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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Having done wedding for over 25 years, my wife and I have always stressed the importance of having a professional engagement session done way before the wedding to validate your choice in a photographer for such an important event.  We thought the engagement session was so important that we have always included it as our gift to the bride and groom for choosing us as their wedding photographers. 

The engagement session is how we get to know the couple in a low stress environment, have some fun, and learn how they relate to each other, to us, and what they will or will not be comfortable with when in front of a camera.

The couple in the following images came to us a month after their wedding for an “engagement session” because they were not happy with their photographer’s images taken on their wedding day—especially those of just the two of them.  We took them to one of our favorite parks in Boise, Idaho—The Kathryn Albertson Park—and did portraits in several locations just like we would if they were about to be wedding clients.  

Besides doing looking at the camera, we also do pictorials…
f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
Pictorials are portraits designed as more artistic images of the couple relating to the environment instead of the camera. Composing this type of portrait with more space around the couple makes it ideal for a large wall print or a canvas wrap.

f7.1 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
When we have a couple with a major height difference…

First we show them a standard wedding pose that we try to avoid for couples of very different heights. Then we show them a different pose…
f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Our goal is to get their heads together in most poses so they can relate to each other. This is just one simple way to do that outdoors. 

We always do individual portraits, as well….
 f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 165mm
For these we always have the other half of the couple standing right next to my camera to get the best expression from their loved-one. 

Then we reverse it….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 165mm
We always do a bunch of poses in different areas of a park. We do the usual mushy stuff; looking at each other, kissing, holding hands walking….etc.

This last image was something different….
f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
They both liked this one a lot because it had a rather introspective mood to it. This was actually one of my color test images I always do to maintain proper “color temperature’ as the sun sets.

We never know what our couples will end up liking when they see their slide show later on!  Again, that’s why you should have your wedding photographer do the engagement session way before your wedding.. If you really don’t like those engagement images it gives you time to find another photographer to do your wedding!

As always should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


We knew that photographing this young lady for her high school senior photos with her old horse was very important to her because her mother had told us in advance the horse was not doing well and that this was likely a farewell photo session.  So, my goal was to capture as much interaction between her and her horse as I could—but as most professional photographers working with animals know it’s  often difficult and rarely turns out as planned. I was resigned to probably just getting a basic posed portrait—the usual two-up head shot of them looking at the camera.  When she was bringing her horse out of the corral so we could do portraits in the barn I started the session with some candids and not 20 images in I was amazed to get the image that I desperately wanted showing that connection between human and animal that had always eluded me!

This is the original image right out of the camera….
f5.6 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 180mm
Not expecting this moment as she paused in our walk to the barn, I was too far away, so I zoomed fast and got off one image before the moment was gone.  There is way too much information in the original image, especially for a PPA competition style image. The background is very busy and marred by the corral.  In addition all the legs being shown take us away from what really matters here.

A major crop was the answer….
Cropped in
I cropped-in using a horizontal format and placed her head in a dramatic “crash point”. I really like her hair framing the right-hand side of the image. But, I did not like the extremely bright color contrast between her and her horse. Aaah ha…Black and White conversion might do the trick!

NIK, Silver Efex, Conversion
The color problem was not just her bright shirt. Her hair and skin color separated them as well. The black and white version made their hair similar and united the two of them in tonal harmony. And very important in a competition image, as it is in art, simplifying a composition will often make it more powerful. 

We went on to get a lot of nice images of this young lady with and without her horse and even a nice solo portrait of the horse.  Sadly, shortly after we created these portraits they had to put her horse down. Rest in peace sweet one….

As always questions are welcome…

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Despite all the chatter on the web, great Bokeh is not about shooting at your lenses' widest aperture. Moreover, it’s definitely not necessary to buy those super—fast—and expensive—f1.2, f1.4 or f1.8 prime lenses everyone gushes about!  

As a professional photographer for over 35 years I’ve owned dozens of camera systems and hundreds of lenses and one of the lenses I most regret buying was the Canon, 85mm, f1.2, prime that everybody said I MUST own!  After less than a year I found it to be creatively limiting; 85mm was not enough telephoto for individual portraits and at the same time too much telephoto for anything else. In addition I rarely used it at f1.2 because it just had no useful depth-of-field there; I sold it.  All of my professional work in the last 20 years has been with a variety of zoom lenses with their widest apertures being f2.8, which I rarely use—because most lenses are not at their sharpest wide open.

Good Bokeh is more about focal length and distance….
8.0 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I discovered decades ago that the more telephoto I used when doing portraits the better I liked them—and the sales were better too!  That style carried over into my fine art photography as well. I learned that the bokeh was always better when I backed-up and used MORE telephoto at ANY aperture. This was great because I usually want lots of depth-of-field in my fine art.

In the above image, the aperture of f8.0 merely gave me just enough depth-of-field and really nice bokeh too.

TECH NOTE:  For the best bokeh your background must be as far from the subject as is possible. In addition for the bokeh to really pop, I want those specular highlights back there, too.  

My portraits are built on this premise as well…
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
For this portrait I placed her about 30 feet from this outdoor, sunset, background. Because she was closer than usual I put my 1.4X extender on my zoom lens—giving me 280mm—and opened up my aperture to f4.5 and this created a very dramatic background.

To give her parents a different look we moved her….
f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 250mm
To soften the bokeh in the background I moved her farther from the background; about 60 feet away in this image.

TECH NOTE:  The widest aperture I use for individual portraits is f4.0 even though my main portrait lens is a 70-200mm, f2.8 lens. I want the ability to place my subject in ANY POSE keeping Both Eyes SHARP.  The aperture of f4.0 will do that , while using f2.8 will make the subject’s far-eye soft in a two-thirds view of the face.

Back to some small aperture bokeh…
f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
Most photographers seem to think this is impossible: Really nice bokeh at f11.0 !  Again, it’s all about distance to the background. And in this image I’m only using a focal length of 105mm. What was very important to me for this image was getting the depth-of-field to make all those leaves really sharp. I wanted that beautiful back-lit detail clearly visible.

So, don’t waste you money on those super fast (f1.2, 1.4, 1.8 etc.) prime lenses!  You do’t need them; the path to creative and profitable photography is paved with modern zoom lenses at ANY aperture other than Wide Open.

As usual, should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…”Til next week…

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


We’ve been doing portraits, here at The Storytellers in Meridian, Idaho, of people with their pets for over 30 years. In this blog I’ll share the most important rules and tips for the best outcome in your photo session. Most of these rules and tips apply to general portraiture of people without their pets as well.

Rule #1 - Do whatever it takes to be at your subject’s level.
  • I want may camera at my subject's eye level. So, if a family is seated on the grass I’ll have my tripod set low so that I’m on my knees.
  • If I’m photographing someone mounted on their horse then I’m on a 6 foot ladder.
  • Always bring squeaker toys on sessions; these work for pets and people as well!
  • Have different types or sizes of speakers toys that make different sounds because the animal will tire of the same sound and not respond after its novelty wears off.
NOTE: On one session after 10 minutes of trying different squeakers with no response from their dog the owner finally informed us that their dog was deaf! There’s a lesson learned in the planning for a portrait session.

  • Have dog treats on hand to reward good behavior. I wish this concept would work with people, but they’re way too finicky!
The impact of being at eye level….
f5.6 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Here we have the girl on one of our posing rocks, so I’m on my knees. Their eyes are on the same plane so depth of field is fine @ f5.6.

This brings up Rule #2:
  • Never have your lens wide-open in portraits. Why? It’s simply not necessary.. As you can see in the above image even at f5.6 the background is nicely out of focus and the dog is sharp from his nose to his ears.
  • Besides, most lenses are not at their sharpest when wide open.
And Rule #3:
  • Always focus on the eyes.
Plus Rule #3A:
  • In group portraits always focus on the eyes of the person nearest to the camera.  
Here’s a typical seated family portrait with their dog…
 f6.3 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 125mm
I’ve placed them near the peak of a grassy hill and I backed down the hill until the parents’ heads were against that light spot in the background. This put me on my knees at about the dog’s eye level, which was fine for the group as a whole.

The walking portrait with their dogs….

f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Because this is a portrait of the owners walking their dogs I’m standing for this one with my camera at the eye level of the people.

Portraits of just the dogs on leash…
Before Retouching
Rule #4:
  • Have the owners hold the dog’s leads straight-up over their dog’s heads—not laying across the dog’s bodies when you are not able to remove the leads. This makes the art work easier when removing the leads in Photoshop.
After Artwork
Then there’s really getting low…

f4.0 @ 1/800 sec., Iso 800; Lens @ 200mm
For this point of view I had to be on my stomach. It always seems that wether I’m doing baby humans or puppies (this was our baby Gadget when she was 16 weeks old) I’m on the ground and on my stomach!
  • Rule #5:
  • I use the most telephoto I can within my environment. 
You’ll notice that all of these portraits were done with my zoom lens in some telephoto range; usually at 200mm. That’s because a telephoto’s compression distortion ALWAYS looks better on my subjects than the wide angle distortion (called extension distortion) caused by a short focal length lens. In addition I always get better Bokeh in my backgrounds, with longer focal lengths, even with small apertures.

As always, if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week…

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Here at TheStorytellers in Meridian, Idaho, we try to do more than just a smile at the camera portrait that so many parents are trained to want.  Often a person’s personality is more apparent in their eyes than in their mouth. In addition, when many people smile broadly their eyes close-up and we lose that all important glimpse into what has been called “the window to the soul”…the eyes.

The hard part in our profession is getting our subjects to relax enough in front of our camera to really show us who they are. This is always more difficult in the studio and especially so with children!  I think this session went so well because these are returning happy clients. We have been doing their portraits since their daughter was an infant.  If the parents are nervous or anxious their children will pick-up on that energy. These parents trust us and are very comfortable bringing their children to us.

After we do some smiles the storytelling begins…
f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 140mm
I call this one the Future Executive Portrait!  Not many photographers would put a child into what we call a “power pose”, but this little guy fell into it like a pro. I like his intensity! That’s why I converted this to black and white.

Moving on to some literal storytelling…
 f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 102mm
We started doing family reading time when the daughter was a toddler, so it was a natural to do reading time showing their children enjoying this family tradition. You can tell they really enjoy doing this together. Some of the best storytelling is when NOBODY is looking at the camera!  

Moving on to the daughter….
f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 100mm
Their daughter is now a little more reserved in front of us, so we didn’t push her too much—and she did have a nice easy smile.  I converted this to black and white to show how it simplifies the image when you eliminate the bright colors.

And back to little brother…
f11.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 200mm
That impish smile tells it all! We took our time, didn’t rush anyone, and everybody had fun. We let our dog, Gadget, run around—she’s our studio mascot—and everybody loves our super friendly little dog!  

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

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