Tuesday, February 24, 2015


My epiphany was all about the size of the main light…Size Matters! I realized that when doing outdoor natural light portraits I was using the largest open blue patch of sky I could find near a tree line.  That patch of sky provided a main light that required NO fill--in fact I am subtracting light from the opposite side with the tree line.  Such as this…
So, how could I expect to get that smooth, wrapping, quality of light in the studio with a puny 4-foot soft box?  In addition the standard 36"x48" rectangular soft box combined with the traditional studio fill light, at the back of the camera room, introduced TWO annoying artifacts in my subjects eyes:

1) A rectangular soft box creates, by design, a rectangular catch-light. That rectangular catch-light is all straight lines, right angles and sharp corners.  Putting sharp hard angles in someones eyes didn't feel right--like putting the proverbial square peg in a round hole.
2)  The fill light traditionally placed, centered at the back of the camera room produced ghastly pinpoint catch-lights--even when bounced into a 40" umbrella--in the center of my subject's eyes. I now call these "Ice Pick Catch-Lights".

Enter the 6-foot, or larger, octagonal soft box.  Because of its size it no longer has to be as close to your subject to achieve the soft, wrapping, effect thus enabling you to do groups WITHOUT a fill light. In addition the octagonal shape of this soft box creates catch-lights that appear round when you view the portraits at normal viewing distance.

Below are my before and after studio setups cropped-in to show the catch-lights.  The portrait on top using my 4-foot rectangular soft box with the standard studio fill light has the catch-light artifacts I dislike, but worse, THE LIGHTING IS FLAT--it lacks dimension.  The portrait on the bottom using my current 7-foot octagonal soft box and NO FILL LIGHT has a nice soft shadow side on her face and the simple large catch-lights.

The bottom line here is that the fundamentals are the same weather you're outside or in the studio. You create natural three dimensionality with ONE light source coming from ONE direction.  Then if you like, you can build upon that with kickers or accent lights when you're in the studio.

LIGHTING PHILOSOPHY 101:  We only have ONE sun in our solar system so for the most natural, comfortable look in portraits our subjects should only have ONE catch-light in each eye.  Filling their eyes with catch-lights looks unnatural at best and very creepy at worst! And, don't get me started on ring lights for portraits!

Epiphany aside, I could not act on this revelation while my camera room existed in a studio that was only 12-feet wide.  That had to wait for a couple more years when we relocated in 2009 to Meridian, Idaho.  We leased a store front space in Eagle, Idaho with 1500 sq. feet that we split up exactly the way we wanted--being designed around the camera room.  I could finally put up a 10x20 foot background sideways; getting 20 feet of background for large groups.  On one session we photographed a father and son on their Harley Davidson motorcycles placed end to end across a sideways background!  What made that possible was also finally upgrading my main studio light with a Photolex 7-foot Octodome, soft box, that I placed on a Photogenic 8-foot, air cushion, cast iron base, roller stand.  SWEET!

Here's the Eagle studio set-up with my 7-foot main:

Here are a couple examples using this large main light with no fill light.  For this group of girls I wanted a little drama, so the light is at about 45 degrees:

With this high school senior I wanted major drama, so I rolled the light to 90 degrees:

After I set-up our Eagle studio and  fully tested this set-up I put away my studio fill light permanently.  Even today in our home studio the studio is set-up with no fill light and I still use my 7-foot soft-box on wheels.  My lighting philosophy is now consistent and my outdoor and studio styles of lighting are harmonious.  All is well in Idaho.

"The artiste who avoids the shadows may be said to avoid the glory of the art." Leonardo da Vinci

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


As photographers we use our cameras to make images that transform three-dimensional objects, in the real world, into a two-dimensional facsimile that we then output to yet another two-dimensional medium--the print, a computer monitor, cell phone, or the like. It's our job to recreate the illusion of three dimensionality in these two-dimensional media, BEFORE the image is captured with the use of dimensional lighting. That is lighting that is DIRECTIONAL--and that means ANY ONE direction OTHER than from camera position.  It's that simple.

So, why is it that when we become professional portrait photographers we forget this basic premise? When I was an amateur nature and landscape photographer, over 40 years ago, I understood and ONLY used directional light. I always waited  for the best time of day to create beautiful, dramatic, three dimensional landscapes.  I still see this quality in most amateur photographer's images today. So, they get it--What's wrong with today's professionals?

I was just as guilty as the photographers I'm currently pointing finders at, so I'm not on such a high horse!  What happened in the transition from amateur to professional?  Here's my theory…

In my case I started my professional career some 30 years ago doing weddings and portraits. Doing weddings meant, for the first time in my photographic career, using on camera flash for a lot of those events. As a newly minted wedding photographer I was eagerly looking at what the more experienced wedding photographers were doing; what the industry standard was…and so on. Over time I got used to seeing a lot of flat lighting and it bothered me less and less--I became inured to the lazy lighting and concentrated on capturing the decisive moment, the expression, the things that SOLD the photograph to the client.  We were making good money and we matched the industry standards of professionalism.  Everything was good! Unfortunately this industry standard crept into my studio photography as well.  Of course I wasn't using on camera flash in the studio. I had nice 4-foot soft boxes never placed anywhere but to one side or the other--at the "normal" 45 degrees--an overhead hair light, a couple background lights, and the "normal" fill light up high, at the back of the camera room, bouncing off a large umbrella.  The standard 5-light set-up. hey, it looked better than the flash-on-camera wedding work I was doing! 

Something held me back though when I went outside to do portraits.  I could not bring a flash outside--that was a line I could not cross.  That natural landscape photographer in me could not abide the unnatural act of flashing a natural setting with an electronic point light source! It was thus that I became a lighting schizophrenic. I did weddings and studio portraits "the professional" way and outdoor portraits were done the "amateur" way--that is creating portraits of people outdoors using the natural light, fine art technique, that was appropriate for the setting.  Like this:

 f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400, EF70-200 F2.8L lens @ 130mm
The epiphany for me came when Kathi and I went to a lighting seminar, in San Francisco, being taught by our early digital mentor Will Crockett.  At this seminar he was promoting the Elinchrom line of studio flash and light modifiers. When I saw the quality of light that could be produced, on his model's faces, with the 6-foot octagonal soft box he was demonstrating, WITHOUT A FILL LIGHT, I knew how to reconcile the schism between my studio and outdoor lighting.

Tune in next week to see what I did….'Til next week. 

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA M.Photog., CR, CPP
Training Site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

THE SPRINGS, IDAHO CITY, Advertising Photography

When Mary, the managing editor of Eagle Informer Magazine,called us to do some photography for a new advertiser that wanted to do a full page ad, we were excited and apprehensive.  The advertiser is The Springs, a natural hot springs resort in Idaho City.  They were planning to reopen this famous old resort after a huge, 10 year, remodel to commemorate its 150th Anniversary (1862-2012).  The grand re-opening was to be in February 2013 and Mary had a magazine deadline and it was the middle of January. So, I didn't get to do my usual site location scout so that I could see what I was getting into and plan accordingly.  But I figured, hey, they're doing this big grand re-opening next month and they want site photography with models shown enjoying their facilities…So, how hard could this be?…and it sounded like fun.  Mary got the models, a nice local couple that had just recently gotten married and off we went.

I'm told that the site is wide open--there's no shade--so all photography is being done outside since the new main building still needs interior finishing. With no shade possible I tell them I want to do photography in late, warm, light, so it's planned for photography to start at 4pm.

To my horror we arrive at a construction site completely unprepared for any kind of photography!  Granted, their big geothermal pool and hot tub are done--finished and up and running--but all around the hot tub are huge pieces of black plastic covered by sheets of plywood and there are stacks of construction materials covered in blue tarps in my background! The place is a mess! This is the finished image AFTER Kathi's extensive photoshop clean-up:
f16.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400, Lens: 15mm fisheye
So, here's the site when we arrived with all the wonderful debris.  That's Mary on the right!

You may be asking why did he use a 15mm fisheye lens for this image? Well, it was the only way I could get the whole hot tub in the frame because 2 feet behind me there was a wrought iron fence, that surrounds the site, with a shear drop-off on the other side. Damn good thing I always have that lens in my camera bag. 

This is my next favorite from the fish-eye series:

My next set-up was to reverse the angle to take advantage of the back light from the setting sun and show off the now fully warmed-up hot tub's steam.
f6.3 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 95mm

This image, from that set-up, is in the current Eagle Informer Magazine (Feb. 2015 - You can view on line.) highlighting various natural hot springs in Idaho including The Springs in Idaho City.

The image below was MY favorite of our couple in the hot tub.  I guess it was a little too steamy for the folks at The Springs for advertising!

f6.3 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
So, for any Idaho locals reading this or any of you looking for a special vacation, check out The Springs ( http://www.TheSpringsID.com ) and experience it for yourself.  They have a 40'x80' geothermal pool and the 16' hot tub, kept at 104 degrees, that you've already seen.  They also have heated sidewalks in the winter, a steam room, Watsu and couples massage and there's a cafe as well.  Pretty cool place! 

'Til next week…

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Here we are, it's January, in the dead of winter, in Idaho, and we have a session scheduled for a young lady that can only be available on the weekends…and for us that means a Saturday.  We end up canceling three Saturday's in a row for dense overcast, rain, and fog before we finally get the sunny weather I'm looking for about two hours before sunset.

My goal is to make her portraits look like they were taken on a sunny spring day…minus the flowers.  We arrive at the park half an hour early to pick locations like we always do and find the pickings slim. All of our usual spots are dead looking, browns and grays, without any leaves or just gray sticks…and a toasty 41 outside.  I ALWAYS BUILD MY PORTRAITS FROM THE BACKGROUND FORWARD, so in this situation I must look deeper into the back-lit areas for something I can defocus for a nice background.
 f4.5 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 200mm

Something like this!  Her background is about 75 yards away and I even have some mid-ground stuff next to and right behind her.  Keeping direct sunlight off her face--the open blue sky is her main light.

f4.5 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 200mm

In these next two images we have placed her right in front of a back-lit bush.  It looks like summer! She was a real trouper--you can't tell it's only 40 degrees out there!

f4.5 @ 1/540sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
In both these images I had her stay exactly in the same spot and then to create a very different background I moved to camera right a couple feet--pointing my camera left to get rid of the bush until I got this dark background with that nice back light.
f4.5 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
Moving again I placed her on a low stump to align her against this background.  I like that the out-of-focus dead things in the background are darker at the top versus the back-lit material directly behind her.

I achieved what I set out to do and everybody loved the images--even our 15 year old model…especially after Kathi did a bunch of facial retouching! 

As usual, if you have questions please don't hesitate to ask…

'Til next week.

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