Tuesday, April 24, 2018


My wife, Kathi, and I have been photographing weddings forever 30 years. Of those hundreds of weddings I can count on one hand the couples that did not get engagement sessions; it was usually due to the couple being out-of-state or a last minute booking. When we did not do an engagement session it always felt like we were photographing strangers! That’s not how we like to begin photography of a couple on one of the most important photographic events of their lives. When we do engagement sessions we discover how the couple relates to each other in front of our camera and we see their personal comfort level when doing mushy stuff in pubic! 

We like mushy, romantic, photography….
f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm

On a technical note one way I make our couples more comfortable in front of my camera is that I’m not in their faces with my camera—I’m backed off 20 to 30 feet using my telephoto lens (usually @ 200mm). In addition to relaxing them the telephoto lens makes them look better and it knocks the background out-of-focus creating a nice, soft, painted look behind them.

f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 145mm
Meanwhile, Kathi is nearby, off to the side, ready to assist the couple getting comfortable with the pose that she set-up. Kathi will show them where to put their hands, which way to tilt their heads and make any clothing adjustments to make them look great before I make any exposures.

We always do individual portraits….

f5.6 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Their individual portraits are really important because we will be doing lots of individual portraits of the bride and groom on their wedding day and we need to know in advance, what THEY think is their “best side” for portraits. There is nothing more frustrating than doing a beautiful set of bridals to find out it’s the side the bride hates about her self, doing engagement sessions avoids that.

f5.6 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
When we do these individual portraits we have the couple’s other half standing right beside me as I take the images. You can tell by their expressions that they are responding to each other!

Then we have some more fun…

f8.0 @ 160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
The engagement session is so important that we insist on giving them this session (they can’t refuse a gift!) even if they’ve already had one done by another professional.

The results of our engagement session validates their decision in choosing us as their wedding photographers; and their wedding photography proves it!

Here’s this bride on her wedding day…
Wedding Day - Bride
Next week I’ll talk about wedding images…’Til then…

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


While visiting my son in Palmdale, California, he encouraged me to go into the open desert just behind their housing development and check out the Joshua trees that dominate the landscape. I went out there not expecting much since it was about 1pm (usually not a good time of day for natural light photography), but the sun was low in the sky on that early March day creating nice directional light. Once I saw this field of bizarre trees I immediately went back to my car and got out my camera.  What attracted me was how dramatically different each tree was—they don’t grow symmetrically with the orderly pattern of most trees—they’re chaotic and freaky looking! I like that.

Well, I guess that’s the case since these things aren’t really trees—they’re plants. Actually they’re giant Yuccas in the Agave family. They grow uniquely in the desert southwest of the US and mostly in California’s Mojave high desert. Here’s one of the taller ones….
f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 35mm
The Joshua trees typically grow to about 20 feet taking 60 years to mature and can live more than 500 years.

Here’s a detail image…
f16.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens 15mm

Taken at about 1pm I shot through one of the spiky tufts to get the sun star and nice sky as a background. That dark drooping tendril is the core of the Joshua tree’s flower—at this point all the trees had dropped their flowers.

Here’s a stand of the trees…

f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens 15mm
With their flowers gone leaving that proboscis behind these things look insect like. Using my 15mm fisheye, moving in close, and converting to Black & White I enhanced their bizarre look.

How’s this for Bizarre?…..

f16.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 70mm
Some were apparently dying and their state of decay was compositionally interesting. This limb looked like an ancient fossilized animal. 

This is part of the field I explored…
Car for scale
Using my car for scale gives you an idea of their size. These trees were so much fun to photograph that I came back out after 7pm for sunset lighting.

Had a nice sunset!….

f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 45mm
The Joshua tree has been around for a long time, but their habitat is pretty small and if it gets much hotter and drier in the Mojave they will not survive as a species. The largest Joshua tree on record was 80 feet tall and was estimated to be about 1000 years old.  The Mojave Desert wouldn’t look the same without these spiky icons inhabiting its landscape.

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


The Old Idaho State Penitentiary, here in Boise, is a really fascinating piece of history as well as a grim reminder of a time people were less tolerant of crime and had the will to actually punish offenders.

Started in 1870 as a territorial prison and enlarged over the years with a maximum population of a little over 600 inmates, it served its purpose for over 100 years. After several riots and fires it was finally shut down in 1973. 

The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 for its significance as a Territorial Prison. With its dramatic romanesque architecture I decided to use mostly wide angle as a lens choice to both capture exteriors of the large buildings and be able to show more of some small interiors.
f16.0 @ 1/160sec., ISO 400; Lens 15mm
I Wanted something really dramatic as a pano so I cropped one of the 180 degree images into a long skinny. The angry over cast sky added to the perfect mood topping one of the burned-out buildings. 

Next, is the dinning hall…

f11.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 500; Lens 15mm
It was designed in 1898 by inmate George Hamilton to provide natural light in the basement. He was paroled early for his exemplary efforts, but committed suicide the day after his release. The building was burned in the riot of 1973.

To the Cell blocks…

f10.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 800; Lens 15mm
I liked the color and the peeling paint in this cell house—not to mention its formidable cell doors. Cell House #4 (1952) was the largest  and most modern in this prison.

f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Len 15mm
As in all prisons troublesome, violent, prisoners we put in solitary confinement…

f6.3 @ 1/40 sec., ISO 800; lens 15mm
They called this Siberia (1926). As you can see it has radiant heating, but it’s outside of the cells! This bleak building had dark, one-man, cells measuring 3’x8’…Siberia indeed!

But, they had clean clothes…

f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens 15mm
The laundry building was impressive. It had 5 or 6 large, turn of the century, belt-driven, bulk washers.

The inmates built a wall around the original warden’s house to be used as the Women’s Ward (1905-1906).
Women's area
You can see the back corner of the women’s ward just beyond this cool looking gate. But, theirs was not a country club…
Women's cell
As you can see their cell doors were just as formidably built as the men’s. Their building had seven 2-person cells. 

I recommend a visit to this historical site to anyone visiting Boise, Idaho. I’ll bet a lot of residents here have not, but should, take the time to view this piece of their history!…Only took me 9 years…LOL

Just a little history and photography education too. ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


I believe that composition is probably the most important artistic decision in fine art photography; after only lighting. Proper exposure, focus, and depth-of-field are givens in professional photography.  The composition we create is how we direct the viewer’s eye within the frame. What we include and, very importantly, what we exclude powerfully shapes the viewer’s perception of the scene.

Dynamic composition of static subjects is particularly important to maintain the viewer’s interest. Nothing reinforces the static nature of a solitary subject, and at the same time bores the viewer, more than centering it within the frame—a pervasive habit of amateur photographers.

So, let’s look at some old wagon wheels….

f8.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 86mm

Here I framed-up the composition (cropping at the point of capture) placing the hub of the wagon wheel—using the “Rule of Thirds”—in one of the corners of the frame. I’m still showing most of the wheel, but this composition works well because the snow covered grasses on the right side of the frame are not just negative space—they are the secondary centers of interest.

This is the ideal method of compositional cropping; framing-up and cropping at the point of capture. The other method is cropping your existing image after capture—in post production. Yes, you can create many great compositions in “post” very easily, but there will be a price to pay in quality.

Here’s our next wagon wheel scene….

 f4.5 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400: Lens @ 80mm
This was one of dozens of great subjects on display at a local antique store—the first image in this blog was done there as well.  This image suffers from a cluttered background that is simplified by this first crop…

This crop is a real improvement over the original image. Now there’s only one spot of color (a floral box) in the background that, I think, helps the image.

Then I did a more serious crop….

With this tight crop, offsetting the hub to the left, we now have a dramatic composition highlighting the essence of the wagon wheel by showing its marvelous details.

But what is the digital price for these compositional improvements?

It’s all about file size:

The Original Image:  7.26MB
The 1st Crop:  6.03MB
The 2nd Crop: 1.62MB

That 2nd crop sure looks great, but what can I do with it? Basically make a wallet or just show it on the computer screen.

This is why I teach my students to not just do a “master shot” of a scene and move on! I tell them to carve-up their subjects—use that zoom lens—into many smaller bites—creating different compositions all at your camera’s maximum file size…and “Shoot” in RAW!

So, unless you have an 80 MP, DSLR, avoid the temptation of tight crops in post production!

Always available for questions…’Til next week…

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