Tuesday, September 29, 2015


f6.3 @ 1/125th sec., ISO 800
In a recent high school senior’s photo session our 17 year old subject said she wanted to be a photographer and enthusiastically offered that she, “already know some Photoshop”!   I groaned inwardly that one so young was already so mislead about how we do, what we do, in professional photography.  My wife smiled and said, “Well, Photoshop is well down the stream from what you need to learn FIRST about photography!” I told her, “My goal, every time I pick-up my camera, no matter what the subject, is to create images that require little to NO Photoshop reworking.” 

Most of what my wife does in Photoshop is facial retouching as requested by our clients (just as in the old days-before Photoshop) or a tree lim in the wrong place, along with resizing and cropping for one of our labs to make prints.

The more you are in control of the following items the less you will need Photoshop to fix problems later on. In fact many of these things on my list have no remedy in Photoshop.
  1. Know all of your outdoor locations. e.g. What time of year are they at their best? What time of day throughout the year is best?  For example, is it a sunrise or sunset location?  NEVER take a client’s photo at a location (including his home) you have not already checked out.
  2. Do a clothing consultation with the client well before the session.  Simplify their clothing, e.g.  no stripes, checks, or patterns (artwork becomes nearly impossible), use solid colors, except white—no white shirts or t-shirts, no white pants or socks or shoes, etc. (unless you are at the beach) Long sleeves or some sleeve is always better than sleeveless and no shorts! That is unless you like people looking at your legs.
  3. Know who you are photographing, not just how many, but their ages, sex and height/weight ratios. An elderly person that can’t walk far or someone in a wheelchair may rule out one of your locations.
  4. Have things for your clients to sit on (always carry black plastic, posing rocks, small pieces of furniture) when doing groups to vary head heights.  You don’t want everybody standing, firing squad style, just because the ground is wet or muddy.  Even better, use the locations’ natural elements (rocks, logs, etc.) to supplement your things.  This is part of knowing your locations!
  5. Pose your subjects to hide their flaws—our goal here is to make everybody look better than their perception of themselves!  Yes, this one is a biggie! So, why do so many photographers actually make their clients look worse by highlighting their flaws?  How? well by: Letting women wear horizontal stripes…or Posing them flat to the camera!  
What you should do is:
-  Turn women about 45 degrees from camera (so, their knees are pointed towards your key light), have them rotate their front foot to camera position…that will naturally hold their shoulders at 45 degrees, then bring their nose back to camera.
-  Men can be more flat to camera inside a group.
-  If standing though, turn subjects, on either side of your core group, inwards 45 degrees (like described for women).
There are many other tips and tricks we’ve learned over the past 25 years in posing peoples’ hands and feet, how to stand, how to sit, head tilts, angle of view of the face and corrective techniques, but ti’s too big a topic for a blog.

      6.  Lighting; make your subjects comfortable and look good at the same time! How? By not 
           putting them indirect sunlight. I see so called professional photographers do this a lot; creating
           amateur looking pictures of people squinting into harsh sunlight—sometimes with half the 
           group in shade creating a dynamic range nightmare!

Just as in the studio, I want the light on my groups to be a large, soft, source.  How do I find and use that outdoors? 

First, I place my group in the Open Shade; that’s a patch grass that has a large patch of blue sky (without the sun it it!) on one side and ideally a tree line on the opposite side. So, you may be asking, “What is Closed Shade and what’s wrong with it?” Closed Shade is found when you walk into the forrest. Sure it’s shady, but now with trees all around you the light is now mostly Top Light.  Since you’ve now lost the directionality of light from one side your subjects eyes go dark and you get the dreaded raccoon eyes. 

One of my first teachers, the great Leon Kennamer, taught me, over two decades ago, that, “The Light is at the Edge of the Forest!” Brilliant! So, as soon as you walk back out of the forest and stop, facing a big patch of blue sky—then turn 90 degrees away from that sky two things will happen; there will be directional, soft, light on one side of your face and a shadow on the other side being created by the tree line (acting as a Gobo). This is the subtractive natural lighting technique that Leon Kennamer pioneered long ago. The only caveat is that you must not have the sun affecting this soft light—so, the sun must be setting (one or two hours before sunset) behind your subject(s) for this to work properly. The bonus this creates, when you also have trees behind your subjects, is a nice, backlit, glowing background!  

I don’t always get the shadow side on my groups, but I do always get the nice soft sky light and the backlit glow in the background—or I don’t use that location. Without light in the background you lose the depth and color that add interest to a portrait. Without light the background is Dead—I want my backgrounds Alive! This is so important to me that if I think we are going to have a fully overcast sky, I will reschedule the session!

I’ve giving you a lot to think about here, so I will finish off my list next week…have your thinking cap on…next week will be techie. 

As usual, should you have questions or comments don’t hesitate…’till next week.

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

Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Digital equals artistic freedom; that’s why I never went back to film! With our high quality full-frame DSLR’s that can produce really nice images, at high ISO’s, coupled with great, fast, stabilized lenses, there isn’t much that we can’t do. 

Having covered the Western Idaho State Faire, in prior years, for the Eagle Informer Magazine, I know our fair inside and out. So, this year I decided to travel light bringing one body (Canon 5D MKII) and two lenses—no tripod or flash—and do some creative images for my self; all hand held.  

The scenes that were the most challenging were the night time images on the midway; like these…
f5.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 1600 Lens @ 24mm
This was one of my favorite compositions.  I like using a foreground object (the artwork of another ride) as a lead-in to another subject—giving depth and added interest to the composition.  The key here is using just enough ISO to get your camera to a shutter speed you can hand-hold at an f-stop that will give you the depth of field you need.  I stopped at ISO 1600 when I got to f5.0, because I new that with my lens at 24mm I would have adequate depth of field for both main subjects.  

You really can’t do this type of photography at f2.8 — or wider — and besides most lenses are not as sharp when used wide-open anyway.

f5.0 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 800 Lens @ 24mm
I loved this old carousel and when it stopped with the white swan where I wanted it, with that ride in the background, I just waited until the colorful pendulum was in a good position.

 f5.6 @ 1.160 sec., ISO 1600 Lens @ 135mm
The light in the stock buildings was terrible, so I concentrated on animals close to the big open doors., So, I reversed my angle for backlight and zoomed-in for this image of the cows’ point-of-view of the show!

f5.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 800 lens @ 24mm
The exhibit halls have notoriously poor, flat, weak lighting. So, again I looked for things closer to the open doors; in this case facing west. The setting sun was just peeping through the doors and hitting the back wall of the winning largest pumpkin’s exhibit, giving the otherwise flat lit scene some sparkle.

 f5.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 3200 lens @ 35mm
Back out on the midway for some night action photography this ride is a photographer’s favorite. Since it’s a spinner, I need at least 1/100 sec. to maintain detail in the top of the ride, but not quite freeze the people and to do that I had to use ISO 3200.  I think the best thing about this image is the in camera cropping—I think it’s more dynamic NOT showing the entire ride.

As I said at the beginning the artistic freedom we have with modern DSLR’s gives us the tools like variable high ISO’s with great quality! So, we can concentrate on important things like creative composition.  It’s my goal NOT to photograph things simply as they are. I want to photography things as I imagine they could be.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Much as I dislike using flash, outside the studio, there are times I must, when doing weddings, where there is too little ambient light on my subjects.  However, I Never use direct naked, (unmodified) flash on people!  I ALWAYS have something on my flash (the Stofen cap in the past; then the Gary Fong modifiers) and I still do not point my flash directly at my subject. I start with it tilted up 45 degrees and as I get closer to my subject I tilt up more.

#3)  Flash mixed with available light; Dragging the Shutter.

This technique goes way back and at its most basic it’s just doing a slow shutter speed sync with your flash to pull in the ambient room light—to avoid a black void behind your subjects.  When doing dance images at the reception you can just put your flash in TTL, slow your shutter to something below 1/30 sec., and wing-it, but for portraits I want more precise control of the lighting. 

Most of the time I employ this technique when I want to use the room’s ambient light (to light the room), but I don’t want the room’s mixture of color temps to pollute the bride and groom’s skin tones. So, the on camera flash (diffused with a Stofen cap or Fong modifier) is used moderately just to get realistic skin tones.  Then to blend the flash with the room’s light I drag the shutter. This technique is the single most useful photographic/lighting technique you must learn for wedding photography!  It’s the ONLY way to achieve this…

f.5.6 @ 0.3 sec., ISO 800 , Lens: 8mm Fisheye
This technique is really easy if you have a incident meter (hand-held) that will measure flash in addition to ambient light; Here’s how:
  1. Pick your f-stop; based on how much depth of field you need. I know that with my 8mm fisheye that f5.6 would give me lots!
  2. Meter the ambient room light at your subjects and adjust your meter’s ISO to get you to the f-stop you want with a shutter speed you  can live with.  That depends on how still your subjects can be and how steady your hands are! I had to go up to ISO 800 ad use a risky 0.3 seconds! (my camera’s on a tripod for this one)
  3. Now, put your flash in manual mode and make it give you f5.6 at your subject’s position. Done!
On the other hand, when you’re in a room with more light so you can hand-hold you will only be dragging the shutter a little with no need to meter the scene. In the following image I picked my        f-stop, guessed my shutter speed (check the back screen—it looked good) and went for it!

 f6.7 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400
With the above image I was watching the light on the cake (it had overhead flood light on it) so, I was careful not to use so slow a shutter speed that I lose detail on the cake.


Now we’re down to the last resort—when there’s virtually no light.  It’s night time outside where there are no other lights or you’re in a room in the same situation. In the example below they were in a gazebo with a small overhead light (at least my auto-focus could see to work!) and 5-minutes later we moved to another location for their garter/bouquet toss.  So, no time or inclination, to set-up off camera lights.

f4.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 800
The image has good, soft, coverage (look a the cake) because I have the Fong modifier on my flash, which is tilted up at 45 degrees with no cap on it.

Another area, where this flash modifier excels, is in close-up work at the cake table.  In the image below of the rings placed in the midst of the cake table decorations, I pointed the flash straight-up (with NO cap on it).

f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
So, that about covers it, from pure natural light to pure flash and everything in between.  I hope this little primer helps those photographers looking to do weddings in a more natural style, using less flash, with the goal of capturing the style, mood and ambience of each location.

“Till next week…should you have comments or questions don’t hesitate to post…

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed wedding photography is the challenge—which equals FUN—of working with different light sources and color temperatures.  That brings us to:

#2)  Available, artificial, interior light. e.g. a mix of incandescent, florescent and/or candle light.

Churches often have odd mixtures of interior lighting and since we are usually not allowed to use flash during the ceremony (why would you want to anyway?) I really enjoy mixing the lights creating an interesting color palette with my time exposures at higher ISO’s. My favorite lighting mix is when the bride and groom bring in lots of candles for their ceremony.  Then I’ll use my star-cross filter to create a dreamy-romantic look for their ceremony; like this…

 f5.6 @ 1/4 sec., ISO 400

NOTE:  I always do these candle light images with and without the star-cross filter just in case the bride and groom don’t like this effect!

This is one of those churches that had incandescent can lights overhead and florescent lights lighting the back wall at the altar!  When I first saw this I was appalled—you expect fluorescents in a grocery store but in a church?  Well, after some testing (digital made this soooo easy!) I found I really liked the color differences created by the miss-matched color temperatures.

Then there’s the candle lighting always one of my favorite parts of the ceremony…

f5.6 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 400
 This is one of the reasons I attend the wedding ceremony rehearsal.  I want to know and see how the church coordinator is setting up their ceremony events.  The bride and groom usually have no clue how to do these things—like the candle lighting and their first kiss—and the coordinator just tells they when they will be doing these things—Not HOW!

That’s when I jump in.  I want the bride and groom to rehearse these events MY WAY, so that I can photograph them.  So, for the candle lighting I tell them to move slowly and stop and hold when they light the unity candle (2 second rule) and when they place their candles in the stand (2 second rule again). I also tell them where to stand so all the guests can see them do the lighting (and so I can photograph it from the back of the church!). Then there’s the First Kiss—my 2 second rule applies here as well. I tell them I want AT LEAST a 2 second kiss and I have them practice this at the rehearsal.  The family and wedding party always cheer this!  By repeating the 2 second rule more than once there is a better chance they might remember to slow down. 

This technique of mixing candle light with other types of light is a very nice way to capture the atmosphere at the reception as well.  I use it for images of their table decorations, the cake table and their place settings.

f2.8 @ 1/80sec., ISO 3200
I built this image, like most of my images, from the background—forward.  That is I started with that background (the twinkle lights in the tree) and I placed my subject against it. In this instance I rotated the flower goblets, placed the votive candles, and last, placed the flower petals in front.   Just a nice little still-life I “found” at their wedding!

In the final part of this series,  I’ll talk about the, sometimes necessary evil, flash!

’Til next week…should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


A professional photographer uses the best light for each situation and subject.  The challenge of wedding photography is creatively using the many different types of light that you may encounter in an eight to twelve hour wedding.

These are the typical lighting situations/techniques:

  1. Natural Light outdoors and Window Light.
  2. Available, artificial, interior light (e.g. a mix of incandescent, florescent and candle light).
  3. Flash mixed with available light (Dragging the shutter).
  4. Flash Only.

As a professional you need to be good at using all four sources of light.  In my photography business ( http://www.thestorytellersUsa.com )doing weddings, these past 25+ years, I learned that 90% of the important images—the images people BUY—are those done with techniques #1,2 and #3.  With the huge increase of capability and quality in professional digital cameras I’d say that this figure is too low.  Outside of the studio, I rarely use technique #4 (flash only) at all!  

My  personal goal on every wedding is to create great portraits of the bride and groom by natural light (outdoors) or by window light if we don’t have an outdoor location.  Many times I’ll use both portrait types to give them some variety.  Why this goal? Simply put these sources of light are the BEST types of light for portraits.

Natural Light Outdoors:
 f2.8 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 1600
One of our techniques to get more variety, in less time, out of each pose is to have my wife Kathi, placed 90 degrees to the side, from my camera position, getting candid images in B&W, while I’m doing color portraits of the couple facing me.

 f5.6 @ 180sec., ISO 400                                  -                   f9.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 1600
The color portrait of our bride & groom is typical of my outdoor natural light technique. I placed them in this exact spot—building the portrait from the background forward—so the tree is framing them and that great backlight is illuminating her veil. The B&W image on the right is, again, one of Kathi’s done off to the side while I was getting images of the groom facing me.

Window Light:

This is my favorite light for candids or portraits of the bride.

 f9.5 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400                    -                         f6.7 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400
The main difference between candids and portraits by window light is that I don’t show the light source when doing portraits.  Just like in the studio I want my light source close to my subject without it being seen. In a portrait you don’t want a very bright hot spot taking attention away from your subject.

 f13.0 @ 1/4 sec., ISO 400
Window light is fabulous for cake portraits too! If there’s window light available I’ll have the cake moved so I can create this kind of image.  I know it’s a pain and you may get sour looks from the reception staff, but you must be in charge of everything that affects photography.  If that means removing the stacks of places the staff has placed on the cake table (just to make their job easier) and redecorating the cake table (which we almost always do), so be it!

In Part #2 I’ll continue down my list of lighting situations/techniques we must deal with in photographing weddings.  Should you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate…’Til next week…

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