Tuesday, July 26, 2016


TheStorytellersUsa.com on location at Merrill Park, Eagle Idaho

Ansel Adams previewed the locations of his landscapes to determine when the best light fell on his subjects. He could not move or turn his subjects to create the lighting he wanted, he had to wait for it. As a portrait artist you can create light artificially with speed lights as is being taught by many photographers on the teaching circuit, with a stake in promoting various lighting rigs and accessories. Or you can use the natural light alternative and do what Ansel Adams could not.  You can move your subjects to use the same gorgeous light that Ansel Adams sought. 

How to evaluate light on location and then where to place your subject within that environment to take advantage of the natural fall of light is the cornerstone of professional portraiture. Wouldn’t it be great to do this with less technology to haul to your outdoor sessions and less need of assistants as well?

The method I use is simple, far less costly and yields results with a natural three dimensional quality that can’t be matched with any additive lighting technique. Instead of adding unnatural light on my subject I use the Subtractive Lighting Technique pioneered by Leon Kennamer—one of my first lighting teachers, at the beginning of my career, some 30 years ago.

Portraits of the Meridian Lions Rodeo Teen Queen 2016 at Merrill Park, Eagle Idaho. Subtractive natural lighting with NO reflectors…

 f5.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 500 lens @ 168mm
Leon taught the use of large black flats (GOBOs) placed close to the subject, on one side and overhead, to block the subject’s exposure to light, coming from those directions, creating a shadow side thus making the light on the open side directional.

His technique required light stands and assistants, especially if there was ANY wind making the set-up potentially dangerous.  In addition his gobo technique would not work on groups.  But, when he talked about lighting theory he said something that has always stuck with he said, “The Light is at the EDGE of the Forrest”. So, in the spirit of his technique, I normally use locations that provide their own natural gobos to accomplish the same effect.  In other words, where the forrest stops there will be open sky (your main light) and the forrest will be your gobo (doing the subtractive job for you) creating the shadows.  

In the portrait above that’s exactly why I placed Jessie in that spot.  There are a line of trees close by on the camera left and open sky on the right.  But that’s not all there is to my method. One of my requirements, I’ve added to Leon’s teaching, is that my locations be backlit by the setting sun. So, I’m usually facing West using North or South sky light as my main light. 

Here’s one of her close-ups illustrating nice directional light using this technique…

f4.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; lens at 160mm
It’s all about subject placement. We moved to a different spot that had more trees (on two sides), but there was still a large patch of blue sky to camera left and I kept the setting sun to her back creating this nice Short Lighting Pattern on her face.  Short lighting is one of the best portrait lighting patterns in professional photography—that’s why it’s a required element, you must demonstrate, to get your PPA (Professional Photographers of America) certification. 

Any additive lighting, like a reflector or flash fill would flatten the light and ruin the directional (three dimensional) quality of this natural light.

Hope this help you see the light at the edge of the forrest!  ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


In my most recent  blog I talked about he artistic importance of narrowing your field of view (cropping in camera) for better composition at the point of capture.  Putting the artistic point aside, it’s never been more important technically, with our digital cameras, to make use of every pixel we have in an image to be able to make the highest quality print we can—especially if our goal is to make prints 16x20 or larger.

In my medium format film days I could crop and use one-quarter of a negative and still make a nice wall print.  Can you crop out 3/4’s of your digital file and still do the same?  If you have a 50-80 mega pixel camera—No problem! But, most professionals are still in the 20mp range, so we still have to conserve our pixels. 

Of course there are situations when you can’t move in any closer, with the lens you have, and cropping in post is your only alternative to improve an image.  The following examples illustrate the after and before of a problem image…
f9.5 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400: Cropped
I cropped out about half of the image here to improve composition—moving the man off center into one of the “crash-points”, using the “rule of thirds”. I also think this version is more dynamic by not showing the entire loop of the lasso.

Here’s the entire image before cropping…

This version is just too static and he’s dead center in the frame. I did that because he was moving and I had no idea what kind of rope tricks he was going to perform—so, I kept the framing loose. In addition his flat footed stance has him rooted in place. And, I didn’t like his pillar like shadow—especially as it slices its way out of the frame.  If I had not been zooming-in on this image in Photoshop Bridge to check sharpness and “moused” around, creating the tight crop, this image would have been a cull! 

This jpg of the full size vertical image is 6.52MB. The cropped horizontal version came out to 2.0MB, which is adequate for printing up to a 16x20” print.  So, what you start with in file size has everything to do with how much you can crop the image and then how large you can print it. 

Working with my current camera’s RAW files that can yield jpgs from 24 to 32 mega-pixels is great, but still some of my really cool artistic crops have reduced some file sized to 2.75 MB!  I guess I need one of the new 50MP Canons! LOL did I just justify an expense? Hum…Wonder if my wife would agree?  :) 

In comparison the image files from my previous cameras (2001-2004) were only 3 or 4 MB and some as low as 1.24MB. However, I have some marvelous images done in Italy, one from Pompeii, that printed beautifully as 30x40 (ink-jet on canvas) and the file was only 2.17MB. Another image from the Isle of Capri, again done 30x40”, was from a 2.05MB file! It definitely helps printing small files using a top quality ink-jet printer and going on canvas, but you also need good quality jpgs, exposed properly, without a lot of noise.

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Narrowing the field of view, either moving closer or using a longer focal length lens, is one of the most under utilized tools I see most amateurs and many of my students overlook these days. I don’t know why that is, but as I tell my students mentally “narrowing your vision” and then cropping in camera is the single most powerful creative technique (that costs nothing I might ad!) that can drastically improve any style of photography.

Narrowing our field of view is how we as professionals and artists create composition. When you walk into a scene and merely point the camera with say a 24mm lens, and record the whole scene you’ll rarely come away with an artistic composition. An artistic composition, with visual interest, is often created by what the artist does Not show.  In other words, the artist chooses to show something (as the center-of-interest) and eliminates other things that may distract the viewer’s attention away from what the artist wants you to see.

It’s obvious that this concept works on large scenes (landscapes) or large structures but it works equally well on smaller objects such as this truck…

I spotted this old blue chevy pick-up truck planted at the entrance to our local pumpkin patch. I moved around the truck finding the setting sun walking a patch of light across this fender and waited for it to light-up the rusted base, on top of the finder, where the truck’s antenna once was. 

Here’s the truck 15 minutes earlier…

This is what I call a “Record Shot” of a truck. The truck as a whole is just not that interesting. In addition the light is coming from behind the truck—I’m looking for dramatic DIRECTIONAL light to high light details and textures.

It does not matter what I’m photographing—the Grand Canyon, the Roman Colosseum, a building or a truck—I may start with a wide angle lens, but I ALWAYS go to one of my telephotos next and slice-up the subject both vertically and horizontally into many often more interesting compositions in my attempt to show my audience something they have not seen before.

Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Like most professional photographers I create all my images in color. For the same reason that we don’t let our cameras do JPGS we don’t let the camera convert to B&W; way too much compression and loss of tonal range.

But first WHY convert color to B&W?

One of the aspects of color that can weaken it as an artistic medium is when it’s presented as a literal representation of a subject. Art is about an artist’s interpretation of his subject; Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is a great example of interpretation—he definitely had an alternate vision of the world!
As the genesis of photography began with it perhaps its greatest advantage and strength is its ability to create the B&W image. Having grown up in the late 20th century I and many other photographers were witness to the perfection of the B&W print by several legendary photographer/print makers. Ansel Adams’ fine art prints have influenced several generations of photographers; my influence has been the very dramatic and socially profound work of W. Eugene Smith, perhaps the greatest photographer Life Magazine ever showcased.

The next question is WHEN do I decide to convert an image to B&W?

Like many professionals I usually know a great B&W subject the instant I see it.  But what am I looking for?
  1. I want good blacks or shadows (created by directional light)— that’s where the drama lies—giving me three dimensionality.  
  2. I want something with clean whites or high-lights.
  3. I also look for textures.
(Side note: When I am working with clients, and not on a personal project, I usually know before the session I am going to do the output of the entire session in B&W or a portion and will choose the location and direct clothing accordingly.) 

When traveling bring your camera with you!  Just 3 months ago I found this….

f11.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400
I’d say this scene fits my requirements and then some! You can see why I want clean whites and blacks and shadows—that contrast creates drama. Then there’s rampant texture here thanks to the barn wood and because I exposed to control my whites there’s great detail in those skulls, too.

Color Version
I’m not going to go into the How I convert to B&W in this blog.  It’s safe to say that there are many ways it can be done and the image tells me how to work in it.  I think it’s more important that you learn to SEE B&W—Ansel Adams thoughts on previsualization are relevant here.

I urge you to look-up the great Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith.  He elevated photo-journalism to an art form with his B&W images that he printed himself. His images during WWII, in the Pacific, particularly on Iwo Jima are harrowing. His photo-essays on Albert Schweitzer in West Africa, the Spanish Village, Country Doctor, and Nurse Midwife are legendary.  But first look up his work from Minamata, Japan and see one of the greatest B&W portraits ever made titled, “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath”, and read the story behind this gut wrenching photo-essay.  The power of the B&W image has never been put to better use to date.

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