Tuesday, October 16, 2018


It’s easy doing portraits outside near the “magic hour." Here in Idaho we often start up to two hours before sunset and, with proper subject placement, create wonderful natural light portraits with NO reflectors or supplemental flash (Yuck!).

I learned, over 30 years ago, from Leon Kennamer—the Master Photographer that developed subtractive lighting for portraits—that there’s no need for reflectors or supplemental flash if you know how to control natural light with Gobos (Black Flats or flags as we called them in film making). The basic premise being: when you have the light it’s silly, and unnatural looking, to add light! Adding light tends to just create flat light that deletes shadows and without any shadows you lose the three dimensionality in your subject(s).

I’ll start with a worst case lighting scenario.  Here we have a nice little park with a couple of large weeping willow trees, but it’s 9AM and there’s intense light all around us. 
f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142mm
  • The first step is to get them in the shade of that tree! I trimmed some of the tree’s hanging vines on the right leaving the vines on the left to help in the subtractive process.
  • Then we bring in our Gobo (a 42” Black Flat) to block as much light as we can from the left.
Here’s the scene without the Gobo….
No Gobo
As you can see this single Gobo is most effective on the people closest to it. The single Gobo is very effective for individual portraits where you can bring it in very close to the subject…

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 185mm
Done at 9:11AM in the same spot as the group portrait you can see the natural looking, three dimensional, effect subtractive lighting creates.


My preferred method of subtractive lighting is to use Large Natural Gobos on locations I use regularly for group portraits. These natural Gobos can be a tree line, rocks, or large bushes to one side of the group.

The Key here is Subject Placement….

f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
Leon Kennamer taught that, “The Light is at the Edge of the Forrest ”. That means that you place your subject literally at the edge of the tree canopy, but still in the shade. That way we can get good Directional Light from a large patch of sky.

In the above portrait I’ve placed this group so that the tree line on Camera Left is my Gobo creating the Shadows on their faces while a large patch of blue sky on Camera Right is the Key Light.

This portrait was done 2-hours before sunset so that my backlit background is under control. Subtractive lighting is actually a very simple concept; its execution only requires that you be able to see the directional light and the shadows it creates when you have an effective GOBO.  

The concept here is fundamental in the traditional art world; Leonardo da Vince wrote…
The Artist who can make his subject appear to be in relivo (made to appear to have elevation, with depth and dimension) is he who should receive the greatest praise!

Go our and try it!  If 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, October 9, 2018


First and foremost you’re NOT going to see any backed-off, wide-angle views, of a forrest of fall colors from me. I’ve always found those views pretty, but photographically boring. They’re what the amateurs do with their fixed lens point-n-shoot cameras—usually at the “scenic view” pull-out along side the road! 

I do what photography does best—narrow the view and reveal stunning detail. And, you do that with lenses leaning in the telephoto region of focal length.

That being said, lets move on to lighting.

Back-Lighting for intense detail…

f7.1 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
With this pair of small leaves 200mm was not enough so I installed my 1.4X extender on my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. The large lens hood with careful framing avoided flare (I HATE detail robbing flare!) in the intense backlight here.

Here I used backlighting for mood…

f7.1 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 98mm
With my lens at nearly 100mm I’m still only showing a part of this weeping willow tree; I rarely even photograph a whole single tree. In this image I wanted the juxtaposition of the hanging willow leaves over those interesting red bushes—that have lost their leaves.

Front Lighting can be Tricky….

f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 175mm

Direct Sun can easily ruin an image if you’re not very careful with your exposure. Those yellow leaves are prone to Clipping—blowing out your highlights—a loss of detail.

Two things made this image work:
  1. I did this at 5:04pm in November—the sun set at 5:20pm and I chose leaves that had Crossing Light from the left side. That directional light picked-up really nice detail.
  2. In Addition, I used my camera’s meter in Spot Mode—where I usually keep it—measuring the brightest surfaces of my subjects.
Or Front Lighting can be Easy…

f7.1 @ 1/160th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Top lighting here from an overcast sky is super easy to expose. It also creates nice soft colors. If the sun came out in this situation those wet leaves would have clipped like crazy. I cheated with this image and spritzed these leaves with my spray bottle mister until they dripped water—hey What can I say—it wasn’t raining when I needed wet leaves! Besides I don’t like doing photography in the rain.

Fall Colors in Flat Light…

 f8.0 @ 1/160th sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 150mm
This was done in full shade under this tree’s canopy. Since flat light can rob a scene of it’s contrast it’s important to pick a scene with lots of contrast. Here I had some great colors against that black tree trunk, which made these leaves glow with color. I did have to go to 800 ISO to capture this hand-held, but my Canon 5D MKII has no problem at that ISO.

I guess this proves that you can create great fall images in most lighting situations. You just have to pick subjects appropriate for the lighting and be careful with your exposures.

Well, ‘till next week…I’m here if you have questions….

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


I’ve been revisiting my archives back to my early digital files, some as far back as 2000, when I got my first digital camera. What’s nice to see is that those old CD’s (Yes, CD’s!) can still be opened on our new computers and loaded into Photoshop!

I can open these old JPEGs in Camera Raw and do my favorite tweaks I do today with my new DSLR’s RAW files. After that I go to my favorite plug-ins for some artistic interpretations.

Here’s a finished artistic version of a file from 2003…

This image was form my second digital camera—the Fuji FinePix S-2 Pro, which produced jpegs at around 4.0 MB. Not much by todays standards, but we managed, with careful exposes, to produce some outstanding 30x40 images from our S2’s back then.

Black & White Processing Technique:

Step 1—NIK HDR Effects Pro 2 (Single Image Tone Mapping). Used Grannys Attic Preset with my modifications.

Step 2—NIK Silver Effects Pro 2—Used the Antique Plate 2 and modified it to my B&W taste.

Here’s the original file…

f13.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400
This was an old hotel under renovation in Sacramento, California. I thought, with those ripped and tattered window shades, that it had the kind of creepy vibe that I could do something with.

Here’s the Color Interpretation….

I like this version mostly because of that red triangle in the second window (top left). It looks like a broken shard of glass.  I like the rust stains on the paint beneath the windows as well.

Color Processing Technique:

NIK HDR Effects Pro-2 (Single Image Tone Mapping).I used the Granny’s Attic Preset and tweaked it to my taste.

NOTE:  In addition to the obvious artistic changes to the original file a side benefit of processing an image in NIK’s HDR is that the size of the file is increased a lot.  With this image the original file was increased from 3.69MB to 6.06MBs.

However, I think that the Black and White rendition of this scene promotes the creepy vibe I imagined when I saw this building.  What do you guys think—the color or the Black and White?

’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 25, 2018


While visiting with our sons in California this last summer we stayed with friends in route and they took us to Morrow Bay, on the Coast, for a marvelous seafood lunch. I had not been to Morro Bay in decades so, photographically it felt fresh—like I was seeing it for the first time. After lunch I suggested we drive out to Morro Rock so we could do a walk. I wanted to get out of the town and into the natural environment there at the coast; my camera beckoned me!

Parked near Morro Rock I knew that the huge landmark was not going to be a subject for me—it’s too big! Even being a hundred yards away it’s like a towering skyscraper dominating the landscape.  So, I put my 70-200mm lens on my camera and prepared to do what I do best (as I teach my students) and look for interesting slices of nature within the huge costal landscape.

While walking around Morro Rock looking back to the town the three huge stacks of the old Morro Bay Power Plant certainly dominated that landscape. That was not what I had in mind for a natural composition at the coast!

However, in the foreground this was what I saw happening in the ocean….

f10.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 102mm

This great scene was not just there waiting for me to show up—I hand to wait for it to develop. When I first walked up and put the viewfinder to my eye with my lens zoomed to its widest at 70mm this was the whole scene…

The Whole Ugly Scene; but look at that foreground!
Ten minutes later before the tour boat came into the bay the water was pretty smooth and the reflections of the smoke stacks were too literal a presentation for me. But, I loved that floating seaweed an the sea otter having his lunch was great as well.

So, I waited a bit and when I saw that boat approaching I thought that a boat that size should create a wake that would help me with this scene and the vision I had in my head.

That small wait really paid off.  Not only did I get some terrific ripples in the water, created by the boat’s wake, but the sea otter floated deeper into my frame and a bird landed in the water as well!

I just waited a few more seconds for that bird to paddle in-between the stacks before I started with the zoomed in image cropping out he top half of the whole scene.

I got what I wanted—a symbolic blending of nature and the abstract reflection of an abandoned man-made blight on the environment.

’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 18, 2018


In professional portrait photography lens choice is the single most important factor in creating pleasing images that our clients will love and buy. It’s our job to make people look better than in real life not worse by using a lens that creates unattractive distortion. 

All lenses create distortion, so it’s our job to only use a focal length that distorts in a good way. That’s why I use the Most Telephoto I have at my disposal within a given environment. That will always give me the good distortion known as compression distortion.

The telephoto lens, especially at 200mm and beyond, will compress a scene, pushing your subject INTO the background and, coupled with a relatively wide aperture will, at the same time, SEPARATE them from the background with really nice out of focus bokeh as in this image…

f4.5 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
As you can see the out of focus specular highlights have been turned into nice soft bokeh mostly due to the 200mm focal length NOT A WIDE OPEN APERTURE as many photographers believe. I could have used f2.8, but that would create the possibility of an unsharp subject due to lack of depth-of-field. Besides, even the most expensive lenses are not their sharpest wide open. That why I use an aperture of f4.5 for individual portraits; I get good depth-of-field AND nice bokeh!

Don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits!

I don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits because for adequate head sizes, using a wide angle lens, you must move in close to the subject(s), which causes very unattractive extension distortion. All lenses distort in some way—but this type of distortion where the closest part of your subject to the lens becomes unnaturally larger happens naturally with ALL lenses, however Short Lenses will Amplify this effect.

The telephoto lens forces the photographer to Back-Up changing the scenes perspective—compressing the scene and making the subject look great.

Here’s a side-by-side example I took during a student one-on-one class showing these effects…

Notice how the 70mm lens is making her forehead, nose and chin larger—those parts of her face are being PULLED towards the camera. I choose to use 70mm as my wide example to make my point about wide angle (extension) distortion because most photographers probably would consider 70mm to be telephoto! Besides it would be too easy to show extension distortion using a 50mm or 35mm lens.

Looking at the image done at 200mm all those features of her face are pushed AWAY from the camera using Compression Distortion creating a much more pleasant portrait.

In addition the backgrounds look very different even though I used exactly the same aperture (f4.5) on each image. Because I used my lens at 200mm that background is much more defocused and less distracting than the image using the “wide-angel” lens. 

I apply this technique in ALL of my portrait photography. I always use the most telephoto I can use even in group portraits.

My Go-To focal lengths for Portraits:

Groups:  135mm to 150mm

Individuals:  200mm to 300mm

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 11, 2018


When doing travel photography particularly in old cities we tend to use our wide angle lenses a lot on architectural subjects. The most common problem then is the perspective distortion of a building’s vertical lines, which is made worse using a wide angle lens in close, making the building appear to be falling away from the camera position. Since most photographers don’t use or even own a tilt-shift lens, out side of architectural specialists, to correct this distortion when on location, we can still correct this effect, in post, with software.

Here’s an example of the falling away effect…
f13.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
This is one of my favorite images I took on Palatine Hill in Rome, Italy. In order to capture the whole arch I had to use my short zoom at 24mm; I could not back-up enough to use my longer telephoto, which could have solved this type of distortion. In addition, if I had backed-up a lot that great tree would have been cut into by the arch. Obviously the placement of the tree was critical in this image!

There is a tool in Photoshop that fixes these issues with no problem. The Perspective Crop Tool…Take a look at how I corrected the distortion from that fantastic vacation in Italy….

With Correction

It worked like a charm and was easy to employ; look it up—there are several tutorials on YouTube. Note that you do lose some of the image because a crop is necessary. I was fine with it because I didn’t want any sky showing above the top of the arch anyway.

Not content to leave it alone…

Because of the strong blacks in this image and the great texture of the stone work, I knew this would make an excellent Black & White fine art image. I converted my new color image using NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 using the Sepia Preset.

So, with the Perspective Crop Tool in good old Photoshop who needs a tilt-shift lens; those things are just really expensive!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a message…’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 4, 2018


On our way to a funeral in Hailey, Idaho we passed by what looked like an old church in the little town of Corral, on the Camas Prairie, off of Highway 20. I noted it, but didn’t stop because the light in the late morning was not great relative to the building; in addition there were no clouds.  However, on our way back we hit that area at about 5pm. So, I stopped for a few minutes to see what I could get in that light. I discovered that this was an old school; the sign on the building indicating its operation from 1908 to 1953. What caught my eye was the old bell tower and the cross pattern with the diamond feature on that end of the building.

Here’s one of my wilder versions of that feature…
f14.0 @ 1/250sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 40mm
I wanted to really enhance that old wood and the clouds so, I used NIK’s, HDR Efex Pro 2, single image tone mapping using my version of their “late summer” preset.

Here’s the master shot of the school at 5pm.
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 65mm
In the morning there was no light on the bell tower side of the school; it was all in shadow. Now we have nice hard light (for hard, textured, subjects I like a hard light) where earlier with it in shadow the light was too soft, which eliminates shadows and texture. In addition, now we have some clouds in the sky; I prefer clouds to an empty sky.

And rotating my view…
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 73mm
You’ve gotta do this kind of subject in B&W as well!  I converted my RAW color image to B&W using NIK’s Silver Efex Pro2, using their Antique Plate 1 preset. A nice traditional B&W presentation for this subject.

And then clouds aligned over the bell tower…
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., Iso 200; Lens @ 67mm
I really like this up angle with the “cloud piercer” look of that bell towers spike! The crossing, directional, light on the bell tower is picking up lots of detail in those old boards as well.

All told I spent 6 minutes taking the set of images and covered three angles, The wide view and the close-in crops before the wind blew away the clouds! Done.

Well almost—I spent a Lot more time in post doing these creative versions you see here!

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, August 28, 2018


Here in downtown Boise, Idaho, we have a rare gem called Freak Alley. it’s the largest outdoor art gallery in the Northwest. It spans two streets (a block long) in the alley and parking lots for several small businesses. Some of the work, by the 90 artists this year that were accepted, could be called artistic graffiti, but many of the paintings are true art and some are complex murals two stories high. 

This year my wife and I hosted one of the artists, visiting from Utah, while she worked on her art piece. Her name is Megan Utley and while going to college in Utah, she worked various jobs and does her art part time. While she was with us for just over a week, she worked a couple of construction jobs during the day and then worked waitressing at nights! Some how she managed to do her Freak Alley art piece around work and socializing—sometimes painting all night; camping out IN Freak Alley!

Here’s Megan with her art at the opening night event…
f4.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 100mm
I think her art piece is one of the best in this year’s Freak Alley exhibition. It’s definitely Not graffiti.

I had to work fast since it a was 8:30pm when Megan got there (after working all night and through the day to finish) when I started; the sun had already set so I was starting at 800 ISO and I wanted to give her multiple poses.

This is the poise I had pre-visualized doing after Megan had shown me the original of this art piece. It was her favorite in this set.

I finished with her turning her face to me with a smile and zooming out to show her tattoo. Looking good Megan!  It was a pleasure having you in our home and getting to know you and your dog Sam.

’Til next week….as usual ask if you have questions…

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


The first time I photographed a Japanese Tea Ceremony was in 2004 at the Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California. At the time I knew nothing about this ceremony, so I just photographed the moments that looked interesting. I had no idea it would take so long or could be so complex just to make some tea! 

At that time in my career, as a professional photographer, I was using the second generation of digital camera (the Fuji Fine Pix S-2 Pro). So, when I encountered scenes with very low light I used the camera in B&W mode to maintain quality images. Back then digital cameras were very noisy at any ISO’s 400 and beyond if even slightly under exposed. They were particularly ghastly in color due to “color noise”. This tea ceremony was in very low light and even at ISO 400 I used fill flash at 1/30 second. As the ceremony wound down I turned the flash off and went to ISO 800 and 1600 at 1/15 second. 

f6.7 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 153mm
When she turned to the audience and paused, at the end of the ceremony, the directional light on her hands was great. Quickly going to 800 ISO gave me a hand-holdable 1/15 sec. to capture this dramatic image. I don’t know that today I could have captured this scene any better using my 2018 DSLR.

Some more B&W jpegs straight out of the camera….

 f4.8 @ 1/30 se.c, ISO 400 with Flash Fill
I’m still amazed how good these B&W images look using my 2nd generation digital camera from 14 years ago.

f4.8 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400 with Flash Fill
These fill flash images look this good because we were using the new (back then!) Gary Fong lightsphere flash diffusers on our on-camera flash. 


Four years later digital cameras have advanced significantly. I now have two of the Fuji FinePix S-3 Pros (we always bought two at a time; and since I was on the Fuji Talent Team, we got our cameras direct from Fuji USA at cost! The Fuji FinePix S-3 Pro had their unique Super CCD SR sensor that expanded the cameras’s dynamic range to 13.5 EVs; the highest scoring dynamic range of ANY camera, when it came out in 2004. In fact, to date (2018) it’s still one of the highest scoring cameras (DXOmark.com) for dynamic range; the top cameras are currently scoring around 14.5 EVS.

So, going back to the Hakone Japanese Gardens for one of their annual events (the Matsuri 2008) I was ready to try that Low Light Tea Ceremony again, this time using my Fuji S-3 Pro.

This time I kept my camera in color mode…

f2.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; No Flash
This scene would be difficult for a lot of todays digital cameras! The girl is in white in a dim environment and there’s that window with direct sun falling on greenery outside. This is a very high dynamic range scene.  With the Fuji Pro S-3 set to Wide Dynamic Range the girls white kimono has excellent detail and you can actually see detail in the outside greenery,. No other cameras in 2008 could do that; they would just record the window a pure white and clip the highlights in her kimono. In fact, most cameras today would do poorly with this type of scene.

Here’s another from that scene…

 f2.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; No Flash
These images were shot as JPEGS and because of the low light I used ISO 800 to be able to hand hold my camera. What makes the resulting image quality still more remarkable is that digital cameras have Less dynamic range as the ISO goes up (along with more noise). That’s why most professional photographers try to keep their ISO’s down to 100 to 200 ISO; that’s where most cameras have their highest dynamic range. Well the Fuji S-3 and later S-5 cameras had better dynamic range at 800 ISO (13 EVS!) than most cameras do at 100 ISO.

So, when evaluating your next camera purchase the camera does matter, the sensor size matters, how it handles dynamic range matters, along with ISO noise and your skill with analyzing your subject all matter. 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, 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