Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I recently purchased a Canon 70D as a backup camera to my 5D MKII AND for it's advanced auto-focus capabilities--particularly in the video mode. So, when our close friends invited us to go along with them in their four-wheel drive, crew-cab, truck for a day trip to Silver City, we jumped at the chance. Silver City is a well known, almost ghost town, nestled in the Owyhee mountains at 6200 feet, in the middle of nowhere--like most old mining towns. It's a 25-mile drive on a dirt road from the tiny town of Murphy--not a good road for a big RV, fifth-wheel rig or trailer!

One of the tests I planned for the 70D was how well it performed in low light at high ISO's.  So, when we arrived in town I headed for the much talked about, 130-year-old, Idaho Hotel to photograph it's 19th century interior.  When I walked in my eyes had to adjust to authentic 19th century dark rooms lit only by window light--the restaurant was being heated by wood stove--it was GREAT!

The front desk @ 1600 ISO  f4.0 1/20 sec.
The front desk actually had the MOST light of any area--the restaurant was darker--and I still had to use 1/20th sec with my lens wide open!   Good thing my lens ( the Canon 24-105mm L) has stabilization--I didn't bring a tripod.

3200 ISO  f4.5 @ 1/30 SEC.                                                        1600 ISO  F4.5 @ 1/30 SEC.
This great old wood stove--being a dark subject in a dark environment--was a good test for ANY camera!  So, I did it first at 3200 ISO and again at 1600 ISO to compare noise levels.  I don't use 3200 ISO much even with my 5D MKII and it has a full frame sensor unlike the 70D with it's smaller APS-C size sensor--so I was really pushing my new camera to it's limits.

 3200 ISO  f4.5 @ 1/30 sec.

This is inside the old telegraph office--in 1874 it was the first telegraph in the Idaho Territory--which was lit by a small dirty window about ten feet behind me. I had to not only hand hold--now NEEDING 3200 ISO--but I also had to shoot through the barred--off entrance gate.

 400 ISO  f5.6 @ 1/800 sec.                                                                 400 ISO  f11.0 @ 1/1250 sec.
Finally OUTSIDE with lots of light!   Doing some detail images and a basic scenic of their old church on the hill.

400 ISO  f8.0 @ 1/640 sec.

I had read about the old school building that's under restoration but I was surprised how BIG it is!  MY challenge was to find a different view on this much photographed historic building.  So, later in the day after some nice clouds rolled in I spotted this view through two big trees that had grown together creating a nice arch--framing the school house.

 400 ISO  f11.0 @ 1/500 sec. 
This outhouse, with it's dark wood, was a nice contrast to the old white school house, so naturally, I made it B&W!

 400 ISO  f11.0 @ 1/100 sec.
After climbing up the rock hill to the church--only to find it locked--I wandered around behind the church and found this old rusted car. The Photographer's Mother Lode!  This is just one of MANY photos I did of this car.

Overall I am VERY happy with the performance of the Canon 70D.  The low light images are surprising good and I NEVER had any problems with the auto-focus even in the really dark areas inside the hotel. The outside images speak for themselves.

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Certified - http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, June 17, 2014



DIRECT SUNLIGHT--midday--is EVIL!  It may be great for growing flowers, but not for portraits, I NEVER allow it to strike my subject's skin. It's just too hard a light source--it's harshness just gives your subjects squinty eyes and unrelaxed faces. The midday sun will also sabotage your portraits of people in the shade.  If won't provide a good hair light because with the difference in exposure on their shaded faces and the direct sun you'll just get blown-out highlights on their hair. And for the same reason if you catch ANY direct sun on the background it will just go white.

FULLY OVERCAST SKY--contrary to popular belief--IS THE WORST POSSIBLE LIGHTING FOR PORTRAITS OF PEOPLE.  It might as well be raining--when I think I'm only going to get overcast sky--I reschedule the session. Here's why:

1. Most of your light will be TOP LIGHT creating the dreaded RACCOON EYES--dark eye sockets--on your subjects. ( some of you may be saying, "Why not just pop some flash to fill those dark eyes?"  hmmm, bring a point light source, into a flat light environment, that will further darken the background and create the most unnatural LOOKING lighting possible--it's too late, if you've already gone over to the dark side!)

2. Overcast sky light is very flat and dull.  You will loose the three-dimensionality of the portrait because there will be little difference in the light on the foreground, the subjects, and the background.

3. Color intensity in the background is GONE.  IT'S DEAD!  If you've read my previous articles you know how I feel about this!

4. There's an ISO issue: With CLEAR SKY--one or two hours before sunset--when my subjects are in the shade my working ISO starts at 400 to get f6.3--for good depth-of-field on groups--giving me a shutter speed of 1/100th sec. (that's putting my camera on a tripod). Then as the light fades I go to 800 ISO and slow the shutter speed to maintain the same f-stop.  In an OVERCAST SKY scenario I'm forced to START at 800 ISO to use the same f-stop/shutter speed combination---then I have to go to 1600 ISO as the light fades---WILL YOUR CAMERA PRODUCE A GREAT 24X30" OR 30X40" PRINT AT 1600 ISO?


The good light for natural light portraits is CLEAR BLUE SKY--the biggest patch of blue sky you can find--without the SUN in it.  My ONLY exception to this rule is the setting sun at the "magic hour". That's usually at the beach starting the half-hour before sunset--down to actual sunset as the sun melts into the ocean. Hard to beat this light for drama and warmth!


In this OVERCAST SKY portrait you can see that the light is VERY top heavy creating dark eye sockets in my subjects and that the background is rather dark (there's no back-light).  The only reason I have ANY separation between my subjects and the background is because I picked this location for it's fall colors.

In this family's portrait I have my usual CLEAR BLUE SKY coming from the left, creating a beautiful light on all their faces, light in their eyes, and nice back-light in the background.  This is how true, subtractive, natural light portraiture can look with careful placement of the subject within the location at the right time of day.

Until next time....

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, Master Photographer, Certified

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Having photographed aviation and sports of every kind for over 30-years, hot air balloons have somehow eluded the scrutiny of my lens…until I moved to Idaho.  Arriving at Ann Morrison park before dawn, so I could cover their preparations for the 7:15 AM launch, I discovered that my photo-vest over my short sleeved polo shirt was completely inadequate in the chilly morning air--silly Californian!

Seeing the deflated balloons laid-out on the grass, like dead jellyfish, with the lines limply trailing back to the humorously quaint baskets, that people actually stand in and allow themselves to go aloft to ridiculous heights, was a sobering sight before sunrise!

Next they place large fans near the balloon's bottom while the crew lifts the top edge, like a skirt, to let the air from the fan start the filling process.

When partially filled, and photographed from the inside when there is backlight, the balloons can be quite striking. It's even better when you get the silhouettes of the ground crew on the other side.

Meanwhile there is furious activity all around as other balloons are at the next stage with their propane burners roaring, as they blast fire into their balloon's cavity to heat the captured air.  It was surprising how quickly the balloons went from horizontal to vertical once the burners were started!

There were thousands of possible photo compositions I could take every minute during the, willy-nilly, melee of dozens of balloons in different stages of preparation, sometimes overlapping each other, in a jumble on the ground.  Then as they launched the jumble started to sort itself out and they became these graceful, floating, bubbles of color, like Christmas tree ornaments, rising into place at different levels as if the sky was their Christmas tree!

As usual, should you have questions don't hesitate to shout out.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer Certified - Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The First Step--Finding locations.

I put this first because it's the most important.  If you choose wrong here you've failed before you've even begun!

This is my foundation:  I BUILD THE PORTRAIT FROM THE BACKGROUND--->FORWARD.  The background is so important to me that it trumps a perfect lighting pattern on my subjects.  Sure,  perfect lighting may get you print Merits in international competition--I've had LOTS of those--but a nicely posed family outside with a beautiful background SELLS large wall prints!  We call those Green Merits.

To begin with, I'm ALWAYS looking for potential new locations.  In my daily drives I'll mentally note some spot,  as I drive by, to return at the time I usually do portraits.


#1.  TREES that are on the EDGE or perimeter of a park (grass is the best base to seat people).

#2.   Rustic sites on farms or ranches or historic locations (maybe with a barn or farm equipment--again, to seat people--or with old cars,  trucks, or old hay wagons).

#3.   I also look at the "common areas" in big housing developments--they often have nice lawns and many, around me here in Idaho,  have great waterfalls!

#1.   I go out about 2-hours before sunset to WALK the site. You can't just drive by you need to get into the location!

#2.   I approach from the EAST so I'm LOOKING WEST towards where the sun will be setting.

#3.   I'm looking for GLOWING LEAVES being back-lit by the sun.  If there's no glow happening you may be out too early or the tree foliage may be too dense.  If the foliage is too dense I don't use the area because without back-light I'm going to have a DEAD BACKGROUND.  I want my background to be glowing with light--I WANT IT ALIVE!  That creates depth and visual interest.

#4.   Next I pretend I'm the subject and turn my back to the background and LOOK RIGHT AND LEFT. Ideally I want to see a LARGE PATCH of SKY on one side and some more TREES on the other (to block the ambient light on that side creating some dimensional shading on my subjects' faces).  If I also have a nice place to seat my subjects--like grass or some rocks--even better!

Finding this back-lit background has other benefits.  In addition to giving you a beautiful setting the back-light creates a nice separation of your subjects from the background and if the timing is right you may also get a nice hair-light on your subjects as well!

Here are some examples, of what I look for, at some of my favorite locations:

 F7.1 @ 1/125 sec. ISO 400  Lens at 112mm
I placed this family at my favorite location for larger groups.  There is a big tree and that's in the picture getting nice back-light plus several trees near it providing the GOBO effect (blocking light) creating nice shadows on my subjects and a BIG patch of sky on the right. I even got a nice hair light on them from the back-light!   This is the IDEAL set of conditions for TRUE NATURAL LIGHT PORTRAITURE.

F5.6 @ 1/250 sec. ISO 400  Lens at 175mm
This little park has no useful trees and is very open but does have some good backgrounds about an hour before sunset.  So, to put these kids against the back-lit background I wanted I sat them on a picnic table!  Then I backed-off as far as I could to use the longest focal length possible AND used a little wider aperture, than I normally do for small groups, thus creating a nice de-focused background. The lighting's not ideal but the background is great and I got a hair light on them as well.

As usual, don't hesitate to ask questions...I'm here to help.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer Certified - http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com