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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


I see photographers on the internet asking for or offering “settings” to photograph specific types of subjects or situations all the time.  As a professional photographer and artist I’m still confounded when I see this and I’m left scratching my head wondering how these random settings could be of any possible use to anybody!

It’s like asking a chef for a list of the spices he cooks with without the in depth knowledge of how to use them. It’s like lowering photography to the level of those old paint-by-numbers kits my mom did back in the sixties; a hollow, soulless, exercise that reduced painting to a manufacturing process.


The combined settings can be mixed (like a cake) in thousands of different ratios to arrive at a good exposure—but merely getting a proper exposure is NOT our goal as artists; we want to create something great (the cake has to TASTE GOOD—not just LOOK like a cake!)

This is why I teach my students to live in the world of “M” (manual mode) not “Auto mode”. Yes, the “P” mode can produce a proper exposure (most of the time), but that’s about it.

The fundamental reason why the Auto modes fail is that the camera doe not SEE anything—it does not know what it’s being pointed at!  It treats ALL subjects the same; in fact its on board meter is programed (the first knife cut in the death of art) to render the whole world in 18% gray.

In Manual mode you will learn to create your own settings when you fully understand the Exposure Triangle—(Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO).

However, that does not mean that you will be creating formulas that apply to similar situations or even the same subjects. Whenever I happen upon a subject that tweaks my fine-art eye, wether I have a camera or not, I let the subject tell me the most important artistic aspect in the scene; after all it attracted me so I listen, but with my eyes.

Here’s an example….
30 sec. exposure on EKT H.S. Daylight film @ ASA 1000
Sometimes I have to visit a scene several times for it to tell me how to dramatically tell its story. Daylight photography without clouds was ruled out—mostly because the CHP asked me to leave several times, and the lower operational part of this freeway interchange was so busy.  So, this became a night shot that would benefit from the Mixed Color Temperatures of the sodium-vapor street lights against the purple sky I would create by using Ektachrome HS Daylight film pushed to ASA 1000.

The most important setting in this scene…

Sitting there under cover of early darkness, wearing dark clothes and using my black tripod, hoping to evade the notice of the CHP, I noticed that the small aircraft, approaching the nearby airport, cut low across my scene, much of the time, on their final approach. I knew that this was always going to be a time exposure, but this revelation completed the scene. So, I counted how long it took for one of the small planes to track across the scene, with its flashing landing lights, visible in my viewfinder.  Now this image became all about shutter speed.   It took about 30-seconds or less for most small planes to cross this field of view. The 30-second exposure would also make the passing cars all but disappear.  Of course I did images without a plane flying across the top of the scene, but they lacked the “icing on the cake” punch that those landing lights created.

Another example….

 f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
This image’s most important factor was Aperture…

While photographing an old barn in Eagle, Idaho, I saw a couple smaller out buildings nearby. One was starting to lean, had great curled wood texture and was missing the top half of its door so I could see through the building and out the rear window. This became all about Depth-of-Field, because I wanted the face of the building as well as that weed outside the window, on the other side of the building, to be sharp. So, an Aperture of f13.0 did the job well. In addition I compressed the scene by using my telephoto at 170mm—optically bringing the doorway and window closer together. Backing-up, using telephoto, also gave me more Depth-of-Field.

This brings me to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time—that is how the focal length we choose inter relates creatively with the exposure triangle—I’ll go there in Part 2 of this blog.

Until next week, go out and play with the information I have giving you so far and see what you can create in “M”!

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

Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


One of the many things I like about Idaho is that I don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to find great winter time subjects to photograph. I can just walk outside even here in the suburbs of meridian, and inside of a block, in our development, I’ll find all kinds of subjects. Venturing out of my block it’s a winter wonderland!

The key is waiting for a good snow, or even better, freezing fog to occur and then I know I’ll get some great stuff.  When I get the freezing fog I’ll usually wait until the sun appears so I’ll get some backlight to make the ice really pop against the background.

Here’s a nice example…
F7.1 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 105mm

It was almost 11am when I found this small remnant of fall still clinging to a branch. This is just what I look for in freezing fog because I think only getting the ice crystals—just the whites in an image—isn’t as interesting as having some contrasting color especially when I manage to get backlight as in this image. 

This was taken a few minutes earlier…

f7.1 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 24mm
This weeping willow is just on the other side of our backyard fence—so, I didn’t even have to leave my backyard!  That marvelous backlight is what attracted me to this scene.

Without backlight I’ll go for a soft look….
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 105mm
This is that same weeping willow tree in freezing fog, but while it still had some leaves so I zeroed in on a nice threesome.

For this next image I had to leave my yard since this evergreen tree was a good 25 yards into the common area on the other side of my fence. 
f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 85mm
Everything looks great in freezing fog crystals—even evergreen trees!

Near the end of my block a neighbor had built a nice large snowman…
f5.6 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 105mm
This snowman was almost 6 feet tall and massive in build. I liked his use of tools for the snowman’s appendages.


You may have noticed that I use pretty small apertures (e.g. f7.1 and f8.0) when doing much of my artistic nature photography. That’s because I want my entire subject to be sharp! You’ll also notice that even with those small apertures my backgrounds are still nicely Out-Of-Focus. That’s because I pick subjects that have more Distant backgrounds and I use the most telephoto I can employ. Too many photographers think that they must use wide apertures (like f2.8 or even wider) to isolate their subjects or create good bokeh, but it’s not necessary. They usually just end up with almost nothing sharp in their images.

Questions are always welcome…the more questions you ask the better I can choose subjects to right about.  ’Til next week…

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

Happy New Year everyone!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's celebration. We moved at the end of December and should be up and running soon.  Keep up the good work and practice... Jerry

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


In photography, as in most of the visual arts, directional light is the essential ingredient in creating drama, depth, mood, mystery as well as three dimensionality and texture. And when I say directional light I mean light that strikes the subject from any direction other than from the viewers’ (or camera) position. In addition, when outside, using natural light I look for light that strikes my specific subject in a way that highlights its best features. That requires observation on my part to determine the best time of day for that subject.

One of my favorite things to photograph are old farm equipment and machinery—the older the better—and when these things are left outside in the elements they become especially attractive to me! So, when we visited some friends, who live in central California’s farm land, and I saw their old rusted farm machinery I was all over it!

Sitting under a tree was this large rusted, lumber saw…
f7.1 @ a/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 47mm
The spotty light, filtering through the tree’s branches and leaves, from directly above skimmed the saw blade’s surface revealing its marvelous textures. I just waited for the most interesting pattern of shadows that accentuated the teeth of the blade. 

The other side of this saw was nice too….

f20.0 @ 1/80 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 24mm
At the time the light filtering down through the tree was not adequate—the motor that powered the saw had no light on it so I went onto other subjects and came back 30 minutes later for the lighting you see in the above image. 

Going in close, using my lens at 24mm, with a very small aperture (f20.0) gave me the depth-of-field to show that cool old motor giving this image a nice foreground and relevant background feature.

This is what I was doing while waiting for good light on the saw…

f5.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 45mm
Parked in an out building that was open on one side were some old tractors. This soft directional light is what I call Barn Light. The key here is that only open sky (without direct sunlight) is the source of light. This is one of my favorite types of light and it’s easy to work with. However, because the light level is lower a larger aperture, higher ISO and/or a tripod is sometimes needed.

On the other side of the old Ford tractor…

f10.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 15mm
I love the grease and grime coating the engine of this old Caterpillar tractor.  Since there was barely two-feet between each of these tractors and I wanted to capture this tractor’s treads I used my 15mm Fisheye lens (angle of view: 180 degrees) handheld at f10.0 and bumped my ISO to 800 for a useable shutter speed.

What I want to stress here is that you should not settle for just any kind of light. For dramatic, interesting, fine-art images you must wait for the best light. If it’s not directional you come back later when it is; That’s all there is to it!

That’s it for this week…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, December 4, 2018


Waking up that frigid December morning, in 1978, in Bodie was really exciting. I was totally alone in one of the best ghost towns in America! I quickly set-up my single burner stove making some scrambled eggs and sausage. It was just as well that I could only cook one thing at a time because as soon as I removed my eggs from the pan onto a plate they were cold. I guess I was just lucky it was just super cold—being early December, at 8400 ft altitude, I was fortunate that I wasn’t snowed-in!

Fortified, I removed my camera—pre loaded with Kodachrome 64 film—from my insulated bags and noted they were cool to the touch, but not frigid. On a previous late November trip to the Grand Canyon one of my 35mm SLR camera’s shutter stopped working and the film advance levers were stiff because the extreme cold made the film less fixable. I’ve heard tell of other extreme cold weather photographer’s tales of the film getting so brittle that it would break inside their cameras. So, I figured that pre-loading my film in warm cameras plus the camera bag’s insulation would make my camera’s last longer outside in the deep cold.  Today I just have to wear my batteries so the cold does not drain them as fast.

In Part 1, I started with my main target subject—that marvelous leaning outhouse and how I exposed that image and now, 40 years later, did a digitally enhanced version.

In the background you’ll notice another leaning building—that’s where I went next…

ACR Enhanced Version
Believe it or not I took this image 7-years later (1985, Dec.) and I just happened to be there at the same time of day! Look at the shadows on the buildings! (see Part 1) 

That directional light, creating those marvelous shadows, is what makes this image work.  In fact what attracted me to this scene was the shadow of that smoke stack being cast on the front of that sway-backed building.

Here’s the original Kodachrome 64 slide…
Original Kodachrome
Looking back on this image I think I had too much of a good thing! Now I think there’s a bit too much negative space being created by the entire foreground structure being in shadow—it’s pretty much solid-black without any detail.

Here’s my How and Why Precessing this one:
  • Created RAW files by photographing my slides using my Canon 5D MKII with a Canon 100mm Macro Lens. (Note: see link to my video on how I did these copies at the end of this Blog.)
  • Open in Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw).
  • Used: a lot of Positive Clarity and Positive Shadow to open up shadow detail and enhance texture in wood.
  • Used: Negative Highlights to tone down wood highlights.
  • Used: Negative Saturation to make the wood its natural grey.
  • Brought back the blue sky with Plus Vibrance
  • Sharpened, applied Noise Reduction and Cropped.
Then I moved-in on the sway-back building….
ACR Enhanced Version

I used the same technique here as in the previous image except I did not de-saturate the color.

Here’s the original Kodachrome…
Original Kodachrome
The main problem with the original Kodachrome is that the highlights were too bright for my taste. While the exposure of the mid-tones was fine that old grey wood had curled and those edges acted like reflectors catching too much light. Back when I took this image there was nothing I could do about that, but now with the highlight control in ACR plus the other adjustments this image is finally complete.

Oh, and finishing the story of my first treck to Body in 1978…

When my car hit the rock on its underside it fortunately missed the engine (or the oil pan!) and instead hit my tranny’s bell housing causing a piece of the aluminum to bend inward thus contacting the ring gear—making the horrible racket I mentioned.  I and my car survived a very memorable trip.

Note: check out the link to my video on how I copied my slides using my DSLR…


’Til next week…don’t hesitate to ask question…

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