Tuesday, January 30, 2018


As I said in Part 1, the only way I use Natural Light in outdoor portraits is to never add light. But, that’s not where you should stop because depending on where you place your subject(s) you could just end up with non-directional flat light, on your subjects. Now that’s not horrendous—it’s still far better than blasting your subjects with flash! As professional portrait artists we should strive to do better than just settling for flat light. So, I advocate the use of the Subtractive Method of controlling Natural Light to create direction in our lighting, which then makes our subjects look three dimensional; you know like real artists have been doing for 500 years!

Classical painters had it easy; they could just paint in the shadows to create three dimensionality in their scenes. We photographers have to exert control of the light using something opaque (a Gobo) to block light on one side of our outdoor “set”. Therefore, I place my groups close to large, usually natural, things in my outdoor environment—like trees, bushes and/or rocks that will create facial shadows on the side opposite to a large patch of open blue sky.

With this as the result…

 f5.0 @ 1/300 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142 mm
In Part 1 we photographed the whole family group posses, so now we’re doing what we call the “breakdowns” or sub-groups.

I placed Mom and son on a log—with the setting sun behind them—close to a large dark rock (it’s about 3 feet away on camera left), which has a row of large trees behind blocking all of the sky light on the left. A large patch of sky, on camera right, is creating a nice large, soft, key light on their faces while the natural Gobos on the left are Subtracting light creating nice soft shadows.

Continuing the breakdowns…

 f5.6 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 640; Lens @ 115mm
We do as many breakdown combinations as we can—more variety in choices means more sales!  These combinations are not only what the clients requested at the time, but some extras we just did to add to their choices. 

We have dad and the girls at the same log as the previous portrait. We also did portraits of the three children at this location…Then we did individuals of the children.  

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
When I photograph individuals I change my set-up so I can hand hold my camera and use my lens at 200mm for a nice soft background with good Bokeh. I’ll use whatever ISO will get me to a hand-holdable shutter speed (e.g. 1/250th sec.)

Again to be effective, you must place your subject fairly close to the GOBO so that you can see its effect (the shadow) on your subject’s face.  Some photographers may have difficulty seeing this rather subtle effect with the naked eye, so I suggest to my students that they meter for the highlights on the subject’s face and take a test photo. It will be very obvious, when viewing the camera’s rear screen, if you have the shadows you’re looking for.

How close, you ask, should the nearest member of your group be to the GOBO? Usually about ten feet works for me. If you have a really big tall tree line them 20 feet may work beautifully. For individuals they can be mere inches away from the GOBO—like when you lean them against a tree—for a really pronounced shadow that is more dramatic.

You may have noticed that on the individual portrait of the girl the aperture I used was f4.5 instead of f2.8 or even wider apertures being advocated by many amateurs and inexperienced professionals on the internet. I NEVER use my 70-200 mm f2.8 zoom lens wide open for portraits. 

In next week’s blog I’ll talk about why you shouldn’t either.  ’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 23, 2018


Using natural light is the only organic way to “marry” your subject into an outdoor setting. Any use of artificial light, that only falls on the subject, tends to “pull” the subject, forward, out of the environment. And electronic flash being a small, hard, point light source is the most unnatural, artificial, light source being misused by many photographers today.

I quit  using any artificial lighting (called additive lighting) outdoors over 30 years ago, after studying under the late, great, photographer Leon Kennamer, one of the pioneers of the Subtractive Lighting Method in outdoor portrait photography. Leon taught that it looks far more natural to subtract light—using a black Gobo (or flag)—from one side on your subject creating direction in the lighting, and if needed, subtracting light from above your subject to prevent raccoon eyes or dark eye sockets. 

While his technique worked fabulously on individuals, I wanted this natural, directional, light look on my groups as well.  Realizing that it wasn’t practical to lug around giant Gobos that would work on groups I started using the Natural Gobos on my outdoor locations to block light on one side of my outdoor “sets”. The entire key to using subtractive lighting outdoors is Subject Placement NEXT to a Natural Gobo so that a shadow side will be created on your subject’s faces.

So, I’ll show highlights from a family session using this technique; we always start with the whole group first…

 f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 180mm
We always start with the largest group because it’s the most difficult set-up.

Subject Placement—the setting sun is behind them and I placed them next to a row of large dark stone blocks, with large trees behind said blocks, blocking the sky light on camera Right. On camera Left is a very large patch of clear blue sky creating a nice large main light—the sky is my soft box.

Next, we moved them to a completely different location for a different look—we always do at least two set-ups for the family group.

f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm

The reason I like this park (Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho) so much is the many mature trees with rocks and logs placed just the way I like them!

Subject Placement—again the sun is setting behind them with a large patch of blue sky at camera Right. To camera Left are more rocks and trees blocking the extra sky light.

Note: Focal Length and Apertures for groups:

My basic rule is to use the Longest Focal Length I can use within the location—up to 200mm. Why?
  • The telephoto compression effect is very flattering on people.
  • Longer focal lengths equalize head sizes when you have two or more rows of people.
  • backing-up using a telephoto gives you more depth-of-field and better bokeh as well!
My basic rule on apertures is to use the widest aperture necessary for the depth-of-field I need; for example:
  • If I have a small family group in two rows and I have enough room to use my lens at 150mm…at 30 feet from my group I know an aperture of f6.3 will give me 4.6 feet depth-of-field. Ideal for many groups.
  • If I have a larger group—say three rows—with my lens at 150mm at 30 feet I’ll stop down my lens to f7.1 which will give me 5.17 feet depth-of-field.
Note: Always focus your lens on the nearest person to your camera!  Why?  Because a common belief that focusing mid-group where the depth-of-field was thought to be 1/3 in front and 2/3’rds behind your point of focus is not necessarily the case, depending on your f-stop, focal length and distance. Doing research using DOFMaster.com, using their excellent depth-of-field calculator, I discovered that most of the time the depth-of-field is 50% in front and 50% behind the point of focus. Now I know why some photographers using the mid-group focusing have complained about the back focusing effect where their subjects in front are “soft”

Next week in Part 2 I’ll continue with this family portrait session with what we call the “breakdowns”.
Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


When doing portraits of Tweens, Teens and high School Seniors, here at The Storytellers, in Meridian Idaho my absolute favorite type of session is the themed or personal storytelling variety. When I say that I’m not just talking about the jock with a football or basketball—we do that of course—but, I’ve found that there’s a greater creative challenge with teens that are involved in music—or any of the arts—animal husbandry (4H Clubs), any equestrian pursuits, sports like archery and shooting, hunting, motor sports (drag racing, motocross, etc.) winter sports (skiing, snowboard, snowmobile), and the non-motorized sports like skateboarding, BMX or Triathlon.

I’m sure I left something out, but you get the idea. Photographing people who are really passionate about these activities, as they do them, can create a connection between us that makes it easier for them to be more at ease when we finally do their more formal (looking at the camera) portraits.

Conversely the portrait session of a tween or teen that I dread the most is when the parent tells me that they don’t do anything! Often this really means that their teen worn’t perform the activity in front of my camera—which is ironic these days when they share everything on social media!

So, when we got the call to schedule this tween’s portrait session and Mom told us that her 16 yer old daughter was really into all things Harry Potter, my dread factor went up a bit. Hoping for the best, Kathi told the mom to bring everything they had in the Harry Potter theme.

As always, we started with the props…
f11.0 @ 1/150 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 82mm
After I saw her collection of magic wands, I put up my “magical” background to get her in the mood to cast some spells! My dread factor quickly disappeared when I saw this young lady casting her spells with such grace and poise.

She did a clothing change while we changed the background for the Harry Potter books image. I loved her collection of dog-eared Harry Potter books! We did this in a variety of ways, but I liked her actually reading the book—more as a candid image.
Here’s my studio set-up with this background…

Caption: Photogenic PowerLight on the Main Light: Photoflex, 7-Foot, Octo-Dome; Other Lights: Norman Pack using a Larson 24” strip light (hair light) and one Norman head on background. Reflector Photoflex, 42”, White/Gold; white side to the subject.

Then the portrait that moms want…

f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
Looking at the camera and smiling came easily for this young lady.  Then we went for something more thoughtful….
 f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 150mm
I usually do something in Black and White and I like this composition with its “negative space” to the left. I also like to do portraits of people both smiling and not smiling to see which they are more relaxed with.

Often the non-smiling portrait gives me bigger eyes—which I prefer in a portrait—because many people’s eyes narrow as they smile.

That’s it for this week….happy to answer questions…’Til next time!

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


In Part 2 of this series I talked about the arched-roof barn here in Meridian, Idaho that I started photography on in 2013 as that property went up for sale. I got most of what I wanted except for snow.

My absolute favorite time of the year here in Idaho is winter. Photography of anything outside in snow or freezing fog (hoar frost) is my favorite type of winter photography. Snow has a magical property to hide all the ugly things man does to the environment in a blanket of pure white that simplifies the composition of a scene.

Unfortunately, we did not get much snow here in the valley in 2013; you need a good 6 inches of snow for good coverage of a barn’s steeply sloped roof. So, I crossed my fingers and waited—hoping for some good snow before they sold this property and demolished my favorite barn!

Fast forward to Christmas Eve, 2015; we got just enough snow to realize my vision!

f13.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 150mm
What I love about snow is the contrast it creates against the old dark barn wood. You just have to be careful with the initial exposure to get the snow white without blowing out all its detail. The best way to do that is to do photography on an overcast day which will naturally limit the dynamic range of a snow scene to 4 or 5 f-stops. As soon as the sun comes out a snow scene can easily go to 10 f-stops from the barn wood to the snow.

Post Processing this image:

I used NIK’s, HDR Efex, Pro 2, using its single image tone mapping. I picked the outside-2 preset to get the barn wood detail I wanted and modified that to bring back the contrast and blacks. I always have to do that because HDR processing tends to flatten out a scene by removing most of the shadows—without shadows you lose the three dimensionality in a scene. HDR also tends to grey-down the snow making it look dirty, so, then I have to bring back the whites in Photoshop.

Having already done full views of this barn I’m now slicing it up into sections to better show this barn’s marvelous details.

Here’s the other end of the barn…

f11.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 110mm

I couldn’t resist that nice snow covered foreground detail—love those round hay bales! With all that stuff out in front of the barn it gives the illusion that this may still be a working farm.

Now some of my favorite details….

f11.0 @ 1/320sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I backed-off and zoomed-in to 200mm to show some nice detail; using the compression effect to push those snow covered bushes towards the barn. This technique put the nice contrasting detail of the white bushes against the dark barn wood with all that detail in sharp focus. Love those beautiful sliding barn doors with their diagonal wood planks!

Going to the other end of the barn….

f13.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 150mm
Highlighting those sliding barn doors again and using the telephoto compression effect as well. Sadly the clock is ticking on this great barn. In 2017 they torn down the farmhouse and cut down the large trees on the property; a very bad sign that the end is near. But, worst of all those beautiful sliding barn doors are gone! As valuable as barn wood has become—sliding doors being the  most sought after—my guess is that they have been sold for some hight-end remodel or two.

So, now it’s on my watch list and I visit the barn several times a week to be there when the demolition begins.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions….’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 2, 2018


Within two miles of our house, here in Meridian, Idaho, there were four barns. It’s remarkable that there were any barns here as Meridian is the fastest growing city in Idaho. Housing developments surrounded these barns and more developments are underway. Now there are only two barns left. One of those barns was featured in Part 1 of this blog. Here in Part 2, I’ll feature the other remaining barn—my favorite because it has an arched roof. I think it’s the most graceful type of shingled barn roof designs; it’s also a rather rare type of barn—there aren’t many still standing.

I started photography on this beauty in 2013 when I saw the for sale sign go up on the property.

f11.0 @ 1/400; Lens @ 70mm
I chose this as the best side of this barn because there’s an awning running the full length on the other side filled with a lot of junk. Besides I always prefer the clean side so I can see any windows on the long side of a barn.

This barn’s long side faces West and it’s front faces South, so there was only one time of the day when I could get any shadows—I wanted a shadow to delineate the graceful curve of the roof line. This was done on a stormy September evening, as the clouds cleared behind me, about two hours before sunset.

My artistic processing was done in NIK, HDR Efex Pro 2, single image, tone mapping. I used the vignetted preset and then adjusted to my taste.

Here’s a larger view showing the farm house….

This was also done in NIK, HDR Efex Pro 2. I used the B&W Art preset and adjusted the blacks and contrast to get deeper shadows and detail in the clouds.

Then going to the front of the barn….

f16.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens at 155mm
This is one of my favorite views not only because of the nice juxtaposition of a foreground element with the front of the barn behind, but it shows how this would have looked as a working farm. Sadly, these would be the last bales of hay to be stored here—love those round bales!

Then there are the details….

f11.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 85mm
For nice barn wood detail I came back at a time when I would have good crossing light specifically for my targeted subject. This was in January, so it turned out to be 3:00pm when I got the shadows I wanted for the west facing side of the barn.

In Part 3 of this series I revisit this great barn in the winder—Let it snow!

’Til next week…

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