Tuesday, June 30, 2015


The challenge was to get the idea created in camera with as little to NO attempted darkroom “magic” as possible.

My idea for this image was to create a ghostly flame being emitted from this wooden match.  The ONLY light in the image had to be just the ignition of this one match.

The original image was created on Ektachrome slide film some 40-years ago but the finished image you see below was dialed-in in the digital age--with the color matching fillet around the image--in Feb. 2001  when I entered it in that year's PPA international print competition. The print Merited and was one of the final merits I needed to earn my PPA Masters Degree !

Ghost Flame, circa 1972, Ektachrome film @ 1000 ASA
To do this required push processing my film to 1000ASA and just the right shutter speed to capture the eruption of the flame with some movement.  The really difficult part was creating that movement.  The directional movement you see here was caused by the draft of air, coming from the right by the partially open door to my bathroom. I did this in my bathroom because it was the only room in my apartment that was totally dark.  The wooden match was simply propped up on the inside edge of a small water glass. I’m set-up really close to the action, camera on tripod, so I can light the match with another match and extinguish that match (by dropping it into a another glass of water) as I trip the camera shutter.  This took a number of repetitions just to get the mechanics down.  Remember, I am doing all of this in the dark!  The big variables were how far I opened the door to create a Venturi effect into the room versus the shutter speed of the camera—a seemingly infinite number of possible combination! 

The resulting image was worth the effort and to this day when people see this print on my studio wall and I ask them what they see, I get all kinds of answers other than a simple flaming match!  It’s abstract nature tends to open people’s imaginations.  Isn’t that what our art is all about?

’Til next week…As usual, should you have a comment or question don’t hesitate.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Doing portraits outdoors at the wrong time of day—say 3:30pm when the sun is setting at 7:00pm—is challenging!  There tends to be too much light and not enough shade.  The best answer is to place your subjects in what shade there is and then subtract some excess light so you don’t have just totally flat lighting.

There are two ways to do this: 

1 - Use, black flat, gobos that you place close to your subject.  In this first example, this family reunion had to be done at the worst time of day and it was a large group!  This is where knowing your locations and how to use them, any time of the year, sets the professional photographer apart from the amateurs pretending to be professional. Using y 42” black flat works great on individuals and small groups when there’s light coming from multiple directions.

In this example you can see the the placement of the gobo to block some light from the left. This artificial gobo technique would not work with their large group of twelve. For large groups, at the right time of day I use large stands of trees to subtract light from one side.

2  -  Use natural light blockers (gobos)  within your location. In my example, at one of my favorite locations, the sun was just in the wrong spot this time of year (June).  So, to get the sun behind my subject I had to rotate my camera position 90 degrees. Doing so gave me a natural gobo (the rock she is leaning against) to block light on the left side of her face!

Great directional light created with a beautifully simple, effective technique. It doesn’t get any better than that!

’Til next week…as usual don’t hesitate to ask questions.

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Travel photography on a cruise can be very frustrating for a photographer. It’s like being on a 3000 person tour bus, except it has fabulous food and private accommodations.  The problem is you’re not in control of WHEN anything happens. However, with some planning and research great photography is possible on a cruise if you use these tips:


Some the best sunrise and sunset images I’ve taken happened from our balcony. It’s all about easy access—you can be out there in seconds and it does not matter how you’re dressed! The robe is always handy…

Great travel photography is possible on a cruise because the ship tends to arrive at each port at sunrise and sail away is usually at sunset.  So, I book morning excursions and that means something will be in good light.  For those who don’t know, excursions are guided tours of well known and not so well known sites on each island. Your job is to do the research, well before you book your cruise, on things you want to photograph on each island; thank God for the internet!

Once you have received your paperwork on your cruise they will include a list of excursions they recommend, that you can book through the cruise line, for each island on the itinerary. There are at  least two reasons this is a good idea. 
  1. The cruise line recommends reputable excursion companies that are reliable and have satisfactory reviews from their passengers.  Security and safety is their concern as well—you are after all visiting some third-world regions on most cruises—and there is safety in numbers.
  2. With cruise line excursions they GUARANTEE to get you back to the ship; the ship won’t sail without you! If you do a private excursion you will not have that guarantee—you could miss your ship.
I have gotten some fabulous images on these excursions and in seven cruises to date have never had a bad experience.

TIP #13:  A HOODMAN LOUPE will allow you to see the back of your viewfinder in bright areas.

TIP #14:  MIGHT WANT TO RESET YOUR CAMERA’S CLOCK to LOCAL time, so your metadata is useful.  

TIP #15:  TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF WHEN CHANGING LENSES. When ON the sensor’s static charge will attract dust.

TIP #16:  TIP YOUR PERFORMING MODELS; AND ASK PERMISSION TO PHOTOGRAPH LOCALS. Bring model releases—you might get an image you’ll want to us in an international print competition.

TIP #17:  WEAR YOUR GEAR…belted lens pouches and fanny pack. My little tripod came with a bag and sling. If you set your gear down you may never see it again.

One of the best things about travel by cruise ship is that no matter where you go at the end of the day you get to return to a fabulous hotel with great food and creative alcoholic drinks! Try a Chocolate Banana…they’re great! Best part you’re not driving!

When we cruise with other professional photographers, one of our traditions is to meet up for sail away, at the bar, on the ship’s stern, and toast the sunset. Always great moments.

’Til next week…as always if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask.  Asking is part of learning.

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


My roots in photography, starting over forty years ago, are in nature (National Parks), architectural and old cemeteries as fine art; entering prints and slides in PSA local and state competitions. I quickly learned that to be noticed in these competitions I could not be content to merely capture a scene, as it was, in front of my camera; no matter how well executed.  I had to take it to another level—a different view—show the judges some new aspect of a common subject…especially iconic subjects…that they had not seen before.

Delicate Arch - 16mm Fisheye Lens on Ektachrome I.R. Film 
This philosophy applies to the magazine editors at National Geographic or Outdoor Photographer or the editors at Getty Images, and also the curators at your local art gallery. An impactful, different, view of a common or iconic subject will make them STOP as they click through the huge number of images they see every day.

My first two tips are the most important and span all types of photography, especially….

Three dimensionality in flat art is created by shadows.  In portrait photography we MAKE the shadows with lighting (studio) or GOBOS (subtractive lighting) when outside. If you see no shadows when outside you’re either in the wrong spot or it’s the wrong time of day.

Flat Light                            and                          Short Light
In these images of the same subject in Pompeii, Italy; I photographed the Left image the way all the tourists did as they walked by: Flat Light with NO Three Dimensionality.  All I had to do was change my camera position 180ยบ and on the other side of the statue we now have Short Lighting (one of the basic types of portrait lighting) with dimension AND texture!

When doing travel photography don’t just do Landscape views (horizontal big views) like so many tourists do.  Use your lenses to crop the scene into compositionally pleasing pieces.  I’ll often take a large horizontal subject and do vertical slices of it showing it’s details.

               The Full Scene                                                          Cropped, in Camera, for better composition
The image on the Left is a “record-shot” of the entrance into one of the many Pompeii rooms with frescos on the walls.  I didn’t like the things on the floor in the middle or the white pipe to the right, so as I walked closer I pointed my camera Left and Zoomed to exclude the light at the roofline.  However, I did NOT ENTER the room because I had to include that beautiful wall, with the broken fresco on the Left!

This image shows basic composition:
  1. Foreground—the wall on the Left
  2. Mid-Ground—The broken pillar on the floor
  3. Background—The frescos on the corner walls behind the pillar
Before you go: Google the places you’re going and look at photos—I want to see what’s been done so I can do something different.  You may also discover a subject you didn’t know was there

TIP #4  — Upon arrival scout important locations; where is the sun rising/setting? Determine which subjects will have good light at Sunrise or Sunset.

TIP #5 — Can you access these sites when the light is good? What are the hours of the site and do they close? (This is part of your up-front research!)

TIP #6 — During the day (bad light) go do interiors—visit museums and churches; eat a long lunch…take a nap!

TIP #7 — Bring A.C power plug converters for Europe. (If you are cruising make sure you do your charging on the ship and you won’t need the adapters.

TIP #8 — Stay near (walking distance) to your primary subjects.

TIP #9 — A compact tripod is really handy. (I have a Digi-Pod!)

TIP # 10 — You need a Water repellant hat.  It’s a shade/gobo…I have a Tilley hat for summer and an Outdoor Research hat for winter use.

Next week I’ll continue the Travel Photography Tips with an emphasis on cruise travel photography. 

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BEFORE THERE WAS PHOTOSHOP; The Magic was done In-Camera

Before digital cameras and Photoshop creative commercial photography was done “mechano-optically”; meaning, we built rigs and sets and optically combined elements either in-camera or in the darkroom.  My first commercial job, some 25 years ago, was for Apple Computer.  They wanted an image to dramatically illustrate their intent to go paperless.  Apple’s Service division was picked as an example for this goal. The reference material for their technicians were dozens of binders that took up a lot of space and were costly to produce. So, putting all this information on CD’s that every technician could have saved money and trees; Win, Win!

They gave me a pile of binders and a CD and asked if I had any ideas; Uh…sure, I’d think of something! I’ve been warping reality with my 16mm fisheye since the early 1970’s, so, I thought this would be an ideal use of this lens. I knew that if I kept my center of interest in the center of the composition it would look natural (un-warped) while the closer I placed the camera, anything I put around it would be progressively more warped towards the edges of the frame. So, my vision was of the CD Floating in the front of the warped row of binders that were wrapping around it.

Film: 35mm Ektachrome EPP 100 ASA
The image came out EXACTLY as I imagined it—with the unexpected bonus of the shadow of the CD, outlined in red, on the table; that took extra effort.

This is a basic mechano-optical image. The machano part (floating the disk) was the easy part.  The disk is supported on a telescoping rod (a mechanic’s magnet) that’s passing between the binders directly behind the disk.  The rod is clamped in a vise. The magnet was removed from the rod and velcro was used to attach the disk to the rod.  Ta-Da! One floating disk.

This was the hard part. I rented a basic studio pack (the Norman P2000D) and heads and their  unique Norman Tri-Lite.  I knew I was going to need a spot source on the disk and a way to gel that source. The Tri-Lite was ideal because it’s a focusable spot and it has a 3x3” filter drawer builtin; it’s also capable of 1200 watt seconds.

With the Tri-Lite suspended, vertically, directly over the disk and the main light in close, I figured I could capture this in one exposure; Wrong!  With the main and spot (with a red gel) at 400 w/s they metered @ f16.8, but on my Polaroid tests the disk’s color was too weak; but the binders’ exposures were perfect

Note: That’s when I noticed the faint shadow of the disk on the table and I wanted more of that in addition to more intense color!

So, it became a “2-pop” exposure (two flash exposures on one frame of film). With more polaroid tests this was the final exposure:
On Ektachrome EPP, 100 ASA, 35mm film @ 1/30 sec.
1st POP: f22.0 with both heads @ 400 w/s
2nd POP: f22.0 with just the Tri-Lite spot @ 800 w/s

Here’s an image of the set-up in my garage proto-studio; circa 1990.

The only other difficulty getting this image was blacking out the background. I had to put up Savage Super Black (107”) paper all around the set because the 16mm fisheye lens’ angle of view is 180 degrees. In case you were wondering how I could remember all this information I actually did a complete story board of this project along with documenting all of the experimenting I did with the color jells and different exposures with results.

I had a lot of fun doing this project and was well paid for it too.  Unfortunately, the public never saw the results since this image was for Apple’s internal use only. I also enjoyed bring back a little of the way we did things in the past…boy do we have it easy today!

’Til next week….

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