Monday, December 6, 2021


The two most important things I've learned in my 50+ years as an artist–-with over 35 years as a professional photographer––is that the choice of focal length is the most important artistic decision in photography, which, when coupled with, to quote Ansel Adams, "Where You Stand", relative to the subject, takes care of 95% of the decisions to be made before you click the shutter. These two things can take decades from some photographers to learn (if ever!). The other 5%; choice of aperture, shutter speed and ISO (The Exposure Triangle) I can teach someone in an hour.

16mm Fisheye, f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 100, Ektachrome I.R.Film

So, on to the subject of this blog. I watched this building being built some 46 years ago; it was completed in 1976. It's located on 1st Street and Hedding in downtown San Jose, California. At the time with its all chrome-look surface flanked by the rusty towers that enclosed the fire-escape stairs, it was the most modern looking building in San Jose. 

Its block like shape didn't thrill me. It looked too static and un-dynamic to be an artistic subject if photographed in a literal style. It looked to be the ideal subject for one of my favorite lenses––the 16mm, Rectilinear, Fisheye (The Minolta Rokkor) for my Minolta SRT 101.

Now, Where to Stand? I knew I had to be close, so I went out there on a weekend so there would be fewer people downtown. Walking around the building I discovered that it was built on a pedestal with a concrete walkway and patio dug out (below grade) surrounding its base.  Fantastic, that meant I could stand under the edges of the building! Being that close and tilting-up with my fisheye gave me incredible distortion turning the building into a pyramid when I placed one of its corners near the middle of my viewfinder's frame. In addition, to create a more surreal, dramatic image I chose Kodak, Ektachrome, Infa-Red film and used my lenses built-in 80B filter to make the sky purple.

Here's what the building looks like in reality today....

f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400, Lens at 65mm

It's actually difficult to photograph a building this large without distorting it. I found that I had to back off about half-a-block with my zoom lens at 65mm to not distort its shape. This illustrates again why Focal Length and Where You Stand are so important especially with large subjects.

The Focal Length you choose:

- determines the artistic canvas (how much you see).

- determines the perspective.

- determines the composition.

- and determines what Kind of Distortion (Extension––wide angle or Compression––telephoto) will be used, if any.

Where you stand––relative to subject:

When using a wide angle:  The wider the focal length / the closer to the subject the more pronounced the wide angle (Extension) distortion. Remember, objects closest to your lens will be increased in size the most, relative to the objects farthest away.

The effect of Extension Distortion is so extremely unattractive on portraits of people that I never move in close to a person with a lens of 50mm or wider focal length. My wide angle lenses are only for Landscapes, or artistic images of things.

'Til next time... Jerry

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Training site:

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


As a professional photographer, one of the ways we practice is to photograph things we own. So, wether it’s a car or motorcycle, of which I’ve had many over the past 50 years, I’ve usually preferred to do them by Natural Light.  Since I want dramatic lighting the two basic times of day to use are in the evening or in the morning.  I usually go for evening “Magic Hour” as it’s easy to work with and I can consistently achieve great results.  However, for a portrait of our latest Jeep I wanted backlit fall colors behind my Jeep and in my location of choice that was happening in the morning at the River’s Edge in Eagle, Idaho. What was interesting at this spot was the unusual lighting.

It’s Mixed Morning Light….
f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 142mm
What I mean by mixed morning light is that we have different color temperatures of light on the car. On the left we have warm direct sunlight (low angle sun at 10:30am) and on the right we have cool, blue, sky light. In post I brought the highlights and whites down a lot and you can see that those highlights on the right hand side of the car are not clipping. Then I warmed the image to 5450°K to a more pleasing tone for those fall colors.  The car photography specialists would probably not like using mixed color temperature lighting, but I like this image—it’s different.

Then there’s the Magic Hour at Sunset…
f5.0 @ 1/320 se.c, ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
It’s hard to beat this kind of outdoor Natural Light on anything!  It’s warm, directional, smooth and a single color temperature. This was done out in my son’s “backyard” in Lancaster, California about 10 minutes before sunset.

I really like both images for different reasons. What’s your preference?

’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


On Monday November 11th we celebrated Veteran’s Day doing portraits of our veterans! This great event all came about when we donated one of our charitable gift certificates for a family portrait to the Edgewood Spring Creek Eagle Island fund raiser in their silent auction.  We donate these gift certificates to about 25 different charities every year.  Soon after they contacted us with their idea of a Veterans’ Day portrait event to be held at their facility.  The event called, “Honor, Salute, THANK” would include portraits of veterans living at their facility (they have an independent, assisted living and memory care facility) and other facilities in the area. Edgewood would cover the cost of a 5x7” color print & folder to be given to each veteran and we would donate all of our labor. With military on both sides of our family—my father-in-law; Navy, WWII; my father, USAF, Korea; and my brother; Army, Military police—we didn’t hesitate to go all-in for this event.

Some were formal-in dress uniforms.

When the other veterans saw this gentleman walk in one quipped, “Even if I could find my old uniform I could never fit into it today!”  After each veteran had his portrait done they tended to hang around to raz each other and talk shop about their tours of duty in various wars. They all had a good time and really appreciated what we were doing.

Most were casual with their special hats.

I liked this one because he brought some memorabilia and when I saw the 8x10 print of his official Army portrait I had him pose with it to ad to his story.

Kathi and I had so much fun doing their portraits! We want to thank all of our vets for spending time with us and also want to thank everybody at Edgewood Spring Creek Eagle Island that assisted us in making this event a success; and a special shout-out to Cindy Barsness—Sales & Public Relations Director—who put this great event together!

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


We are fortunate here in our part of Idaho (Meridian, Boise, Eagle) to have many pet friendly parks with great trees and features where we can pose family groups, and then it just gets better when fall arrives!  Unfortunately, every other photographer in the valley knows this and if our clients insist on a weekend session our parks can become so crowded that it can spoil the experience for all of us.  However, since I’m so picky about when and where I do our outdoor portraits our only real problem at say Kathryn Albertson Park on a Saturday is finding a place to park.  So, to reduce these problems I try to book most outdoor sessions during the work week, avoiding the weekend, at about two hours before sunset.  

The first part of this planning is obvious, avoid the crowds, but the second part, two hours before sunset, is tactical and technical. Most outdoor photographers think that they must be out there at the so called Magic Hour and so they go out later than I do—which is fine by me—because then I’m leaving the park when they’re arriving! That’s the tactical part, but the important technical part is that the sun in Idaho never gets very high in the sky and at two-hours before sunset it’s plenty low enough to get me the backlight I want to create a fall like look even in the summer. I’ve found that if I’m out there during the last hour of light I can get sun flare in my lens while trying to get backlight behind my subjects. Unlike some trendy photographers I hate flare in my images; lens flare equals soft, fuzzy, portraits and a loss of color density—my clients want great fall colors!

Here’s what I’m talking about….
f6.3 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 105mm
Because I have my lighting taken care of and know how it will look at all my favorite spots, for any time of the year, in my favorite parks (this is Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho) all I have to concentrate on are my clients, and in this case, their dogs as well.

Once we do a family pose and the kids we ask about special poses.  They requested individuals of the kids with their favorite dog. So, we used the log to the left of the tree…

f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., Iso 800; Lens @ 200mm
We like to use a seated pose of individuals with their pets to get their heads closer together in the portrait.  Then, in this case, I’m on my knees to bring her head in alignment with that nice glow in the background. In addition, I zoom in to 200mm to knock the background out-of-focus.

f6.3 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 135mm
Using the same basic set-up with the boy we managed to get their big black lab on the log next to the boy. It took several attempts, but with my wife’s use of our squeaker toy, we managed to get the dog’s curious attention!

Moving to a different spot to give the clients at least one other family portrait look…

 f5.6 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 135mm
This spot peaked in its fall look in the mid-week sessions we did here; by the following weekend it was all on the ground.

Even at 1 1/2 to 2 hours before sunset I still had to bump my ISO up to 800 in order to get the f-stop for adequate depth-of-fleld. If I tried to use the last hour of light my ISO would have to be pushed to at least 1600—not my favorite thing to do with family portraits!

’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


In part one I mentioned that I don’t do Autumn photography like most photographers. I find the big fall colors landscapes of a forrest of color worth little more than a passing glance. Personally I marvel at the details in nature, so even if I capture a whole tree or two I usually chop-up the scene in post creating interesting compositional crops. The preferred method is to start with a smaller scene and then zoom-in to create several different sub-compositions to show more detail.

One of my favorite settings to capture these artistic compositions is on the edges of tree lined ponds of which there are several here in Eagle, Idaho.

I’m looking for the reflections of autumn colors…
f14.0 @ 1/125th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 60mm
I usually start in the morning because I’m also looking for backlight in the trees. On this morning we had a breeze and even some gusts of wind that made some ripples in the water. Those ripples created these nice abstract reflections of the tree’s fall colors around this pond. Without the leaves in the water this would be a total abstract. The leaves ground this image in reality and provide more interest and an extra center of interest.

Not content to leave it alone…
f14.0 @ 1/125th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 60mm
I like this piece of the original, so I cropped in post, to simplify the composition. Now it’s getting somewhat surreal!  I like it.  

Then, towards sunset, at a bigger pond in Eagle…
f11.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 280mm
As usual, I was walking around with my lens @ 200mm to narrow my view. I had even added my 1.4x extender on it to bring it to 280mm. So, even though the view here appears large, it’s only a piece of the scene. What the lens adds is its compression effect to the scene bringing the foreground tree and ducks closer to the background. 

At still another pond in the afternoon…
f9.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Looking for backlit leaves I found this little tree that had sprouted up in the shadow of a row of big evergreen trees. The backlight made its colors stunning. I really like that I had to frame this up to include the out of focus limbs of the evergreen trees. It really shows how these huge evergreens are dominating this little tree’s environment.

Time will tell it can flourish in that environment….’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


In my 40 years doing fine art photography, in multiple Western states, it has only been these last ten years in Idaho that my fall colors portfolio has truly blossomed. I’ve never experienced such vibrant, colorful, and varied autumn colors until we moved from California to Idaho. My biggest complaint about fall colors in California—we lived in Silicon Valley—was that all the best colorful trees were in the parking lots of malls and businesses!

When we do portraits our favorite park is Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise. It’s good all year, but it’s exceptional in the fall.  However, if I want the more vivid fall colors for my fine art I’ll look towards Meridian, but for the best variety of colors, with the addition of water features, I always drive a couple miles into Eagle, Idaho. The key to great fall photography is to revisit the good spots periodically—at least every week in October. 

My recent images from Eagle, Idaho….

f11.0 @ 1/40 sec.,ISO 400; Lens @ 15mm
This was done at 11am to get the rising sun backlighting this marvelous tree.

TECH NOTE:  If you want great color and detail in leaves use backlight NOT front light, Front light hides detail and will often blow-out, clipping your high lights, on the shiny surfaces of the leaves.

This composition is about as big as I go with fall trees. I’ll pick ONE tree and then go in for details. I don’t photograph Forests; the best thing about autumn is in the details.

TECH NOTE:  With backlight and proper exposure our fall colors don’t need much work in Photoshop. For this image I reduced highlights and lowered blacks. I only bumped Vibrance +10 and Saturation +8.

MY PHILOSOPHY:  You can reveal more about a subject by showing less.  That means I zoom-in or crop…

f11.0 @ 1/250th sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 105mm
So, I stand INSIDE the tree looking towards the sun and pick a branch with some great backlit leaves. In addition, I move so that the background is darker behind the leaves to really make them “pop” off the background.

Then I move in on a special leaf….
f11.0 @ 1/200 se.c, ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
I really like these leaves at this stage of fall. You can see the autumn colors progressing through the leaves like a slowly advancing virus.

An Eagle water feature….
 f9.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 70mm
This pond, a favorite haunt of local ducks, is on the edge of a housing development. With the trees around it I look for the reflection of their fall colors in the water to align with features on the edge of the pond. I like to create compositions that include foreground, mid-ground  and background interest.

Hope you enjoyed this years fall colors and I will share more next week.  ’Til then…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


We’ve done a lot of photography of people with their horses and many maternity sessions of our clients, as well, over the years, but this was the only time the two types of photography got combined.  It turned out to be a very special session for all of us.

One of our challenges was the posing of this gal with her horse. One of our mainstays in equine photography was of the owner in mounted poses with their horse. In this type of session I wasn’t even going to ask for that! Only if SHE volunteered a mounted pose would that happen. 

However, the standing poses worked just fine….
f8.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
She said her horse was her first baby. They had an obvious connection to each other that showed in all our images.  

A full view of her with her big baby…
f5.6 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 75mm
We normally discourage people wearing white in portraits sessions, but in this session the color harmony with her in white was perfect.

A special close-up moment…

f5.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
We started about an hour and a half before sunset for some directional lighting and to control the level of light in the background. Then I use the most telephoto focal length I can—in this case 200mm—to blur out my background (bokeh is great!) isolating my subjects.

Next time you get the chance try something fun…’til next week.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman