Tuesday, August 30, 2016


It does not matter what my subject is: portraits of people, animals, cars, hot air balloons; when outside natural light—at the right time of day—can’t be beat. And when doing fine-art images of things outside, particularly if I’m using the direct sun as my key light, it’s vital that I use either sunrise or the last couple hours before sunset as my start time.

Most photographers get that; I hear constant agreement that the “Magic Hour” is the best time of day for outdoor photography.  But, all too often I still see images done at the magic hour that are done in broad light (flat light) lacking texture and detail because there are no shadows. What’s the point of going out at the magic hour if you’re not going to create some magic with that great light!

What these photographers are missing from the equation is Camera Position. I tell my students, “If there are no shadows you’re out at the wrong time of day and/or you’re in the wrong spot.” It’s real easy figuring the right time of day—just go online to a weather site or almanac for your location—nothing to it. But, for camera position relative to your subject you must look for and see the light’s effect on your subject. I guess a lot of photographers out there have vision but don’t see the light.

So, what I do when I arrive on my location, typically about 2 hours before sunset, I pre-scout all the subjects I have before me for their position relative to the setting sun. If the sun isn’t skimming across my subject from one side or the other then I move my camera position so that it is.

This is what I’m looking for…

f9.0 @ 1/250 sec. ISO 400
Dramatic lighting like this is ideal for black-and-white work where it’s essential to have good blacks. Theses images were done at a local tractor salvage yard. There were rows of these great, rusting, old, tractors and their parts on this two acre site. Most of my favorite images were done inside the last hour of light.

 f16.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
I kept this one color for those great reds and the rusted wheel.  

This next one was one of my favorite tractors…

 f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400
I love this old, beat-up, tractor! The lighting actually looked good facing its front as the sun was crossing its front surface nicely, but I found it even more dramatic moving my camera position to the tractor’s shadow side. This position gave me a hard skimming/back-light that created what we call “short-lighting” on the tractor.

Short lighting is one of my favorite lighting patterns when doing portraits of people—very dramatic.

’Til next week…have questions don’t hesitate to ask…

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman, Certified
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUSA.com
Fine Art site: http://www.TheMithrilCanvas.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Idaho Humane Society Paw Prints Magazine

Every year we — The Storytellersusa.com — donate portrait photography gift certificates to about 30 charitable organizations for their silent/live auctions.  It’s our way of giving back and being introduced to new potential clients—a definite win-win!

One of those charitable events last year was the Idaho Humane Society’s 25th Annual Lawn Party. In that event we donated to their silent auction and their live auction. The live auction was a chance for bidders to have their pets photographed for the cover of Paw Prints Magazine—a very popular live auction item that regularly goes for thousands of dollars!

So, a year later the editor of Paw Prints Magazine calls us with contact information of the family that won one of our live auction cover sessions.  When I called to schedule the photo session of their dog I suggested that we expand the session to do portraits of their family, kids and dog—no extra charge—and they loved the idea. My vision for the cover was a portrait of the kids with the family dog—not just a portrait of the dog that the magazine usually does. Of course my vision for this cover image was far more challenging than just a picture of the dog! It all depended on the dog’s temperament…

f6.3 @ 1.250 sec., ISO 800; lens at 200mm
It turned out that I had no need to worry—their dog was a joy to work with and the kids had a great time too. 

On a technical note some amateur photographers may wonder why I used ISO 800 for a session that looked to have lots of light…

1)  ISO is a professional’s tool to get the shutter speed and f-stop we require. Of course you need a pro-grade camera that has very low noise to use the ISO’s I like; my starting point in outdoor photography is ISO 400 then 800 and when needed I go to 1000 or 1600.
2)  ISO 800 in this environment enabled me to bring my shutter speed to 1/250 sec., which is about the slowest shutter speed I’ll use when doing action of kids—and kids with a dog are always in action!
3)  The aperture I wanted— f6.3 — gave me enough depth of field in case the kids moved out of alignment.
4) And Lastly, by using my zoom lens at 200 mm the background still went nicely out of focus even at the relatively small aperture I was using to get the good depth-of-field.

Here’s one of the series of nice full figure images from their session…
f6.3 @ 1.250 sec., ISO 800
We also did the usual individual portrait of the dog, but we talked-up my idea for the cover with the editor and he said he would consider my idea when he saw what we had created.  We’ll see what he picks soon, but either way I’m very happy with the results; I captured the vision I had in my head—the ultimate goal in professional photography!

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


As I said in Part 1, travel photography takes planning if you want to come away with extraordinary images. One of my tips was being in close proximity to my main subjects.  So, we booked our hotel on the Isle of Capri (in the bay of Naples, Italy) on the Mediterranean side of the island, overlooking Marina Piccolo, at the Hotel Weber. I knew from my research that this hotel had a great view of the famous Faraglioni Rocks.  Looking at the thousands of photos online I noticed that all of the images of these rocks were done in direct, flat, sunlight—pretty boring in my opinion. What I discovered when we got there was that the rocks did not get any directional light at sunrise or sunset (we were there in early May) because the sun rose and set behind the island. With that discovery I decided to try for a pre-sunrise, back-lit, image of the rocks. Getting up at 6AM, I headed for the roof of our hotel, leaving my wife in bed. I had invited her to share the experience, but she said, “show me what you got later I’m on vacation”, as she burrowed back under the covers.

I think it was worth getting early for…

f16.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400 - The Faraglioni Rocks at Sunrise
More very important Tips:

Without shadows, created by directional-off axis-light, you simply don’t get the three dimensionality that produces drama and texture. This is one of the fundamentals in art. In you don’t see any shadows when outside you’re in the wrong spot or it’s the wrong time of day

Talking about being in the wrong spot…
Flat Light
Short Light
These two images are of the same subject in Pompeii, Italy. I photographed the Top image the way all the tourists did as they walked by; Flat Light with NO three dimensionality. All I had to do was change my camera position about 180ยบ, to the other side of the statue, to get nice Short Lighting (one of the basic types of portrait lighting) with dimension and texture!

I can’t stress this enough—if you’re serious about elevating your photography to an artistic level—Look for the Shadows! 

In professional photography we either wait for the shadows or we create them.

We didn’t get to Pompeii until about 11am, so I was worried that my light would be too flat for all the subjects I was dying to photograph in this fantastic location. But, I managed to find angles and perspectives that produced the drama and textures I wanted…

f19.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400
We were fortunate to have ice clouds whenever we needed them—it only rained at night!

7)  Be Observant; Look for Different Perspectives—Ignore the tour guides and slow down and snoop around.

I saw this marvelous composition purely by accident while in Pompeii…
f4.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Pompeii Grainary
I’m walking along one of the narrow streets trying to find something NOT in direct, flat, Sunlight—it’s now 12:30pm; not my favorite time of day for photography! I stop and peek over a broken wall that on my tip toes (I’m 6’2” tall) allows this scene! WOW! This little alcove of a grainary (I love that mill-stone!) had an opening on one side, to the sky, that created this beautiful directional light. To date, I’ve not seen any photographs of this particular mill stone in Pompeii images.

8) Can you Access the sites you want to photograph when the light is great?

Some of the major tourist sites have hours of access; they close ‘em up! Do your research.  In Rome, one of my targeted locations was Palantine Hill, which I planned to attach at 6pm (sunset was 8:10pm) This was our last day in Rome, so this was my only chance to photograph on this iconic spot—the Central Hill of the Seven Hills of Rome. Watching for shadows and alignments of foreground with subjects I found this…
f13.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400
Working quickly I blew through the location in about an hour when by 7:15pm I noticed that ALL the other tourists had disappeared.  I thought, “Cool now there’re not in my way!” Five minutes later I was escorted OUT by a machine gun toting guard!  They closed at 7pm—When I came in I saw no signs indicating hours of operation. Now I know…

9) During the day (bad light) go do interiors.  Visit museums and churches.  (Watch for the small signs that may tell you if you can photograph there or not.) Go eat a long lunch…take a nap!

10)  Don’t forget to bring a water repellant hat; It’s a Shade/Gobo.  I have a white Tilley hat for Summer and a black Outdoor Research hat for Winter use.

Take your time when choosing image selections.  Oh….when you are traveling (vacationing) with a partner that does not love what you do SCHEDULE TIME TO BE WITH JUST THEM…NO CAMERA…It will make the trip just as enjoyable for them as well when you do. 

As always, if you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


As a long time professional photographer/artist my goal when doing travel photography—particularly of well know iconic subjects is to create something different (and ideally better) that what any other photographer has done with that subject. 

So my tips are...

    1)  Google and research every place you’re going. Take a look at what other photographers have done—and don’t do what they have done unless you can create a much better version!  I tell my students, “I don’t do photos at Scenic Turnouts!”

    2)  One of the most important artistic decisions you have is Lens Choice. Use that choice to show the world something different or simply a new point of view. As an artist I like to use the extreme ends of the lens spectrum: either super wide (15mm fisheye) or telephoto (200MM and up). Let the amateurs have the boring middle (I don’t even own a 50mm lens). I tell my students, regarding telephoto lenses, “Narrow your view, showing less can reveal more!”  

A radical view using my fisheye lens…

Film: Ektachrome 64T. F8.0, 1 second exposure
The fisheyes I like best are the rectilinear (non-circular) lenses that have at least 180° fields of view. I always have a fisheye in my camera bag and I’ve always owned a fisheye for whatever camera system I’ve have owned dating back to 1970.

The image above was done on film and the moon was a double exposure (using a different lens to make the moon larger). That’s how we did it in the old days!

Then there’s the telephoto (narrow your view) technique…

Film: Kodachrome 64; 200mm lens
At the famous ghost town of Bodie in California, I had to do something different. Everybody does it in Black and White and they usually show too much. So, I did a lot of pieces and details. Here I used a bi-color, polarizing, filter on my 200mm lens. That’s how we did radical color before Photoshop!

    3)    Research your destinations for times of sunrise and sunset. Upon arrival scout important locations; where is the sun rising/setting? Determine which locations will have good light at sunrise or sunset.

    4)   Book your hotel near (walking distance) to your primary subjects. That makes it easy to visit and revisit subjects both at sunrise and sunset. Even with research sometimes you really don’t know if a location is best with sunrise or sunset.  Case in point, when we arrived in Rome, Italy and looked down the street, from our hotel, our first impression of the iconic Roman Colosseum was underwhelming. It was so grey and bleak….

It wasn’t any better as we walked up to it—it was just bigger! Worse, were the throngs of tourists all around it—with bus loads coming and going all the time. Then there were the Italians dressed-up in Cheesy Roman soldier garb for tourist pictures. How could anyone resist that photo-op! Because of my research I knew the they did a nice job of lighting the Colosseum at night so we decided to come back at midnight…

 f13.0 @ 1.5 seconds, ISO 800
Ta-da! Now we have texture and drama. This thing comes alive at night and there were NO tourists.  However, when we got back to our hotel the desk clerk scolded us for going out so late with all our photography gear! He was genuinely concerned for our safety—something that never occurred to us!

    5)   That reminds me—bring a tripod and an umbrella.  It was also raining during our time exposures at the Colosseum.

 f22.0 for 4 seconds; ISO 800
This is my favorite image in Rome.  This is one of the images I pre-planned—I even bought a lens just for this image—the super sharp Nikkor f2.8, 20mm lens. (Nice!)

I’ll continue with more tips new week.  ’Till then…

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


We got a call from the grandparents of these kids asking if we would be willing to do their portraits at their home in Boise.  Of course I said Yes, but that I would need to preview their place for portrait locations around the home. So, after I took their deposit and got them on our calendar I scheduled their location preview a few days before the session. I always do a separate check with a new location. I also schedule the preview at about the same time of day—usually about 2 hours before sunset—that the session is scheduled. 

When I preview a home location I look at the entire location: the front yard, back yard, side yards—looking for where the shade is and the spots with backlight.  When children are subjects I also look for play structures or other backyard features that I can use for portraits of just the kids.  I also check out all the trees on the property; trees not only provide shade, but they’re often a feature in my portraits outside. That’s when I discovered the weeping willow where grandpa had attached a think rope for the boys to play Tarzan of the jungle.

Note to self as I discovered it: save this as the Last set-up of the session!

This is how we ended the session…

 f5.6 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 800; lens 8mm fish-eye
I had this image in my head the instant I saw the rope! Since I always have a fish-eye lens in my camera bag (I’ve always owned a fish-eye lens for whatever camera system I’ve had) this was an easy set-up.

The boys are standing on the ground about two feet in front of me as I point the camera down at them (I’m standing—I’m 6’2” tall—close enough that both my feet were in the image!). So, I had them all grab hold of the rope pretending that they were dangling over a thousand foot cliff yelling, “Ahaaa!!” Of course I’m yelling along with them as I clicked off a few images. They really got into the fantasy!

The point here is that when photographing kids you should offer the kids something as a reward for their cooperation when doing the more formal portraits up front. I always have Tootsie Pop suckers in my vest pocket that I show and promise to give them after the session. (Don’t forget to check with mom first to make sure it’s OK to give them candy.) But first we do the traditional portraits that mom and grandma expect…

f6.3 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; lens @ 145mm
While they’re clean we do all the usual formal poses with the grandparents and of just the kids.  We’ll usually finish with individuals of each child. After about 30 minutes of that they’re done and I say, “Play Time!”  But, I’m not done.

When I have something in mind I tell the kids we’re going to do something fun and when we’re done then they get their suckers. It’s amazing how much energy and enthusiasm they suddenly have! We all had a great time and the fun fish-eye image was a big hit with everybody.

’Til next week!  

http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com on location in Boise, Idaho.

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