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

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