Tuesday, November 29, 2016


This series has been about creating drama with fall colors in Different Qualities of Light. I started with direct side light using late light. Then shared my uses of backlight and how it could be used even at the “wrong time of day”. In this part I’ll show how and where I use Morning Light.

Morning light has not, in the past, been my favorite light for fall colors—until I moved to Idaho. Now, some of my favorite fall color images are in this light.  This morning light I use tends to be either on an overcast morning or if it’s clear I use the open shade—using sky light; Not Direct Sunlight. Direct morning sunlight is harsh and cool in nature and its specular high lights are too bright when behind a subject in open shade.  

That being said, fall colors using soft morning light, in open shade, can be marvelous.
Caption: f5.6 @ 1/320 sec., IO 400; lens @ 200mm
With this scene I had a morning with some thin overcast, so I still had some soft backlight that did not over power the soft front light, on the leaves, on my side of the tree.  I liked the soft nature of this light so much that in post processing I applied some negative clarity in this image to enhance the softness. 

This next image is similar, but it’s quality is different because now I’m going for crisp, sharp, detail….
 f8.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 150m
The lighting here is soft open shade—the tree’s canopy was blocking the sky. Because of that loss of light to get to f8.0, for good depth-of-field, I had to bump my ISO to 800.  The image is sharp, but the leaves colors are soft in this light. I really like how those leaves’ colors pop off the black bark.

One of the challenges of photographing fall leaves is that with some varieties of trees the leaves are very glossy creating highlights (when using any direct sunlight) that will blow-out (clipping). So, to avoid this fatal photography error I use only open sky (without direct sun) or overcast lighting for these glossy leaves….
f7.1 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 190mm
I liked this scene only after I spotted a contrast to the sea of red leaves. That one darker leaf with its green spot became my center-of-interest. 

There you have the three qualities of light that I use for fall colors. If any photographers out there have used a different quality of light on fall colors I’d love to see your results.

‘Till next week…

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Last week I talked about using directional (side) lighting on fall subjects.  This week I’ll show and talk about Backlighting of fall leaves. I’ll admit it, I’m a fanatic about backlighting. I use back lighting for my backgrounds on most of my outdoor portrait sessions—regardless of the time of year. In fact if there’s no backlight giving me a nice background glow I’ll move to a different location.

So, when I’m out targeting fall color subjects what I’m stalking is backlighting. I can spot that glow from 100 yards! These leaves caught my eye about 50 years from another subject I was photographing…

f5.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
During midday, front lighting, these leaves were dull, black, tubes of little interest. However, at the right time of day—an hour before sunset—in warm backlight these leaves became collectors of light—looking like scoops of molten steel! Using a relatively wide aperture of f5.0 to get just enough depth-of-field and my lens at 200mm I made the background fade away so these beauties could really pop.

Now how about some strong backlighting in afternoon (1:20pm) light….

f10.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800 lens @ 200mm
I was pretty much done after doing some morning photography when, standing under this tree, I looked up and saw these great leaves in several colors. Zooming in to 200mm to reduce the amount of bright sky and find a nice composition this was the result.

Don’t forget to look down as well!  I zeroed-in on this detail in noon backlight…

f6.3 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
The ground was covered in leaves creating a challenge to me. What to pick? I looked for a contrast amongst the mass of leaves. What caught my eye was the shadow of the leaf behind this red leaf in the foreground. Then I moved my camera position a little to have those two background leaves backing-up my red leaf.

I Love Backlight! You can use it through-out the day if you’re careful—just don’t forget to look UP, Down—and All Around!

In part 3 I’ll talk to morning light and how I use it. ‘Till next week…

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I’m looking for artistic drama when I do fall colors. I’ve found that the drama is in the contrasts of color and/or lighting. The lighting I look for is back-light or directional side light to pick up detail.  That means I go out in the morning, for soft Front-light, or the evening (about an hour before sunset) for Back-light or Directional (side) light.

To compositionally zero-in on the drama, whether I’m doing a relative big view or a few leaves, my lens is usually zoomed-in to 200mm and sometimes I have my 1.4x extender mounted for a little more compression effect.  In addition, I’m very careful about depth-of-field and subject sharpness in ALL of my photography. Doesn’t matter if I’m doing portraits or fine art I want my subject to be sharp and in most cases I want the background soft (controlled by shallow depth-of-field) for good separation. That being said—even though I own the superb Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens—I never use it at f2.8 for portraits or fine art objects. The depth-of-field at f2.8 (or 3.5 and 4.0) is just too shallow, particularly when you move in close at 200mm. 

This first image, done recently, is a nice example of direct, directional, sunlight about 20 minutes before sunset.

 f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 175mm
You have to be careful with front light when photographing any powerful colors to avoid chromic-clipping (blowing out detail as the colors “bloom”). That’s why we wait for the late (magic hour) light—it’s warmer and softer—which lowers the dynamic range of the scene. 

You’ll notice that my depth-of-field in this image is just enough at f6.3, to keep these two leaves sharp while knocking the entire background way out of focus.  

This next image is also side lit by the setting sun, but a different technique…

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 192mm
This was done about 45 minutes before sunset. The focus of this image was, of course, that great fence. Since I wanted to photograph down the fence and capture that great shadow it cast on the dry grass, I put my 1.4x extender on my 70-200mm, f2.8 lens, and walked towards it to get this crop. Because I’m photographing down the length of the fence I needed lots of depth-of-field, so I went to f11.0, which gave me a shutter speed I could still hand hold.

Sad to say this old farmstead was recently sold and the developers leveled the 8-acre site—the house, barn, all the trees and this fence are all gone! :(

In the next part I’ll talk about back-lighting, then followed by using morning light.  ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Last week I shared the pictorial—more backed-off—images from one of our senior sessions. It’s important when doing a senior session to do enough variety to not only highlight the senior’s character and interests, but to give the parents more things to choose from and ultimately purchase!

The following images are the more formal, close-up, portraits that we do on every portrait session.  We learned a long time ago that if you try to be that “pictorial artist” and only do the backed-off, full figures, showing lots of environment images in a portrait session, the clients would invariably want us to crop way-in to make “real” portraits out of them. And the subjects better be looking AT the camera and SMILING too, if you want to make a big sale!

To that end this image was a big hit…
f5.0 @ 400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Even the horse is looking at the camera and “smiling”!

This was a required portrait to show her substantial involvement in the F.F.A. (Future Farmers of America), which is big here in Idaho. So, we did several set-ups with her in the blue FFA jacket. Technically this portrait was done using my favorite lighting technique outdoors.  I simply moved them back into the shade of the barn so that the open sky is the key light on them—lowering the ratio—creating a nice soft light.  Meanwhile, we have a nice background of fall colors due to the timing of the session using the setting sun.  Nice separation is created by using an aperture of f5.0, with good bokeh, mostly due to my focal length of 200mm.

Changing clothes, and horses, I went for a completely different look since it’s now only an hour before actual sunset and the light is warming up…
f4.5 @ 1/2500 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 200mm
I don’t usually put my portrait subjects in direct sunlight; the most notable exception is sunset at the beach—not so much now that we are here in Idaho! In this case I had a young lady with perfect skin and I wanted DRAMATIC lighting so why not?

Finally to show-off another of her interests she literally changed hats and got out her guitar.  Mom suggested she hop on the hood of their old pick-up truck and we resumed in the right of the setting sun.
 f5.0 @ 1/1600 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 168mm
I’m back on my ladder for these since I did not want to shoot UP her nose (or her dress!); this kept my camera at her eye level.  In addition the black and White adds a different look to the session.

As usual, should you have questions don’t hesitate to ask, comments are also welcome. ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Planning and preparation are important in any portrait session, but when we do an outdoor session the most important aspect is Not compromising on lighting. I want perfect natural light with backlighting to bring out the colors-especially in the fall.

Part of the planning was scouting a new location (Eagle Island State Park here in Eagle, ID) where we could take people with their horses and have parking nearby. We have had avid horse enthusiasts suggest these “great locations” only to find that you could only access them with a horse miles into the back country! Since we don’t have horses we need our location to be accessible at least by 4x4 to bring in our camera gear (and back-ups), gobos, scrims, tripod and at least one ladder. 

We had already cancelled this gals photo session TWICE because of fully overcast sky (remember NO compromise!). I will not do an outdoor portrait session under an overcast sky as that kind of gray day just mutes all the colors—you have NO backlight—so you get no separation between the subject and the background. In addition the overcast sky creates a top light that promotes “raccoon eyes” giving people dark eye sockets. I want my backgrounds to be ALIVE with color—overcast sky creates DEAD backgrounds.

This session was going to be challenging since this gal was bringing TWO horses and wanted to do three or four clothes changes. She needed some official images done in her FFA (Future Farmers of America) clothes, showing the logos followed by casual clothes and then individuals without her horses.

This first image shows why I don’t compromise on the lighting…
f5.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 200mm
Here we have terrific directional rim lighting on both horses while we have soft sky light on her face, because the horse behind her is acting as my gobo—blocking the direct sunlight that was hitting her face on one side.

I must add that the reason these horses look so good (aside from the lighting) is that their ears are perfectly erect—a must have in equine portraits—due to the experienced assistance of this young lady’s mother and sister who were always behind me with their noise makers (like the effective rocks in a box) when I needed the horses at attention!

Close in photos are great, but I always want a master pictorial or scenic image that is more appropriate as a large wall portrait when we do horse sessions. Our goal is to put photographic prints on people’s walls that can be viewed as art.

f8.0 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 125mm
Directional light, fall colors, that old leaning out building and all the subjects looking in the same direction—it’s a miracle! No, mom and sister were doing their thing with those noise makers! 

I always try for some images of people walking their steeds as well…

f5.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
In Part 2 I’ll show her closer-up individual portraits with clothes changes…

’Til next week…

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