Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Having started in photography doing my own black and white fine art (wet) printing, over 40-years ago, it was only natural that when I turned professional and started doing weddings that some black and white film would be included in my work. However, it happened too often that my favorite image that I wanted to be in black and white was often taken on color negative film! And yes, I did try to print those color negs on Kodak Panalure paper for a black and white conversion, but it never looked as good as B&W prints from B&W film.

Well, digital cameras to the rescue! In 2001 we started using our DSLR’s for weddings and it was like the artistic handcuffs were finally off.  I was totally free to change my ISO at will.  Anything I did in color could be easily converted to B&W! I never looked back and as time passed there was no point in longing for film as all my favorite films and printing paper were discontinued anyway.

When and Why I Convert to B&W

Anything to do with the bride’s dress usually looks great in B&W provided her dress is white, off-white, or most pastels. (B&W can render those ugly pastels beautifully!) 

The bride and groom together, in traditional garb, are ideal for B&W since, with him in a black tux, you have your reference black and white with detail in her dress.

Black & White with soft-effect
B&W keeps your attention on the couple; you don’t tend to wander to the background. I then added some softness to the conversion for a more romantic feeling in their image.

The original version had a nice background, but it was just too colorful and the overall sharpness of this image was a much too literal representation of the moment.

One of the reasons we did B&W in the film era was to enhance the look of the wedding album.  An all color wedding album, in my opinion, is just not as interesting or artistic without some B&W sprinkled in to accent its look.  The addition of B&W adds interest and keeps the viewer turning the pages to see what’s next.

My Take on “Spot Color” in B&W

It seems that the instant the digital camera was released the B&W image with a single patch of color (the first digital cliche) went viral in both the amateur and professional worlds.  As professionals, I think it’s our job to be creative and avoid the trendy and the cliche. That being said, when I tried out these effects early in my digital career I wanted an artistic, SUBTLE, inclusion of color in my B&W images.

One of my first was this wedding dress portrait by window light…

Titled: Black and White and Something Blue
I created this image in early 2002 with my first generation Fuji Pro S-1 camera. Looking at it by today’s standards its only flaw is the obvious lack of dynamic range—those early sensors could not record detail in the highlights like today’s professional DSLRs can.

In spite of that I entered a 16x20 Print of this image titled: Black and White and Something Blue in the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) International Print competition that year and won a merit in the very tough wedding category—overcoming the double cliche of being a wedding dress image AND a spot color image! I think the title helped this image a lot.

Winning that Merit was instrumental in earning my PPA Masters Degree that same year.

As usual, 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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Your first decision is do you want to STOP the action to reveal the instant in detail? Or do you want to SHOW motion in a more abstract way—implying motion symbolically by bluring the subject or its background?

These two techniques are probably the still camera’s greatest advantage over the human eye. The first technique (stopping action) is simply using a fast shutter speed. But, how fast and under what circumstances? Two factors determine this: Speed of your subject and (very important) DIRECTION of the travel relative to you camera.

Subjects traveling directly towards or away from your camera can be stopped at a much slower shutter speed than subjects moving across your film plane (or perpendicular to your lens axis). Here’s an obvious example with my subject coming right at my camera…
 f10.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400
I probably could have stopped the boy with a much slower shutter speed here because he was slowing down (at the end of the slip-n-slide), but the water, that he is pushing, is accelerating and I wanted to freeze the water to look solid.

In this next image we have one of the most challenging high action sports—rodeo. Because rodeo’s action is so intense and unpredictable I call it chaotic action. It tends to need even higher shutter speeds than motorsports.

f8.0 @ 1/5000 sec., ISO 800
So, I tend to keep my shutter seed very fast so that when the action moves across my film plane, as in this image, I can stop any action. Ironically when I photograph the fastest sports—motorsports like race cars and motorcycles—I like to use my slowest shutter speeds, so that I can impart the sense of shear speed that is lost when you merely freeze their action. However, I don’t want to create abstract blurry images that a stationary camera would give me at slow shutter speeds. This is where the practiced art of panning with your subject comes into play. I discovered many decades ago that panning worked best in motorsports (or any sport on a track or course) where the action is predictable. To get a high yield in panning action you need to know the direction of travel of your subject and where they’re coming into your frame and leaving so you can smoothly follow through as you rotate your body following the action.

Here’s one with a pretty slow shutter speed…

 f16.0 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 400
My panning rotation is nearly 180º from when I first see the racers coming towards me. Then I click the shutter when they are at the 90º point (directly in front of me), which is their closest point relative to me. I then keep panning (the follow through) even after I click the shutter.  The panning follow through is important—especially at slow shutter speeds like 1/15 sec. as in this image—because the pan creates the horizontal lines and streaks in the background. And, to make those lines and streaks smooth and straight across the image you need to keep the camera moving the entire time the shutter is open.

My pans of race cars and motorcycles are usually at 1/60th or 1/30th sec. for a nice crisp subject. Using 1/15th sec. yields a more radical, artistic look because you get some “jiggle-blur” in the subject as seen here because these flat-track bikes are on a dirt-rack and are sliding and bouncing as they approach a turn at 100+ mph!

Hope you enjoyed…should you have questions or comments don’t hesitate…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


As a professional portrait photographer I’ve spent most of my career avoiding direct sunlight on my subjects. Simply put, direct sunlight is evil and ugly on people and it’s my job to make people look great; end of discussion.

There are several properties of direct sunlight that also make it difficult yo use: 
  1. It will create a scene with very high dynamic range that many digital sensors can’t handle. From highlights to shadows this range can be 14 stops!
  2. The shadows it creates are pure black with razor sharp edges (a good thing/bad thing).
  3. Because the sun is always moving (the the lower it is the faster it seems to move!) it’s constantly changing your direction of light and the length of the shadows. (A good thing/ bad thing depending on your subject!).
That being said, item #3 reminds me of the only exception to my no direct sunlight on people rule—magic hour (especially at the beach).  The last hour—the last half-hour—and, even better, the last 15 minutes of warm light from the setting sun is magical.

Some photographers use sunrise in the same way, but none of my clients have ever agreed to getting up and out that early for a portrait session! This brings me to using the worst type of direct light that I avoid using on people. What’s the best use of this super hard light? 

My Rule: Use hard light on hard things. 

It just happened that I had the perfect collection of hard things for this type of light….

f18.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
This image I called Grandpa’s Tools had been germinating in my mind for several years. It wasn’t until I moved to Idaho that it all came together. I already had my grandfathers tools and when my mother gave me my late step dad’s WWII trench knife and my great-grandfather’s riffle all I needed was a base or background for all these subjects.

I knew I’d found my background the instant I saw this old door while rummaging around a local antique store in Boise. It was a six-foot side door to an old barn—another casualty in the war between Idaho’s old farmsteads and spreading urban development.  

At 10am I placed the door, flat, on two “apple boxes”, in the direct sunlight coming through a large window in my studio. As I was placing the “tools”, deciding on a nice composition, I could see the shadows move.By the time I had placed them the rising sun had moved enough that I had to move the entire set-up closer to the window to keep everything in the sunlight. Because this became a race with the sun—get a couple shots…move the set-ups, etc.,—using a tripod was out—I did it all hand held.  This is not the perfect method of doing still life or product photography in the studio!

I really like the results of this effort, but the next time I did photography of guns in the studio I used my professional studio flash system, creating as many different compositions and set-up as I could think of, at a nice relaxed pace. That’s how I prefer to do studio photography.

Hope you enjoyed my adventure…should you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave me a message.  ’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


This was one of my first formal portraits with my first DSLR Camera (the Fuji Pro S-1) taken in 2002.  The subject here was Lee (my late step-Dad), a professional architect, psychologist, writer, and sometime artist. He was highly educated, extremely well read and it was always marvelous to chat with him (well, He did most of the talking!) about politics, art, war, psychology, architecture, and the history of just about anything! 

When we were visiting my Mom and Lee, not too long before he passed, she asked that I do his portrait. One of his few foibles was his inability to look into the lens when being photographed and don’t even think about using a flash on him. I was momentarily panicked because all I had with me was my digital camera and a short zoom lens. OK, type of camera does not matter, I told myself, and I went into wedding portrait mode…Like I had been doing these past 12-years using my medium format cameras on film.  It’s all the same basics. Just like interior portraits of my brides, I looked for a window with no direct sunlight coming in. I placed a chair to get him as close as I could to the window without the window being in the scene. 

Basic studio lighting rule: You don’t photograph your light source—the window is your light source NOT the subject!

Since I had brought nothing to use as a background and I realized that his art was hanging on several walls in their home, I gathered some of his paintings and surrounded him in his art.

 f8.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800
We had a blue theme around him so we had him wear his navy blue pull-over; I got him in long sleeves and got my color harmony.

Since Lee could not look at my camera this lighting set-up was ideal—because the best lighting pattern on the face—getting light in both eyes and a shadow side (called short lighting) is achieved when the subject’s nose is towards the window.   All I had to do was direct him where to look out the window after I got his nose where I wanted it.

I don’t usually choose f8.0 for an individual portrait (I like f4.5 to blur-out the background), but in this case I wanted all the layers—him and his paintings—in this image to be sharp.  To do that I had to go to 800 ISO to get a nice hand-held shutter speed of 1/30 second.  Using 800 ISO is no big deal with DSLR’s these days, but back then most of the digital cameras were pretty noisy at that level and terrible at any higher ISO—especially if you included any deep shadows in an image.

This Fuji’s custom chip produced great color in skin tones and if you kept the dynamic range in your image low (as in this portrait) the results were really nice.

As usual, don’t hesitate to make comments or ask questions. ’Til next week…

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