Tuesday, February 26, 2019


The outdoor car shows—especially the more casual community events—are my favorites for custom and classic cars. These shows allow me more freedom and better access without onerous security that you will find at the big indoor events where everything is roped off. In addition I really prefer natural light (with some direction) to the hard overhead floods that flatten out the light (like grocery store lighting!) at the huge indoor arenas.

That being said each type of show still shares similar problems. Those are the people constantly filtering around the cars and the spacing of the cars. Both of these problems severely limit whole car images of most cars on display. So, I tend to go in close and create images of the best features of each car. What I like about this type of photography is that I actually have better control in creating artistic compositions when working with the details of a subject…

f18.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 58mm

Many photographers don’t like it when the cars are opened-up for display, but use that to make interesting compositions and when opened-up those parts of the car can block out clutter (like people) in my background! For example in this image by moving in close on the open door I created wide angle distortion that created nice “leading lines” that guide the viewer’s eye into the image. In addition with the hood propped-up the steady stream of people on the other side of the car were eliminated.

Technical Note:  Going in close with any lens you will lose depth-of-field, so I really stopped-down here to f18.0 for good depth-of-field through out the image.

When I see a car I like I always circle around the whole car looking for details to compose….
f18.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 28mm
Dropping to my knees and moving in close with my lens at 28mm made that grill even more impressive in this image of the same car. And, I still like the opened-up appendages of the car creating this wacky composition! 

This next car’s stunning paint attracted me….
f5.6 @ 1/1600 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 105mm
With a lot of photographers hovering around this car I zoomed in more for tight in-camera crops of its details.

Technical Note:  With that red car so close in the background I opened up my aperture to f5.6 to soften the red car’s details. I really wanted to isolate the purple car’s grill and hood ornament.

Next I backed up and focused down the length of the car…
f8.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm
I Wanted to highlight this car’s sensuous curves for this image so I cropped in tight and added a little more telephoto for some lens compression. I really like compression distortion used this way!

When I really want subject isolation….
f11.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Amidst all these pristine cars with perfect colorful paint this unrestored Dodge stood out! I really like the Dodge Brothers badge on its rusted radiator. So, zooming into 200mm is my go-to focal length when I want to isolate a subject. The only problem using 200mm at a car show is that because, at that focal length, you must back-up for it to focus, then you get lots of people walking in front of you—some will even stop to take their own photos directly in front of you! You just have to be patient and wait for your moment.

That’s it for this week…I’m available for questions…just ask…

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Family portraits are the biggest and most important part of our business at The Storytellers, and here in Meridian, Idaho we have some of the best fall colors in the North West. So, naturally our busy season explodes with those fall colors from September through November.

As Wall Portrait Specialists, it’s our goal to create images that include the natural beauty of Idaho’s fall colors and at the same time make our clients look good while obviously enjoying themselves. We must make their portrait session Memorable and Fun!

It all begins with planning based on experience and expertise in Natural Light, Environmental, Portraiture—also our speciality. In our 30+ years doing environmental portraits I’ve learned that how to pick the environment (the background) and where to place my subjects within that environment are the two most important factors that sell wall portraits. Most of the technical things that we as photographers think about and obsess over are unimportant to our clients. If we can make Them Look Good in a pretty setting they’re happy!

We use half-a-dozen public locations in City or State parks and common areas in housing developments. We will also use our client’s homes if their property has nice trees, lawn, or other features that would make a nice background.

In order to qualify for use I must first do a location check of their home at the optimum time of day appropriate for the time of year. Generally we do outdoor portraits about 2 hours before sunset most of the year. In addition I’m looking for the sun to be setting behind a background of trees or bushes that will add color and light behind my subjects.

However, most of our clients homes can’t compete, especially in the fall, with our major parks….
f7.1 @ 1/100 sec., ISO @1250 Lens @ 95mm
We did this family's session at Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho last October.  We started their session by doing a traditional posed grouping on that big log on the ground, but when the kids started climbing into the tree we moved mom and dad in front and did a quick fun grouping before we moved on to the next location. It turned out that this became one of their favorites and they ordered this as a large canvas wrap; just ONE of their Wall Portraits!

TECHNICAL NOTES: Using our new Canon 6D Mk II:

Note the ISO of 1250 I used on this image. This is the highest ISO I have, to date, used and produced a beautiful Large Wall Print (24x36”); I could have easily gone to 30x40”! I had to go to ISO 1250 because I wanted an f-stop of f7.1 for the depth-of-field to cover this rather deep grouping. Still that ISO only got me a shutter speed of 1/100 sec. So it was good I used a tripod. I always use a tripod on group portraits anyway because I want no changes in framing, perspective, or focal length as I click off ten or so images of each set-up. That gives Kathi a series of like images that are easier to edit in Photoshop for common jobs like head swaps.

Moving to our next location….

 f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 123mm
It’s about an hour before sunset at this point, but we had more light in this spot so I was able to bring my ISO down to 800. Here, using one of our posing rocks, Kathi created a nice diagonal in this grouping. We always like to vary people’s head heights for a more pleasing composition in portraits. This image was also selected by these clients as another large Wall Portrait.

Next we did what we call “the breakdowns”….

f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
“The Breakdowns” are the sub-group combinations; in this the three kids followed by mom and dad together and then each of the kids as individuals. We do ANY combinations our clients request; we don’t mind giving them lots of choices. This is why we don’t have a time limit (or hourly fee) on our sessions.

We had a great time with this family and it’s obvious they had fun on their portrait session. In fact all of our fall sessions last year were gorgeous and fun for all!

Have a question 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, February 12, 2019


Having been doing fine art photography for over 40-years I’ve come to realize that often TWO camera settings Dominate Creatively in my art images. I provided some examples of this in Part-2 of this series.  However, I went beyond the usual “settings” as is known as the Exposure Triangle to include one of our most powerful creative settings—Focal Length—and expanded these settings to become the Creative Quadrangle. 

Those creatively dominate pairs of settings are:
Aperture / Focal Length or Shutter Speed / Focal Length

I’m sure many photographers will take issue with that statement so, I will continue with more complex and challenging subjects that test the capabilities of all the settings at our disposal.


f22.0 @ 4.0 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 20mm
The Roman Colosseum is a very challenging subject even in daylight. And, it’s big, but worse, it’s much wider than it is tall, which makes it squat and very static compositionally. I figured it was going to be a night shot to avoid the tourists (I had NO idea!). So, I had purchased two items just for this subject; a compact tripod and a new lens; the Nikkor, f2.8, 20mm prime, which was rated very highly for its sharpness. When we walked to the Colosseum on our first day trip we were shocked by the throngs of tourists already there and bus loads more arriving constantly! I was there to check out my angles on the structure and was struck by how gray and ugly it was in the daylight; and yet how beautiful it was at night when they turned on its lights.  We returned close to midnight to a Colosseum aglow, but I did not know how long I would have those lights. A light rain had started, but I was prepared with an umbrella.

The most important setting in this image?  FOCAL LENGTH
The Focal Length defined the Composition. In many of my blogs on fine art photography I’ve mentioned my philosophy that “You can often reveal more about a subject by showing less of it.” I do this by using a longer Focal Length and slicing-up my subjects and/or cropping in post; the former is preferable.

Most photographers would use the 20mm lens I bought for this subject, to take pictures of the entire Colosseum, but everybody does that; there are Thousands of images of the entire Colosseum, in landscape mode, on the internet!

With large horizontal subjects I like to take Vertical Slices to create unusual compositions. In close my 20mm lens was ideal for these verticals because I could use the Distortion (extension distortion) it created at the edge of the frame of the bulk of the Colosseum (the part that was closer to me) to create those wide to narrowing openings of each story of the Colosseum.

The Set-Up
  • To enhance this effect I set-up my tripod close to the building and tilted-up while Kathi held the umbrella over the camera to shield the lens from the rain.
  • Next, I did a “Dutch-Tilt” to break-up the static nature of a multi-storied building—creating Diagonals of those lines.
  • This also enabled me to include more of that nice wet roadway and the street lights.
  • I wanted a Long Shutter Speed to blur the cars and streak their lights
  • And I wanted Maximum Depth-of-Field. So, starting at ISO 800 (to avoid as much noise as possible) I settled on 4-seconds at f22.0.
With the planning, preparation, and the pre-visualization this image turned-out just as I imagined it!

By far even more challenging than any static subject is capturing extreme action creatively. Having done most types of action, the most difficult is chaotic action like rodeo; because with animals involved it’s always unpredictable action. It can also be as dangerous to the photographer as it is to the participants.

Case in point….

 f5.0 @ 1/2500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
I’ve learned that vantage point is important in rodeo photography for a clean background—that is eliminating the arena fence and crowd. So, I usually find a high angle to be able to “shoot” down on my subjects, which creates a clean background—the dirt of the arena itself. This also takes me OUT of the arena. I learned this lesson, the previous day, when another photographer standing near me in the arena was slammed into the steel arena fence by a spinning bull that had just thrown-off its rider! So, after that near miss, I found a nice perch up on the announcer’s platform on the side of the arena where the release gates were positioned. With that bit of important wisdom said…


Focal Length:
Very seldom do I go below 200mm with rodeo work. It’s a big arena and I want to isolate my subjects. In fact I would love to have a zoom lens giving me 200-500mm. In this image they were close to me because this bronc took out its rider just out of the gate! The compression effect of my lens at 200mm did a nice job of bringing the horse and that fleeing gal close together enhancing her peril!

Shutter Speed:
I use 1/2000 to 1/2500 seconds because it works with rodeo action; 1/1000 is not fast enough.

Here I used a fairly wide aperture, 5.0, because I want to isolate my subjects and I’ve found that with a distant subject (eg. 50 yards away) at 200mm I get plenty of Depth-of-Field.

Like I said before I use the ISO I need to use to get me to the f-stop/shutter speed I want. Using my Canon 5D MKII at 800 ISO can produce a file that responds well to noise reduction.

Auto Focus:
I use my Canon in AI-Servo; it works great. I wish I had this capability back in 1970!

When it comes down to artistic creativity All Settings Matter; that’s why I’m always in Manual Mode and create my images in RAW.

The point of this blog series is that the random use of camera settings, as when you use the Auto or P-Modes you give up creative control of your images. And, using settings given by other photographers for their images will not teach you how to creatively use Apertures, Shutter Speeds, or Focal Lengths that are the best for YOUR subjects. To be an artist you must be the author of your images. This means you must study your subjects and decide what is most important about the subject that you want to highlight visually.

Any 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, February 5, 2019


At the end of Part 1 on this topic I veered into how I used a telephoto focal length to creatively interact with my Aperture to change the basic look of my image. In addition I used the telephoto effect of compression distortion to enhance the impact of the composition. I’ve found in my 40+ years of fine-art photography that the settings for exposure, in the creative process, cannot really be considered in isolation because one of the most important settings we use as a creative tool is Focal Length.

So I propose the Creative Quadrangle!


A Note about ISO Today

You’ll notice I put ISO last. That’s because it’s no longer the creative setting it once was in the film era. With film it was a choice we made right up front before we did any photography. The film we chose decided our Color Palette and the amount of grain we wanted (grain was a beautiful artistic effect). The whole look of an image was decided by the film type; Kodachrome, Ektachrome, color negative, Tri-X, Pan-X, etc., all had unique characteristics. No longer; ISO today is just a number. It no longer represents an artistic look. And, the ISO numbers today don’t even reflect an adjustability of the sensitivity of our DSLR’s sensor. That’s because we actually have no control over its sensitivity as every digital camera’s sensor has a Fixed Sensitivity.  All our DSLR’s do now when we roll-up to a high ISO is do a bright-up (increase gain) in response to an under exposure condition we created. The unfortunate result is increased noise—and noise is not pretty.

So, these days the only function ISO has is to get me to the Aperture/Shutter Speed combination I require to create the image.

So, back to my Creative Quadrangle…

In most of my fine-art images TWO Settings usually Dominate creatively:
  • Aperture/Focal Length or
  • Shutter Speed/Focal Length
  • Sometimes ALL of them are critical for certain images
I will illustrate with some examples…


 f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Walking through our common area just before sunset I was looking for some icicles to align with backlight when I found this great threesome.

Shutter Speed:
For this image I wanted good Depth-of-Field and nice Bokeh in the background. Because the background is so distant I knew I could stop-down quite a bit and still knock that background way out-of-focus so I chose f7.1 to keep all the icicles and that clump of snow covered pine needles sharp.

Focal Length:
In addition I chose a Focal Length of 200mm to further soften the background and create Larger Bokeh. This illustrates nicely that you DON'T need Large Apertures for Good Bokeh—good Bokeh is more a matter of Long Focal Length than anything else.


f25.0 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 20mm
Working the Western Idaho State Fair is always challenging—especially the midway area.All the rides and attractions are placed close together and the place is chock-full of people every night of the fair. I brought my tripod since I knew I would be doing time exposures of the rides.

Shutter Speed:
I wanted my Shutter Speed to be at least 1-second to really make that Ferris wheel blur with color. In addition, I wanted all the people to disappear as much as possible. That structure in the foreground is a fun house maze and it was full of people running through those three levels of balconies. Doing some test shots I settled on 1.6 seconds by using my smallest aperture at a medium ISO to try to avoid too much NOISE.

Focal Length:
The Shutter Speed created the pizzaz here but the Composition was created by Focal Length. I didn’t want just an image of a solitary Ferris wheel—I wanted something in the foreground; I wanted leading lines. So, I backed-up directly in front of the fun house maze and used my lens at 20mm to distort that fun house (wide angle extension distortion), which turned it into an “arrow” pointing to the Ferris wheel—my leading lines!

Sometimes every setting is critical…that is what I will be covering in the final Part 3…’Til next week…now go out and practice!

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