Tuesday, December 29, 2015


This little outdoor session lasted exactly 3 minutes and 34 seconds. I managed 11 images total and then this little guy was done

We had just finished a standard studio session that lasted about 20 minutes. So, I was happy to get anything outdoors! 

This is just one of many reasons why using the subtractive method to control natural light outdoors is so superior to any other method; children won’t wait for you to set-up your “gear”!  While you are messing around with setting-up your speed lights and soft box or even trying to use reflectors, you can easily miss the moment—that very short window of opportunity when the child will work with you.

The other reason is that Subtractive Natural Light can do this…

f4.5 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
This is why I call subtractive natural light, “The Best Light Money Can’t Buy!”

This particular morning, just before Christmas, it was 19ºF with snow on the ground and we had fully overcast sky.  So the light here, in my backyard, was flat and directionless; the worst kind of natural light.  To create direction and give my little subject a shadow side on his face I would usually use a Gobo (a black flat or flag as we called then in the world of cinematography) on one side to block unwanted light. 

There was no time to grab anything but my camera as his mom was helping him into his coat and saying, “Let’s go outside and play in the snow!” Fortunately, we have a porch with a nice overhang just out of our back door that I knew could be my overhead and side gobos to create a directional lighting pattern (even though I had never used my porch for portraits up to this moment!).

All I had to do now was get Beau out of the backyard snow and back on the porch, in the right spot, for a clean background!

Here’s my porch…Complete with the clutter of furniture and my barbeque that I had no time to move, and me taking an incident light meter reading, where I placed him for the portrait.

This was about as simple as it can be when using existing objects to act as gobos to control the light.

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Just a short blog this marvelous week to share the look of Christmas at our house.

We got some nice natural flocking on our outside tree a week ago! Then we got rain. May get some more snow Christmas Eve.

Our fireplace mantle with a small portion of my snowman collection.


Hope you enjoyed..May your holiday season be filled with Love and Memories! Kathi and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy, New Year! 

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


In professional photography we want our light, weather outside or in the studio to have direction. Without direction there are no shadows. Without shadows your subject becomes flat and looses its three dimensionality. In outdoor photography if you want your subject to have drama and power you must bide your time until conditions are right.


So, we do a lot of waiting in nature photography—and it’s the same if we’re photographing a bute or a barn or anything outside.

For the image of this barn I waited for over a year for the proper alignment of conditions. As I saw the image in my head, I wanted a great cloud mass behind the barn when the late setting sun was at the proper angle to give the barn and clouds those shadows.

It took a while for me to get this image because the weather here in Idaho is very volatile. Out clouds can blow in and out of here in minutes taking my light with them or just blowing all the clouds away!

After I got my “master-shot” of the barn as a whole I proceeded, as I usually do, to slice-up my subject into smaller compositions to highlight its details. In the images below I changed my angle on the barn to make the lighting even more dramatic—shooting down its length now.

These barn images are part of my personal project to document the quickly vanishing barns (and farms) in the developing areas around Boise. Two of the four barns near me, here in Meridian, have already been demolished in preparation for more housing developments.

Is there any history that’s worth documenting in your neighborhood?

Have a question…don’t forget to ask…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


When photographers, especially professional photographers, talk about action photography we usually refer to the glamorous field of motor sports.  So, forty years ago, living in the region with professional and amateur motor sports happening nearly every weekend, that was my first photographic passion. Just in Northern California I did formula race cars and International Grand Prix motorcycles at Laguna Seca and Sears Point. I also had the opportunity to photograph real legends in International Motocross at Halls Ranch. I had one of the best drag strips in the country in my own backyard—Fremont Drag strip as well as the San Jose Mile and Half-mile dirt track, which was on the AMA Professional (Motorcycle) circuit.  

Now, living in Idaho, there isn’t much of this kind of action to photograph.  However, there is action all around us and as photographic artists it’s our job to find it and share it. The Idaho State Faire is one of my favorite events here in Boise and it’s filled with marvelous photographic opportunities. In this blog I’ll share some images creating action of things that aren’t going anywhere!

One of my favorite sections of our state fair is the antique farm machinery. Many of these are steam powered and still functioning! 

 f11.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400
In the image above I cropped in camera to show more close in detail. I usually don’t show an entire “wheel” (especially when it’s large) anyway, as it’s redundant and compositions are more interesting with a partial wheel. The key in this image was to make the wheel’s spokes transparent, so you can see the machinery behind the wheel.  It turned out that 1/30th sec. was ideal and since I was hand-holding the camera that was good.

f5.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 1600
This machine’s wheel is much smaller, so I moved in close and cropped out the sides of the wheel for an unusual vertical composition.  For this one I had to bump my ISO to 1600 (don’t be afraid to use higher ISOs!) to get to a and holdable 1/30th second.

f5.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 3200
Hand holding and doing nighttime action photography can be challenging.  I didn’t want to freeze the people whirling around on this ride, but I wanted to stop the big red wheel to show its colorful details. It turned out that ISO 3200 gave me enough shutter speed to do just that.  

So, Action is where you find it—you just have to look around and be creative.

If you have questions or comments don’t forget to leave me a message….’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


It’s easy creating great artistic images outdoors at the peak of fall or when you get six inches of snow creating a soft blanket that can make a garbage dump look beautiful!  But, when the season is changing, at the very end of fall and the beginning of winter it can look very ugly when you look out the window and, seeing the temperature is 15º F, you say, “Nah, there’s nothing out there to photography—I’ll just stay here where it’s warm!” 

The advice I give my students is to NOT prejudge what’s possible without at least taking a walk outside; the walk will do you do anyway!  And, it’s not a quick look I’m suggesting—Many Photographers Look but Don’t See.  How do you see? I tell my students, especially when conditions outside are not perfect, “You See by Narrowing Your View”.  In other words, when the big view is ugly, crop-in and capture the details—look for smaller compositions.  

So, just make the point I went out in my neighborhood the day after our first snow.  We only got an inch of snow and most of it had already melted away, so I thought this would be challenging—You see, I prejudged my chances too!  I went out at NOON, it was sunny, and the temperature was up to 20º F. I went over to our development’s grassy common area where we have a two foot, galvanized, irrigation drain pipe that dumps into a rocky “french drain”. The rocks in this pond were embedded in a thin layer of ice. It didn’t look too promising from a distance. But, as I got closer and looked down I framed THIS in my viewfinder….
f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
I love that solitary leaf, mostly frozen in the ice, with its stem and a small portion, resting on the rock, in the only sunlight available, as if seeking solace from the advancing winter.

f8.0 @ 1/400 sec., IO 400
Three feet away I saw this marvelous pattern in the ice—a bird “frozen” in flight! I converted it to B&W so the color in the leaves around it would not distract from the illusion.

Here’s the less than idyllic scene of my ice vignettes. The first image was taken not two feet out of the mouth of the drainage pipe.

Next I walked to our other patch of common area, a block away, to check out what was left of the fall colors and that location’s snow…

Pretty sad—not much left from our first wimpy snow! So, armed with my 70-200mm lens (set at 200mm) I zoomed-in looking for details using the backlight from the low winter sun.

f5.0 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 400
So, there I am on my knees and then on my stomach with this big lens on my camera and several neighbors drove by, slowing down, to see what the nutty photographer is taking pictures in this small, crappy, patch of snow!

 f6.3 # 1/1000 sec., ISO 400
The proof is in my images; you don’t have to travel to some pristine, exotic, location to create great nature images—check to your local area (your neighborhood!) and “Narrow Your View”.

That about wraps-up fall for my part of Idaho. I’m looking forward to more snow and hopefully some nice freezing fog!

“Till next week….make comments or ask me a question or two… look forward to your input…

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


In Part 1 it was all about natural light portraits outside—nothing better—and with horses and the guy with his car and dog it’s pretty much the only way; not many of us have studios that large! However, if you want to make a living in photography you must be able to go inside when the weather forces you or when the client requests a studio session. That being said, going inside does not mean being limited to studio flash. You can opt for natural light here as well. 

So, I’ll break down INSIDE into two parts:

Inside Portraits — Studio Flash

Using studio flash is very useful for pet photography for two important reasons: 
  1. Action: Studio flash will freeze the action of the most excitable animal and still maintain a nice low ISO.
  2. Depth-of-Field: Because of the power you have with a studio flash (as opposed to wimpy speed lights) you can use f11.0 or more for the depth-of-field you may want when photographing large animals or groups of animals with or without their owners.

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
In the portrait above we had a very “antsy” cat. You can tell by the woman’s hair that there was some action here as she tried to control her Large cat! 

 f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200
With small excitable dogs we like to place then on something, off the ground.  That way I get at least one image before they figure it’s OK to jump down!

 f9.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
Big black labs can be challenging to photograph.  First, I don’t have anything I can put them on so we do a sit and down pose, and if they will stay well we’d do this standing pose.

Second, I’ve seen many photographers have trouble pulling detail out of portraits of black labs. I don’t have much of a problem with them because I’m using a large 7 foot Photoflex, Octadome, as my main, that requires NO Fill Light. I added a 42” silver reflector, on the right, opposite the main. In addition there is a strip box (hair light) mounted to the ceiling and two background lights.

Inside Portraits — Natural Light

The only problem with doing natural light portraits indoors is that you will need to bump-up your ISO to get a usable shutter speed—especially if you’re hand holding the camera as I am. In addition with window light indoors you won’t be able to stop down as much as in the studio, so you’ll be giving up some depth-of-field. You can always use an even higher ISO, but at the expense of more noise; can your camera produce wall prints at ISO’s over 800?

f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800, lens at 200mm
In this image of our Gadget, when she was a puppy, I needed a high shutter speed because; First, this little quadruped was quick! Second, to back-off and fill the frame @ 200mm and hand hold that lens required that shutter speed.  Her light was a very large 6x12 foot window about twelve feet away that was illuminated by clear blue sky, NOT direct sunlight. I don’t generally allow direct sunlight on my subjects. Still the light here is very hard and she’s got very small catch lights because, even with the very large window, at that distance window light becomes very hard. That’s why when we do people portraits by window light we place them within a couple feet of the window, giving us a large, soft, source.

f8.0 @ 1.200 sec., ISO 400, lens @85mm
One of my favorite ways to light people with their horses is by “barn light”! This is the light created by a large barn door open to sky light. Again NO direct sun!  The directional source you get with this large open door is very dramatic. Because of the volume of light coming through this large opening I was able to use my usual outdoor ISO of 400 and still use f8.0 of good depth-of-field.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions…’Till next week…

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


My personal favorite environment to do portraits of people and their animals is in natural light outside. (And if you’ve read this Blog before—well, yeah, so what’s new about that!)

Yes, Natural Light, I believe, is still the best light money can’t buy! Sometimes I go inside (a little more difficult with horses) and still use natural light.  Then again, I do photograph people and animals in the studio (not horses!) with studio flash when the weather is really bad.  So, you see, I’m not as rigid in my style of photography as some assume! After all , a true professional photographer should be able to excel using ALL types of light.

Starting with my favorite….

Outside — Natural Light:

Being outside not only gives me great light—It gives me more Lens Choices. I can back-off and use my absolute favorite zoom—my 70-200 f2.8 lens—or go wide, placing my subjects in a scenic with my 17-50mm or 24-105mm lenses.

Lens choice equals more creative control!  

f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 180mm
In the above portrait I caught some fun action, as this gal’s horse nuzzled-in, using my 70-200mm lens. This was in January about 2 hours before sunset—so we were getting a nice warm light.

 f8.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 32mm
With this portrait I went to the other extreme using my wide zoom at 32mm. We had carefully placed her and her horse at a dynamic entry point into the scene and I’m up on a 6 foot ladder! Why you ask? Well, I’m usually on a ladder doing horses, especially when being ridden, because I don’t want to be doing up angle portraits (from below their noses) of people—not very flattering.

However, in this case, I wanted both my subjects to be placed against that field of green behind them. I did not want their bodies or heads bisected by the horizon line which is the view I was getting when I was on the ground.

 f5.6 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 200mm
For this young man’s portrait with his dog and his car we were again out about 2 hours before sunset on a cool February day. I’m backed way-off with my lens at 200mm, compressing the car and my subjects. With my camera on a tripod, it made it possible to squeak my dog toys, getting the dog’s attention!  It Worked! 

Next week, in Part 2, we’ll go Inside using both natural light and studio flash.

As always, should you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. “Till next week…

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


There are basically two ways to photography fast action and motorsports.  You can freeze the action at the decisive moment giving your audience a detailed look at a moment that can’t be seen in real time, or you can create the illusion of motion in a single frame by NOT freezing the action. These two styles each have their place.  The stopped action style is what you mostly see in reportage photography media. I think not freezing the action, implying motion, can elevate your action sports images to the next level; they can become art.  Both styles are the result of diametrically opposed techniques, but it’s all about Shutter Speed.

Creating the Illusion of motion with slow shutter speed:

Panning @ 1/15 sec., on Kodachrome 64
Of all the motor sports I’ve done over the years, I loved doing motorcycles the most. You can see the racer doing battle with the pitching and sliding race bike and it’s easier to get more than one racer inside the frame just because they’re smaller than their four wheeled counter parts! Too often today I see stopped motion photos of single race cars where the car just looks parked on the race track! 

The technique that must be practiced to capture race bikes doing 100 mph, at slow shutter speeds, is Panning with the Action.  To do this you must start with your camera pointed towards where the race bike is coming from and as it goes by you match your body rotation to it’s speed, clicking the shutter when it’s at it’s closest point, in front of you, (when the bike is parallel to your camera’s “film plane”) and follow through—panning as it goes by.  

When I did this image of these dirt trackers, on the San Jose Mile, back in 1970, I did not have auto focus or motor driven film advance, so I got ONE image every time the bike(s) passed-by. I manually focused on the track at that closest point where each particular racer tended to be; professional racers are very consistent about maintaining the same “line” on each lap. So, this focusing technique works well. 

Nowadays it’s a bit easier; we just put our auto focus into AI-Servo mode and shoot at 5 to 10 frames per second as the racer flashes by. But it’s still up to YOU to do the panning smoothly.  As you can see the slow shutter speed pan is great at isolating the race bikes by totally bluring the often distracting backgrounds you have at racetracks.

Stopping action with high shutter speed:

For action subjects that are chaotic (you don’t know where they are going to go) or action that is moving away or towards you the slow shutter speed pan is useless.  That’s when you crank-up the ISO and go to high shutter speeds.

 f5.0 @ 1/5000 sec., ISO 800
There aren’t too many other sports more chaotic than a rodeo! You never know where the horse or bull is going to go when the gate opens…and neither does the cowboy!

You’ll notice a couple of things in my exposure data for this rodeo image that is different than what I see other photographers suggest for action shutter speeds and f-stops.  I see many photographers suggest you use 1/1000 sec., as your shutter speed, but I’ve found for the intense action of rodeo I get a higher yield with must faster shutter speeds.  So, I’m usually at 1/2500 sec. to 1/5000 sec. to really stop action. In addition I tend to keep my f-stops from f4.5 to f5.0 for two reasons: First, I want only my subjects sharp and I’ve found that with my lens @ 200mm f5.0 gives me plenty of depth of field while defocusing the background. The Second reason is sharpness; most lenses are not sharpest when wide open—so I rarely have my lens at it’s widest aperture ( f 2.8 ).

Those are the basics that I’ve found produce the greatest yield in this kind of photography.  The key to really mastering sports photography is attaining experience through Practice, Patience and More Practice!

Don’t hesitate to ask questions or comments…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Now that you have some great images of fall colors captured in RAW…what do you do with them?

It begins with the HISTOGRAM.

When you open your images in ACR first look at your histogram. Is the image overexposed—e.g.. hitting or climbing the right wall? It’s always better to start with a properly exposed image especially with brightly colored subject matter.  The number one processing error I see from many photographers’ fall images is clipping in the red channel (over exposed reds). There is no excuse for this because, if your exposure is anywhere in the ball park, you can easily bring the reds down; and, by down, I mean reds with printable detail. 

Aside from over exposure the other ACR sliders that can cause your reds to clip include, too much: Saturation, Contrast or Clarity. One of the ways to control color clipping is to use More Vibrance and Less Saturation when you want more over all color. Vibrance is a smarter slider in that as you move to the positive, it controls reds, unlike the Saturation slider that just saturates all colors equally.  In fact, in a lot of my fall color images I leave my Saturation at “0” and just bring up Vibrance some.

In Part 1 I talked about the three different types of lighting that I use to capture fall colors.  How I process those images is different with each type of lighting.  In addition I often process each type in two stylistically different ways.  I render them either Soft or Hard depending on the mood I want to create.  Everything else being equal in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) this is done with Negative Clarity (soft) or Positive Clarity (hard). 

So, lets start with OVERCAST SOFT LIGHT:

f8.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800 

Contrast  @  +28

HighLights  @ 0

Shadows  @  +6

Whites  @  0

Blacks  @  -50

Clarity  @  +50

Vibrance  @ +42

Saturation  @  0

 f8.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800 

Contrast  @  +53

HighLights  @ -68

Shadows  @  0

Whites  @  0

Blacks  @  -59

Clarity  @  -52

Vibrance  @ +50

Saturation  @  0

In the image on the top I wanted the leaves sharp and crisp ( +50 Clarity ) and in the images on the bottom I wanted those red leaves to Glow against those white trees, so I went to -50 Clarity .

You’ll also note that with this low level, soft, lighting my ISO is at 800 (not a problem with my Canon 5D MKII). However, if your camera is noisy at this level you should drop your ISO and then use a tripod and use a slower shutter speed.


 f5.6 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400

Contrast   @  +42

HighLights   @  0

Shadows  @  +60

Whites  @  0

Blacks  @  -38

Clarity  @  -73

Vibrance  @  +28

Saturation  @  0

I wanted this image to have a painterly glow, so, I applied a lot of Negative Clarity. Because that kind of Clarity really enhances the colors I only used a Little Vibrance and “0” Saturation. The backlight is strong, as well, so I also increased Shadows ( +60 ) to bring up the detail in the tree bark.


 f8.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400

Contrast  @  +31

HighLights  @ -76

Shadows  @  0

Whites  @  0

Blacks  @  -28

Clarity  @  +54

Vibrance  @ +19

Saturation  @  +16

I don’t do a lot of front-lit fall colors, but when I do I look for light that is directional—I don’t want FLAT front light.  As I revolved around this tree I saw this spotty light skimming across these leaves. Since the light hit one particular leaf, I got my center of interest I was looking for.  Typically with this type of light you’ll notice that I knocked down the highlights ( -76 ) quite a bit.  Then I brought the clarity up ( +54 ) only moderately increased Vibrance and Saturation.

As one of those old timers with Over 40 years experience in photography, I do not miss the film days!  With this digital technology, being able to dramatically alter any image in an infinite variety of ways, my artistic creativity knows no bounds!  I have surpassed Anything I could have done with Kodachrome or any of my other favorite films with the exception of Ektachrome HS Color Infra-Red; but I’m working on that!

Hope these tips helped you to realize MORE of your creative potential. As always, leave me a comment or ask a question…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I see a lot of over processed nature photography from just being over saturated, to the most egregious HDR work, where all the shadows are processed out creating a flat two dimensional scene. Yuck!

Now I’m no purist naturalist that says we should mirror nature making photos that only show it in it’s natural state. No, I think then we would merely be technicians reproducing the scene in front of us.  An artist interprets his subject often idealizing a natural scene as the classic painters did and, in the photographic arts, the way Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith did with their extensive post capture negative and print manipulations.

So, I’m not going for the totally natural look-I never have. I prefer the interpretation of nature that I used to get with Kodachrome 64 slide film. To that end I think I’ve achieved that look with my digital raw files processed in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw).

Before I go on to how I process my RAW files, It’s very important to discuss the lighting you choose when capturing fall colors, because the lighting determines the method and the degree (or strength) of your processing.

There are three ways, using natural light, to do fall colors…in my opinion:


 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
The image above was done in this light. Overcast sky is like a giant soft-box as we use in the studio to soften the harshness of studio flash.  It’s very easy to use the outdoor version of this light because it’s so soft and diffuse. Overcast sky is the best way to reduce the dynamic range of a scene enabling you to capture a full range of colors very easily.  The biggest problem with this light is that you have a lower level of light to work with so you may be on a tripod and/or you’ll have to bump-up your ISO. I’m usually at ISO 800 in this light, especially if I’m hand holding.

BACK LIGHT - Hard Light

f6.3 @ 1320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 85mm
Backlight can be stunning. You’ll get very dramatic colors, but if you have multiple leaf colors—say from yellow to deep red in the same image—you may have trouble getting detail in that range of colors because of the difference in the transmissive nature of those leaves.

It’s all about the dynamic range (exposure latitude) that your camera’s sensor can handle.  In addition if you properly expose those leaves and have something in the foreground that is opaque it will usually under expose. And, sometimes that’s OK. So, go for it…you’ll learn a lot about exposure with backlight.

With many subjects this is the lighting I start with; then I may do that same subject again in overcast sky-light.

FRONT LIGHT - Very Hard Light

 f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm
Sunlight falling directly from the front should always be avoided in most photography.  It’s way too easy to blow out the high lights (again, exceeding your camera’s dynamic range) with harsh sunlight.  You should at least place your camera in a position where the sunlight is falling across your subject from one side. It’s also best to use morning or evening sunlight.

So, with this light it’s all about timing and direction of the light.

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll move on to how I process each of these types of lighting.

Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions…’Till next week…

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


We’ve been doing portraits at this park for over 6 years now and never used this spot.  Why?  We were comfortable with “our location” (our usual spots), within the park, until one day we drove in for a scheduled session, to find the parking lot full; there was a soccer game going on for little tots. So, we had to park at the business complex across the street and walking into the park from a different end….As I was headed to our normal starting spot and my wife yelled “Jerry turn around!”…and this is what I discovered on the perimeter—outside the park. Damn!

f5.0 @1/250 sec., ISO 800, lens @ 120mm
This spot full-fills ALL my location criteria:
  1. Directional light from ONE side
  2. Gobo effect (subtracting light) by trees on left
  3. Great backlight from setting sun, also giving the kids some hair light.
  4. The cool split rail fence tying the scene together.

Goes to show ‘ya (me, that is!) that even a 25+year portrait veteran with a bunch of degrees and many awards can get too comfortable “doing the job”.

It’s easy for us to fall into this state since, as full time professional portrait photographers we must deliver stunning portraits of our clients on every session—failure is not an option!  Because of this we tend to use and reuse our favorite spots within each location.  (We have eight different locations on our list within, at most, a half-hour’s drive). So, after a few years, we run the risk of getting stale, of going into safe routine, and finally creating a portfolio where many of the portraits look the same.

Part of this is due to regional geography—especially here in Idaho, where we have less scenic diversity being land-locked. I really miss those beach sessions we did a couple times a week when we were in California….along with our kids, of course.  

I’m reminded about one of my teachers, a well known PPA Master, Craftsman, who told us he had been posing high school seniors inside the “V” shaped branches of a particular tree for over 20 years!  The portraits were great, but I made a note-to-self…avoid that rut and continue to scout for new locations!  And I do look for new locations…I just forgot to look for new spots within my usual locations! Lesson learned.

Here is another image at our newly discovered location.

 f4.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
For this high school senior portrait we pushed her down to the end of that same split rail fence.  In addition you can see behind her that there’s plenty of grass where we can do family portraits as well.

I’m going to have to go back out now and re-scout my old locations for different spots on the edges of those locations.

Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or ask a question…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


One of my guiding principles in portrait photography is to create the least depth-of-field I can while still keeping my subject(s) sharp. So, the f-stop is my most important variable.  All the other variables, shutter speed and especially ISO, are used to get me to my preferred lens aperture to give me the depth-of-field I want.

Most professional photographers have preferred working lens apertures for each type of photography we do.  Why? We must deliver the goods on EVERY session we do so we must know what f-stop, lens focal length, distance from your subject, sensor size, combination that will create the depth-of-field required for any type of subject(s) set-up.

In portrait photography my subject depth-of-field (DOF for ease of reference) is mostly determined by how many people and the pose we place them in.  The following image shows a family we posed in a single row group (our “walking pose”) that does not require much DOF—Super Simple!

 f5.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Canon 5D MKII with 70-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  200 mm
  • Distance from subject:  40 feet
  • Aperture: f5.0
  • DOF = 3.63 feet
This next image with a larger family group that needed to be compressed into THREE Layers, so the group didn’t get too wide, needed much more DOF.

f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Fuji S-5 Pro with 80-200 mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  112 mm
  • Distance from subject:  30 feet
  • Aperture: f7.1
  • DOF = 6.34 feet
When doing individual portraits the pose (the angle of view of the face) determines my aperture.  In the portrait of the boy below I didn’t need much DOF because he was in Profile.

f2.8 @ 1.250 sec., ISO 800
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Fuji S-5 Pro with 80-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  200 mm
  • Distance from subject:  15 feet
  • Aperture: f2.8
  • DOF = 0.19 feet (2.4 inches)
Since we only see one eye you can get away with very little DOF and being at 200mm gives you great bokeh as well!

This next image of the young lady is typical of a pose when you see Both Eyes. We have her body turned away from the camera and her nose is not pointed directly at the camera.  In this pose I can’t take any chances with DOF being so shallow that I lose focus on the far eye so, f4.5 is generally where I am for this pose.

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Canon 5D MKII with 70-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  160 mm
  • Distance from subject:  10 feet
  • Aperture: f4.5
  • DOF = 0.3 feet (3.6 inches)
In summary these are MY favorite working apertures:
  • f7.1 …. for groups 3 or 4 deep
  • f6.3 …. for single families up to 3 deep
  • f5.0 to 5.6 …. for a single row group
  • f4.5 …. for a individual in most poses
  • f2.8 …. for an individual in profile
All of the DOF data was gleaned from fttp://www.DOFMaster.com .  It’s a great website where you can quickly get your camera specific depth-of-field information for most camera-lens combinations.  All you need to do is plug in your typical “shooting” distance and favorite f-stop to instantly get your depth-of-field.  When you go on the site simply scroll down to their “On-Line Depth of Field Calculator” to get more than you thought you never needed to know about Depth-of-Field!

If you are having trouble with sharpness in your portraits I hope this information will give you an insight on how to make corrections and greatly improve your photography.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments….”Till next week…

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


This is Huge!  Your lens choice, and how you use it for portraits, is far more important than any other piece of equipment—including the camera.

The two types of distortion that affect our subjects the most are extension distortion and compression distortion

Here’s what these distortions do:

Extension Distortion happens with ALL lenses. It’s the effect where the closest part of your subject to the camera appears larger than normal; for example:
  1. The subject’s hand or foot is larger than his head.
  2. In a group portrait, with multiple rows, the head and body mass of people in the front row are much larger than those of the people behind them.
  3. In an individual portrait your subject’s nose appears larger than it actually is.
If any of this is happening in your portraits you can’t blame it on your lens—it’s YOUR FAULT!  

This type of distortion is actually Perspective Distortion caused by being too close to your subject(s) because you choose to use that “nifty” 50mm or wider lens for portraits.

Short lenses will also make the background appear to recede from your subjects and simultaneously keep the background more in focus. Theses are not desirable effects especially when doing portraits outdoors when you want to include some environment.

So, what’s the cure here?  BACK-UP!  Yep, back-up and use a more telephoto lens. When doing portraits I use the MOST telephoto I can given the space I’m in, whether it’s studio or outdoors.

Lens: 200mm, f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400

Using telephoto lenses (say 135mm to 300mm as practical focal lengths) for portraits has many benefits:
  1. They equalize head sizes of those rows of people. Because you must back-up to use a telephoto lens on a group it eliminates extension distortion (you have changed your perspective by backing up) and the more telephoto you use the more it compresses the group.
  2. They push your subjects INTO the background. In environmental portraiture we want to put our subjects INTO their environment.  The compression effect binds the image together.
  3. You don’t need wide apertures to defocus the background; the more telephoto your use the larger the bokeh
  4. On individual portraits, using a 200 to 300mm telephoto, you can easily minimize facial features (that large nose) and create dramatic painterly backgrounds while maintaining good depth-of-field.
Lens: 250mm, f4.5@1/320 sec., ISO 400
You want great Bokeh? More telephoto not super wide apertures is the way to go.  The Bokeh is better and you maintain good depth-of-field.

There’s no downside here, especially for our clients. using a telephoto makes them look great, creates beautiful backgrounds outside and gives our portraits a look that our clients can’t do themselves and rarely see amid the clutter of wide angle cell phone and nifty-fifty amateur pictures that are the norm.

So, what focal length telephoto do I use for portraits?  My rule of thumb for this is:
  • 70-135mm for large family groups (multiple families)
  • 150-170mm for one family group
  • 200-300mm for individual portraits
Lens: 70mm, f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 1000
With a group this large I had to back-up a lot (about 30 feet) and go to 70mm, which is about as wide as I ever go in portraits.  Backing up that far really minimized the perspective distortion. In any given situation I use the MOST telephoto I can employ. The results speak for themselves.

In Part #3 I’ll be talking about your working f-stops, depth-of-field, and custom white balance.

‘Till next week - have any questions or comments?  Don’t hesitate to post them…

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


f6.3 @ 1/125th sec., ISO 800
In a recent high school senior’s photo session our 17 year old subject said she wanted to be a photographer and enthusiastically offered that she, “already know some Photoshop”!   I groaned inwardly that one so young was already so mislead about how we do, what we do, in professional photography.  My wife smiled and said, “Well, Photoshop is well down the stream from what you need to learn FIRST about photography!” I told her, “My goal, every time I pick-up my camera, no matter what the subject, is to create images that require little to NO Photoshop reworking.” 

Most of what my wife does in Photoshop is facial retouching as requested by our clients (just as in the old days-before Photoshop) or a tree lim in the wrong place, along with resizing and cropping for one of our labs to make prints.

The more you are in control of the following items the less you will need Photoshop to fix problems later on. In fact many of these things on my list have no remedy in Photoshop.
  1. Know all of your outdoor locations. e.g. What time of year are they at their best? What time of day throughout the year is best?  For example, is it a sunrise or sunset location?  NEVER take a client’s photo at a location (including his home) you have not already checked out.
  2. Do a clothing consultation with the client well before the session.  Simplify their clothing, e.g.  no stripes, checks, or patterns (artwork becomes nearly impossible), use solid colors, except white—no white shirts or t-shirts, no white pants or socks or shoes, etc. (unless you are at the beach) Long sleeves or some sleeve is always better than sleeveless and no shorts! That is unless you like people looking at your legs.
  3. Know who you are photographing, not just how many, but their ages, sex and height/weight ratios. An elderly person that can’t walk far or someone in a wheelchair may rule out one of your locations.
  4. Have things for your clients to sit on (always carry black plastic, posing rocks, small pieces of furniture) when doing groups to vary head heights.  You don’t want everybody standing, firing squad style, just because the ground is wet or muddy.  Even better, use the locations’ natural elements (rocks, logs, etc.) to supplement your things.  This is part of knowing your locations!
  5. Pose your subjects to hide their flaws—our goal here is to make everybody look better than their perception of themselves!  Yes, this one is a biggie! So, why do so many photographers actually make their clients look worse by highlighting their flaws?  How? well by: Letting women wear horizontal stripes…or Posing them flat to the camera!  
What you should do is:
-  Turn women about 45 degrees from camera (so, their knees are pointed towards your key light), have them rotate their front foot to camera position…that will naturally hold their shoulders at 45 degrees, then bring their nose back to camera.
-  Men can be more flat to camera inside a group.
-  If standing though, turn subjects, on either side of your core group, inwards 45 degrees (like described for women).
There are many other tips and tricks we’ve learned over the past 25 years in posing peoples’ hands and feet, how to stand, how to sit, head tilts, angle of view of the face and corrective techniques, but ti’s too big a topic for a blog.

      6.  Lighting; make your subjects comfortable and look good at the same time! How? By not 
           putting them indirect sunlight. I see so called professional photographers do this a lot; creating
           amateur looking pictures of people squinting into harsh sunlight—sometimes with half the 
           group in shade creating a dynamic range nightmare!

Just as in the studio, I want the light on my groups to be a large, soft, source.  How do I find and use that outdoors? 

First, I place my group in the Open Shade; that’s a patch grass that has a large patch of blue sky (without the sun it it!) on one side and ideally a tree line on the opposite side. So, you may be asking, “What is Closed Shade and what’s wrong with it?” Closed Shade is found when you walk into the forrest. Sure it’s shady, but now with trees all around you the light is now mostly Top Light.  Since you’ve now lost the directionality of light from one side your subjects eyes go dark and you get the dreaded raccoon eyes. 

One of my first teachers, the great Leon Kennamer, taught me, over two decades ago, that, “The Light is at the Edge of the Forest!” Brilliant! So, as soon as you walk back out of the forest and stop, facing a big patch of blue sky—then turn 90 degrees away from that sky two things will happen; there will be directional, soft, light on one side of your face and a shadow on the other side being created by the tree line (acting as a Gobo). This is the subtractive natural lighting technique that Leon Kennamer pioneered long ago. The only caveat is that you must not have the sun affecting this soft light—so, the sun must be setting (one or two hours before sunset) behind your subject(s) for this to work properly. The bonus this creates, when you also have trees behind your subjects, is a nice, backlit, glowing background!  

I don’t always get the shadow side on my groups, but I do always get the nice soft sky light and the backlit glow in the background—or I don’t use that location. Without light in the background you lose the depth and color that add interest to a portrait. Without light the background is Dead—I want my backgrounds Alive! This is so important to me that if I think we are going to have a fully overcast sky, I will reschedule the session!

I’ve giving you a lot to think about here, so I will finish off my list next week…have your thinking cap on…next week will be techie. 

As usual, should you have questions or comments don’t hesitate…’till next week.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman, Certified

Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com