Tuesday, June 18, 2019


As a professional photographer I don’t do tours through iconic locations like those whirl-wind bus tours (“If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium”, yeah, that movie!). If I’ve targeted a great subject area I want to hang around for at least two or three days to check angles and lighting. One of the most important things I must know is if a particular subject is going to be best at Sunrise or Sunset. So, I’ll usually plan to photograph the subject at both sunrise and sunset and then return again to photograph it at the best time. This is simply what I call “good coverage” of a subject. 

So, when we went to the Isle of Capri, Italy, I did my research and picked a hotel on the Mediterranean side of the island so our view would be of the famous Faraglioni Rocks and the sea. That put me in the position to easily capture this famous view at any time of the day. 

Here’s my first version of the rocks…
f22.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 42mm
This was done about a half-hour after sunrise on May 5th. During the week we were there it rained only at night giving us nice clouds and blue sky in the mornings; perfect photography weather!

I liked this image, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted something more dramatic; more like a sunset in look. But, of course, an actual sunset wasn’t going to happen on theses rocks because the sun was setting behind me on the other side of the island. 

After our excursions to the other side of the island the next day I made a point of getting some images of the rocks at a different time of day.

Here’s a bigger view…
f16.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 19mm
The weather was marvelous and kept producing terrific clouds, so I went vertical to capture those cloud layers. I converted the image to B&W with a little tone mapping for cloud enhancement.

A few days later we took a shuttle to Annacapri, the big side of the island, and did the chair lift ride to the highest point on the island, Mt. Solaro, at 1932 feet. With the clear atmosphere we had a great view and I got the Faraglioni rocks again in a really big view.
f19.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 19mm
It seemed that almost everywhere we went there was another view of the rocks!  On our fifth day on Capri we booked a jet boat to shuttle us to Sorento for the train ride to Pompeii, so I got up early for another Sunrise attempt of the Faraglioni rocks….
 f16.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
This time I got up a half hour earlier than the first time (five days ago) and I went up to the roof of our hotel for a higher perspective. This time I captured the “Sunset Glow” I was looking for!  It was a great start to what was to be a fabulous day of photography in a place I’ve always dreamed about documenting in an artistic way—the doomed city of Pompeii. But that is another story…

’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 11, 2019


As a professional photographer, I’ve never been anything but disappointed and frustrated with my results when doing animal photography at a zoo. My goal has always been to create animal images that could pass for photos taken in the wild. I had heard great praise about the San Diego Zoo and its enclosures, but when I visited their zoo back in 1995 I found that I could not get images of the animals with clean or natural looking back grounds.  It wasn’t until we moved to Idaho in 2009 and got involved with Zoo Boise, by donating to their silent auction fundraising event called Zoobilee, that I again entertained the idea of animal photography at a zoo. Still it wasn’t until 2017 that, wanting to try out a new camera for action photography, I attended the free vendor appreciation day at Zoo Boise to try to achieve my goal of natural looking wild animal photography in a serious way. 

I already knew that I wasn’t going to be doing any images of animals showing any landscapes, so I went with my 70-200mm zoom as my main mounted lens. 

Isolation of my subjects was paramount….
f6.3 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
What further isolated the giraffes was the very directional light of the setting sun (it was about an hour before sunset). So, with the direct sun on them and not on the background my exposure on them made the background go very dark, which pretty much eliminated their enclosure as a background. The biggest challenge here was capturing them as they ran, at top speed, back and forth the length of their enclosure and then paused briefly to frolic, like necking teenagers, then separated again and ran off! I had to go to 800 ISO to get to a shutter speed (1/1250 sec.) that could stop their exploits as I hand held my camera and panned with the action.

When they calmed down….
f6.3 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
I did get a nice portrait of one of them against a colorful background in lieu of the enclosure.

Then onto the lions den….
f5.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 1600; Lens @ 200mm
This was taken THROUGH the large window overlooking the lion’s enclosure. Usually, a polarizing filter would be needed here, but since the window here was fully covered (top and sides) with a structure that shaded the glass there were few reflections for me to worry about. With a much lower level of light here I went to 1600 ISO and still got great results from my new camera.  This was an easy capture; the only thing I had to watch for was the lion’s OPEN eyes, so I could get that nice catch light in the eye.

Late light and the zebras….
f5.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 3200; Lens @ 200mm
Now it’s only a half-hour before sunset and these zebras are in full shade and I’m composing through the leaves of some trees next to the fence that separates us.  I’m now at 3200 ISO and their images still looked really good. I just converted these to B&W because my subjects were….Black & White!

I’m really happy with my results at the Boise Zoo. It’s a nice little zoo with decent looking open enclosures in the giraffe area and the animals looked good.

Looking back on my early attempts at zoo photography I must say that the problem was not that those other zoos were so bad in 1995, I just wasn’t ready. This photographer has learned a lot about how to photograph difficult subjects in challenging situations over these past 24 years, which make it possible to photograph my vision!

Challenge yourself….try photographing in your local zoo and have some fun.  ’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, June 4, 2019


The Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California is still my favorite hotel for weddings. Part of it is being located on the cliffs overlooking the gorgeous California coastline with beach access. But, it’s not just its location that makes this hotel so nice; it’s the style and service they provide the bride and groom that always impressed me. They take care of and look out for their clients by qualifying the vendors that provide wedding services at the hotel. As preferred vendors we were required to attend their orientation class and agree to the Hotel’s rules of etiquette. There is nothing onerous about it they just expect the wedding vendors to be professionals. That means that they have insurance (1-million dollars liability) and that they dress professionally and respect the facilities. These are things we always did at all of our wedding locations, rules or not. As full time professional photographers we wanted to return to all of the great locations that our clients choose for their events and be welcomed by the management and staff; that’s just good business practice. 

Some favorite images….
f4.5 @ 1/1150 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 112mm
The Wedding party and family flew in from Texas and checked into the hotel a week before the wedding so we had the opportunity to do some bridals early in a relaxed and un-rushed environment three days before the wedding.  This enabled me to pick the time and location for her bridals. We did this image one hour before sunset for this nice directional light. The only thing missing here was her bouquet so we dug up a rose for her to hold…

 f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 80mm
Then we went inside the hotel…
f4.0 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
She wanted some high fashion inside the Ritz and changed into her “guest clothes”.

The wedding day….
f2.8 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
Another reason we like doing Ritz Carlton weddings: the table settings and decor are a pleasure to photograph!

f2.8 @ 1/30 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 27mm
Then there’s the view…
f6.7 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
This is the outdoor reception area which in this wedding was the spill-over area from their ballroom.

Meanwhile during the reception..
f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Taking the bride and groom down to the beach is a Must-Do when we go to this hotel! It’s only possible because the hotel provides golf carts to transport all of us down to the beach; it’s about a half mile on a steep paved path.  We usually spend about a half-hour on the beach getting some fun, romantic images and then it’s back to the reception for the rest of their events. 

Should you have questions…don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


We usually do outdoor family portraits at one of several great public parks here in the Treasure Valley, Idaho. We also offer to do family portraits at their homes, if their location looks good as well. But, the final decision is based on MY criteria; I want foliage and/or trees for the background and a clean base (like lawn) and I want a location that has good light at about 2 hours before sunset. 

So, when we were contacted by the area director for N-2 Publishing about contracting to do photography for a new community magazine I was intrigued. I liked that they picked an upscale neighborhood in Eagle, Idaho (Two Rivers) because those are the clients we were looking for, but their business model required that all photography be done at the client’s home or in the neighborhood. Since we were doing the covers for this community magazine (called: River’s View Living) for a year I wanted each one to be great. That meant I had to do location checks at each client’s home and scout for alternative locations in the common areas in the neighborhood for each assignment.

This is one we did in common areas….
f6.3 @ 1.125th ISO 800; lens @ 140mm
This is the image that was selected for that month’s cover. Believe it or not, this beautiful spot is a small divider island in the middle of their street!  Another constraint, typical for magazine publications, is that the cover image had to be in vertical orientation.

However, since we were also wanting to please the families selected for these photo-sessions, with the possibility of print sales, we also did some portraits in landscape mode at other locations when we could.

Here’s the other set-up we did….
f6.3 @ 1/100 ISO 800; Lens @ 142mm
All of these images were done around 7pm in June so we had good light, but I didn’t get the back light from the setting sun that I usually get when we go to our favorite parks.

In reality the “challenge” in these upscale neighborhoods was not so difficult. Finding outdoor locations is my specialty and after all this is Idaho!  With our plentiful water most of the housing developments here put thousands (some, tens of thousands) of dollars into landscaping with huge swaths of lawn on built-up berms surrounding the developments.  And, many of these developments have waterfalls or some kind of water feature with custom made signage.

’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Decades ago, in my film days, B&W as an art form was not something you converted to. It was a planned decision you made based on the subject. And if you wanted quality B&W you started with the proper B&W film for the job. As Ansel Adams taught it was all about pre-visualization; how did you want your vision or interpretation of a given subject to look?  Every step of the way we had many excellent choices in films and B&W papers to create that B&W vision.

It was a big deal when I set-up my darkroom to print the B&W negatives I deemed worthy of printing. Then I’d spend an entire weekend printing, souping, washing and drying prints until the wee hours of the morning.

Our only choice for converting color images to B&W back then was using Kodak Panalure paper on color negatives, but the results were not very impressive. In addition, because the Panalure was a resin coat product it was far from archival due to color shifting (bronzing) and orange spotting in reaction to light. It was thus not a paper of choice for fine art printing.

Today in our digital realm it is amazing what we can create with color RAW files as our source images. I can now pre-edit (Adobe Camera RAW) make a JPEG convert to B&W (NIK Silver Efex Pro) and if needed do retouching cropping and noise reduction (Photoshop) creating a spectacular new rendition of my color file in 30 minutes! 

It’s important to note that you’re not going to create a spectacular image out of nothing. As has always been the case you must start with a good image; the old adage comes to mind—You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear!

A B&W result using my favorite software….
NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2
This is the finished image with NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 using the B&W Push preset with some of my own tweaking. Then I used NIK’s DeFine2 noise reduction.

Here’s the original image after prepping….
f11.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 100mm
I always prep my RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW before I drop the resulting JPEG into NIK. 

In this image I made these adjustments:
  • Exposure…..- .20
  • Contrast….. + 5
  • Highlights…..- 88
  • Shadows….. + 53
  • Blacks….. - 72
  • Clarity….. + 11
  • Vibrance….. + 18
  • Saturation….. 0
Note: I’ve learned over the years to take it easy when using Clarity and Saturation; two fo the most over used sliders in the digital world.

That’s it for this week…Have questions don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


We encourage families to include their pets when doing their family portraits. Sure, it’s more challenging, but in the many years that we’ve been doing portrait photography at The Storytellers we’ve found that the more people we photograph in a given session more great images are created and the better the sale as a result. So, that also applies to pets; after all they’re part of the family, too!

Note: because this concept has proven itself over and over again we never charge extra beyond our usual session fees for additional relatives in a portrait session (we love family reunions!). Don’t put up roadblocks to making better sales!

So, do close-ups….
f5.6 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 145mm
During the session—we do the whole family group first and find out who belongs to the dog. Who has that special connection with the dog? You can usually tell just by observing the family dynamics and then suggest special combinations. If they hesitate, I just say, we’re all here, you’re dressed perfectly, we can give you more choices and we have no time limits on your session!

Do individual portraits….
f5.6 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 155mm
Since they had their dog groomed—complete with a ribbon-bow—for this session and that dog is gorgeous anyway this was a slam-dunk. Besides I wanted this for my portfolio!

Note:   Always have squeaker toys in your camera bag to get their attention—the people as well as the animals! 

Here’s one of the family poses…we do at least 2 and try for 3

f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 125mm
As I already said, we always start with the whole group portrait first because that’s the hardest pose and the reason we all came together in the first place.  This image was taken about an hour and a half before sunset. As is my usual procedure (and my artistic style) I place my subjects with the sun setting BEHIND them to get that nice backlit background. In addition I make sure the there is a large patch of clear blue sky as the Key Light; that way I never need to resort to any ugly fill flash.

’Til next week…any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Like many fine art photographers I like old things—(that’s why I photograph ghost towns!) and old things left outside, in a four season climate, to degrade and rust are the Best! So, when I first visited Silver City after checking out the historic buildings I ventured up into the hills on the town’s edges looking for those old things left outside. I soon found several old car chassis, hunkered down in the weeds, rusting way, paint peeling…

f9.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 73mm
The peeling layers of paint on this old car’s “suicide doors” is art in itself! That’s why I did so little in post processing on this image besides cropping in camera to off-set the doors’ seam pushing the door handles to the right (“rule of thirds” composition). I suppose I should title this one, “Bloody Suicide Doors”.

Next I found this old car being consumed by weeds…
f9.0 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 32mm
Or, maybe, as edited into B&W, my vision of this as a metallic skull, with the trunk lid gone, creating a huge maw, it looks like this beast is doing the consuming of the weeds!

TECH NOTE:  I converted this RAW file into B&W with NIK’s HDR Efex Pro using the B&W Art Preset modified to my taste.  Here is the original file….
Original Unmodified File
This original file just did not have the sinister punch I wanted for my vision; it had to be monochrome. I also picked-up a lot of texture in the rusted steel with the HDR conversion.

Here’s my favorite view of Silver City….
f8.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 32mm
Whenever I photograph any well known site I always try to create something that other photographers have not done. I do not copy other photographer’s work. So, looking for a different composition is important, and one of the compositional elements many photographers neglect is the tried and true: Foreground, Middle-ground, Background concept. To create this concept I find a subject—in this case the old school house—and then I back-off and look for an alignment of some foreground element. Well, I had to back WAY-OFF, but I found this really nice archway created by some old vine covered trees that gave me the perfect foreground to frame my schoolhouse scene.

Not content with that look I pushed it to the surreal….
 One of the benefits of our digital photography age is that we can create surreal images so easily. One of my favorite printing techniques from our film days was Solarization and it happens that included in the NIK bundle of effects is both color and B&W Solarization.

TECH NOTE: This was done with NIK’s Color Efex Pro using the Color Solarization #3. However, when using the Elapsed Time Slider for the look I wanted it created some unwanted colors in the clouds over the school house. So, then I dropped the image into Photoshop and used the Spot Healing Brush Tool to clean up the sky.

Hope you enjoyed my one day adventure….’Til next week…

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