Tuesday, June 19, 2018


My 40+ years doing fine art photography, with over 25 of those years doing weddings and portraits, I’ve learned that as a professional, drama sells. The best way to create drama (especially of a static subject) is with dramatic lighting—that means Directional Lighting; Light that Does Not come from camera position!

That’s because directional light creates:
  1. Three Dimensionality
  2. Texture and Detail
In Part 1 of this blog series I discussed this topic using “unmixed lighting”—that is single source lighting, which is pretty easy to deal with.  This week’s topic covers “mixed lighting” and outdoor natural lighting, but my rules still apply—I’m always looking for or creating directional light. 

So, What is Mixed Lighting?

In weddings it’s often an interior setting where we have artificial lights (lamps, chandeliers, or overhead fluorescents), natural light from windows, and sunlight that can be seen through those windows. This challenging scenario can happen in churches, homes, hotels and often in reception halls. This is why wedding photography is one of the most technically difficult photographic occupations. In addition we must be able to solve all of these technical problems in minutes (not the hours or days that commercial photographers have with their subjects) while our clients watch and wait within a timeline that we have NO control over!

Here is a mixed lighting example….
f5.6 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 63mm
This reception room has these great floor to ceiling windows that I just had to use; window light is my favorite! The good/bad things were:

  • good:  the sun was setting knocking down the outside light.
  • bad: the windows were tinted and the light on my cake was low.
  • good: I have window light!
  • bad: too many windows creating light on both sides of the cake creating Non-Directional Light.
How I got this image:
  • I moved the cake table towards a wall on camera left until I got a shadow side on the cake; now I have Directional Light. This is called Subtractive Lighting—a technique I use in outdoor Natural Light portraiture.
  • Using my Incident Light Meter I measured the light falling on the Highlight Side of the cake, while I raised the meters ISO to get to an f-stop with good depth-of-field and a shutter speed that I knew would drag-in the light from those candles: ISO 800 got me f5.6 at 1/15 sec.
  • I did my test shots (I LOVE digital cameras!) to check how the outside looked. Great! We got lucky with the time of day.
  • Put my grey card on the highlight side of the cake and did a Custom White Balance.
  • I checked my histogram to make sure I was not Clipping the Highlights.
  • While I was doing these things Kathi was busy decorating the cake table. She gathered the bridal and attendants' bouquets and arranged those various elements to create what you see.
NOTE:  No matter what the reception staff do to decorate the cake table we usually redo it. In some cases they seem to do their best to sabotage our cake photography. One of their favorites is to stack ALL the serving places ON the cake table to make their job easier to serve-up cake slices to the guests. We remove them and then put them back.

An easier mixed-lighting set-up….

f8.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
This was done at the Ritz-Carlton in Half-Moon Bay, California. We were on their preferred vendor list and we never had to redecorate or fix “sabotage” to the cake table. They were always a class act. They put this small cake table between a set of windows, but their decor was so elegant that I used that decor as my background. They had placed flood lights behind and from above left on the cake.

How I got this image:
  • I used my Incident Light Meter to measure the light from the flood light hitting the left side of the cake.
  • I wanted a couple things here; I wanted good depth-of-field to handle both the cake and the background. And I wanted that pink flood light behind the cake to be seen since it matched the colors in the cake.
  • I experimented with shutter speeds form 1/8 sec., 1/15 sec., and 1/30 sec., with their appropriate f-stops at ISO 400, I settled on 1/30 sec., @ f8.0 since that gave me enough color around the cake without polluting its surface and good depth-of-field.
Using Natural Light outdoors….

f3.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 92mm
This was done at Nestledown (Los Gatos, California), one of my favorite wedding venues because the place looks like it was designed for photographers. Everywhere you look there are fabulous backgrounds and settings for photography.

The basic rule for cake placement outdoors is to have the cake placed in the Shade and then I just deal with the ambient lighting.

Planning the Cake Portrait:
  • Before I let Kathi decorate the cake table I rotate my camera position around the table looking at backgrounds. You can see why I picked that multi-colored floral hillside as my background—those colors went perfectly with the floral colors of this wedding.
  • The Lighting is coming from the Left (open sky) with additional top light. There’s a steep tree covered hillside on the right.
Then the light changes….

f2.8 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 200mm
I got the overall cake table portrait and decided to go for a close-up with a Bokeh background. The light level is low so I go to ISO 1600, back-up and zoom to 200mm @ f2.8 and then the sun peaks through the trees lighting up the cake!  Rolling my shutter speed up to 1/500 sec., (spot metering) I get this nice close-up.

In Part 3; “A Piece of the Cake” I’ll cover the close-up, detail, set-ups we do on the cake table…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Over our 25+ years doing weddings, my wife Kathi and I always tried to create wedding cake images just like they were commercial product assignments for a magazine ad. We thought that any photography we did at the cake table, just as we did the bride’s trousseau, was important enough that we took the photography to a dramatic level beyond the reception record-shot—like most photographers did—and still do today.

The bottom line in my philosophy of photography is creating drama and drama is all about LIGHTING. However, all lighting isn’t equal—the best lighting for things is directional light that comes from some other direction than camera position.

This Directional Light Creates:
  1. Three dimensionality; because the camera converts the 3-D world into a two-dimensional recording of reality is up to us as professional photographers to create the illusion within that two dimensional capture with a directional light that makes shadows.
  2. Texture/Detail; directional light that sweeps across the subject from one side or the other (or the top) accentuates detail because of the shadows. We use this directional light on wedding dresses as well to show the detail of the gown.
  3. Drama; dramatic lighting = Shadows!
I don’t care how you do it; you can use outdoor natural light, indoor window light, continuous artificial lights, or flash, but YOU as the director of photography, at each of your bride’s weddings, should be in charge of the lighting.

So, here are some of my favorite lighting techniques….
f8.0 @ 1/30th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 36mm
This image was done at a wedding fair of a cake by one of my favorite wedding cake designers, Bijan of San Jose, California. The lights were quartz halogen desk lamps that produce a very hard “cutting” light that really enhances detail and makes dramatic shadows.

However, you must be careful with your exposure to avoid clipping those highlights on white wedding cakes. It’s essential to maintain detail in your whites on a wedding cake—not to mention your bride’s dress!

My favorite light source is Window Light….

f5.0 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 46mm
If I have a wedding reception site that has great windows (provided it’s NOT a night reception!) I will actually have the reception staff move the cake table to take advantage of that light. You don’t want reception staff to be in charge of anything that affects your photography—especially lighting!

NOTE: This is something that is part of your research at each wedding. When you visit all the photography locations, in advance of the wedding, you should be looking at lighting and locations for your set-ups. Ask the manager where they usually put the cake table—they usually put it somewhere that’s merely convenient for them…and almost always under an EXIT sign. If it’s not where you want it politely ask the manager to have it set-up where “the bride wants it”; works every time!

More Window Light….

f13.0 @ 1/4 sec. ISO 4000; Lens @ 50mm
Nothing creates this nice soft light, wrapping to a gradient shadow, like a large window. This is something that a speed light just can’t do well because being a point light source makes them too hard.

Most of the time we arrive at the reception site early—before they let the guests in—so we can photograph the whole room and then get locked-down on a tripod at the cake table for the cake portraits.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about cake photography using “Mixed Lighting” and Natural Light Outside. ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Last week’s blog was about how I light painted two black pistols. That was challenging, but after I narrowed the light’s angle it was surprisingly easy because that modification gave me the precision needed to realize the old studio lighting maxim: “put light where you want it and don’t put light where you don’t want it”!

In this studio light paining blog I picked something more difficult—a very reflective knife. It’s a polished, stainless steel, dive knife that I paired with a vintage, stainless steel, Casio diver’s watch. To complete the set-up and enhance the dive theme I added a bunch of sea shells and a piece of white coral. Yeah, it’s complicated and a bit busy and after messing with the composition of all these elements I decided that the knife should be the center of interest because of its size and the powerful color of its handle. I had intended to make the watch the center of interest until I saw that it didn’t have the impact to lead in this set.

Here’s the final edited image….
f16.0 @ 30 sec., ISO 125; Lens @ 200mm

How I got the shot:

Lighting: In Part 1 I told you that I had to make a snoot (made of Cinefoil) for my flashlight to reduce the beam size for more accurate placement of highlights on my subjects. Well, because my subjects here are smaller and with all those tiny sea shells needing precise lighting I reduced the size of my snoot’s opening to about pencil size.

Painting:  You may be asking, “How did he get the blade of that knife without reflections from the flashlight?” that was my intent from the start—I wanted it to look almost black because I wanted the inscription on that, chrome like, polished blade to really stand out. 

So, when painting I swept my flashlight over the top edges of my set pieces (especially on the knife’s handle) without creating any forward angle that would front light the blade. Then I swept the light from each side working on all those shells.

Eliminating blade reflection:  You’ve probably heard the term, “angle of incidence equals angle of reflectance”, this just means that if the angle of your light matches your angle of observation you will see a reflection.

Family of Angles:  This refers to the Angles of view from a light source that a reflective surface will direct light back into the lens. For a flat surface the family of angles are the same as the lens’ angle of view—but coming back toward the camera.

The Solution:  Change your angle of view (lens focal length) so that the cone of light misses the lens.  So, I used a longer focal length (200mm) from a greater distance to reduce the family of angles (the cone of light). Now that the light is outside the family of angels light will not reflect back into the lens, thus eliminating direct reflections.

And that give me my dark blade!

The Background:  With so many more elements to paint I used up my 30 seconds on my subjects, so I had to do a separate exposure for the background.

f16.0 @ 30 se.c, ISO 125; Lens @ 200mm
Note on Color:  One of the problems when painting with an LED flashlight is that the LED light quality (its color temperature) can vary wildly between manufacturers. This is called its CRI—Color Rendering Index—which ideally should be 100 or 5500°K, the color temperature of daylight. Most LED flashlights are not even close to a CRI of 100 (I often saw a very blue shift in color in my painted set-ups using cheap LED flashlights) and most sellers or manufacturers won’t even tell you in the specs anything about its CRI! When I did find some LED flashlights with color temperatures at 5500°K (CRI100) they were really expensive ($100 to $350) and there was little variety in configuration compared to the cheap LED lights—such as multi-LED wands and such.

My Solution for Color: I simply started doing a custom white balance for each LED light. You just light paint a grey card exactly the same as painting your subject (same exposure) and you’re done.

That’s it for this week.  On to something new for next week… “Til then…

If you would like to check out the video I did on Light Painting go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPng2IwX6Zg&t=20s

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


With over 30 years in the photography business it’s still sobering to discover that there are still things in this art/science to learn.

It’s interesting that this discovery seems to happen the most in studio photography—where we have control of ALL the variables. This just means that there are more things for us to screw-up on when we choose among the myriad of decisions that go into the photography of any subject! Just some of those decisions include: size of the light(s), type of lights, placement relative to subject and to each other, how to light the background, how to control each light source—volumes have been written about just these variables.

So, with decades of experience, education from some of the legends in photography, having earned my P.P.A. (Professional Photographers of America)  Masters and Craftsman’s degrees for International print competitions and teaching, I had approached the incredibly simple concept of light painting as beneath my involvement.  After all this experience and training I’m about to abandon my huge multi-thousand dollar investment in studio equipment….for a flashlight! 

The concept of light painting is so simple and yet like most art it’s all in the execution.  I’m reminded of what one sage photographer wrote decades ago…”it’s simple, you just put light where you want it and don’t put light where you don’t want it.” Simple!

So, here’s my second attempt at light painting….
f16.0 @ 30sec., ISO 125; Lens @ 168mm
Making it even harder this time I chose Two Black Pistols! Hey, it’s more interesting compositionally with two guns and by using two I can show both sides at the same time.

Even though the lighting is literally in-my-hands, now, all the standard lighting rules still apply, to wit:
  • Black objects (just like glass objects) are defined by their specular highlights.
  • Those specular highlights are created with the light source(s) striking the subject from the top and/or the sides—the light source never comes from camera position (that would create flat light).

What is very different about light painting is the precision that can be obtained in putting light exactly where you want it.  Because we mostly use large light sources in studio flash photography especially in portraiture—pin point precision is not needed.

When painting these guns I found that my little LED flashlight’s beam was too large and I over lit the muslin material around the gun in front. I carefully tried to just paint the gun.

Here is the set-up and my lighting solution….
The set-up

I did two things….I reduced the size of my beam (I made a snoot out of good-‘ol Cinefoil) and I brought the flashlight in closer to my subjects.

I’m happy with the final result and I did it all within my 30 second exposure (including the background).

In Part 2 I’ll continue with a more difficult subject set-up using a knife and some small support objects.

’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 22, 2018


I’ve been creating much of my photographic art in Black & White for over 40 years. My fondest memories are of custom printing B&W prints, in my home darkroom, using Agfa Portriga Rapid, Ilford and Luminous papers, while listening to rock-n-roll music, all night long. 

My criteria for what subjects naturally fall into the B&W category are exactly the same using today’s digital technology as it was when I used film.

The BEST B&W images must have:
  1. Directional light (that means shadows)
  2. Good Blacks and Whites (with detail)
  3. Texture and/or detail
  4. A strong center of interest
Note: If there is an absence of color in the original scene then B&W is its Natural medium, but it still must meet the basic criteria above.

This image simply had to be in B&W….

f5.0 @ 1/5000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
As I walked up to the scene, from 50 yards away, I knew this was going to be a B&W conversion. This digital conversion was done using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro-2. I started with the “wet rocks” preset and then modified it to my taste in dramatic B&W.

Here’s the original image….
Original Color File
First, always “shoot” in color RAW! You don’t want your camera no matter how good it is (I used a Canon 5D MKII for this image) doing anything in B&W. It will drop too many values when it applies its generic algorithm to convert the color image to B&W. Then you’ve lost control of what you as an artist may want to highlight or suppress in the scene.  Creating a B&W image from your color file is not just about removing colors—it’s about showing your audience your interpretation of the subject.

My original color image simply had too many colors surrounding the skull—there’s some green in the background and the wood posts have too much light brown in them. The color image is just not creepy enough!

The B&W conversion not only removed these bits of distracting reality, but look at all the marvelous detail I pulled out of that skull.

’Til next week…enjoy looking for what will convert to B&W in your own images!

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


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


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