Metropolitan Club Wedding: Ariana and Eric

Ariana and Eric’s wedding was just … more. Yes, the Metropolitan Club is what you’d expect from a place J.P. Morgan built when he really wanted to impress people. Yes, Ariana bought her amazing dress in Paris and few to Italy for a private fitting at the invitation of the designer. But that’s just what made the wedding fancy. What made the wedding amazing was how warm, funny, and self-effacing the bride and groom were, and the deep family connections. It’s not often that you see heartfelt tear-jerking speeches between the groom and the bride’s father, to say nothing of the connections between their own parents.

Every aspect of the day was designed to the smallest degree, but at all times it was clear that what really mattered was the people and the connections between them.

Speaking of amazing people, Sara K Byrne flew in from Boise to second-shoot, and she was fantastic as always. Ariana and Eric made us feel like family as well. Thank you for having us tell this story.

New York Botanical Gardens Stone Mill Wedding: Eric and Lea

The Stone Mill at the New York Botanical Gardens is one of my favorite spots for intimate weddings. It feels like the most awesome bed and breakfast sitting on top of an amazing catering company, plunked down in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Hard to go wrong.

It also has a lot of connection to Fordham alumni like Lea (and myself) for whom the NYBG was an oasis amid tests and theses and countless late nights. Lea and Eric actually commissioned a map for their guests of the long and winding road their relationship had taken, from the Bronx to LA to Canada and back again.

It was a great experience to share in this part of their journey.

Julianne and Steven’s anniversary shoot

I think that sometimes the photographic community over-emphasizes the importance of portraits on the wedding day. Partially this is because weddings are filled with so many moments and connections between so many people that demand skillful, emotional documentation. But it’s also this: Awesome portraits are the only part of the experience that can happen on another day.

Of course, one argument — that it is a gigantic, expensive pain to get the outfits on and do the hair and makeup again — is very, very true. But the other thing you hear is “You will never look better than on your wedding day!”

Well … maybe. Or after all that craziness, you can say “You know what? My life isn’t over. I’m going to keep working hard, and I can look better than ever next year, and then even better the year after that.” And that calls for some photos.

That’s exactly what Julianne and Steven did. They wanted to do a shoot to commemorate not just their fourth anniversary, but all of the hard work they’ve been doing to live and eat right, with Julianne alone losing 90 pounds over the past two years.

And it was an amazing experience. They looked fantastic, their connection is so strong and visible, and I could have kept shooting them for hours. Did all the fitness work pay off? Look at that last photo and you tell me. They are wedding photographers themselves, and because the cobbler’s kids have no shoes, they told me they have no good photos of themselves together.

Well, we changed that. They said they’d love to do a shoot with me every year, and hope to look even more amazing next year. I absolutely love that attitude. As someone in the best shape of my life at the not-so-tender age of thirty-mumble-mumble, I’d love to see a lot more people do this challenge. Marriage is just the beginning of a new, even better life.

Yale Club Wedding: Jessica and Doug

This wedding freaked me out — nothing went wrong. Nothing.

That doesn’t happen. How can I be a problem-solver if there are no problems to solve? Everything ran an hour-and-a-half ahead of schedule. The weather was amazing, the Yale Club gorgeous as always (and the church of Saint Vincent Ferrer isn’t too shabby either), and Jessica and Brian are warm, loving, and absolutely hilarious. I mean, her office printed giant cardboard heads for them, so naturally they used them for the reception entrance.

In one of my favorite moments, as we were going down the elevator to the first look, it stopped on a middle floor, opening up on Jessica’s family. I’d been talking to her about set-up, not in photo-taking mode, but I managed to throw my camera up and get their priceless reaction.

Thanks to Eileen Roche for helping out and doing great work!

Nikon D800 review



Specs and purchasing information
Most new cameras are evolutionary. They push a few specs forward, make some tweaks, and hopefully make it a little easier to take photos that are a little better. But every once in a while, a camera comes out that disrupts the natural order, that surprises you and may even allow for big changes in the way you take photos. The Nikon D3 was like this — most people expected the first Nikon full-frame camera to be a megapixel monster, but instead it focused on high-ISO quality unsurpassed at the time. Now Nikon has disrupted the market in reverse: The headline spec of the D800 is the resolution, 36.3 megapixels, which had only been the domain of medium format cameras. But what made it truly disruptive is the price — $3,000, $500 less than the Canon 5D Mark III and just over half the price of Nikon’s own D4. It seems that at first glance you’re getting a lot more camera for a lot less. But there are trade-offs, most notably shooting at only four frames-per-second. And then, of course, there are the files, which depending on your settings range from very large to incredibly massive. So how does it stack up overall?

That Darned Sensor: Resolution

How much is 36 megapixels? A lot. In the video world, we call 1080p to be true HD, the hallmark of fancy televisions and forcing movie stars to invest in better make-up. Here’s how a 1080p frame compares to the D800′s 7,360 x 4,912 pixels:

Here’s a 100 percent crop of the image next to it:

This is an old, manual-focus lens, the 105mm f/1.8, shot wide open and free-lensed. While yes, to maximize the resolution it helps to have the best lenses, shoot at the sharpest apertures, have high shutter speeds and impeccable technique, you can still see advantages of that resolution even without all that. It gives you extra detail that shows up at even more moderate sizes, since a downsized image will tend to keep the “best” data, and noise will tend to have a finer grain structure. The pictures are big, that’s no surprise. But what really made the D800 interesting to my was another trick it has up its sleeve:

That Darned Sensor: Dynamic Range

At low ISOs, particularly ISO 100, the d800 has absolutely incredible dynamic range, better even than cameras like the Fuji S5 that used an entire extra set of sensors just to extend the range. Like most recent Nikons, it keeps a lot of this range in the shadows. There is an incredible amount of ability to lift shadows, particularly compared to the Canon 5D3. You can raise ISO 100 images by as much as five f-stops and still maintain a usable image. Now, that doesn’t mean your exposures have to be off by 32x, but it does give you an incredible ability to either selectively dodge an image or simply lift shadows until it looks very similar to the dynamic range of the human eye. We’re so used to having to choose between bringing out extreme highlight or extreme shadow, even though our eyes could see both, that this — even more than resolution — is what can really change the way you do photography with the D800.

The inside of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park is completely dark. The outside is a summer day. Most cameras would force you to choose which tones you want to keep. But with a little help in post the D800 can pull it off.

Dynamic range functions more like a normal camera at higher ISOs. Of course, most forms of photography that really make the most of high resolution — landscape, studio portraiture, product photography, etc. — also tend to be shot at lower ISOs. Doubtless the folks in the sensor lab worked hard on that synchronicity.

<centerThat Darned Sensor: High ISO

The big worry when the D800 was announced was that, because of the smaller pixels on the sensor, the camera would be noisier at high ISOs. But the D800 does remarkably well, especially when images are shrunk to print or display sizes. Sure, you’ll see more noise at 100 percent pixel peeping, but there’s also a lot more pixels. Overall you get a fine grain structure, a lot of detail, and most importantly it maintains good color at high ISO, like the D3s and D4, instead of the muddiness you can get from the D3 and D700 at the highest settings.

The photos below are at ISO 4500 and 11,400. Is there noise at 100 percent? You bet. But it works:

Live View: A Mixed Bag

Even though I never do video, I absolutely love using Live View for photography. The instant response of a great viewfinder will never be totally replaced, but in so many situations it is incredibly helpful to see exactly what the final picture will look like in front of you. Viewfinders don’t accurately record depth-of-field of super fast lenses, and they definitely don’t record different white balances or the overall contrast and tonality of a scene. So much of the expertise of photography is learning to interpolate exactly how your camera sees. Live View is an end-run around all of that.

The D3s has pretty good live view with one major flaw — it only works to 1/250th of a second. Want to shoot f/1.2 in daylight? Live View should be great for that, but you can’t do it on the D3s. On the D800? No problem, it works at any shutter speed. And it’s great. I took the ring shot above using Live View — it perfectly let me see how the depth-of-field was affecting the shot, a huge issue in macro photography. It also let me put the specular highlights in exactly the right place.

But there are a couple issues. The first is that Live View is when I really notice the greenish cast of the LCD. Nikon first said this was more accurate and now says they’re working on changing it, but in any case green is not the best tone to overlay on a scene when you’re photographing people.

But worse, when using Live View you can really feel how the camera is struggling with that much data. On the D4, shooting is nearly instantaneous. On the D800, there’s a very noticeable delay after every shot, more than enough to be annoying. In fact, it’s very un-Nikon. Nikon cameras are known for being workhorses that are always ready to take a shot. Using Live View on the D800 is beautiful but quirky, like an old Fuji DSLR. Because my primary uses for the D800 are portraits and details, where Live View matters a lot, this is a real issue for me.

General use: Focusing and ergonomics

Some people have noticed quirkiness with the outer focus points on this camera; for me it’s performed like a champ. In least in theory it’s the same AF system as the almost twice as expensive D4, and it works fantastically well in low light. AF in Live View is slower but still remarkably accurate with a good lens.

I’ve also noticed that most of my lenses need less micro-focus-adjustment on the D800 than on my D3s’s, but that’s probably just that my D3s’s have been ground down nearly to a fine powder. In any case, most of my lenses were spot-on the moment they were put on the camera.

What annoyed me is that, as near as I can tell, one of the buttons on the back is missing from the button re-configuration menu. That meant that I had to reach my thumb way over to find the AE-L/AF-L button, which I use as a “fire the shutter now!” button to catch moments even if the camera isn’t quite sure it’s perfectly in focus. This also ruined a few Brenizer-method panoramas, as the camera would try to re-focus halfway through when I couldn’t keep the button held. Keep in mind I have gigantic hands, so this may be an even bigger problem for other users.

Overall the camera feels great, well-balanced and a great general workhorse. Four frames per second is almost always fast enough for me; the only time I ever ran into problems with its speed was in buffer issues while doing panoramas.

The Big But: File sizes

The tragedy of the D800 is that it has no Small RAW option like Canon cameras (which don’t even need it as badly). Heck, the smallest JPEG option is still 18 megapixels. The largest settings for a RAW file will set you back around 75MB for every shot. Optimized fully for size you can get that down to about 33. With so much data and dynamic range, I felt pretty safe compressing a tiny bit of it away.

For most professionals, 33 MB isn’t so bad. Remember, the Fuji S5 shot 25MB files to produce essentially a really sharp six-megapixel file. But I shoot a LOT — more than 250,000 photos a year. Next week I’m doing four full weddings in five days. Shooting with the D800, I’d end up with more than half a terabyte of data. And even if I compress the RAW files, I’m still ending up with abnormally giant JPGs, which means bigger hard drives sent to clients, longer upload times, etc. etc. I have a lot of budget for hard drives, and of course this data is still paltry compared to videographers, but for someone with my volume having to shoot at 36MP all the time is a huge liability.

The Final Word: It’s good for me, fantastic for most

Nikon has built an extraordinary camera. It doesn’t quite get out of my way and just do its job as much as the D3s does, but the trade off is a lot more resolution and greater dynamic range, as well as lighter weight and much less cost than the D4. For most advanced photographers and professionals, this is really going to hit a sweet spot.

If Nikon ever manages to produce a firmware update with a good SRAW option, I’d switch my entire line-up to three of these the next day.

In any case, I really hated giving this back. Here are some more pictures I’ve made with it. This camera renders images amazingly well, not just amazingly large.

There are also some more photos of Dominique on my Facebook page taken with the D800 that might be too hot for a camera review.

Buy it here!

Throwing a curve

The wedding party kept talking about what a great athlete Marisa is, so I had to see for myself.

(Her husband Joe also said he really wanted to make the blog, so we joked I’d only put in photos without him in it. Don’t worry Joe, you’ll join the party soon.)

Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s

Sonya and David’s Alger House Wedding

Sonya and David were married on a Sunday. They booked me that Friday — after being unceremoniously double-booked by their photographer. So I didn’t get to meet them in person beforehand — what sort of people are they? I wondered.

Fantastic people, it turns out. The sort of people who wedding photography clichés are based on, because they just sort of do that stuff in real life. The photo in the cab, 100 percent blissful, heads together in a world-class nuzzle? That was just how they were sitting, on their own. They have the type of connection where, when she came down the aisle at the Central Park Ladies’ Pavillion ceremony, he met her halfway … and kissed her.

Sure, breaking tradition keeps me on my toes, but it’s also beautiful to watch.

They followed with an intimate, thirtysomething-person reception at the Alger House, with modern Jazz music from Cate Cox, including a stint with her Dad serenading everyone to the Doors.

A beautiful, fantastic day, despite exactly eight minutes of rain (the ceremony was saved from being moved indoors by the amazingly precise Dark Sky app on my iPhone). Sometimes it’s the jolts in life that get you where you need to be.

Thanks to Kacy Jahanbini for the help and great photos in this last-minute scramble.

A 42nd St. Reprieve

Brenizer-method panoramas plus the D800 equals a really great way to test your computer system. The full-res shot of this image weighs in at 211 megapixels. There’s less than three weeks remaining to get in your entries for the contest, so get out and shoot!

As an interesting look at how using lighting can change the mood of a shoot, keep in mind that this was taken only a few minutes and 500 feet away from this shot, both outdoors in the same light. Variety is key.

Camera: Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 33-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 36mm f/0.44 according to Brett’s calculator)

With Gusto

It’s a wedding, have some fun. I certainly have been.

The top one reminds me of something crossing my mind recently. Somewhere around now I’ve crossed the threshold of shooting my 250th wedding. It’s been interesting to see what aspects of growth are in photography, and what are specifically wedding expertise, whether it’s the comfort of a wedding feeling like your natural habitat or just having learned every lesson the hard way. I once was on a bumpy trolly ride with a bride and groom when the bride had someone pour her a Solo cup of Coca-Cola.

“Hey, how about I take that and give you this Sprite?” I said, aping my best David Tutera.

Two minutes later, a big bump in the road, and there was Sprite on the dress. No biggie. Coca-Cola? Probably a biggie.

So when Chika wanted an ice cream, my first thought was “OK, let’s have some fun.” My second thought was, “That’s a Vera Wang. You get the coconut.”

Of course, the lower shot was taken in Mexico, where all bets were off.

You’ll see. Oh, you’ll see.

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
Camera: Nikon D800

See me (and other amazing photographers) at the Canada Photo Convention!

RCKY2Artist’s depiction of Canada Photo Convention

I am so thrilled to announce that I have joined the line-up for the Canada Photo Convention in Vancouver on April 23-24. And honestly, this is a convention I’d want to go to even if I weren’t speaking. I’ve been to a number of conventions before as a speaker and an attendee, and you tend to see the same people over and over again. Here, you have a lot of the top rising stars in the industry, including people like my buddies Jonas Peterson and the Nordica dudes, and so many people who are cranking out work that is fresh, original, and well, so hot right now. I’m honored to be among them.

I was born so close to the Quebec border that all the signs in my hometown are also in French. I absolutely can’t wait. I promise lots of new material in my presentation, and a few new moves for the dance floor afterward.

Even though the convention is a year away, it’s filling up incredibly fast. So sign up now!