Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I see a lot of over processed nature photography from just being over saturated, to the most egregious HDR work, where all the shadows are processed out creating a flat two dimensional scene. Yuck!

Now I’m no purist naturalist that says we should mirror nature making photos that only show it in it’s natural state. No, I think then we would merely be technicians reproducing the scene in front of us.  An artist interprets his subject often idealizing a natural scene as the classic painters did and, in the photographic arts, the way Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith did with their extensive post capture negative and print manipulations.

So, I’m not going for the totally natural look-I never have. I prefer the interpretation of nature that I used to get with Kodachrome 64 slide film. To that end I think I’ve achieved that look with my digital raw files processed in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw).

Before I go on to how I process my RAW files, It’s very important to discuss the lighting you choose when capturing fall colors, because the lighting determines the method and the degree (or strength) of your processing.

There are three ways, using natural light, to do fall colors…in my opinion:


 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
The image above was done in this light. Overcast sky is like a giant soft-box as we use in the studio to soften the harshness of studio flash.  It’s very easy to use the outdoor version of this light because it’s so soft and diffuse. Overcast sky is the best way to reduce the dynamic range of a scene enabling you to capture a full range of colors very easily.  The biggest problem with this light is that you have a lower level of light to work with so you may be on a tripod and/or you’ll have to bump-up your ISO. I’m usually at ISO 800 in this light, especially if I’m hand holding.

BACK LIGHT - Hard Light

f6.3 @ 1320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 85mm
Backlight can be stunning. You’ll get very dramatic colors, but if you have multiple leaf colors—say from yellow to deep red in the same image—you may have trouble getting detail in that range of colors because of the difference in the transmissive nature of those leaves.

It’s all about the dynamic range (exposure latitude) that your camera’s sensor can handle.  In addition if you properly expose those leaves and have something in the foreground that is opaque it will usually under expose. And, sometimes that’s OK. So, go for it…you’ll learn a lot about exposure with backlight.

With many subjects this is the lighting I start with; then I may do that same subject again in overcast sky-light.

FRONT LIGHT - Very Hard Light

 f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm
Sunlight falling directly from the front should always be avoided in most photography.  It’s way too easy to blow out the high lights (again, exceeding your camera’s dynamic range) with harsh sunlight.  You should at least place your camera in a position where the sunlight is falling across your subject from one side. It’s also best to use morning or evening sunlight.

So, with this light it’s all about timing and direction of the light.

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll move on to how I process each of these types of lighting.

Don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions…’Till next week…

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


We’ve been doing portraits at this park for over 6 years now and never used this spot.  Why?  We were comfortable with “our location” (our usual spots), within the park, until one day we drove in for a scheduled session, to find the parking lot full; there was a soccer game going on for little tots. So, we had to park at the business complex across the street and walking into the park from a different end….As I was headed to our normal starting spot and my wife yelled “Jerry turn around!”…and this is what I discovered on the perimeter—outside the park. Damn!

f5.0 @1/250 sec., ISO 800, lens @ 120mm
This spot full-fills ALL my location criteria:
  1. Directional light from ONE side
  2. Gobo effect (subtracting light) by trees on left
  3. Great backlight from setting sun, also giving the kids some hair light.
  4. The cool split rail fence tying the scene together.

Goes to show ‘ya (me, that is!) that even a 25+year portrait veteran with a bunch of degrees and many awards can get too comfortable “doing the job”.

It’s easy for us to fall into this state since, as full time professional portrait photographers we must deliver stunning portraits of our clients on every session—failure is not an option!  Because of this we tend to use and reuse our favorite spots within each location.  (We have eight different locations on our list within, at most, a half-hour’s drive). So, after a few years, we run the risk of getting stale, of going into safe routine, and finally creating a portfolio where many of the portraits look the same.

Part of this is due to regional geography—especially here in Idaho, where we have less scenic diversity being land-locked. I really miss those beach sessions we did a couple times a week when we were in California….along with our kids, of course.  

I’m reminded about one of my teachers, a well known PPA Master, Craftsman, who told us he had been posing high school seniors inside the “V” shaped branches of a particular tree for over 20 years!  The portraits were great, but I made a note-to-self…avoid that rut and continue to scout for new locations!  And I do look for new locations…I just forgot to look for new spots within my usual locations! Lesson learned.

Here is another image at our newly discovered location.

 f4.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
For this high school senior portrait we pushed her down to the end of that same split rail fence.  In addition you can see behind her that there’s plenty of grass where we can do family portraits as well.

I’m going to have to go back out now and re-scout my old locations for different spots on the edges of those locations.

Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or ask a question…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


One of my guiding principles in portrait photography is to create the least depth-of-field I can while still keeping my subject(s) sharp. So, the f-stop is my most important variable.  All the other variables, shutter speed and especially ISO, are used to get me to my preferred lens aperture to give me the depth-of-field I want.

Most professional photographers have preferred working lens apertures for each type of photography we do.  Why? We must deliver the goods on EVERY session we do so we must know what f-stop, lens focal length, distance from your subject, sensor size, combination that will create the depth-of-field required for any type of subject(s) set-up.

In portrait photography my subject depth-of-field (DOF for ease of reference) is mostly determined by how many people and the pose we place them in.  The following image shows a family we posed in a single row group (our “walking pose”) that does not require much DOF—Super Simple!

 f5.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Canon 5D MKII with 70-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  200 mm
  • Distance from subject:  40 feet
  • Aperture: f5.0
  • DOF = 3.63 feet
This next image with a larger family group that needed to be compressed into THREE Layers, so the group didn’t get too wide, needed much more DOF.

f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Fuji S-5 Pro with 80-200 mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  112 mm
  • Distance from subject:  30 feet
  • Aperture: f7.1
  • DOF = 6.34 feet
When doing individual portraits the pose (the angle of view of the face) determines my aperture.  In the portrait of the boy below I didn’t need much DOF because he was in Profile.

f2.8 @ 1.250 sec., ISO 800
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Fuji S-5 Pro with 80-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  200 mm
  • Distance from subject:  15 feet
  • Aperture: f2.8
  • DOF = 0.19 feet (2.4 inches)
Since we only see one eye you can get away with very little DOF and being at 200mm gives you great bokeh as well!

This next image of the young lady is typical of a pose when you see Both Eyes. We have her body turned away from the camera and her nose is not pointed directly at the camera.  In this pose I can’t take any chances with DOF being so shallow that I lose focus on the far eye so, f4.5 is generally where I am for this pose.

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
The DOF data for this image is: Camera - Canon 5D MKII with 70-200mm f2.8 lens:
  • Focal length:  160 mm
  • Distance from subject:  10 feet
  • Aperture: f4.5
  • DOF = 0.3 feet (3.6 inches)
In summary these are MY favorite working apertures:
  • f7.1 …. for groups 3 or 4 deep
  • f6.3 …. for single families up to 3 deep
  • f5.0 to 5.6 …. for a single row group
  • f4.5 …. for a individual in most poses
  • f2.8 …. for an individual in profile
All of the DOF data was gleaned from fttp://www.DOFMaster.com .  It’s a great website where you can quickly get your camera specific depth-of-field information for most camera-lens combinations.  All you need to do is plug in your typical “shooting” distance and favorite f-stop to instantly get your depth-of-field.  When you go on the site simply scroll down to their “On-Line Depth of Field Calculator” to get more than you thought you never needed to know about Depth-of-Field!

If you are having trouble with sharpness in your portraits I hope this information will give you an insight on how to make corrections and greatly improve your photography.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments….”Till next week…

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


This is Huge!  Your lens choice, and how you use it for portraits, is far more important than any other piece of equipment—including the camera.

The two types of distortion that affect our subjects the most are extension distortion and compression distortion

Here’s what these distortions do:

Extension Distortion happens with ALL lenses. It’s the effect where the closest part of your subject to the camera appears larger than normal; for example:
  1. The subject’s hand or foot is larger than his head.
  2. In a group portrait, with multiple rows, the head and body mass of people in the front row are much larger than those of the people behind them.
  3. In an individual portrait your subject’s nose appears larger than it actually is.
If any of this is happening in your portraits you can’t blame it on your lens—it’s YOUR FAULT!  

This type of distortion is actually Perspective Distortion caused by being too close to your subject(s) because you choose to use that “nifty” 50mm or wider lens for portraits.

Short lenses will also make the background appear to recede from your subjects and simultaneously keep the background more in focus. Theses are not desirable effects especially when doing portraits outdoors when you want to include some environment.

So, what’s the cure here?  BACK-UP!  Yep, back-up and use a more telephoto lens. When doing portraits I use the MOST telephoto I can given the space I’m in, whether it’s studio or outdoors.

Lens: 200mm, f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400

Using telephoto lenses (say 135mm to 300mm as practical focal lengths) for portraits has many benefits:
  1. They equalize head sizes of those rows of people. Because you must back-up to use a telephoto lens on a group it eliminates extension distortion (you have changed your perspective by backing up) and the more telephoto you use the more it compresses the group.
  2. They push your subjects INTO the background. In environmental portraiture we want to put our subjects INTO their environment.  The compression effect binds the image together.
  3. You don’t need wide apertures to defocus the background; the more telephoto your use the larger the bokeh
  4. On individual portraits, using a 200 to 300mm telephoto, you can easily minimize facial features (that large nose) and create dramatic painterly backgrounds while maintaining good depth-of-field.
Lens: 250mm, f4.5@1/320 sec., ISO 400
You want great Bokeh? More telephoto not super wide apertures is the way to go.  The Bokeh is better and you maintain good depth-of-field.

There’s no downside here, especially for our clients. using a telephoto makes them look great, creates beautiful backgrounds outside and gives our portraits a look that our clients can’t do themselves and rarely see amid the clutter of wide angle cell phone and nifty-fifty amateur pictures that are the norm.

So, what focal length telephoto do I use for portraits?  My rule of thumb for this is:
  • 70-135mm for large family groups (multiple families)
  • 150-170mm for one family group
  • 200-300mm for individual portraits
Lens: 70mm, f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 1000
With a group this large I had to back-up a lot (about 30 feet) and go to 70mm, which is about as wide as I ever go in portraits.  Backing up that far really minimized the perspective distortion. In any given situation I use the MOST telephoto I can employ. The results speak for themselves.

In Part #3 I’ll be talking about your working f-stops, depth-of-field, and custom white balance.

‘Till next week - have any questions or comments?  Don’t hesitate to post them…

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