Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I've always enjoyed the challenge of photographing our clients with their horses, but it just didn't happen that often in our many years in the California Bay Area. Here in Idaho we have a serious horse culture with every type of riding from dressage, cross country, and rodeo--lots of rodeos!, to pleasure riding and packing for hunting. That's why the Idaho state mammal is the stunning Appaloosa horse.  We even have a state fossil and it's the Hagerman Horse! With all of this horse culture all around me it was a natural subject for a personal project that I'm calling…The horse culture of Idaho.  The most difficult thing about photographing people with their horses isn't the actual photography--it's finding locations that look great that I can get into without ME being on horseback--since I don't own a horse! 

There is also the logistics issue of getting my 6-foot ladder to the location.  What the heck, some of you are saying, does he need a 6-foot ladder for? Well, one of my basic rules of portraiture is proper camera elevation for my subjects--for example:
1) Children--be at THEIR level. So I'm often on my knees or lower!
2) Adults--camera at THEIR eye level.
3) Heavy adults--camera two or three feet above them to hide double chins and reduce body mass.
BASIC RULE: Don't have the camera below their chin--e.g. shooting up your subject's nose is a NO-NO!

So, to apply this rule to people mounted on their horse I have always used a ladder for the best results. Even when I did horses on the beach I brought my 3-foot ladder and placed it on a board--to keep the ladder from sinking into the sand! It worked great.  The photo below was my first PPA Loan collection Winner, in international competition, back in 1996.

The main reason for this extra elevation was to be high enough so I could eliminate the sky from this scene. Doing this would simplify the composition and even-out the exposure since the sky was so much brighter than the waves.

For this image I had to be on my 6-foot ladder so I could place the field behind Katie on her horse as a background.  These high angles are also necessary to avoid bisecting your subject with the horizon line (another NO-NO!)

Again, on my 6-foot ladder, using the high angle down, on both these portraits to place my subjects in the right spot on their backgrounds.  In the image on the left, when I was on the ground, our riders head was too close to the roof line of the little shack behind her.  For the image on the right I only wanted the grass as her background, so I'm back on the ladder.

In Part 2 of Natural Light Equestrian Portraits I'll show a portrait session of two gals with their horses at a great location that required some travel, but was well work it.

Till next week…Should you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Travel photography is difficult at best--creating artistic work on a cruise is terribly frustrating. After departure from Florida and two days at sea we are on a new island paradise every day for 5 days and I have no control of the timeline. The ship arrives at each island stays for about eight to ten hours and leaves with or without you. So, to be safe, taking the offered excursions is best--they guarantee your timely return to the ship. So, back to the butterfly farm--I can't resist the challenge…
f5.6 @ 1125 sec. using 400 ISO
Back in town--the tourist town--the artistic possibilities are few, but that's where we're eating so I do a few exposures near the port.  It's very colorful there but my favorite I turn to Black & White.

The black & white image is a detail (the elevation screw) of the old cannons that watch over the harbor.

Our excursion van picks us up for our trip to the island's interior for some hiking to a well known waterfall and a natural rock maze. On our way there I snapped these images from our moving van as we passed by many old buildings some abandoned by the locals,

with many being used despite their condition like this little store.

Another 45 minutes of driving and we again find paradise and the trail head to the falls. After the long hike down to the falls I was glad I wasn't carrying a tripod, but of course, I needed one with the loss of light being so deep into the rain forest.

f5.6 @ 1/5 sec. using 400 ISO                                                        f8.0 @ 1/2500 using 800 ISO
To get the waterfall image, at 1/5th of a second, I rested the camera on a bolder and squeezed the shutter release very slowly! The rock maze (image on the right) was more fun since it was easy access to get in and out being above ground!

After all the hiking we were ready to get back home--to the ship--but a local steel drum band, in colorful make-up was irresistible and willing to be photographed, after I tipped them!

(1) f4.0 @ 1/500 sec using 400 ISO           (2) f4.5 @ 1/400 sec using 400 ISO             (3) f5.6 @ 1/200 sec using ISO 800
We met the gentleman on the right, though not made-up but just a colorful, at the nearby clothes bazaar.  He happily agreed to photography and we talked with him for half an hour--he was great!

Back on the ship, after a long day, we check on the drink of the day at one of the bars at the stern and get some more cool images during sail away…

Looking down I see the nice lights on the pier as the security guard goes home and Kathi looks up and sees a family of cloud monsters, with their little dog, spewing fire in the sky!  (She has a really good imagination...) What a great trip!

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


When I travel I'm not just snapping "pictures" to record where I've been. I, at least, want to tell the story of the place and sometimes these images can become fine art. Doing this takes research and planning before I go to the location and further planning after I get there, such as time of day limitations.  Where many photographers will take thousands of photos, I create hundreds of images to achieve my vision because of my targeted planning and pre-visualization.

This probably has it's roots in my film days when using Kodachrome 64 in the 135 format. With each roll of film I had 36 exposures and it was always my goal to create something great on each roll otherwise I had wasted a roll!  So, that has been my yardstick--I would say to myself, if you can't create something great in 36 frames you might as well just hang-up your camera and take-up knitting or something!  Just my way of pushing myself…

The following images are all from one of our Caribbean cruises where I sought to capture the beauty of the islands--using color, sometimes black & white, composition and detail…lots of detail.

The butterfly farms are always a challenge, because it's just like photographing flowers--you have the loss of depth of field as you go in close--but with the disadvantage that you can't be on a tripod dropping your shutter speed so you can really stop-down the lens.   At least flowers stay put and don't fly away when you approach them!

f5.6 @ 1/320 sec using 400 ISO
We did an excursion to an old cocoa plantation where we learned about the cultivation and production of chocolate. Well, at least Kathi and the others in our group learned something. I never heard any of the lecture. All I saw the marvelous light from the windows in the old warehouse that was flowing over the coca plans and the tools of the trade displayed on the old work benches.  I went into classic window light food photography mode!

f11.0 @ 1/20 sec. using 800 ISO

The challenge here was, again, no tripod. So, I could only work in hand held mode. However, the best part was that I had the freedom to arrange all the various subjects here--add or delete--and place them where I wanted them on the table for the best fall of light.  I still don't know what the heck some of the things I photographed ARE! 

After they dragged me out of the warehouse I discovered some nice details on the outside of the old buildings, too!

On our way back to the "tourist-town", as I call it,  we would always pass through the areas where the locals lived--what I've come to call colorful squalor--I usually manage to capture some striking images from our moving vehicle.

f5.6 @ 1/640 sec. using 400 ISO
Back in town I did some more details like this old historic building and a photographer's favorite--old doors.

Back on our ship for sail-away we head out to the next island and my next planned shore excursions…

See Part 2 next week for more of my favorite images in paradise.  As usual, should you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I decided to try some commercial style photography with a black rifle, a pistol and my shiny knives using TWO new things to add interest to the images. The first was back lighting a couple of my newer muslin hand painted backgrounds. The second was placing my subjects on a large sheet of silver mylar. Both of these things provided unforeseen variables in addition to the challenge of lighting the black guns and the very reflective knives.

My usual method of lighting in the studio is to use my Norman 500 watt second pack split three ways for the hair light and two background lights--you don't need a lot of watt seconds when you're front lighting something. I decided to use my ceiling mounted "hair light" at f16 as my main light but I didn't have enough left to back light the muslin. Since both these muslins are relatively new, they're thick with paint, and are still heavy and stiff.  I had to devote one of my Photogenic 500 watt second Powerlights at 3/4 power, close behind the muslins to get the colorful hot spot you see in the images.

In order to use a nail placed behind each weapon, to hold them up, I put an old barn door on my table top set-up.  Over that was placed my silver mylar through which was hammered the nail.  I soon found out that EVERYTHING affects the mylar--usually negatively! The nail didn't do much but the weapons just resting on the top of the mylar created all kinds of distortions.  The old wood door boards with their gaps also gave me fits.  Then when I stabbed the pocket knife into the door the mylar changed again.  Even when I went to adjust the background height and passed by the table the air displaced by my body made the mylar ripple changing it's look yet again. Ugh...

The most important thing I learned.

When lighting these shiny black guns I learned that the overhead main light could NOT directly hit the top of the gun's surface or I would blow-out tis detail.  The main light instead was aimed towards the front silver reflector directly in front of the table. (See the studio set-up image below.)

Encouraged by my results thus far, I moved-on to my Bowie Knife.  I found the knife was much harder when it came to lighting its large reflective surface because I did not want to just illuminate its surface with the flat lighting that I usually see in commercial ads of knives.  I wanted some shadowing to show its shape and texture. I accomplished my goal entirely with the front silver reflector.  To get the exact angle needed I had to rest the reflector against Me as I hand held the camera and raised one knee, just so, watching the play of the  shadow across the knife's surface and clicking the shutter at just the right moment!

It paid off in not just this resulting image…

This image received a merit, general collection, in the PPA International Print Competition, August 2014!

As always, don't hesitate to ask questions…

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


We've been documenting the Japanese Hakone Gardens for the Hakone Foundation, in Saratoga California, for over 15 years.  Nearly a century old, it's the oldest Japanese and Asian estate; retreat and gardens in the Western Hemisphere.  It's also one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's premier sites.

When our studio was in downtown Saratoga I would frequently take the 5 minute drive, whenever the light was ideal, and get my artistic photo-fix on some part of the gardens that was in bloom or had been upgraded. Then whenever Lon Saavedra, the founding CEO, needed publicity images of the gardens to use for grant money applications or for a magazine article, he'd call us, have us pick some images, and we'd send them directly to who ever was needing the images. He still calls today 5 years after leaving California.

Now that we're in Idaho I can't just pop-in and take some images like I used to, but we do try to make time for them on trips down to see our sons.  So, it was a real treat when we visited California for 10-days in August, to schedule some time to photograph some new features in the gardens.  It was especially fun because my son Alex, also a professional photographer, was there with me--his first time visiting Hakone--to double team with me in a artistic documentation of this gem of a garden.  While Alex did some REALLY artistic color Infrared imagery I did the more traditional images. We had a blast working together and the foundation got some new images of the changes that were made late last year. Maybe I can get him to share his experience using infrared and some of his infrared images in a future blog.

These are a few of my favorites to acquaint you with this treasure nestled in the Saratoga foothills located in northern California.

I encourage you as artists and business owners to find a non-profit organization that you can help by documenting their activities or events.  Turn this coverage into an artistic personal project that will promote the non-profit organization and add to your artistic portfolio.  That's a Win-Win!

Author: Jerry W Venz, MasterPhotog. CPP
Training site: http://www.LightattheEdge.com