Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I have loved Black and White prints since my earliest days in photography when I had my home darkroom and attempted B&W fine art printing in the spirit of Ansel Adams.  However, like most amateur printers back then, using Adams as our yardstick, it was and epic fail. So, I embraced color photography! I quickly learned that where I may not have had the technical ability (at 19 years old) to approach Adams’  B&W style, I did have the talent to emulate Pete Turner’s style of color photography. 

After that emulation phase using Kodachrome and every variety of Ektachromes ( finally exceeding even Pete Turner’s color palette using Ektachrome Color Infra-red film ) and taking control of my color printing using Cibachrome, I found my own photographic voice—my own style. 

Fast forward 40 years…all my favorite films and printing papers ( B&W and even Cibachrome ) have been discontinued. Ironically I found that with Photoshop and NIK Silver Effects Pro, and a plethora of other software, it’s now much easier, than in the film era, to create great B&W images from any source.  The key in this digital age is determining which color image in one’s portfolio is suitable for conversion into B&W. I say color images because as a professional photographer I create images of all my subjects in Color (RAW) to get the most out of each image file—you really don’t want your camera converting to B&W for you.  The first thing I look for when considering an image for B&W conversion is: Does it contain enough good blacks (shadows) to make it three dimensional? And, are there any contrasting whites to counter those blacks? If not, then the image stays in color.

The image below is an example of one of my fine art images created using a three step process—I don’t just desaturate the color file…

 f9.0 @ 1/320 sec ISO 400
For comparison here’s the original, unedited, color file…

Original Color File
If I’m going to convert to B&W I must have a reason to do so.  What am I trying to show or say about  a subject?  The B&W version must exceed what the color version can do. In this case, when I captured this image, I saw this old rusting car as a skull disintegrating into the landscape. The color version was too literal—it’s a rusty car.  I wanted a creepy, organic, feeling to this image.


1) In Adobe Camera Raw:
  • First I drop Saturation (-100) and see what it needs
  • For most B&W I raise Contrast (+40 or more)
  • Then I drop Blacks (-40 or more)
  • Then if my Highlights don’t pop I raise’em (to taste)
  • I’ll raise Clarity (+50 or ore)
  • Then I’ll sharpen the file

2)  Make a Jpeg of the Raw file
  • Open in Photoshop HDR Efex Pro 2
  • Select Tone Mapping (single Image)
  • Selected B&W (Artistic) #15 preset and then changed most of the settings! I only use the pre-set as a base.
Note: Because Tone Mapping tends to flatten the image most of my adjustments are to bring back Three-Dimensionality by Increasing the Blacks, Contrast and increasing Highlights or Whites.

3)  Open the Jpg image in Adobe Camera Raw…
  • Since the sliders in HDR Efex usually don’t do enough for my taste I start over again with the jpg
  • I again dropped the Blacks (-44 more)
  • I bumped Highlights  Whites (+6 & +8 more)
  • I dropped Shadows (-24)
  • DONE!

I generally detest most HDR or Tone Mapping I see on the web and a lot of the images I subject to these programs are trashed immediately.  Sometimes these things can reveal something hidden and really make an image sing!

Have questions don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Brides Always look better in natural light. By that I mean controlled, indirect, sunlight; e.g. Window Light or Sky Light.  They rarely do well when blasted with a point light source (flash) especially if the thing is mounted on the camera!  As a PPA Certified, Master, Craftsman, with over 25 years experience in Portrait and wedding photography this lighting philosophy is the number one credo I drum-into my photography students: Use Natural Light (window light or skylight) whenever and where ever you can. Keep your subjects out of direct sunlight and never use flash outside if the sun is above the horizon.

In fact, I tell my students to leave the speed lights in the car—they’re a crutch for lazy photographers. You need to force yourself to look for and see where to place your subjects to take advantage of great natural light both on the subject and in the background. 

The following images are from one of my favorite bridal sessions.  I love ethnic weddings and this took place at one of my favorite locations in California—The Hakone Gardens in Saratoga during their annual Japanese festival call the Matsuri.

 f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
For this portrait I used her head dress as a scrim, to soften the harsh sunlight, creating a nice soft, directional light on her face. Then I used Silver Efex Pro (in post) to create a grainy, mono-chrome enhancement.

Moving into one of Hakone’s authentic Japanese buildings I placed her in a “window light” set-up…

 f3.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800, Lens @ 80mm
This light here is actually from a standard open doorway.  The tricky part here was balancing the exposure between her dress and the dark background.  As I moved her close to the doorway stopping down the lens, to prevent over exposing her dress, the background would go too dark. I had to get that marvelous background properly exposed!  So, I moved her away from the doorway and raised my ISO from 400 to 800, did a test image and finally opened up my aperture to f3.5 (nearly wide open—something I rarely do!) to see the balance you see in the final image above. I was using my 80-200 f2.8 lens, hand-held, for this and all the images you see here.

Next, we moved outside, again, into full shade…

f5.6 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800
f5.6 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800
I placed her so that the sun going down behind her would create some nice specular highlights in my background.  I backed-off so I could use my lens @ 200mm for some nice bokeh and we did a nice series of medium close-ups.

One of the last set-ups we did, after the direct sun was finally off the main garden area….

f4.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400, lens @ 200mm
My bride had changed from the traditional white wedding garb into her post-ceremony outfit.  Earlier in the day a Japanese performance artist had painted these huge canvases, with a broom-like brush, that I decided would be one of my backgrounds for this session. It all came together in this image! The biggest problem I had was getting the tourists out of my shot! I was backed-off about 25 yards on the other side of a pond, my lens at 200mm, to get this angle. The tourists didn’t know I was even there—they thought this photo-opportunity was part of the Matsari event!

My goal on every wedding has always been to do natural light portraits of every bride.  Since we went digital in 2000 and as our cameras got better and better at higher ISO’s our natural or existing light (reception coverage by any type of continuous light) capability has only increased.

It’s a good time to be a creative photographer!

’Til next week…as always, should you have questions or comments I would be happy to get back to you…

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


When I was approached by this winery to do some advertising photography and heard what they thought they wanted—the usual sterile, cliche, studio style all their competitors were doing—I set about to change their minds.  If you’ve seen this blog before you already know that my preference is to use natural light in my photography when appropriate—which is most of the time!  In this case I felt natural light was the only way to do such an organic product.  I told them that I wanted to reconnect that bottle of wine to the vineyard—that sold them!

Then it was off to their vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains—a short drive from where our studio was, at the time, in downtown Saratoga, California. I made arrangements to meet with their management on a clear evening at 5:30pm.  Since this was in August I wanted to be in the vineyard doing photography by 6:30pm, at the earliest, to avoid any direct sunlight on my subject-getting that nice late, soft, light towards sunset.  After I rummaged through one of their ware houses scoring a nice old, wooden crate we headed out to the vineyard with the bottles they wanted photographed.

Lighting on the location:

Placement of the subject is everything when using natural light outdoors, no matter what your subject is.  In this situation I started walking down the vineyard’s rows that were backlit, (so I’m facing West) looking for some nice bunches of grapes at the height of my wooden crate. Remember what I said earlier—I don’t want ANY direct sunlight on my subjects.  Why?  We need to control the dynamic range of the scene.  Direct sunlight would blow-out the white labels on the wine bottles when we got the grapes and leaves properly exposed. 

Now, my main light is the clear blue sky above and behind me (“the sky is my soft box”).

 f9.5 @ 1/20 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 70mm
This was the final image.  You can see by looking at the tops of the bottles where by light source is—nice soft sky light.

 f6.7 @ 1/20 sec., ISO 400
We also did a single setup of the different wine variety showing an entire bottle.

f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
On my first visit to talk with the owners about this job I did a quick scout of the location. I did this image for a color/detail insert. It was in the morning so there was a lot of backlight for the grape bunch I chose.

f9.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400
As I was leaving I got this nice scene of a portion of their vineyards. I really like the series of rolling hills in rim-light. I always do extra images like this on a job—I can’t help it when I get inspired I just keep shooting while the light is good! On the business side this is really good.  You want to over-deliver when it comes to images—surprise them with views they had not thought of. That’s how you can really impress the client—then they buy more!

As usual, should you have any questions or comments leave them below and I’ll get back to you.
’Til next week.

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Without photography most people would never be aware of the art being produced by traditional artists in the world.  So, when an artist commissions me to photographically showcase his work I take the task very seriously and do my best to visually describe the art in its “best light”.

Chris, a local artist, came to the studio with some of his glass art saying he needed really good photos of his art to enter into the biennial, juried kiln-glass, competition sponsored by Bullseye Glass. This is an international competition and exhibition for emerging artists in kiln formed glass.  They must enter photographs of their art because the shipping and receiving (with breakage and liability) of such unique delicate, pieces is out of the question.

This first piece is a shallow bowl and with most of Chris’ art pieces, that were translucent, the challenge was showing the translucent color and lighting the front surface with balanced lighting.
f18.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200 Lens @ 70mm
The set-up is your typical table top with a small background support and lots of black velvet.  The key with his art was strong backlight (sometimes two) and a snooted “flying” spot (on a boom arm) to skim the artwork’s front surface.  Here’s the basic set-up…

The piece you see on the table Chris titled “The Blanket” and that’s what it looks like—a petrified woven blanket of glass. It’s thick and dense so I brought in two backlights—one hitting the blanket’s front edge to illustrate that thickness. To illustrate the blanket’s lumpy texture, I brought the snooted spot to the back edge of the blanket to skim the length of its front surface.

Here’s what that did…

f22.0 @ 1@200 sec., ISO 200, lens at 50mm
Next, I placed the “blanket” flat on the top of my flash head, with the small reflector, and moved the snooted spot low skimming from the top (long side) of the piece.

f20.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200, lens at 50mm
The image above is the one that did it for Chris. That image made Chris one of the 32 finalists in the competition out of hundreds of entries. Then all the finalists’ art work went on a national tour followed by an exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State.

I told Chris, “You know now you’ve got to display this piece the way I lit it for it to show well!” Chris said, “Yeah, I know….” and then he gave me his huge smile and shook my hand and thanked me for my help putting him on the artistic map!  That was back in 2012 and the reason I’m doing this blog is that Chris called me this week saying he wants me to photograph his newest glass art for the upcoming Bullseye Glass competition next month.

Sounds like fun! I love this kind of challenge…

’Til next week…as always, if you have a comment or questions send them my way…

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