Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I've been reading for years that the Canon 5D MKII is NOT good for sports or action photography.  Since high speed action photography is how I learned photography in the 1970's, I decided to give my 5D MKII a real workout with some of the most difficult action to photograph--the chaotic action of rodeo!

I call rodeo chaotic action because it's action that is unplanned.  You never know where animals are going to go or what they're going to do.  That's very different than photographing racing motorcycles or race cars on a track.  I always knew from turn-to-turn, within a few feet, where a vehicle was going to be because, having been a racer myself, I knew the best "line" through each turn.

In rodeo all we have is a starting point--we know the bronc, the bull, or the calf is busting out of that gate or chute--after that they can go anywhere in the arena!
This is a real challenge for our auto focus, our framing ( constant zooming ), and exposure.

So, this was a great test of the 5D MKII's ability to auto focus while tracking action while leaving the zooming and exposure to me in manual mode.

My camera setup--using the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS II lens--was:

AUTO FOCUS: AI Servo ( for moving subjects when the focusing distance keeps changing )
DRIVE MODE: Continuous @ 3.9 frames per second

I used the large jpeg because I did not want anything to slow me down; If I used RAW I could exceed my maximum burst rate and fill the buffer which would time-out the camera. Working within the camera's limitations I wanted to give it the best chance for success.

This was one of those, scary, chaotic situations where my subject charged TOWARDS ME--note the gal RUNNING FOR HER LIFE!

This one was a little more challenging for the auto focus with all the moving people in the background, but It did well.

A great action series where the auto focus tracked very well as I panned and zoomed.

A much more difficult series because I panned across a VERY BUSY background and then they changed direction, coming towards me, forcing me to zoom-out!

I think that,  working within the camera's capabilities, the 5D MKII is a fine camera for action photography--another feather in the cap for a SUPERB PORTRAIT CAMERA!

As always, if you have questions don't hesitate to ask. Asking questions is the best part of learning.

Author:  Jerry W Venz, PPA Certified Master Photographer

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Exposure Triangle - Part 3

Making sense of all that complicated photo jargon, Part 3!

Now that you’ve got a handle on shutter speeds and apertures, I’ll move on to the third side of the exposure triangle—ISO or film speed.

ISO stands for the International Standards Organization, which replaced our American Standards Association (remember when America had it’s own standards and our film speed was in ASA?), in order to make all things technical, consistent around the world. I guess the ISO is a kind of United Nations for all the anal-techno-geeks seeking conformity in all things man made.

The ISO basics are simple:  in low light you go to a higher ISO value and in bright light you use a lower ISO value if you don’t want to change your shutter speed and aperture.  The common lower ISO’s are 100 or less.  Depending on the digital camera you have a really high ISO ranges from 400 to 800, in a consumer grade camera. In the professional world we use cameras that will create stunning images at 400 ISO and up to 3200 ISO that we don’t use the lower ISO’s much for outside work.

Now that we’re bringing shutter speeds and apertures together a very important aspect to remember is that each whole shutter speed step (eg. 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 etc.) and each whole aperture step (eg. f4.0, f5.6, f8.0 etc.) are equal.  In other words moving from a shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/125 is equal in an exposure change of one-stop. It’s exactly the same exposure change as if you really did change your f-stop from say f5.6 to f8.0 (and in this example either of these changes would allow one-stop less light to reach the film or sensor).  In addition, your whole ISO steps (eg. 100, 200, 400 and so on) are also equal to a one f-stop change in exposure.  See a pattern here? And just to make things more complicated, digital cameras have shutter speeds and f-stops in between the whole numbers.  But it’s all the same—the smaller steps in between are also the same in how they affect your exposure in equivalence to each other.

So, let’s set-up exposure examples to show some equivalent exposures using different f-stops and shutter speeds.

EXAMPLE ONE: Leaving our ISO at 100, your camera meter says that the proper exposure is: aperture at f8.0 with a shutter speed of 1/250th.  What if you want to stop some fast action, at your son’s football game, so going to a faster shutter speed of 1/500 sec. would help—however, to maintain a proper exposure, since now this faster shutter speed is allowing less light to reach your film/sensor, you must change your f-stop one step, in the opposite direction to get more light, to f5.6 (remember with f-stops, the smaller the number, the bigger the opening of its aperture). As a side effect the larger aperture (f5.6) will isolate your son better because you are creating less depth-of-field at this aperture. 

To recap, you went from:  f8.0 @ 1/250 sec. to f5.6 @ 1/500 sec. This maintains the same exposure with a faster shutter speed and less depth-of-field.  You get a two-fer! Now, You’re not just making a proper exposure—you’re making creative decisions that will make the photograph more visually interesting!

EXAMPLE TWO:  The following would apply to situations where the light level stays the same.  Once a proper exposure is set-up; we will use ISO 100, f-stop of f5.6 and shutter speed at 1/125 sec. for this example.

If you change any one of these numbers you must change one of the others by the same amount, but in the opposite direction, to maintain a proper exposure.  If you go to a higher ISO like 200 you must stop down your f-stop to f8.0 and keeping the shutter speed where it was at, 1/125 sec.  OR still at the higher ISO of 200, keeping the f-stop where it was, f5.6, you must go faster on the shutter speed, to 1/250 sec. 

If the situation changes and the light level changes, say the sun is setting, so you have less light, now you only have to change one of the variables in the original set-up (any ONE!).

Now you have three choices:
1)    Higher ISO: ISO 200, same f-stop of f5.6, same shutter speed of 1/125 sec
2)    Same ISO: ISO 100, wider aperture of f4.0, same shutter speed: 1/125 sec
3)    Same ISO: ISO 100, same aperture of f5.6, slower shutter speed of 1/60 sec.

The exposure triangle is really just a way of thinking about how your shutter speed, aperture and ISO are inter-related.  You can check out some examples below.

Image 1:  Nature
Extremely fine detail and sharp Low ISO: 100 slide film
On a tripod & slow shutter speed: 1/15 sec
For maximum depth-of-field using a very small aperture: f16.0
Lens: 16mm wide-angle

That will wrap it up for now…till next time. Jerry

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, Published in the Eagle Informer 2011

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Many photographers today, by the looks of all the FLAT studio lighting I see, have become shadow phobic! Why is that? Why are so many photographers lighting people like they're about to photograph a stamp collection by using equi-distance/angle, equal power lights?

People are three dimensional and since the art we produce--the print--is two dimensional we MUST imply the third dimension with the contrast of LIGHT AGAINST SHADOW.

However, all people not being the same, It's our duty to adjust our lighting set-up to make our clients look their best.
That means you must always be prepared to MOVE your main light. I think, in some studios, the lights have been stationary so long that they've taken root! My main light is on WHEELS for a reason.

The fastest and easiest way to learn lighting is, in the studio, using ONE LIGHT and a REFLECTOR, get a friend to sit there, and just go through the lighting patterns. (Google the patterns I mentioned--you'll easily find many examples)
Then, after you've got the patterns down, you fine tune them with a Hair light, Kickers, and background lights.

The following are some tips I've learned the hard way, by photographing all kinds of people, over these past twenty-five years….with gratitude for the personal instruction from Monte Zucker (studio) and Leon Kennamer (natural light).

When we're doing studio sessions, of NORMAL PEOPLE, shape of the face is important but--because most women BELIEVE they need to loose weight, true or not, you had better not put an ounce of weight on them with BROAD LIGHTING or FLAT LIGHTING!

So that means BUTTERFLY lighting (centered, overhead, main light) is not advised for any but the thinnest faces.

Forget about CLAM-SHELL lighting for the same reason--it's just flat-lighting with your lights in a VERTICAL orientation.

Remember, I said NORMAL PEOPLE--if you're photographing professional models you can use ANY of the lighting patterns already mentioned.

So, what does that leave? LOOP LIGHTING, REMBRANDT, and SHORT LIGHTING. These are our MONEY MAKERS!

LOOP LIGHTING is a basic portrait pattern that's good on physically fit men and slender women if their noses are small.

REMBRANDT LIGHTING is great on MEN--it adds character and drama--not so great on women.

SHORT LIGHTING is very useful on men, women, and teens. I use this pattern the most--especially on individuals.


The key to dialing in short-lighting is how much FILL is used on your subject. And by FILL I mean REFLECTOR FILL--I quit using overall studio flash fill about 10-years ago.

The use of flash fill in the studio (AND outside!) is the main reason so many photographers are guilty of LIGHTING MALPRACTICE today!

The basic rule-of-thumb with reflector fill is the heavier the person the less fill I use. I vary the fill level with distance and the reflector surface--WHITE for soft fill up to SILVER for strong fill.

When it comes to gender the woman, in a session with her spouse, gets the BEST LIGHT! We will place her so that she is turned TO the main light--the shadow side of her face is at the camera--THE BASIC SHORT LIGHT PATTERN--and I adjust the fill as mentioned.

In addition I suggest the largest light modifier you can work with in your studio space. You can use your beauty-dish on models but I would not suggest it or ANY HARD LIGHT on normal people.

Ever since we started our studio, 25+years ago, we have steadily been increasing the size of our MAIN LIGHT with ever improving results.

When we got the SEVEN FOOT OCTODOME by PHOTOFLEX we hit the sweet spot. That's when I turned-off the fill light--I don't even need a fill light for groups with this main light!

So those are some of the basics; keep your Main Light on wheels and have fun!

The following are some examples of SHORT LIGHTING in the studio (the easiest to do) and outside using ONLY NATURAL LIGHT and a GOBO to block unwanted light (a bit more difficult).


f10.0 @ 1/200 ISO 200
Using one light and NO reflector to "cut the face"; lighting the mask of her face away from the camera.

f11.0 @ 1/200 ISO 200
One light with a white reflector, in close on right, just out of camera's view.

NOTE:  Both images above also have hair and background lights.

f5.0 @1/125 ISO 400

Here, Jasmine is in an alley aligned west/east. The sun is setting on camera LEFT and is reflecting off a tall building on camera RIGHT. We blocked the sunlight on the left with a large BLACK GOBO creating a nice shadow side on her face AND by removing the much brighter sunlight (2-stops brighter than the reflected light on the right) I could open my lens and slow my shutter enough to record the dim light in the doorway behind her.

f4.5 @ 1/250 ISO 400
Nick is a big athletic guy so I wanted to trim him some with some short light which was in "short supply" in this very open park! So, I leaned him into a small tree for it's GOBO EFFECT creating a nice shadow on the side of his face nearest my camera. The key to making this work is finding a tree with a small canopy.

Since he must be very close to the tree for it to make a shadow on his face the tree can't have a big over hanging canopy or it will block the light and eliminate my nice deep background at the same time.

Author:  Jerry W Venz, Certified PPA Master Photographer

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Favorite Senior Session: Kristin and her horse Vannity

Kristin's mom called about a High School Senior session for her daughter.  While we were discussing the theme for the session I found out that Kristin was a horse owner.  I, of course, suggested we expand the session beyond mere portraits to some storytelling.   This was not going to be a girly, go to the beauty parlor, prom queen gown, session.  Kristin wanted the natural, Idaho cow-girl look.  I was jazzed!  When I found out that her horse, Vannity, was aging and not well I knew this was going to be an important session for their family history on multiple levels.

Here are a few images from the session with some techie information...

At the closed end of their barn we opened the large barn door to create this great directional light provided by the sunless open sky. This is basically like window light--it's just a very large window.

The other end of the barn was covered, but, open on the sides and they had stacked hundreds of hay bales in a stair-stepped pattern.  Again, great directional, sun free, natural light with a great place for Kristin to sit.

We went outside to use the late light.  It was about an hour before sunset by now--and because of the horse's condition we had to do some portraits of just her.

Should you have any questions just add a comment or drop me a note…

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, Certified PPA Master Photographer

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Great Portraits and Bokeh

Conventional wisdom on the forums is that you Must use apertures of f1.2, f1.4, or at least f2.8 to get good Bokeh.  Well, yes, using those apertures will yield great Bokeh when conditions are right. But, these same Bokeh fanatics lead people to believe that you can’t get good Bokeh at any other apertures or that you must own an 85mm f1.2 or f1.4 or the 50mm f1.2 or f1.4 lens to achieve the best results. 

I am here to tell you they are wrong on ALL counts. But, first let me clarify my priorities when doing Portraits:

1st Priority – Use the proper f-stop for the subject; depends on how much depth-of-field is needed.
2nd Priority – Is to blur out the background with good Bokeh.

What 25 years of doing portraits professionally has taught me is that I must deliver a successful portrait session EVERY time, so I do not take chances with depth-of-field.

To that end, this is my rational:
1)    The pose on an individual determines the f-stop.
a.    With the subject turned in a 2/3 view of the face my f-stop if f4.0 to f4.5 – if you do this very useful pose at f2.8 (don’t even think about f1.2 or f1.4) you will often loose focus on the subject’s far eye.
b.    If you pose your subject flat to the camera with them looking squarely into the camera—probably the worst pose for most people, since it will add weight to the face and body—sure you can open up and use a wider aperture like 2.8 or wider, but then, in most cases, you’re then sacrificing your subject on the altar of Bokeh!

2)    How many layers of people you have determines the f-stop with group portraits.
a.    One layer f4.5 to f5.0
b.    Two layers f6.3
c.    Three layers f7.1
d.    Four layers f8.0 or more

These apertures are based on the depth-of-field I know I get when using my portrait lens (the 70-200 f2.8) because as you can see from my most used focal lengths I rarely go below 135mm even for groups.  That’s because most people look better, especially in groups, when using a telephoto lens, due to compression distortion.

That is exactly why I don’t use the 85mm or much worse the 50mm lens for portraits due to the extension distortion it creates when you move closer to fill the frame properly.

People never look good when subjected to extension distortion, but more on this topic in a future blog on lens choice for portraits.

The following image pairs show dramatically how the focal length affects Bokeh at the same f-stop.
Note:  The distance from the subjects to the background was the same; the only change was the distance of camera to subject to equalize the size of the subject in the frame.

Below are some of our typical portraits using my preferred focal length and f-stop combinations and the effect on background Bokeh.

If you should have questions please don't hesitate to leave a comment.
Author:  Jerry W. Venz