Category Archives: portrait

Rockstar trashes hotel room at WPPI!

Longtime readers will know that nothing crawls up my spine quite as much as taking wedding photography — a job that, in the end, is about providing a deeply important and heartfelt service to others — and making it about supposed “rockstar” photographers. After all, there ARE no rockstar photographers. Nowhere is the cult of the rockstar more prevalent than the annual WPPI conference in Las Vegas. This isn’t WPPI’s fault — at 16,000 attendees, it’s the biggest show in town.

Anyway, I had the fantastic Stephanie in town for some some shooting, and so I thought we could have some fun with the idea. (I had some Ke$ha style fun with it during prep for the shoot).

The last photo is an illustration of a concept I tell clients all the time: Photography is a wonderful liar because anything outside the frame doesn’t exist. With creative framing can take a classic beauty shot even if you happen to be lying on a bed of Coors light cans.*

I was helped with lighting and styling on this by Sara and Dylan of Sara K Byrne Photography, Boise’s finest. Here Sara shows us how real rockstar photographers roll:

*By the way, the Coors light wasn’t mine. I think we should just make that clear.


SWPB takes on WPPI

120221 210541 24mm f2

I’m a member of a number of wedding photographer communities who have been great to me — I’ve enjoyed so much support from DWF right from when I was starting out as a wedding photographer; I’m easing my way into the staggeringly talented crowd of the Foundation Workshops (and I promise I’ll go next year!) but one community keeps grabbing my attention, my love and friendship: SWPB.

You know how KFC isn’t called Kentucky Friend Chicken anymore and the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy has five books? It’s like that with SWPB, which until recently was called Starting a Wedding Photography Business. With so many members who have now been in the industry for years and are on lists ranging from Junebug’s Best Wedding Photographers to American Photo’s Top 10, we figured we’d expand the scope to Succeeding as a Wedding Photography Business. But really it’s SWPB, and it’s a big, crazy family. Like any family, there’s dysfunction from time to time, but overall it’s the most supportive large wedding community I’ve seen.

I just returned from a massive conference in Las Vegas, and saw so many fantastic people from all over, but the highlight for me was heading out into the desert with my friend Stephanie and members of SWPB. I can’t wait to show you what happened when these talented photographers just cut loose and had a great time.

As we finished up, I suggested a group shot with our four cars (including the rental car we covered inside and out with dust) as backlight. I used a tripod and timer to put myself in — the most important thing was the posing. Photographers know how to pose pretty well, but I also wanted to make sure all of the headlights were hidden by body parts for the exposure.

The easiest way to see the lineup is in the Facebook post, where everyone is tagged. So much more to come.

We also are already starting to plan big things for WPPI 2013. Mark the dates.

Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s


30 Rock’s Dot Com (Kevin Brown) and Barbara in “S & Om”

120216 155424 12mm f7 1

Kevin Brown, whom 30 Rock fans will know as Dot Com, came by my studio last night for a really fun photoshoot, with yoga instructor Barbara Purcell. This is all stage magic, folks — Barbara is actually a lovely, kind person*, and Kevin was having a blast. He has been doing yoga every single day of 2012 so far. As some of you know, I’ve been studiously committed to fitness this year, but my jaw is still hanging open at his commitment.

I can’t even describe how much fun this was. Kevin is as kind an open as people come in general, not just for actors.

*though with more Urban Master Manhattanite in her personality than standard Yoga Earth Mother, which is appreciated.

Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lighting: Two Sb-900s, one bounced, one through a Softbox LTP


Fashion: Kristen Ernst clothing designs

It was 35 degrees outside. The winds were gusting past 40mph. And we were on the roof of a 27-story building.

Fashion ain’t easy, especially if you’re wearing gossamer clothing or trying to keep an octabank from blowing off the side of a rooftop and taking you with it. But it came together, and the team did a spectacular job showing off the stylish work of designer Kristen Ernst.

We used all sorts of light, from the sun to video lights to an SB-910 to a big studio light. We used all sorts of tricks — it’s not easy to do a panorama of someone whipping their coat around, but that happened. Mostly, though, we tried to stay warm. Each look was shot in under five minutes so poor Yulia could keep her fingers and toes.

120113 141159 58mm f2

120113 141229 58mm f2 1

120113 144105 45mm f2 8

120113 144223 45mm f3

120113 144852 45mm f2 8

120113 155935 85mm f1 6 3 images pano blog

120113 165631 58mm f1 2

120113 165903 58mm f1 2A

120113 171146 85mm f1 6

Shoot director: Aparna Dasgupta
Wardrobe: Kristen Ernst
Model: Yulia Panina
Makeup: Jiaying Wang
Hair: Chi Shay
Lighting assistants: Emily and Bobby from Emily Porter Photography


The Girl with the Badass Neckline

I did a fashion shoot yesterday for a fantastic up-and-coming designer, and loved every moment — even the frostbitten ones. Imagine a January day on the rooftop of a 27-story building with winds gusting past 50 miles per hour. Now imagine wearing only the thinnest of clothing. Never let it be said that models have it easy. Yulia was amazing, and so was the whole team.

Here’s a teaser. Much, much more to come.

120113 165631 58mm f1 2

Shoot director: Aparna Dasgupta
Wardrobe: Kristen Ernst
Model: Yulia Panina
Makeup: Jiaying Wang
Hair: Chi Shay
Lighting assistants: Emily and Bobby from Emily Porter Photography



In 1961, a young photographer named Douglas Kirkland found himself alone in a hotel room with an undressed Marilyn Monroe and a full bottle of Dom Perignon. I’ve long thought that the definition of a passionate photographer is someone who’s jealous of Douglas not for the obvious reasons, but because they dream of the photos they could have taken. The ultimate subject in front of you — unguarded, no handlers, your time measured in hours instead of minutes? This is what portrait photographers dream of.

Wedding photography, of course, is essentially the exact opposite. 98 percent of the general public would rather not be in front of a camera if they can help it, especially when they are freaking out in the back of their minds about all the things that could go wrong with such an important and complicated event. You have virtually no control over your time, the locations, ability to change everything drastically to adapt to situations, and certainly no control over wardrobe. This is the situation I deal with about twice a week … and I love it. Every little piece of it is a fresh challenge. But I’ve been so busy with this that it had been more than seven months since I was able to do a major portrait shoot for someone who’s not a client, and it’s important some times to change gears and simply let the photography come first. On a wedding day, I never want it to be about me … but everyone needs to stretch a bit. Embrace imperfection, do things virtually no couple can do on the wedding day — basically, get up to all sorts of trouble.

This is why I’ve changed the format of my workshops a bit. I always hated the idea of workshops that whisked you off to fantastic places to “build your portfolio,” since it seemed inherently dishonest — a wedding portfolio should show what a couple can reasonably expect on their wedding day. Even worse is when a workshop teacher is clearly shooting for their own portfolio. Something clicked, though, and I basically said, “Let’s do everything I hate, but tweak it.” Day 1 is about learning to deal when everything is working against you, which are essential skills for wedding photography. Day 2 is about creating the conditions where everything can work in your favor. I want everyone to walk out of there with images they love; including myself. But I’m making sure we represent ourselves honestly. No wedding dresses, to take away even the chance of honest confusion. When I shoot, it will be in such a way that participants will be able to learn how I solve problems and try to take things to the next level. When participants shoot, they can have guidance to try out new techniques, but will have enough control to honestly be able to call the images their own. I still think Day 1 is the more valuable learning experience for wedding photographers, but oh boy Day 2 is going to be fun. There are only three spots left for Day 2, I think, so make sure to claim it!

Which brings us to Valerie. She knows her way around a camera, front and back, and she likes trouble. (“No, Valerie, I don’t think we can actually hang from a suspension bridge today.”) Because she’s comfortable as a subject and willing to try pretty much everything, it was great to shoot with her on my own terms as we headed down to shoot a fantastic wedding in Baltimore. I shot with exotic equipment and all sorts of strange and difficult techniques, from the Brenizer method to freelensing to tilt-shift to hand-held exposures at a half-second to taking flattering portraits at 12mm and more. I even shot through fog despite my urge to wipe the lenses as we played with water droplets, focus, and light under a shower head (where Valerie was very, very clothed, thank you very much).

I had the freedom I so rarely get on the job, which is to do things that might turn out like total garbage. Luckily, in my mind, it didn’t.

This set was shot on both film and digital with the following gear:

Digital: Nikon D3s with a 45mm f/2.8 PC-E, 58mm f/1.2 Noct-Nikkor (normal, pano’ed, and free lensed), Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 12-24mm

Film: The Hasselblad H2 with a 100mm f/2.2, on Fuji Reala 100, Fuji Pro 400H, and Ilford Delta 3200.

See if you can figure out which shots were taken with which. I’ve put an answer key at the bottom if you’re stumped.

View full post »


Coming soon: Valerie (Workshop Preview)

Group 2 110923 233849 58mm f1 2 110923 233903 58mm f1 2 24 images copy

I’m working away on my October workshops, now less than a month away! There are just five slots left for Day 2, so make sure you follow the instructions here and, even if you can’t pay right this second, let us know that you’re a lock and when you can pay, since I want to be as fair as possible.

Why do I bring this up? Well, Valerie above is not only an excellent assistant, but she’ll be one of the subjects I have lined up, coming in again all the way from Oklahoma! As you can see, she’s fantastic to shoot, and you’ll see a lot more tomorrow.

Since this is a huge panorama, I want to give you a sense of the size. So you can click on the image above for a link to a larger image, which is exactly one percent of the area of the original. I need to start leasing billboard space.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 24-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the 58mm f/1.2 Noct-Nikkor AIS (equivalent of 17mm f/0.36 according to Brett’s calculator)


Portraits of Help

The Catholic Guardian Society is a wonderful agency staffed by people dedicated to helping needy children, young mothers, the developmentally disabled and others in the New York are. I have photographed fund-raising efforts for them for years, and while I don’t have the exact numbers, they’ve told me their related fund-raising has taken a big boost since I started photographing for them. It’s a great feeling to meet the people that they serve and know that I am helping them in a small way, too.

This year we changed the formula and went to the group homes and private residences of some of those served, which took us to every corner of the Bronx, from Co-Op City to the neighborhoods rendered almost unlivable by the construction of the Cross-Bronx. I met kids and adults, clients and those helping them, who were funny, outgoing, ambitious (one member of a group home had logged 900 hours in culinary education!) but also with tales of the incredible costs of care, especially for conditions such as cerebral palsy.

I am saving the vast majority of the shoot for the fund-raising, but here is a taste.


Isolated Love

RKB 8413 45 images pano

This is just about as extreme a “Brenizer method” pano as I’ll probably ever do, using sixty-two frames from the exotic 200mm f/2 to bring a three-dimensional feel to a nice day in Central Park. Lauren is part of the great wedding planning team at Private Receptions, so I figured I’d swing for the bleachers. More from this session coming soon, as well as a full review of the 200mm. According to Brett’s calculator, this ended up functioning like it was taken with a 60mm f/0.6 lens. The original is 150 megapixels, and you can count their eyelashes.

Lens: 62-frame “Brenizer method” panorama with 200mm f/2G VRII
Camera: Nikon D3