Tuesday, August 14, 2018


In Part 1 I stressed that I preferred to use natural light or the artificial ambient light on my wedding locations while denigrating photographers who used flash too much. That’s not to say that I do’t use flash at weddings; on the contrary I’ve always had a flash mounted on Both of the cameras around my neck when on the job. Even back in our medium format film days I had a sizable investment in flash rotating brackets and Metz 45 CL4’s on each camera. But if I had some nice directional natural light (say at a window) or a combination of natural and some artificial light, giving me contrasting color temperatures I jumped at it!

The area where we’re most often using flash is at the wedding reception—especially when the reception is at an indoor venue or a nighttime event outside. Under these conditions flash is vital when doing the various action events at the reception…
f2.8 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 50mm
In this image of our bride and groom rocking-out at their outdoor reception the lighting was typically worse than at an indoor venue. In this situation I would use my on camera flash equipped with a Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser as my key and have a radio-controlled flash putting some light in the background. We used this same technique when doing the action images of the garter and bouquet toss. 

Our cake portraits were done very differently….

f5.6 @ 1/15 sec., SIO 800
Because our subject is static we can now be locked-down on a tripod. That means we can use whatever shutter speed and ISO combination to create dramatic lighting using the artificial reception lights or in this case that great window lighting from camera right. We waited until the sun had set giving us a nice exposure for the outdoor background while  the 800 ISO and 1/15 second shutter speed got me what I needed to record those candles.

Using a similar technique on a large interior…

f4.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 20mm
We always liked to get nice images of the decorated reception site before it was filled with people. Again, I used my ISO to get me to an exposure to balance the interior with the scene out those windows. When you’ve got a scene like that out those huge windows you must avoid blowing out (clipping) the outside part of the image!

Again, like the previous image timing is important in this type of image. Even though this was taken in the early evening because this wedding site (Nestledown, Los Gatos, California) is in the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by redwoods, the light fades quickly because it’s so sheltered.

Again, using my ISO to get the image….

f2.8 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 3200; Lens @ 22mm
The table decorations were always a priority at the reception as well. This was also an outdoor reception and I’ve always been a sucker for those little white lights placed in trees or gazebos, so I picked a table where I had those lights in the background. Because the only lights in this scene were those three votive candles and the lights in the background I had to go to ISO 3200 @ f2.8 to do this hand held.

Our bride and groom’s final image of the evening….

 f2.8 @ 1/15 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 42mm
This couple’s reception was in a huge god-awful tent, so for their final portrait I took them outside dragging them over to these nice trees decorated with my favorite lights! However, these lights were not adequate to illuminate my couple (most of the lights are behind them) so I turned to my on-camera flash and equipped with my handy-dandy Gary Fong, Lightsphere, diffuser I got the soft, subtle, light I wanted to make this look like the only lights in the scene were those tree lights!

Oh, and by the way, I have Not been paid to endorse the Fong Lightsphere or any other equipment I’ve talked about in my blogs.  It’s just stuff I have found that works and I use.

As usual, don’t hesitate to ask questions or make comments related to this blog. ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


Low or poor light is just part and parcel of wedding photography. As a professional it’s our job to find good light or provide it—and if we can’t solve any lighting problem in 2 to 5 minutes (We rarely got that 5 minutes!) then that’s just our BAD!

My artistic philosophy has always been, by default, to use the natural or artificial ambient light in most wedding scenes as my base and ONLY add light when absolutely necessary. Too many wedding photographers add flash all the time giving the wedding a sameness of look and an unnatural quality that robs the wedding locations of their inherent character.

Now wether this is because these wedding “flashers” are uneducated in the art of lighting or just plain lazy I can’t say, but for those of you who want to create more than just flashed record-shots of your bride and groom’s special day I offer, as a Professional Wedding Photographer for over 30 years, these insights….

f5.6 @ 0.3 sec., ISO 800; Lens: 8mm Fisheye

This 180°, vertical, fisheye image shows the skylight, my main overhead key light. In addition there are incandescent lights in the ceiling. However, because those lights are behind the bride and groom they were under exposed until I added a pop of flash from my on camera flash equipped with a Gary Fong Lightsphere to soften its light. This technique called “dragging the shutter”, where a long shutter speed (0.3 sec.) provides most of the light in the image while the short burst of flash adds just enough fill to give the couple nice skin tones and make the scene look natural. 

Next some low-light ceremony images….

f2.8 @ 1/90 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 145mm
This ring ceremony was done in a restaurant under a skylight giving me only top light. I was too far away for flash (I don’t use flash in wedding ceremonies generally) so I bumped my ISO up to 1600, opened up the lens to f2.8 and that gave me enough shutter speed (1/90 sec.) to stop the action.

f4.8 @ 1/125 Sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 29mm
Again, no flash during the ceremony—that would have ruined the look of such a traditional ethnic ceremony. My goal here was to highlight the spiritual symbolism of the ceremonial fire as the bride and groom poured the rice into the fire. Using only the low ambient light, without fill flash, kept the background (the bride’s dress) a nice dark red that contrasted nicely behind the flames.

f5.6 @ 1/4 sec.,ISO 400; Lens @ 133mm
This is basic available light ceremony photography. I’m locked down on a tripod at the back of the church popping a cross-star filter in and out, getting a variety of looks, using a filter box mounted on my 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens.

I always liked this church, especially when it’s a candle ceremony, because of the mixed color temperatures of the lighting. It gave me a nice contrast with the cool color on the back wall, caused by, of all things, florescent tubes, against the nice warm light of the candles.

In Part 2 of Low Light Wedding Photography we’ll move on to reception coverage where there’s often the most challenging low light (to NO light at times!) situations of the wedding.

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, July 31, 2018


Ever since we arrived here in Idaho—some nine years ago—I’ve been photographing all aspects of the old farmsteads that are quickly vanishing in the cities (Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Eagle, etc.) around us with an emphasis on old farm machinery, like tractors and harvesting equipment, barns and out buildings. We have some tractor salvage yards where the concentration of old farm machinery to photograph was excellent as well.  But, my favorite setting is to photograph these subjects actually at the old farms. I prefer to have them in their natural environment to give them context. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find some farm equipment in the last stages of decay so symbolic of the vanishing family farm…
f8.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 70mm
I love the rusty wheel, but the lichen on those wooden rollers was marvelous. Those wood components are actually disintegrating into the soil. What’s great about Idaho is that even though these farms are disappearing in the cities you only have to drive 15 or 20 minutes from any of the cities in Ada County to find lots of farm land with great subjects like this…

f13.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 32mm
Typically I go out about an hour and a half before sunset and then stay on site until the sun actually sets.  (The “Magic Hour”!) The setting sun is truly magic when it plays across rusting metal.

As a special reminder to my fellow outdoor photogs doing this kind of photography—always watch your back when on location towards sunset!  I was so engrossed with these great pieces of farm machinery that I almost missed this scene behind me!

f20.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 90mm
Classic Idaho farm country, a terrific cloudscape, and rain as well!  This spot is only 15 minutes from my home in the suburbs of Meridian.

Anyway, back to the farm equipment basking in that setting sun….

 f13.0 @ 1/50, ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
An old John Deere, off its wheels, rusting into the ground. Love that peeling paint! I really love going in close to show the details…

 f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800: Lens @ 120mm
These were the controls on some kind of harvesting equipment. Again, lots of rust and that colorful lichen; didn’t know lichen could live on metal or rust?  Anyway, still having fun in Idaho…can’t wait until fall and then Winter!

Let me know if you have any comments or 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, July 24, 2018


In last week’s blog I talked about the why, when and how of converting color images to B&W. In previous blogs on this topic I suggested that today’s digital photographers should always capture their images in color (RAW) and then decide after wether to proceed to B&W conversion. That way you have the most choices and the most to work with in your file size.

However, back in 2001 our choices were not so flexible or simple. At that time we were just starting to transition to digital so I was still using my medium format film cameras for most of my work. Back then when it came to fine art photography I would not decide on what film to load until I was in front of my subject. Usually the decision was clear cut wether to load color or B&W film. Sometimes I would load and shoot both, but the subject had to be something special to merit the extra expense. 

The image in question was taken at the Monterey Yacht Harbor on an overcast morning. As I walked up to where the boats were moored looking down into the water were these marvelous wiggly reflections of the sail boats. Seeing there was NO Color in the scene (the overcast made the sky grey) and knowing that a proper exposure for the sky would turn the boats and their rigging black I loaded B&W film into the camera back and had some fun with composition.

So, here’s the B&W image from that morning…

It’s not bad, but it didn’t have the kind of impact I was looking for. You see at that time in 2001 I was heavily involved in annual PPA (Professional Photographers of America) international print competitions and only needed a couple more Merits to earn my Masters Degree.  And, at the top of the list in PPA’s “12-elements for a merit print” is IMPACT. That’s when the idea came to me to digitally convert this into a realistic impactful rendition of…”Red Sky at Morning…Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night…Sailor’s Delight”.  That’s important because a good Title on a PPA competition print can help it’s score.

Here’s the final competition image…
Red Sky at Night
It was a pretty easy job for my lab (Bay Photo Lab) to just layer a sunset gradient OVER my original image, after they had scanned the B&W negative, in Photoshop.

After we got the finished 16x20" competition print back from the lab, I knew I had a winner! I named it “Red Sky at Night…” The last thing I did to make the image “read” better was to invert the image opposite from reality. That was the easiest part—with a physical print, you just turned the print upside-down and draw the “this side up” arrow on the back!

Yes, it all came together and I got the merit I needed at the PPA Western States Convention. In July of 2002 I was awarded my PPA Masters Degree.

Well that’s all for now, should you 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, July 17, 2018


Black & White has been my second favorite photographic medium since I started printing in the early 1970’s. My first favorites were Kodachrome and Ektachrome (Info-Red) films. I either wanted NO-Color or really Radical Color! Anything in between was just too boring for me—and still is.

I’ve lost all my favorite films, but with the many, many, flavors of software and Photoshop Plug-ins we can alter our digital RAW (Color) files to become ANYTHING we want.

My criteria for converting digital color files to B&W are exactly the same when I used film.

The Best B&W Images Must Have:
  1. Directional Light (that means shadows).
  2. Good Blacks and Whites.
  3. Texture and/or Detail.
  4. A strong center of interest.
Here’s one of my images that Had to be in Black & White….
f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens 15mm
I created this image at the old Idaho State Penitentiary (est. 1870) in the prison laundry. These old, super large capacity, belt driven, washing machines were ideal for B&W conversion.

The scene met all four of my criteria:
  • the top and back light created direction and shadows.
  • which I knew would give me good blacks and whites.
  • old machinery usually has great texture and detail.
  • I made this machine a strong center of interest by moving in close with my 15mm fisheye lens.
How I converted my color file to Black & White.

For this image I used NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 software. I like NIK’s Silver Efex because it has many choices in looks and styles to offer:
  • It has 38 preset conversions that can be adjusted.
  • It has 18 film emulation modes that you can apply to any of the presents.
  • Plus adjustments for grain, toning, vignettes, and finishing effects that burn edges and create borders.
For this image I used the Wetrocks Preset and modified it for deeper blacks and more contrast.

Here’s the original color file….
Original Image
As you can see the color file is really weak on color mostly due to these grey/blue institutional colors found everywhere in the prison! In addition that red door in the background is an unwanted distraction.

I think this conversion illustrates how well B&W can create drama and interest in otherwise hum-drum subjects like a washing machine.

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, July 10, 2018


One of my mottos has always been, “showing less can reveal more”. That’s why I prefer to use a telephoto zoom lens (instead of the wimpy 50mm prime, so many amateurs adore) when doing nature photography.  I love to slice-up my subjects into tantalizing bite size pieces of yummy detail. Because it’s in the details that we can really learn the true nature of things. It’s in the details that we can witness the results of evolution or the hand of God—either way it’s awe inspiring to see it when I stumble across something as simple (?) as this dead leaf….

f9.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens: 100mm

I found this decaying leaf in my front yard at the end of February. Somehow I missed it when I raked up the fall leaves and it remained intact, through our Idaho winter snows, frozen to the dormant grass. So, I let it dry out and photographed it in the cross light of the setting sun to clearly show its marvelous detail and texture.

It was so fragile after it dried that I could barely touch it without its disintegration leaving me nothing to photograph. So, I decided to go in close and use my Canon EF 100mm, f2.8, Macro, USM, Lens to photograph the tallest part of the leaf where the light picked up the most detail; the part that had the least destruction from my handling! Macro photography is the ultimate expression of my “showing less can reveal more” motto; unless you start using a microscope—but that severely limits your subject choices!

Technical Notes on Macro Photography
  • I prefer to use a true dedicated Macro Lens instead of extension tube(s) on a non-macro lens for this kind of photography.  Why?
  • I want to be at 1:1 with no loss of light—easy for a macro lens. With extension tubes I may have to stack 2 or 3 tubes to get to 1:1 and with every tube less light reaches my sensor. (You can lose 2 or 3 stops because of this.)
  • When at 1:1 I don’t want to be too close to my subject. With the Canon 100mm Macro I’m no closer than 1 foot at 1:1. With extension tubes you can end up only inches from your subject, which can be detrimental to your direction of light.
  • I want the highest optical quality and sharpness. The Canon Macro is extremely sharp Wide Open (@ f2.8) unlike most lenses and it’s designed to be sharp edge to edge as well.
  • In addition the Canon 100mm Macro has an internal rear focusing element that eliminates any movement of the front element of the lens that is common with many lenses.
That’s it for this week.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


Even after 50 years doing fine art photography I still remind myself, when I’m outside on a session, of that simple old adage some photographer said, “Look Behind YOU, when you’re walking, it may be the best angle!” And it’s so true—I can’t tell you how any times I’ve walked down a trail at a national or state park not being jazzed about what was in front of me and then I turned around to see a stunning scene. It’s the same basic subject—I just walked by it! But, from the reverse angle now the Lighting is Magical!

There are those photographers that look but don’t see the best view or angle of a subject. Many times they just use the “scenic turnout” and Lemming-like they copy the view that thousands of tourists have photographed before. 

Then there are those (way too many I might add!) photographers that just don’t see the light, and by that I mean the Good Light—Directional Light. All light isn’t equal in fine art photography (or any art). We as photographic artists must know not only from where, but when to capture the image.

Here’s an image of mine that illustrates ALL these points….
f11.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 75mm
One of my passions, here in Idaho, is the photography of old, derelict, tractors. So, when I came upon this old tractor, on the side of the road, one morning, I pulled over and got to work.  Walking up to the tractor (the view you see here) I looked behind me to find a spectacular sky and clouds that had to be the background for the tractor! Then I turned around again to compose this view and did a bunch of images and because I was so fixated on my tractor I had missed what was right in front of me in the background!  That old door was Great—but what attracted me to it was the shadow of the Lamp over the door—that’s my kind of Lighting!

f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
I started with this full view of the doorway and that great overhead lamp and shadow being created by nice Directional Light at 8:30 in the morning—a time I’m rarely up for photography! I tend to do most of my outdoor photography at the other (evening) magic hour.

Here’s a Black & White crop of the same image….
B&W Crop
My Black & White conversion was done with NIK’s Silver Efex Pro II using the “wet rocks” preset that I modified to MY B&W tastes.

This crop makes the lamp and shadow really stand out as the primary center of interest. I guess I’ll have to do a Blog on the main reason I stopped to Photography the tractor.

’Til next time…and none of us forget, Look Behind YOU, but also pay attention to what’s right in front of you too!

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