the street. That is living art. The workshop industry will always be there and as it becomes more mainstream will/has lost much of its own subculture charm (remember when photo walks were a couple of people taking pictures? Now they are marketing strategies). Even photographs on Google+ are looking more and more like over-cooked heat lamp cheese hamburger. They may be selling a million a year. But that doesn’t make it a tasty burger. Thanks for sharing your struggles as we wrestle with our own.

  • Scott Gant said on June 30, 2012

    Zach, great article as always…but I have to ask about you saying: “Yesterday I filmed a short intro to an upcoming blog post calling out some crap happening in a part of our industry. I felt this future post needs a personal introduction because I call a certain person out, along with their crap website they’re spreading around”. Did that ever happen? Did I miss it!

    Not that I’m looking for who it was, but more what it was you were referring to.

  • Zack said on June 30, 2012

    @Scott – Not yet. Getting a few things done in the background right now. It’ll be up this next week.

  • Leif Hurst said on July 6, 2012

    I look forward to the internet crashing when you post this thing.

  • Bobby Magee said on July 8, 2012

    Can’t wait to see this System commentary. Some of us who are customers of that company have openly bashed the thing. It’s been pretty frustrating to have brides that pay attention associate our business with it, simply because we have used that company’s services. Looking forward to the post.

  • Kari said on July 8, 2012

    Wow. I went in search of OCF stuff and stumbled across this blog post instead. Everything you said resonates so deeply with me. We are a tortured bunch, aren’t we? I have been a photographer for 13 years, wrestling almost daily with the struggle between my ego (and the intense desire to do something “different,” be original, etc.) and the very real need(s) to put food on the table, work hard, do good work, be a good business person, yadda yadda yadda. I have eaten well. I have also, at times, wanted to walk away from eating well…so that I could walk away from the girl on the vintage couch in the field. Ha.

    But here’s what I have found to be true. Originality is a myth. It really is. What matters is finding your thing and doing it, no matter how long it takes. Photographers — especially digital photographers — are not known for being patient people who love something for a long time. Days after falling in love with an image (of my own), I am done with it. It is part of what fuels us and part of what prevents us from being satisfied.

    In the past year, I have finally come up with a project that feels right for me. That feels deeply personal yet universal. It might take me several more years to finish it and have enough images that could become Something. With a capital S. But I think it’s worth doing. And I feel really good about it. And I don’t give a rat’s ass if someone else has done Something like it.

    And the funny thing is, the more I work on *that* project, the more I see a personal style finally emerge. And the less I look at other photographers’ images, the more I see a personal style emerging. Heavily influenced for SURE — but no longer a copy/paste approach.

    It’s so tough. I feel your pain. I spent a long time among the gliterrati in this industry. Worked right alongside them. I stepped back — consciously. I never felt right there. I always wanted to speak up and ask everyone what the hell they were doing. What the point was. And maybe, for some folks, the point is not just shooting — but teaching. Not just shooting — but being recognized by their peers for shooting. I have never been it for that. Not even for a day or a moment. I am the worst at entering competitions or participating on forums. The worst. I just want to shoot and be happy and eat and not feel tortured – a tall order. Ha!

    I’m going to shutupandshoot now. Or at the very least, keep backing up this wedding and get back to online shopping for OCF stuff I probably don’t need. 😉

  • kristi odom said on July 9, 2012

    wow… thank you

  • Tom K. said on July 12, 2012

    Zack…..when I saw your street work on 500px I was floored. It really struck me as powerful. It stood out in the crowd of street photogs working today. I was disappointed that the brilliant Nils Jorgensen didn’t make the cut.

  • Robert said on July 23, 2012

    I just keep coming back to your work (and this post in particular), Zack. Thanks so much for re-fueling my passion for photography over and over again. Rock on, dude…

  • Chris Thorpe said on July 26, 2012

    I discovered you via the digitalrev video the other day and since then I have followed and been fascinated by your digital trail. I am simply a frustrated british amateur photographer of 22 years, but that’s my problem to resolve. However I read this and something struck me and wanted to comment.

    “I don’t know how he (speaking of me) has so many followers. His photography isn’t all that special. There are so many other photographers doing real work out there yet this guy (again, speaking of me) has everyone thinking he’s great.”

    Has everyone thinking he is great … ? I wish I had your mystical powers too; this on top of your general skill, your eye, your people skills and your years of perseverance and trying. The latter is the key but is no good without the others. By the way I am not here just to blow smoke up your arse, I just wanted to say thanks for getting me off my backside and enjoying taking photos again and maybe if I’m really lucky and work really hard one day someone will say about me “His photography isn’t all that special.” and I’ll know that it is simply envy.

  • Matt Cain said on September 17, 2012

    “I don’t know how he (speaking of me) has so many followers. His photography isn’t all that special. There are so many other photographers doing real work out there yet this guy (again, speaking of me) has everyone thinking he’s great.”

    I’m not sure if you have people thinking you’re great or not. I’m not sure if your photography is or isn’t all that special – it’s better than mine, so that makes it special for me. What makes you special in the world of photography is your attitude to continuing your improvement in our wonderful world. Moving forwards, being scared of becoming stagnant, refusing to stand still and getting something like the x100 and just going out to shoot.

    And keep writing about it. Please do that. Being able to articulate what you feel about your photography is a godsend for those of us who can’t do that. It can help us focus what is important for us by seeing what is important for you.


  • Dan SwetmanDswetman said on October 10, 2012

    After reading all the opinions of the frustrated masses, may I say thank you for showing us that photography is more about heart, soul, and the gifts God gave us than gear, F stops, and theory. If we are to be true observers of the dynamics of our world, then we might want to talk less and image (imagine) more.

    I’m just not that important, but hopefully whatever images I record will document the importance of our collective, human existence. Thanks for your viewpoints and may your career and that of your wife’s be both successful and blessed.

  • Benjamin Pélissié said on January 6, 2013

    It’s always a pleasure to read you… Always very honest, accurate, smart and kind of unique. Personally I found that your views and advises help me a lot in my job (and life). Oh and I’m not an american protog, I’m a french researcher. I think it tells a lot about the quality of your discernment. BTW I’m in love with my X100 too, but who cares. Thanks a lot and take care. Ben.

  • Bo said on May 3, 2016

    Zack, I cant leave your infos as I keep finding new good things all the time.
    Spending normally 1 hour for inspiration and you have by now eaten up several hours :-)
    Thank you so much

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