The Garrison wedding: Uvinie and Gniewko

Even after more than 250 weddings, I’ve had surprisingly few repeats of couples’ name combinations … but I could probably do a million more without getting another Uvinie and Gniewko.

Their day itself was just as unique, blending together Sri Lankan, Polish, and modern American traditions surprisingly seamlessly. Gniewko himself drew all the table numbers with intricate designs, he followed the Buddhist drummers perfectly, and Uvinie was perfectly willing to play the Polish game of “vodka or water?” (The glasses are switched randomly, and the one who gets the vodka supposedly has the upper hand in the relationship. Or at least looser dance moves at the reception.)

Every time I shoot along the Hudson it seems like the weather does crazy things — wind or cold or searing heat. We started with a taste of Sri Lanka with the blistering weather, but as it cooled it changed into a sunset so dramatic that the entire reception stopped to gawk at it. I had to tone down most of the images of it, because out-of-camera the colors looked too brilliant to be believable. If anyone out there is planning a wedding at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, I think I’m properly trained for it now.

Thanks to Jashim Jalal, who did a fantastic job helping me out.

Coming soon: Uvinie and Gniewko

If I had a nickel for every Sri Lankan/Polish union I’ve seen… I’d have a nickel.

Since people have asked, we are on the final round of Brenizer Method contest judging … but that requires three extremely busy photographer teams in very different time zones to be available at the same time as we hash it out. We’re working on it, and can’t wait to show the results.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 70-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 25mm f/0.4 according to Brett’s calculator)

Boston Public Library Wedding: Erika and Chip Tear Up the Place

You may remember Erika and Chip from their first wedding, marred by Hurricane Irene.

Well, they gave it another go at the Boston Public Library, and it was fantastic.

No Photoshop compositing here. Normally I would enjoy any debates on this, but my mother is a super-powered librarian, so I’ll note that I visualized this shot the second I walked into the reading room, and had my second Jason Kan go to Barnes and Nobles and buy some books we could use for this.

Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
Camera: Nikon D3s

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Wedding, Kansas City: Asma and Mohsin

As a New Yorker, if I had to picture a Kansas City wedding, I’d likely list through “barbecue catering” and “blues band” long before hitting “Pakistani Muslim.” But one of the best things about this job are the constant surprises, and also working with clients as gracious and accommodating as Asma and Mohsin, and their families. It’s one thing to make sure your wedding photographer gets fed, and quite another to demand they get an amazing home-cooked meal before taking a photo. Despite the bistering heat of a Kansas City summer, it was a total pleasure.

The wedding was a two-day affair, with the mendhi at a conference center and the wedding reception at the gorgeous Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In between were a thousand great moments between Asma and Mohsin’s loved ones, the increasingly groan-worthy jokes of Asma’s brother as emcee, and enough comments about Mohsin’s fanaticism for typography that I wish I could give them their own special font for this post.

The Strength of Film

I shoot a high volume and am always trying to turn things around as quickly as I can, so I’ve been on the digital train since the bad old days of terrible color, low resolution, and insanely high prices. Digital has come a long way and turned film into a niche market … but it’s a beautiful niche.

dSLRs have come a long way with dynamic range in particular — the D800 is startlingly good, in particular. But when you reach the very ends of it, you’ll always come down to the ones and zeroes that make for harsh roll-offs. So, when I was faced with the extreme contrast of this scene with Kelsie — direct Boise sun beating on the light sand with her face in reflected light and the background in shade — I turned to film, with the Mamiya 645 and the 80mm f/1.9. The sand is overexposed by more than two stops, but film retains the information.

This is as good as I could get the scene with the D3s:

Not horrible, but the highlights are still garish. The D3s (and the D800 even more) keeps a remarkable amount of dynamic range in the shadows, so if I’d really wanted to get the absolute best out of it, I would have exposed for the highlights, underexposing her face by as much as three stops, and then dodging it back in post (*very* different than the optimal way to shoot the scene in film). But in a scene like this, that would take a lot of work to make it look right, while film nailed it in one shot.

Film is on a bit of a downward spiral — getting more and more expensive as less and less people use it, which causes even less people to use it, which makes it more expensive — but I do hope the niche stays more active than, say daguerreotype enthusiasts.

(More Kelsie — showing off the strengths of digital — here)

Long Island Aquarium Wedding: Andrea and Richard

This was not your normal wedding. First of all, unless you’re my Mom, Andrea has probably been following my work longer than you have. She first asked me to photograph this wedding years ago. And this was an official, “Are you free that weekend?” booking, not the fairly-common compliment of “I want you to photograph my wedding someday … now I just have to meet someone I like!”

So yes, it’s a compliment that after years of searching and planning, they never changed their mind about me having to document the day. But there’s also something unique about them simply knowing, years before they wanted to get married, that they would be together forever and this was the sort of way they would celebrate it.

Rogue fish, glasses flourished before a first kiss … even a lengthy PowerPoint presentation, it was geeky and fun and uniquely them throughout. Most impressive to me? Those flowers below … they’re not flowers. They’re incredibly delicate ceramic clay, both the bouquet and the boutonniere. Beautiful.

Thanks again to Valerie Sebestyen for helping me on this day in her extremely productive stint as an intern.

Battery Gardens wedding: Marisa and Joe

Marisa and Joe’s Battery Gardens wedding was awesome … a little too awesome.

OK, I’m kidding, there’s no such thing. But really, weddings like these make the rest of human experience look like it needs to try a little harder. Where is the hysterical laughter, the gorgeous dresses, the grandmothers lifted over heads, on a random Tuesday? Where are the private water taxis touring Brooklyn, the breakdance fights, the viral videos recorded on a streetcar?

I mean, Marisa made Call Me Maybe cool, for pete’s sake (and she stuck it in my head forevermore.) They took reception karaoke — usually a dance-floor killer — and made it into an incredibly raucous battle between bride and groom. Incredible.

Life, you need to work a little harder to live up to Joe and Marisa’s wedding.

Thanks again to Valerie Sebestyen for being a great help at this wedding — as a veteran of my workshops, she even managed a few great “Brenizer method” shots of the guys. (I don’t really walk around saying “I have a method,” so most of my couples have no idea about it other than liking the photos from it … but Joe is all about it.)

Guastivino’s Wedding: Julia and Dean

I said that Danielle and Spencer’s wedding was the wildest one I’d ever been to. But what I love about NYC is that you don’t need to go around the world to find splendor and beauty, craziness and fun, when I can walk down the street to venues like Guastivino’s, the fantastic setting of Julia and Dean’s wedding. And I love that there are people like Julia, Dean, and their friends walking around this city, being all respectable and proper Manhattanites … and then, when it comes down to it, oh man, can they dance.

I had a fantastic time with Julia and Dean throughout the whole process, from the engagement shoot where he surprise-re-proposed to her (so he could “do it right” that time) to just chilling and laughing with them in the limo. (What I don’t love about NYC is that it can turn a one-mile trip to the reception into a 45-minute journey.)

It was a gorgeous and stylish day throughout, from the beginnings at the W New York Union Square to their impeccable eye for detail and jewelry (Dean is in the biz). But nothing will stand out more than the all-pervading, ligament-stretching, constant fun they all had.

Thanks again to Valerie Sebestyen for assisting!

No Rain on Their Parade

Generally when it rains on an outdoor wedding and I say “it didn’t faze them for a minute,” it’s a figure of speech. Even couples with the broadest perspective will have a minute of “Oh man, we were going to have a gorgeous outdoor wedding and now we can’t … oh well, we’ll have fun anyway.”

But Beth and Dino literally didn’t stop smiling for a second. If there were any uneasy glances at the thundering sky, any sighs, I didn’t see them. All I saw was a fantastic, hilarious wedding, the sort of day where the officiant lifts his lines straight from The Princess Bride. Brilliant.

Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
Camera: Nikon D3s

The Sky Right Now

Not Photoshopped to heck; it actually looks like that. 23 images with a new lens I’m testing for B&H (the Tamron 24-70 VC).

You can buy a print of this here. For this I recommend a wide print like the 12×24″. The watermark will not be in the printed image.

Well, hello entire world. Nice to meet you. Here’s another one for people still looking. Single image:

(buy a print here)

NYC Yale Club Wedding: Nicole and Dave

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in midtown for Nicole and Dave’s Yale Club wedding — gorgeous enough that a marching band and gang of dancers got in on the action.

Nicole’s best friend and maid-of-honor Sharrone runs wedding videography studio Fiore Films, so she had some insider help on creating an absolutely gorgeous, elegant wedding. It was the sort of day where laughter flows into crying and back again, where hugs threaten to crack spines. The sort of day I love to document.

The reception was fantastic, largely due to the incredible performances of the Hudson Project wedding band. I can’t wait to cross their paths again.

Valerie Sebestyen was back shooting with me for this wedding, and for most of June. Always nice to bring that Oklahoma cheeriness to a Manhattan day.

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Kelsie.

I’ve already shown some of Kelsie for the Olympus review, so I figured I’d dive right in with the rest, so to speak.

One of the most important goals for my professional life is to always keep my passion for shooting. It sounds self-centered to focus on my own joy, I suppose, but really the only thing that’s going to keep me going the extra mile for clients, to keep learning and growing as a photographer and even be a better businessperson is if I keep being excited to show up to work every day. And perhaps the surest sign of that is that even in what little free time I have, I want to keep shooting. After filming an upcoming show in Boise, I had a beautiful day to spend with my friends Dylan and Sara of Sara K Byrne Photography. So of course we spent it shooting. I’d seen Kelsie’s great modeling work, and specifically her incredible hair, and I said “OK, what other chance am I going to get to shoot in the middle of a river?” Let’s do it.

And it was a learning experience. I learned, for example, that the Boise river is freezing cold even after a series of 104-degree days. Freezing cold. And that Kelsie can look great even in harsh mid-day sun. Also that the most important thing in underwater photography is figuring out how to stay down without then killing yourself. We couldn’t get the proper sort of ballast in a 9-foot pool, so the shoot was accomplished with a series of downward pushes on my shoulders by Dylan. Now that’s a trust exercise — thanks for not murdering me!

For the record, it was Sara who had Kelsie take her shirt off. Since the whole impetus for the shoot was her insanely long and thick hair, I figured it was a safe enough covering for the blog.

Olympus Tough TG-1 Review

Specs and purchasing information

Pocket digital cameras are in an existential crisis these days. Their main selling point — taking up little space so that you have something you can take pictures with at all times — is being completely dominated by camera phones. No matter how small or light a camera gets, it can never add less heft than something you were carrying around anyway. And as camera phones get better and better, the advantages in visual quality become fewer. Most standout pocket cameras these days are aiming for better quality than you get with most camera phones, either by adding larger sensors like the Sony RX100, or super fast lenses like the f/1.4 aperture in the Panasonic LX7.

But there are a few other things you shouldn’t do with a camera phone — drop it on the ground, drop it underwater, freeze it, step on it, and many other things that I have actually done to destroy various iPhones. The Olympus Tough TG-1 is built to handle all of these things, so while the quality of its sensor may not be significantly better than that of the best camera phones, you can worry about it less or get photos that are actually impossible with them. The TG-1′s ruggedness is no joke — it’s rated to be waterproof to 40 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, freezeproof to 14°F and crushproof to a weight of 220 pounds. Adorama told me that I was free to hit it with a baseball bat to test this, but I think they might have been joking. I weigh under 220, though, so I did stand on it with my full weight, and all that managed to do was turn it on without a scratch. I also put it though some other paces, as you will see below. Olympus has paired this ruggedness with a number of new improvements, such as a 25-100mm equivalent lens that is a fast f/2 on the wide end. Although it’s a slow f/4.9 at the long end, that gives you more options in the dark, or particularly underwater, where this camera really shines. Every port on the camera is double-sealed against the elements, and the lens is covered with a strong, easy-to-clean coating. Because the lens doesn’t protrude at all, the camera is quite pocketable, but it’s also surprisingly easy to have your thumb sneak in the corner of pictures if you have big hands.

Image quality:

I don’t use point-and-shoots other than my iPhone very much, so I’m a bit nitpicky. Most shots out-of-camera have a real digital look to them, with some smeared detail even at base ISO, and lots more as you go through the range. At ISO 800 or above the smearing can seriously affect your images, but the digital look happens in uncertain ways — I have ISO 200 images that are smeared and ISO 1600 images that look pretty good:

The above image is ISO 1600 in Super Macro mode, which you can see works really well. The subject matter may be forgiving, but the image shows a surprising amount of texture in any case. The TG-1 also has an LED light which can help with some macro images (though it will give an on-camera-flash look to the photo, which is rarely the best option).

In good light, the photos look nice and snappy, even of a poor subject like me:

Fill flash works decently well — it won’t overpower full sun, but here you can see even coverage of the leaves about eight feet away in the foreground:

But things fall apart a bit in mixed light, as this ISO 800 image shows:

Controls

This is what keeps the TG-1 from being any kind of true pro camera. I bet you could fix a lot of the digital look at lower ISOs in a good RAW converting program — but we’ll never know, since the TG-1 doesn’t shoot RAW. It also doesn’t have any way to let you directly control the shutter or aperture. Even though the exposure compensation is fairly easy to ride, this is a huge blow for a control freak like me, particularly since otherwise this could be a decent professional option as an underwater camera.

It DOES have a lot of “art” effects, which are generally pretty silly, and even sometimes downright frightening, such as the mirror effect:

The controls feature set definitely seems aimed at the amateur market. But where this camera really shines is…

Underwater

Underwater housing for professional DSLRs is extremely expensive, and it becomes cumbersome enough that you need to learn to shoot all over again. Being waterproof to 40′, and with all sorts of underwater options such as Underwater Macro mode and underwater-specific white balance settings, this camera is great for swimming, snorkeling, and shallow-water scuba enthusiasts, as well as people who want to dip their toe in underwater portraiture. I did just that in a recent trip to Boise with the fantastic model Kelsie, and I liked the photo quality underwater even better than on dry land! (It probably doesn’t hurt that clear water is constantly cleaning and functioning like a lens itself). All controls were easy to use underwater and easily visible — dealing with the camera was by far the easiest part of a difficult shoot.

I started with photos from very close to water level while wading in the Boise River. You could use an unprotected DSLR for this — and I did for some — but you’re really pressing your luck when you want to dip down to get a reflection. The best photos from this session had implied nudity, so I will pixelate for those of you at work, and you can click to see the actual photo:

Then we shot in a pool, with sunlight trickling in for a great effect. For the first half of the shoot I tried the TG-1′s high-speed shooting so the ripples of light would hit Kelsie just right, which is a crazy-fast 60 frames per second at three megapixels. I’m glad I switched to full res, which still is a very speedy 10fps but with a smaller buffer, because the high-speed photos do not look very good. Clearly these are just frame-grabs from video, and they look like it, with a bit of poor-video CCTV quality to them. 3MP should be more than enough for the Web, but even here, with the very best of them, you can see the difference between the high speed photo (left) and the normal res photo (right):

I do not recommend the high-speed mode for still photography unless you really need 60fps, and don’t care about quality.

But the color, the steadiness of exposure, the handling and speed were all excellent. If I spent more time around water, I’d keep this camera in my bag. No matter how convenient your cellphone is, you probably don’t want to do this with it:

More snapshots

Buy it here!