Tuesday, August 14, 2018


In Part 1 I stressed that I preferred to use natural light or the artificial ambient light on my wedding locations while denigrating photographers who used flash too much. That’s not to say that I do’t use flash at weddings; on the contrary I’ve always had a flash mounted on Both of the cameras around my neck when on the job. Even back in our medium format film days I had a sizable investment in flash rotating brackets and Metz 45 CL4’s on each camera. But if I had some nice directional natural light (say at a window) or a combination of natural and some artificial light, giving me contrasting color temperatures I jumped at it!

The area where we’re most often using flash is at the wedding reception—especially when the reception is at an indoor venue or a nighttime event outside. Under these conditions flash is vital when doing the various action events at the reception…
f2.8 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 50mm
In this image of our bride and groom rocking-out at their outdoor reception the lighting was typically worse than at an indoor venue. In this situation I would use my on camera flash equipped with a Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser as my key and have a radio-controlled flash putting some light in the background. We used this same technique when doing the action images of the garter and bouquet toss. 

Our cake portraits were done very differently….

f5.6 @ 1/15 sec., SIO 800
Because our subject is static we can now be locked-down on a tripod. That means we can use whatever shutter speed and ISO combination to create dramatic lighting using the artificial reception lights or in this case that great window lighting from camera right. We waited until the sun had set giving us a nice exposure for the outdoor background while  the 800 ISO and 1/15 second shutter speed got me what I needed to record those candles.

Using a similar technique on a large interior…

f4.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 20mm
We always liked to get nice images of the decorated reception site before it was filled with people. Again, I used my ISO to get me to an exposure to balance the interior with the scene out those windows. When you’ve got a scene like that out those huge windows you must avoid blowing out (clipping) the outside part of the image!

Again, like the previous image timing is important in this type of image. Even though this was taken in the early evening because this wedding site (Nestledown, Los Gatos, California) is in the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by redwoods, the light fades quickly because it’s so sheltered.

Again, using my ISO to get the image….

f2.8 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 3200; Lens @ 22mm
The table decorations were always a priority at the reception as well. This was also an outdoor reception and I’ve always been a sucker for those little white lights placed in trees or gazebos, so I picked a table where I had those lights in the background. Because the only lights in this scene were those three votive candles and the lights in the background I had to go to ISO 3200 @ f2.8 to do this hand held.

Our bride and groom’s final image of the evening….

 f2.8 @ 1/15 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 42mm
This couple’s reception was in a huge god-awful tent, so for their final portrait I took them outside dragging them over to these nice trees decorated with my favorite lights! However, these lights were not adequate to illuminate my couple (most of the lights are behind them) so I turned to my on-camera flash and equipped with my handy-dandy Gary Fong, Lightsphere, diffuser I got the soft, subtle, light I wanted to make this look like the only lights in the scene were those tree lights!

Oh, and by the way, I have Not been paid to endorse the Fong Lightsphere or any other equipment I’ve talked about in my blogs.  It’s just stuff I have found that works and I use.

As usual, don’t hesitate to ask questions or make comments related to this blog. ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


Low or poor light is just part and parcel of wedding photography. As a professional it’s our job to find good light or provide it—and if we can’t solve any lighting problem in 2 to 5 minutes (We rarely got that 5 minutes!) then that’s just our BAD!

My artistic philosophy has always been, by default, to use the natural or artificial ambient light in most wedding scenes as my base and ONLY add light when absolutely necessary. Too many wedding photographers add flash all the time giving the wedding a sameness of look and an unnatural quality that robs the wedding locations of their inherent character.

Now wether this is because these wedding “flashers” are uneducated in the art of lighting or just plain lazy I can’t say, but for those of you who want to create more than just flashed record-shots of your bride and groom’s special day I offer, as a Professional Wedding Photographer for over 30 years, these insights….

f5.6 @ 0.3 sec., ISO 800; Lens: 8mm Fisheye

This 180°, vertical, fisheye image shows the skylight, my main overhead key light. In addition there are incandescent lights in the ceiling. However, because those lights are behind the bride and groom they were under exposed until I added a pop of flash from my on camera flash equipped with a Gary Fong Lightsphere to soften its light. This technique called “dragging the shutter”, where a long shutter speed (0.3 sec.) provides most of the light in the image while the short burst of flash adds just enough fill to give the couple nice skin tones and make the scene look natural. 

Next some low-light ceremony images….

f2.8 @ 1/90 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 145mm
This ring ceremony was done in a restaurant under a skylight giving me only top light. I was too far away for flash (I don’t use flash in wedding ceremonies generally) so I bumped my ISO up to 1600, opened up the lens to f2.8 and that gave me enough shutter speed (1/90 sec.) to stop the action.

f4.8 @ 1/125 Sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 29mm
Again, no flash during the ceremony—that would have ruined the look of such a traditional ethnic ceremony. My goal here was to highlight the spiritual symbolism of the ceremonial fire as the bride and groom poured the rice into the fire. Using only the low ambient light, without fill flash, kept the background (the bride’s dress) a nice dark red that contrasted nicely behind the flames.

f5.6 @ 1/4 sec.,ISO 400; Lens @ 133mm
This is basic available light ceremony photography. I’m locked down on a tripod at the back of the church popping a cross-star filter in and out, getting a variety of looks, using a filter box mounted on my 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens.

I always liked this church, especially when it’s a candle ceremony, because of the mixed color temperatures of the lighting. It gave me a nice contrast with the cool color on the back wall, caused by, of all things, florescent tubes, against the nice warm light of the candles.

In Part 2 of Low Light Wedding Photography we’ll move on to reception coverage where there’s often the most challenging low light (to NO light at times!) situations of the wedding.

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, July 31, 2018


Ever since we arrived here in Idaho—some nine years ago—I’ve been photographing all aspects of the old farmsteads that are quickly vanishing in the cities (Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Eagle, etc.) around us with an emphasis on old farm machinery, like tractors and harvesting equipment, barns and out buildings. We have some tractor salvage yards where the concentration of old farm machinery to photograph was excellent as well.  But, my favorite setting is to photograph these subjects actually at the old farms. I prefer to have them in their natural environment to give them context. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find some farm equipment in the last stages of decay so symbolic of the vanishing family farm…
f8.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 70mm
I love the rusty wheel, but the lichen on those wooden rollers was marvelous. Those wood components are actually disintegrating into the soil. What’s great about Idaho is that even though these farms are disappearing in the cities you only have to drive 15 or 20 minutes from any of the cities in Ada County to find lots of farm land with great subjects like this…

f13.0 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 32mm
Typically I go out about an hour and a half before sunset and then stay on site until the sun actually sets.  (The “Magic Hour”!) The setting sun is truly magic when it plays across rusting metal.

As a special reminder to my fellow outdoor photogs doing this kind of photography—always watch your back when on location towards sunset!  I was so engrossed with these great pieces of farm machinery that I almost missed this scene behind me!

f20.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 90mm
Classic Idaho farm country, a terrific cloudscape, and rain as well!  This spot is only 15 minutes from my home in the suburbs of Meridian.

Anyway, back to the farm equipment basking in that setting sun….

 f13.0 @ 1/50, ISO 400; Lens @ 55mm
An old John Deere, off its wheels, rusting into the ground. Love that peeling paint! I really love going in close to show the details…

 f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800: Lens @ 120mm
These were the controls on some kind of harvesting equipment. Again, lots of rust and that colorful lichen; didn’t know lichen could live on metal or rust?  Anyway, still having fun in Idaho…can’t wait until fall and then Winter!

Let me know if you have any comments or 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 24, 2018


In last week’s blog I talked about the why, when and how of converting color images to B&W. In previous blogs on this topic I suggested that today’s digital photographers should always capture their images in color (RAW) and then decide after wether to proceed to B&W conversion. That way you have the most choices and the most to work with in your file size.

However, back in 2001 our choices were not so flexible or simple. At that time we were just starting to transition to digital so I was still using my medium format film cameras for most of my work. Back then when it came to fine art photography I would not decide on what film to load until I was in front of my subject. Usually the decision was clear cut wether to load color or B&W film. Sometimes I would load and shoot both, but the subject had to be something special to merit the extra expense. 

The image in question was taken at the Monterey Yacht Harbor on an overcast morning. As I walked up to where the boats were moored looking down into the water were these marvelous wiggly reflections of the sail boats. Seeing there was NO Color in the scene (the overcast made the sky grey) and knowing that a proper exposure for the sky would turn the boats and their rigging black I loaded B&W film into the camera back and had some fun with composition.

So, here’s the B&W image from that morning…

It’s not bad, but it didn’t have the kind of impact I was looking for. You see at that time in 2001 I was heavily involved in annual PPA (Professional Photographers of America) international print competitions and only needed a couple more Merits to earn my Masters Degree.  And, at the top of the list in PPA’s “12-elements for a merit print” is IMPACT. That’s when the idea came to me to digitally convert this into a realistic impactful rendition of…”Red Sky at Morning…Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night…Sailor’s Delight”.  That’s important because a good Title on a PPA competition print can help it’s score.

Here’s the final competition image…
Red Sky at Night
It was a pretty easy job for my lab (Bay Photo Lab) to just layer a sunset gradient OVER my original image, after they had scanned the B&W negative, in Photoshop.

After we got the finished 16x20" competition print back from the lab, I knew I had a winner! I named it “Red Sky at Night…” The last thing I did to make the image “read” better was to invert the image opposite from reality. That was the easiest part—with a physical print, you just turned the print upside-down and draw the “this side up” arrow on the back!

Yes, it all came together and I got the merit I needed at the PPA Western States Convention. In July of 2002 I was awarded my PPA Masters Degree.

Well that’s all for now, 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, July 17, 2018


Black & White has been my second favorite photographic medium since I started printing in the early 1970’s. My first favorites were Kodachrome and Ektachrome (Info-Red) films. I either wanted NO-Color or really Radical Color! Anything in between was just too boring for me—and still is.

I’ve lost all my favorite films, but with the many, many, flavors of software and Photoshop Plug-ins we can alter our digital RAW (Color) files to become ANYTHING we want.

My criteria for converting digital color files to B&W are exactly the same when I used film.

The Best B&W Images Must Have:
  1. Directional Light (that means shadows).
  2. Good Blacks and Whites.
  3. Texture and/or Detail.
  4. A strong center of interest.
Here’s one of my images that Had to be in Black & White….
f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens 15mm
I created this image at the old Idaho State Penitentiary (est. 1870) in the prison laundry. These old, super large capacity, belt driven, washing machines were ideal for B&W conversion.

The scene met all four of my criteria:
  • the top and back light created direction and shadows.
  • which I knew would give me good blacks and whites.
  • old machinery usually has great texture and detail.
  • I made this machine a strong center of interest by moving in close with my 15mm fisheye lens.
How I converted my color file to Black & White.

For this image I used NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 software. I like NIK’s Silver Efex because it has many choices in looks and styles to offer:
  • It has 38 preset conversions that can be adjusted.
  • It has 18 film emulation modes that you can apply to any of the presents.
  • Plus adjustments for grain, toning, vignettes, and finishing effects that burn edges and create borders.
For this image I used the Wetrocks Preset and modified it for deeper blacks and more contrast.

Here’s the original color file….
Original Image
As you can see the color file is really weak on color mostly due to these grey/blue institutional colors found everywhere in the prison! In addition that red door in the background is an unwanted distraction.

I think this conversion illustrates how well B&W can create drama and interest in otherwise hum-drum subjects like a washing machine.

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


One of my mottos has always been, “showing less can reveal more”. That’s why I prefer to use a telephoto zoom lens (instead of the wimpy 50mm prime, so many amateurs adore) when doing nature photography.  I love to slice-up my subjects into tantalizing bite size pieces of yummy detail. Because it’s in the details that we can really learn the true nature of things. It’s in the details that we can witness the results of evolution or the hand of God—either way it’s awe inspiring to see it when I stumble across something as simple (?) as this dead leaf….

f9.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens: 100mm

I found this decaying leaf in my front yard at the end of February. Somehow I missed it when I raked up the fall leaves and it remained intact, through our Idaho winter snows, frozen to the dormant grass. So, I let it dry out and photographed it in the cross light of the setting sun to clearly show its marvelous detail and texture.

It was so fragile after it dried that I could barely touch it without its disintegration leaving me nothing to photograph. So, I decided to go in close and use my Canon EF 100mm, f2.8, Macro, USM, Lens to photograph the tallest part of the leaf where the light picked up the most detail; the part that had the least destruction from my handling! Macro photography is the ultimate expression of my “showing less can reveal more” motto; unless you start using a microscope—but that severely limits your subject choices!

Technical Notes on Macro Photography
  • I prefer to use a true dedicated Macro Lens instead of extension tube(s) on a non-macro lens for this kind of photography.  Why?
  • I want to be at 1:1 with no loss of light—easy for a macro lens. With extension tubes I may have to stack 2 or 3 tubes to get to 1:1 and with every tube less light reaches my sensor. (You can lose 2 or 3 stops because of this.)
  • When at 1:1 I don’t want to be too close to my subject. With the Canon 100mm Macro I’m no closer than 1 foot at 1:1. With extension tubes you can end up only inches from your subject, which can be detrimental to your direction of light.
  • I want the highest optical quality and sharpness. The Canon Macro is extremely sharp Wide Open (@ f2.8) unlike most lenses and it’s designed to be sharp edge to edge as well.
  • In addition the Canon 100mm Macro has an internal rear focusing element that eliminates any movement of the front element of the lens that is common with many lenses.
That’s it for this week.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments…’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 3, 2018


Even after 50 years doing fine art photography I still remind myself, when I’m outside on a session, of that simple old adage some photographer said, “Look Behind YOU, when you’re walking, it may be the best angle!” And it’s so true—I can’t tell you how any times I’ve walked down a trail at a national or state park not being jazzed about what was in front of me and then I turned around to see a stunning scene. It’s the same basic subject—I just walked by it! But, from the reverse angle now the Lighting is Magical!

There are those photographers that look but don’t see the best view or angle of a subject. Many times they just use the “scenic turnout” and Lemming-like they copy the view that thousands of tourists have photographed before. 

Then there are those (way too many I might add!) photographers that just don’t see the light, and by that I mean the Good Light—Directional Light. All light isn’t equal in fine art photography (or any art). We as photographic artists must know not only from where, but when to capture the image.

Here’s an image of mine that illustrates ALL these points….
f11.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 75mm
One of my passions, here in Idaho, is the photography of old, derelict, tractors. So, when I came upon this old tractor, on the side of the road, one morning, I pulled over and got to work.  Walking up to the tractor (the view you see here) I looked behind me to find a spectacular sky and clouds that had to be the background for the tractor! Then I turned around again to compose this view and did a bunch of images and because I was so fixated on my tractor I had missed what was right in front of me in the background!  That old door was Great—but what attracted me to it was the shadow of the Lamp over the door—that’s my kind of Lighting!

f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
I started with this full view of the doorway and that great overhead lamp and shadow being created by nice Directional Light at 8:30 in the morning—a time I’m rarely up for photography! I tend to do most of my outdoor photography at the other (evening) magic hour.

Here’s a Black & White crop of the same image….
B&W Crop
My Black & White conversion was done with NIK’s Silver Efex Pro II using the “wet rocks” preset that I modified to MY B&W tastes.

This crop makes the lamp and shadow really stand out as the primary center of interest. I guess I’ll have to do a Blog on the main reason I stopped to Photography the tractor.

’Til next time…and none of us forget, Look Behind YOU, but also pay attention to what’s right in front of you too!

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


In the first two parts on Wedding Cake photography I talked about how I do portraits of the whole cake in different lighting scenarios. This part will focus on our next step in the process—the details. I really enjoy this part because it’s where we can be the most creative in our compositional set-ups. It’s very much like doing table-top product photography in the studio except I don’t have all my lights, tools, or the time. In my studio I can mull over the composition and lighting for hours, but at a wedding reception the challenge is to create studio quality images in minutes!

So, to make this possible while I’m doing the overall cake table photos, Kathi is raiding the bride & grooms’ head table for additional items (we already have their bouquettes) to include in the detail set-up like: toasting goblets, favors, the wedding invitation, and of course, their rings.

We did this kind of still life at most weddings….
My PPA International Print Competition Merit Print General Collection, (c) 2000
I’m proud of this award winning image because it embodies my lighting philosophy, showcases our attention to details and composition, was done at the actual wedding reception, and the Bride and Groom Loved It!

How I got the image:

Lighting:  Natural Light through a window of course! This is the First thing I look for when I walk into a reception site. 

Placement:  With the cake table near a window then I rotate the cake so its best side is being skimmed by the soft directional window light.

Invitation:  With my camera’s point of view established I let Kathi know the best spot for the invitation and she places it and all the other elements around it.

Exposure:  This was done on medium format film, so, I don’t have the exact exposure data, but I did most of these still life portraits on Fuji, 800 ISO, Color Negative Film.  So this was probably done with a shutter speed of around 1/4 to 1/2 sec., to get to an f-stop of f11.0 or f16.0. I always did these still lifes locked down on a heavy tripod.

The competition print of this image gave me one of the Merits I needed to earn my PPA (Professional Photographers of America) Masters Degree in 2002.

Close Up of the Rings
The next step in our process is a close-up of the rings.  Kathi will again gather some of the table decorations and use something that will prop up the rings. She put the bride’s bouquet in the background for this composition…
f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
How I got the image:

Lighting: Sometimes you get a reception site that just does NOT have any windows.  That’s when YOU must provide the light or use what’s available.

A SpeedLight as a Source: I’ve always detested any hot-shoe mounted flash being pointed directly at any subject. So, I was always looking for the next best flash diffuser that would soften the light and increase its size as a source. In addition I wanted one that would work well when in a bounce mode, which is where I always had my flash set when doing weddings.

The diffuser I used for this image of the rings has been my favorite for many years—The Gary Fong Lightsphere.

The Placement and Set-up:  Kathi placed the rings on one of the glass beads in an up angle, which made it easier to get light into the diamonds. Then I flipped the flash head pointing straight up (you can see the Lightsphere’s shape in the reflections on each glass bead); this gave the rings and set some front light and some bounce light off the ceiling. 

Here’s another at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay….
f8.0 @ 1/20 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 45mm
Because this was an evening reception I had no window light so I used the same set-up as on the previous image of the rings. Kathi and I liked the “fall” of flowers doing down the side of the cake so…

Placement:  We went for a vertical composition with one flower petal under the rings so they would stand out better (more contrast) on the cake.

Lighting and Exposure:  I use the Fong Lightsphere, again pointed straight-up, to get some bounce off the ceiling. I slowed my shutter speed to 1/20 sec., to “drag-in” some ambient room light. This makes the resulting image look less like a flashed image.

So, with these three blogs I think I covered any likely lighting scenario you may encounter in wedding cake photography. If you have had a difficult lighting situation that I did to touch on here tell me about it!  ’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 19, 2018


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

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

So, What is Mixed Lighting?

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

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

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

An easier mixed-lighting set-up….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

My favorite light source is Window Light….

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

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

More Window Light….

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


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

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

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

How I got the shot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that give me my dark blade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

’Til next week….

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


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

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

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

This image simply had to be in B&W….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


My wife, Kathi, and I have been doing weddings for over 25 years and as a natural light specialist I would place Nestldown (Los Gatos, Calif.) as one of the top 5 wedding locations in Northern California. Having done hundreds of weddings, my favorites being locations with outdoor areas for both the ceremony and reception, I have to say that most venues make do with what they have without really putting much effort or money into the site to make it special. Most wineries fall into that category—they seem to think that placing white chairs on some lawn is all they need to do to turn their facility into a wedding venue.  Maybe that’s the case because being a winery is their business and weddings are a sideline.

Nestldown is not a sideline. It’s been meticulously crafted and expertly maintained as a wedding and events venue. Most importantly it’s been designed with a style and unique look that you only see in major motion picture productions of fantasy weddings. It has the look of a set, but it’s not a facade, it’s a real fantasy…

f5.6 @ 1/125 Sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 35mm

Done in their fantasy garden with that adorable cottage in the background you can see why I like this place!

Then moving her to the front door…

f5.6 @ 1/45 sec., SIO 400; Lens @ 24mm
You do need a relatively short bride to do this—the cottage is not a full size structure.

Note: My shutter speed is getting lower even at 400 ISO since the sun is behind the cottage leaving its front in open shade which enabled me to maintain nice detail in her dress. This was done in mid-August at 1:15pm.

Then the Groom’s portrait….

f5.6 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 48mm
Keeping him out of the direct sun, as well, using the sky light as my source, using the negative fill from the trees on camera left (Subtractive Lighting at it’s best).

Note: When the bride and groom are NOT seeing each other before the ceremony, especially in a location like this, you should start photographing at least 2-hours before the ceremony to capture their individual portraits and still have time to do them with their attendants and family groups separately.

The challenging processional stairs….

f5.6 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 38mm
The stairs down to the outdoor chapel are obviously not wheel chair accessible—Nestledown will provide golf-cart transport for those not able to do the stairs.

f5.6 @ 1/45sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 35mm
It’s now 3:35 pm and I’ve set my ISO to 800, added flash fill and I’m dragging my shutter (using a slow shutter speed) to “drag-in” the low ambient light in the background.

f5.6 @ 1/20 sec, ISO 800; Lens @ 24mm
The outdoor “chapel” by the pond—it’s now 3:49pm and my shutter speed is dropping again.

After the ceremony and all the family groups…

f5.6 @ 1//45 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 42mm
You must take the bride and groom up into that gorgeous forrest of big trees—It’s 4:22pm and with ISO 800 I have just enough light.

Then back up to the site’s main level….

f9.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 120mm
Now we’re back in direct sunlight! I had to get them on that little bridge—Love the reflection in the pond—before the reception.

For smaller receptions their rustic hall is great…

f4.8 @ 1/45 sec., SIo 800; Lens @ 20mm
Like a cathedral with a redwoods view this building is really nice. Back to ISO 800 and a low shutter speed and still light outside.

 f5.6 @ 1/8 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 20mm
Using flash fill, with a slow shutter speed, from the balcony for their first dance.

The Last Portrait of the day…

f4.8 @ 1/4 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 24mm
A time exposure with flash-fill @ 1600 ISO; had to use flash since they were back-lit. I still didn’t show all the great locations here for photography. They also have a small train, an English Cab and a tree house as well!  Nestldown is a truly special location.

’Til next week…

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