Tuesday, November 14, 2017


As a professional, travel photography is always about fine art for me. If I don’t have great lighting—preferably directional—or compelling composition I can create or a really different point of view, I usually pass on that subject. I may revisit the subject at a different time of day if I think the lighting will be better.

The point is I don’t just capture images of what’s in front of me to get an image—I don’t do “record shots”. With this philosophy it means that I don’t blow through hundreds of locations in a few days (remember the movie, “If this is Tuesday it must be Belgium”!). So, the tour bus method of visiting iconic subjects is out of the question if you want to create art on your travels. Therefore, I limit how many locations I’m planning to photograph. I pick a hotel close to my subject locations so I can walk to them. That makes it easy to revisit those locations if I decide sunset lighting is better than sunrise lighting for the subject. 

For example, having planned on a hotel to get the view of the famous Faraglioni Rocks—on the Mediterranean side of the Isle of Capri, Italy—it was easy to create the image I had in mind.

f16.0 @ 1/125sec, ISO 400
I just didn’t know the best time of day for this view of the rocks until we checked into the hotel. I was hoping for some nice direct sunset lighting on the rocks, but for this time of year (early May) it never happened. So, it became a sunrise image; had to get up at 5am and set up my camera position on the roof of the hotel for this marvelous view.

Another sunrise image from Capri…

f11.0 @ 1/250th sec., ISO 400
Since I wanted this offset composition, with the house on the cliff to the right, it was vital that I have nice clouds in the background.  

NOTE: In general, when doing landscapes, if I don’t have good clouds in the sky I pass on the scene until I do get some clouds.  And I know you can add them in post, but it's just not the same.

I’m always looking for directional lighting that will show texture and create shadows. In this next image I found it on an interior….

f8.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400
This is an interior view of one entryway at the ruins of Villa Jovis, Emperor Tiberius’ Palace on Capri. I guess this was the ancient Roman’s way of making “exit” lights over doorways!

 f4.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800
Downtown Capri’s old clock tower building strung with lights over the outdoor seating for their restaurants was a must do image.

TIP: I did this at dusk just after sunset—so the lights would show-up, but the sky would still have color. Photographing at dusk means that you don’t need a tripod; you merely have to bump up your ISO (800 in this image) so you can hand hold your camera.

With my artistic photographic background rooted in the black and white darkroom I’m always looking for color images to convert to black and white. So, when we walked through Capri’s yacht harbor I was especially vigilant for some artistic compositions of the boats on the water.

f16.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This was a natural for B&W conversion. I especially like how the water renders in B&W.

TIP: One of my favorite B&W methods of conversion is with NIK’s, Silver Efex Pro2, plug-in for Photoshop. 

In Part 2 we’ll go to Rome and Pompeii to create some fine art images…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


We had a pretty early fall here in Idaho this year. Some of the trees turned completely the first week in October. Seeing that trend I was out hitting my favorite dozen spots for fall colors right away. 

So, now that it’s the first week in November fall is pretty much over and now I follow the leaves to my ground game! The basic rule with fall art photography is we look up—catching that great back light for fall colors at the beginning and then after the fall has happened then we look down for interesting leaf compositions on the ground!

I’m looking for colorful leaves on an interesting contrasting background like this….
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 48mm
When doing this style of photography I tend to stop down my lens—here I used f14.0—for maximum depth-of-field. With the leaves laying on the background you can’t knock the background out of focus without also making all the leaves soft as well. 

Whatever the leaves have fallen on is just as important as the leaves themselves…
 f13.0 @ 1/60 sec ISO 400; lens at 50mm
This rotted-out log was ideal as a natural container—after all the leaves came from this type of tree and now they’ve rejoined to fertilize the forrest floor.  Aside from that symbolism I like the contrasting texture of the log against the leaves.

And what did I say about the absence of backlight at ground level?
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
Sometimes we can make that happen with the proper placement of a favorite leaf!

What helped here was the very thick above ground root system that allowed me to place that leaf so it caught the light of the setting sun. So, the leaf got nice back light and the tree roots got a great skimming side light to show their texture.

So, now I’m looking forward to winter weather. The snow is nice, but what I really like to photograph is the freezing fog. The ice crystals, created by freezing fog, that cling to everything makes the outside world look like a huge Christmas ornament! My favorite time of year…

I’m 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, October 31, 2017


I like my B&W images to be very dramatic. If the color image I start with does not have dramatic lighting for texture or at least dramatic blacks with good contrasting whites then I leave it as a color image.

This first image conversion is from an Ektachrome High Speed Color slide from a cemetery series I did back in 1975.  I did not scan the slide to create my working digital file—I photographed it using my Canon 5D MKII using a macro lens. To see how I did it check out my YouTube video, Copying Slides and Negatives with a DSLR…you’ll find the link located at the bottom of the article.

Here’s the cropped B&W conversion….

For this conversion I worked with the 25.7MB RAW file in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw). Like all the other Pros on the web, I’ll warn you not to just de-saturate your file with that tempting slider, at the bottom, in ACR Basic; that’s a No, No!
  • Instead I use the HSL/Greyscale (it’s the fourth box over from the Basic box below the Histogram/data display)
  • Then you check the box—Convert to Greyscale
  • Now you’re in Greyscale Mix-Auto
  • Click on Default (next to Auto); I don’t do anything in Auto—I want total control of all values!
  • Now you have control of 8 - color sliders, from Reds to Magentas, giving you control of tonalities throughout the image.
Here’s my original color image….

Because I wanted this image to be grainy I used Kodak Ektachrome H.S. Daylight film and had it pushed to 1000ASA. This produced nice big grain, but also induced the brown cast in the slide that I never really liked.  So, 42 years later I have a B&W version of this image that I’m happy with!

For this next image we’ll start with a digital file from my old Fuji Pro S5 camera done in this century! Like last time here’s the end result…

This conversion was done using the ever popular NIK, Silver Efex, Pro 2 software. This is probably the easiest, and at the same time, really effective B&W conversion out there.
  • Once you open your file in NIK you have a Pre-set Library of 38 different styles of conversion to try out.
  • Then you can modify any selection with the color sliders or levels and curves.
  • Then you can go wild in Film Types—film emulation modes—where you have 18 film types to choose from.
  • In addition there are Global Adjustment sliders.
Here’s the original color file…
 f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
This was a nice vertical image in color, but I think the weeds were a distraction from the old barn wood when converted to B&W.

I tend to do a lot of cropping in post; when I see my images in two-dimensions I often see something I didn’t see on location.

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, October 24, 2017


I always look forward to our marvelous fall colors here in Idaho. After all Boise is called “the city of trees” for a reason. And not to be outdone the fall colors in Eagle, Meridian, and Nampa are always great as well.

My style of photography is different than the many photographers’ work I see on the web—especially those in the East—where they often do wide views of whole forests ablaze in fall colors. That’s OK if all you want is a “record shot” of fall colors, but those pictures usually remind me of the pictures amateurs take, at those tourist viewpoints, at the marked turn-outs along side the road at National Parks.

As artists I think we must delve a lot deeper into our subjects than the amateurs and tourists. I mean that literally when it comes to fall colors.

These are my techniques:
  1. I walk into the outer edge of the forrest looking for backlight.  If you go too deep into the forest you lose the backlight.
  2. This means that the sun must be visible; you’re not going to get good backlight on a cloudy day.
  3. I don’t use wide angle focal lengths. Most of the time I use my 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens.
I’m looking for details like this….

 f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
This image with its crisp detail, due entirely to the strong backlight, speaks volumes about the nature of autumn.

  1. As seen in this image, I look for layers of leaves to create some dark contrasts within the composition. The silhouettes of the smaller leaves behind my larger backlit leaf creates that contrast.
  2. I’m also very aware of the background behind any subject I photograph. If I can’t get a near perfect background behind my subject (here I wanted a dark contrasting background) I simply move-on to another subject.
  3. I used f11.0 as my aperture here to create maximum sharpness in all these leaves knowing that my background would still be nicely out of focus (with nice bokeh) because that background is about 50 yards behind my subject.
In this next image I wanted a softer look….

f4.5 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Here my tree is part of the background so to knock it out of focus I picked f4.5 as my aperture to give me just enough depth of field for my branch of colorful leaves in backlight. This made the deep background very soft due mostly to my choice of using the focal length of 200mm.

In this last image I’m doing a lot of backlit leaves…

f11.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 70mm
What attracted me to this scene was the contrast between the soft backlit leaves and the graceful, curving, dark branches of the tree. The nice thing about doing fall colors using backlight is that it can be done at just about any time of day.  Sometimes mornings are best, sometimes I use sunset and even noon time can work. It just depends on which direction the subject leaves are facing.

Hope you enjoyed my journey…’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


When we arrived here, in Meridian Idaho in 2009, nothing was being built in Ada County due to the recession.  The tradesman we hired to build-out the retail space we leased for our new photography studio, The Storytellers, in Eagle were delighted for any work. What struck me the most when we got here was the refreshing mix of residential/commercial area with large tracts of farm or ranch land or open space with trees.  It was fun to speculate what crop the various farmers had planted as they were beginning to sprout.  The backyard at our home in Meridian backed up to a farm where there were always a few cows with their calfs grazing on the other side of our fence!  At our studio in Eagle, there was a family farm right across the street on the corner of Edgewood and State Streets.  We had a great view of it through our 12 foot picture window; the seasonal changes of that view, especially the fall colors and the winter snow, was delightful. Whenever I saw good clouds in the sky and the light was good I would go across the street and photograph the farm as it changed with the seasons.

This was one of my favorite views….
f14.0 @ 1/1000th sec., ISO 400
I really like these wood fences (typical here in Idaho) around the fields, and the small farm house with lots of trees; the dramatic Idaho sky helps, too.

Here’s the other side of the farm….

f11.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This was done in late October about an hour before sunset.  Love those trees and clouds. That fence needed to be highlighted….

 f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400
So, I moved closer and zoomed-in (lens @ 200mm) to catch the marvelous shadows being cast by the fence onto the grass.

Everything, in these previous images, is gone now…

I took this photo yesterday (10-14-17) from about the same vantage point as the first photo in this blog.  Typically when they “develop” farm land here in Idaho they level the field taking out all the fences and structures; that’s how we’re loosing all the old barns in Idaho. But, I still don’t understand why they also take down ALL the trees on a property; all the trees in the second and third images are gone. 

Sadly, this is happening all over Ada County. Since 2014 housing development and now apartment complex builds have skyrocketed. In 2016 building permits in Ada County leapt to 6,276 from the 1,648 in 2011. Here in Meridian permits went from their low in 2010 of 506 to 1,662 in 2016! 

Now I know why they have reported that Meridian Idaho is one of the fastest growing cities in the USA.  Big Whop!  

Nearly 40 acres of farmland in the USA is lost every hour—N.Y. Times

Yes trees will grow back eventually and people need some place to live, but they need to eat too and once concrete is laid over cropland it’s a historical fact that it never reverts back to cropland.  Such a shame…

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I’ve been doing action photography for 40 years. Most of that was in the film era with everything in manual mode; most significantly our lenses were all manual focus! Many technical capabilities have changed, to our advantage, since we went digital.

— Shutter Speed:  Our old 35mm cameras were limited to 1/1000 of a second; today 1//8000 sec., is common.

— ISO Choices:  Our film limited us to 400-500 ASA—pushing to 1000 ASA had to be done at special labs; today the sky is becoming the limit.

— Manual Focus Lenses:  That’s all we had; today our auto focus lenses are superb giving us an amazingly high yield rate.

One of the most important things I learned, that has not changed, is to carefully plan my action images. Part of that planning is knowing what your action subject is going to do.  If I know where it’s coming from and where it’s going then I can place my camera in a great place to capture it in the proper place, compositionally, within the frame.

In this first example….

f6.3 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 640
I wanted to catch this BMX Stunter with my camera in a vertical orientation and show the stand and street lamp (to indicate his altitude), as well as the horizon line of hills in the background. I did not pan my camera with his action, like I usually do; for this image I held dead-on to the compositional framing you see here and snapped the shutter as he flashed through the frame. This wasn’t really that difficult because his forward progress has slowed because he’s doing a 360 degree loop and I caught him at his peak altitude; he’s at 180° here and when he completes his rotation, wheels down, he’ll exit at frame left.

In this next image….

 f6.3 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 500
For this image, since I just wanted to isolate him against the sky, I follow panned his run up the ramp, from camera right to left, and as he went airborne I froze his action at its peak with my fast shutter speed.

A Style Note on Shutter Speeds

My style or philosophy on capturing action is generally:

— For relatively slow moving subjects (like these bicycles or rodeo photography) I use Very Fast Shutter Speeds.

— For very fast moving subjects (like race cars and motorcycles) I use Slow Shutter Speeds.

Sounds counter-intuitive does it?

Well I found many, many, years ago that slow moving action subjects often look more interesting when frozen at peak action.  Whereas very fast moving subjects like race cars or motorcycles, on a road course, look very boring when frozen in place; it turns the race track into a parking lot!

Here is how I portray great speed….
f16.0 @1/15 sec., ISO 400
This fast action pan is pretty radical with my shutter speed at 1/15th of a second. You can see its effect on the front bike as we have some “jiggle-blur” because that bike hit some bumps on the track.  However, the effect of panning on the track and background is great and the isolation of the racers, as a result, leads your eyes to them.

The key to pulling-off good pans is to follow the action smoothly and to follow-through. You’ll get a better yield with high speed action pans if your shutter speed is a little faster—say 1/30th or 1/60th of a second.

How about a fast moving stationary subject?
f11.0 @1/30th sec., ISO 400
This image at the Western Idaho State Fair of an antique steam engine driving belted pulleys to a pump is a fast mover and yet is just sitting there! So, I used a slow shutter speed to make the large flywheels mostly clear to reveal the crank, rods, and belts working between the wheels. Then in post I did some tone mapping and converted the image to Black and White.

Now in this final image the dragster is not going super fast, but it’s not slow either….
f11 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400
This image of the legendary Chi-Town Hustler, funny car, at the Fremont Drag-strip was done at a medium shutter speed because when a dragster is doing a long burn out, like the Chi-Town Hustler was famous for, it’s not moving at race speeds because it’s literally spinning its tires!  My goal was to freeze all that nice back lit smoke with the funny car at the head of its’ rocket like contrail.

Technical Note:
The first two images, of the BMX stunter in the air, were done with the auto focus, on my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens, in the AI Servo AF Mode. This mode is for moving subjects when the subject’s distance keeps changing. As you hold down the shutter release halfway the subject will be focused continuously.  The AI Servo AF Mode is simply fabulous! I wish I had this technology 40 years ago; my yield doing action photography would have been dramatically higher.

So, any of you out there reading this, try some radical, slow shutter speed, pans of a fast mover and show me your results,  Have some fun!

’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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


It’s remarkable what we can do with an image in five minutes with Photoshop as our darkroom (or the “dim room” as a fellow photographer coined it). In this example I did both a Black & White and color interpretations of an image spending 5 minutes on each version. In our wet darkroom days this would have taken a whole weekend setting up for B&W and then color in my home darkroom.

This color version was done using Nic’s Single Image Tone Mapping in Photoshop. This program is really great for pulling out detail in clouds. In fact you have to be careful because some of the tone mapping presets will easily overdo the detail rendering one of those wildly over the top images we see so often on the internet.

Typically I’ll quickly sample each preset until one gets close to the look I want—on this image I chose the Sinister preset—and then I manually adjust most of the sliders until I’m happy with it. Since Tone Mapping often introduces noise along with its effects I finished with noise reduction—for this image I used Luminance noise reduction in Camera Raw.

Not bad for 5 minutes work; here’s the original file….

f5.6 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 17mm
Then bringing this original into Nic again….how about a B&W version! When I took this image I saw this as a B&W art piece. So, I put this file into Nik Silver Efex Pro2; my favorite B&W conversion program.

So, to make this quick I scroll through the 38 presets until I find one close to my vision of this image as a black and white. I settled on: 024-Full Contrast and Structure and then did some tweaking in Camera Raw afterwords.

The only problem with Photoshop, not to mention the many plug-ins available, is reaching that point where you are satisfied.The danger is spending as much time in the “dim room” on an image as we did in the wet darkroom! I hear photographers, way too often, saying they spent 20 hours + working on some landscape image.  It maybe that many photographers these days don’t know what they want when they make the original exposure. 

Have Ansel Adams' Lessons on PRE-VISUALIZTION gone out of style? Or are his views on art and crafting the fine art print no longer relevant?  I hope not…

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


I always look forward to coverage of our state fair here in boise. I especially enjoy doing photography of the traditional animal competitions put on by the FFA and 4H Clubs. I also check out the winners in the agricultural events. It’s always fun to see who grew the largest pumpkin each year! I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the people who work so hard producing the food we eat. I think these competitions are crucial in attracting our young people to careers in agriculture. After all the animal husbandry and agricultural shows were the reason for the original county fairs. 

By going behind the scenes photography of these old fashioned, timeless events I can show what few people these days—outside of the actual competitors—take the time to witness at a state fair. It’s sad that even in a major agricultural state such as Idaho I rarely see our local media covering these events. In fact I’m usually the ONLY professional photographer out there, getting my shoes dirty, documenting the boys and girls with their animals.

 f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 168mm
Jessica in line for the horse showmanship competition. I had photographed her before when she won the Rodeo Queens Competition (Teen Queen) for the Meridian Lions. You can tell she’s all stressed-out here! An outstanding young lady; a real competitor with a great attitude.

When I show up the competitors and animal owners are delighted and will pretty much do anything I ask of them, so that I can create great images. One of my goals this year was to do a nice portrait of a long horn steer, but it couldn’t be just any steer and I wanted really nice portrait lighting. All of the animals barns are total black holes with very low and directionless levels of light. So, when I arrived at the longhorn barn when the light was perfect outside, I saw they were hosing down some longhorns outside the barn. While I was doing some images of these longhorns a lady (Vicki) approached and asked if I wanted to photograph a prize winning example of a longhorn.  Yes, indeed, I said, that’s why I was here. Then, she said, you need to see Apollo!

 f10.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400
So, we brought Apollo out of the barn and I placed him in that great light of the setting sun. Vicki said that they use Apollo in local parades usually with one of her girls riding this beautiful steer. 

The horse showmanship competition gets under way in the large arena…

f6.3 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 100mm
Notice the lack of audience in the stands. This is typical at most animal competitions; the audience that does show-up are mostly family and friends. 

Meanwhile, behind the scenes I witnessed another line-up…

 f6.3 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens at 200mm
Yeah, it’s nose scratching time! That second horse really looks ready—Me-too me-too! It’s a rough life being a showmanship horse. 

Over at the swine competition a very different (short) life awaits these “market hogs”…

f4.5 @ 1/200sec., ISO 3200
Here the animals are being judged for the amount and quality of their meat. Don’t ask me what the hog handlers are doing here—it all looks very mysterious! This is one of those dimly lit barns I mentioned earlier. Since I’m hand holding and there’s action I had to bump my ISO to 3200, which increased the noise level a lot. Going to Black & White and adding noise reduction produced a usable image.

Over at the goat barn I found some light….

 f6.3 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
The girls here at “Birds of a Feather” were eager to help me set-up a pose with Vincent Van Goat, one of their blue ribbon winning pygme goats.

Over at the smaller arena….

 f5.6 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
The competition for the, very cute, miniature horses was fun to watch.  Here the “horsemen” must run along side, leash in hand, very much like a dog show, through the serpentine course with multiple jumps.

So, next time you go to your State Fair check out the FFA and 4H Clubs events usually on the outskirts of the fair grounds, the farthest you can get from public parking! You may get dirty and sometimes it’s smelly, but it’s enlightening and you may learn something—besides the walk will do ya good.

’Til next week…I will answer your photography questions…just ask…

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Getting a High School senior to open-up and show different sides of their personality in a two hour portrait session can be challenge. So, to relax them we always suggest they bring things that mean something to them, like a musical instrument or their sports gear (football, tennis racket, volleyball, etc.) to take their focus off these strangers with a camera. We’ve found over the years that when any of our portrait subjects hold something familiar they immediately appear more comfortable in front of our camera.

This is usually easier with girls because they are more apt to bring many changes of clothes and accessories; playing dress-up always brings out their personality! Because they only bring their favorite clothes and accessories they’re happily looking forward to the portrait experience and that attitude shows in the images we create together.

f4.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Two more things we do that makes our seniors more comfortable during a session:
  1. I’m not in-their-face with the camera.  I’m backed-off using my 70-200mm lens—usually at 200mm—that way I’m not inside their personal space. They don’t even know when I’m taking pictures—that makes great candids possible.
  2. My wife Kathi is the one who is personally interacting with them in setting up their pose, arranging arms, hands, legs, adjusting stray hair, fixing clothing problems—what ever is necessary to make them look great.  Besides the more things Kathi fixes up front the less she will be asked to do later in retouching or artwork. 
In the following image, without changing the basic pose, we caught a really nice thoughtful look just by asking her to look away from the camera, without smiling, sans glasses.

f4.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
In addition we like to convert some of the color images to monochrome giving her and the parents different looks to choose from in their premier. 

NOTE: Whenever we do portraits of anyone who wears glasses we suggest images with and without them wearing the glasses for two reasons.  1) It shows two different looks, but most importantly, 2) if you should get glass glare it gives us images of her eyes to do some cloning to correct the problem if necessary. In this session she chose to not wear her glasses in most of her portraits.

This young lady brought several changes of clothes, part of her hat collection and her guitar—we all had a lot of fun!

Here she changes her top and brought out the hats…
f4.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Another advantage of using my lens at 200mm is the marvelous effect, created by that focal length with a wide aperture, on the background. The soft bokeh effect is really beautiful and it separates your subject from the background.

Again, I like the portraits without the smile—I think the neutral expression leads you to her eyes and tells you more about her.  However, she does have a nice smile…
f4.0 @ 1.160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Another outfit and hat combo…
f4.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 145mm
Then we changed the pose with her looking right to the camera…

 f4.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 145mm
Like most of our outdoor sessions this was done about 2 hours before sunset with most of the images here done between 1-hour to 20 minutes before sunset. Even though this session was done in August I made the backgrounds look like fall by using the setting sun as backlight with the open sky as my main light.

As usual, should you have questions 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, September 12, 2017


Here at The Storytellers a family portrait is a team effort from beginning to end.  Kathi and I talk about and preplan the session, with the client’s input, weeks before the event. I will suggest a location, when doing out door portraits, that is at its best for that time of year and will work for the size of their group.

If the client wants portraits done at their home or any place I’ve never seen I will first visit that location, at the same time of day scheduled for their session, to verify that the location will look at least as good as our tried and true locations before I will consent to their request. 

One of the most important parts of this preplanning is the clothing consultation.  When clients take our suggestions to simplify their clothing selections to solid colors (no stripes or patterns) of lower contrast (don’t mix whites and black or the extremes of a single color) and use muted tones like shades of blue, green or grey, they always like their portraits better than clients that ignore our advice.  

This family took our advice and wore nice simple shades of grey…

 f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 175mm
With simple clothing colors your eyes are drawn to the subjects’ faces in a portrait not what they’re wearing.  This image is the final art worked, retouched, and cropped file that went to the printer for their wall portrait.

To illustrate our collaborative process lets step back to how this portrait evolved.  We don’t know exactly how we’re going to pose a family group until the moment we meet them all. We did know that with this family of three, with two dogs, that our medium posing rock would suffice if needed. Our goal with our posing rocks, or any on site natural rocks or logs, is to vary our subjects head heights.  We avoid simply lining up a standing group of people, firing squad style, the way many amateur photographers do.  In addition seating people often makes them look more relaxed.

Once Kathi sees the client’s body types she is already mentally posing them as a group.  Keeping in mind that we already know that the client is not sure if they want to replace their current vertical image or change to a horizontal orientation. Composing both vertical and horizontal groupings at each location you choose or tighter grouping will allow for either.

As soon as I’ve decided which spot within the location (here we used Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho) to start the session, Kathi asks me where I want the posing rock placed for the best background. This is critical for me because I build a portrait from the background forward. And it often does not matter where she puts it because after I see where our subjects’ heads land on the background I ask her to move the rock anyway!  This is why two sets of eyers are so important in this process.  Kathi will often see things that I don’t and I, being at camera position, will see things that Kathi can’t see.

Our main goal is to make our subjects look as good as we can and fix objectionable details before we take any photos to minimize the things Kathi has to fix in post-production later.

To illustrate here’s the before image….

One of the big changes here is that when the clients picked their favorite image for their 20x24” Wall Portrait they wanted it to be a Vertical print. Of course I shot this as a horizontal image!  However, this was a pretty easy fix because Kathi has been constantly reminding me over the years to “Shoot Loose” when framing up groups in my viewfinder to minimize the background artwork to fill-in areas needed to make a print in any size.

In addition to her usual retouching of the clients eyes or facial blemishes the red circled areas are the areas Kathi did enhancement art work.  The client requested the removal of their black dog’s harness and the dad’s hand holding on to the white dog’s collar.  That was OK with Kathi because she knew the changes were possible and if she knows she can doit and it’s always included with any purchase of our custom wall portraits.

However, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that small objectionable things that are OK on a computer monitor become Big Objectionable Things on wall prints, especially when the print is 20x24” or larger!  Case in point—when Kathi zoomed-in on the white dog (see his circled leg) she noticed his exposed private parts would surely become very objectionable when enlarged!  So, she moved the dog’s leg to cover it’s privates.  Good catch on Kathi’s part—nobody saw this at the premier—and great use of her skills in Photoshop—adding value for the client and making this a fabulous wall print!

A note to beginning Professional Portrait Photographer:
In order to become successful at dealing with clients during a portrait session you must pay the utmost attention to everything happening in front of your camera and less to the back of the camera!  A professional’s technical proficiency needs to be a given; it’s all the other things we do that make our client’s look great and have a fun portrait experience that also makes us money. 

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


I treat hot air balloons like very large, colorful, sculptures. So, I apply my usual rules of composition and lighting to create visual interest and three dimensionality. The challenge is that these things are very dynamic and offer several stages in the process from their initial inflation with fans, then the ignition of the big gas burners, bringing the balloon to vertical, followed by lift-off and then the jostling for position as 20 or 30 balloons spring into the air in very quick succession

It’s all very hectic and chaotic and in that first hour, as the balloons launch all around me, I’m constantly turning and shooting as I capture the action unfolding 360 degrees around me. In that first hour I make at least 300 images.

Yeah, some of you are saying, that’s all he takes! Well, all I can say is that I’m very picky about when and where I click the shutter. I rarely do the single balloon image, especially in the air, as I find those rather boring. My favorite photographic challenge is creating compositional layers of multiple balloons. So, I’m always looking for interesting juxtapositional combinations….

f6.3 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 45mm
These two balloons, visiting from Belgium, at our annual Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, are sculptures in cloth! Since they were parked next to each other I circled around them to layer one against the other stopping when I got the nice directional light (when the shadow side of the subject’s face is nearest to the camera…this is called “Short Lighting”) on Yoda’s face.

Here’s another layered composition….

f6.3 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
Here I circled around to get the, back, side light and captured four balloons! I’ve got the foreground, mid ground and background composition with two balloons in the air; Nice!

I love the duality of hot air balloons.  When going aloft they fly in silence like a kite on the wind and then the gas burner roars to life, breathing fire into it, giving the balloon its primal source of lift.

f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 24mm
When doing the balloon’s initial heat-up I usually pick a dark colored balloon for this image so the fire will really stand out.

I’m a sucker for backlight…

f9.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 70mm
These two balloons were coming back for their landing so I moved towards some trees, for some foreground interest, waited for them to overlap and got them both glowing in backlight. 

This is how I broke my rule against images of single balloons in flight…

f13.0 @ 1/400 SEc., ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
As the balloons drifted west towards the entrance to Ann Morrison Park (Boise, Idaho) I remembered the fountain! Fortunately, the fountain was OFF, but still full of water, giving me perfectly still water for a perfect reflection making my single balloon a two-shot!

All of these images were taken using my Canon 24-105mm, f4.0, Lens on either my Canon 5D MKII or Canon 70D body. I find this lens gives me the most useful focal lengths for these large subjects and the speed that only a zoom can provide.

’Til next week…Have a question?  Don’t hesitate to ask…

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