Tuesday, April 16, 2019


I usually know when I snap the shutter if an image is destined to be a color or B&W image because of how I compose a scene. In other words when I’m doing Civil War Re-enactments I will design some to be in color when there is a compelling color feature in the scene. When there’s little color in a scene, if I want an historical look, and I can see good contrast between what will be blacks and highlights then black and white usually wins out.

This image had those features….
f5.6 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142mm
In addition this image had the posed look that we see in much actual civil war photography. Of course back then that posed look was necessary because their cameras’ film (coated glass plates) was so slow that every image was a time exposure (with the camera on a tripod) where nobody could move or they’d get motion blurred photos. That’s why there are no action photos of the Civil War!

I designed this image to be color….
 f4.5 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Backed-off, using my lens at 200mm, I carefully composed this image to PLACE that flag EXACTLY where it is relative to this soldier while he was moving around unaware of my presence. I purposely chose the aperture of f4.5 to blur the flag and background enough that the flag would not dominate the scene.

This scene had to be B&W….
f5.6 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 155mm
This image of the gun crew, taken seconds after they fired a cannon, was visually polluted by the colorful crowd in the background. That’s why I waited for them to fire giving me that cloud of smoke to help obscure the background.

  • To further obscure the background I converted the color image in NIK’s Silver Efex using their Antique Plate 2 preset, which not only creates a nice warm tone monochrome, but also adds a white vignette around the image effectively increasing the smoke in the scene.

Another image designed for color….
 f8.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Again using my lens at 200mm I layered and compressed these elements: the flags and a model of a civil war cannon are on a table while in the background, some 25 yards away, are some full scale cannons.

  • I focused on the Union Flag to make it really stand out and used an aperture of f8.0 to blur the Confederate Flag and the background cannons, but still make them identifiable.

Back to a more historical look….
f5.0 @ 1/1600 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 40mm
I have two layers of processing on this image. 

  • First, I put the color original into NIK’s Single Image Tone Mapping using their Dark preset to really enhance the cannon smoke.
  • Second, I converted in NIK’s Silver Efex using their Antique Plate 1 for a straight warm monochrome.

Here’s the original image….
Original Color
The color original is just way too colorful and cheerful a setting for a Civil War Re-enactment! In addition I had a sign on the left side that had to be removed.

Sometimes enhanced color is called for….
f5.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 47mm
Our Civil War volunteers here in Idaho always have their blacksmith there doing authentic iron work of the period. For this image I wanted to enhance the red hot steel, the sparks, and the textures in the anvil so I processed this in NIK’s Tone Mapping using the Structured 2 preset.

I’ll finish with a classic B&W candid….
f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Since the Union’s uniforms make nice clean black when converted this was a natural for B&W. This old soldier in the shade of a tree, with dappled light filtering on him in this introspection, was also done with my lens set at 200mm. I used my favorite portrait aperture of f4.5 to create a nice bokeh background enhanced by the lens’ shallow Depth-of-Field.

That’s all for this week.  ’Til next time…

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


I think most photographers would agree that natural light is the best light for portraits outside. However, as a long time professional portrait artist it’s my job to find or create directional natural light to create the third dimension in our two-dimensional media. If there are no shadows on the subject then you don’t have directional light; you just have flat light. The worst version of this type of light is the effect of direct on-camera flash. 

So, because adding artificial light, in a scene where there is plenty of ambient light, will look harsh and unnatural I propose the use of Subtractive Lighting or what is sometimes called Negative Fill to create natural looking directional light. 

How to Create Negative Fill

There are two ways to subtract light from your subject when out doors:
  1. You place your subject(s) close to natural (trees, bushes, rocks, etc.) or unnatural (buildings, walls) objects that will create a shadow side on the face. Of course it’s imperative that there be light (e.g. Lots of sky light) on the opposite side. 
  2. You place a black, opaque Gobo (or flag) near the subject to create the shadows.
Here’s an example using the location’s natural light blockers…

f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
The keys to creating this look outside is proper placement of the subject and time of day. I placed the boy where there is a line of trees and rocks about ten feet away on camera left. On camera right there is a large patch of clear blue sky creating the key light. The time of day (about 1.5 hours before sunset) is creating that nice, bokeh filled, back light.

If you’re forced to use an open location with no natural light blockers using a black gobo on an individual works great. In the image below my wife, Kathi, is using a 42” Black Gobo to block side and top light at the same time creating a nice shadow side on his face. 

Hand Held Negative Fill
My Mentor Leon Kennamer

I learned the Subtractive Lighting Technique from the pioneer of its use in still photography Leon Kennamer. He was one of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) Masters that I studied with in week long courses at the Brooks Institute of Photography some 30 years ago. He taught me the use of the hand-held gobos, but he also taught us about finding the light. His words are always with me when I’m scouting locations. He said that, “THE LIGHT IS AT THE EDGE OF THE FORREST.” That means if you drag your subject(s) INTO the forrest you’ll lose all light direction (called blocked-up light) because you’ve created negative fill everywhere. You must step back out of the forrest until you have that patch of blue sky on one side and the forrest on the other.

Again using natural light blockers on location…

 f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., SIO 800; Lens @ 155mm
So, I’ve adapted Leon Kennamer’s technique using natural light blocking features because when doing group portraits it is not possible to use hand held Gobos on groups of people. In the image above, taken about an hour before sunset, I’ve placed him where a line of trees, on camera left, are blocking all the sky light from that side. The sun is setting behind him and there’s a large patch of blue sky on the right. The key here is to watch where the subject’s nose if pointing; too far towards the tree line and you can lose the light in the eye on the shadow side. This image shows how directional natural light can become with careful subject placement. It’s no different in principle than classic studio lighting.

Have questions or comments don’t hesitate to leave them. 

You can also watch a short 8 minute video about Subtractive Lighting on my YouTube Channel, Light At The Edge Photography, along with other helpful videos:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UevJkSVJy4o

’Till next week…

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


Back in the day Kodak publications told amateur photographers to always have the sun at their back to avoid shadows and eliminate lens flare. It didn’t take me long to realize, even when I was an amateur photographer, that there was little drama in creating images with light that came from camera position; that’s just flat light. In fact it’s far better that the light striking your subject, wether in the studio or outdoors, comes from ANY direction other than from camera position. One of my very favorite types of directional light, especially for fine art, is using backlight as the key light when I’m outdoors.

The Key Light in photography is the dominate light striking the subject. When used properly the key light creates the three dimensionality and the drama that compels the viewer to SEE the artist’s intent in creating the image.

Time of day is the key for backlight….
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 120mm
I usually go out about 2-hours before sunset to line up my subjects for backlight. I don’t wander around searching for subjects; these are already found subjects that I put on a list as future targets when the weather is good.

This image of sunflowers was taken in the middle of August in California, at 6pm. Flowers and fall colors leaves are naturals for this lighting. 

With really bright flowers, (as with fall leaves), especially in a dark field, I use a spot meter on the leaves so I don’t clip the highlights.

This lighting can work with people too…
f5.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
This lighting is NOT for portraits! This type of lighting, as in this image, can create great pictorials of people doing things. 

This image, was done at 8pm, of people walking through an animal exhibition hall at the Idaho State Faire. The dust their feet kicked-up made for a terrific backlight image.

Now, back to some thorny blooms….
 f8.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
In this image, the backlight not only lights up the translucent blossoms, but the Rim Light on the cactus thorns is marvelous as well.

It’s important to note that when doing extreme backlight, with the setting sun, that you must control lens flare. In spite of the fad to Create Lens Flare, which only makes professional photographers’ work look amateurish, I control flare to make my subjects look great. With lens flare you lose color density, contrast, and sharpness—things that photography does best!

Here’s how I control lens flare…

My set-up
It’s often not enough to use a large lens shade. So, I’ve added a black flag on a Mathews arm attached to my tripod. I always use this set-up when I’m doing portraits outside. I don’t really care if some photographers think they’re being artsy flaring out their nature photos but I think it’s photographic malpractice to allow flare in a portrait image all the time; it’s also bad business. It’s like improperly using soft focus.

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Some subjects must be rendered in B&W or Monochrome because they simply lack color to begin with and they have excellent texture as well—such as old barn wood—then it’s a slam dunk. When color helps the center of interest or IS the center of interest than a B&W conversion will probably weaken the image. But, how many colors and where should they be within the frame? I’ve found in my studies of art that simplifying your color composition and placing powerful colors in one of the “crash points” by using “the Rule of Thirds” can make an image very powerful and not overwhelm the viewer. The point is when using color you must design the color composition into the image before you trip the shutter. If that not possible and you have a compelling subject, as in my example below, know that you will have some editing to do in “post”.

My Criteria to Convert Images to Black and White:

My basic philosophy on converting color images to B&W or monochrome has not changed since I was “shooting” film; the best B&W images have:
  1. Directional Light; that makes Shadows
  2. Good Blacks and Whites
  3. Texture and or Details
  4. A Strong Center of Interest
I think today’s example image meets my criteria….

f6.3 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 73mm
This image was converted to monochrome using NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2. NIK is one of my favorite methods of conversion because it offers a lot of choices and styles as well as emulations; and it has 38 preset styles and 18 film emulation modes. 

My Process for this image:
  • Brought down the highlights in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and made a jpeg.
  • In NIK Silver Efex I selected the Antique Plate1 preset because I wanted a warm-tone monochrome not just B&W.
  • Lastly I put a vignette on the image to darken the corners.
Here’s my original color version….

Original color version
This is a great example of color chaos! With this much uncoordinated color in a scene the viewer’s attention just bounces around all over the frame. In addition his lime green cowboy shirt was just not the classic, old time, cowboy style of image I was looking for!

That’s it for this week…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, March 19, 2019


In last week’s blog I talked about photography at Lockheed’s Blackbird Airpark. So, after we did those incredible planes we walked next door to the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark to find an even more challenging array of all types of military and important civilian aircraft, all jammed together in a fairly small space. Because most of the Warbirds were so close together I moved out to the outer edges of the display to try to isolate some Warbirds and maybe get a clear open background. I was delighted when I found one of their most significant aircraft on display in the outer most ring of the airpark. 

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star….

 f11.0 @ 1/1250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 67mm
In its red, white and blue, stars and stripes paint job I consider this the star of the display at this airpark.  For those unfamiliar with this historical Warbird the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was America’s first operational jet fighter and that it was flying in Europe at the height of WWII. Its creation was mandated with the discovery by Allied Intelligence of Germany’s ME 262 jet fighter in the spring of 1943. Tasked with its creation the ultra top secret project was given to the legendary “Kelly” Johnson at Lockheed’s famous “Skunk Works”. Beginning design on June 26th, 1943, the Skunk Works delivered the airframe in an astounding 143 days! The prototype was flying by January 8th, 1944.

Back to photography of this classic Warbird. One of my favorite techniques to isolate a large subject is to use a “foreground foil”. In this case using the small tree and bushes in a little patch of grass creating a dark vignette to frame the aircraft and block some empty sky. This is an example of why I start by viewing my subjects from a distance using more telephoto to look for an alignment of foreground-subject-background.

Again, looking for alignments and foregrounds….

 f8.0 @ 1/2000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 93mm
This shows just how densely packed the aircraft are in this airpark. There are wings and tails overlapping and nearly touching. So, for this image I “placed” the colorfully striped jet (with camera position and focal length) under the tail of the jet in the foreground.

Another famous Lockheed design….

f11.0 @ 1/1000 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 80mm
For this image of the Lockheed F104 “Star fighter” I moved to a rear angle to place the jet against that tree in the background, giving it a dark field for nice contrast between the jet and the tree; eliminating an empty bright sky. In camera tight framing eliminated side distractions.

Then sometimes you can just fill the frame with two really big planes….

 f11.0 @ 1/1000 sec. ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
Wow, a B-52 bomber with a 747 in the background. And not just any 747 that’s one of the space shuttle carriers. Aside from close-in photography with my lens at 24mm what really made this image clean was that the large expanse of dirt in this airpark is so smooth and clean. They obviously take care of the grounds there. 

Then moving around to inspect the 747….

 f4.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 105mm
In awe of the size of the 747 I walked past this until my son, Alex, told me to look closely above the landing gear. Happily perched at the edge of the landing gear well was this owl that had made a nest there!

Something about “birds of a feather!”…comes to mind, but it really doesn’t apply here!

Hope you enjoyed…should you have questions please 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, March 12, 2019


The biggest problem photographing aircraft at any museum is isolating particular planes for a clean, uncluttered, image. Indoor museums are the worst because in that confined space you have to deal with a ceiling, walls, and often poor light. So, my preference is doing photography of aircraft at airshows or in this case the outdoor museum at Lockheed’s Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California, and the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark right next door.

The Blackbird airpark gives photographers good access to an SR-71A an A12 and a U-2. There’s also one of the J58 jet engines that powered the SR-71 and one of the D-21 supersonic reconnaissance drones.  We first heard about the Blackbird Airpark from our son who lives in Palmdale with his wife who is an engineer employed at the famous Lockheed Skunk Works; the top secret unit under the legendary Kelly Johnson that designed and built the famous SR-71 and the U-2 spy planes among other things! So, when we visited them last year they drove us over to see Plant 42, which houses the skunk works at site 10, with the Blackbird Airpark near by. 

Here’s my isolation of the SR-71A…

f22.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 50mm
The first step was framing the Blackbird in tight; filling the frame and omitting its surroundings. The second step was in “post” with NIK’s Silver Efex Pro2 using their Antique Plate-2, which created a high contrast B&W effect and a white vignette that clearly isolated the jet engine nacelles from the dark background as seen in the original image here…

Original Image
The original image has a lot of dark ground clutter that hid the plane’s details. I don’t think the color version here was helping either; after all the SR-71 is a mostly monochrome subject.

How about a foreground blocking isolation…

f11.0 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 88mm
Ducking under the wing of the SR-71 for a tight view of the nearby A-12 created a nice composition and showed some interesting detail on the underside of the SR-71’s wing. This “foreground blocking” technique was mostly an effort to block out a sky with a lot of power poles and high-tension power lines messing up the scene. The unexpected bonus was the nice curving shape (and that detail) of the underside of the SR-71’s wing.

And a “powerful” detail image…
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
With one of its huge Pratt & Whitney J58 jet engines in the background and where it’s supposed to be, as the foreground center-of-interest, I like the storytelling juxtaposition of elements in this image.

And just one more of the SR-71A…

f11.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142mm
Backing off and going to telephoto for some compression of the plane and engine nacelle…. This thing looks like some bizarre hydroplane! Its unique “chined” fuselage looks like the hull of a hydro racing boat.

The SR-71 still looks futuristic even though it was designed in 1959; truly remarkable. 

In next week’s Blog we’ll walk next door to the Jose Davies Heritage Airpark.  As usual should you have questions don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


We enjoy helping our clients celebrate their milestones. One of the common milestones is when they finally lose the weight they say they’ve always wanted to lose. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a potential customer say, “Oh, I know I need an updated portrait…but, I just have to lose a few pounds first—then I’ll call you!” Years go by and most never make that appointment. Sadly their procrastination sometimes means that they don’t commit to their own family portrait or even worse the large multi-generational group portraits (with their brothers and sisters families and the grand parents) that actually create the milestones of family history (“before it’s too late”).

Our solution to this procrastination—when the weight loss they seek is not so much—is to go ahead with the family portrait and have us trim them down with a little digital magic. Then they will have a preview (an image goal!) of the body they want. We do this kind of thing all the time.
And, somethings we get that call when the client finally achieves their goal….

f11.0 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 160; Lens @ 63mm
This is Ed, and he lost over 90 pounds and got really fit as well. So, when he told us he rewarded himself with that motorcycle we all agreed it had to be included to really personalize his portrait. And, besides look how comfortable Ed looks astride that Harley!

Here’s the big view….

This was the first large subject we photographed in our Eagle Studio. Doing a side view of a big bike was never possible in our previous studio, as our backgrounds at 10 feet wide were never wide enough. However, in the Eagle studio we were able to mount our 10x20’ backgrounds sideways giving us the 20 foot background needed to do this.

In addition we upgraded our studio lighting with a 7-foot Octodome (Photoflex) main light that will cover large objects or groups without the need for a fill light. By omitting the traditional fill light our lighting is more directional giving our images a nice three dimensional, dramatic, look.

That’s it for this week…as always should you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask…

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


The outdoor car shows—especially the more casual community events—are my favorites for custom and classic cars. These shows allow me more freedom and better access without onerous security that you will find at the big indoor events where everything is roped off. In addition I really prefer natural light (with some direction) to the hard overhead floods that flatten out the light (like grocery store lighting!) at the huge indoor arenas.

That being said each type of show still shares similar problems. Those are the people constantly filtering around the cars and the spacing of the cars. Both of these problems severely limit whole car images of most cars on display. So, I tend to go in close and create images of the best features of each car. What I like about this type of photography is that I actually have better control in creating artistic compositions when working with the details of a subject…

f18.0 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 58mm

Many photographers don’t like it when the cars are opened-up for display, but use that to make interesting compositions and when opened-up those parts of the car can block out clutter (like people) in my background! For example in this image by moving in close on the open door I created wide angle distortion that created nice “leading lines” that guide the viewer’s eye into the image. In addition with the hood propped-up the steady stream of people on the other side of the car were eliminated.

Technical Note:  Going in close with any lens you will lose depth-of-field, so I really stopped-down here to f18.0 for good depth-of-field through out the image.

When I see a car I like I always circle around the whole car looking for details to compose….
f18.0 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 28mm
Dropping to my knees and moving in close with my lens at 28mm made that grill even more impressive in this image of the same car. And, I still like the opened-up appendages of the car creating this wacky composition! 

This next car’s stunning paint attracted me….
f5.6 @ 1/1600 sec., ISO 400 Lens @ 105mm
With a lot of photographers hovering around this car I zoomed in more for tight in-camera crops of its details.

Technical Note:  With that red car so close in the background I opened up my aperture to f5.6 to soften the red car’s details. I really wanted to isolate the purple car’s grill and hood ornament.

Next I backed up and focused down the length of the car…
f8.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 135mm
I Wanted to highlight this car’s sensuous curves for this image so I cropped in tight and added a little more telephoto for some lens compression. I really like compression distortion used this way!

When I really want subject isolation….
f11.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Amidst all these pristine cars with perfect colorful paint this unrestored Dodge stood out! I really like the Dodge Brothers badge on its rusted radiator. So, zooming into 200mm is my go-to focal length when I want to isolate a subject. The only problem using 200mm at a car show is that because, at that focal length, you must back-up for it to focus, then you get lots of people walking in front of you—some will even stop to take their own photos directly in front of you! You just have to be patient and wait for your moment.

That’s it for this week…I’m available for questions…just ask…

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Family portraits are the biggest and most important part of our business at The Storytellers, and here in Meridian, Idaho we have some of the best fall colors in the North West. So, naturally our busy season explodes with those fall colors from September through November.

As Wall Portrait Specialists, it’s our goal to create images that include the natural beauty of Idaho’s fall colors and at the same time make our clients look good while obviously enjoying themselves. We must make their portrait session Memorable and Fun!

It all begins with planning based on experience and expertise in Natural Light, Environmental, Portraiture—also our speciality. In our 30+ years doing environmental portraits I’ve learned that how to pick the environment (the background) and where to place my subjects within that environment are the two most important factors that sell wall portraits. Most of the technical things that we as photographers think about and obsess over are unimportant to our clients. If we can make Them Look Good in a pretty setting they’re happy!

We use half-a-dozen public locations in City or State parks and common areas in housing developments. We will also use our client’s homes if their property has nice trees, lawn, or other features that would make a nice background.

In order to qualify for use I must first do a location check of their home at the optimum time of day appropriate for the time of year. Generally we do outdoor portraits about 2 hours before sunset most of the year. In addition I’m looking for the sun to be setting behind a background of trees or bushes that will add color and light behind my subjects.

However, most of our clients homes can’t compete, especially in the fall, with our major parks….
f7.1 @ 1/100 sec., ISO @1250 Lens @ 95mm
We did this family's session at Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise, Idaho last October.  We started their session by doing a traditional posed grouping on that big log on the ground, but when the kids started climbing into the tree we moved mom and dad in front and did a quick fun grouping before we moved on to the next location. It turned out that this became one of their favorites and they ordered this as a large canvas wrap; just ONE of their Wall Portraits!

TECHNICAL NOTES: Using our new Canon 6D Mk II:

Note the ISO of 1250 I used on this image. This is the highest ISO I have, to date, used and produced a beautiful Large Wall Print (24x36”); I could have easily gone to 30x40”! I had to go to ISO 1250 because I wanted an f-stop of f7.1 for the depth-of-field to cover this rather deep grouping. Still that ISO only got me a shutter speed of 1/100 sec. So it was good I used a tripod. I always use a tripod on group portraits anyway because I want no changes in framing, perspective, or focal length as I click off ten or so images of each set-up. That gives Kathi a series of like images that are easier to edit in Photoshop for common jobs like head swaps.

Moving to our next location….

 f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 123mm
It’s about an hour before sunset at this point, but we had more light in this spot so I was able to bring my ISO down to 800. Here, using one of our posing rocks, Kathi created a nice diagonal in this grouping. We always like to vary people’s head heights for a more pleasing composition in portraits. This image was also selected by these clients as another large Wall Portrait.

Next we did what we call “the breakdowns”….

f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 500; Lens @ 200mm
“The Breakdowns” are the sub-group combinations; in this the three kids followed by mom and dad together and then each of the kids as individuals. We do ANY combinations our clients request; we don’t mind giving them lots of choices. This is why we don’t have a time limit (or hourly fee) on our sessions.

We had a great time with this family and it’s obvious they had fun on their portrait session. In fact all of our fall sessions last year were gorgeous and fun for all!

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Having been doing fine art photography for over 40-years I’ve come to realize that often TWO camera settings Dominate Creatively in my art images. I provided some examples of this in Part-2 of this series.  However, I went beyond the usual “settings” as is known as the Exposure Triangle to include one of our most powerful creative settings—Focal Length—and expanded these settings to become the Creative Quadrangle. 

Those creatively dominate pairs of settings are:
Aperture / Focal Length or Shutter Speed / Focal Length

I’m sure many photographers will take issue with that statement so, I will continue with more complex and challenging subjects that test the capabilities of all the settings at our disposal.


f22.0 @ 4.0 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 20mm
The Roman Colosseum is a very challenging subject even in daylight. And, it’s big, but worse, it’s much wider than it is tall, which makes it squat and very static compositionally. I figured it was going to be a night shot to avoid the tourists (I had NO idea!). So, I had purchased two items just for this subject; a compact tripod and a new lens; the Nikkor, f2.8, 20mm prime, which was rated very highly for its sharpness. When we walked to the Colosseum on our first day trip we were shocked by the throngs of tourists already there and bus loads more arriving constantly! I was there to check out my angles on the structure and was struck by how gray and ugly it was in the daylight; and yet how beautiful it was at night when they turned on its lights.  We returned close to midnight to a Colosseum aglow, but I did not know how long I would have those lights. A light rain had started, but I was prepared with an umbrella.

The most important setting in this image?  FOCAL LENGTH
The Focal Length defined the Composition. In many of my blogs on fine art photography I’ve mentioned my philosophy that “You can often reveal more about a subject by showing less of it.” I do this by using a longer Focal Length and slicing-up my subjects and/or cropping in post; the former is preferable.

Most photographers would use the 20mm lens I bought for this subject, to take pictures of the entire Colosseum, but everybody does that; there are Thousands of images of the entire Colosseum, in landscape mode, on the internet!

With large horizontal subjects I like to take Vertical Slices to create unusual compositions. In close my 20mm lens was ideal for these verticals because I could use the Distortion (extension distortion) it created at the edge of the frame of the bulk of the Colosseum (the part that was closer to me) to create those wide to narrowing openings of each story of the Colosseum.

The Set-Up
  • To enhance this effect I set-up my tripod close to the building and tilted-up while Kathi held the umbrella over the camera to shield the lens from the rain.
  • Next, I did a “Dutch-Tilt” to break-up the static nature of a multi-storied building—creating Diagonals of those lines.
  • This also enabled me to include more of that nice wet roadway and the street lights.
  • I wanted a Long Shutter Speed to blur the cars and streak their lights
  • And I wanted Maximum Depth-of-Field. So, starting at ISO 800 (to avoid as much noise as possible) I settled on 4-seconds at f22.0.
With the planning, preparation, and the pre-visualization this image turned-out just as I imagined it!

By far even more challenging than any static subject is capturing extreme action creatively. Having done most types of action, the most difficult is chaotic action like rodeo; because with animals involved it’s always unpredictable action. It can also be as dangerous to the photographer as it is to the participants.

Case in point….

 f5.0 @ 1/2500 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
I’ve learned that vantage point is important in rodeo photography for a clean background—that is eliminating the arena fence and crowd. So, I usually find a high angle to be able to “shoot” down on my subjects, which creates a clean background—the dirt of the arena itself. This also takes me OUT of the arena. I learned this lesson, the previous day, when another photographer standing near me in the arena was slammed into the steel arena fence by a spinning bull that had just thrown-off its rider! So, after that near miss, I found a nice perch up on the announcer’s platform on the side of the arena where the release gates were positioned. With that bit of important wisdom said…


Focal Length:
Very seldom do I go below 200mm with rodeo work. It’s a big arena and I want to isolate my subjects. In fact I would love to have a zoom lens giving me 200-500mm. In this image they were close to me because this bronc took out its rider just out of the gate! The compression effect of my lens at 200mm did a nice job of bringing the horse and that fleeing gal close together enhancing her peril!

Shutter Speed:
I use 1/2000 to 1/2500 seconds because it works with rodeo action; 1/1000 is not fast enough.

Here I used a fairly wide aperture, 5.0, because I want to isolate my subjects and I’ve found that with a distant subject (eg. 50 yards away) at 200mm I get plenty of Depth-of-Field.

Like I said before I use the ISO I need to use to get me to the f-stop/shutter speed I want. Using my Canon 5D MKII at 800 ISO can produce a file that responds well to noise reduction.

Auto Focus:
I use my Canon in AI-Servo; it works great. I wish I had this capability back in 1970!

When it comes down to artistic creativity All Settings Matter; that’s why I’m always in Manual Mode and create my images in RAW.

The point of this blog series is that the random use of camera settings, as when you use the Auto or P-Modes you give up creative control of your images. And, using settings given by other photographers for their images will not teach you how to creatively use Apertures, Shutter Speeds, or Focal Lengths that are the best for YOUR subjects. To be an artist you must be the author of your images. This means you must study your subjects and decide what is most important about the subject that you want to highlight visually.

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, February 5, 2019


At the end of Part 1 on this topic I veered into how I used a telephoto focal length to creatively interact with my Aperture to change the basic look of my image. In addition I used the telephoto effect of compression distortion to enhance the impact of the composition. I’ve found in my 40+ years of fine-art photography that the settings for exposure, in the creative process, cannot really be considered in isolation because one of the most important settings we use as a creative tool is Focal Length.

So I propose the Creative Quadrangle!


A Note about ISO Today

You’ll notice I put ISO last. That’s because it’s no longer the creative setting it once was in the film era. With film it was a choice we made right up front before we did any photography. The film we chose decided our Color Palette and the amount of grain we wanted (grain was a beautiful artistic effect). The whole look of an image was decided by the film type; Kodachrome, Ektachrome, color negative, Tri-X, Pan-X, etc., all had unique characteristics. No longer; ISO today is just a number. It no longer represents an artistic look. And, the ISO numbers today don’t even reflect an adjustability of the sensitivity of our DSLR’s sensor. That’s because we actually have no control over its sensitivity as every digital camera’s sensor has a Fixed Sensitivity.  All our DSLR’s do now when we roll-up to a high ISO is do a bright-up (increase gain) in response to an under exposure condition we created. The unfortunate result is increased noise—and noise is not pretty.

So, these days the only function ISO has is to get me to the Aperture/Shutter Speed combination I require to create the image.

So, back to my Creative Quadrangle…

In most of my fine-art images TWO Settings usually Dominate creatively:
  • Aperture/Focal Length or
  • Shutter Speed/Focal Length
  • Sometimes ALL of them are critical for certain images
I will illustrate with some examples…


 f7.1 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Walking through our common area just before sunset I was looking for some icicles to align with backlight when I found this great threesome.

Shutter Speed:
For this image I wanted good Depth-of-Field and nice Bokeh in the background. Because the background is so distant I knew I could stop-down quite a bit and still knock that background way out-of-focus so I chose f7.1 to keep all the icicles and that clump of snow covered pine needles sharp.

Focal Length:
In addition I chose a Focal Length of 200mm to further soften the background and create Larger Bokeh. This illustrates nicely that you DON'T need Large Apertures for Good Bokeh—good Bokeh is more a matter of Long Focal Length than anything else.


f25.0 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 20mm
Working the Western Idaho State Fair is always challenging—especially the midway area.All the rides and attractions are placed close together and the place is chock-full of people every night of the fair. I brought my tripod since I knew I would be doing time exposures of the rides.

Shutter Speed:
I wanted my Shutter Speed to be at least 1-second to really make that Ferris wheel blur with color. In addition, I wanted all the people to disappear as much as possible. That structure in the foreground is a fun house maze and it was full of people running through those three levels of balconies. Doing some test shots I settled on 1.6 seconds by using my smallest aperture at a medium ISO to try to avoid too much NOISE.

Focal Length:
The Shutter Speed created the pizzaz here but the Composition was created by Focal Length. I didn’t want just an image of a solitary Ferris wheel—I wanted something in the foreground; I wanted leading lines. So, I backed-up directly in front of the fun house maze and used my lens at 20mm to distort that fun house (wide angle extension distortion), which turned it into an “arrow” pointing to the Ferris wheel—my leading lines!

Sometimes every setting is critical…that is what I will be covering in the final Part 3…’Til next week…now go out and practice!

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


I see photographers on the internet asking for or offering “settings” to photograph specific types of subjects or situations all the time.  As a professional photographer and artist I’m still confounded when I see this and I’m left scratching my head wondering how these random settings could be of any possible use to anybody!

It’s like asking a chef for a list of the spices he cooks with without the in depth knowledge of how to use them. It’s like lowering photography to the level of those old paint-by-numbers kits my mom did back in the sixties; a hollow, soulless, exercise that reduced painting to a manufacturing process.


The combined settings can be mixed (like a cake) in thousands of different ratios to arrive at a good exposure—but merely getting a proper exposure is NOT our goal as artists; we want to create something great (the cake has to TASTE GOOD—not just LOOK like a cake!)

This is why I teach my students to live in the world of “M” (manual mode) not “Auto mode”. Yes, the “P” mode can produce a proper exposure (most of the time), but that’s about it.

The fundamental reason why the Auto modes fail is that the camera doe not SEE anything—it does not know what it’s being pointed at!  It treats ALL subjects the same; in fact its on board meter is programed (the first knife cut in the death of art) to render the whole world in 18% gray.

In Manual mode you will learn to create your own settings when you fully understand the Exposure Triangle—(Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO).

However, that does not mean that you will be creating formulas that apply to similar situations or even the same subjects. Whenever I happen upon a subject that tweaks my fine-art eye, wether I have a camera or not, I let the subject tell me the most important artistic aspect in the scene; after all it attracted me so I listen, but with my eyes.

Here’s an example….
30 sec. exposure on EKT H.S. Daylight film @ ASA 1000
Sometimes I have to visit a scene several times for it to tell me how to dramatically tell its story. Daylight photography without clouds was ruled out—mostly because the CHP asked me to leave several times, and the lower operational part of this freeway interchange was so busy.  So, this became a night shot that would benefit from the Mixed Color Temperatures of the sodium-vapor street lights against the purple sky I would create by using Ektachrome HS Daylight film pushed to ASA 1000.

The most important setting in this scene…

Sitting there under cover of early darkness, wearing dark clothes and using my black tripod, hoping to evade the notice of the CHP, I noticed that the small aircraft, approaching the nearby airport, cut low across my scene, much of the time, on their final approach. I knew that this was always going to be a time exposure, but this revelation completed the scene. So, I counted how long it took for one of the small planes to track across the scene, with its flashing landing lights, visible in my viewfinder.  Now this image became all about shutter speed.   It took about 30-seconds or less for most small planes to cross this field of view. The 30-second exposure would also make the passing cars all but disappear.  Of course I did images without a plane flying across the top of the scene, but they lacked the “icing on the cake” punch that those landing lights created.

Another example….

 f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
This image’s most important factor was Aperture…

While photographing an old barn in Eagle, Idaho, I saw a couple smaller out buildings nearby. One was starting to lean, had great curled wood texture and was missing the top half of its door so I could see through the building and out the rear window. This became all about Depth-of-Field, because I wanted the face of the building as well as that weed outside the window, on the other side of the building, to be sharp. So, an Aperture of f13.0 did the job well. In addition I compressed the scene by using my telephoto at 170mm—optically bringing the doorway and window closer together. Backing-up, using telephoto, also gave me more Depth-of-Field.

This brings me to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time—that is how the focal length we choose inter relates creatively with the exposure triangle—I’ll go there in Part 2 of this blog.

Until next week, go out and play with the information I have giving you so far and see what you can create in “M”!

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

Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


One of the many things I like about Idaho is that I don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to find great winter time subjects to photograph. I can just walk outside even here in the suburbs of meridian, and inside of a block, in our development, I’ll find all kinds of subjects. Venturing out of my block it’s a winter wonderland!

The key is waiting for a good snow, or even better, freezing fog to occur and then I know I’ll get some great stuff.  When I get the freezing fog I’ll usually wait until the sun appears so I’ll get some backlight to make the ice really pop against the background.

Here’s a nice example…
F7.1 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 105mm

It was almost 11am when I found this small remnant of fall still clinging to a branch. This is just what I look for in freezing fog because I think only getting the ice crystals—just the whites in an image—isn’t as interesting as having some contrasting color especially when I manage to get backlight as in this image. 

This was taken a few minutes earlier…

f7.1 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 24mm
This weeping willow is just on the other side of our backyard fence—so, I didn’t even have to leave my backyard!  That marvelous backlight is what attracted me to this scene.

Without backlight I’ll go for a soft look….
f8.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; lens @ 105mm
This is that same weeping willow tree in freezing fog, but while it still had some leaves so I zeroed in on a nice threesome.

For this next image I had to leave my yard since this evergreen tree was a good 25 yards into the common area on the other side of my fence. 
f11.0 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 85mm
Everything looks great in freezing fog crystals—even evergreen trees!

Near the end of my block a neighbor had built a nice large snowman…
f5.6 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 105mm
This snowman was almost 6 feet tall and massive in build. I liked his use of tools for the snowman’s appendages.


You may have noticed that I use pretty small apertures (e.g. f7.1 and f8.0) when doing much of my artistic nature photography. That’s because I want my entire subject to be sharp! You’ll also notice that even with those small apertures my backgrounds are still nicely Out-Of-Focus. That’s because I pick subjects that have more Distant backgrounds and I use the most telephoto I can employ. Too many photographers think that they must use wide apertures (like f2.8 or even wider) to isolate their subjects or create good bokeh, but it’s not necessary. They usually just end up with almost nothing sharp in their images.

Questions are always welcome…the more questions you ask the better I can choose subjects to right about.  ’Til next week…

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