Tuesday, August 26, 2014


We just got back from California where we taught "the technique" at two PPA Affiliates.  We started in San Jose at PPSCV - Professional Photographers of Santa Clara Valley. Then a week later we went to the wine country in Santa Rosa and we did an evening program for PPWC - Professional Photographers of the Wine Country - followed by a workshop the next day, on location at Judy Tembrock's marvelous home/natural light studio/winery.

f4.5   1/80   ISO 1600                              f4.5   1/80   ISO 1600                                 f4.0   1/80   ISO 1600

These first three images we did at the PPSCV seminar, in San Jose at Kelly Park, a real test of doing natural subtractive light portraits in very low light. I had to use 1600 ISO for everything!  This is definitely NOT the time of day, nor the level of light I normally use for my clients, the sun was literally setting as we did these. 

The image of the little girl, on the left, was done in the picnic area surrounded by tall trees, thus giving us mostly top light. So, I had Kathi use the gobo (black flag), on the left, to break up the flat light while I managed to capture the last of the glow in the background as the sun left this area.  Going to higher ground, for the center and right images, we had better light in this more open area--with a patch of sky on the right and some trees on the left that created a natural gobo to block light giving these images a nice dimensional quality.

Next Stop Santa Rosa Wine Country!

Our evening program for PPWC was so well received that 20 photographers signed-up and paid for our next day workshop.  We were told that it was the biggest class they had ever put together and was also a great fund raiser for the association, that was very exciting for us!

They decided on a morning workshop--not my usual time for outside portraits and it was totally overcast--so we started with a lesson on natural window light interiors using Judy Tembrock's really nice studio with its great wall of windows on one side. The lesson I wanted to impart here was how I use reflector fill, and when I don't, depending on the distance between the window and my subject. The main point being: the closer to the window the less reflector fill is needed on the subject.

  f4.5   1/60   ISO 800                                  f4.5   1/400   ISO 400                                 f4.5   1/160   ISO 400
The image on the left, done by window light in the studio, the model is about 18 inches from the window with NO reflector fill.  The dim room is acting as a gobo creating a nice shadow on her face.

Taking the class outside to do my specialty we still had total misty overcast sky. Nothing but flat light!  It seemed that this whole teaching experience was going to tax my technique everywhere I went!  At least there was enough light to go back to my usual ISO 400 for outdoor portraits. So, the middle image was done with a gobo (black flag) on the right creating a nice shadow on the model's face.  However, since she was seated on the ground, and most of our light was top light, I had lost the light in her eyes. To correct this I showed the class that all you do is raise your camera height to about 5-feet and have the model bring her chin UP to your height and raise her eyes up slightly until you can see catch lights in her eyes clearly.

In the image on the right our model was placed on the home's porch. To maximize her light we have her out against the railing. No black flag was needed here since the interior of the porch itself created a pronounced shadow side on her face.  The last thing I did before I tripped my shutter was to move further under the porch to align that nice greenery behind her head and create strong Short Lighting on her face for more drama.  I like short lighting.

As usual, if you have any comments or questions don't hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


As I write this blog it's a week after the PPA International Print Competition. I entered images in the competition after a hiatus of over 12 years. I didn't stop entering the PPA competition because of any aversion to print comp We were just more focused on working in the business. I did however, compete in WPPI's print comp and various independent competitions over the years.

The image you see here is one of the two studio images I entered into the PPA competition last week.

Daddy's Little Girls
This was a significant studio portrait for me because it reflects a change in philosophy in my style of lighting that is also consistent with what I've been teaching for outdoor natural light photography. That philosophy, in a nutshell, is maintaining direction in lighting to create dimension--the third dimension--by showing a shadow side on my subject's face. To do this in the studio, I reasoned, I needed to use the same lighting techniques I used so successfully outdoors.

Five years ago, after we moved to Idaho, I redesigned my studio completely. 1) I went to the largest size main light, that would still be easily moveable, to simulate the large open sky that I use outside.  I purchased a 7 foot Octobox and put it on wheels. 2) I put away my studio flash fill unit that, per convention, I had always placed high-above and behind me. I reasoned: using fill flash in the studio is exactly the same as using on-camera flash on a portrait outside! And, I call that Lighting Malpractice! These two things dramatically improved the quality of our studio portraits.  They now have dimension and depth. Our subjects are three-dimensional!

So, when Daddy's Little Girls came up for judging, on the first day of the competition I was a little nervous. Would the judges accept my studio lighting not to mention the posing and all the other variables that we must control to get a Merit Print in PPA Competition? Yes, they did. It got the Merit for the General Collection. My first ever merit for a studio portrait! In addition, my other image in the Studio Commercial Category, also received a Merit.  The icing on the cake was when, on the last day of competition, Daddy's Little Girls came back up to be judged for the Loan Collection (the award for the best-of-the-best images this year) and IT WENT LOAN!

It's great to receive critical validation from one's peers, and even more important to me is that our clients Love their portraits, and show it by investing in heirlooms to proudly display on their walls.

As usual, should you have comments or questions don't hesitate.

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


There's not much better light for portraits than window light.  That's why the great classical painters like Vermeer and Caravaggio used it so much.  It's as though the glass has some magical property that gives it's light a soft yet directional quality that delicately wraps my subjects and still reveals details that makes the portraits rich and three dimensional. That's why I've sought out any windows I could find on most of the weddings I've done these past 25-years.
Black & White and Something Blue - Fuji Pro-S-1, f11.0 @ 1/30sec ISO 400 This image was a PPA National Merit Print from one of our first digital weddings.
The key to using window light weather your subject is a person or a product, like food or a wedding dress, is proper placement of the subject at the window.  Unlike the studio you can't move the light source, so the lighting pattern is determined by the subject's pose or the angle of view, as seen at the camera, of your subject.  Just as I would with a person I "posed" this dress "looking" to the window so the light would skim across the flowers, shoes and dress to bring out their details making them very three dimensional.

Window Light Portrait Guidelines:

1)  Look for windows with NO direct sunlight in them. North or South facing windows are the safest.
2)  For portraits, the window is your Light Source NOT a background.  You would never show the soft box in a studio portrait…I show no physical evidence of the window--not even drapes or shears.  The shears usually over expose and blow-out anyway.
3)  Keep your subject close to the window for the softest light--usually two to three feet is great.
4)  Because window light is so soft I usually use a white reflector, for a soft fill, on the subject's shadow side--especially if the person is looking toward the camera.  This is to avoid split lighting the face.  If I have the person look out toward the window, creating short lighting, then I use NO reflector.

With white reflector, f4.0 @ 1/125 sec ISO 400
Tip:  If you are at a wedding and you left your reflector in the car use the bride's dress.  Have someone hold-up the bride's dress on her shadow side--works great and everyone will think you're a genius!  Can't lift the brides dress…grab a white bath towel.

 f5.6 @ 1/60 sec ISO 400                                                                       f2.8 1/90 sec ISO 400
Both of these images of Minda were captured by a small attic window with NO reflectors.

5)  Use the most telephoto lens you can given the space--to avoid distortion of your subject's features.  I prefer to use more than a 100 mm focal length, if I can.

f3.5 @ 1/250 sec ISO 1000, 200mm lens
This image of Hailey was done in our Eagle studio using a 12 foot x 6 foot window. This light is not nearly as soft as in Minda's photos above because Hailey is about 20 feet away from the window.

6)  Use a tripod.  Most of the time, to get a fair amount of depth-of-field, I'm using f4.0 for a bride at 1/30 sec or 1/15 sec at ISO 400.  When I am photographing the flowers, shoes, or wedding dress, I'll do them very much like a commercial product image, by using f8.0 to f11.0 with shutter speeds as slow as 1 second at 400 ISO.

Window light is the easiest natural light source to use.  Windows are everywhere these days.  Modern homes and hotels have more windows than they have ever had due to the development of energy efficient, dual pane windows.  In addition our cameras are superb at hight ISO's and coupled with faster f2.8 aperture lenses it's easier than ever before to use this beautiful light!

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Cropping in camera is one of the most under utilized tools I see most amateurs and many of my students overlook these days.  I don't know why that is, but as I tell my students, mentally "narrowing your vision" and then cropping in camera is the single most powerful creative technique (that costs nothing!) that will drastically improve any style of photography. 

Cropping is how we as professionals and artists create composition. When you walk into a scene and merely point the camera, in landscape mode, with say a 24mm lens and record the whole scene you'll rarely come away with an artistic composition.  An artistic composition is often created by the artist by what he does not show. In other words the artist chooses to show something (as the center-of-interest) and eliminates other things that may distract the viewer's attention away from that center-of-interest. 

This concept is second nature to me because of my involvement and study of film making these past 35 years. Directors and cinematographers know that to dwell on the whole scene (what we call the "Master shot") in a given take, for too long, will bore the audience. So, we cut to different cropped views and "inserts" that show more detail to hold the viewer's interest.  This is the basic visual language of film making.  Still photographers need to study the great filmmakers for lessons on composition, lighting, and lens usage, if they really want to progress as artists.

The images below were created in Pompeii, Italy on a day trip there while we were staying on the Isle of Capri.  I say a "day trip" because when visiting such marvelous, large, iconic, sites, I cannot be a part of a one or two hour tour with 50 other tourists.  Not a chance!  I need to wander on my own while my wife patiently waits--and assists when I need help! 
Lens @ 88mm, f8.0 @ 1/60 sec. ISO 400

This is the cropped, in camera, version of one of my favorite scenes in Pompeii.  Notice the very important inclusion of that near wall, on the left, giving it perspective and some interesting foreground and lead-in lines.

Lens @ 35mm, f8.0 @ 1/60 sec. ISO 400
This is the scene as I walked in, showing most of the room, warts and all.  This is the "Master Shot" that most tourist would take and walk away.  There are all kinds of images within this scene! When you "narrow your vision", with a zoom lens, you'll find many vertical slices and interesting details throughout the scene.

To further illustrate the concept of narrowing your vision, using in camera cropping, the next images show how dramatic the results can be.  I was doing some Halloween coverage, for a local magazine, at this Boise pumpkin patch, when I happened across this marvelous old Chevy truck planted near their front gate.

This is what I call a record shot of the truck. The lighting here, being just after noon, is harsh and contrasty.  But, I did notice a patch of light, on top of the right fender, on the shadow side of the truck.  So, I moved to that side of the truck and went to work…

It all came together, within about 15 minutes, while I waited for the sun to move enough to light-up the rusted base, on the top of the finder, where the truck's antenna once was. Bam! I had the image. Then I spent another half-hour taking vertical slices and detail images on that side of the truck for complete coverage.

So, have fun out there and remember…Narrow Your Vision!

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