Tuesday, July 29, 2014


With the return of the Perseid Meteor showers, coming on August 14th, I though a more in depth blog on this topic would be timely.  Last week I only showed the modified version of my light painted tree against the night sky at Ponderosa State Park. This was also my first attempt at the capture of some meteors, when the Perseid Meteor showers visited.  Not only did I get a meteor, it was going into the frame and towards my tree!  A great bit of luck.

BEFORE                                                                                                    AFTER
As you can see, the before image, on the left, picked up A LOT of light pollution from the nearby town.  The sky is not remotely dark and I painted too much light on the ground around the base of the tree.  The light pollution is a common problem unless you're in a really remote location.

Doing some research I found, on astropix.com, a technique in Photoshop to darken the night sky.  The basic technique is done by going to the info palette, using the eye dropper, and after selecting a sample area of the sky, you reset the Black Point in the Red, Green and Blue channels to either neutralize the sky color or perhaps add a different touch of color to your sky.  I went with some blue to counter act the reddish cast I was getting from the town. 

For the details of this technique see the article titled: Basic Photoshop Image Correction for astrophotos from Catching the Light by Jerry Lodriguss (www.astropix.com).


When combining light painting with stars I wanted two things: enough time to do the light painting and I want the stars to be sharp, appearing motionless and not streaking.  To do this I need a very wide angle lens that will allow me to use a long shutter speed to accomplish my goal.

The best formula I've seen to determine the longest shutter speed with a given focal length lens for the best image quality is:

450 divided by the lens focal length (in millimeters) equals the longest exposure time in seconds for that lens.

So, with my Canon 5DMKII using my Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens the calculation is:  450 ÷ 15 = 30 seconds.
That calculation will only give me the time I need and sharp stars NOT the proper exposure for the scene.  That you must work out based on what your camera's imaging quality is at high ISOs and the aperture you want to use.  In my case I used f2.8, focused on the tree and used 3200 ISO (based on testing) for a good exposure at 20 seconds.

Note: This formula is only exact for the full-frame, 35mm, format.  If you're using an APS-C sized camera sensor, with it's narrower angle of view, you must reduce the shutter time.  In this case with my 15mm lens the shutter time would be reduced to 20 seconds. (I have listed the site information at the end of this blog for a great chart for this data.) The same rules applies to any lens you use--it's all about angle of view.

For example: If you try to use a 50mm lens, using the formula: 450 ÷ 50 = 9 seconds

Not only would this lens show a lot less sky, but with only 9 seconds, you could not do much painting.  In addition, with an exposure of only 9 seconds, even if your 50mm lens has a maximum aperture of f1.2 you would still need to expose at an inanely high ISO to pick up any stars.

As a final tip, when doing all this night time photography, I suggest you have Red LED flashlights available, even if you're not going to light paint with the red, to use to navigate back to your camera, and for use when setting up the camera, so as to preserve your night vision.

Til next week...if you have questions don't hesitate to ask.

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

Site Information mentioned above: www.intothenightphoto.blogspot.com   In my '450' Rule to stop star trailing dated: Friday May 31, 2013.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PAINTING WITH LIGHT and Long Exposures at Night

I've been doing long exposures at night for over 40-years. I started using Kodachrome 64 and then Ektachrome 160 pushed to 1000 ASA. The image below is an example using Kodachrome 64 with a 30 second exposure at night.
Cement Henge at Night - Canon F1 @ 30 seconds on Kodachrome 64

Painted tree during Persied Meteor Shower with Canon 5D MK II, Canon 15mm fisheye lens @ f2.8 for 20 seconds at 3200 ISO. 
What made this image was getting the lights of the small airplane passing through the frame.  This was not a lucky accident as there is a large busy airport only a mile away.  I was set-up, with my tripod, waiting for a plane to pass through this field of view.  The purple sky is a natural result of using the daylight balanced Kodachrome after sunset--again, no accident, this was the result I wanted.  This is what we did to create radically different views of the world before digital and Photoshop.

So, let's jump forward to the present century…current technology has made these unusual views of the world commonplace, so as an artist, I'm always looking to try new things on different subjects.

This next image was created during a week long camping trip to McCall, Idaho at the Ponderosa State Park.  My goal was to capture a starry night scene with some meteors in the sky and a light painted object, of some kind, in the foreground.  I know that's a pretty ambitious undertaking for my first ever outdoor light painted--star field image…but what the heck I knew I would learn something !!!  On my second day there I discovered this great, leaning, dead tree at the edge of the lake.  It was perfect since it's position there gave me a big patch of sky behind it.

McCall Milky Way with Canon 5D MK II, Canon 15mm fisheye lens @ f2.8 for 30 seconds at 3200 ISO. 

Thinking I needed a more powerful flash light for light painting I purchased a 6-LED high quality flashlight for this trip.  When doing exposure tests for this image I found that a 30 second exposure with my new flashlight was over exposing even when I dropped the exposure to 20 seconds.  So, I borrowed my friends cheap headlamp, with only 3-LEDs, and nailed it!  (The maximum of the Perseid activity in 2014 is expected during the night of the 12th August 2014.)

This next image was done the following year at the Ponderosa State Park, but in a much darker area where I could avoid any light pollution.  The timing was right, as well, and since there was no moon, I wanted to do a Milky Way image the something light painted in the foreground.

Even with the 15mm fisheye's 180 º field if view I still had the camera pointed nearly straight up to get the Milky Way and just the tops of the trees in the foreground.  On this trip I had two assistants, that I quickly trained, to light paint from each side of the frame with the Red LED flashlights.  As usual, the light painting was the hard part--getting the Milky Way was easy! It's very difficult, even dangerous, walking around in these pitch black locations especially when there's no moon!  So, walk carefully.

At this location the spot I picked was on a slope and covered with loose rocks and small boulders.  Even with their flashlights my friends had a difficult time making it back to camera position to view the results.  However, we succeeded in getting this image after only 5 attempts.  The only thing I've done, so far, to the RAW file is dial down the color temperature to 3400º K, to bring some blue into the Milky Way, that I think enhances the image.

Next week I will be posting some tips on the technical issues of creating starry night skies without star trails.  As usual, if you have questions don't hesitate to ask.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, Master Photographer CPP
Training site:  http;//www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


(A competition print 29 years in the making)

The image below was a competition print I entered into the PPA International Annual Competition in May of 2000.  It was a National Merit Print and was one of the merit prints that helped put me over the top in earning my PPA Masters Degree. 

Title: Warped Speed - Subject: Kenny Roberts
It was a 29 year journey, waiting for future technologies, to complete my vision of what you see here.  It's the result of a blending of old analog and early digital technologies, that I manipulated, to create a new image that I could not do with traditional wet photo-technology.
I took the original photo in 1971, at the San Jose Mile, of the soon to be famous, and hence legendary, racer Kenny "The King" Roberts. Kenny Roberts went on in 1978 to become the First American to win the 500cc International (FIM) Grand Prix road racing title. And then he did it again the following two years!

The original image was done on Kodak Plus-X black and white film (ASA 125), so I could slow down my shutter speed to do pans as the racers flew down the straight on the fastest part of the track.  In the resulting image the bike and rider are nice and sharp with a really streaked background with the bike's wheels nearly empty of spokes.  But I wanted something more than just a competent action image, I wanted an artistic interpretation of Speed.

The original negative taken 43 years ago on Kodak Plus-X film (125 ASA) - Shutter speed: 1/30 sec. at f16.0
The final print as printed on Kodak Poly contrast paper.
Starting the journey in 1971, I hand printed some 8x10" and 11x14" B&W prints on fiber based paper.  Using Edwals toner I dipped my prints in Red toner using Edwals' suggested mixture ratios.  But no matter how strong I made the toner all the prints just came out a pale pink.  Not at all what I was looking for…That's where I stopped--I had no other way, at the time, to improve on what I had done.  So, I boxed-up the prints and moved on with other projects.

Fast forward to 1986 and there's still no Photoshop to come to my rescue!  Photoshop 1.0 won't be released until 1990, Damn!  However, I had a brain storm! I dug in the boxes to dig out my old prints--all I could find was one, pink-toned 8x10 print, dry mounted  onto an 11x14" mat board. I took that print to a local copy center that had the latest color copiers to see if I could enhance the color of my print.  It was so much fun! I discovered that playing with the color knobs I could really alter the color--pumping up the pink to red.  I played with contrast and exposure.  It was like a primitive Adobe Camera Raw!  And I could enlarge as well, making 11x17" prints just like that.

I finally got my color, and for the final modification I did that made my image "Warped Speed" was the discovery that this copier would stretch an image. So, I stretched the image in the long dimension warping the bike's wheels into more of an egg shape, stretching the whole bike.  Now the image was complete!  But, all I had were a bunch of 11x17" copies on flimsy paper.  Now what?  I again stored my stack of photocopies with my mounted original 8x10' print and onto other projects.

Fast forward again to January 2000.  Our professional photography business is going strong since opening in 1989, I had recently gotten my PPA Certification and I'm on the track to earn my PPA Masters Degree.  I needed a fourth print to include in my print case for the PPA International Competition….So, again I dig out the "Warped Speed" print and photo-copies.  Since we didn't yet have the capability to get these images into our computer, I sent the best photocopy to our lab to scan at their highest resolution and make us a CD.  It's finally digital!

To finish off the print for competition I asked Kathi to position the image with more space in front of the bike, slim it down and create a digital fillet.  She placed the image on a black background and enlarged to span the full 20" of the printing space (full bleed from side to side), removed some of the top and bottom of the image to create a slim-jim effect and then added a color fillet (cloned from the print itself) to create a clean edge on the top and bottom of the image area.  Looked Great!  The final file went off to the lab to make the 16x20 comp print on silver photo paper with a lacquer spray finish.  Done, and it only took 29 years…it is now on the wall in my office where I can admire it everyday.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014



The problem doing portraits by natural light, two hours or even one hour before sunset, is NOT that there is not enough light--it's that there is TOO MUCH!  There's light bouncing all over the place and from multiple directions. So, how do I see many, self-proclaimed, natural light photographers solve this problem?  They bring in MORE light--using flash and it's usually on-camera flash!

What they most often create with this technique is a VERY unnatural look and FLAT LIGHTING--where all the shadows are gone--which means they loose the three dimensional effect that we as artists seek to make our subjects look real.


SUBTRACT the extra light, creating a nice shadow side on your subject's face, using an OPAQUE BLACK LIGHT BLOCK, which I call a GOBO or FLAG--terms I learned many years ago when Kathi and I were doing independent short films.

NOTE: If you want to learn lighting I suggest you study the work of great CINEMATOGRAPHERS like:

Freddie Young  (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter).
John Alcott  (Barry Lyndon).
Jordan Cronenweth  (Blade Runner, Altered States).
Frank Tidy  (The Duellists)
Andrew Lesnie  (Lord of the Rings--The Fellowship of the Ring)

These are just a few of the MASTERS of lighting ( and their films) that I suggest MY students study instead of the mostly clueless drivel being taught by most still photographers these days.

O.K., getting off my soapbox and back to the practical use of the GOBO….

If your outdoor location has no usable trees or structures, where you have placed your subject, the light you'll most often encounter will be flat and directionless--there's TOO MUCH LIGHT.  I see some photographers, in this situation, try using a REFLECTOR.  That does not solve the basic problem--it's adding more light from another direction, creating another catch-light in your subject's squinty eyes!

Enter the GOBO  (from: to go between) which is the more generic of the terms since ANYTHING can be a GOBO---trees, scrubs, buildings, and the like.  While the FLAG or BLACK FLAT usually refers to something hand-held or on a stand. Whatever you call it the principle of the thing is what is important.  We are BLOCKING LIGHT with an opaque device.

With that said, some photographers have been asking to SEE how I use a GOBO in a portrait session.  I'll begin with the image below of the young man in a less than ideal spot out in the open. There's strong light on both sides of his face even though the sun is setting BEHIND him. It's just FLAT LIGHTING.
 Image with NO GOBO used

In the next image you can see how to correct the lighting.  Kathi, my wife and partner, is holding  a 42" black FLAG close to the subject creating a dimensional shadow on the young man's face.

Image showing use of the GOBO
As the final portrait shows, just that simple modification, of the direction, of the natural light, creates a nice THREE DIMENSIONALITY on this young man's face.

Image of subject with GOBO used
In this next example, we have our high school senior model, Jasmine, in a popular alley (called "Freak Alley") in downtown Boise. The sun is setting on camera left--and was striking her face which is something I usually avoid. The sun was also reflecting off a tall, mirrored, building on camera right. So, I had Kathi block the direct sunlight, on the left, with a 42" black flag, creating a nice shadow side on Jasmine's face.

f5.0 @ 1/125 sec. at 400 ISO
Removing the much brighter sunlight coming from camera left (over 2-stops brighter than the reflected light on the right) also meant that I could open up the lens and slow down the shutter enough to record the dim light in the doorway behind her.

Using true natural light, modified with the subtractive technique, will produce superior portraits that will ALWAYS look more natural than ANY flash technique. In addition, with the money you save NOT buying speed lights , soft-boxes, stands, weights, and radio triggers, you can invest in a REALLY nice portrait lens. How's that for a WIN-WIN!


Larson still has the 42" square rig that I use ( plus other sizes ) and THEY call them GOBOS.

f.j. Westcott has their Scrim Jims that you can get in a Flat Black Block or their Illuminators in blocking black.

Chimera has nice Panel Frames (like the old Lightforms in design except these are made of Aluminum-alloy) in many sizes.

Or, you can make your own GOBOS using foam-core painted black.  Use your imagination!

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Kathi and I only had two days in Rome on our way down to Naples and the Isle of Capri. So, I was determined to make the most of our time there by staying at a hotel within walking distance of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. These were the two areas besides Pompeii and Capri that I really wanted to photograph.

On our day walk to the Colosseum I was awed, disappointed, and appalled, when we got there.

This was the view walking to the Colosseum from our hotel.  I was awed at it's size and the magnificent architecture and was disappointed in the ugly gray patina of the Colosseum in daylight--it didn't look any better when we got there, and appalled at the numbers of tourists already there in the morning.  There were six large tour buses there and more arriving as we approached.

It got worse as the buses unloaded and while the tour guides rounded-up their tourists, into platoon sized groups, some of the tourists actually lined-up to have their photos taken with the guys dressed-up in their cheesy Roman soldier costumes posed with the Colosseum in the background! It was more than I could take so we moved on.

This is when you should pass on the major outdoor tourist sites and go to a museum, a church, or just go have lunch. I vowed to come back at night.

Walking the six blocks at 11:30 that night was a little scary, having all my expensive photo gear and tripod, mostly because we were alone--we saw no tourists or locals and very little traffic. All concern melted away every time I looked down the street.  The Colosseum was aglow, internally lit by hundreds of incandescent lamps, looking like a huge four layer wedding cake spanning the end of the street.  The closer we got the larger it grew--it seemed twice as large at night than in daylight!

Having seen THOUSANDS of images of the Colosseum on the internet I felt it was my obligation to do something different with this beast.  So, I did what I often tell my students, "NARROW YOUR VISION ON LARGE SCENES."
  f13.0 for 1.5 seconds @ 800 ISO
  f13.0 for 1.0 seconds @ 800 ISO
I got out my medium zoom lens ( Nikkor, 24-85mm, f2.80-4.0, Macro ) and started carving-up the old "wedding cake" into nice pieces. I like showing the interesting details of great architecture.

f11.0 for 1.0 seconds @ 800 ISO                                                          f11.0 for 1.5 seconds @ 800 ISO

EVERYBODY photographs this side of the broken structure--so I did a VERTICAL SLICE of it!

Closer to midnight a light rain had begun, we got out the umbrella, and I changed to my Nikkor 20mm f2.8 lens. With Kathi's help holding the umbrella to protect my lens--as I was titled-up--in a vertical composition, still only getting a slice of the Colosseum, this was my favorite image.

 f22.0 for 4-seconds @ 800 ISO

I was really happy it rained since that gave me the wet streets and the reflections of the street lights and cars' tail lights. I did the 4-second time exposures to get the cars' tail lights to streak as they went around the Colosseum. And, finally, I did the "Dutch tilt" to break-up the, very static, vertical and horizontal lines of the Colosseum.

The lesson I learned long ago when photographing major tourist sites is to avoid doing what everybody else is doing AND when they're doing it!  Those two things alone will dramatically improve your photography overall.

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