Category Archives: portrait

Playing with Fire (Fiddler’s Elbow Wedding)

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Just when I think after 500ish weddings I’ve run into all of the challenges out there, life shows me how wrong I am … and I’m thankful for it. Without challenge, growth is slow and meandering.

On Friday morning, Tatiana and I got an e-mail from Kristin asking if we could do a long-exposure shot with shooting sparks. There were just a couple challenges 1) We had never taken this kind of photo before. 2) The wedding was also on Friday, and we were packing to leave.

Generally, photography tricks are modifications and extensions of existing techniques. I never would have thought up the so-called “Brenizer method” if I hadn’t already been experienced in regular panoramas, and while we’d never lit anything on fire and violently swung it around for a wedding photo, I was experienced enough in the other basic skills of night-time long exposures — such as exposing and composing a photo without being able to see anything that you’re doing — that we said we’d give it a try.

When pushing the envelope at a wedding, it is absolutely vital to manage expectations. I often ask couples if they want to take a given amount of time for something that might be awesome, or might be absolutely terrible. In the rare situation that we’re trying a new technique on the wedding day, we made absolutely clear that the result might be no photo at all, especially given that by doing this during the time of the reception we had time for only one frame.

That’s right — this photo is not only the very first time I’ve tried this technique but also, as of this writing, the last. Treading new ground on a tight time frame could only have been achieved with the capable help of Tatiana, who talked them through the posing and lit them with flash.

Important note: while I wasn’t sure whether we’d get a photo, I did make *really* sure that at least we wouldn’t set anything or anyone on fire. The bridge wasn’t just a pretty bit of symmetry for the photo — it also made sure we were surrounded by steel, concrete, and water. I was also farther away than it may look, though there is no such thing as too paranoid, especially when around highly inflammable things like lace (which we weren’t) or hair-sprayed hair (which distance and angle of velocity made exceedingly unlikely to get hit, but anything is possible, hence eager, informed consent from bride and nearby water).

Thank you Michael and Kristin for encouraging us toward creative and literal sparks.

Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II


Beginning the year with a bang (Crestwood Manor wedding)

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When I saw these lights at the Crestwood Manor, I couldn’t help myself, and did what may be my biggest panorama ever: 143 frames, 281 megapixels, effectively a 24mm f0.45 lens.

And Anil and Mabel outshine it all.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: 143-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 105mm f/2 D DC (equivalent of 24mm f/0.45 according to Brett’s calculator)


Greetings from Spain!

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I’m in Sevilla, where I gave my first live-translated workshop today — and it went very well, so it won’t be my last. This is very much a working vacation as I have a lot of great weddings to show, but I wanted to take some pictures that shouted “SEVILLA!” while I was here. With the help of the fantastic flamenco dancer Marina Valiente and assistance from the lovely Tatiana we took to the streets for as long as we could stay warm at 2 a.m. — especially since I was lying in a dubious puddle to take this shot.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6


Watch me on CreativeLIVE Photo Week on Thursday!

Quick Hit from this weekend

I’ll be hosting a double-length session at CreativeLIVE on Thursday from 1:45 to 5:30 p.m! For those who don’t know, CreativeLIVE is the biggest educational network in the entire photography industry, and Photo Week has been the biggest event in CreativeLIVE history, so I’m thrilled to be a part of it. This should be the working direct link to hit at 1:45 EST on Thursday!

I’ll be talking about how to do the very best work possible while dealing with the chaotic, problem-filled environment of a wedding day. Now you may think that, with clients like Jessica and Mike, and light as good as this, that this is an inappropriate image to use. But here we were dealing with the most common of wedding-day problems … a very strict time crunch. So here’s a little preview tip: The key to doing good work in these situations is the ability to pre-visualize a scene, knowing your equipment innately, and clear, direct communication of goals, costs and benefits. We were rushing to the limo and I said to Jessica, “Do you see that light over there? If we walk over there and I set you up in it just right, it will take three minutes total and you’ll get a great photo out of it. I know we’re in a hurry so I want to see what you think.” And happily she agreed.

Now, the real key then is that if you say three minutes, it should take two and a half at most. Every minute on a wedding day is precious. (And actually the shooting, including two panoramas, took 45 seconds.)

See you all on Thursday!


The Girl Who Lived

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If you don’t know Kelsie’s story, read it now. Just three months after a car accident that should have killed her, after injuries so terrible that just hearing them described made one of our friends pass out, Kelsie is here, she is beautiful, and she is strong.

Also, she is legal! (Today is her 21st birthday.)

This was shot 1/3rd of a second, hand-held, and lit by an iPhone, finally making use of that crazy 12-24 flare.

This was an important shoot to me, and I spent too much time during it mucking about with behind-the-scenes video, which is a whole new ball of frustration. At the end of the shoot, after equipment failure and getting chewed up my mosquitos and threatened by a large pack of raccoons, we walked back to the car. On the way back, I stopped and looked at this scene. “What’s the story you wanted to tell? What’s the photo you wanted to take?” I asked myself. “It’s time to think like a photographer.” And so we took this.

Kelsie also recently released her first original video. Enjoy her skills:

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6


Carissa Rosario

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This afternoon I photographed Maxim model Carissa Rosario for CBS’s Man Cave Daily. How was your lunch break?

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Technically the world’s least-overlapped Brenizer method image. I was up against a wall, so I panned about 5 percent extra in the frame to turn this from a 105mm to a 100mm or so.

This used VSCO 4‘s Agfa Scala preset, the first black and white preset for Lightroom I’ve really liked.
Lens: 105mm f/2 D DC, 9-image panorama
Camera: Nikon D4


Jen Selter

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As mentioned previously, I’ve switched to a new Web host that should keep everything here running smoothly even at high traffic times. I figured there is no better way to test that than with some photos from my shoot with Instagram Queen Jen Selter — with 335,000 followers on Instagram, countless Tumblrs and reflags and pins and so on and so forth, this should wake the servers up.

Jen caught my attention, and not for the obvious reasons. In the age of the Internet, things that were in some ways private behaviors — being a photographer, or enjoying exercise, for example — have become cults of personality in different ways. Having built a great business over the years that comes with what I call “microcelebrity,” I’ve had a peek behind the curtain of social media stars, and I knew there’s more that goes into it than you think. There are countless scores of attractive women out there whose photo collections have 335 followers, not 335,000. I knew that getting there so fast required a great deal of savvy, and doing a lot of hard work while making it look like you’re just taking things in stride. How fast? We did this shoot a month ago, and she had 100,000 fewer followers at the time!

I was about to share a bunch more, but it turns out we might shoot again soon as part of some secret projects we’re both working on, so I’ll save that for a computer-melting megapost. But I’m happy to show that there’s more than meets the camera phone’s eye when it comes to Jen.

Thanks to my incredibly talented cousin Andrew Sutphen for the hair and makeup.

(Ok, one more … for the servers’ sake. More to come…)

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Camera: Canon 6D
Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.2L


Kelsie’s story: Young, Beautiful, Alive.

Note: Things move pretty fast in the social media world. When I started shooting weddings, having a LiveJournal as your blog was a perfectly appropriate thing to do, even if you weren’t Russian. Now we have Facebook pages and Tumblr and Google+ and so much more, and the way we communicate as people and businesses keep changing. will always be my most important space because, hey, look at the name. But this year I am going to reserve it primarily for telling stories and the occasional equipment review. Random pretty photos will primarily be added to my Facebook page. Nearly all of these stories will be of weddings and couples because that’s where a big chunk of my time and my heart is. (The other biggest chunk, my girlfriend, prefers not to be mentioned here for SEO reasons. Now that’s a modern relationship.)

But this is not a wedding story. Kelsie most likely has a lot of other stories to live through first. (I’m sorry to all other photographers, but when it happens, I call dibs.) But this is a story that I feel needs to be told, because it is harrowing, because it has consumed a big part of me recently, and most importantly because I think Kelsie’s spirit and incredible, soulful singing is something the world needs to know about. Also, there are lots of photos waiting at the end. So with her permission, here we go.

Warning: Some of what I will describe is fairly graphic, although I will leave out the worst bits. Also, further down there are some pictures of a model in her underwear, though largely obscured by focus or artistic lighting. If either bother you, skip the rest and go straight to her singing, and make special note of the top comment. Otherwise, continue on…

When I was a kid, I didn’t really know how the life of a professional photographer worked. All I knew was what popular culture told me. I pictured it like an agent, looking through head shots and saying “My god, who is that? I have to photograph her!”

But it never really works like that, at least not for me. What keeps me excited about going to work every day — and in a photographer’s case, “every day” tends to be literal — is telling stories about real things. How people relate to each other. How we react under the forces of joy and love and stress. Who we are at any particular moment. Out of the shoots I do every year, 97 to 98 percent are with people completely untrained in being in front of a camera — and that’s great, because it’s easier to see the real person there, even if they start out as a nervous real person.

In July, the [FRAMED] network flew me out to Boise to film a show about how I do some of the things that I do. I was eager to escape the 90-degree-heat of New York, only to find it replaced with the 106-degree heat of an Idaho heat wave. I was staying with dear friends and fellow photographers Sara and Dylan, and while we were getting ready for the show we were watching some previous episodes of their shows. They do such a great job with production that I just sit back and let myself be entertained for episode after episode.”

Somewhere around the third episode we watched, a fireball of hair and smiles and charisma bounced onto the screen, and it finally happened.

“My god, who is that? I have to photograph her!”

“Oh, that’s Kelsie,” Sara said. “She’s my friend, and she’s amazing. Want me to see if she can come out for a shoot?”

At this point, I had just photographed six weddings in eight days, and flown out to find blistering heat waiting for me. I needed some rest. I needed to not pick up a camera until the next wedding. I needed …

“Of course! Let’s shoot!”

Never mind.

Who is Kelsie? From the photos below you might think that she is constantly sensual and sophisticated, pensive, aloof and longing. But that’s just because I photograph real stuff 97 percent of the time, so when I get to that three percent of sitting down and making a picture I want the photos to be an unanswered question, to make you linger.

But here’s Kelsie as I see her:

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There is the wild determination of someone who said “My dress is getting tangled while we shoot underwater … do you have any scissors?” There’s the fun and energy she showed when we taught each other how to Dougie. And there’s that laugh. The photo on the right is, to me, the real Kelsie.

You can probably tell that I love this girl. But not like that. I’m in the midst of my own love story that is so fierce I make my friends both delighted and a bit nauseated. Also, when Kelsie was born, I was eagerly awaiting my first day at high school. Friends are the extra family that you choose for yourself, and right from the start I had the protectiveness of an older brother. The photo at the top was photoshopped to mask the ways that she was being firmly held to the ground. When Kelsie begged to stand on the ledge, I went to full-fledged Dad mode: “If you so much as put your foot on the ledge I am putting my camera down and not picking it back up again.” I might as well have added “Young lady!”

The world is a better place with Kelsie in it, and if I can help her navigate it safely, all the better. Which is what makes this next part so hard.

Kelsie was back in Idaho with her family, planning her next steps, making recordings, resetting herself after some global travels. She was up in the mountains, soaking up the sun, fresh air, and cool water. “My day couldn’t be any more peaceful,” she wrote.

If not for an incredible series of circumstances, that page would have been her memorial.

On her way back, driving down winding mountain roads, the car suddenly spun out of her control, careering off a cliff. She saw sky and ground and no road at all, and she floated off of her seat, and she knew she was going to die.

She had time to think “Please God don’t let this be it. Please don’t let this be my time.” And then the car hit the ground. Everything went white. “This is it,” she thought. “I’m dead.”

And then she was ejected out the back window. Somehow she made it through the window alive, but deeply gashed all over by the glass. One piece had missed a nerve that would have caused permanent brain damage by less than an inch. She somehow landed sitting upright on the back of the car, like she was lounging with a good book.

I do not want to share the full extent of her injuries here, despite her permission. But when a mutual friend got to her hospital room and heard the full rundown of injuries, she immediately passed out. “Really? You passed out?” I asked her, and then she told everything to me. I felt faint and had to lie down.

So as you can imagine, she was losing blood fast, sitting at the bottom of a ravine, completely invisible to traffic above. She realized that she had survived the crash but would quickly bleed to death. Somehow, that wild persistence of hers gave her the strength and presence of mind to make her shirt into a tourniquet for her arm, but she wouldn’t have long.

“Hello down there, are you OK?” a woman called. She’d been driving in a car full of people and said “I thought I saw a car drive off the road. Did you see anything?” No one had, but she stopped anyway. From her vantage it looked like the girl sitting upright on the edge of the car must be fine, but she wanted to check. Kelsie screamed for help.

Help was there. One of the people in the car was a lifeguard. They scrambled down the cliff and helped stabilize her long enough for a rescue team to come by helicopter. She would live.

Here’s another thing that’s important for the story: Doctors are heroes. The worst cut went straight over one of Kelsie’s eyes, but in overnight surgeries the medical team managed to save it. Even after multiple surgeries she had major cuts all over her body and on her face, and a broken foot would keep her unable to walk.

Even with all this, the first worry she told me about was that she’d lost her car, so how would she get to work? There’s the determination.

Thousands of miles away, I didn’t find out all of this until the next morning, when her friends posted on Instagram and Facebook. No, no, no! I pestered our friends, even though they were shooting a wedding. What happened? What hospital is she at? What can I do?

The flip side of being a problem-solver is that I can’t not solve problems. Being unable to help, unable to make things work, is my greatest frustration. I even found myself saying “5 on AP Bio, 800 on Bio SAT IIs, why didn’t I become a surgeon?”

Oh, right, because when her injuries were even described second-hand I almost passed out.

I did all the normal things — I got her flowers, I spoke to her on the phone. For the whole call, she was relentlessly upbeat. She remembered everything, she remembered staring down death, so even being battered and broken and scarred, all that mattered was she was alive.

I had to do more. Weddings are in full bloom so I couldn’t go there. But I wanted to make sure she knew that people cared, that her dreams were still within reach, I wanted to do something that, if even just for a moment, would make her forget the long road of recovery ahead.

Wait. Lana Del Rey. One of Kelsie’s idols. Known to my parents as Lizzie — the name she went by when they taught her in high school. Our families know each other well. Even just a quick call would be that “Holy s***” moment. It’s silly, I guess, but it’s what I could do.

I threw a Hail Mary, going from my mother to hers. I’ve been put in a sort of state of micro celebrity by my photography, and I know how much stress and feeling of constant obligation there can be even for me — I cannot imagine what it all feels like for a rocketing “real” celebrity like Lana. She was going through a grueling promotion schedule for Gatsby in Cannes, which only sounds fun until you really think about it. I thanked everyone involved for being so kind, but it didn’t look like we’d be able to get through.

After a few days, Kelsie came home, and sure enough, she went to work. She’d had one of her first studio sessions a few weeks before, and had first seen the video of a cover she sang the morning before the accident. She watched the video again, and the words struck her in new ways.

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
For those of you in a pop culture cave, it’s a song by Lana del Rey. I didn’t know Kelsie had recorded it — and man, she’s so good.

By this point I figured Lana was unreachable, but I sent a note on. “Hey, thank you so much for everything. I won’t bother you again, but I just wanted you to see this.”

I figured that was it. But the next day, I saw this:

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It was the holy s*** moment. Kelsie flipped out. Our mutual contact told me that it was definitely written by Lana, not her publicist. Thank you Lana, they raise ’em right in the North Country. It is going to be a long time until Kelsie is back able to dance the Dougie with me again, and any trauma will leave physical and emotional scars. But no one makes scars look so good. In every way, Kelsie will continue to be beautiful.

This is the longest story I’ve ever written on this blog several times over. But it’s not over yet. That’s my favorite part — Kelsie’s story is just beginning.


A New York Story

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I try to be a storyteller, but it’s an amorphous thing. We all have a story, sure, but what was the story of your today? Was it just some stuff that happened? Was it something you learned? Something you felt? What will the story be when you look back on it later?

They aren’t simple questions, and that’s just a random day … a Wednesday, even. How do you tell the story of a place like New York? There have been thousands upon thousands of attempts, and they scratch just the surface’s surface of the complexity and the dynamics of this crazy town. Last night I saw a beautiful woman walk by openly sobbing. That, I thought, was a New York story. In the small town I grew up in, we keep our tears and our strangers separate. In New York, people’s pain is in your point, and the pain itself is part of the point. The grind of New York life is perhaps the most pervading part of the story, a rock that we dash ourselves against and that either whittles or breaks us. There’s a reason that if you make it here you can make it anywhere, or as a more recent muse put it “8 million stories, out there in the naked city. It’s a pity, half of y’all won’t make it…”

There are reasons that shooting hundreds of weddings in New York have turned me into a problem solver. We have problems. It’s stressful enough just living here, even when you aren’t planning a wedding.

Or when you’re just trying to get around. Kate and Andy were married at the Top of the Rock today, and while the rain parted for their ceremony, it returned with a vengeance just after, right in time to deal with epic New York Rainy-Day Traffic. The limo driver, who had a habit of leaving us several blocks from our destinations in the pouring rain, also decided to drive right by Times Square and put us in the modern-day Bermuda Triangle of Lincoln Tunnel traffic (for out-of-towners, picture a parking lot, except with fewer moving cars). This is when it’s good for us to remember that you might not always be having fun when a photo session starts. Not only do you have the natural nervousness of being in front of the camera, you might have had to plan a complicated day, get waylaid by a limo driver, have to walk several blocks on shoes you swear are medieval torture devices … and then be happy?

But then you find your place. You hold on to the partner you crossed an ocean just to declare your love and devotion to. An iconic New York taxi drives by and reflects the American flag back into the camera. And then, at incredible odds another one drives by at just the right place as well. Yellow and red and blue all sorts of love cutting through the gray, rainy day. And you remember the most important part of the New York story: New York is hard … but man is it cool.

Thank you Kate and Andy for letting me share in your story today.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G


More Play, and Slowing Down

Belt Craft Studios is filled with enough vintage-y props to launch a thousand styled shoots. When I saw them, my first thought was “How perfect for so many wedding photographers who are not me!” The images that tend to drive me forward, of course, are the moments, the illustration of real personalities and relationships and histories. But that’s silly, of course. From a viewer’s perspective, there is no me, there are only the photos — and perhaps I appear later. In Paris the other day, I saw an amazing Joel Meyerowitz retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The same photographer who spent years stalking streets with a small-framed Leica, documenting fleeting moments in color and shadow, also lugged around a gigantic 20×25 to create a completely different body of work.

As I mentioned in the last post, I had iterations of this specific idea in my head for many years, but I’ve also in general become fascinated with the process required to make it … slowing down. Instead of creating hundreds of pictures on an engagement shoot, what could I do if I worked to produce just five? Three? One? Not the right choice for all clients, but for some it could be perfect, and push me forward in different ways.

It may surprise those of you who haven’t worked for a while as a photographer, but it takes a lot more time and effort to create three photos on a shoot than to create 100. Claudia already has hundreds of photos of herself in bridal gowns, so for her actual bridal session we made just three. Here is the second:


Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Olympus 12mm f/2


New Studio Madness with Dominique Dicaprio

A while back, I closed the lease on my new studio and thought “What trouble could I get up to with an empty apartment?” There could be few better partners in crime than fantastic model and actress (and budding photographer) Dominique Dicaprio, running through all sorts of techniques that are hard to pull off on a wedding day. We wanted to make some crazy pictures, and of course the more that you practice wild techniques, the easier it is to actually pull them out at a wedding — it took some time to make a 75-image panorama of moving people one of my “safe” techniques.”

Most of these are with the Nikon D4, but one of them is with the Sony RX1, which is on my pile of “things to review when I break my femur and am actually forced to stop shooting and travelling so much.” The best thing I can say about it is that other than a lucky guess, there’s no way to tell — it has every bit the quality of a high-resolution dSLR in a much smaller package. But I am addicted to viewfinders, so the default lack puts me off a bit.

Thank you Dominique!