Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Having discussed and illustrated the value of using the camera in Manual Mode I return, full circle, to my question at the beginning of this series.  Are YOU an artist if you do’t use the “M” mode?

Well, as long as you stay out of the “P” mode you can still be an artist if you did have an original idea, executed it in say aperture priority, and you did achieve the result you pre-visualized.  What I’m trying to impress on photographers is that like painters we should control all the variables that effect the final image for us to truly be the authors of our images. I believe those that just select the “P” mode, push the shutter button, and settle for the result are very close to those “artists” who used those paint-by-numbers kits in the past. 

I always have, and still pick, every variable that goes into my art because there’s always a reason behind each choice. There’s always a reason I pick a certain ISO/f-stop/shutter speed combination. Maybe the above is one definition of an artist: And if you have no reason to (or lack the ability to) pick the fundamental components that affect the final image then…You’re NOT yet an artist in my book.

Here is an example of picking every variable to create the image I had pre-visualized, in this scene, at our State Fair….

f25.0 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 20mm
Part of my pre-visualization here was bringing a tripod with me for the time exposures I had planned! I’ve been asked by my students, “What do you pick first when you set-up the shot?”
  1. Usually Focal Length is the first decision I make. The focal length you choose is the most important artistic decision in photography!
    • It determines how much is seen.
    • It determines the perspective.
    • It determines the composition.
    • It determines what kind of distortion (extension or compression distortion) will be used, if any.
  2. After the base line metering of my light, for basic exposure, I pick my ISO. For this scene I did not want the super high ISO because I knew there would be a lot of night sky in my image that would be underexposed thus creating a lot of noice.
  3. For this image Shutter Speed was the most important creative, exposure variable. I wanted that ferris wheel to be a vibrant piece of spinning art! But, at the same time I wanted detail in it. I’ve never been a fan of when photographers hold their shutter open so long the the ferris wheel is just a blurry, bright, blob.
  4. And for this image, because I included a large piece of foreground (using its “lead-in lines”), using that fun-house building, I knew I needed a lot of depth-of-field to keep everything sharp. Therefore, I needed a small aperture.
I think my lens choice and where I placed my camera made this image. By being closer to the funhouse building, with my lens at 20mm, the wide focal length’s extension distortion warped the lines of the building making it point into the ferris wheel. In addition the placement of the ferris wheel, in my frame, using the compositional rule of thirds made this image different and, I think, more interesting than a ferris wheel all by itself.  So, as you can see there was a lot of thought behind this image—as well there should be! 

My challenge to you: Pick something, like the ferris wheel, that everybody photographs and put your own spin on it (pun intended!). 

Do it differently….Show me your results! And, Stay in the mode of “M” !

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Your camera’s shutter speed, especially at its extremes of very fast—say 1/8000 of a second—can stop the fastest things man has made. And by using very long exposures, such as 30 seconds or more, your camera can gather enough faint light to reveal tens of thousands more stars than you’ve even seen before. This ability to choose shutter speeds that can reveal things the human eye alone cannot see gives us a tremendous artistic tool. 


When dealing with action most amateurs usually just go to a fast shutter speed and freeze the subject and that’s fine. It’s easy to do, but after a while these “action” images all look the same. 

My philosophy on action photography, having done all kinds of sports photography for these past 40 years, is to only freeze extreme action at peak moments and to imply motion with the slow shutter speed (probably the most artistic use of shutter speed) when I can.

When do I use fast vs. slow shutter speeds?

Two factors determine this: the Speed of the Subject and (very important) Direction of Travel relative to your camera. Subjects that are moving across your film plane (or Perpendicular to your lens axis) are the ideal subjects for using a slow shutter speed (1/60 sec., or slower) while you pan your camera following the action as the subject speeds by. This takes practice and the slower the shutter speed the harder it is to do, but the results can be very artistic…

Title: Warped Speed — 1/60 sec., f16.0; ASA 125
This image of (King) Kenny Roberts I caught, at the San Jose Mile, in 1971 on Plus X (B&W) 35mm film. At the speed he’s going (about 120mph) I was comfortable using 1/60 sec., and knowing that he and the motorcycle chassis would be sharp, but the wheels would empty out (not freezing the spokes) and the background would streak nicely.  

Then two more steps followed:
  • I hand toned (Edwals Print Toner) the B&W print.
  • Then I “scanned” that 8x10 print using a Kodak color copier to intensify the red followed by a Stretch Mode that egg-shapped the bike’s wheels giving me my “Warped Speed” effect!
You see there were creative possibilities of this nature BEFORE Photoshop. I guess I was ahead of my time since this image won awards in PSA (Photographic Society of America) print competitions and later in National awards at PPA (Professional Photographers of America) convention.

Subjects Traveling Towards or Away from you:

Subjects speeding directly towards or away from your camera can be stopped at a much slower shutter speed than those subjects moving across your “film” plane. Here’s an example…

1/500sec., @ f10.0 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 was pushing was accelerating and I wanted the water to look solid.

Freezing Peak Action:

When photographing extreme action that is un-predictable such as a rodeo (I call this Chaotic Action!) there’s not as much opportunity for panning, so I usually use high shutter speeds and look for unusual peak moments.  Because rodeo’s action is so intense and unpredictable I use even faster shutter speeds than I do in motorsports.

Talk about chaotic action….

1/2500 sec., @ f5.0, ISO 800; lens @ 200mm
As I said earlier in Part 2 (ISO) of this series, I used the ISO I need to get me to the f-stop/shutter speed combination I want. Bumping up my ISO to 800 was necessary to use 1/2500 sec., and at f5.0 I’m not stopped down much. However, with my lens at 200mm I got plenty of Depth-of-Field because I was backed-off quite a ways.

Slow Shutter Speed Pans:

I’ve always been disappointed when I’ve seen photos of race cars or motorcycles (or any motorsports) on the race track looking like they were parked there because the photographer did the lazy thing and just used a high shutter speed—Boring! Enter the practiced art of panning with your subject at slow shutter speeds.  

I discovered many decades ago that panning worked best in motorsports (or any sport on a track) 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…

1/15 sec., @ f16.0, ISO 400

My panning rotation is nearly 180° from when I first see the racers coming towards me. Then I click the shutter when they are at the 90° 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 a 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 1/15 sec. yields a more radical, artistic look because you get some “juggle—blur” in the subject as seen here because these flat track bikes are on a dirt track and are sliding and bouncing as they approach a turn at 100+ MPH!


The following image is combining Light Painting with Motionless Stars (the Milky Way). When doing this I want two things:
  1. Enough time to do my light painting (with a flash light).
  2. I want the star field to be sharp, appearing motionless and NOT Streaking.

To do this you need a very wide angle lens (that’s pretty fast-like f2.8) along with a long shutter speed and a pretty hight ISO!

The best formula I’ve seen to determine the longest shutter speed with a given focal length for the best image quality is: 450 divided by the lens focal length (in millimeters) equals the longest exposure time in seconds for that lens. It worked; here are my results…

 30 sec., @ f2.8 ISO 3200; Lens 15mm
So, with my Canon 5D MK II using my Canon 15mm f2.8 Fisheye lens the calculation is: 450 ÷ 15 = 30 seconds.

That calculation will only give me the TIME I need and SHARP STARS and NOT the proper exposure for the scene.  That YOU must work out based on what your camera’s imaging quality is at high ISO’s and the aperture you want to use.

NOTE: This formula is only exact for Full-Frame, 35mm format. If you’re using an APS-C sized camera sensor, with its narrower angle of view, you much reduce the shutter time. (See link at the end of this article for everything about night sky photography.)

As you can tell I really have fun with Extreme shutter speeds in my fine art. I urge you to push the boundaries of your artistic tools and create art!

The next part in this series will be a wrap-up…’Til next week…

Site Info Mentioned Above:  http://www.intothenightphoto.blogspot.com

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


An artist decides what is important on his canvas and emphasizes that—“the center of interest”—over the other supporting elements in the scene.  The painter may do this with color, perhaps using a brighter color or with more directional, dramatic, lighting on his main subject. The painter may paint his main subject with sharp detail and obscure or mute detail in the background. 

It is our job as an artist to direct where the viewer looks in our images. The way we do that in photography is with what is sharp against what is un-sharp (out of focus). 

We create that with our point-of-focus and depth-of-field, which is controlled by the aperture we choose in concert with the lens focal length we pick.

These choices are the most important artistic controls we have in photography.

The core problem with the camera’s Auto Modes (don’t even get me started on the “P” mode!) is that the camera does not know what it’s being pointed at; it does not know what the subject is. Therefore, it can’t know the best f-stop/shutter-speed for that subject—just like ti could not automatically pick a focal length for your zoom lens! 

What aperture to use and why?

Forty plus years doing artistic photography (30 years as a full time professional) has taught me that each artist settles on favorite apertures, that suits their style, based on what the subject is.  In addition I will change my aperture if my subject’s orientation to my camera changes…
f2.8 @ 1/250sec., ISO 800; lens @ 200mm
My preferred aperture is f4.5 when doing portraits of individuals. Why? I’ve found that it’s the best aperture to maintain sharpness in BOTH eyes in a 2/3rds view of the face, while still creating a nice shallow depth-of-field (using my 200mm lens) that will knock the background out of focus for some nice Bokeh. 

However, in the portrait above of the boy, he started exploring and went into profile so, not having to worry about that far eye, I went to f2.8 (bumping the shutter speed up to maintain correct exposure) to really enhance my background Bokeh. 

And, just to show you that you don’t need really wide apertures to get good Bokeh…
f5.6 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Bokeh is mostly about focal length and distance between the subject and the background. In my fine art images depth-of-field is often more critical especially when I move in doing close-ups of nature—since as you move closer to your subject (at the same f-stop) your depth-of-field DECREASES
f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 82mm
In this detail of the Ice crystal laden leaves of a weeping willow I wanted as much depth-of-field as I could get while still keeping the background (that same tree) soft to reduce its busy nature.

Then sometimes I want maximum Depth-of Field…
f11.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 95mm
In this Black and White art piece I wanted everything crisp and razor sharp because I knew this subject would be excellent in B&W.

In our fine art photography we often build an image in layers; it’s called foreground, mid-ground (usually the subject), and background. This is how we create depth, interest and three-dimensionality

f8.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 79mm
The sailboat regatta scene had some nice layers that I wanted sharp. Starting with the floating seaweed in the foreground the sunlit boats (mid-ground) and those great boats, lost in the fog, in the background; I used f8.0, focused on the seaweed, to get the foreground and mid-ground both sharp.

Knowing your depth-of-field with different apertures at given focal lengths is important in general, but it’s CRITICAL when doing group portraits.  When I do portraits outside I always try to make my backgrounds as soft as possible to make the people stand out—and if I can get some Bokeh, even better!

So, the tricky part is to stop down just enough, getting enough depth-of-field to cover ALL the subjects—especially when we place them at different distances from the camera for a nice composition. I use f6.3 on many of my single family groups. If the family is large I will go to f7.1 for more depth-of-field.

One of my favorites…
f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 115mm
In the above example I know that at 6.3 with my lens at 115mm (I’m Usually at a longer focal length, like 150mm, if I can back-up) at a distance of 25 feet my depth-of-field is 5.47 feet (using my full-frame Canon 5D MKII).

As you can see the creative use of aperture and the depth-of-field it can create (along with lens choice—more on that later!) is something you don’t want to leave up to any Auto Mode.  Do something creative and show me your results! 

Next, in Part 4, I’ll get into creative use of your Shutter Speed.  Fun Stuff! ’Tis next week…

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

NOTE: Go to:  http://www.DOFMaster.com and try their easy to use Depth-of-Field calculator for your camera/lens/f-stop/distance combinations. It’s vital information for the professional and very educational for the amateur. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


This begins a series on the 3 Manual controls we have as photographers that can make it possible (provided you have the vision) to elevate photography to the level of ART.  So, I’ll start with the one control that has changed the most (none of the others have changed at all) and has in fact simplified our lives as photographers…


The biggest change here is that the sensitivity of your digital camera’s sensor is FIXED—you have NO control of this part of your camera. Because of this fact those old ISO steps no longer represent anything in todays digital cameras, they’re just numbers.

In our film days those ISO numbers, of course, were a vital part of correct exposure, because each film stock in fact had a real and different sensitivity, RMS number, emulsion character, and grain structure. In addition we had to match our lighting’s (when doing color) temperature to each film’s color temp sensitivity as well. And apart from color temp each film rendered color differently due to each film’s unique color palette—e.g. the color rendering of Kodacolor negative films versus Kodachrome or Ektachrome slide films not to mention the hundreds of other films we had from Ilford, Fuji, etc. 

In the film era we had to learn how to use each new film we decided to try. We even had to store professional films differently that the amateur films. The regular amateur films were delivered to retailer “green”, so those films could age as they were displayed at room-temperature. But, the professional films were delivered “ripe” to retailers so they were refrigerated to hold them in their ripe state.  Since we bought our pro-films in bulk that meant we also had to refrigerate all our pro-films as well.  Then, we had to acclimate (bring to room temp) any of our pro-films before we could load them into our cameras; so that took planning! So, you can see how getting rid of film has really simplified photography and in fact has freed us to be more spontaneous.

Back to your digital camera’s sensor…

What happens when you raise the ISO number on your digital camera is the camera merely under exposes the image (massively when you bump it to 1600, 3200, etc.!) then post-exposure the image processor applies GAIN 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 under-exposed) regions. That’s why it’s better to slightly over-expose a Low Light-High ISO image than to under-expose it. And because noise is not pretty (unlike film grain) and if you want to do any photography in low light….

Buy the best DSLR you can afford…

Buying a professional DSLR, with its superior image processor, is like loading a high RMS value film (like Kodachrome 25) in a film camera instead of some cheap drugstore stuff like GAF 500! OK, if you can’t relate to that analogy, how about a Canon 5D MK IV versus a cheaper smart phone. In addition because I use top quality professional DSLR’s (and the best lenses) I’m not hog-tied to the so called “native” camera ISO (usually around 100 ISO) that many photographers suggest on the internet. Nope, I’ve always regarded ISO 100 pretty much useless—I don’t even use it in the studio!

How I approach ISO use today…

ISO is merely a tool to get me to the aperture/shutter speed combination I require to create the image I have in my head. So, most of the time my starting ISO is 400 for outdoor portraits, weddings, or fine Art. 

For example, in my outdoor, natural light, portrait sessions my STARTING ISO is 400 (nothing new here my starting films in portraits and weddings were ASA 400 or 800). 

f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
ISO 400 got my other variables where they needed to be. Since I had my 1.4x extender on my 70-200 f2.8 lens (for better Bokeh) my new maximum aperture became f4.0 and I stopped down to f4.5 for better D.O.F. that gave me a metered shutter speed a hand-holdable 1/320 sec., which is fine for moving children!

What ISO to use in the studio…

Again, if you’re using a professional grade DSLR you can use any ISO you want, but there are practical limitations such as the power output of your rights. It’s definitely not practical to be using your camera’s low “native” ISO in most studio sessions. So, what ISO do I use in the studio? I use the lowest ISO necessary to get to my usual working aperture (f11.0) from my WEAKEST light. In my studio my hair light is on a lighting pack split three ways: two are on the background and one is my hair light. So, to get to f11.0 on my hair aight I needed to use ISO 200 with that bank on maximum power.

A basic studio portrait using this set-up…

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
Low Light action images - High ISO

I love doing challenging low light photography. And bringing Action into the equation only makes it more fun for me!  Forty years ago when I wanted to do low light work on film I had to find an independent lab that would push-process my Ektachrome slide films to 1000 ASA—Kodak wouldn’t do it! Our options were pretty limited in the 1970’s. Now I just dial in the ISO…

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

This is why I don’t miss film—I’m free from film’s shackles that limited my creative spontaneity!

Now, it’s your turn, go challenge YOUR creativity with some low light photography of a challenging subject and have fun! 

Next, in Part 3, I’ll go into Aperture Choice (one of the most important parts of the so-called “exposure triangle”) and why manual control of this variable is so critical in artistic photography.

Until then…have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Are you an artist if you don’t use the “M” mode on your digital camera?

Well, I guess the first question I should ask is do you aspire to be an artist?  Then, what are the defining characteristics of an artist?  And, what is art? OK, Let’s not go down that rabbit hole! (Maybe later)

If you just want to be a competent photographer I would still suggest that you stay in”M”. If you want to be the author of your images, like an artist, you should be in control of all the variables that go into creating your images. Going back to that second question….the defining characteristics of an artist; say a painter….

  1. Has an idea for a painting (In the art of Photography Ansel Adams called this “Pre-visualization”.) This is truly the beginning of the creation of Art.
  2. The painter selects his canvas;
    • Cotton or linen stretch canvas
    • maybe cotton rag paper
    • or classically on a plaster wall
  3. The painter selects his paint:
    • Acrylic, oil, casein, egg tempura or maybe pastels or watercolors
  4. Then he uses his favorite brushes (sable, synthetic, bristle, badger, squirrel, etc.,) in the many shapes made to realize his artistic vision.
  5. And finally the painter’s biggest advantage in art, over the photographer, is his control of light. In this he has god-like power to place light, in just the right amount and anywhere he wants it.
This is what an ARTIST does; he is in the control of every element and tool in his creation of art. So, having started my journey as a fine-art photographer over 45 years ago (35 of those year to date as a full time professional) my only choice was using fully manual cameras. The manual mode became the most natural way for me to do photography.  I had to pick each of my variables and have a reason for each choice.

Here’s an example from my early days…

Ektachrome H.S. Daylight
 file @ 1000 ASA Exposure: 30 seconds Title: Cement Henge
This image was completely planned—I already had a vision of the end result in my head; I just had to realize it on film.  The subject was the famous unfinished interchange for the 101-280 freeways in San Jose, California. I had been photographing it a lot in the late 1970’s and decided to try a more ambitious night version. 

This was my thought process in its creation.
  1. Starting with film choice (In the film days this was always my first decision in any session) I picked EKT. H.S. Daylight (pushing it to 1000 ASA) film to match the artificial lights along the freeway (this was back before they started using sodium vapor lights).
  2. I wanted to use a shutter speed of at least 30 seconds so the traffic on the ramp in front of me would blur and most importantly I wanted to capture the flashing warning light on any planes that entered and crossed my frame. I chose this view so the flight path of small planes landing at the nearby San Jose Airport would be visible.
  3. Focal length; I didn’t want to distort the shape of the structures, but I did want to compress the scene (back-off and set good depth-of-field) so, I chose a focal length of 200mm. I shot ONE roll of film (36 exposures) and got exactly what I wanted! The only culls were when too many cars coming towards me (headlights!) over exposed the foreground.
As you can see thoughtfully controlling your variables, just like the painter does, combined with a Creative Idea, will enable you to produce more images that will be elevated from mere pictures to, dare we say, ART! 

This is just the beginning of a multi-part series on going fully Manual and creating ART.  I will be breaking down artistic control of photography into these parts: ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed.  So get ready for a Jerry brain dump in small chunks to make it easier to absorb and put into practice…

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

Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com