Tuesday, January 27, 2015


This is week 52 for my Goboist.com blog.  So it's fitting that I share a snippet from one of my on-location training videos to illustrate how I create three-dimensional lighting using ONLY a gobo (black flag) to shape pure natural light.

The problem I most often encounter with natural light outdoors is that there's simply too much light! It's bouncing all over the place, creating multiple sources, making the light on my subjects flat. My goal is to create dramatic lighting especially when I do portraits of individuals. 

The video below is excerpted from one of the training videos, available to my students, from my teaching site http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com, where we do one-on-one virtual apprenticeships and small group collaborative studies.  In this video of Jasmine it starts with where I placed her, where I had her look, and then how I controlled the excess natural light.  Click on the video to see my process…

In the world of cinematography, we called this technique (using a black flag or Gobo to subtract light) NEGATIVE FILL and it works fine for individuals, but if photographing a group or something larger I use a large Natural Gobo on my locations.  I look for rows of trees or large bushes; down town I'll use buildings. In a home setting I may use a porch--just as long as I have some open sky opposite these GOBOs.

I think the reason so few still photographers use this technique is that they're too busy copying each others bad habits--like using flash and/or reflectors outside even when there's perfectly good natural light in evidence!  So, open your mind-and-eyes to all the great natural light out there.

Don't just be a strobist---be a portrait artist!

'Til next week….

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


We do the formal portrait first then the storytelling begins…

A lot of mom's usually want the prim and proper portrait as their priority, so that's where we start.  You don't want the kids playing, and risk messing up their clothes, before you've gotten the "portrait".  So, we took no chances with these two rambunctious girls in their brand new pastel dresses and started by seating them on our wicker bench.

 f6.7 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400

Hands together in their laps, dresses all neat and smooth--just what mom wanted.  We got ONE of these!  Then the conspiracy began with big sister as the agitator…

Sensing a loss of control, my wife makes suggestions like…how about all these great leaves on the grass!

That got a nice response…So, they gather some leaves…

They throw the leaves in the air…ONCE!  And off they go to explore…

Just to make my job harder they split up.  So…I do individuals of each playing…

The older girl is open to my "hanging like a monkey in the tree" suggestion!  We finally get them back together when my wife asks them…"did you see the bird in the house?  Let's go see!" That gets them exactly where I wanted them…

I take two images, one second apart, before I realize my aperture is too wide (f4.0) for the depth of field I need for a twosome. I bump the aperture down a notch to f4.9 and by then big sister is gone.  I refocus on little sister and get this last image…before she takes off!  According to the metadata the total elapsed time:  15 seconds.

 f4.8 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
This award winning image was the result of that last 15 seconds of their session.  The image was photographed with the Fuji S-2 camera!  It was published in the Fuji Annual Portrait Book and that is when we were invited to join the Fuji Talent Team.

The storytelling images are always the most challenging--and the most rewarding to me--but you must do the basic portraits first.  Then go play!

'Til next week!

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Looking for and using directional Natural light is just as important in Travel Photography as it is in portrait or nature photography.  I want as much--maybe more--drama in my travel images than in my portraits. This was especially so when we went to Italy and I finally got to photograph the famous city of Pompeii--A city literally buried in drama!

So, what am I looking for?  Shadows of course! To find the shadows you often just have to shift your camera position 180ยบ from flat light to get short light like this…
f9.5 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
With my camera position on her shadow side I get the nice three dimensional (short lighting) light that creates depth and brings out texture.  In the next image I stood on the opposite side, where most of the other tourists took their pictures--probably because this side was the entrance to this area…
f9.5 @ 1/60 sec. ISO 400
This view has flat lighting making the statue blend more into the wall and it's OK as a "record shot" but not very dramatic.

This next image is one of my favorites from Pompeii and is one NONE of the tourists even saw from this very dramatic angle. I was walking down a street with the other tourists and I stopped to peak over a wall, just because I could; being 6'2" and saw this gorgeous granary in perfect side light!

f4.0 @ 1/60 ISO 400

This is basically window light--the door like opening on the right is narrowing the light--while the wall on the left, acting as a GOBO, is blocking light creating nice shadows on the mill stone.

It's usually easier to find this kind of lighting with interiors near an opening like a door or window or an exterior hall way, but when you venture outside it's more difficult.

When outside I look for anything that is making a shadow. Of course, if the sun is straight up you're out of luck and would have to come back later in the day.

f19.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400
In this image the sun was low enough to create good textures on the left and the walls were high enough on the right to make nice shadows.

That's what it's all about in my world…Shadows and Drama!

'Til next week…should you have questions or comments please don't hesitate to ask.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Sometimes when we do one of our Natural Light sessions the best light isn't out side.  In this case the best directional light was inside the client's home.  When I scouted their backyard and the front of their house, the week before, I noticed the sun room with nice big windows facing the backyard and made the mental note to try to fit that location into the session.

On the day of the session, I didn't think I would be able to use their sun room because the weather was coming in fast--the session was scheduled for October 30th.  If we had total cloud cover there would not be enough light to use the sun room at anything but a very high ISO and even then the light would be very flat and directionless.

What I needed was clear blue sky--without the sun--to give me the quantity of light to use my minimum f6.3 f-stop at 400 ISO and a reasonable shutter speed.  And at the end of the session that's exactly what I got!
f6.3 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400
If you've read any of my previous blogs you may know that I always use some degree of telephoto lens for my portraits.  I Never use a wide angle focal length for portraits!  Well…Never say Never!  Their odd shaped sunroom from the corner that big love seat sat to my camera position in the opposite corner was maybe 12 feet. So, there goes my favorite 70-200mm f 2.8 portrait lens.  On goes my 24-105mm f4.0 lens and then I end up needing to use that lens at 47mm to get proper framing for cropping.  Oh, the horror!!!! 
What saved me was my distance from my subjects.  They look really good because they're very central in the frame.  You can see, however, that the window frame on the right is starting to bend as it goes out of frame.

Even though it was overcast outside earlier we had a deadline to do some editorial images for the cover of River's View Living magazine featuring this family's home.
 f7.1 @ 1/200 sec. 400 ISO, lens @ 105mm

The weather gave us this nice, broad, soft, light in their front yard--not my favorite lighting, but OK for it's purpose.

boy: f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., 400 ISO, Lens @ 200mm  and girl:
f4.5 @ 1/500 sec., 400 ISO, lens @ 200mm

The sky started clearing enough to give us some direction in the light for the portraits of the kids. Now we're back to proper focal lengths for portraits now that I have my 70-200mm f2.8 lens on my camera!

f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400, lens @ 95mm
 This is one of the family set-ups we did in their backyard.  They were delighted with all the images, we got some nice images for the magazine, and I relearned that if I'm careful I can produce a nice portrait even with the "wrong" lens.

'Til next week….

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