Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Alright, I know this is not the modus operandi of your basic National Geographic photographer, but when we’re going through some third-world countries I don’t even want the bus to stop—much less get out ( “Never get out of the boat!” ) and walk around wearing a bunch of expensive camera gear!

Admittedly these images are not my photographic destinations (where we do get off the bus!); these images are just happenstance on the way to our destination. Even though my yield is low doing these moving targets of opportunity—so is the risk!

Sometimes I capture something special that I can call art….

 f9.5 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400
Someone’s faded dream in a small Mexican town. This image demanded to be in Black & White so I compiled.  

The key to succeeding at this kind of photography is:
  1. Get in the bus early to get a window seat.
  2. Open the window, if possible, if not clean it. The image above was captured through the glass and I had to edit out some class glare.
  3. Use a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. or higher; don’t hesitate to up your ISO; I’m usually at 400 or 800 ISO.
  4. Get a seat on the same side of the bus for the trip back (they usually return the same route) so you can photograph something different.
  5. And, really important, look ahead and be ready (I keep my camera just below eye level); when the bus is doing 30 mph you’ll only get one or two images off as your subject flashes by.

Some of the poorest towns we’ve visited have been in the Caribbean….

f5.6 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400
Passing through the run down little towns on Grenada was sobering yet colorful.  This one was also captured through the glass on an overcast day—so there was no glare. Then on our way back through town our bus was slowed way down in traffic so I was able to get several images of this little store….

f5.6 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800
With so little color in the scene this too was a natural for black & white. Of course, the men seen through the store’s open window was my focus.  That is the man at the window still was my focus; I didn’t know that man to the right—sitting in deep shadow—was even there until I cropped-in on the original image.

I’m still struck by the stare on the man’s face as he leans on the window sill. It’s much like the “thousand yard stare” that happens to soldiers in battle. He looks beat-down by his environment, hopeless, resigned to his fate.

Then there’s my guilt when I look at him, because he gave me something here and I gave him nothing. He gave me new appreciation for all that I have and where I just happened to be born.  I guess this unfair exchange is the occupational hazard of most street photographers.

As usual, should you have comments or questions please don’t hesitate to jot them down. ’Tis next week…

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Digital cameras have freed us in many ways—not the least of which is choice in ISO.  As a professional photographer in the film era it was very frustrating being tied to a film type once it was loaded—especially 35mm, where if you had to change film mid-roll you had to rewind it back into it’s canister without loosing the leader, etc. 

When I went fully professional, using only medium format cameras, at least we could change film backs at will for more film/ISO choices.  Of course, you had to invest (at $400 to $500 each) in 4 or 5 film backs pre-loaded with the film you thought you would need for each job.  In addition we bought our pro-film in bulk that had to be refrigerated and couldn’t be loaded into our cameras until it was acclimated to room temperature—so, film usage took planning.  Those were the “Good Old Days”…I do not miss those days!

Where I really like this ISO flexibility is when I’m walking around in a low light environment, without a tripod—I hate lugging a tripod, especially on vacation! So, because I’m usually hand-holding my camera, regardless of my lens choice, my ISO starting point is 400. I’ve never been fond of any of my DSLR’s “native” ISOs—I’ve always regarded 100 ISO pretty much useless.  Nothing new here; in all my professional years using medium format film my starting point was….ISO 400 films and then the advanced 800 films supplemented by 1600 and 3200 Black & White (loved T-Max 3200 especially pushed to 6400!) films. 

The following images show three different camera generations at higher and higher ISOs….
f2.8 @ 0.3 sec., ISO 800 ~ Camera Fuji Pro S-2 (2003)
You want low light try a cave!  This was taken in the Cavernas Chaaktun at Playa de Carmen in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  With the lens wide open at f2.8 I went to 800 ISO ( 1600 was pretty noisy back then ) to keep my shutter speed to a controllable .3 seconds, where I could rest the camera on a safety railing.  Love that crystal clear water and reflections!

Next we skip a camera generation where I’m walking through the Idaho State Fair at 8:30pm ( right at sunset ) when I spot this antique farm pump.  It’s whirring, popping and hissing along with a dozen other steam powered farm machinery that stops me in my tracks.

f5.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 1600 ~ Camera Fuji Pro S5 (2010)
I picked f5.0 to give me the depth-of-field I needed to see what’s behind the spinning flywheel—I’m in pretty close, so my depth-of-field is shallow.  I only need 1/30th sec., (it’s an easy hand held shutter speed) to blur the flywheel; if I went any slower the flywheel would be too clear loosing its sense of motion—and 1600 ISO got me there.

Key Point:  In the digital age we use ISO as a tool to achieve the f-stop and shutter speed we require to tell the story.

Five years later I’m back at my Idaho State Fair, this time using a quantum leap in camera development over my previous DLSRs—the Canon 5D MKII.

f5.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 3200 ~ Camera Canon 5D MKII (2015)
Again, I pick my variables and use my ISO to get me there. With my lens at 24mm I pick f5.0 for good depth-of-field. I picked 1/100 sec., (with some testing) because that shutter speed will stop the spinning ride’s red wheel, but let the people’s motion blur a little.

Technical Note:  The ISO “sensitivity” settings on your DSLR are NOT analogous to film speed or sensitivity.  Despite what you see on the internet or forums your DSLR camera sensor’s sensitivity is FIXED—it is NOT variable.

Raising the ISO number on your digital camera merely underexposes the image. Then, post-exposure, gain is applied to the signal, from the sensor, proportionate to how many stops you have under-exposed the image. Unfortunately, the gain applied to boost the signal also boosts noise, especially in the darkest (most underexposed) regions. That’s why it’s better to slightly over-expose a low light/high ISO image than to under-expose it. 

I’ve been using the ETTR ( Expose to the Right ) maxim for 15 years; I encourage you to do the same.

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


The power of cropping, either in camera or in post capture, cannot be over estimated. How much or how little you show of your subject can completely  alter a viewer’s reaction to an image. I tell my students that with careful cropping, “you can reveal more by showing less!”  I believe what sets the amateur snap shooter apart from the professional image maker is how the professional Narrows His/Her View of the world. As a professional, I start the cropping process in camera with my choice of lens. Rarely do I use the so called “normal” 50mm focal length lens. I’m either in close with a wide angle or, more often, I’m backed-off using some kind of telephoto taking slices of my subject—looking for interesting details. 

In contrast most amateurs using fixed lens point and shoot cameras or cell phones take pictures of everything with the same lens—usually a short range zoom or a medium wide angle.  This creates a sameness to their images. They just take, what we call in the film making world, a series of “Master Shots”—which is recording the whole scene in front of their camera. In the professional world of filmmaking the Master Shot is just the beginning—it sets the stage—and is followed by close-ups, reverse angles, and inserts.

The image bellow is the most interesting piece of a small barn here in Eagle, Idaho.
f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400, lens @ 170mm
This is the color image I started with….my “Master Shot”.

Lens @ 200mm
Then I moved closer went vertical, and shifted my position to the right to clear out most of the vegetation seen through that window on the far side of the barn….

Lens @ 170mm
The final version I cropped and converted to B&W in Adobe Camera Raw. 

If you want to progress as an artist in photography you must use the power of cropping at least some of the time. To do that you need to get past the “Master Shot”—it’s only the starting point in exploring a subject. In order to accomplish this you must also recognize the unique characteristics of the subject in front of you—that requires Vision. Unfortunately many photographers’ work I see tells me they have sight, but not the vision to show me something ( anything! ) original in their work.

So, the next time you find yourself standing in front of some iconic subject that everybody has photographed (e.g. the Roman Colosseum, Yosemite, Delicate Arch, Monument Valley, etc.) don’t just do what the other photographers have done—sure, get your master shot, but then go further—slice it up, change lenses, move to the position other than the “scenic view”!

As usual, should you have questions or comments don’t hesitate to drop me a note…’Til next week.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Children’s portraits has been the earliest mainstay of our business since we started 25-years ago. Prior to that it started with the births of our boys in the early eighties—I did not photograph children before that…I was an Artist—only doing “fine-art”! How our priorities do change!

I quickly discovered how much more challenging children’s photography was than any of the fine-art or commercial work I had done. Where I have complete control of all the variables in a commercial product shoot and control of most aspects in a landscape, in a child’s portrait session it can feel like I sometimes have no control of my subject! And, to make it worse, the parents are often a major hindrance in getting the child’s cooperation.

We’ve been doing Hailey’s portraits since we opened our Idaho studio in 2010 and it’s been marvelous watching her grow-up.  She’s one of those kids that are completely open and relaxed in front of my camera.  She takes direction and enjoys our portrait sessions. She became one of our models, posing in our studio sets, for our holiday promotions.

In this outdoor session with Hailey we did our usual routine of doing the posed-looking at the camera—portraits (what most parents always want) first. Our rule: Do the Hard Stuff First! Then we can play. Hailey’s mom had said that Hailey had been in ballet and dance classes and liked to show-off so, as we walked the trail out of the park, mom dared her to attempt some ballet moves even though she was wearing her cowgirl boots!

f4.5 @ 1/500 sec.. ISO 800, Lens @ 205mm
I was amazed at this spinning jump she did—she nearly jumped out of my frame!  Keeping my position to maintain that nice back-light on her hair I asked her to do some spins without jumping…

f4.5 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800, Lens at 170mm
Happy with the action images I got I told Hailey we were done, so we all started walking back to our cars.  As we chatted with her mom—I’m watching Hailey as she skips ahead doing this little dance and got one of my favorite images!

Just your basic Idaho cowgirl enjoying childhood.  None of us want her to grow-up too fast!

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Having told the stories of hundreds of brides and grooms these past 25 years it’s obvious why we renamed our studio The Storytellers ( http://www.TheStorytellersUSA.com )after we started our new studio here in Meridian Idaho. Our name now matches what we’ve always done!

An example of our storytelling technique was used in this commission to photographically tell the story of a winery by tagging along on one of their public wine tasting tours.  My goal when showcasing another business is to highlight the features that set them apart—the unique aspect that the public will experience with that company. This is why I always do some close-up images, besides the usual bigger views, because the character of a company can be seen in the details.

f3.2 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This image, done during the outside wine tasting, was to show the company logo (a must do!) in an artistic way.

With a winery you must get out in the vineyards and if  you can juxtapose them with one of their buildings so much the better! And, if you can include anything historical—this building had the date May 1, 1923 — better still.

In wineries planting dates are significant, so I had to get that image.

Showing people having a good time on the tasting/tour is always good.

Next our tour guide brought the group inside to the production area for the educational part of the tour.

There he pulled some wine directly from a barrel for some more wine tasting.

Then last stop on the tour is their public wine tasting room.  The limo out front didn’t hurt in this image either!

The unique handles on the tasting room’s doors—remember those details!

Showing off the ambience inside the tasting room.

I wrapped showing the outside ambiance at the winery as well.  These ten images are only a sample of the 140-image slideshow I delivered to the winery.

The entire job was done either by natural light or, when we went inside, by the existing, artificial, continuous lighting—made possible by ISO shifting from 400 outside to 3200 inside.

I did not want to use flash inside because flashed images do not intercut well with natural light images in a slide show—the light from flash looks too harsh. It also makes it easier to blend images from a creative perspective for advertising purposes.

Just one more reason why I love our digital capabilities.

As usual, should you have questions don’t hesitate to ask.

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