Tuesday, September 26, 2017


I always look forward to coverage of our state fair here in boise. I especially enjoy doing photography of the traditional animal competitions put on by the FFA and 4H Clubs. I also check out the winners in the agricultural events. It’s always fun to see who grew the largest pumpkin each year! I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the people who work so hard producing the food we eat. I think these competitions are crucial in attracting our young people to careers in agriculture. After all the animal husbandry and agricultural shows were the reason for the original county fairs. 

By going behind the scenes photography of these old fashioned, timeless events I can show what few people these days—outside of the actual competitors—take the time to witness at a state fair. It’s sad that even in a major agricultural state such as Idaho I rarely see our local media covering these events. In fact I’m usually the ONLY professional photographer out there, getting my shoes dirty, documenting the boys and girls with their animals.

 f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 168mm
Jessica in line for the horse showmanship competition. I had photographed her before when she won the Rodeo Queens Competition (Teen Queen) for the Meridian Lions. You can tell she’s all stressed-out here! An outstanding young lady; a real competitor with a great attitude.

When I show up the competitors and animal owners are delighted and will pretty much do anything I ask of them, so that I can create great images. One of my goals this year was to do a nice portrait of a long horn steer, but it couldn’t be just any steer and I wanted really nice portrait lighting. All of the animals barns are total black holes with very low and directionless levels of light. So, when I arrived at the longhorn barn when the light was perfect outside, I saw they were hosing down some longhorns outside the barn. While I was doing some images of these longhorns a lady (Vicki) approached and asked if I wanted to photograph a prize winning example of a longhorn.  Yes, indeed, I said, that’s why I was here. Then, she said, you need to see Apollo!

 f10.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400
So, we brought Apollo out of the barn and I placed him in that great light of the setting sun. Vicki said that they use Apollo in local parades usually with one of her girls riding this beautiful steer. 

The horse showmanship competition gets under way in the large arena…

f6.3 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 100mm
Notice the lack of audience in the stands. This is typical at most animal competitions; the audience that does show-up are mostly family and friends. 

Meanwhile, behind the scenes I witnessed another line-up…

 f6.3 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens at 200mm
Yeah, it’s nose scratching time! That second horse really looks ready—Me-too me-too! It’s a rough life being a showmanship horse. 

Over at the swine competition a very different (short) life awaits these “market hogs”…

f4.5 @ 1/200sec., ISO 3200
Here the animals are being judged for the amount and quality of their meat. Don’t ask me what the hog handlers are doing here—it all looks very mysterious! This is one of those dimly lit barns I mentioned earlier. Since I’m hand holding and there’s action I had to bump my ISO to 3200, which increased the noise level a lot. Going to Black & White and adding noise reduction produced a usable image.

Over at the goat barn I found some light….

 f6.3 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
The girls here at “Birds of a Feather” were eager to help me set-up a pose with Vincent Van Goat, one of their blue ribbon winning pygme goats.

Over at the smaller arena….

 f5.6 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
The competition for the, very cute, miniature horses was fun to watch.  Here the “horsemen” must run along side, leash in hand, very much like a dog show, through the serpentine course with multiple jumps.

So, next time you go to your State Fair check out the FFA and 4H Clubs events usually on the outskirts of the fair grounds, the farthest you can get from public parking! You may get dirty and sometimes it’s smelly, but it’s enlightening and you may learn something—besides the walk will do ya good.

’Til next week…I will answer your photography questions…just ask…

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Getting a High School senior to open-up and show different sides of their personality in a two hour portrait session can be challenge. So, to relax them we always suggest they bring things that mean something to them, like a musical instrument or their sports gear (football, tennis racket, volleyball, etc.) to take their focus off these strangers with a camera. We’ve found over the years that when any of our portrait subjects hold something familiar they immediately appear more comfortable in front of our camera.

This is usually easier with girls because they are more apt to bring many changes of clothes and accessories; playing dress-up always brings out their personality! Because they only bring their favorite clothes and accessories they’re happily looking forward to the portrait experience and that attitude shows in the images we create together.

f4.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Two more things we do that makes our seniors more comfortable during a session:
  1. I’m not in-their-face with the camera.  I’m backed-off using my 70-200mm lens—usually at 200mm—that way I’m not inside their personal space. They don’t even know when I’m taking pictures—that makes great candids possible.
  2. My wife Kathi is the one who is personally interacting with them in setting up their pose, arranging arms, hands, legs, adjusting stray hair, fixing clothing problems—what ever is necessary to make them look great.  Besides the more things Kathi fixes up front the less she will be asked to do later in retouching or artwork. 
In the following image, without changing the basic pose, we caught a really nice thoughtful look just by asking her to look away from the camera, without smiling, sans glasses.

f4.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
In addition we like to convert some of the color images to monochrome giving her and the parents different looks to choose from in their premier. 

NOTE: Whenever we do portraits of anyone who wears glasses we suggest images with and without them wearing the glasses for two reasons.  1) It shows two different looks, but most importantly, 2) if you should get glass glare it gives us images of her eyes to do some cloning to correct the problem if necessary. In this session she chose to not wear her glasses in most of her portraits.

This young lady brought several changes of clothes, part of her hat collection and her guitar—we all had a lot of fun!

Here she changes her top and brought out the hats…
f4.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Another advantage of using my lens at 200mm is the marvelous effect, created by that focal length with a wide aperture, on the background. The soft bokeh effect is really beautiful and it separates your subject from the background.

Again, I like the portraits without the smile—I think the neutral expression leads you to her eyes and tells you more about her.  However, she does have a nice smile…
f4.0 @ 1.160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Another outfit and hat combo…
f4.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 145mm
Then we changed the pose with her looking right to the camera…

 f4.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 145mm
Like most of our outdoor sessions this was done about 2 hours before sunset with most of the images here done between 1-hour to 20 minutes before sunset. Even though this session was done in August I made the backgrounds look like fall by using the setting sun as backlight with the open sky as my main light.

As usual, should you have questions 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, September 12, 2017


Here at The Storytellers a family portrait is a team effort from beginning to end.  Kathi and I talk about and preplan the session, with the client’s input, weeks before the event. I will suggest a location, when doing out door portraits, that is at its best for that time of year and will work for the size of their group.

If the client wants portraits done at their home or any place I’ve never seen I will first visit that location, at the same time of day scheduled for their session, to verify that the location will look at least as good as our tried and true locations before I will consent to their request. 

One of the most important parts of this preplanning is the clothing consultation.  When clients take our suggestions to simplify their clothing selections to solid colors (no stripes or patterns) of lower contrast (don’t mix whites and black or the extremes of a single color) and use muted tones like shades of blue, green or grey, they always like their portraits better than clients that ignore our advice.  

This family took our advice and wore nice simple shades of grey…

 f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 175mm
With simple clothing colors your eyes are drawn to the subjects’ faces in a portrait not what they’re wearing.  This image is the final art worked, retouched, and cropped file that went to the printer for their wall portrait.

To illustrate our collaborative process lets step back to how this portrait evolved.  We don’t know exactly how we’re going to pose a family group until the moment we meet them all. We did know that with this family of three, with two dogs, that our medium posing rock would suffice if needed. Our goal with our posing rocks, or any on site natural rocks or logs, is to vary our subjects head heights.  We avoid simply lining up a standing group of people, firing squad style, the way many amateur photographers do.  In addition seating people often makes them look more relaxed.

Once Kathi sees the client’s body types she is already mentally posing them as a group.  Keeping in mind that we already know that the client is not sure if they want to replace their current vertical image or change to a horizontal orientation. Composing both vertical and horizontal groupings at each location you choose or tighter grouping will allow for either.

As soon as I’ve decided which spot within the location (here we used Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho) to start the session, Kathi asks me where I want the posing rock placed for the best background. This is critical for me because I build a portrait from the background forward. And it often does not matter where she puts it because after I see where our subjects’ heads land on the background I ask her to move the rock anyway!  This is why two sets of eyers are so important in this process.  Kathi will often see things that I don’t and I, being at camera position, will see things that Kathi can’t see.

Our main goal is to make our subjects look as good as we can and fix objectionable details before we take any photos to minimize the things Kathi has to fix in post-production later.

To illustrate here’s the before image….

One of the big changes here is that when the clients picked their favorite image for their 20x24” Wall Portrait they wanted it to be a Vertical print. Of course I shot this as a horizontal image!  However, this was a pretty easy fix because Kathi has been constantly reminding me over the years to “Shoot Loose” when framing up groups in my viewfinder to minimize the background artwork to fill-in areas needed to make a print in any size.

In addition to her usual retouching of the clients eyes or facial blemishes the red circled areas are the areas Kathi did enhancement art work.  The client requested the removal of their black dog’s harness and the dad’s hand holding on to the white dog’s collar.  That was OK with Kathi because she knew the changes were possible and if she knows she can doit and it’s always included with any purchase of our custom wall portraits.

However, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that small objectionable things that are OK on a computer monitor become Big Objectionable Things on wall prints, especially when the print is 20x24” or larger!  Case in point—when Kathi zoomed-in on the white dog (see his circled leg) she noticed his exposed private parts would surely become very objectionable when enlarged!  So, she moved the dog’s leg to cover it’s privates.  Good catch on Kathi’s part—nobody saw this at the premier—and great use of her skills in Photoshop—adding value for the client and making this a fabulous wall print!

A note to beginning Professional Portrait Photographer:
In order to become successful at dealing with clients during a portrait session you must pay the utmost attention to everything happening in front of your camera and less to the back of the camera!  A professional’s technical proficiency needs to be a given; it’s all the other things we do that make our client’s look great and have a fun portrait experience that also makes us money. 

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


I treat hot air balloons like very large, colorful, sculptures. So, I apply my usual rules of composition and lighting to create visual interest and three dimensionality. The challenge is that these things are very dynamic and offer several stages in the process from their initial inflation with fans, then the ignition of the big gas burners, bringing the balloon to vertical, followed by lift-off and then the jostling for position as 20 or 30 balloons spring into the air in very quick succession

It’s all very hectic and chaotic and in that first hour, as the balloons launch all around me, I’m constantly turning and shooting as I capture the action unfolding 360 degrees around me. In that first hour I make at least 300 images.

Yeah, some of you are saying, that’s all he takes! Well, all I can say is that I’m very picky about when and where I click the shutter. I rarely do the single balloon image, especially in the air, as I find those rather boring. My favorite photographic challenge is creating compositional layers of multiple balloons. So, I’m always looking for interesting juxtapositional combinations….

f6.3 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 45mm
These two balloons, visiting from Belgium, at our annual Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, are sculptures in cloth! Since they were parked next to each other I circled around them to layer one against the other stopping when I got the nice directional light (when the shadow side of the subject’s face is nearest to the camera…this is called “Short Lighting”) on Yoda’s face.

Here’s another layered composition….

f6.3 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
Here I circled around to get the, back, side light and captured four balloons! I’ve got the foreground, mid ground and background composition with two balloons in the air; Nice!

I love the duality of hot air balloons.  When going aloft they fly in silence like a kite on the wind and then the gas burner roars to life, breathing fire into it, giving the balloon its primal source of lift.

f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 24mm
When doing the balloon’s initial heat-up I usually pick a dark colored balloon for this image so the fire will really stand out.

I’m a sucker for backlight…

f9.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 70mm
These two balloons were coming back for their landing so I moved towards some trees, for some foreground interest, waited for them to overlap and got them both glowing in backlight. 

This is how I broke my rule against images of single balloons in flight…

f13.0 @ 1/400 SEc., ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
As the balloons drifted west towards the entrance to Ann Morrison Park (Boise, Idaho) I remembered the fountain! Fortunately, the fountain was OFF, but still full of water, giving me perfectly still water for a perfect reflection making my single balloon a two-shot!

All of these images were taken using my Canon 24-105mm, f4.0, Lens on either my Canon 5D MKII or Canon 70D body. I find this lens gives me the most useful focal lengths for these large subjects and the speed that only a zoom can provide.

’Til next week…Have a question?  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