Tuesday, June 27, 2017


It took me 20 years as a professional photographer to learn that it’s not about how many lights you use it’s about using the fewest number of lights to create truly dramatic results. I learned early in my career the basic 5-light set-up from Monte Zucker (at his week long, hands-on West Coast School for Professionals at the Brooks Institute). His light placements and equally important subject poses were marvelous and I still use some of his techniques today. What I found difficult was using the standard 5-light set-up (Main light, Fill light, Hair light, and two background lights—or one background light and one kicker) in a very small camera room. You see the more lights you use in a small studio the more bounce you get—which creates more fill-which flattens out the lighting. And flat lighting really sucks the dram out of your subject. It took me a long time to realize that slavishly adhering to lighting convention—doing what everybody else was doing—was why my lighting lacked three dimensional drama.  And the reason, the culprit, was the FILL LIGHT.

My epiphany came at a professional photography seminar in San Francisco taught by Will Crockett.  He showed us his lighting technique using the Elinchrom, six foot, soft box with NO FILL. It was then I realized that the only reason for a fill light was to compensate for too small a main light. He showed us that with a large Main Light as close to your subject as possible its wrapping effect made fill unnecessary. The results were stunning!

So, I got an even bigger soft box! When I built my new studio here in Idaho I partitioned it so that my camera room was the biggest room in my reinvented photography studio. So, I got the Photoflex, 7 foot, Octadome and permanently banished my fill light to its case—as my back-up mono-light.

Here’s an example of the big light without fill…

 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
The key to using a large soft box—and not needing a fill light—is to place it in close and move it across the set (nearly in front of your camera) so the you get light in the subject’s far eye.  I want the big catch lights in both eyes!  And by deleting the fill light (usually back behind the camera) you eliminate those ghastly tiny catch lights (I call them ice-pick catch lights!) in the middle of your subject’s pupils.

This lighting technique produces a nice shadow side on your subject(s) creating the three dimensional quality of light that traditional artists have always sought. Depending on the number of subjects—because with more subjects I must move my main light away from them—I may add a white or silver reflector opposite the main to decrease the lighting ratio; but I never eliminate the shadow completely.

Here’s a group portrait using this technique….

PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014
This image was my PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014.  And, here’s the studio I designed around that 7-foot soft box...
Store Front Studio - Eagle, Idaho
You’ll note that my main light is on wheels—it needs to be easy to move. On the left is my white reflector on an adjustable arm.  Overhead is my hair light on a Bogen boom.  I have three other lights: two for background illumination and a kicker with a snoot.

Just one more…

This close-up shows just how sweet a very large soft box will “wrap” the face creating a very smooth transition from highlight to shadow.  I didn’t even need a reflector on this portrait and of course none of those “ice-pick catchlights” for this little cutie.

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask….’Til next week.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Photographers just love old, rusted, weathered things. I’m no different—I’ve always been drawn to old decaying artifacts wether they be man made—like cemeteries, junkyards, ghost towns—or natural made like the slowly eroding sand stone structures in Canyon Lands and Arches National Park or the ancient bristlecones or Jeffery Pine trees in the west or the ultimate in weathered erosion the Grand Canyon.  These things draw us like moths to a flame!

Unlike a lot of photographers though, I am extremely picky about the quality of light that I use to photography my subjects. And, that quality comes down to one thing—the time of day, because I use “The Best Light Money Can’t Buy—Natural Light!” 


f8.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400
I used very directional, direct sunlight, to pick up detail and texture and create shadows to show three-dimensionality. I love this scene because of the primary color contrast of these tractor differentials. I moved my camera position to the right to Layer the red one against the blue one.

f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400
This image illustrates that besides time of day it’s equally important that you move your camera position relative to the subject to create the most dramatic lighting. I used a skimming back light here, it really picks-up the texture in this rusted tractor. If I can’t get in a position to get this dramatic light or there is NO Directional Light On My Subject—I Move On.

f16.0 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 400
This scene was one that I had earlier walked on by—with a mental note to revisit because it was in direct flat light at the time. I don’t waste my time using flat light with great subjects like these.  

Watching the sun’s direction of travel I knew this scene would develop nice texture close to sunset.

f11.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400
This was one of the last images I did on this location. The sun’s last rays were peaking between a large combine and stacks of tires creating a spot light effect on the “skin” of this small tractor.

For me this is what photography is all about—using dramatic light to create shape and texture. If I don’t have great light I don’t even take my camera out of it’s bag when I am in total control of the decision.

As always, should you have questions or comments leave them in the comments section.  ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I’m appalled at the number of newbie “professionals” I see talking on the photo-forums about buying and using the 85mm f1.2 (or 1. anything) lens wide open for portraits.  Using your lenses widest aperture (f2.8 or otherwise) is unwise in most circumstances especially when doing portraits of paying clients! I expect amateur photographers’ cavalier attitude of wide open apertures just due to their general lack of technical knowledge, but so called professionals must be aware and educated about what their tools can and cannot do. As professionals we must deliver exceptional quality in our images on every session we do—no excuses!

Even when I’m doing fine art photography, just for myself, I’m very careful about depth-of-field and mindful of all the variables that affect it. One of the most important variables that has a huge effect on the depth-of-field, that your selected aperture will yield, is the distance between your camera and the subject. 

To illustrate this effect the following images were exposed at the same aperture (f8.0), but at different distances….

f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Distance: 24:; Lens @ 84mm
Even at f8.0 you can see that the depth-of-field is very shallow when in this close. By using f8.0 I got nice sharp blossoms on just he nearest vine while everything else went nicely out of focus.

Using DoFMaster.com’s depth-of-field calculator ~

With my DLSR’s sensor: APS-C Nikon
  • at f 8.0
  • lens@ 84mm
  • at 24” from subject
  • the DOF is .56” (just over 1/2 inch) Just what I wanted!
If I had gone wide open:
  • to f2.8
  • the DOF would be .2” (only 2/10th of an inch)
So, let’s try really wide:
  • to f1.2
  • the DOF would be .08” (only 8/100ths of an inch!)
Virtually nothing would have been in focus with that little depth-of-field.

f8.0 @ 1180sec., Iso 800; Distance 8 ft.;Lens @ 44mm
So, at this distance (8 feet) my aperture of f8.0 gives me a depth-of-field of 38.2” which was plenty to keep the vines in front of the tree trunk and the tree trunk sharp. Note:  This works the same when photographing groups.

Other reasons not to “shoot” wide open:
  • Most lenses are not very sharp wide open; they’re often sharper stopped down a couple stops.
  • Many Lenses Vignette wide open creating dark corners around the image.
  • Some lenses induce chromatic aberrations when wide open…(look it up).
So, in summation, we as professionals must know how to get the most from our tools in order to create the best product possible for our clients on every session. That’s why I don’t “shoot” wide open.

’Til next week…

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

What is Chromatic Aberration?
Chromatic aberration, also known as “color fringing” or “purple fringing”, is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, and/or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane. Chromatic aberration is caused by lens dispersion, with different colors of light traveling at different speeds while passing through a lens. As a result, the image can look blurred or noticeable colored edges (red, green, blue, yellow, purple, magenta) can appear around objects, especially in high-contrast situations.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


One of my favorite things to photography are buildings being torn down (de-construction) or in the process of being built. When they are being built, I like to start when it’s early in the construction. I’m looking for the building’s bones—the framing and rebar—before you can tell what it’s going to be. When my subject is the demolition of a building I often wait until late in its deconstruction to simplify the composition. I may visit a site several times during construction or demolition to get that special composition. These visits are also necessary to determine when the best dramatic lighting will strike the subject—it’s usually in the morning or towards sunset. I’m looking for a skimming side light to bring out texture and three dimensionality—so I’m looking for shadows.

Here’s an example of the lighting I’m looking for…

f13.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; lens Canon 15mm Fisheye
You have to be on your toes with residential demolition. They can tear down houses very quickly! I caught this one at just he right time—most of the house was down except this front corner with its “picture window”? seeing it’s last view; Our view being the home’s interior remains.

I used my 15mm fisheye to move in close and use the lens’ distortion to wrap the trees around the remains of the house. 

This image was taken at 9:45 in the morning the second day of its demolition. When I cam back the next morning they had already hauled all the house debris away—even the trees were gone!  I’ve learned that trees are not sacred here—and they call Boise, Idaho, the City of Trees!

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