Welcome to 2012.

The other day I almost cried while shooting. Now, I’m not a weepy guy, but that’s not unheard of. You have to be something of a softie to be successful in this business, and there have been times I’ve been glad for autofocus because a beautiful moment was clouded by tears in my viewfinder.

But this was different: I wanted to cry simply because I was shooting, and it felt so good.

It takes a certain kind of personality to be a wedding photographer, to have done around 250 weddings and love the job more each time. There are certainly ways to spend your photographic talents that are more fun to talk about at cocktail parties — photographing celebrities for magazine covers, documenting the atrocities of war. Unlike the former, though, we do something that has inherent value from the start — you can make celebrity portraiture important, but it doesn’t start out that way. Does the world need another photo of Jack Nicholson grinning? War photography, ironically perhaps, is much closer to the give and take of a wedding, but there are far more pitfalls there than just getting shot. I like to use my life and my work to remember that as a people we do more than just shoot each other. We love and we laugh and we dance and we drink until maybe we regret the rest morning, but have memories and moments and connections that last us the rest of our lives. It’s life, but more so. Life is messy and chaotic and confuses the heck out of me sometimes, but that’s exactly what makes it beautiful. The unsurprised live is not worth living.

And it feels so good to take this chaotic world in through my viewfinder and make some sense of it — just enough order to be dynamic, to show the chaos and surprise pulsing against the composition and flow of a story. Moments just happen, but by the time we remember them they have become part of a story. We traffic in these memories, and shape them.

But it breaks down further. There’s something that feels so right about being good at something, about complicated tasks becoming part of your nature. There hadn’t been more than a few days in a row since March that I didn’t have my camera in my hand, and yet here I was after the holidays, after weeks of relative break and separation from my work. The camera was in my hand again and I felt whole. It was like looking down and realizing where you misplaced your kidneys. I compose photos as I look around, all of the settings and composition set before I raise the camera to my eye. I’ve developed a little shrug that, with almost no movement, can make a camera jump into my hands from its position hanging on either shoulder. I change settings as I walk, not looking down, not thinking. My thumb dances around the camera body, 1/250th becomes 1/80th, the ISO shoots up, the flash goes off, or back again, and I’m not thinking about this any more than I’m thinking about putting my right leg in front of my left. By the time I see the jumble of chaos resolve itself in my viewfinder, everything is the way I want it. It just makes sense.

And this is my life, because of you. Because of all of my amazing clients, because of my readers, because of my family, my friends, people who push me forward, who share in my joys when life is easy and keep me going when life is hard. You have gotten me here, and for you I’m going to do things in 2012 that will push it even harder. And for me, because that just makes sense.

sam hurd - love it.

Phil Widmer - Great post. I’ve caught myself getting emotional a few times as well.

Jen Smith - Ryan, I love your written stories as much as your visual ones. Here’s to another phenomenal year of skillfully and creatively documenting what matters most.

Becca Dilley - Thank you for putting so much of yourself out there. Wishing you a wonderful 2012.

Michelle Smith - beautifully put! that is I think what separates a lot of photographers, those who feel it and let that carry them and it shows. Then there are those who yes, they have the eye, the touch, the equipment and so forth but the heart is missing sometimes, the photos are empty. I think that is what people love about your photography, you have heart behind it. You truly are an inspiration sir, thank you!

Charlotte Hodge - Wonderful motivation and insight.
You will do well…You will do great…We are counting on you…to fulfill your destiny….Don’t look back….but keep those tears….They lubricate…our hearts…

Heather Elizabeth - I feel like I could have written this. In the past few weeks since the end of my season, when I don’t have my camera in hand, it’s like the day isn’t complete. Sure, there were other people taking family photos for the holidays, but I went into photographer mode and had to capture it all myself. It’s just who I am. It’s who we are.

Brilliant post. Cheers to a bright and beautiful 2012.

Robin Brenizer - Ryan how did you get so insightful? You are truly inspirational.

Aiyesha - Awww.. this post made me all teary eyed. Truly inspirational. I’ve always believed you (photographer) have to have a beautiful heart to be a good wedding photographer. Wish you a very Happy New Year. Cheers!