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Wedding at the Pleasantdale Chateau: Antoinette and Jonathan

Allow me to enter the Wayback Machine to when the weather was warm, flowers were blooming, and we were beginning to buckle down for our crazy season. If you can set your clock by one thing, it’s that when the weather is nice, full-time wedding photographers’ lives are crazy. Now that the cold winds blow, we are slowly crawling out of our holes and I can start blogging some more of the amazing weddings we’ve been able to document in the past year.

Antoinette and Jonathan’s wedding will show you that the weddings we weren’t able to post the first time around were just as awesome as the ones we were able to sneak out. This day was filled with so much fun and joy and love and dancing … oh yes, the dancing. I was so glad to be able to document it with the fantastic Tatiana Breslow at my side, and am glad to (finally) be able to share it with you.


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Review: Nikon D750 and D810

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For more info and purchase of the Nikon D750
For more info and purchase of the Nikon D810

If you’re like me, you read camera reviews by skipping to the conclusions first, so I’m going to start with the spoilers: The Nikon D750 and D810 are both great cameras. How good? Well, I’ve used them constantly since purchase, with first one and then both Nikon D4‘s sitting to the side.

So are these cameras better than the much more expensive Nikon D4? It’s more complicated than that, and that’s why this review will be deeply seated in my personal experience as a photographer. I nearly always shoot 13-hour weddings 65+ times a year with two cameras. While the D4 is ergonomically perfect when it’s in my hands, it’s way too big and clunky when it’s a 2nd camera hanging on my side. Using two D4s feels like dual-wielding howitzers. After two wedding seasons marked by lower back ache, it’s time to look for something lighter, something that makes me feel I can dart to whatever position I need to get the perfect angle without bashing a six-pound camera into chairs, floors, tables, or small children (all of which have happened).

Fortunately Nikon has been listening to the demands for “smaller, lighter, and professionally capable” equipment for the past few years, releasing a slew of light, small f/1.8 primes from 20mm to 85mm. (I beg them to continue that to 135mm, that would not be very light or small.) They also put out cameras like the D610 and Nikon Df, which produced beautiful images even in low light but had several caveats in their use, most notably a mediocre AF system. The D800 was astounding in its image quality and had pro AF but also felt sluggish to me in its buffer and Live View.

This year, Nikon said “no more caveats.” The D800 line has always had a bit of schizophrenia – the super-high resolution sensor and fantastic dynamic range at low ISO are aimed squarely at the medium format market – studio portraits, landscapes, product and still-life – but Nikon also markets it as the replacement to the beloved D700, a low-resolution camera aimed at photojournalism and documentary work. The D810 seeks to improve both uses – for the medium format crowd, it takes away the AA filter, which should allow for sharper images when every other part of shooting technique is perfect, and it changes the base ISO from 100 to 64. For the documentarians, it increases the buffer speed and significantly shortened the annoying delay in using Live View.

And now comes the D750. There are a number of ways to see this camera in the lineup – the name suggests it’s a D700 replacement, but really it seems to be a toughening up and professionalization of the D610. It is nearly exactly the same size and weight as the D610 but adds the professional 51-point AF system. Better still, it’s been tweaked enough that Nikon’s own rating suggest it is the best low-light autofocus across the entire camera lineup, better than even the D4s. And about that D4s? The D750 only weighs 63 percent as much, and it only takes up 54 percent as much cubic space. That’s a big deal, and a lot easier to have hanging at your side. For example, it’s about the size difference between a Smart Car and a regular sedan:

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Of course, shooting with a mirrorless system or even just my iPhone would be even smaller and lighter, so here are the real questions I want to answer: How good are these cameras anyway? What kind of trade-offs are there compared to the much more expensive D4s? Which of these cameras might be better for you? And finally, what are the benefits and trade-offs of owning and using both? To answer all of these, first we’ll discuss the common denominators of both cameras, then we’ll drill down on each one separately, and finally talk about how I use them together for my own work.

The D750 and the D810

These cameras have a lot more commonalities and differences. I’ll leave aside the obvious ones (yes, they both take the same lenses and flashes), since the important part is they sit right in the middle of Nikon’s “prosumer” line and thus are Nikon’s newest cameras with any professional aspirations. Thankfully, Nikon has corrected some of their previous prosumer mis-steps with these cameras, including my personal pet peeve – not having an exposure preview in the Live View of the D600, D610, or Df. When used right, Live View is one of those transformative technologies that says “Digital cameras can feel like more than just an instantly scanned film camera.” Being able to instantly see the correct exposure before you shoot is a leap ahead in functionality, and kudos to Nikon for enabling it in both the D750 and D810. The D800 had this functionality but it also felt like it took forever for the Live View to even turn on.

Although the D810 and the D750 take different battery grips (which I haven’t yet used), they take the same En-EL15 battery. Nikon rates them at about the same battery life, but I’ve found the D750 to burn through them much faster (this may be individual model variance, or simply that with the flip screen I use battery-killing Live View even more on the D750).

Both cameras have nice, deep grips, and I found even the smaller D750 to be a pleasure to hold, significantly better than the Nikon Df. But there is a huge ergonomic caveat here – like all smaller cameras without vertical grips, they’re only ergonomic wonders as long as they’re paired with lighter lenses and flashes. Put something like a 24-70 and a Nikon D810 on and any time I use the setup one-handed, I feel painful pressure on my wrist. It’s made me more likely to move my flash off-camera onto stands when possible, and even lenses like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art feel unbalanced on these cameras, particularly the D750, leading me back to the old, cheap Nikon 50mm f/1.8.

But for my use, the biggest change in these cameras is metering. Nikon changed the recipe in sometimes fantastic, sometimes frustrating ways. The most obvious change is a new metering mode: highlight-weighted spot metering. The closest way to explain how this works is that your camera says “whatever you’re focusing on, I’m going to pretend that you put the spot-meter right at the brightest point in the frame.” So in any backlit scene, this mode is basically “instant silhouette maker.”

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this metering mode is rolling out now. All of the others – matrix, center-weighted, and spot – are also on Nikon’s film cameras like the F6. Highlight weighted metering would be almost useless on film cameras, unless you really, really liked silhouettes. But recent Nikon pro cameras, especially from the D3s on, have had a hidden trick: there’s a lot of information in those shadows. With film and cameras like the Canon 5D or Fuji S5, it was always a good idea to err on the side of overexposure, but with Nikon’s it’s the opposite. You don’t have to go too far for a blown highlight to be unrecoverable, but you can raise shadows as much as five stops on some models while still getting a fairly clean image. So the other way of looking at this mode is “cram as much of the tonal range of the scene as possible into the file and let the photographer process it later,” which can allow us progress toward the holy grail of cameras that see scenes with the same sort of dynamic range as the human eye. For example, here’s different processing of the same shot above:

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I wouldn’t recommend this metering as a default mode, the way I used normal spot metering on the Nikon D4, since there will be plenty of scenes where a light bulb or bright backlight make the scene way darker than you want, and there are plenty of times where it’s A-OK to let some highlights blow out to white. But it’s a great option to have when you’re trying to focus on a groom wearing a tux and you don’t want to turn the wedding-dress-clad bride into a luminescent spirit.

The only problem is that they also seem to have changed the recipe on the normal spot mode a bit. My only evidence is taking hundreds of thousands of photos with the D3, D3s, D4 and D4s and saying that these cameras seem to meter differently. Because of the existence of highlight metering mode perhaps, spot mode seems even more calibrated to say “who needs highlights?” Even metering on skim-milk-colored Irish skin like my own will tend to blow out the rest of the scene unless you use exposure compensation. Worse, they seem widely variable. Five to ten percent of the time with normal spot metering, a shot come out about five stops overexposed out of nowhere, even the darkest shadows pushed into the upper highlights. It’s not that the D4’s metering is perfect, but it’s repeatable – if it’s going to mess up a scene I can anticipate exactly how it will mess it up before I shoot it, and use EV compensation or manual mode to get it right. I’ve seen this happen on both cameras, but it seems to happen a bit more with the D810.

The D810:

Like the D800 before it, the D810 is defined by its 36 megapixel sensor. And yes, it’s sharp, sharp-sharpity sharp. In fact, this is the wrong place to look for a review of this aspect of it, because it’s much sharper than I need. In fact, I was fine with the 12MP of the D3s until this morning, when an iMac showed up at my doorstep with a 14.7 MP screen (and it’s still not bad). Henri Cartier-Bresson said “sharpness is a bourgeois concept” and to some extent he’s right. Not all bourgeois concepts are bad, and whether an image is in focus or not is different than whether it’s critically sharp pixel-for-pixel, but when I’m looking at a documentary image, critical sharpness is nice but way, WAY down the list of factors that make it a good photo to me or not. Every once in a while I take a huge group photo or landscape where the sensor is nice, but generally the 24MP of the D750 is already more than enough, and the D810 just likes to clog up my hard drives and increase my upload times. But it’s not terrible – in 12-bit compressed mode the RAWs come out to about 33MB, which is just 15 percent more than the file size of the 6-megapixel Fuji S5 I shot in 2007.

D810 at ISO 4000:
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The D810 sensor has other benefits too. ISO 64 plus 1/8000th of a second makes this the best light-killing camera in Nikon’s lineup, with almost two stops more power over the sun than the D750’s ISO 100 and 1/4000th max shutter. If you like shooting in the middle of the day at f/1.4 – say if you’re a fan of a certain panoramic portrait method – then this is the camera for you.

The D810 has one more advantage that is a big deal to photographers: in the words of Bjork, “it’s oh so quiet.” Even in normal mode the shutter is soft, and in quiet mode its barely there at all. I feel comfortable using this camera to take pictures close to the head of a priest, which would have made my skin crawl to try with the clacking D4.

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The D750

The D750 is an incredible camera burdened by its own name. As the camera that took the D610 to the next level, it probably should have been called the D700. But wait, there already is a D700, and its users love it. The D700 was such a good camera for the price that it almost didn’t make sense – especially with the battery grip, it did nearly everything the D3 did at a lower price. So a lot of people can only see the areas where the D700 is slightly better – 1/8000th of a second shutter speed! 8 fps with battery grip! The viewfinder is not my preferred shape! These are a fanatical lot, so I want to make sure everyone knows I say the following as someone who used and loved the D700 for many years: For wedding work, the D750 slaps the D700 silly. First, here’s the D750 at ISO 12,800:

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I’ve used the D700 many times at 12,800, and it doesn’t look like that.

Also, the D700 only uses one CF card. You might say “Well, I’ve never had a card fail!” All I can say is “Shoot more.” It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. I have had clients memories saved only because every image was being shot to two cards. In the D750 and D810, I just keep a large SD card in the 2nd slot and write JPEGs to it. That card does not get formatted until all the weddings on it are delivered, so that even in the worst-case scenarios where my other six backups somehow fail I can still deliver and edit JPEGs (which is just fine for 95 percent of images, but takes a little more processing time). You can never be paranoid enough.

And yes, the D750 only has 1/4000th of a second, but it also goes to ISO 100 whereas the D700 starts at ISO 200. Unless for some reason you’re trying to stop bullets in your wedding photographs, this comes out to the same thing. The D810 does win handily in this regard, but you still can shoot at f/1.4 outside in the sun with the D750, as long as you’re careful, like so:

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Also, the D750 is Nikon’s first full-frame camera with a tiltable review screen. As someone who has lied down in goose poop and broken glass at the same time to get a shot, this is really exciting for me. I don’t use it very often in photojournalism, because the AF speed during Live View just still isn’t where it needs to be, but it is fantastic when getting the right angle for portraits. One of my favorite adages in photography is this: “When you look at the portfolio of a good photographer, you should have no idea how tall they are.” MAYBE the best height to take a given photo is in the six-inch zone around where your eyes are, but usually there’s a better vantage, and a tilting screen will help you find it without nearly as many dry cleaning bills.

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Then there is the sensor. It’s hard to be definitive about the sensor because Adobe still hasn’t released an update for Lightroom that will work with it, but even with what we can tell now the sensor looks like a winner. It looks better at high ISO than the D810 (which is also pretty darned good, especially when the giant files are resized to print), it produces all the file size you need while gumming up your hard drives a bit less – everything just feels balanced for the kinds of variety you need in wedding work.

The only disappointment for me is the shutter sound – and I was only disappointed because I’d been using the D810. It’s quieter than the D4 or D3s, but definitely louder than the D810 or D610, and the quiet mode seems to even make it slightly louder, sounding like you’ve stepped on a small twig every time you take a picture. It’s not bad, but the D810 had set my hopes high.

USING THEM TOGETHER

This is my setup right now. I stumbled into it, because I bought the D810 before the D750 was announced, but for now it works well for me. You can infer from the rest of this review that if you took the best things about the D810 and the best things about the D750 you’d have a near-perfect wedding camera, and this is the simplest way to get the advantages of both. The D810 is used as my main camera for ceremonies is quiet churches, for example, and also leads the way for most of the portraits, while I pick up the D750 when I need the tilting screen or for fast, constant action on the dance floor.

I am loving these smaller cameras; in fact I love them enough that they’re making me rethink my lens system. I’ve recently bought an old 180mm f/2.8 as a sometimes-replacement for the Nikon 70-200mm VR II and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 as a sometimes-replacement for the amazing-but-heavy Sigma 50mm f/1.4. I’d already preferred the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 to either company’s 35mm f/1.4’s, and it balances like a dream on the D750. Yes, this is all giving me Gear Acquisition Syndrome for cheaper equipment, but all of these are sharp and fast-focusing.

The one major annoyance to using both cameras is that the D810 uses the “Pro” control layout, and the D750 uses the “Prosumer” layout. Buttons in the same place on each camera do entirely different things. For maximum speed as a photographer, it’s important to build muscle memory with your camera system, and it’s a major stumbling block to say “Ok, which camera is this? Do I change ISO on the top or on the back?” If I do end up selling one to start using two of the same camera, that will be the reason why.

And if that happens, which camera will I keep? Drumroll please… the D750. I will just have to live with the snapping twigs.

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE D810

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MORE PHOTOS FROM THE D750

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For more info and purchase of the Nikon D750
For more info and purchase of the Nikon D810

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iPhone 6 Plus Engagement Photo and Quick Review

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You may not have heard since it’s been on the down low, but little company called Apple released some new phones yesterday. I was excited because I had finally allowed myself to skip an upgrade last year, and I was eager to see the new improvements since the iPhone 5, especially with the camera, so when I got the iPhone 6 Plus I wanted to put it to the test.

Now, there are all caveats here: 1) I did not “do a shoot” with the new iPhone. Over the course of 90 minutes, I used the phone for about 15 seconds to produce this photo, after we had already nailed the scene with the Nikon D810. I don’t put anything, especially tech geekery, before clients’ needs. And of course there are other hardships in a 15-second-long photoshoot. But it gave me some insights into the camera and its use.

The Good:

  • This isn’t just a cell phone shot in tricky mixed lighting, and it came out great! This isn’t out-of-camera, of course — it’s processed to the same level as everything else I do, otherwise it would be at a distinctive advantage. But you can’t — or at least I can’t — take an image that is noisy, muddy garbage and make it great later, so it’s nice that this is turning out some good pixels.

  • I am loving the exposure control in iOS 8. It allows me to quickly focus where I want to without worrying whether that spot is too dark or light for the overall exposure.
  • Speaking of focus, the new phase-detect focus is speedy enough that I never had to think about it, which is all I want in this kind of camera.

The Bad:

The exposure control in iOS 8 is basically a + or – EV control, which just means “render this scene brighter or darker than you normally would. That is very different from having actual exposure control. Because we were adding enough light to the scene, the phone chose to shoot this at 1/30th of a second, where I would have preferred around 1/10th to make the train pulling into the station show a lot more blurred motion — especially because the iPhone 6 plus has optical image stabilization. We could have lowered the lights and tried again, but that’s a lot more annoying than a button click (and remember, we only took 15 seconds for this). I’m eager to see how third party apps take advantage of the new software development options to give us more and more control in weeks to come.

The Ugly

To make this camera so good and the phone so thin, the camera has to protrude a bit, making it wobbly when you set it down. I don’t mind much, but it’s one reason that I can’t wait to put a case on this thing.

One more thing:

The LED flash on this thing is really strong. I expect I’ll be using it a lot in ring shots, or when I have to sneak a quick night shot in and don’t have time to get my video light. That is probably the only way this will have a direct effect on my professional images. It’s good, but it’s nothing like a D810.


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Ritz Carlton Naples Wedding: Joanna and Tony

You don’t know how many times Tatiana and I have sat around our office saying “I wish our clients were here, right now.” We have so many clients who are not just pleasures to work with, but people who would brighten any of our days, and it’s one of the things we’re most thankful for. Joanna and Tony exemplify this … almost literally, as I believe Joanna’s multi-watt smile could be examined as a new alternative energy source. It was such an honor to have them fly us to forida for their Ritz Carlton Naples wedding. It is such an intensely beautiful place — the literal moment we pulled up the evening before, I had to jump out of the car to photograph the sunset on my iPhone, because our bags were still packed, and it was one that I couldn’t bear missing. People show up each night on the show to stand there and applaud the sunset the moment the sun crosses the horizon.

Yes, location isn’t everything — I’ve photographed weddings I’ve loved in gymnasiums — but this sort of scene really didn’t hurt. More important, though, was what an uplifting, hilarious day it was. To see Joanna and Tony’s love for each other and their family, and to be able to share it with Tatiana* … thank you. Thank you all.

*who did just a phenomenal job, once again maintaining her status as wedding photography’s biggest weapon.

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2013 in review

As I said last year, a funny thing happens over the course of taking a few hundred thousand photos. Each individual photo is about the subjects, the moment, the emotion, the story … but over time, in a big enough collection, it also becomes a self-portrait of the photographer. These are the stories I see and the way that I see them. And so this is not a “best of” list, because picking the “best” out of so many photos would probably give me a nervous breakdown, but this is a portrait of who I was in 2013.

I’ve devoted my life to documenting love, but in 2013 I felt it in ways I’d never imagined — both inside myself and the sort of effects that love can have on someone. In short, all the clichés can be true. No matter how silly or treacly or saccharine you may sound, you probably aren’t saccharine enough. Love changes everything, and it makes things worth changing in the first place. If I had energy and fervor to document it in all its forms before, now I burn with it, and I cannot wait for my shared story to continue.

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Pleasantdale Chateau wedding: Teresa and Dan

Teresa and Dan fairly drip with humor, savviness, and charisma, even on a normal day, so adding the warmth and fun of a crazy wedding day (especially with Teresa’s Fox 5 News fellow broadcasters, a profession not known for shyness) to the beauty of a Pleasantdale Chateau wedding, and I knew we’d have a good time.

Normally, a wedding day that involves going back and forth from New Jersey to Manhattan on a Friday sets of giant “Danger Will Robinson!” klaxons in my head, but with my “pessimistic so you don’t have to be” planning and their relentless cheeriness, we made it through the sea of tail lights without dampening the day’s excitement one bit, and in return got a gorgeous church and one of my favorite wedding venues within hundreds of miles.

Thanks to Jashim Jalal for his help, and it’s always a pleasure to work alongside the videographers at Fiore Films.

Pleasantdale-Chateau-wedding-05

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The Bejewled Sea

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I am so blessed to be surrounded by so much amazingness every weekend. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this month alone I’d be writing a novel somewhere around the 80,000-page mark, so you can imagine how hard it is to condense this stuff into a few words in blog intros. So just … wow. Here’s one from yesterday. So much more to come.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: 31-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII (equivalent of 104mm f/1.4 according to Brett’s calculator)


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Mudan Wedding: Fallon and Andrew

To use modern Internet parlance, this wedding was so full of feels. I could have created a blog post entirely of Top 50 Best Heart-Wrenching Sobbing Moments, but that would have edged out the possible Top 200 Best Hysterical Laughs. It’s what happens when you take two incredibly sweet people, one of them a wedding photographer herself, and throw them into a day with numerous ceremonies, from the quiet and reflective to the raucous hardship the groomsmen faced at particularly inventive door games. It’s what happens when family gathers from all over the world to ignore the heat and celebrate Andrew and Fallon. And it’s what happens with a wild group of friends — I don’t show photobooth photos on the blog for a few reasons, but we’ll just say that things got particularly creative and many guests walked out with a pretty good cardio workout.

I was thrilled to be joined on this wedding with Tatiana and Michael Stavrinos, even though all the good photos made my editing job much harder. It’s a challenge I’m happy to take.


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The Mill at Spring Lake Heights Wedding: Nicole and Kyle

Thanks to a long string of luck, my clients tend to make description of them a bit difficult. “Extremely nice,” “deeply family-oriented,” “handling stress with cheer and grace,” — on the streets of New York you could pick someone out of a large crowd with just those descriptors, but I’ve been lucky to have this be common threads of the people that hire me. So to describe Nicole and Kyle, you take these and add the deep respect and camaraderie of Kyle’s military family, breeding West Point officers. You stir in the deep bond with his brother, who, in words I thought I’d never write, produced a hilarious, heart-wrenching PowerPoint display for his speech.

And then you add a gorgeous day, the heat that would later scorch the area just poking into the territory of a nice warmth. Finish with a bunch of friends and family ready to spring into the party, and you have a good day. Thanks to Robert Piangozza for assisting.

(Note: If you’ve noticed that this site has run slowly for a long time, blame my old Web hosts and, apparently, my popularity. I’m with new hosts now who have great customer service and the ability to handle the strain of lots of people looking at lots of photos. There are still a few kinks to work out, but if you can see this post, you should be in the clear.)


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Four Seasons Wedding: Kartika and Varun

I’d been dying to go to Vancouver ever since the Winter Olympics showed off its beauty, and thanks to the Canada Photo Convention and Varun and Kartika’s wedding at the Vancouver Four Seasons, I went two times in a month. Of course, given my schedule this time of year, that means that my grand total of sight-seeing for both trips was about 15 minutes.

But I had so much fun that I’ll have to come back. Varun and Kartika aren’t just incredibly nice, they’re absolutely hilarious. I’m a softie — usually when I’m thankful for autofocus it’s because something touching has made me tear up a bit. But I had to spend most of this day photographing through the laughter. Of course a bit of door games started that off right — wedding days drive brains crazy, so when Kartika left a complicated mathematic clue about where she was hiding, I forgive the groomsmen for coming up with “somewhere on the 271st floor.”

Eastern and Western traditions have very different expectations for wedding receptions, and it was fascinating to see the Indian/Indonesian/Chinese/Canadian cultures mix with the quirkiness of Varun and Kartika’s own friends and family. Who needs a garter toss when the groomsmen can toss swords around and do a lucky Dragon dance?

Thank you both for flying me out to document this beautiful, hilarious day. And thanks to Rachel Pick for helping on the day and being my local Vancouver liason.


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Sometimes the best way to use a tool is not at all.

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Yesterday I lectured and taught at the WPPI Online Road Show in Atlantic City. As always it’s an honor to work with these folks, and I liked the set-up where I could talk about concepts in the morning, and then show them hands-on and let people try it for themselves in the afternoon. I was tasked with teaching techniques for working with speedlights, and we went through everything from reception shooting techniques to how strong your flashes can really be when you use them right (lighting a subject at ISO 100, f/29 at 1/8th power!)

But one of the most important lessons I taught is when to ignore me. Or specifically when to ignore the plan and the tools you’ve set out for yourself. In a lighting class, we’re going to overshoot and overlight — that’s how teaching works. But start simple and if you make a setup more complicated, know exactly why you’re doing so. Don’t use tools just because you brought them. Because even when you’re teaching a class on flash, it’s a crime to ignore a good sunbeam.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G


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Westminster Hotel Wedding: April and Rich

I always love Filipino weddings, because I feel that the culture has its priorities in the right place — deep family ties, celebrating these ties through dancing, and, of course, documenting all of this through photography. B&H doesn’t have as many DSLRs as a large Filipino wedding reception.

April and Rich had deep connections to both sides of the Hudson river, so the ceremony was at the Fourth Universalist Society church in Manhattan, and they decorated the space at the Westminster hotel to meet a classy, modern design for their reception.

The emotions were on the surface, as Rich’s tear ducts had a good workout. In this case, there was no metaphor behind the idea of forming a new family, as tender moments with Rich’s daughter and April showed. Thank you again for letting me (and assistant Braham Rhodes) tell this story.


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Quick hits from the weekend

I’m in the air over Iowa now on the way to WPPI, where I will close out the party with a lecture on what to do when you’re shooting a wedding and everything seems to be working against you (otherwise called “most weddings ever.”) What better way to get ready for it than shooting two weddings? So much more to come; here’s a quick fix:


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