Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I learned over 40 years ago talking to established professional photographers about where I should invest my money in photography equipment and every one of them said: “Put your money in your lenses.” You can save money in other gear like your tripod, camera bags, even your camera bodies, but not on lenses!

That’s why I’m not favorably impressed upon the announcement that Tamron has released an ultra tele-zoom with the widest zoom range yet—18-400mm; f3.5-6.3 for $649.00  This new lens, like its predecessors offering 18-200mm and 18-300mm, is still saddled with the same f3.5-6.3 variable apertures that makes all of these “all-in-one” zooms useless for professional portrait work. 

Aperture control: 

Why is that you ask?  Well, for the amateur photographers reading this that don’t know how one of these “all-in-one” zooms function, here’s the problem with these things: the variable aperture zoom lens only gives you its widest aperture f3.5 at 18mm and as soon as you start zooming it starts reducing the maximum aperture until you reach its maximum telephoto (200, 300, or 400mm) where the widest aperture is a paltry f6.3. What’s wrong with f6.3 you ask?  Well, if you are ONLY photographing group portraits, absolutely nothing. If I’m photographing an individual’s portrait I, like most professionals, want my aperture at f2.8 to f4.5 when my lens is zoomed in say at 200mm or 300mm.  That’s how professionals create portraits with separation between the background and the subject, while giving the background a nice painterly defused glow and/or Bokeh effect to the specular highlights.
Like this:

f2.8 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
The worst thing about the variable aperture lens is that you, the photographer, have fewer choices in what you can pick for an aperture at a given focal length; the damn lens is telling you what you’re getting!  The f-stop is too important a decision, in professional photography, to be left up to a compromised lens design.

Auto Focus:

Another downside created by the relatively small maximum apertures of these “all-in-ones” is how they work (or don’t work) with your camera’s auto-focus system.  Many camera’s auto-focus systems require apertures of f5.6 or wider to function properly.  They need LIGHT to detect the contrast in a scene to lock focus quickly and accurately. That is another thing that we as professionals cannot compromise on! We rely on our auto-focus completely (don’t even try to manually focus a modern lens!) to “get the shot”. If our auto-focus does not work our yield goes down and that translates into a loss of income! If you do any action or sports photography the temptation in buying an “all-in-one” that teases you with 200, 300 or 400mm capability (especially at $649.00) is easily dashed when you discover that these lenses autofocus worse (or not at all!) at the best focal lengths ( 200, 300, and 400mm) for sports!

Sharpness, Chromatic Aberrations:

Yes, there’s more that these lenses are plagued with… Again, if you intend to use these lenses at their long focal lengths, guess what?  That’s exactly where they are the Least sharp! Where are they the sharpest?  At their Wide focal lengths—great….

Next, to quote dpreview.com, “A generous helping of chromatic aberration is to be expected with a SuperZoom.” This lens flaw is color shifting towards the edges when at wide-angle.  It can also happen in the telephoto ranges as well.

Finally, Distortion

All lenses distort and you as a photographer have the ability to lessen how much by watching your camera to subject distance and by using longer focal lengths when possible. However, these “all-in-ones” can have plenty of barrel distortion at wide and strong pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. 

So, it just may be that spending $649.00 on a lens that can sabotage your image quality is spending too much! Spending twice as much—or more—on a lens that can do what YOU want it to do can be a wise, creative, investment.

Here’s my favorite lens…

The Canon 70-200 f2.8 Lens
The Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens is simply the Best lens I’ve ever owned in over 40 years in photography. It has paid for itself many times over in portrait sales, International PPA Competitions, and rock solid reliability because of its beautiful build quality.

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I usually plan my portrait sessions around Color. Based on how many people and if there are children I will suggest one of my locations that has the best colors in its background for that particular month. Then I will suggest clothing colors that will go with the season and the colors in said background. 

Since this session was of just our client’s two boys and I wanted them to stand out against the background I suggested the boys be in red shirts. This location is not the usual park like setting you find in the city—it’s a more rustic location with a hiking trail along side a small stream with lots of trees and wild unkept ground cover. So, it was fitting to have the boys in the stand-out red we photographers like with our people out in rustic nature—it must be my Kodak foundation from my Kodachrome film days!

As is our usual practice we started with our bread and butter portraits of the boys together and individually, smiling, looking at the camera, in different poses, in different locations. Then I got to set-up this storytelling image…
 f5.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; lens @ 105mm
What I’m going for in this converted image is big brother leading his little brother into the ight—out of the dark scary forrest. 

Here’s the original color version…
Color Version
The color version just did not imply any menace to the children—it’s too colorful and there’s too much light in the foreground.

But, first the image needed to be cleaned-up a bit so I had my wife, kathi (my personal Photoshop Diva!) remove the three trail marker posts in front of the boys. That done we tried just burning in the foreground, making it a dark vignette, but I felt it was still too normal—I wanted creepy!

So, I gave up on color and dropped the image into my favorite B&W software; Nik, Silver Efex, Pro2 (Really upset that Google is no longer supporting this product…but that is a whole other issue.) I like many of Nik’s presets and its versions of Sepia and Brown Tones, but one of my favorite features of Silver Efex is it’s “film types” drop down menu—these are B&W film type emulators that are grouped by ISO.  Within its 18 different film types are many of my old B&W film favorites.

For this particular conversion I choose the Agfa APX 400 film type. Finally, the creepy  mood I was after!

Then to get rid of some foreground that wasn’t helping and make the boys a little larger within the frame I cropped in, mostly top and bottom, making the image a longer landscape.

I still plan my sessions around color because that’s what most clients want and it pays the bills!

Let me know if you have any question….’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Most amateurs and way too many, self-proclaimed, professional photographers pay little attention to the quality of the light when they photography anything! Probably the worst offenders, by subject, are the flower loving subset of “photographers”. I’ve never been that thrilled with flower photography in general because there’s little challenge in photographing something that’s literally rooted in the ground! I suppose that’s why many amateur photographers start with flowers.

So, what makes these “flower people” think anyone wants to see their pretty flower photos done in flat dull light or flat full sunlight—usually just a single flower smack dead in the middle of the frame? These are at best “record shots”; only proof that this flower exists—like the world hasn’t seen a rose before!

As photographers—especially those of you that have artistic goals—you must do better than “record shots”.

To that end, You Must pay attention to the Direction of the Light relative to your subject… 

 f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 120mm
The sunflower image above was just backlight—something I’m always looking for when I’m outside. Here it’s my key light—on portrait sessions it’s my background light—hair light—kicker light depending on the location. 

The bottom line:  When doing fine art images outside of things I want the light coming in on my subject’s 3-o’clock, 9-o’clock or 6-o’clock (back light). These sun positions can vary depending on the subject depth) or thickness). e.g. for a thick subject like a large rock formation I may start when the sun is on my subject’s 2-o’clock or 10-o’clock.  I avoid doing photography if the light is striking my subject on the 12-o’clock (flat front light). 

When you have 12-o’clock light: You are either standing in the wrong spot (MOVE!) or you are there at the wrong time of day (Come back later).

Here’s one I did at an unusual time of day for me…

f5.6 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
This was done at Ten in the morning at the Japanese Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California.  The gardens are nestled against the Saratoga Mountains with trees all around and facing East—so, it never gets the low angle setting sunlight that I prefer. So, I used the high angle morning light and positioned my camera so that light was coming in at the flower’s 3-o’clock.

This lighting makes the water lily glow amid the lily pads and I like the contrast between the pristine water lily and the pond scum.

Back to my favorite time of day…
f14.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
This was just done this week at 9PM—about a half-hour before sunset. The sun is coming in at about the flower’s 8-o’clock—kind of angled back light. The sun is so low that it’s shooting through the flower’s pedals creating a spot light effect across the stamen.  This is THREE DIMENSIONAL LIGHTING—the key to creating texture and drama.

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, July 4, 2017


I’ve been doing fine art cemetery photography for over 40 years, but it wasn’t until we moved to Idaho that I had fairly easy access to several notable pioneer cemeteries. What makes pioneer cemeteries attractive to me is not only their age but it’s their usual rustic, unkept, condition that makes them such artistic subjects.

You see like many fine art photographers I’m attracted to anything old—the older the better! Weather and time’s effect (entropy) creates a marvelous patina on all things natural and man made that few artists can resist.  That’s why most cemeteries in big cities don’t interest me—they’re usually not old enough and too manicured (usually both) to hold my interest.  In addition the more modern cemeteries offer few differences in their construction materials—they’re all marble and stone—substances that require a very long time to show age. 

What’s great about pioneer cemeteries are their variety of materials.  The pioneers used what ever was available—rocks, wood, stone, marble, wrought iron and depending on the stature of the deceased they could create some elaborate monuments using a variety of these materials. I especially appreciate their use of wood and wrought iron as protective barriers (against wild life) surrounding graves sites.

The images below are of the pioneer cemetery in Idaho City, Idaho…
f9.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This is one of my favorite compositions—I wanted that broken and leaning wooden fence layered against the remarkably straight wrought iron enclosure at the next gravesite.  However, what brought me to this angle was the light—the most important thing! This angle gave me the texture and shadows created by the setting sun.

As I moved deeper into the cemetery, overgrown by forrest, I lost the best light…
f5.6 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
While the lighting isn’t great this image clearly illustrates how overgrown these old cemeteries can become.  The forrest and the creeping vegetation will one day reclaim all this land. Some of the wrought iron work was remarkable…

Beautiful iron work around this lichen covered grave stone. A detail on the right of this fence with the defocused lichen as a background. 

Reading the legible headstones revealed the brutal reality of the high infant/child mortality rate back then.

f5.6 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400

Many of these gravesite were devoted to children—several held siblings. This gravesite was touching for its unique ability to tell us, without words, the nature of those resting here.

This is why I’ve photographed cemeteries all theses years—especially the neglected, very old, cemeteries. Maybe my artistic versions of these places—before they too return to dust—will make them memorable.

’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 27, 2017


It took me 20 years as a professional photographer to learn that it’s not about how many lights you use it’s about using the fewest number of lights to create truly dramatic results. I learned early in my career the basic 5-light set-up from Monte Zucker (at his week long, hands-on West Coast School for Professionals at the Brooks Institute). His light placements and equally important subject poses were marvelous and I still use some of his techniques today. What I found difficult was using the standard 5-light set-up (Main light, Fill light, Hair light, and two background lights—or one background light and one kicker) in a very small camera room. You see the more lights you use in a small studio the more bounce you get—which creates more fill-which flattens out the lighting. And flat lighting really sucks the dram out of your subject. It took me a long time to realize that slavishly adhering to lighting convention—doing what everybody else was doing—was why my lighting lacked three dimensional drama.  And the reason, the culprit, was the FILL LIGHT.

My epiphany came at a professional photography seminar in San Francisco taught by Will Crockett.  He showed us his lighting technique using the Elinchrom, six foot, soft box with NO FILL. It was then I realized that the only reason for a fill light was to compensate for too small a main light. He showed us that with a large Main Light as close to your subject as possible its wrapping effect made fill unnecessary. The results were stunning!

So, I got an even bigger soft box! When I built my new studio here in Idaho I partitioned it so that my camera room was the biggest room in my reinvented photography studio. So, I got the Photoflex, 7 foot, Octadome and permanently banished my fill light to its case—as my back-up mono-light.

Here’s an example of the big light without fill…

 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
The key to using a large soft box—and not needing a fill light—is to place it in close and move it across the set (nearly in front of your camera) so the you get light in the subject’s far eye.  I want the big catch lights in both eyes!  And by deleting the fill light (usually back behind the camera) you eliminate those ghastly tiny catch lights (I call them ice-pick catch lights!) in the middle of your subject’s pupils.

This lighting technique produces a nice shadow side on your subject(s) creating the three dimensional quality of light that traditional artists have always sought. Depending on the number of subjects—because with more subjects I must move my main light away from them—I may add a white or silver reflector opposite the main to decrease the lighting ratio; but I never eliminate the shadow completely.

Here’s a group portrait using this technique….

PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014
This image was my PPA (Professional Photographer of America) International Print Competition Loan Collection winner 2014.  And, here’s the studio I designed around that 7-foot soft box...
Store Front Studio - Eagle, Idaho
You’ll note that my main light is on wheels—it needs to be easy to move. On the left is my white reflector on an adjustable arm.  Overhead is my hair light on a Bogen boom.  I have three other lights: two for background illumination and a kicker with a snoot.

Just one more…

This close-up shows just how sweet a very large soft box will “wrap” the face creating a very smooth transition from highlight to shadow.  I didn’t even need a reflector on this portrait and of course none of those “ice-pick catchlights” for this little cutie.

As usual, should you have questions please 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, June 20, 2017


Photographers just love old, rusted, weathered things. I’m no different—I’ve always been drawn to old decaying artifacts wether they be man made—like cemeteries, junkyards, ghost towns—or natural made like the slowly eroding sand stone structures in Canyon Lands and Arches National Park or the ancient bristlecones or Jeffery Pine trees in the west or the ultimate in weathered erosion the Grand Canyon.  These things draw us like moths to a flame!

Unlike a lot of photographers though, I am extremely picky about the quality of light that I use to photography my subjects. And, that quality comes down to one thing—the time of day, because I use “The Best Light Money Can’t Buy—Natural Light!” 


f8.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400
I used very directional, direct sunlight, to pick up detail and texture and create shadows to show three-dimensionality. I love this scene because of the primary color contrast of these tractor differentials. I moved my camera position to the right to Layer the red one against the blue one.

f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400
This image illustrates that besides time of day it’s equally important that you move your camera position relative to the subject to create the most dramatic lighting. I used a skimming back light here, it really picks-up the texture in this rusted tractor. If I can’t get in a position to get this dramatic light or there is NO Directional Light On My Subject—I Move On.

f16.0 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 400
This scene was one that I had earlier walked on by—with a mental note to revisit because it was in direct flat light at the time. I don’t waste my time using flat light with great subjects like these.  

Watching the sun’s direction of travel I knew this scene would develop nice texture close to sunset.

f11.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400
This was one of the last images I did on this location. The sun’s last rays were peaking between a large combine and stacks of tires creating a spot light effect on the “skin” of this small tractor.

For me this is what photography is all about—using dramatic light to create shape and texture. If I don’t have great light I don’t even take my camera out of it’s bag when I am in total control of the decision.

As always, should you have questions or comments leave them in the comments section.  ’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 13, 2017


I’m appalled at the number of newbie “professionals” I see talking on the photo-forums about buying and using the 85mm f1.2 (or 1. anything) lens wide open for portraits.  Using your lenses widest aperture (f2.8 or otherwise) is unwise in most circumstances especially when doing portraits of paying clients! I expect amateur photographers’ cavalier attitude of wide open apertures just due to their general lack of technical knowledge, but so called professionals must be aware and educated about what their tools can and cannot do. As professionals we must deliver exceptional quality in our images on every session we do—no excuses!

Even when I’m doing fine art photography, just for myself, I’m very careful about depth-of-field and mindful of all the variables that affect it. One of the most important variables that has a huge effect on the depth-of-field, that your selected aperture will yield, is the distance between your camera and the subject. 

To illustrate this effect the following images were exposed at the same aperture (f8.0), but at different distances….

f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Distance: 24:; Lens @ 84mm
Even at f8.0 you can see that the depth-of-field is very shallow when in this close. By using f8.0 I got nice sharp blossoms on just he nearest vine while everything else went nicely out of focus.

Using DoFMaster.com’s depth-of-field calculator ~

With my DLSR’s sensor: APS-C Nikon
  • at f 8.0
  • lens@ 84mm
  • at 24” from subject
  • the DOF is .56” (just over 1/2 inch) Just what I wanted!
If I had gone wide open:
  • to f2.8
  • the DOF would be .2” (only 2/10th of an inch)
So, let’s try really wide:
  • to f1.2
  • the DOF would be .08” (only 8/100ths of an inch!)
Virtually nothing would have been in focus with that little depth-of-field.

f8.0 @ 1180sec., Iso 800; Distance 8 ft.;Lens @ 44mm
So, at this distance (8 feet) my aperture of f8.0 gives me a depth-of-field of 38.2” which was plenty to keep the vines in front of the tree trunk and the tree trunk sharp. Note:  This works the same when photographing groups.

Other reasons not to “shoot” wide open:
  • Most lenses are not very sharp wide open; they’re often sharper stopped down a couple stops.
  • Many Lenses Vignette wide open creating dark corners around the image.
  • Some lenses induce chromatic aberrations when wide open…(look it up).
So, in summation, we as professionals must know how to get the most from our tools in order to create the best product possible for our clients on every session. That’s why I don’t “shoot” wide open.

’Til next week…

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

What is Chromatic Aberration?
Chromatic aberration, also known as “color fringing” or “purple fringing”, is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, and/or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane. Chromatic aberration is caused by lens dispersion, with different colors of light traveling at different speeds while passing through a lens. As a result, the image can look blurred or noticeable colored edges (red, green, blue, yellow, purple, magenta) can appear around objects, especially in high-contrast situations.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


One of my favorite things to photography are buildings being torn down (de-construction) or in the process of being built. When they are being built, I like to start when it’s early in the construction. I’m looking for the building’s bones—the framing and rebar—before you can tell what it’s going to be. When my subject is the demolition of a building I often wait until late in its deconstruction to simplify the composition. I may visit a site several times during construction or demolition to get that special composition. These visits are also necessary to determine when the best dramatic lighting will strike the subject—it’s usually in the morning or towards sunset. I’m looking for a skimming side light to bring out texture and three dimensionality—so I’m looking for shadows.

Here’s an example of the lighting I’m looking for…

f13.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; lens Canon 15mm Fisheye
You have to be on your toes with residential demolition. They can tear down houses very quickly! I caught this one at just he right time—most of the house was down except this front corner with its “picture window”? seeing it’s last view; Our view being the home’s interior remains.

I used my 15mm fisheye to move in close and use the lens’ distortion to wrap the trees around the remains of the house. 

This image was taken at 9:45 in the morning the second day of its demolition. When I cam back the next morning they had already hauled all the house debris away—even the trees were gone!  I’ve learned that trees are not sacred here—and they call Boise, Idaho, the City of Trees!

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Before there was Photoshop and  digital cameras the film we choose determined the look and style of our photography. One of the ways that you can set yourself apart creatively from other photographers is to do something they aren’t doing. Show people a vision (your interpretation) of things in the world they have not seen before. So, anytime I could push the boundaries and alter reality I would chose a film of alternate wavelength (infrared!) in either color or Black & White. 

For B&W infrared I used Kodak Professional High speed infrared film (HIE) in 35mm format. It covered the visible spectrum, some ultra violet radiation, and to about 900nm in the infrared region. Kodak suggested using a No. 25 red filter on the lens and 50 ASA while bracketing exposure four or five stops.  Because of its sensitivity you had to load the film into the camera in total darkness.  

Here’s an example from a series I did in 1976 of the famous “freeway interchange to nowhere” in San Jose, California…
Kodak HIE film 1/60 sec., @ f8.0 with 16mm fisheye lens using its 056 (orange) filter
I liked using my Minolta 16mm fisheye lens when doing infrared because of its tremendous depth-of-field kept everything in focus (you can’t focus your lens for the infrared spectrum) and this lens has several built in filters, on a rotating bezel, that made it easy to use with B&W or Color infrared. The only filter it was lacking was the NO. 25 red—that’s why I used the 056 (orange) filter when doing B&W infrared. 

What I really liked about using film for infrared photography was that beautiful grain! The grain gave the image a texture that I don’t see these days using digital techniques.

By way of comparison here’s a modern digital infrared image my son created using his converted DSLR….
Canon EOS T4i with enhanced IR (665nm filter)
My son, Alex, had his camera converted to capture infrared by Life Pixel. What’s nice about his modification is that his camera will create both B&W and Color infrared images. In the old film days we had to change films to do that. I guess the bad thing is that once converted that camera will ONLY do infrared capture.

I think Alex created a fabulous artistic vision here (at the Japanese Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California) that rivals any modern infrared I’ve seen to date. (In my totally unbiased, humble, opinion!)  What strikes me first about these digital IR converted cameras is the smoothness of their images. There’s no apparent grain and the hard clarity they produce is often hard to look at. I guess I’m just old school—I miss the look of grain in B&W films like Kodak Infrared, and Later T-Max 3200 (pushed at least 1-stop). Sadly, these films are long gone—yes we still have Tri-X, but for how long?

That’s it for this week….Let me know if you have questions or would like me to write something you have issues with.  ’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 23, 2017


Whenever I discover an interesting subject for my fine art portfolio I usually cover it well. Photographing it from multiple angles and using different focal lengths—carving it up into detailed sections. It’s interesting that no matter what I see at the moment when I photograph the actual subject when I revisit my images (months, sometimes years later) I always see another way to create a new—often better—version of the image by simply cropping it differently. And then I kick myself for not doing that crop in camera!  Why? What’s the big deal about simply cropping that image file?  Well, if you ever want to print that image as a wall print, say larger than 11x14”, how many pixels can you afford to loose and still make a stunning print?

As an example here’s the resulting cropped image from one of the “record-shots” of a cool old truck….I photographed 6-years ago…

f5.0 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm

After I reworked the rather boring record shot over in camera raw and with some tone mapping in Photoshop this crop made the image far more compelling. (albeit a bit cliche´.) 

Here’s the original record-shot….

You can see why I passed over this image and concentrated on several other unique images (of the hundreds I took) that did not need cropping.  So, back to file size in our digital world. Unlike in our medium format film days we can’t just willy-nilly crop away half or three quarters of our image area and expect to make a quality wall print. It all depends on what you’re starting with. Since our film has been replaced by a digital sensor it’s not just how many pixels your camera has…it’s the size of the sensor—don’t expect a four/thirds sensor to perform like a full-frame sensor! That’s why just carving-up a small sensor to make it 25 or 30mp’s is currently folly, because when you reduce cell site size you increase noise.

My Pro-DSLR produces a RAW file of, on average, 30MB. When converted to a jpeg the resulting file is 15 to 25 MB.

So, this is how my jpeg evolved from capture thru editing and cropping…
  1. The original CR file was: 26.88MB
  2. The converted CR to Jpeg was: 15.99MB
  3. TheCropped Jpeg was: 9.43MB
  4. The edited Jpeg with tone mapping is: 11.75MB
The cropping I did (not quite half the image area) really reduced my file size. Fortunately, I’m starting with a pretty healthy file size (but I could really use a 50MP sensor!) and my Photoshop edits with the tone mapping increased my final file size to a usable 11.75MB.  So, this post capture crop worked for me—this image looks good at 200% in Photoshop—but it would have been even better if I had moved in closer and created it like my crop!  

’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 16, 2017


We love getting our high school seniors outside for their portraits. It’s been a long, hard record breaking, winter here in Idaho, so I was happy to see that by the end of April one of our favorite parks—Merrill Park in Eagle, Idaho—was back to life!  We take a lot of our Eagle High School Seniors to Merrill Park because it has a surprising number of good areas for portraits for such a small park and I love the split rail fences that surround this park. 

So, with our sunset at 8:40pm we had mom and her daughter meet us a the park at 6:30pm—our usual two hours before sunset start time. As is my style when doing pure natural light portraits I keep the setting sun behind my subject to create a nice glow in the background for subject separation and visual interest. The only light I let strike may subject is natural sky light—the sky is my soft box! 

And our cute young lady of this session….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 182mm
This image was one of the favorites from her session.  It illustrates why I use the most telephoto I can along with a modestly wide aperture. With my lens at or near 200mm I can get a nice soft background even with the f4.5 aperture while still getting nice depth-of-field on my subject. This image was in the last set-up of her session—one hour before sunset.

Earlier in the session…
f4.5 @ 1/400sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
With the sun higher—two hours before sunset—we put her in the shade of the monolithic rocks that march across the back of the park. That kept the harsh sunlight at bay giving her nice, soft, sky light as her main light. 

Then at my favorite split rail fence….
 f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
We started here about an hour and a half before sunset doing several poses. As you can see with proper placement of your subject, using only a large patch of blue sky as the main light, there’s NO need for ANY reflectors and certainly no reason to wreck this beautiful light with the superfluous addition of flash (YUCK!).

Let me know if you have 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, May 9, 2017


By mid-year in 1976 I had given up trying to capture or create a single image on film to symbolize our bicentennial.  It just seemed impossible to create an image that was not trite or cliche—like bursting fireworks or some such thing.

So, towards the end of the year—I think it was November—I was out doing some photography in an orchard in Santa Clara (California) during the “magic hour” when I spotted this old barn about 75 yards away.  Even at that distance I could see the light was perfect for whatever was on this outside wall.  As I moved closer I was amazed to see this marvelously detailed slice of Americana…
Film: 35mm Ektachrome, High Speed, Daylight
I love the textures and details brought out by the strong side light from the setting sun—my style to this day!  And those details….the real feather duster and the rusted scissors and chains. And when was that old scale (made from wood!) made? Of course my 1976 theme was made complete when the owners tacked-up the 1976 US Bicentennial calendar over the previous year’s calendar.

All I did when I copied the original slide was crop some off two sides because the slide was damaged. Once in Photoshop I did a single image tone map (dark) to enhance the already warm detail and then I brought the whites UP to make the 1976 calendar stand out.

I must say that without our current digital capabilities and the editing powers of Photoshop this image would never have been seen by the public. A perfect blend of old and new.

’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 2, 2017


The problem I most often encounter with natural light outdoors is that there’s simply too much light! It’s bouncing all over the place, creating multiple sources, making the light on my subjects FLAT. My goal is to create dramatic, directional, lighting especially when I do portrait of individuals.

The following video is one of my on-location training videos, from my teaching site LightAtTheEdge.com (you can find a direct link at the end of this post), illustrating how I create three-dimensional lighting using ONLY a Gobo (black flag) to shape pure natural light.

In the world of cinematography we called this (using a black flag or Gobo to subtract light) Negative Fill and it works fine for individuals, but if photographing a group I use a large natural gobo on my location. I look for rows of trees or large bushes; downtown I’ll use buildings. In a home setting I may use a porch—just as long as I have some open sky opposite these Gobos.

I think the reason so few still photographers use this technique is that they’re too busy copying each other’s bad habits—like using flash and/or reflectors outside even when there’s perfectly good natural light in evidence!  So, open your mind and eyes to all the great natural light out there.

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


My favorite hight school seniors to photograph are those that are involved in sports or the arts or something where we can introduce, as props, things they can interact with that tell the viewer what they’re passionate about. We’ve also noticed when doing people’s portraits that they are more relaxed when holding something familiar.  Personal objects tend to have a calming effect making them less aware of the camera.

So, when I found out that this young man from Eagle High School (Eagle, Idaho) was a musician and played saxophones in several bands, including their Jazz band, I asked his mother to please bring his instruments to the session!  This was special to me because I played the Alto Saxophone way, way, back in Junior High School and have always loved its sensual sound. 

His mom wanted portraits of him in his tux, so we started in the studio with his Alto sax…
f13.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200
After we did the usual yearbook portraits I changed-up the lighting for this very dramatic lighting of him playing his sax.  I placed my 7-foot main, soft box, 90 degrees to the left of camera and removed my usual white reflector from camera right—if you want drama in the studio remove ALL FILL! The only other lights are the background and hair lights.  

Next we moved outside to a local park with him more casually dressed and toteing his baritone saxophone….

f5.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
I like the big baritone because it does not get lost in a full figure pose—it has substantial presence!

So, I had to do a close-up to highlight it’s marvelous detail…

 f5.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
He really liked this particular image! Mom wanted some close-ups without the saxophone so we moved to a spot with a nice backlit background.  By now he was very relaxed with us so we had him sit on a low, split rail, fence while mom coaxed a smile out of him.

Our favorite was this nice neutral look showing his quiet intensity…
f4.5 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
By using f4.5 @ 200mm I always get a nice painterly look in my backgrounds and good Bokeh from the backlight’s specular high lights.

That’s it for this week…have any questions or comments feel free…’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 18, 2017


Having just done a video on Dramatic Studio Lighting: Tools and Guns, I decided to try and compare light painting the exact same subjects!  I approached this little demonstration with some anxiety because with 30+ years experience in studio flash photography I’m used to being in strict control of exactly where each light is going and its measurable amount. I really like that with my professional studio flashes each has a modeling light that allows me to see what each hight is doing. It’s hard to give up that kind of control especially for an artistic perfectionist!

To add to my anxiety—I’d never done light painting in the studio before and I’ve set up a rather complex lighting challenge with this collection of small objects surrounding one large object all very close together. So, let the demonstration begin…and let me know, once you’ve seen the results, which do YOU think is better, light painting or studio flash and why?

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


I was going to just write a blog on this topic until I though about how many paragraphs it would take trying to describe the complex set-up and execution of dramatic studio lighting. 

The kind of lighting I do is not the usual product photography where photographers just put the object in a translucent light cube creating flat directionless light of the object floating in a white field, like what is used for catalogs. That’s not dramatic or even interesting and it’s certainly not art—that’s why I never wanted to do catalog photography.

Anything  you can put on a table top can benefit from the use of dramatic studio lighting. The following short video shows that my method is not really difficult and well worth the effort.

'Til next week...Let me know how you like the video format...

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


When photographers can’t find a rustic country scene locally to photograph in the snow we build it in our backyard!  

Here in our urban community of Meridian, Idaho it’s harder and harder to find the country farms and old barns I love so much. As the housing developments grow those farms and barns are being demolished rapidly.  Two barns with their farm houses—even all the trees—were knocked down last year here in Meridian and the remaining two farms with barns are for sale making way for more housing developments.

So, as a photographer that likes these old things I collect authentic farm tools and other rusty memorabilia that I can bring together in a variety of ways and build photo-sets. Sometimes I build these sets in my studio, but for this project I wanted an outdoor snow scene.  Our local weather people were predicting some good snow, but I waited until we had a good base on which to build my set. I was dubious because last winter (2015) we hardly had any snow—the most we got at any one time was three inches.  It turned out that I would not have to worry about too little snow…

 f13.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400
We got six inches of snow here in early December (2016) and then six more, so by the time I got my act together I had to dig out an area upon which to place my base and farm course door for  a level set! One of my tricks so my set would collect snow more easily is to tilt the whole set back against the fence. Based on past snow fall here in Meridian this trick was necessary….not this year!

Here’s my whole set after I removed enough snow to make my tools and lantern visible!  I used a manual, rubber bulb, air blower and small brushes to remove the excess snow for a realistic look. 

My Snow Set
And the snow just kept coming! It turned out that this season’s snowfall, from December 2016 to January 2017, was the most ever recorded in the Boise area.

The first images I made of my set looked good, but with all the snowfall (overcast sky) the lighting was always too flat, so I kept the set up for a couple weeks util we got a break in the weather and the sun came out.

That’s when I took the final image. The low sun hitting my set from the right gave me the three dimensional quality I wanted on the snow.

Hope you enjoyed…’Til next week.

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


There are certain subjects that the practitioners of photography as art just can’t walk by—and old doors are near the top of the list. The older the better. They… O.K. we—can’t resist the pealing paint or hand caved varieties in particular. 

Also on the list of subject 5 we can’t walk by—No, we actively seek out these things:
  • Old wood, barn wood or anything made from barn wood.
  • Leaning or tilting barns, buildings, outhouses, headstones or crosses—anything. Leaning or tilting.
  • Old windows—see pealing paint/hand carved—hand made glass preferable with broken panes; tattered drapes a bonus.
  • Sway-back barns, outbuildings, horses—sway-back anything
  • Rusting tractors, old cars, guns, tools, bridges, baby carriages—anything rusting.
  • Wheels—old, rusting, wooden, wagon wheels with remnants of pealing paint and we’re golden!
Now you now why you can’t keep photographers out of ghost towns. Everything on the list can be found in a good ghost town.  It’s Disneyland for  photographers!

So, here’s one of my contributions to old doors…

 f9.5 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
If you want to find some nice old doors it’s hard to beat Italy. This 2nd floor pealing beauty to no where was on the Isle of Capri.

The bottom line on my list is OLD and if you want to find old Italy ( and the European continent ) is hard to beat. It seems that the youngest thing in Italy is four times older than the oldest thing in the USA by comparison.

And back to our OLD list with a natural twist:
  • Old gnarled trees like the Bristlecone or Jeffery Pine.  I guess the ultimate would be the petrified forrest—of course anything petrified!
  • Natural Arches, Pillars, hoodoos, goblins, post piles, windows or waves.
  • Canyons (Grand or slot) to caves and anything there-in.
Another of my favorite old doors….
f.95 @ 1.80 sec., ISO 400
I found this hand carved masterpiece in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

So, what is it with us photographers and old doors? To be sure we are suckers for anything old. I think it has a lot to do with the patina of age. Time and weather create marvelous textures on wood and metal (rust) that can’t be found in modern materials as they age. Even with dramatic lighting there’s not the same artistic interest in weathered plastic, carbon fiber or stainless steel. Modern materials do not age gracefully, they just tend to disintegrate. Old doors are special, they can exhibit the things we look for in old man made objects like rusting hardware, layers of pealing paint and sometimes superb craftsmanship. 

But they offer more than their appearance. They entice us with an unknown story; who made it, why did they put so much effort into it, and when found loose, what building was it attached to? Then when we photograph a great old door that’s installed on a building in use there’s always the mystery of who’s on the other side and what’s their story? Though we never knock to find those answers. We move on looking for the next treasure to photograph attaching the unsolved mystery to each door not unlike the metadata that describes each image we create.

What’s on Your list of artistic subjects that are irresistible to you?

'Til next week…keep practicing and learning…

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