Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I’ve been seeing chatter on the forums (even PPA’s Loop) touting the “Nifty 50mm” lens as the go-to lens for beginning professional photographers; REALLY? I understand that money can be a factor when starting-up a business, but it’s all about priorities. There are many areas where you can save money—your set of lenses are your primary tools; this is where you must spend the money in professional photography! The single most creative tool we have, when we’re creating an image, is lens choice. More than anything else the lens you select will create the look and feel of your portraits. 

In professional portraiture we use the LONGEST FOCAL LENGTH the situation will allow in any given session weather in the studio or outside. WHY? Because ALL lenses distort reality in some way and it’s vital that we use that distortion to make our subjects look BETTER; How’s that for an idea! 

Well it appears to be a novel idea judging by the portraits being posted on many self-proclaimed professional photographers’ websites.  Too often I see group portraits where the people in the front row have much larger body mass and larger head sizes than those behind them.  This is called Extension Distortion, which any lens will do when you move close to your subject.  It’s the natural effect where the closer an object is to the lens the Larger it appears. In addition there’s, many times, a lack of depth-of-field where either the back row of people, or sometimes the front row, are soft.

The problem with the 50mm (or wider lenses) is that when you move-in to fill the frame these lenses will magnify the extension distortion! This effect is not pretty on people!

These images compare and illustrate the difference in distortion between a relatively wide lens that is making the woman in front appear larger than the women right behind her due to extension distortion.  This optical effect appears to pull her forward-out of the group. In contrast the portrait on the right where i backed off and zoomed-in to 170mm changed perspective and created the photographer’s best friend: Compression Distortion.  The optical effect here appears to push the group together and into the background.

Using telephoto lenses (150mm to 300mm) for portraits has many benefits:
  1. equalizes head sizes
  2. pushes your subjects into the background
  3. you don’t need wide apertures to defocus backgrounds
  4. the more telephoto you use the larger the bokeh
  5. by backing-up and using a longer focal length you can get More depth-of-field on your subject and better booked at the same time!

The depth-of field problem is easily addressed with education. Too many photographers think that their short prime lenses (50mm to 85mm) that have these really wide possible apertures (the f1.2, f1.4, f1.8 etc.) means they’re obliged to actually use them!  No, that’s not a good idea, especially for portraits, for several reasons:
  1. If you move in for a close-up portrait with your 50mm you’re already getting less depth-of-field, and then you use that super fast wide open aperture giving you depth-of-field that can be 2 to 3 TENTHS of an inch! Posing your subject in a 2/3rds view of the face you will only get ONE EYE IN FOCUS even at f2.8!
  2. Lenses just aren’t their sharpest at their Widest or Smallest apertures.
  3. Sure you can get some nice bokeh in the background at these wide apertures, but you don’t want to sacrifice your subject on the altar of bokeh…do you?
280MM @ F4.5

300MM @ F56
These portraits illustrate how I get nice depth-of-field at moderate apertures and great bokeh using Focal Length instead of wide apertures.

Technical issues aside we need to set ourselves apart from the amateurs by using techniques and equipment that they don’t know how to use. One way to do this is to “stay out of the middle” in our lens choices.  Let the amateurs have the 50mm territory.  

As a professional I like to use the extreme edges, in focal length for portraits:  150mm for groups, 200-300mm for individuals, and for a really different look—my 15mm fisheye! I like to surprise my clients by showing them something they haven’t seen before.. When I show them their images, on the back of my camera during a session and they exclaim “WOW!” I know I’ve done my job and succeed. 

‘Till next week…

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


This week I am completing my10 commandments.

Learn Short Lighting - One of the most useful lighting patterns in portrait photography.
 07.)  Don’t just arbitrarily use the lowest ISO on your camera.   What ISO do you use in the studio? I use the lowest ISO necessary to get f11.0 from my weakest light. In my studio my hair light is on a lighting pack split three ways: two are on the background and one is my hair light.  So, to get f11.0 on my hair light I needed to use ISO 200 with it on maximum power.

08.)  Pick an f-stop with a purpose. When doing portraits in the studio my go-to f-stop is f11.0.  Why preselect an f-stop and why f11.0?
    A.) You should preselect an f-stop, especially for portraits, to be more efficient during the session.  You don’t want to re-set your lights with the client waiting around for YOU! Your time would be better spent say if you wanted to change backgrounds, which may require some fine tuning, but not a complete re-setup of the lights.  It’s no benefit to the client to change f-stop, but it may be of great benefit to change backgrounds for you (sales!) and to give your client more choices to choose from.
    B.) I use f11.0 for portraits because it gives me the most versatility in most sessions.  It’s mostly about depth-of field.

    C.) Besides depth-of-field another advantage to using f11.0 and your fastest shutter sync speed, is that you can have your studio very well lit with either natural or any kind of artificial lights of any color temperature and walls painted ANY color, NONE of these ambient anomalies will be seen by your camera.

Example 1: When doing GROUPS in the studio, I’m usually forced to use my lens at 50mm @ f11.0 at a distance of 14 feet so that my depth-of-field is: 23.8 feet.  Plenty for ANY group.

Example 2: If I’m doing a family with a baby, f11.0 will take care of them as a group plus without changing anything I can do close-ups of the baby with better depth-of-field; for example: moving in close to 2 feet with my 105mm lens @ f11.0, my depth-of-field is only 3/4 of an inch! There’s no reason to use a wider aperture than f11.0 and risk a lower yield of good images due to a lack of depth-of-field.

09.)  Use high angles to slim your subject.  If your client is heavy use a background that is a muslin sweep (e.g.. 20 ft long) to create a floor.  This floor will become part of your background when you photograph them from the high angle you’ll need to use to reduce their mass and help get rid of the double chin.  Use a step stool or ladder, if you have to, and have them bring their face up to you.

10.) You MUST address subject anomalies.
    A.) Your subject has one eye that’s much smaller than the other:  Turn the subject so the SMALL eye is closer to the camera.
    B.) Turning the subject’s in a 2/3rds view of the face will also solve the problem when your subject has large protruding ears, or to slim a round face.
    C.) Your subject has a big nose:  Bring subject’s nose to the camera and use as much telephoto lens as you can.
    D.) Your subject has a large tummy:  Lean them forward so their face is closer to the camera than their tummy.
    E.) Don’t photograph individuals with their body flat to the camera—especially women!  This makes them broader and appear larger than they actually are and Please don’t have women ,or men for that matter, raise both their arms around the shoulders of people on each side of them! This accentuates the bust line on women and pulls their clothes in a strange way.

'Til next week....

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Thou shalt not light people as though you were photographing a stamp collection!  I see this all the time; Photographers using essentially TWO main lights.  One on each side of their subjects, at equal distance and angles, in a standard COPY set-up, creating totally FLAT LIGHTING!  This type of lighting is for TWO DIMENSIONAL SUBJECTS.

01.)  Three dimensional subjects need:
    A.) Lighting that has direction—ANY direction other than from camera position.
    B.) Why you ask? All of our output media for our photographic images are two-dimensional (e.g. prints, monitors, cell phones, TVs). So, we must create the illusion of three dimensions with directional light.  Great artists, over the centuries have shown us how to do this.  They create three dimensionality with the contrast of light against shadow. Today’s portrait photographers need to study the masters like Vermeer and Caravaggio (like many of the great cinematographers and directors in the film making world) instead of copying each others lazy lighting.
    C.) Learn and use SHORT LIGHTING. It’s the single most useful lighting pattern we can use.  I even use it in natural light set-ups outside.  That’s why it’s a required lighting pattern you must demonstrate to earn your Certification with the Professional Photographers of America.

A Lighting philosophy based on the natural world.  Our solar system has One sun, so for the most natural look there should be One catch-light in the eyes and it should be Round. So, why and how do we do this?
    A.) Using a fill light in the studio is EXACTLY the same as using On-Camera Flash outdoors.  For most photographers the fill light is a crutch—safety net.  If you have a decent sized Main Light you simply don’t need a Fill light—not even for groups.
    B.) A fill light produces those unholy pinpoint catch-lights even when bounced off a large umbrella, in the center of your subjects eyes.  I call these Ice Pick Catch Lights!
    C.) The square or rectangular soft boxes creates catch lights that are all straight lines, right angles and sharp corners. Putting sharp hard angles in someone’s eyes just didn’t feel right to me—like putting the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote:  “The artist who can make his subject appear to be in relivo (made to appear to have elevation, with depth and dimension) is he who should receive the greatest praise.”

02.)  Use the largest soft box you can comfortably fit in your studio and put it on wheels.  Why?
    A.) It will maintain its softness even when pulled back when doing groups.
    B.) Large lights FEATHER better.
    C.) Large lights “WRAP” better.
    D. It will eliminate the need for a FILL LIGHT.

03.)  Use a HAIR LIGHT!
    A highlight is essential when photographing your subjects against a medium to dark background; especially if your subject has dark hair.  The sparkle on their hair will not only create separation from the background, but looks fabulous on women!  Just remember to turn down the intensity of this light as the subjects hair get lighter.  eg. With my exposure set to f11.0, I set the hair light to:
    A.) f11.0 for red, brown to black hair.
    B.) f8.0-f5.6 for shandy to blond hair.
    C.) NO HAIR LIGHT for a balding man…or women.

04.)  Place your subjects at least 5-feet from the background.
    A.) This minimizes your subjects casting shadows onto the background.
    B.) This gives you room for your background light(s); to throw light onto the background and not SPILL on your subject(s).

05.)  Use Grids on your background light(s) and use Cinefoil on your lights, too
    My background lights have grids on them to make them more directional—more like Wide Spots.  In addition I tape Cinefoil gobos to the reflectors to prevent spill-light hitting my subjects; especially important than I “cross-feather” two background lights.

06.)  Light the background according to it’s design:
    A.) Use TWO lights    to cover a scenic background—you generally don’t want a scenic with only its middle lit with large dark borders (which is what one light would create.). It’s very similar to lighting hi-key backgrounds.
    B.) Use ONE light to light a medium to low-key non-scenic—especially if it has a hot spot.  If my non-scenic has no hot -spot I’ll create one with my gridded single light to create more interest.

Next week I will cover ISO, f-stops, angles and subject anomalies.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Competition was fierce in the slides division in my local affiliate (camera club) of PSA; the Photographic Society of America. Every month I had to come up with something artistically compelling with great impact; something the judges had not seen before.  The slides division was challenging because I had to compete with an image straight out of the camera—no darkroom magic with the printing process—and, with no Photoshop then (1979), any magic had to be done “in-camera”.

So, this particular month I decided to see if I could execute the image I had in my head of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum at night. This Egyptian museum, in San Jose, California, has the largest collection of authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts in the Western hemisphere.  The main entrance is a Karnac inspired building with a portico of pillars that surrounds an opening view of the sky.  The lighting of the pillars made this attraction far more dramatic at night than during the day.

The image I had in my head was a wide angle view straight-up looking through the opening to a black sky with the moon on one side—Like this….
Captured: May 1979, Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64T (Tungsten). Base image: 1-second @ f8.0 with 16mm fisheye lens. -   Moon image: 200mm lens f2.8 for 1 second.
Even 36 years later I still really like this image, mostly because it’s one of the few times I created an image that exceeded my goal! The unexpected surprise was the complex lens refractory flares caused by the overhead flood lights.  Some judges didn’t like them, but I think they add to the space theme I was going for.  Kind of a 2001 or Star Wars Space dock look. Back then lens flare was frowned upon as a professional—these days it’s all the rage—I guess I was ahead of my time!

How I did it:
Because I had no idea when, if ever, the moon would appear within this opening, I knew I would have to do a double exposure to bring the moon into the pillared aperture. But first, I had to capture my base image of this Karnac inspired temple. I did a proof of concept test one evening to establish basic exposure and focal length needed.  Using a Canon 24mm lens on my Canon F1, I found out that the 24mm was no where near wide enough to capture the pillars around the opening— even when laying on my back!  I did get the exposure data and came back for another test with a 16mm fish-eye on my Minolta SRT 102.  It looked great through the viewfinder, laying on my back, but I decided in order to capture the widest possible view of this temple to simply place the camera on the cement floor set the timer and high-tail it out of there before the shutter tripped! 

Since the moon was ideal that week—I did not want a full moon—I decided to use this roll of images for the in camera composite. So, for those of you who have never done this, all you have to do with your 35mm camera (a manual camera) is rewind the film and when you feel the film leader come off the camera’s spool—stop cranking the rewind handle.  You DON'T want to rewind your leader INTO the film canister.  Then you open the camera back and simply reload the film exactly as it was—using the crease in the leader as your guide.  The final step was to go out the next night and photograph a roll of moons to get my double exposure.  Doing this on a tripod—since my film was only 64 ASA—I decided to change the lens to a 200mm to make the moon larger within the frame.  The other action I did to give me choices was to photograph the moon in many different places within the frame—I mostly either placed the moon to the left or right of center—and crossed my fingers!

That was all there was to it!  And I got the image, actually several good images, with just this one 36 exposure roll of film…totally blind…no back of the camera preview…no RAW…no Photoshop! 

Don’t hesitate to make any comments or ask questions. ’Till next week….

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