I’m standing back stage at a venue called Iron City in Birmingham, Alabama and I’m waiting for someone who I have wanted to photograph for more than five years. Any minute now he’s going to walk out of the green room and I’m going to have a few minutes to make that portrait. The opening band is finishing their set so there’s no possible way those few minutes I’ll have will get extended. I have my trusty Fuji X100T with the TCL lens adapter, the Instax printer, and a $9 flashlight I bought at a truck stop a few hours before. I’m reminding myself to stay calm, don’t go full fan boy, and it’s just photography. Then Glen Hansard comes out of the green room and says he’s ready for his portrait.

Meghan’s present to me on Christmas morning was tickets to this show and that alone would have been fine. Glen Hansard is the only musician we’ve ever gotten on a plane to see and since his current tour was not coming through Atlanta we were hitting the road again to go see him. I was ecstatic! Then she said, “The other part of this present is —  you may or may not have a chance to shoot his portrait. I’m working on it.”

A few years ago I was in Chicago and saw via Glen’s Twitter feed that he was also in Chicago and I thought I’d see if I could connect with him to shoot a portrait. It didn’t happen. Later that same year I was in New York and saw, again, via Twitter, that he was in New York so I tried again. That time we connected, and he seemed open to the idea, but our schedules couldn’t align so it didn’t happen. The next year he was playing in Atlanta the day after I returned from a big trip and I tried connecting again but it fell flat. Three strikes and I was out. Thankfully Meghan doesn’t accept baseball metaphors.


Here’s my chance. Now what in the hell am I going to do?



Knowing there was a chance I’d finally get to shoot a portrait of Glen I began pre-visualizing what I would do. I know his music. I know the photos that are out there of him. Photographer Paul Mac Manus hit me up on Twitter at some point when I was trying to connect with Glen and told me that if I showed up with a Leica Glen would probably respect that a lot. Ok. So he’s more of an old school film / analog guy than something new and digital. That makes sense. Glen has a video that was shot entirely through the ground glass of an 8×10 camera and one of his official press photos looks to be shot on type 55 film.

© Someone Else.


There’s a certain analog feel to much of what Glen does so I decided I wasn’t going to show up with the PhaseOne and lights and all of that. I also found out that this Birmingham show was the first night of his current US tour and that can bring a lot of anxiety and stress to anyone connected with this tour much less Glen himself. Just the fact that his management was talking with Meghan and had not completely written her request off was a huge surprise. I’m sure that if this had been a request for a major news outlet then of course they would agree to a portrait but I’m just another fan who wants a minute of Glen’s time. On his first night of a new tour. As the opening band is finishing their set. I think showing up with a full rig of gear would have been the wrong move.

I decided I was going to use my X100T and no lights. I’d just figure it out when I got there and make the most of whatever was available. As soon as Atlanta was in my rearview mirror I immediately began to regret my decision to not pack a light or two. My dear friend and fellow photographer, Cary Norton, lives in Birmingham so I thought that I would call him and borrow a light or two. Three maybe? And some stands. And a background. NOOOOOO!!! I was nervous as shit and started thinking about what the backstage area would look like. Not only did I not want to rush in and overwhelm him with all this OMG photo gear, I actually wanted to enjoy the evening with my wife, watch the show, and not stress about a ton of gear. When you’re on the date night of the year it’s best not to have bags of gear in tow.

There can be this glorified idea of what “backstage” must be like. There are probably some cool little rooms where the artists hang out. Surely they are filled with character and offer visual options at every turn. The truth is, for the vast majority of backstage areas that I have seen in my life, backstage sucks. It’s predominantly cinder block walls painted some ugly ass color, folding tables filled with partially devoured sandwich platters and a bowl of mayonnaise. There will be no less than four people sitting around in folding chairs staring into laptops. The couches will be some furniture store floor sample rejects. All of this will be washed in overhead fluorescent lighting. Shit. As I finished fueling I solidified my game plan.

“I’m going to find one of those bright little LED flash lights, find as plain of a background as I can find backstage and light Glen with that flash light. If it’s bright enough it will overpower the ambient as though I’m using a flash. It’s lo-fi. It’s has the right amount of ‘WTF is this guy doing?’ but will be an interesting enough light on Glen’s face that when I print out some Instax for him it’s going to look pretty cool on those little prints. I’ll set my camera to to shoot a film simulation bracket of normal, Classic Chrome, and B&W so I have some options when I’m printing. That’s what I’m going to do.”

And that… is exactly what I did. I bought a cheap LED flash light at the truck stop and drove on to Birmingham to shoot my portrait of Glen F*cking Hansard. One of the greatest songwriters alive today.


photographing glen hansard






Glen Hansard Portrait

I shot a handful of portraits, thanked him for his time, and pulled out the Instax SP1 printer to make a few prints for him and, again, I can’t tell you enough, everyone loves the Instax. The images above are straight from camera. I shot auto WB because that LED flashlight had some sort of funky cast to it so I just let the Fuji figure it out or at least get me close and that’s what it did. Glen was fantastic to work with and I’m so thankful both to him and his management for giving me a few minutes to make a portrait of someone I respect so much. And Meghan… I don’t have the words to thank you enough for this.

Lighting is fun. Flashes, strobes, softboxes, grids, beauty dishes, c-stands with arms and knuckles, and all of that. I love all of that shit as much as anyone but sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes you just need a flash light from a truck stop. My portrait of Glen isn’t going to define my career or my “legacy” as a photographer but damn it all — I got to photograph Glen Hansard. I got to meet the man, and shake his hand, and personally thank him for all of the music he puts out into the world.



Dear Jack White,

May I please take a portrait of you?


Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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  1. Andy

    I always love the work you produce and share with the TCL! I have done some ‘lo-fi’ lighting stuff with a flashlight too and it’s a lot of fun.

  2. Jim Robertson

    My wife and I love him ever since seeing “Once”! What a great opportunity! Fabulous images, Zack!

    • Jim Robertson

      I’ve been going back and back again to look at your portraits of Glen while listening to his music stream through his website and just want to add; what beautiful and soulful eyes he has! Methinks I’m developing a man crush.

      • Zack Arias

        Such a man crush!


  3. Ted

    What an amazing story, Zack! I think I remember that tweet of yours tweeting glen to do a portrait back when he was in Chicago. So glad that Meghan was able to get this to happen!

  4. John Haugaard

    Zack – Great story. Really meaningful portraits.

  5. Vergentino Robles

    I’ve been waiting for this for years. I mean, I’ve been waiting *for you* to do this. It finally happened. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a photo pass when he was in my area. Strike one for me. I know what I’ll do next time: call Meghan. 🙂

  6. Christian

    Great portrait of Glen. Charming just with the simplicity is it made of. And amazing story how you got there ..

    And YES Zack, Jack White, pls 🙂

  7. Mike Bourgeault

    Nice work , I know you’ve been wanting to shoot him forever, glad you got the chance! Congrats! I got to shoot Henry Rollins once and it was terrifying (he was totally nice, I was just psyching myself out I think).

  8. Daf

    Nice story.
    The bit about back stage is so true – sucks big style.

    Good luck with Jack White – by all accounts he’s not keen on photographers. Not during the show at least – I’m a press agency photographer in the UK and we got turned down straight – no photographers (July).
    (But then agencies are usually at the bottom of the list with accreditation)

  9. Styron Pennywell

    Great story! When we’ve all grown old, leaky, and senile this is one to hold on to (I hope I get a chance to make a portrait of Outkast).

  10. jarWoodson

    My hat is off to you and especially Meg – we retweeted the hell out of her call for help with this!!!

    Warm Regards,


    • Meghan Arias

      Yes you did! And thank you so much! The funny thing is, all the tweeting almost backfired. Glen told me how he hates twitter campaigning and almost didn’t want to do it. Phew.

  11. Nicola Cocco

    Great story, Zack!

    I really love seeing and learning how you use and shape the light and take amazing portraits also in very challenging situations!!

    Thank you for sharing all this stuff and your stories with us and to have had a big role in making me buy my first Fuji… I really love the X100T!

  12. Myles

    Okay, so I just listened to High Hope. And… now I can see why you enjoy him so much. Haven’t heard him till now. Such great passion behind what he is expressing. Very nice. I will be buying his music. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It is special. Congratulations.

  13. MangoMan

    Cool story bro!

    I like how you tell your tales, and how it always hits the spot.

  14. Jeff Weeks

    Jeeez – look at those baby blues on Greg! He really has a great face, and I love what you did with that $3.99 flashlight from the gas station check-out counter. Such a great story. And nice work, Meg – it’s almost like you and Zack know each other or somethin’

  15. Sid Ceaser

    F*ck yes. F*****ck yes!

    I have a few people on my “Gosh I’d be honored if I could ever get a photo of them”. One is a musician I’ve loved since I was in high school. A few years back I finally just said what the hell, and emailed him. He was going to be in town.

    He actually wrote back, and we locked in a time, but then it fell apart the night before the gig; late tour busses and etc.

    I’m still bummed out about it, but I think if I email him again next time he’s going to be close by, he’ll give me another shot.

    I love that it was a camera and a flashlight. Less time setting up, more time talking to him. Or worshiping him. 😉

    • james

      It’s nice to see so many fall through stories. I was supposed to take a trip to NY to shoot a musician that I’ve been a huge fan of for a long time and it fell through at the last minute….I was conserned with just seeming creepy if I tried multiple times but I guess I’ll go for it!

  16. Michael Matthews

    Great story. Great behind-the-scenes shot showing use of flashlight.

    May I interrupt with one gear question? When one-handing the Fuji and other small cameras, does the thumb rest solve the problem of accidentally mashing the four-way directional control on the back of the camera?

    I haven’t made it to Fuji cameras yet….still putzing around with old Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3rds…but the bane of my existence is those damned buttons on the right hand side of the camera back. Several times per session the base of my thumb will inadvertently change the ISO or some other sneaky setting and the shots which follow (until I realize it) are salvage jobs.

    I’ll admit to being ham-handed and inept, but there has to be a cure for this. One I can buy.

    • Zack Arias

      Ha! The thumb grip does help with the ham hand. God knows I have one too. 🙂


  17. William

    Super post. Managed to get to shoot a few of The Frames gigs in University of Limerick….he was just plain AMAZING!!! Gotta dig those negatives out!

  18. Laurel

    May I shoot your portrait?……..

    I love your stories – you write like you talk in a way that it’s easy to follow and understand. I know this has nothing to do with the technical part of your article – but how do you even begin to approach this type of subject to ask permission to take their picture? I’m sure this is a book all to itself – but I’m sure interested in how you grow a pair that big to even ask! Kudos to you Meghan!!!

    …..and I’m serious about my request 😉

    • Zack Arias

      If our paths ever cross Laurel you can take a portrait of me.

      See. It’s that easy sometimes. Or you just caught me on a good day. Or you’d find me to be a hypocrite if I said no to you when Glen just said yes to me. 🙂


  19. Susie

    That is just awesome. I bet he was like what the uck and also like hmmm interesting

  20. Sid Ceaser

    Let’s talk about the SaberStrip a little more, shall we?

    If I had a hammer for every time a local photographer talked about the frikkin’ Westcott Ice Light, I’d be standing on a pile of dead photographers.

    I don’t have a SaberStrip, but It’s been on my radar for quite some time. You could get, what, 5 SaberStrips for the cost of an IceLight. An entire studio setup for the cost of one of those dumb icicle lights. I haven’t attended many local meetups, but if I did, I’d get one just so I could whip it out like a Giant’s magician wand, and blow them away with it. Seriously.

    SaberStrip > IceLight. Stop listening to what PPA tells you. Be smart. SaberStrip.

    • Sid Ceaser

      I just realized that the same people that cherish the IceLight are the same people that can’t operate flashes.

      Get two SaberStrips and take a workshop.

      • james

        Everything has it’s place. I have a fake icelight (under $100) for the portability. I like the SS for the power and better light quality.

    • Doug

      I got shouted down on a local forum yesterday for suggesting that strip boxes>ice light. And I’m local to you!

    • Sid Ceaser (@sidceaser)

      I just realized I posted this on the wrong thread. It should be over in the 4 Light Modifiers area. Whooops.

      • Zack Arias

        I was wondering about that. 🙂


  21. Tim

    Some of my most fun projects/shoots have been a little like this – pursuing something that you probably know won’t happen. But, being brave enough to ask, because what’s the worst they can say when you ask? And if it’s not a “NO”, then you have a dream come true. Or at least a shot at it. Like your desire to shoot Glen, I got to meet, interview & shoot Andreas Gursky. Such a buzz. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Dino Pawlak

    Great story. Always a pleasure to dive into your way to get the shot. Hope to meet you again next year in Cologne.

  23. james

    I have a bucket list of people that I want to photograph who have influenced me in one way or another (musicians, writers, photographers “nobodies’…) I’ll hopefully be on the second attempt at a musician this summer last summer fell through at the last minute….It’s nice to see I’m in good company with that happening. 🙂

    There’s also this guy named Zack Arias on the list so if you’re ever going to be in New England and I send you an email I’m not just some creepy stalker 😉 (doesn’t really matter where in NE I’ll travel)

  24. Jin

    Zack – I think this is easily one of my favorite posts you’ve written. When I have the guts to go and photograph a portrait in just a few minutes with just minimal lighting, I know I’ll have reached a new personal level.

  25. Michael Donahue

    Thank you Mr. Arias,

    I was not familiar with Mr. Hansard’s work. But now I am and I have you to thank.

    …oh and the rest of what you do is pretty cool also. More signal, less noise. Thanks Again.

  26. jason

    You’re my hero … better yet, Meghan is my hero!

    Had to put on “Once” soundtrack while reading this. I’ve seen Glen perform a few times and love this story!

  27. Andy Uttley

    I love this post and it’s almost a given that I love your pictures Zack but I’d never heard of Glen Hansard!

    I’m listening to him right now though. Where have I been? Glen Hansard rocks! Thanks Zack for more then just your pics and your words…

  28. Gabriele Conti

    Zack, you’re a f****in fool to take a portrait of Glen with that stupid flahshlight…I love that!

    I love the two portraits, they’re brilliant!!!!!

    I also love Glen, and you both are inspiring me a lot with this post.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  29. adam bucci

    his album with marketa irglova, the swell season, is quite lovely

  30. Ranti Dev

    I love you. :*

  31. Jeremy D. Meier

    And sometimes if you’re hungry, all you need is a flashlight and a tuna salad sandwich from a gas station! 🙂

    Awesome shot Zack!

    – Jeremy.

  32. John Woodward

    Hey Zack

    First time correspondence, so be gentle…..but have been a massive admirer of your work AND your teaching style…a real inspiration to me. And just wanted to say, not only thanks for a GREAT story and a real eye opener and thought provoker on how to overcome personal barriers, fears and thoughts, work through them and work simple, but also for showing us this really rather excellent portrait and your method in doing it. But whats more….and this for me is more personal, as I know you produce excellent work to admire most of the time anyway (I shall stop, as you Americans say “ass kissing” now), thank you for introducing me to Glen Hansard! I had never heard of him or his music before this story and I checked him out…..WOW!!! Where has he been all my life? What a voice, what simple, beautiful music! I saw a collaboration with Lisa Hannigan (of who I am already a big fan of) on YouTube at some Irish concert and was utterly blown away……he will be on my music purchase list in the very near future! THANK you for this….one of my favourite things you have posted on this site for so many reasons (damn, more ass kissing….)

    • Zack Arias

      Thanks John!

      I hope more than showing a photo I can introduce Glen’s music to folks who haven’t heard of him before. Do check out The Frames. Unbelievable band.


      • Greg

        Yes, one of the best bands around. I’ve gotten to see them 3 times so far in Philly (and another time for a Glen solo gig) and each one was amazing. Seeing them in Ireland is definitely on my bucket list. Some other Irish acts to check out:

        Paddy Casey
        Damien Rice
        and if you haven’t heard Glen and Colm’s cover of Britney Spear’s Everytime (I know, I know but just trust me)…it’s incredible.

  33. Joey Tichenor

    Brilliant idea and sound advice for working on the fly. I can imagine shooting this way added a layer of intimacy by forgoing the typical/cumbersome strobe/dslr set up. Also, I would guess that a guy, who is an artist himself, photographed many times in a standard way (strobe kit & seamless set up) would be very curious of your creative spin and appreciate it’s results for being a bit different. Excellent execution, and certainly good enough for a Rolling Stone cover.

    Come on Jack White…….Let this guy shoot ya=)

  34. Andrew Molitor

    Well done. The color is nice enough but he’s got ‘camera face’ on, to my eye.

    The b&w looks like he’s dropped the mask for a moment.

    Did he really? Dunno. Who cares? If it looks good, it is good, right?

    Bloody hard to get the mask to go down in a handful of minutes, I think.

  35. Mannymal

    Zack, when you are using your X100T for a shooting like this, in which exposure is critical, do you use the optical viewfinder or the electronic one?

    • Mannymal

      Of course, exposure is always critical, but you had such little time and were using a friggin’ truck stop flashlight, so I am curious as to whether you carefully corrected with the EVF, or decided to go commando with the OVF?

      BTW, I bought an X100T a week ago. I needed a constant companion of a camera on my travels (which is a constant in my life, airline pilot) and after reading and seeing you gush over it I gave in.

      I now have all of my cameras and lenses on sale.

  36. Brainkite

    Yaaayyy the Zack taking a portrait of Mr White would be soooo awsome!!

  37. Rory

    Very FWO3-esque. Great!

  38. Oscar De La Villa Jr

    I knew you were a person that appreciated music so I read the entry. I then checked out the video that you posted, I said to myself “Huh, I’ve heard this Irish guy’s voice before”. Then after doing the whole google thing I realized that I have been looking for this guys music for such a long time. I remember watching his movie a number of years ago but I forgot all of the details necessary to look it up. Thanks for writing about your experience.

    I can’t imagine how it felt to photograph some you held in such high regard. I’m sure you now have an unparalleled level of appreciation for his portrait!

    Cheers and Thanks


  39. Holden Wesley


    I wish I had remembered I had a flashlight on me the last time I was actually out at a planned photo shoot.

    Was shooting a friend just before she went home to Singapore. As an exchange student in Japan, I didn’t bring anything for lighting with me but bought a 5-1 as soon as we were able to work out a date for the shoot.

    She showed up 30mins late, which had been a planned sunset shoot, so that’s scrapped, and have to struggle to find a place still with anything near decent light. Anyway, long story short, not very good shoot, got maybe 3 pics usable, we gave up trying after 30mins and rescheduled which never happened. Week later emptying my bag…pull out my 1500 lumen 5 head flashlight.

    I proceeded to bash my head into the wall for an hour.

  40. Hal

    As it happens, I am life-long friends with the studio producer/engineer who won a couple of Grammy’s working with Jack White. Now, that doesn’t mean I can hook you up, but I know a guy…

  41. Chris

    I love this Zack. Real photography!

  42. Ren Muñoz

    Zack just rocked that shoot, flashlight and an X100t.

    But Meghan was the sweetest!

    Awesome true story 🙂

  43. Henri Järvinen

    Amazing photographs! I’m ready to buy a flashlight now!

  44. Riitz

    Hey Zack,

    Great Story, Great wife 😉
    I Wonder if you shoot wide Open with the TCL attached? I somehow always have my doubts about that.

    • Zack Arias

      I stop down a bit to 2.2 or so. Wide open isn’t the sharpest.


  45. Mark waters

    Great story Zack……!!!!

  46. Angie

    This is such an inspiring post. I just bought an X100T. Photography is a passion, not a job/work. So knowing that I can use LED flashlights like that and get good results is super exciting. I want to play with all of these possibilities. And, oh yeah, Glen Hansard is amazing.

  47. Chris

    Dude, awesome story. Thanks for sharing this kinda stuff. It’s really inspirational to see you just strip down and go for it. You are also one of a kind.

  48. Paul

    Thanks Zack for that inspiring story of your perseverance to make the portrait and I love that you did it YOUR way. I loved his work first seeing him in The Commitments, to Once and my wife and I saw the stage play Once last year and it was superb. A great adaptation of the film.

    Keep doing great work!

  49. Paul Crouse

    Everytime I watch “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once,” I always start crying. Few songs can ever do that to me. Great post.

  50. Christopher Grisanti

    Dear Mr. Springsteen,
    Please disregard my previous attempts to schedule a photo shoot with you. I now realize my approach was all wrong. Bruce, I’d like you to meet Meghan. . .

  51. Marcia

    Wow.Thank you. Love it.

  52. David McDonald

    Just found this post. What a night out/present that must’ve been! I’m also a huge fan of Glen (actually attempting to sing Falling Slowly at my daughter’s wedding next week!). Nice shot of him & I love your inventive approach to lighting, this one and all your videos, books etc.
    Have thought, on occasion, of adding that TCL to my X100s – specifically for the portrait shots. I know it upsets the X100 aesthetic a bit, but would you recommend it anyway?
    And thanks again for all your hard work reminding us why we need/love photography.