Tuesday, May 15, 2018

ONE PRO-PHOTOGRAPHER’S FAVORITE WEDDING VENUE


My wife, Kathi, and I have been doing weddings for over 25 years and as a natural light specialist I would place Nestldown (Los Gatos, Calif.) as one of the top 5 wedding locations in Northern California. Having done hundreds of weddings, my favorites being locations with outdoor areas for both the ceremony and reception, I have to say that most venues make do with what they have without really putting much effort or money into the site to make it special. Most wineries fall into that category—they seem to think that placing white chairs on some lawn is all they need to do to turn their facility into a wedding venue.  Maybe that’s the case because being a winery is their business and weddings are a sideline.

Nestldown is not a sideline. It’s been meticulously crafted and expertly maintained as a wedding and events venue. Most importantly it’s been designed with a style and unique look that you only see in major motion picture productions of fantasy weddings. It has the look of a set, but it’s not a facade, it’s a real fantasy…

f5.6 @ 1/125 Sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 35mm


Done in their fantasy garden with that adorable cottage in the background you can see why I like this place!


Then moving her to the front door…

f5.6 @ 1/45 sec., SIO 400; Lens @ 24mm
You do need a relatively short bride to do this—the cottage is not a full size structure.

Note: My shutter speed is getting lower even at 400 ISO since the sun is behind the cottage leaving its front in open shade which enabled me to maintain nice detail in her dress. This was done in mid-August at 1:15pm.

Then the Groom’s portrait….

f5.6 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 48mm
Keeping him out of the direct sun, as well, using the sky light as my source, using the negative fill from the trees on camera left (Subtractive Lighting at it’s best).

Note: When the bride and groom are NOT seeing each other before the ceremony, especially in a location like this, you should start photographing at least 2-hours before the ceremony to capture their individual portraits and still have time to do them with their attendants and family groups separately.

The challenging processional stairs….

f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 38mm
The stairs down to the outdoor chapel are obviously not wheel chair accessible—Nestledown will provide golf-cart transport for those not able to do the stairs.

f5.6 @ 1/45sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 35mm
It’s now 3:35 pm and I’ve set my ISO to 800, added flash fill and I’m dragging my shutter (using a slow shutter speed) to “drag-in” the low ambient light in the background.

f5.6 @ 1/20 sec, ISO 800; Lens @ 24mm
The outdoor “chapel” by the pond—it’s now 3:49pm and my shutter speed is dropping again.

After the ceremony and all the family groups…

f5.6 @ 1//45 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 42mm
You must take the bride and groom up into that gorgeous forrest of big trees—It’s 4:22pm and with ISO 800 I have just enough light.

Then back up to the site’s main level….

f9.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 120mm
Now we’re back in direct sunlight! I had to get them on that little bridge—Love the reflection in the pond—before the reception.

For smaller receptions their rustic hall is great…

f4.8 @ 1/45 sec., SIo 800; Lens @ 20mm
Like a cathedral with a redwoods view this building is really nice. Back to ISO 800 and a low shutter speed and still light outside.

 f5.6 @ 1/8 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 20mm
Using flash fill, with a slow shutter speed, from the balcony for their first dance.

The Last Portrait of the day…

f4.8 @ 1/4 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 24mm
A time exposure with flash-fill @ 1600 ISO; had to use flash since they were back-lit. I still didn’t show all the great locations here for photography. They also have a small train, an English Cab and a tree house as well!  Nestldown is a truly special location.

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY IN LOW LIGHT INTERIORS


Extreme action in poorly lit interiors is always a challenge in photography, and unfortunately, most dojos (martial arts studios) I’ve had the pleasure to document photographically were caves when it came to ambient light.  If you’ve read many of my blogs you know that I’m a really, really, really firm advocate of natural light whenever possible—especially in portraiture. But, when it comes to interiors, where there’s any action, if you don’t have the light, as a professional, you must create the light to get the job done. 

As soon as I walked into this room with its dark wood paneling I knew I’d have to use flash to avoid the black hole look and to stop some action. Many years of wedding photography has taught me that flash as the only source of light for interiors is horrible—it’s too harsh and your background goes dark so you lose depth.

So, to show depth in the scene and stop action we “drag the shutter” during the flash exposure. This simply means we use a longer shutter speed than is usually used for flash photography—we usually use the fastest shutter speed that will sync with the flash. With a longer shutter speed we are literally dragging in more of the room’s ambient light. 

Here’s the technique I used on the Japanese Martial Art of Kendo….

f4.8 @ 1/30th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm

Here’s what’s happening: The instant you snap the shutter the flash goes off stopping the action and creating all the highlights in the scene—the brightest images of the bamboo swords and those cool highlights on their chrome face guards for example. But, because we are forcing the shutter to stay open longer than the flash duration we get the secondary images of any fast moving elements in the scene.  In addition that longer shutter is also providing more exposure for the rest of the room—so, the background is not pitch black.

What I like about this technique is that you can show motion but still have sharpness at the same time…


f4.8 @ 1/30th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 28mm
Here’s how you set-up the exposure:
  1. Meter the room’s light level to establish your base exposure—I use an incident, hand held, light meter. I use the ISO to get me to a shutter speed I like. In this case I wanted 1/30 sec. and at ISO 400 my f-stop was f4.8, giving me adequate depth-of-field.
  2. With my camera in Manual Mode to use my settings I put the flash in Auto set to f5.6—to allow for flash fall-off because I’m bouncing the flash off the ceiling with a flash defuser (the Gary Fong unit).
  3. Fine tune your flash exposure if your subject distance changes by:
    • While leaving the camera’s f-stop at f4.8 I’ll raise the flash to f8.0 for more flash effect or f4.0 for less flash effect.
    • and/or I’ll tilt my flash more or less (it’s usually tilted at 45°) flash effect.
  4. Shutter speed selection is a matter of taste. For really fast action like these martial artists I like 1/30th sec. because while I get nice action blur of their swords, arms and legs, their heads are still sharp.
See how sharp this guys eyes are….


f5.6 @ 1/30th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 133mm
If you go to 1/15th sec., or shower then the action images start getting too abstract for my taste.

Wedding photographers have been using this technique for many decades and it works great for the reception events like the bouquet toss, garter toss, (just don’t drag it too long for these events) and the rock-n-roll dance action for something different….

Let me know if you have 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, May 1, 2018

ISOLATING THE SUBJECT IN RODEO PHOTOGRAPHY


I’ve been doing extreme action photography for over 40 years. Examples include many motor-sports such as formula race cars, Grand Prix motorcycles, motocross, top full dragsters, funny cars and drag bikes, WWII fighters and bombers. Some of the non-mototized sports have been BMX, hang gliders and sailboats. But, by far, the most challenging has been rodeo photography.  Why?  It’s not all that fast especially when compared to motor-sports—true.

There are two facets that make it difficult:
1.  The action is chaotic.  Because there are animals involved that the riders have no control over you never really know what they are going to do or exactly what direction they may go.  In contrast with motorsports I always knew exactly where my subjects were going and because they were on a closed course I knew about when they’d come by me again; that’s organized action.

2.  Rodeos are in stadiums which means there are fences and, worse, grandstands all around the subjects making a mess of my backgrounds.  This makes it very difficult to isolate the subject from the clutter of the fences, grandstand supports and a very colorful crowd of hundreds of people in those stands.

So, there are two ways to isolate the subject in stadium rodeo photography—you do it up front with your camera position….

f5.0 @ 1/2500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 120mm
This method of isolation is just camera elevation. Easy if you have enough lens and you’re at the top of the grandstand. That way you can shoot down on your subjects getting just the stadium dirt as a background. Not all that easy because if the horse or bull get too close to your side of the stadium then the fence on your side will intrude on your subject. And, if they are too far past the center of the stadium then your background will be the other fence and those ugly grandstands.

That’s when you get this kind of image…

 f5.0 @ 1/2500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 165mm
As you can see my bronc buster is pretty well lost in that colorful cloud of people behind him. Now the only way to isolate him is “in post”.

Here’s where I thank the “Great Cosmic Muffin” for Photoshop and layers, and my wife Kathi for her skill and patience in using those layers!

The first and hardest step is separating our bronc and cowboy, by using Photoshop’s Magnetic Lasso, to create a new layer that is independent from the background so that we can apply a gaussian blur to just the background.
Background Blur Added
It’s better and there is separation by softness, but there’s till too much color to really make him stand out from the crowd.  So, as a final step I had Kathi apply a sepia tone to the background layer…
Sepia Tone Added to Background
Now he’s really popping off the background! That’s all there is to it! You either plan and prepare—using lens choice and camera position—to take advantage when your subjects hit that magic spot in the stadium or you spend hours in Photoshop afterwords…usually both!

I suppose it’s all in what you as the artist will settle for as a final image…I don’t settle.

’Til next week….let me know if you have questions.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

WHY ENGAGEMENT SESSIONS ARE A MUST DO BEFORE THE WEDDING


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

PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE BIZARRE JOSHUA TREE


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

PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE OLD IDAHO PENITENTIARY


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

COMPOSITIONAL CROPPING BEFORE OR AFTER CREATING THE IMAGE?


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