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
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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

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


I don’t particularly love taking images of flowers, unlike so many amateur photographers, so the only time I’m interested in photographing a flower is when the light makes it a compelling subject.  

You see, as a professional photographer and artist, I’m drawn to light and its interplay with the world around me. Maybe that’s why I’ve photographed so many different things over my 40+ year career. I’ve always found it strange to see photographers and artists make a career of doing one type of subject—like flowers or just landscapes or horses.  

I think that’s why I’ve never lost interest in the art of photography. Because I follow the light in its random trace across everything around me I’m always finding new things to photograph.

I’m fascinated by how light reacts when it hits a subject and how the subject reacts to being illuminated by that light. I may go so far as to say that the light is more important than the subject! To quote a great photographer Gary Winogrand: 

“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.”  

That’s why I will usually pass on a great potential subject if the light is not dramatic. I’ll note the subject and plan to return when the light is ideal for that subject.

The light that I’m look for….
 f22.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 145mm
This is what I’m talking about; I’m photographing The Light and it’s Effect on the surface of the flower. This is late morning light after a rain shower, so we have back light making the interior of the flower glow and nice skimming light dancing through the water droplets and revealing the texture on the petals’ surfaces.

It’s all about the direction of the light relative to camera position…
f14.0 @ 1/125 sec.,, ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
Here we have nice directional light form the setting sun filtered through the petals of the daisy creating drama in a simple subject. This image, I think, illustrates the philosophy I share with photographer Gary Winogrand when he said, 

“…the photograph has to be more dramatic or beautiful or interesting the the thing photographed otherwise what’s the point of the photograph?”

Another with back and top light….
f7.1 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
I was doing a family portrait session when these things lit-up from the setting sun behind the family.  I would never have photographed these flowers if the lighting was flat and directionless (Like most amateurs usually do).

Another quote, on point; 

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire Light. Love it. But, above all, Know Light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”  George Eastman

How are you using the light?  Until next week…

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


When I inherited my grandmother’s antique mantle clock a couple of years ago I opened the back and immediately knew I wanted to photograph its’ clock works. The clock is a Seth Thomas “Sucile” red adamantine, No. 765, mantle clock made between 1904 and 1913. It has a marvelous brass movement with a wonderfully funky gong mechanism that looks hand made! I put it aside not knowing how I wanted to photograph the interior of the clock. After some research, finding that it really didn’t have much value, I dismantled the left hand side and found a nice opening through which I could light its interior. So, this became a perfect “Light-Painting” subject!

All my other light painting subjects have needed LED flash lights with at least a 7-LED head and on some subjects I used a 24-LED array (a wand) in close and that was usually at 3200 ISO for 30 seconds @ f2.8. For this clock’s interior I didn’t have room for my larger flash lights—the back’s opening is only about 6 inches square—since the tripod mounted camera occupied most of that opening. So, I started my exposure test using my smallest LED flashlight with only a single LED.  It turned out to be more than adequate….
f20.0 @ 30 sec., ISO 800; Lens: 15mm Fisheye
In fact I had to keep lowering my ISO and stopping down because the metal clock work is so reflective. But that was a good thing because with my camera in so close I needed as much Depth-of-Field as I could get. And, since I was focusing at the minimum distance my lens would allow (on the gong's coil on the right) I needed the f20.0 for good depth-of-field.

In this image you can see my main lighting movements through the opening on the left. Here’s my light painting sequence….
Sequence 1
I gave the clock works about 15 seconds through that opening on the left.  Then moving to the right side….

Sequence 2
I’m now real close to the camera putting light on the gong mechanism for about 7 seconds.  Next I aimed under the camera….
Sequence 3
For the remaining 8 seconds I put some light on the old feather that I found inside the clock. 

Here is the final image with retouching….
Final Image
After a lot of interior touch-up and cropping the image to a square I closed-up the left side opening by burning-in and vignetting the image. I don’t know which image I like best—either the first version in this blog or this last one.  

Anybody out there have an opinion?  Let me know…’til next week with something new.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


We revisited Silver City on Father’s Day exactly 5 years to the day from when I photographed this iconic Idaho “ghost town” for the first time.  My goal was to revisit some of my favorite subjects—this time using my Pro-DSLR for larger, higher quality images and to find some new features. But, mostly, I wanted to find the old rusting car that I photographed 5 years ago. 

People and nature conspired to deny my attempts to redo some of my favorite subjects. In the hotel where the neat old telegraph office resides they have blocked access to it with furniture and old equipment in addition to added inappropriate clutter on its counters.

Nature has a nasty habit of making changes; things grow, things die, all just plots to mess up our compositions!  It reminds me of the complaints of today’s photographers wanting to do images from where Ansel Adams photographed his famous image of the Tetons and the Snake River only to find that his view in 1942, with the Snake River’s nice “s” curves clearly seen in the foreground, is all but gone; obstructed by the growth of those pesky trees!

Thus, stymied at a couple outdoors redos, I was even more determined to find my favorite old car that I knew was up in the rocky hills overlooking the town’s Main Street. After 45 minutes of hiking—30 minutes in the wrong direction—I found it! 

So, here’s my new version of its suicide doors….
f11.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 140mm
I think this old car is the best piece of three dimensional art in Silver City. This view and crop has the anthropomorphic, face-like, effect I was looking for—complete with those sad eyes and the drooping door handles.

Moving on to the other side of the car…
f9.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 102mm
This is the original, unedited, version. I don’t like the big steel grate (covering the mine pit) on the left hand side of the image, but I really like the rocks above that area the I wanted to maintain the negative space on that side so I did some edits…
After a Lot of Edits
After a lot of Photoshop using the spot healing brush to remove that steel grate (and then touch-up to remove obvious clones!) and remove the piece of chrome sticking out of the rear side window I put the image into NIK’s Color Efex and used the Indian summer preset to create a burnt fall look in the bushes. I think all that greenery was too happy and didn’t match or support the mood I want here!

Speaking of cars in the dirt…
Here's our Jeep...
Here’s our Jeep Cherokee after the long drive up the rutted, bumpy, rocky, “road” to Silver City. I had almost as much fun off-roading to Silver City as I did doing photography there! It’s an interesting contrast to see the old mining town buildings with solar panels on their roofs. If it wasn’t for that technology Silver City would probably be a true ghost town. I did find some new subjects….
f9.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
What photographer can resist peeling paint on old wood. What caught my eye though were those colorful power line insulators in the window.  Sometimes even I do pretty pictures….
f10.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 85mm
Everybody up there has an outhouse…This one is a 5-star accommodation!

What was your “Father’s Day” adventure…’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer
Training site:
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