Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Having done wedding for over 25 years, my wife and I have always stressed the importance of having a professional engagement session done way before the wedding to validate your choice in a photographer for such an important event.  We thought the engagement session was so important that we have always included it as our gift to the bride and groom for choosing us as their wedding photographers. 

The engagement session is how we get to know the couple in a low stress environment, have some fun, and learn how they relate to each other, to us, and what they will or will not be comfortable with when in front of a camera.

The couple in the following images came to us a month after their wedding for an “engagement session” because they were not happy with their photographer’s images taken on their wedding day—especially those of just the two of them.  We took them to one of our favorite parks in Boise, Idaho—The Kathryn Albertson Park—and did portraits in several locations just like we would if they were about to be wedding clients.  

Besides doing looking at the camera, we also do pictorials…
f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
Pictorials are portraits designed as more artistic images of the couple relating to the environment instead of the camera. Composing this type of portrait with more space around the couple makes it ideal for a large wall print or a canvas wrap.

f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
When we have a couple with a major height difference…

First we show them a standard wedding pose that we try to avoid for couples of very different heights. Then we show them a different pose…
f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Our goal is to get their heads together in most poses so they can relate to each other. This is just one simple way to do that outdoors. 

We always do individual portraits, as well….
 f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 165mm
For these we always have the other half of the couple standing right next to my camera to get the best expression from their loved-one. 

Then we reverse it….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 165mm
We always do a bunch of poses in different areas of a park. We do the usual mushy stuff; looking at each other, kissing, holding hands walking….etc.

This last image was something different….
f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
They both liked this one a lot because it had a rather introspective mood to it. This was actually one of my color test images I always do to maintain proper “color temperature’ as the sun sets.

We never know what our couples will end up liking when they see their slide show later on!  Again, that’s why you should have your wedding photographer do the engagement session way before your wedding.. If you really don’t like those engagement images it gives you time to find another photographer to do your wedding!

As always should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


We knew that photographing this young lady for her high school senior photos with her old horse was very important to her because her mother had told us in advance the horse was not doing well and that this was likely a farewell photo session.  So, my goal was to capture as much interaction between her and her horse as I could—but as most professional photographers working with animals know it’s  often difficult and rarely turns out as planned. I was resigned to probably just getting a basic posed portrait—the usual two-up head shot of them looking at the camera.  When she was bringing her horse out of the corral so we could do portraits in the barn I started the session with some candids and not 20 images in I was amazed to get the image that I desperately wanted showing that connection between human and animal that had always eluded me!

This is the original image right out of the camera….
f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 180mm
Not expecting this moment as she paused in our walk to the barn, I was too far away, so I zoomed fast and got off one image before the moment was gone.  There is way too much information in the original image, especially for a PPA competition style image. The background is very busy and marred by the corral.  In addition all the legs being shown take us away from what really matters here.

A major crop was the answer….
Cropped in
I cropped-in using a horizontal format and placed her head in a dramatic “crash point”. I really like her hair framing the right-hand side of the image. But, I did not like the extremely bright color contrast between her and her horse. Aaah ha…Black and White conversion might do the trick!

NIK, Silver Efex, Conversion
The color problem was not just her bright shirt. Her hair and skin color separated them as well. The black and white version made their hair similar and united the two of them in tonal harmony. And very important in a competition image, as it is in art, simplifying a composition will often make it more powerful. 

We went on to get a lot of nice images of this young lady with and without her horse and even a nice solo portrait of the horse.  Sadly, shortly after we created these portraits they had to put her horse down. Rest in peace sweet one….

As always questions are welcome…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Despite all the chatter on the web, great Bokeh is not about shooting at your lenses' widest aperture. Moreover, it’s definitely not necessary to buy those super—fast—and expensive—f1.2, f1.4 or f1.8 prime lenses everyone gushes about!  

As a professional photographer for over 35 years I’ve owned dozens of camera systems and hundreds of lenses and one of the lenses I most regret buying was the Canon, 85mm, f1.2, prime that everybody said I MUST own!  After less than a year I found it to be creatively limiting; 85mm was not enough telephoto for individual portraits and at the same time too much telephoto for anything else. In addition I rarely used it at f1.2 because it just had no useful depth-of-field there; I sold it.  All of my professional work in the last 20 years has been with a variety of zoom lenses with their widest apertures being f2.8, which I rarely use—because most lenses are not at their sharpest wide open.

Good Bokeh is more about focal length and distance….
8.0 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I discovered decades ago that the more telephoto I used when doing portraits the better I liked them—and the sales were better too!  That style carried over into my fine art photography as well. I learned that the bokeh was always better when I backed-up and used MORE telephoto at ANY aperture. This was great because I usually want lots of depth-of-field in my fine art.

In the above image, the aperture of f8.0 merely gave me just enough depth-of-field and really nice bokeh too.

TECH NOTE:  For the best bokeh your background must be as far from the subject as is possible. In addition for the bokeh to really pop, I want those specular highlights back there, too.  

My portraits are built on this premise as well…
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
For this portrait I placed her about 30 feet from this outdoor, sunset, background. Because she was closer than usual I put my 1.4X extender on my zoom lens—giving me 280mm—and opened up my aperture to f4.5 and this created a very dramatic background.

To give her parents a different look we moved her….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 250mm
To soften the bokeh in the background I moved her farther from the background; about 60 feet away in this image.

TECH NOTE:  The widest aperture I use for individual portraits is f4.0 even though my main portrait lens is a 70-200mm, f2.8 lens. I want the ability to place my subject in ANY POSE keeping Both Eyes SHARP.  The aperture of f4.0 will do that , while using f2.8 will make the subject’s far-eye soft in a two-thirds view of the face.

Back to some small aperture bokeh…
f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
Most photographers seem to think this is impossible: Really nice bokeh at f11.0 !  Again, it’s all about distance to the background. And in this image I’m only using a focal length of 105mm. What was very important to me for this image was getting the depth-of-field to make all those leaves really sharp. I wanted that beautiful back-lit detail clearly visible.

So, don’t waste you money on those super fast (f1.2, 1.4, 1.8 etc.) prime lenses!  You do’t need them; the path to creative and profitable photography is paved with modern zoom lenses at ANY aperture other than Wide Open.

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…”Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


We’ve been doing portraits, here at The Storytellers in Meridian, Idaho, of people with their pets for over 30 years. In this blog I’ll share the most important rules and tips for the best outcome in your photo session. Most of these rules and tips apply to general portraiture of people without their pets as well.

Rule #1 - Do whatever it takes to be at your subject’s level.
  • I want may camera at my subject's eye level. So, if a family is seated on the grass I’ll have my tripod set low so that I’m on my knees.
  • If I’m photographing someone mounted on their horse then I’m on a 6 foot ladder.
  • Always bring squeaker toys on sessions; these work for pets and people as well!
  • Have different types or sizes of speakers toys that make different sounds because the animal will tire of the same sound and not respond after its novelty wears off.
NOTE: On one session after 10 minutes of trying different squeakers with no response from their dog the owner finally informed us that their dog was deaf! There’s a lesson learned in the planning for a portrait session.

  • Have dog treats on hand to reward good behavior. I wish this concept would work with people, but they’re way too finicky!
The impact of being at eye level….
f5.6 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Here we have the girl on one of our posing rocks, so I’m on my knees. Their eyes are on the same plane so depth of field is fine @ f5.6.

This brings up Rule #2:
  • Never have your lens wide-open in portraits. Why? It’s simply not necessary.. As you can see in the above image even at f5.6 the background is nicely out of focus and the dog is sharp from his nose to his ears.
  • Besides, most lenses are not at their sharpest when wide open.
And Rule #3:
  • Always focus on the eyes.
Plus Rule #3A:
  • In group portraits always focus on the eyes of the person nearest to the camera.  
Here’s a typical seated family portrait with their dog…
 f6.3 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 125mm
I’ve placed them near the peak of a grassy hill and I backed down the hill until the parents’ heads were against that light spot in the background. This put me on my knees at about the dog’s eye level, which was fine for the group as a whole.

The walking portrait with their dogs….

f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Because this is a portrait of the owners walking their dogs I’m standing for this one with my camera at the eye level of the people.

Portraits of just the dogs on leash…
Before Retouching
Rule #4:
  • Have the owners hold the dog’s leads straight-up over their dog’s heads—not laying across the dog’s bodies when you are not able to remove the leads. This makes the art work easier when removing the leads in Photoshop.
After Artwork
Then there’s really getting low…

f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., Iso 800; Lens @ 200mm
For this point of view I had to be on my stomach. It always seems that wether I’m doing baby humans or puppies (this was our baby Gadget when she was 16 weeks old) I’m on the ground and on my stomach!
  • Rule #5:
  • I use the most telephoto I can within my environment. 
You’ll notice that all of these portraits were done with my zoom lens in some telephoto range; usually at 200mm. That’s because a telephoto’s compression distortion ALWAYS looks better on my subjects than the wide angle distortion (called extension distortion) caused by a short focal length lens. In addition I always get better Bokeh in my backgrounds, with longer focal lengths, even with small apertures.

As always, if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman