Tuesday, October 15, 2019


High School Seniors Photography is among the most creative types of photography. Why? Because we’re photographing an individual we don’t have to worry about group composition and the space it takes to place a group within an outdoor background or a studio set. We are free to creatively use the many small niches in the outdoor environment that we don’t normally use. In addition we can do more variety in poses, with more interesting standing poses, that don’t work for groups. Then there are the clothing changes, something we don’t have time for in group portraits, that can really add creative variety to a session. And since the clothes matter to teens these different outfits tell us something about them. After all isn’t that why we’re doing their portraits at this pivotal moment in their lives?

One of my favorite types of sessions is what we call the Dual Senior Session.  This is where we do both a studio and an outdoor session—usually on the same day. These sessions are far more challenging, but can reveal a lot more about them as well. And because the environment, the background, the depth and lighting is so radically different in our outdoor versus our studio sessions the teens often act differently—the whole look is fundamentally different.  

This young lady is a good example….

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200, Lens @ 110mm
The parents always want their kids to smile in portraits and we do our best to accommodate them, but sometimes the child won’t comply.  This gal had a definite, single minded, style she wanted to portray in the studio. We can relate to most parents. Our oldest son would rarely smile in front of the camera. I actually like this portrait of her—It has emotional content that is real. It tells me more about her than would a cheesy smile.

Then we went to a local park…
f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 123mm
 Now, she’s really cutting loose!  This was the smile she gave us; this is her persona. We were happy with the results and so were her parents.

Another reason we do a Dual Senior Session is when the clients need a formal studio session for the yearbook in addition to the usual outdoor session.

This young man was really easy to work with….

f11.0 @ 1/200 se., ISO 200; lens @ 165mm
I loaned him one of my tuxedos for his yearbook formal (we also provide the black drape for the gals). Then as part of our service we take care of getting their formal image to the yearbook staff at their High School.  

Then off to the park for casual portraits…
 f4.5 @ 1/200 sec., SIO 400; Lens @ 222mm
Both of these outdoor sessions were done in the fall—our favorite time of the year here in Idaho. These were done in early and late October where we go out about two hours before sunset.

My style is to only use outdoor locations that are lit by the setting sun—so that when I place my subjects the sun is setting behind them.  Then I knock it all out of focus with a relativity wide aperture and as much telephoto lens as I can bring to bear.  

That’s it for this week….as usual don’t hesitate to ask questions…happy to answer you….

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


My speciality is environmental natural light portraits. So, when doing family, high school seniors, or any individual portraits outside I decide when we start the photography session. I also usually decide where the session is done from my list of great locations. Since I want every session to be fabulous I need to control as many variables as possible in my portraits. That’s why I have our outdoor sessions start about 2 hours before sunset, depending on the location. Then we work the location saving the best spots for the “magic hour lighting”. Well, then there’s wedding photography; not the best field of photography for a control freak! With my 30+ years as a full time professional photographer nothing has been more challenging than doing weddings. Facing that challenge has made me a much better photographer in every area of my business.

Sometimes you only have 2 minutes to decide where and how you’re going to “get the shot”…
f4.5 @ 1/500sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
It’s 3 o’clock on a very bright, clear, summer day at the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California. Obviously not my favorite time of day and the bride wants an image on the bridge—the most open area of the gardens. I oblige my client giving them what they ask for and then I move on to MY choice of location. 

Using my lens at 200mm with an aperture of f4.5, I blur out the background giving me some nice bokeh and isolating her.

Next I moved her into the shade…
f5.6 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Putting her into the shade of a big tree gave me the soft light I wanted on her face. Then I looked for some less harsh background light I could de-focus, creating separation against her face and the black wig. It required very careful framing to get the separation around her wig—especially the upper right hand quadrant.

Then I moved her again…
f4.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 200mm
Using this large canvas, created by a visiting Japanese artist, created a relevant background and it blocked the strong direct sunlight behind it. An easy exposure using open sky creating soft light.  

At another shady area….
f4.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800, Lens @ 120mm
Well known for their bamboo gardens I wanted some as a background. This was done in front of the visitor’s center. I liked the spotty backlight—I just made sure that her face stayed in the shade.

Then I moved her into the sunlight…
 f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO, 400; Lens @ 200mm
Now I’m letting the sun light-up her white translucent shroud. This created a soft box effect—except her head is inside the soft-box!

This bridal session was challenging, but with such a great subject I was motivated to create something she would always cherish. We had a lot of fun too!

I’m open to questions…have a great day, until next week…

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Here at The Storytellers we don’t do “head-shots”. We don’t even use the term with clients; it’s always Executive Portraits. These sessions are custom tuned to the look they want combined with our advice gleaned from over 25 years of studio photography experience.

A vital part of each session is the clothing consultation. We advise that more clothing coverage is better than less. The more skin you show the more it takes attention away from the face. That’s why we recommend long sleeves and at most “V” necks. If we’re doing any standing poses we suggest pants or a dress at knee length. Then we move on to clothing colors and picking a background that will compliment those colors. When done right we have color harmony…

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO, 200; Lens @ 120mm
When we told this gal about our backgrounds and mentioned our Tuscan, hand painted, muslin, in brown tones with hints of blue highlights, she put together an outfit that was in perfect color harmony and looked great on her!

Here’s the studio lighting set-up….

Studio Set-up
This is my basic 3-Light set-up.
  • Main Light: Photoflex, 7 foot, OctoDome
  • Hair Light: Larson, 9x24”, strip-light
  • Background Light: one Norman head with grid
  • Reflector: Soft white, 42”, Photoflex
Then we changed the background….

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 150mm
We always do a series of seated poses with this level of framing—head and shoulders or a little wider—to give the client lots of choices This was her favorite image from the series.  

This particular pose is one of our “Power Poses”. In this pose we have the client lean forward slightly with an elbow on a knee.  This put her face forward of her tummy; when the face is closer to the camera than the tummy the size of the tummy is reduced.  It’s a standard pose for men to slim them, but obviously works well with a woman that is comfortable with it!  

’Til next week…..

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Our pets are only with us for so long. That’s why when we get portrait inquires and they ask if we will photograph their pets, in addition to them and their family, we always say Yes!  They also ask if we charge extra for pets or extended family; to that we always say No! We do not put-up roadblocks to potential clients. 

This portrait session was a fun, simple session of just this lady and her dog done outside in a dog’s natural environment.   You can see these two had a strong connection..
f6.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
I really like it when we can get images of people and their pets interacting with each other. It’s not that easy to capture because often the pet is distracted by all of the people, kids, and other animals passing through the park especially on a weekend. That’s why we suggest to our clients that portrait sessions are best done during the week.   

Here’s the more formal portrait…
f6.2 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 150mm
I love the old fence here at Merrill Park, Eagle, Idaho. At this point, since they aren’t interacting, it’s obvious her dog is now on guard duty!

So, back to some storytelling….
f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., Iso 800; Lens @ 200mm
Sitting them on the grass, where I also had a better fall colors background, helped to reestablish that connection.  Dogs outside, in the park, are just like kids. They’re easily distracted and often reach their limit when a portrait session goes longer than 45 minutes.
 f6.3 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 170mm
Her dog, at this point, would no longer look towards me and my camera. She’s saying, “I think he’s done!”  That means we then move on to this lady’s individual portraits without her dog. She loved the images we got of the two of them and scheduled another portrait session in our studio for just her.

That’s it for this week….As always don’t hesitate to ask any questions…

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Because we have total control of lighting in the studio it is the best environment to create dramatic lighting. It’s all about direction of light and creating shadows. The fastest way to kill dramatic lighting is the use of a fill light.   That’s why I quit using any fill light in my studio over ten years ago. The most I use to soften shadows is a reflector—and even then I usually use a soft white; rarely do I use silver. 

One of the most dramatic lighting pattens used in the studio is Profile Lighting. In Profile Lighting even the reflector is not needed…
f13.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 105mm
Profile Lighting is a simple 3-Light setup:
  • The Main Light is at 90° relative to camera with the subject looking towards the light.
  • One grided background light (set @ f8.0)
  • One Hair light (set @ f11.0)
It’s simple in the number of lights used, but as usual, the placement and intensity of each light is critical in a successful outcome.

Here’s the original color studio image…
Original Color Image
Nowhere near as dramatic as my final Black and White image this was just my raw material to start with. In our film days this would have been our stopping point!

Processing the file:
  • I first opened it in NIK’s Silver Efex Pro 2, single image, Tone Mapping; Used Deep 2.
  • B&W conversion in NIK’s Silver Efex Pro 2 using their Fine Art preset-modified to my taste.
  • Noise reduction in NIK’s Define 2.
It’s remarkable how far we can take a digital file today to create our vision of a final image. However, it’s still important that we start with a good basic image; with highlights controlled and Light and Shadows where we want them.

As always, don’t hesitate to ask questions…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


One of our specialties is doing family portraits, multi-family groups and the occasional family reunion; the more the merrier!  Because of our wedding background, we have considerable experience in putting groups together both indoors and outdoors. But our favorite is doing so outside, by natural light, in nice park-like environments—especially in the fall. We start with the most difficult portrait first, when at all possible, the formal large group—especially when there are small kids in the image.  Then we do the family sub-groups, the grand or great grand kids with grandma and grandpa and finally a fun one of the whole group…
f6.3 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 1000; Lens @ 70mm
At this point we didn’t care if the kids got dirty, so we had everybody throw the fall leaves in the air!  You can tell they were now free to enjoy themselves; the parents as well!   This image was done just 45 minutes before sunset, so the light is really nice with the sun setting behind them. 

We usually start our outdoor sessions about two hours before sunset and since not everybody had arrived at the park yet we started with some individual family groups….
f7.1 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 90mm
For this session we didn’t need to use our posing rocks—the park’s rocks worked just fine. Again, I placed this group with the setting sun behind them to get that nice back-lit glow in the leaves.

When everyone finally arrived we did our first group portrait…
f7.1 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 75mm
I like this setting with the back-lit fall colors behind them and the unusual contrast with the rock bench and column as places to put our subjects. Artistically the only thing that hurts this portrait are the clothing colors.  I always suggest that everyone settle on a maximum of two-colors that work together; like navy with burgundy or different shades of one-color (light to medium or medium to dark). That makes the group look more unified and then you can focus on the faces of the people in the portrait and not be distracted by the clothing.

Now this group of families did better…
f8.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 57 mm
The different shades of blue and the tans and browns worked better together. For this group we used our posing rocks, so the we could have some people sitting giving us a nice variety of head heights.  We like to create triangles and/or diagonals with peoples’ faces in our group compositions. At the same time we keep each family sub-group together and place them around grandma and grandpa. How many triangles do you count?  

We’re looking forward to this year’s fall sessions in our great Boise and Meridian (Idaho) parks!

Don’t hesitate to ask questions….’Til next week…

Author:  Jerry W Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


I’ve done a variety of equine photography over the years, but until I started doing photography at the Western Idaho State Fair I had never heard of draft horse log pulling competitions.  Upon seeing it listed in the fair event brochure with a start time of 7pm I knew it would at least have the benefit of some magic hour light, and that was enough for me to check it out!

When I got to the arena I was happy to see beautiful large horses and competitors with a lot of character and enthusiasm for their sport.  One of the good things about this sport is that it has action, but it’s slow…

f6.3 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 70mm
You can see what I like about this light; It’s an hour before sunset making the direct sunlight striking my subjects controllable.

Really nice friendly people here, too…

f5.6 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 88mm
A big part of my storytelling at these events is doing images of individual competitors for a glimpse of behind the scenes character.

An image to illustrate the competition…

The Competition
This shows the basic idea of the event; to guide the horses through the course and through the yellow course markers without knocking them down with the logs. It looks easy in the stills, but not so much in real life.

More of the character…
f5.6 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Did I say they were friendly? And each had his own style—this guy had kind of a Hawaiian cowboy thing going on!

f6.3 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 120mm
She was obviously very serious about the draft course competitions, but she wasn’t there to just mind the horses….

f6.3 @ 1/400 sec., Iso 800; Lens @ 150mm
She was in the competition using the same two-horse, two-log, rig as the men.  This image is nice because it illustrates how those logs, as they turn through the yellow course markers, can twist and roll creating a serious foot hazard to the competitors!  They had to be quick and nimble avoiding the errant logs while still guiding the horses through the next turn.

That’s why staying ON the logs was best…

f6.3 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 90mm
This image sums up the classic Americana—with old glory flying in the background—of the State Fair here in Idaho.

I feel privileged to be here to document such things while they are still practiced.

’Til next week…

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