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

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