Tuesday, November 27, 2018


It was 1978 that I decided to do a weekend photo-excursion to the ghost town of Bodie. Mind you this was pre-internet, pre-cell phones and with only a general idea of weather conditions—and no idea of the specific weather there in Bodie—I took off in early December in my ’73 AMC Hornet hatchback for a photo-adventure! I was a brash 28 year old that always took my solo vacations in November or December to avoid pesky tourists getting in my way. 

I got a late start and did not expect my car to be affected by the altitude (8400 feet), so I did not get to the entrance road to Bodie until dark. Not to be deterred I forged ahead on the unimproved dirt road, but not without incident. I mean that road was bad… It was not the usual dirt road—you know graded and such! Nope, it was very rutted and rocky and my AMC Hornet was a low slung sedan—not exactly an off-road vehicle.Slowing to a crawl did not save me when one front wheel dropped into a rut and the front end slammed down causing the engine to impact a big rock. The racket my engine made after that sounded like a giant chain saw was attacking my car! I kept going; nothing was going to stop me. I finally reached a parking lot, of sorts, eager to stop the horrendous racket my car was making, I stopped for the night. It was so dark I couldn’t tell if I had actually reached Bodie. So, I unrolled my sleeping bag in the back of my hatchback and camped-out. You should also know that I am 6’2” and yes, Now I know that camping is not allowed in Bodie, but back then—who knew?

I woke up to bitter cold—there was ice on the inside of my windows and the glass hatch back. Hey, it’s 8400 feet in December—I was lucky I wasn’t snowed-in! 

So, on to my photographic goals here. I did not want to do the usual Black & White thing so many fine-art photographers do. I planned on only using Kodachrome 64 slide film and to experiment with my new Spiratone, Colorflow, filter.

And this was my primary subject…
The Outhouse
I had seen another photographer’s work at this area of Bodie and I wanted to photograph these building before they fell down. Note:  Since then the park service propped these structures with timbers trying to maintain them in what they call a “state of arrested decay”!

My style back then was: If I’m going to use color go all-in (Kodachrome or Ektachrome Infared) and produce something different even if it goes surreal. I guess I was ahead of my time; that’s why I like digital, Photoshop ACR, and NIK so much—there are no longer any limits!

The Evolution of this image:
  • Exposed on Kodachrome 64 with the Spratone, Colorflow, filter. That filter was a red/blue gel coupled to a rotating Polarizer. As you rotated the polarizer it would vary the intensity of the colors.
  • Cropped the image to a tight vertical. The original was a horizontal showing a line of buildings.
  • Now, forty years later, I decided to tone down the effect by putting the original image into NIK’s Color Efex Pro 4 to alter my colors making the buildings a little more realistic, but with a really surreal sky!

Here’s the original image…
The Outhouse Original
The original here was a winner in the PPC (Professional Photographers of California) State Competition. I titled it: California Fixer-Upper. It went on to the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) International Competition winning a merit in the General Collection in 1999. It was one of the final merits I needed to earn my PPA Masters Degree.

In Part 2 I’ll show and talk about the digital edits I’ve made on other old film images from Bodie and about what happed to my car….’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 20, 2018


In Part #1 I listed some of the reasons we prefer NOT to do family portraits at our client’s homes. However, when we have a client that insists their home is what they want for their portrait’s location we say sure but, of course, we charge more for that. Why? Well because their location is unknown to me I must schedule a location scout to see what I’m getting into!

The first thing we must do is set a date for their portrait session then we can set a time. Consulting our calendar—which has all the sunset times for the year—I make their tentative time two-hours before sunset for their date.

Next we set a date—usually about a week before the session date—for the location scout. The time for the location scout is also about two hours before sunset, most of the time.

What I’m Looking for on a location scout:
  1. Where is the sun setting relative to their front and back yards?  Because I want the sun setting behind our subjects and the backyard is usually the best and most spacious yard, I want the backyard facing West; I don’t want their house to be the background.  Note: If they request it we will do one portrait set-up with their house as a background because we never know what image they may chose for their wall portrait. We’re not about to leave money on the table!
  2. I’m also looking for trees (especially for fall colors sessions) and a nice lawn for my base.
  3. What I will request be moved to clean-up the location. (e.g. barbecue; garden hoses, children’s play structures, motorhomes, R.V., boat, etc.) .
  4. What out door furniture we may want to use for their session. This can be very useful when we are doing large groups.
When it all comes together it can look like this…
f6.3 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 90mm
We had scheduled this family for one of our favorite local parks, but by the time their date arrived the park had already lost most of its fall leaves and it was only early October!  So, on to plan “B”, their home.

They have a very small but beautiful back yard and its facing West!

The Set-Up:
  1. Using our posing rock—mom and dad seated—to vary head heights (creating a nice diagonal pose). Our rock also has a small footprint to minimize its presence.
  2. Placing them between those great Birch trees; I don’t want trees or big tree limbs coming out of anybody’s heads.
  3. Using the most telephoto focal length I can within the location I was forced to go to only 90mm. The yard from this angle was not very deep and I’m backed-up against their back sliding door on their patio!
So, changing my angle…

f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 125mm
Now, I’ve got a little more compression going on because I was able to back-up and use a 125mm focal length.

In addition I rotated to a nice vertical composition to really show those fall colors surrounding them.

Then using even more telephoto on Mom and Dad….

f5.6 @ 1/160 sec. ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Having mom and dad look at each other during the posed set-up always works! Going to 200mm and opening up my aperture to f5.6 blurred the background nicely. Then among other poses we did a variety of their daughter with and without the dog…

 f5.6 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
We always do as many combinations as the clients want; e.g. Mom with child, dad with child, child with and without dog, Individuals of mom and dad (for business portraits) and at least two or three different poses of the family group.

While we’re there we also check out their walls for previous family portraits and their available wall space. Then we can suggest wall portrait sizes and orientations at their sales presentation.

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, November 13, 2018


Fall progressed early and quickly here in the Treasure Valley (Idaho) this year. So, the race was on to get as many family portrait sessions done as was possible before we lost the fall colored leaves in our public parks.

I usually prefer to use my customary public park locations because I know where to go—and very importantly when to go—for the best lighting and backgrounds for very consistent results. However, this year we lost the fall colors in many of my favorite locations at the beginning of October. So, I was forced to go to the backup plan of using our client’s homes as locations when and if they told me they still had good fall colors near them.  History has taught me to never believe a client’s claim to have a “great backyard for pictures”! They just don’t have a clue as to what a professional portrait artist is looking for when it comes to the background and lighting.

Just a few of the things that I have encountered that will sabotage a backyard as a portrait location have been:
  • A great big swimming pool; usually with a fence around it. Not to mention the pool shed or a cabana.
  • Modern backyard fences; especially those ugly plastic things.
  • Telephone or power poles; and the power lines traversing their backyard’s sky.
  • The house itself; rarely do I want to use their home as a background.
  • Their barbecue equipment and their stored RV or boat and trailer.
These are just a few of the many reasons why using a client’s home for portraits is so difficult. None of the horrid things I’ve listed are in my locations at our great public parks here in the Treasure Valley.
 So, I was pleasantly surprised this year by several of our client’s backyards…

 f7.1 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142 mm
This great family came back to us—we had done their portraits 3 years ago—after moving twice looking for a nice valley view, they found this home on the hill overlooking the golf course in Eagle, Idaho. I really liked their choice almost as much as they did! We didn’t even have to use our posing rocks as they had recently taken delivery of the rocks you see them on. They had just plopped the rocks there while their new fire pit was being constructed. They moved the rocks the week after we finished this session…

The only technical issue we had on this particular pose was the lighting intensity difference between our family in the shade and the entire background in direct sunlight. So, I did a separate exposure—locked down on my tripod—stopping down two and three stops get a nice background exposure we could blend with their family portrait in Photoshop later.

Here’s another pose we did on their property…

f6.3 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 168mm
We always do at least two or three different poses when doing the family group portrait. In addition I like to do both horizontal and vertical compositions so they have a choice when considering a wall portrait.

Then we do the “breakdowns”….

f5.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 130mm
We like to do individuals of each child and the kids together as well. Mom and Dad get their time too…

f6.3 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
You can tell we all had a great time doing this portrait session. The weather cooperated and we had terrific fall colors in Eagle, Idaho, this year.

In Part #2,  I will showcase another family portrait session, also in Eagle, Idaho; this time working in a small backyard.

’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 6, 2018


Our fall colors, here in Ada County, Idaho, came quickly this year. The yellows—like our river Birch—went yellow and dropped while the trees that go to reds were still green. We had a great assortment of fall colors this year to photograph and I’ve gone out several times to all my favorite locations and discovered some new spots as well!

As I’ve said in previous blogs I prefer to photograph details—I rarely photograph a whole tree much less a forrest—since I can reveal the most about a natural object by zooming-in on its details. Instead of backing off to photograph a whole tree (a very static image) I like to walk in under its canopy and look up or out with the sun backlighting the leaves. 

So, once the trees have dropped their leaves and they still have their colors I go to compositions on the ground. It’s a great exercise in “seeing”, as you look through the viewfinder, creating artistic compositions….

f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 48mm
We don’t have to go far to find great fall colors here—I got this composition right outside my studio (Eagle, Idaho). It’s a natural fall of leaves on a French drain made of river rocks. The hard part was limiting myself as there were so many possible compositions!  Ok, I take that back, maybe the hardest parts were not stepping-on some great leaves, finding stable rocks to stand on, and not getting my big feet in the shot!

At another great spot where the Boise river flows through Eagle, Idaho, with lots of trees…

f13.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
I really like using fallen trees as a base for my leaves on the ground images. I like the contrast in textures and color between the decaying tree bark and all the fall colors. You may notice in my image data that I use a small aperture (e.g. f13.0, f14.0) to get lots of depth-of-field. I want my leaves to have detail—you can’t show detail with out-of-focus leaves! So, I will use whatever ISO I need to get me to a small aperture and a hand holdable shutter speed.

How about this for a study in textures…

f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
This is my symbolic ”Last Leaf of Fall”, taken at sunset, on some nice tree roots. Yes, on this image I placed that leaf there so it would pick-up the backlight from the setting sun.

What can I say; I’m not a purist nature photographer I want Great Lighting, and Composition at the same time! How about you?

’Til next week…

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