Tuesday, November 28, 2017


The single most important quality of light is its direction. After you’ve acquired or created direction everything else is easy. This applies to still photography, cinematography, or traditional two dimensional arts as well. 

I didn’t just make this up or invent it—I learned it over my forty-plus years as an artist by studying those aforementioned two dimensional artists—the classic painters—and the great cinematographers who studied those same painters.

My favorites include:  
  • Johannes Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch master, who did brilliant portraits of ordinary people by window light (see his: “Woman Holding a Balance” and “Girl Interrupted at Her Music”).
  • Michelangelo Caravaggio, the Italian Baroque painter. His works using strong directional natural light are stunning (see: The Calling of Saint Matthew”).
Many of the great cinematographers have also studied these and other painters for inspiration. If you want to learn lighting I suggest your study the work of great cinematographers like: 
  • Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter)
  • John Alcott (Barry Lyndon)
  • Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner, Altered States)
  • Frank Tidy (The Duellists)
  • Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings)
These are just a few truly great photographers I’ve studies over the years; there are virtually no, living, still photographers I can suggest to study today.

The basic rule for Directional Lighting.
  • Your light’s direction should be coming from any direction other than camera position.
  • Light coming from camera position will be flat light and flat directionless light is death to three dimensionality and texture because it erases shadows. 
Note:  This applies to photography of any type of subject (people, places or things) if you want it to appear three-dimensional; from landscapes to product photography, baby portraits to weddings, travel photography or sports coverage—they all need directional lighting.

Leonardo Da Vinci wrote:  “The Artiste who avoids the shadows may be said to avoid the glory of the art.”

How to acquire or create directional lighting.

Inside Natural Light - Portraits:

Direction is created by placement of the subject relative to the Light source—when you can’t move the light source you move the subject.

Example using an open, standard, outside door….

 f3.5 @ 1/160th sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 120mm
I picked this spot for her bridal portrait because all the light sources in the room had great direction. The key light—the open door—is very directional and soft (the source is larger than the subject making it nice and soft). The background is lit with both overhead floods and some window light giving the background a warm glow. I placed her about six feet from the doorway and had her rotate bringing her right shoulder towards the camera. Then I had her bring her nose towards the light just enough to get light in her far eye.

Inside Natural Light - Immovable Object:

Here direction is created by Camera Position relative to the light source.

Example using a large, natural light, opening….

 f4.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 84mm
In the ruins of Pompeii (Italy) you can’t move anything! When I happened on this scene all the tourists were taking their pictures at the opening you see on camera right—giving them flat, boring light. So, I circled around, 90 degrees, from the opening finding a 5 1/2’ tall wall.  Looking over the wall I saw the scene bathed in great directional light creating gorgeous texture and shadows! So, placing my camera on top of the wall, and on my tiptoes, I created an image nobody else even saw!

Inside Natural Light - Landscapes:

Here direction is again created by camera position; most nature/landscape photographers know this (even the amateurs usually get this right!) unlike a lot of so-called professional portrait and wedding photographers.

Example using dramatic, back-side, lighting…

film: Kodaochrome 64; lens: 16mm Fisheye
I placed my camera in this spot so that the background pinnacles would get that dramatic semi-back light; I like that half the pinnacles are in silhouette.  Moving in close to that large petrified sand dune (this is Arches National Park) and still getting such a panoramic view was possible because my lens’ angle of view is 180 degrees.

Example waiting for directional light….

f14.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 168mm
In the planning of this image my camera position was fixed because I wanted this composition. Therefore, I had to determine when this angle of view of the barn would get good directional light.  Is it at sunset or sunrise and what month of the year would give me that light? I also had to wait for good clouds to complete the image I had pre-visualized.

As Ansel Adams said:  “You don’t take a great photograph; you make one!”

In Part 2 I’ll continue my lesson on the creation and use of directional light in the studio. ’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 21, 2017


When in Rome….get a hotel room within walking distance to your main subject locations! I went out at 6pm—two hours before sunset—to photograph some of Rome’s iconic features.  The Colosseum was a total zoo; hundreds of tourists and tour busses disgorging more tourists! So, I walked to the Arch of Constantine seeing great light crossing its surface….

f9.5 @ 1/250sec., ISO 400
Going for a different composition I zoomed-in and went vertical. I love that tree framing the arch. This also got rid of a lot of tourists!

Don’t forget the details….

 f11.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
On the other side the arch was getting great light skimming its interior. So, I zoomed-in for this close-up.  

I did the short hike to Palatine Hill and was rewarded with very few tourists! This was one of my favorite compositions….

 f13.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 24mm
I love how that tree fit the arc of the arch. However, to get the tree there I had to move in close to the arch and use my lens at 24mm causing a lot of distortion on the arch. Hurray for Photoshop’s distortion correction feature!

Five days later we did a day trip to the classic site at the top of my list….Pompeii.  We got there at 10am and had good light and nice clouds in the sky. It turned out that a lot of the best features in Pompeii were interiors so, time of day wasn’t as critical as the landscapes. Case in point….

 f9.6 @ 1/60 se.c, ISO 400; lens: 20mm
This is a section of a round room with a large open, round, skylight. I love the soft light and the mysterious shadows in the alcoves.

When the light outside isn’t so good...

 f4.0 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 400
Change your camera position to get good directional light (with shadows!). The tourists were taking their pictures from the opening of this structure on the right. All that give them was flat, boring, shadowless lighting.  I moved 90 degrees to the other side where the light was creating really nice textures and produced the three dimensionality due to the shadows.

When outside this is what I’m looking for….

f19.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
The morning sun at 10am was just high enough to light over these low walls and yet give me good shadows to create texture and dimension. In addition, a bonus, I had good clouds!

TIP:  In an image with foreground objects (those pots) leading into a lot of mid-ground and background detail I want maximum depth-of-field. For this image I had my aperture set to f19.0 using my 24mm lens.

In a future blog I’ll share some fine art photography from our travels in Mexico and the Caribbean.

’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 14, 2017


As a professional, travel photography is always about fine art for me. If I don’t have great lighting—preferably directional—or compelling composition I can create or a really different point of view, I usually pass on that subject. I may revisit the subject at a different time of day if I think the lighting will be better.

The point is I don’t just capture images of what’s in front of me to get an image—I don’t do “record shots”. With this philosophy it means that I don’t blow through hundreds of locations in a few days (remember the movie, “If this is Tuesday it must be Belgium”!). So, the tour bus method of visiting iconic subjects is out of the question if you want to create art on your travels. Therefore, I limit how many locations I’m planning to photograph. I pick a hotel close to my subject locations so I can walk to them. That makes it easy to revisit those locations if I decide sunset lighting is better than sunrise lighting for the subject. 

For example, having planned on a hotel to get the view of the famous Faraglioni Rocks—on the Mediterranean side of the Isle of Capri, Italy—it was easy to create the image I had in mind.

f16.0 @ 1/125sec, ISO 400
I just didn’t know the best time of day for this view of the rocks until we checked into the hotel. I was hoping for some nice direct sunset lighting on the rocks, but for this time of year (early May) it never happened. So, it became a sunrise image; had to get up at 5am and set up my camera position on the roof of the hotel for this marvelous view.

Another sunrise image from Capri…

f11.0 @ 1/250th sec., ISO 400
Since I wanted this offset composition, with the house on the cliff to the right, it was vital that I have nice clouds in the background.  

NOTE: In general, when doing landscapes, if I don’t have good clouds in the sky I pass on the scene until I do get some clouds.  And I know you can add them in post, but it's just not the same.

I’m always looking for directional lighting that will show texture and create shadows. In this next image I found it on an interior….

f8.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
This is an interior view of one entryway at the ruins of Villa Jovis, Emperor Tiberius’ Palace on Capri. I guess this was the ancient Roman’s way of making “exit” lights over doorways!

 f4.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800
Downtown Capri’s old clock tower building strung with lights over the outdoor seating for their restaurants was a must do image.

TIP: I did this at dusk just after sunset—so the lights would show-up, but the sky would still have color. Photographing at dusk means that you don’t need a tripod; you merely have to bump up your ISO (800 in this image) so you can hand hold your camera.

With my artistic photographic background rooted in the black and white darkroom I’m always looking for color images to convert to black and white. So, when we walked through Capri’s yacht harbor I was especially vigilant for some artistic compositions of the boats on the water.

f16.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This was a natural for B&W conversion. I especially like how the water renders in B&W.

TIP: One of my favorite B&W methods of conversion is with NIK’s, Silver Efex Pro2, plug-in for Photoshop. 

In Part 2 we’ll go to Rome and Pompeii to create some fine art images…’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 7, 2017


We had a pretty early fall here in Idaho this year. Some of the trees turned completely the first week in October. Seeing that trend I was out hitting my favorite dozen spots for fall colors right away. 

So, now that it’s the first week in November fall is pretty much over and now I follow the leaves to my ground game! The basic rule with fall art photography is we look up—catching that great back light for fall colors at the beginning and then after the fall has happened then we look down for interesting leaf compositions on the ground!

I’m looking for colorful leaves on an interesting contrasting background like this….
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 48mm
When doing this style of photography I tend to stop down my lens—here I used f14.0—for maximum depth-of-field. With the leaves laying on the background you can’t knock the background out of focus without also making all the leaves soft as well. 

Whatever the leaves have fallen on is just as important as the leaves themselves…
 f13.0 @ 1/60 sec ISO 400; lens at 50mm
This rotted-out log was ideal as a natural container—after all the leaves came from this type of tree and now they’ve rejoined to fertilize the forrest floor.  Aside from that symbolism I like the contrasting texture of the log against the leaves.

And what did I say about the absence of backlight at ground level?
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
Sometimes we can make that happen with the proper placement of a favorite leaf!

What helped here was the very thick above ground root system that allowed me to place that leaf so it caught the light of the setting sun. So, the leaf got nice back light and the tree roots got a great skimming side light to show their texture.

So, now I’m looking forward to winter weather. The snow is nice, but what I really like to photograph is the freezing fog. The ice crystals, created by freezing fog, that cling to everything makes the outside world look like a huge Christmas ornament! My favorite time of year…

I’m open to questions…’Til next week…

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