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


  1. Just found your blog, and I am really enjoying your articles. I especially enjoy the detailed explanation of your process. Thank you.

  2. I hope they have helped you. I post new content every Tuesday. Have questions, don't hesitate to ask. J