Tuesday, January 16, 2018


When doing portraits of Tweens, Teens and high School Seniors, here at The Storytellers, in Meridian Idaho my absolute favorite type of session is the themed or personal storytelling variety. When I say that I’m not just talking about the jock with a football or basketball—we do that of course—but, I’ve found that there’s a greater creative challenge with teens that are involved in music—or any of the arts—animal husbandry (4H Clubs), any equestrian pursuits, sports like archery and shooting, hunting, motor sports (drag racing, motocross, etc.) winter sports (skiing, snowboard, snowmobile), and the non-motorized sports like skateboarding, BMX or Triathlon.

I’m sure I left something out, but you get the idea. Photographing people who are really passionate about these activities, as they do them, can create a connection between us that makes it easier for them to be more at ease when we finally do their more formal (looking at the camera) portraits.

Conversely the portrait session of a tween or teen that I dread the most is when the parent tells me that they don’t do anything! Often this really means that their teen worn’t perform the activity in front of my camera—which is ironic these days when they share everything on social media!

So, when we got the call to schedule this tween’s portrait session and Mom told us that her 16 yer old daughter was really into all things Harry Potter, my dread factor went up a bit. Hoping for the best, Kathi told the mom to bring everything they had in the Harry Potter theme.

As always, we started with the props…
f11.0 @ 1/150 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 82mm
After I saw her collection of magic wands, I put up my “magical” background to get her in the mood to cast some spells! My dread factor quickly disappeared when I saw this young lady casting her spells with such grace and poise.

She did a clothing change while we changed the background for the Harry Potter books image. I loved her collection of dog-eared Harry Potter books! We did this in a variety of ways, but I liked her actually reading the book—more as a candid image.
Here’s my studio set-up with this background…

Caption: Photogenic PowerLight on the Main Light: Photoflex, 7-Foot, Octo-Dome; Other Lights: Norman Pack using a Larson 24” strip light (hair light) and one Norman head on background. Reflector Photoflex, 42”, White/Gold; white side to the subject.

Then the portrait that moms want…

f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
Looking at the camera and smiling came easily for this young lady.  Then we went for something more thoughtful….
 f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 150mm
I usually do something in Black and White and I like this composition with its “negative space” to the left. I also like to do portraits of people both smiling and not smiling to see which they are more relaxed with.

Often the non-smiling portrait gives me bigger eyes—which I prefer in a portrait—because many people’s eyes narrow as they smile.

That’s it for this week….happy to answer questions…’Til next time!

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


In Part 2 of this series I talked about the arched-roof barn here in Meridian, Idaho that I started photography on in 2013 as that property went up for sale. I got most of what I wanted except for snow.

My absolute favorite time of the year here in Idaho is winter. Photography of anything outside in snow or freezing fog (hoar frost) is my favorite type of winter photography. Snow has a magical property to hide all the ugly things man does to the environment in a blanket of pure white that simplifies the composition of a scene.

Unfortunately, we did not get much snow here in the valley in 2013; you need a good 6 inches of snow for good coverage of a barn’s steeply sloped roof. So, I crossed my fingers and waited—hoping for some good snow before they sold this property and demolished my favorite barn!

Fast forward to Christmas Eve, 2015; we got just enough snow to realize my vision!

f13.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 150mm
What I love about snow is the contrast it creates against the old dark barn wood. You just have to be careful with the initial exposure to get the snow white without blowing out all its detail. The best way to do that is to do photography on an overcast day which will naturally limit the dynamic range of a snow scene to 4 or 5 f-stops. As soon as the sun comes out a snow scene can easily go to 10 f-stops from the barn wood to the snow.

Post Processing this image:

I used NIK’s, HDR Efex, Pro 2, using its single image tone mapping. I picked the outside-2 preset to get the barn wood detail I wanted and modified that to bring back the contrast and blacks. I always have to do that because HDR processing tends to flatten out a scene by removing most of the shadows—without shadows you lose the three dimensionality in a scene. HDR also tends to grey-down the snow making it look dirty, so, then I have to bring back the whites in Photoshop.

Having already done full views of this barn I’m now slicing it up into sections to better show this barn’s marvelous details.

Here’s the other end of the barn…

f11.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 110mm

I couldn’t resist that nice snow covered foreground detail—love those round hay bales! With all that stuff out in front of the barn it gives the illusion that this may still be a working farm.

Now some of my favorite details….

f11.0 @ 1/320sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I backed-off and zoomed-in to 200mm to show some nice detail; using the compression effect to push those snow covered bushes towards the barn. This technique put the nice contrasting detail of the white bushes against the dark barn wood with all that detail in sharp focus. Love those beautiful sliding barn doors with their diagonal wood planks!

Going to the other end of the barn….

f13.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 150mm
Highlighting those sliding barn doors again and using the telephoto compression effect as well. Sadly the clock is ticking on this great barn. In 2017 they torn down the farmhouse and cut down the large trees on the property; a very bad sign that the end is near. But, worst of all those beautiful sliding barn doors are gone! As valuable as barn wood has become—sliding doors being the  most sought after—my guess is that they have been sold for some hight-end remodel or two.

So, now it’s on my watch list and I visit the barn several times a week to be there when the demolition begins.

Don’t hesitate to ask 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, January 2, 2018


Within two miles of our house, here in Meridian, Idaho, there were four barns. It’s remarkable that there were any barns here as Meridian is the fastest growing city in Idaho. Housing developments surrounded these barns and more developments are underway. Now there are only two barns left. One of those barns was featured in Part 1 of this blog. Here in Part 2, I’ll feature the other remaining barn—my favorite because it has an arched roof. I think it’s the most graceful type of shingled barn roof designs; it’s also a rather rare type of barn—there aren’t many still standing.

I started photography on this beauty in 2013 when I saw the for sale sign go up on the property.

f11.0 @ 1/400; Lens @ 70mm
I chose this as the best side of this barn because there’s an awning running the full length on the other side filled with a lot of junk. Besides I always prefer the clean side so I can see any windows on the long side of a barn.

This barn’s long side faces West and it’s front faces South, so there was only one time of the day when I could get any shadows—I wanted a shadow to delineate the graceful curve of the roof line. This was done on a stormy September evening, as the clouds cleared behind me, about two hours before sunset.

My artistic processing was done in NIK, HDR Efex Pro 2, single image, tone mapping. I used the vignetted preset and then adjusted to my taste.

Here’s a larger view showing the farm house….

This was also done in NIK, HDR Efex Pro 2. I used the B&W Art preset and adjusted the blacks and contrast to get deeper shadows and detail in the clouds.

Then going to the front of the barn….

f16.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens at 155mm
This is one of my favorite views not only because of the nice juxtaposition of a foreground element with the front of the barn behind, but it shows how this would have looked as a working farm. Sadly, these would be the last bales of hay to be stored here—love those round bales!

Then there are the details….

f11.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 85mm
For nice barn wood detail I came back at a time when I would have good crossing light specifically for my targeted subject. This was in January, so it turned out to be 3:00pm when I got the shadows I wanted for the west facing side of the barn.

In Part 3 of this series I revisit this great barn in the winder—Let it snow!

’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 26, 2017


I think that within 10 years most, if not all, of the barns here in the treasure Valley (Idaho) will be gone. It’s no wonder with the development boom in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Star and Nampa that has accelerated since 2015. I’m glad I started my documentation of these old structures in 2010, since we’ve been loosing 2 or 3 barns a year in our area.

So, the barns I’ve been documenting have been those with encroaching housing subdivisions nearby. I know the barn’s days are numbered when they stop planting any crops on the property. Then they often tear down the farm house and put up the for sale sign and I know the clock is ticking.  The reason I watch for all of these “signs” is that I’m not merely “documenting” these barns—my goal has been to create barn photography as art. It takes time to artistically capture any of the outdoor structures (manmade or natural) that I focus on. 

Here are my criteria for how and when I will bring my camera to bear on an outdoor subject:
  1. Which Direction is the Best “side” of the subject facing relative to the sun? In other words what is the barn’s best side and when is the sun going to be in the position to give it directional lighting.  That is lighting that will create shadows and bring out the details in the barn’s wood—I avoid  flat lighting in most cases.
  2. With my subject’s directional face known then I know if my barn is going to be a sunrise or sunset subject.  Then I have to see what time to start photography. Just knowing these first two criteria may take several visits to the site.
  3. Next I decide if I want to include the crop (if they’re still planting) in the foreground for the overall portrait of the barn. Depending on the crop it may obscure this view of the barn.
  4. Finally, if it’s a large barn I’ll probably want nice clouds since with a large view there’s always a lot of sky.
This barn illustrates my criteria….

 f10.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 160mm
  1. This barn’s best side is facing West; look at all that great detail!
  2. So,  I needed to use the setting sun that still gave me the shadows at the “A” frame of the barn’s roof; this worked out to be about 5pm in December.
  3. They had been planting corn in this field and that meant this view of the barn would not be possible with a crop of corn seven feet high.
  4. The Big issue for me was getting a nice big cloud structure behind that big barn.

It took two years for all these criteria to coincide for this barn’s portrait. Why so long you ask? Well, I’m a full time professional photographer and my paying clients come first. That means that my outdoor family portrait sessions usually happen one or two hours before sunset—and that’s also prime barn photography time. 

Back to this barn….

f10.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 150mm
After I get the overall view I start slicing-up the barn into detail images. I love the shadows here that create the three-dimensionality necessary to create textures and the drama that we as artists should seek.

Flash forward almost two years….

f16.0 @ 1/250th sec., ISO 400/ Lens @ 75mm
This barn is still standing and I finally decided I wanted a corn crop in the foreground! Of course, they had planted other types of crops in the intervening years—so, I had to wait for the corn crop (again!). Drat those Idaho farmers and their pesky crop rotations—guess they know what they’re doing!

This is the image I had pre-visualized.…

f16.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 123mm
Love the corn reaching for the barn…and that great shadowed texture on the face of the barn, with nice clouds behind it. And lastly a B&W conversion to make the scene really dramatic.  I used one of my favorite B&W conversion plug-ins—NIK, Silver, Efex Pro 2 using the fine art process preset (with my changes to taste) and an overlay of one of NIK’s film types. In this case I used their T-Max 100 film emulation

Next week I’ll continue with this topic showcasing other barns in my quest to create art and preserve some history.

Always open 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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


I love really powerful B&W images. Like a lot of young photographers in the 1970’s I learned the art and craft of photography in a home darkroom hand processing 35mm film and then printing my own B&W prints. I studied the work of Adams and Weston and, my favorite to this day, W. Eugene Smith. But I also love the color work of Pete Turner. It was his influence that led me to do color printing using the Cibachrome process. My philosophy is—if you’re going to do color—do color big time!

Too many photographers today use B&W as a fall-back, thinking well if it does not work in color I’ll convert it to B&W.  It’s just too easy today to convert so the thought process about color vs B&W at the point of clicking the shutter is gone! In the film era we planned in advance (remember Ansel Adam’s pre-visualizations?) what our final image was to look like. If I had a subject in mind that had to be in color I loaded-up Kodachrome or Ektachrome because I was going to print it on Cibachrome. That same thought process applied to B&W; except I had far more choices in B&W paper to choose from.

So, lets look at a couple of different subjects and my thought process on color vs B&W in the digital age…
f18.0 @ 1/4 sec., ISO 400
When I walked-up to this plant (Canna Durban) I already knew that color was its most compelling feature. That is what drew me to it from over fifty yards away!

Here it is in B&W…

I converted the image using the NIK, Silver Efex, Pro 2 plug-in. While this B&W rendition is graphically pleasing it just does not tell the viewer what makes this plant special—its colors!

For this next subject I’ll start with he straight-up color version of reality….
 f11.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400
Now this color version has the nice lighting skimming the old barn’s face as the sun is setting, but the scene is just too pretty.  When I first saw this place (a rock quarry) I thought those long slabs of rock on the ground looked like coffins.  So, I decided pretty wouldn’t do I wanted creepy

So, I chose to process this image using HDR, Efex, Pro 2 — tone mapping/single image—using the B&W Art preset.  Then as usual I modified most of the settings to get more texture in the barn’s wood and drama in the sky.

Now the scene has the creepy drama I had in mind when I first saw it.

While it’s a lot easier today to go from color to B&W and we now have an infinite variety of ways to modify an image with software and plug-ins we, as artists, must sill have a vision of what we want to say to our viewers and clients.  Merely producing “pretty pictures” of things exactly as they are, using a point of view that any amateur could do, won’t get you noticed as an artist.

I alway entertain 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, December 12, 2017


There’s simply no better way to create portraits outdoors than with natural light. And, there’s no better method to create dimensional—that’s three dimensional—directional lighting (with shadows!) than by using the Subtractive Technique.

This technique is very simple. When your subject is in an outdoor environment that has flat light—like open shade—or out in the open with light striking the subject from all sides, you need to subtract the extra light from two sides (or at least 1 side) to create a nice shadow side on your subject’s face.

One of our tools to create subtractive lighting is an Opaque Black Flat, which we call a GOBO or flag—terms I learned many years ago when Kathi and I were doing independent short films. We also use natural gobos on location to create the same effect; especially with group portraits. A natural gobo can be a line of trees , a large bush, or rocks. Anything that will create a shadow side on your subjects face(s), when you place them close to that gobo, is the goal. If you don’t see any shadows then, at that point, your gobo has become a reflector and will defeat our purpose.

Here is an example using the natural gobo technique…

 f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens at 200mm
I placed the boy close to a bunch of trees at camera left.  The sun is setting behind him and it’s about an hour before sunset. The key light is a huge patch of blue sky (the sky is my soft box!) on the right.  The key to creating this light pattern is being able to SEE the shadows and the direction of light outdoors. I think that the reason so many photographers resort to using flash outdoors is that they can’t see the sometimes subtle difference when the subject is placed next to a gobo.

One of the most difficult times to create and see when the light is good outdoors is in fully overcast conditions.  This is when we bring out our 42” black gobo to break-up the very flat light….

f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
This was done at noon on a very overcast day, in the California wine country, where I was teaching a class to professional photographers on this very topic. Because I liked that fence I sat her on the ground; it also gave her something to lean against. Since that overcast sky gave her severe “raccoon eyes” I stood over her (which also gave me a clean background) and had her bring her chin UP until I saw the light in her eyes. Then I had one of my students bring the 42” black gobo in close to her on the right side creating that nice shadow—and the three dimensionality that the flat overcast sky would have ruined.

In a bright sunny situation with again flat light—because there are no natural gobos—we use the hand held gobo like this….

This was done at an hour and a half before sunset with the subject’s back to the sun. We placed him on a picnic table completely in the open with light striking him from every angle—not the ideal subject placement! So, I had Kathi bring the 42” black gobo Close and angled over his head to block the top light and light from the right.

I learned this powerful yet simple technique over 30-years ago from the master of Subtractive Lighting Leon Kennamer. Leon would usually use two gobos—one horizontally over the subject’s head and the other vertically on one side creating a half-box.  However, he did suggest this single, angled, gobo technique when we didn’t want to set-up stands in a windy environment.

So, as you can see there’s no need what-so-ever for flash outside if there is light—in evidence. The key is not just the light—anyone can see light—it’s all about seeing or creating the shadows to give our subjects natural dimension.  

Don’t just be a strobist—be a portrait artist!

As usual I am open to 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, December 5, 2017


As photographers we use our camera to create images that transform three-dimensional objects, in the real world, into a two-dimensional facsimile that we then output to yet another two-dimensional medium—the print, a computer monitor, cell phone, or the like.  It’s out job to recreate the illusion of three-dimensionality in these two-dimensional media, before the image is captured, with the use of dimensional lighting. That is lighting that is Directional—and that means any one direction other than from camera position. It’s that simple.

In Part 1 I mentioned the great classic painters who perfected the art of realistically portraying the world in three-dimensions; and the modern cinematographers who studied those classic painters. I encourage you to check out my list of truly great cinematographers—study their films!


Oddly some of the worst lighting I see these days is by studio photographers.  It’s ironic because studio portrait photography hit its zenith in technique and gained world wide fame in the 20th century from the masters I studied like Yosef Karsh, Aronold Newman, and George Hurrell.  Don’t photographers today study these masters?

What I see way too much are portraits using flat lighting—as though the photographer was going to photograph a postage stamp collection. Flat Lighting is fine if your subject has only two-dimensions.  Otherwise, there’s no excuse for flat lighting in the studio!

It’s in the studio where we have TOTAL CONTROL of both light and camera placement.  In the studio we are God—saying, “Let there be Light” exactly where we want it!

It’s all about direction….

F11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
Depending on how many subjects are in the front of my camera my main light is placed at 7, 8, or 9 o’clock when on the left or the reverse 5, 4, or 3 o’clock when on the right.

For this little girl’s portrait I had my main light close to the 9 o’clock position with a soft white reflector at the 3 o’clock. No other fill was used.

NOTE:  The key to directional lighting is to not ruin it with fill light.  I never us a fill light in my studio--not even with groups!

Here’s my basic studio set-up….

That main light, on wheels, is a 7-foot OctoDome by Photoflex; nothing “wraps” better than a large soft box.

And a ballerina on that background….
f11.0 @ 1.200 sec., ISO 200
For her portrait I had the main light at 9 o’clock with it feathered away from the background. No reflector or other fill was used. The “hair light” was left on to light her raised foot.

Showing how a large main light will “wrap” on a group….
This portrait was a Professional Photographers of America International Print Competition Loan Collection Winner in 2014.
In this portrait I placed my main light on the left at about the 7 o’clock position—just out of my camera’s view. I did use a soft white reflector on the right at the 3 o’clock position.

Another Leonardo da Vinci quote:

“The Artist who can make his subject appear to be in the relivo (made to appear to have elevation, with depth and dimension) is he who should receive the greatest praise.”

So, go forth fellow photogs. and work on your “relivo”!  ’Til next week….

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