Tribeca Rooftop Wedding: Kathryn and Mark

It seems like just last wedding I was at Tribeca Rooftop, but I’m showing them back-to-back to make a simple point: Venues give flavor to a wedding day, and Tribeca Rooftop is a fantastic place to have one, but what gives weddings character and structure are the people involved. You could have 50 weddings in a row in a featureless room and each one would be reflections of very different stories.

Especially with a couple like Kathryn and Mark. There’s not much I can say about their personalities that isn’t amply visible in the photos, but here’s a taste: They decided to have a dry-run for the wedding on top of a volcano in Nicaragua — and then they sledded down the obsidian slopes at literally breakneck speeds. Sadly I wasn’t there for that part.

This wedding brought a lot full-circle for me. I shot my first wedding many years ago as part of a long-term documentary I was doing with the International Center for Photography under the incredible Andre Lambertson. In January I decided to do a week-long intensive refresher to kick-start my year, and we connected on a different level. To my delight and surprise, he offered to shoot some weddings alongside me. I was honored and a little bit terrified (seriously, check out the resume), but more than anything I love a challenge, and we worked together extremely well, with further assistance from Taylor Hide. I can’t wait for future collaborations.

Congratulations, Kathryn and Mark. It was a pleasure to be at this fantastic wedding, and to relive it through making this post.

Dallas and D.C. Workshops review

I love teaching. I came back to NYC with dreams of being a teacher, filling minds with all the power that good photography and journalism can possess, the way I’d done as a student newspaper advisor in Northern New York. But I realized that one of the few things I love more than teaching was constantly getting out there and creating art, honing skills, testing and challenging myself. I still haven’t left that phase, and my blessedly full shooting calendar keeps me from teaching more than a few workshops each year. In fact, my upcoming May 19 workshop might be the last U.S. workshop I can fit in my schedule for the rest of 2012. But when I was approached by my friends and fellow photographers Lynn Michelle and Bill Millios to teach workshops in Dallas and D.C. respectively, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

My pedagogical background always comes out when planning a workshop. Lots of people will pay lots of money for workshops from well-known photographers, but I’m deeply results-oriented, and I’m always trying to thread the needle on workshops’ Catch-22: Anything that will really change your life as an artist and a businessperson forever isn’t something you can reliably be expected to learn in a single day of group instruction. Real, lasting success comes from staying energized and focused so that you can undertake a lifetime of hard work without it feeling like hard work, or to have the endurance to continue on when it does feel like hard work. What I hope to do in a day is find those things that will light a spark, tools and techniques that might open new pathways, help you see solutions to problems in new ways, and give you perspectives on what works for me in a way that will easily let you see how to adapt it to your needs.

It’s never about being more like me. It’s about you.

One big piece of the technical aspects of these workshops is learning to overcome bad situations. Of course, when you’re shooting in a gorgeous space like the Marty Leonard Chapel we have to be creative to even find bad situations, such as pulling intimate moments like these…

… out of the Men’s bathroom:

(and yes, I have run into situations where the Men’s room was the least-bad location to shoot in on a wedding day.)

Thank you guys all so much for coming, and especially to Lynn and Bill for their hard work and general awesomeness. Now onto May in NYC! We are just about sold out, but there’s always some variation around the edges, so at this stage e-mail photos@ryanbrenizer.com to check if spots are available instead of just paying the deposit first.

Once, Twice, Six Times Fearless

One of my favorite wedding photography organizations around is Huy Nguyen’s growing Foundation empire, from the hard-core Foundation Workshop I’m excited to do in January, to the Foundation Conference I’ll be at in November to the best-known aspect, the Fearless Photographer contest.

When I started out, I used to enter and do very well in a number of contests such the WPJA, but after a while I started getting more and more focused on the work that I had yet to do, instead of the work that I’d already done, and I cared less and less about contest results. As I go on as a photographer, I feel more and more deeply that the metric I care about is both simple and maddeningly difficult — to constantly keep getting better than I have been before, to continually feel that at any time I am currently turning out my best work. I’m energized and inspired by the great work my photographer friends are doing, but on a shoot I don’t give them a single thought, I just think about how I can push myself forward.

But a couple contests kept grabbing my eye, such as Junebug’s annual curated list and Fearless in particular, just because the work was so consistently great. So, (after a few rounds of missing the deadlines), I submitted some of my work, and I got six Fearless awards, which I think ties me for first this round with some really fantastic photographers. This is really exciting for me just because of how great I think the Fearless/Foundation organization is, and because of how incredibly strong the selected photos are over all. This is a club worth joining, even if they have me as a member.

Here are the six chosen photos:

Thanks!

Tribeca Rooftop Wedding: Heather and Peter

One of the reasons I love my job so much is that it’s different every day.

Really, you say? You seem to spend a lot of time hanging out with women in white dresses. True, but the people, the personalities, the nuances, everything is changing and different and new, always. It’s pretty easy to see that with a South-African/Persian wedding, like Heather and Peter’s fantastic day at Tribeca Rooftop. One second elegant and gorgeous, and the other with the groom showing that he does, indeed, have the moves like Jagger.

Always new, always exciting, and with a day like this doubly so.

Thanks to Jake Whyman for assisting; he did a fantastic job.

(Provisional) Review: Fuji X-Pro 1

Specs and Pricing

120413 162659 35mm f1 4C35mm, f/1.4, 1/1700th, ISO 400

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Fuji releases a delightful camera that’s not quite like anything else out there, but it comes with all sorts of quirks.

A lot of you will remember that the same thing could have been said about the X100, but honestly you can say the same of all of Fuji’s professional digital camera line-up, going back more than 12 years to the “frankencameras,” S1 and S2 Pro, which had great technology at the time but also felt like welded-on digital backs for the Nikon F60 and F80, respectively. They’re weird, they’re wild, and generally I love them for it. I ground the S2 Pro into fine dust from overuse, and the S5 Pro helped see me through the dark days of Nikon bodies with terrible high-ISO quality.

So now Fuji has merged its dormant line of professional interchangeable lens cameras with the aesthetic of the X100. It brings the retro styling and — most importantly to me — the fantastic hybrid viewfinder that turns from optical to EVF with a flick of a switch, and allows you to use a variety of lenses. Fuji released three at launch, the wide-angle 18mm f/2, the “normal” 35mm f/1.4, and the telephoto macro 60mm f/2.5 (the sensor is DX-sized, so each lens is cropped 1.5x the focal length equivalent to a 35mm frame). It’s a nice high-level kit, made even more interesting with the lenses coming down the pike. f/2.8 ultrawides? f/4 constant aperture zooms with IS? This all shows a focus on making an advanced compact kit with a great deal of versatility — in contrast to, say, the Sony road map, which is dotted with variable aperture zooms. They also have an adapter for M-mount lenses, and companies are now coming out with third party adapters for all sorts of other lenses — versatility that is an advantage of any sort of interchangeable mirrorless system.

I’ve played briefly with all of the lenses, but I’ve gotten to use the X-Pro 1 with the 35mm for a while now thanks to B&H. My friend Sam Hurd had me come along with him to a wedding, which gave me the opportunity to test this camera in ways I couldn’t do as a primary shooter. I have more than enough information to write a review as it is now, but from the start I need to make two caveats:

1) Virtually no third-party software, not even Adobe, supports the X-Pro 1 RAW files yet. I don’t know why the delay is so long. I can open the files in Fuji’s recommended Silkypix, but Silkypix is, in a word, terrible. Every company needs a RAW converter that at least will open up a file that looks like the JPEG the camera took, but in Silkypix out-of-the-box the files look much, much worse than the camera’s JPGs, so most of these are edited JPG files.

Luckily, the camera takes phenomenal JPEGs.

2) Fuji is becoming known for releasing half-basked cameras and then fixing problems in firmware. I know they’re already working on solutions to the biggest problems. But given that it took a full year to make the X100′s autofocus better, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The body:

RKB 5175

As you can see, the X Pro-1 is significantly larger than the X100, but much, much smaller than my normal big, honking’ DSLRs. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same size as the Leica M9, which is full-frame (but also in a complete other price class). It’s also much larger than the camera that competes most with it on specs, the Sony NEX-7.

In practice, while you’re not sticking this in any sort of pocket, it feels quite nimble. The ergonomics are great for a square body, with a nicely modeled grip, and the exposure compensation wheel is extremely easy to nudge with your thumb without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. In aperture mode, the EVF will mimic the proper exposure, so you can very quickly and easily use the exposure compensation dial to expose your photos just the way you want to even in changing light. X100 shooters will be frustrated that they’ve flipped the OVF/EVF switch upside down, but that takes approximately 30 seconds to get used to. The shutter and aperture controls are the same retro dials as the X100, and a pleasure to use.

It’s much easier to change settings on the XPro 1 than the X100 in general, since important things like auto-ISO can be customized to not be so deeply buried in menus and a “Q” button brings up pretty much any setting change in two clicks that can’t be found on a top dial.

It’s a good looking camera, but it definitely needs some styling on the top plate. Put on a plastic red Leica dot and quadruple its cost, perhaps?

Battery life was decent as long as you don’t use the back panel or continuous focus all that much. It lasted me through a wedding and well into another shoot (though it wasn’t my only camera).

I love the viewfinder and use that about 95 percent of the time, but it’s nice to have the option to quickly switch to the LCD display live view, giving angles that are not always easy to get, like the lively legs of this father-daughter dance:

120413 201419 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1250

And a 6 fps mode allows you to quickly capture action and the perfect moment, although after any use it throws the buffer into overdrive:

120406 155848 35mm f1 8D

Focus:

Autofocus is a mixed bag, particularly in low-light. With a fast lens it could lock on to targets even in terrible lighting, but it takes a while at all times. Operation is a little faster in continuous focus mode, but it’s annoying to hear the camera constantly whirring away, and probably not great for the battery.

It’s not as responsive as is ideal, and I often felt like I was struggling against it instead of working with it, but as you adapt it can work well in a variety of situations, including strong backlight and at distance:

120413 154114 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/450th, ISO 800

120413 163734 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/850th, ISO 800

The images:
Even though I can’t use a proper RAW converter yet, the images from this camera are phenomenal for a DX sensor. First of all, noise is extremely well-controlled. This is ISO 12,800 in an extremely dark restaurant:

120410 224125 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/100th, ISO 12,800

But better yet, Fuji has always had a keen understanding of color, and skin tones in particular. That’s what makes the JPEGs out of this camera so good. Without any tweaking you can get great portrait tones right out of the camera:

120406 144623 35mm f1 635mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000

The best thing I can say for it? When Sam saw me looking over the photos after the shoot, it took him a while before he realized they were from X-Pro 1. He thought they were the shots I took with the $6K full-frame Nikon D4.

One Big Problem and provisional conclusion

As has been reported many other places, the XPro 1 chitters like an Ewok when you point it from dark to light or vice-versa. This is a huge problem for my usage. I want this camera to be as silent as possible, not call attention to itself, and allow me to make people comfortable more quickly than I can with a giant DSLR. I can’t do that when it’s clicking like a spider-monkey. It’s audible, and it’s annoying. Now, this won’t really affect casual usage, vacation shots, even most street photography, but it does affect what I do. I know they’re working on a fix in firmware right now, and I’m eager to see what happens with that (and with RAW support), because I love the files from this camera so much. In the meantime, my X100 is working better than ever, because despite their quirks, Fuji has shows that they do care about continually improving their existing products and customer experience. That goes a long way.

Click here to buy the Fuji X Pro-1
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4

More sample photos:

120413 184403 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/350th, ISO 400

120413 133433 35mm f1 835mm, f/1.8, 1/1100th, ISO 800

120411 173844 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/640th, ISO 400

120411 183637 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/480th, ISO 800

120413 195332 35mm f1 635mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000

120410 144634 35mm f1 835mm, f/1.8, 1/60th, ISO 200

35mm, f/1.4, 1/52nd, ISO 800

35mm, f/1.6, 1/52nd, ISO 320

35mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1000

Click here to buy the Fuji X-Pro 1
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4

New workshop announcement: NYC on 5/19

120320 145041 85mm f1 4

Amber Wilkie and George laugh it up between two vans in a “terrible location” demonstration at my March DC workshop

I’ve been around the U.S. with workshops this spring, but it’s time to take it back home to NYC. It’s going to be another year filled with lots and lots of wonderful weddings, so this may be the only NYC workshop I have time for in 2012, and possibly the last in the U.S. at all. Given that, I want to create an especially great experience for intermediate to advanced photographers who are looking to take their work or their business to the next level. This will only be for a small group, and will include a get-together on Friday night to kick off networking.

Read more on the workshop page!

Featured on Strobist!

A little while ago, after I put up Amanda and Glenn’s wedding at the Merion, I got an e-mail from David Hobby, a man famous worldwide for making flash usage less scary through broad knowledge and clear instructional writing (as well as for a love of cargo shorts). He was curious about the one photo above, which shows the sort of reverse engineering eye he has, because faced with a scene that had great potential but also a lot of technical challenges I sort of threw the kitchen sink of technical tricks at it to pull it off.

You can read a full breakdown of it on Strobist.

(And as for the Strobist readers coming here … hello and welcome. Lots of flash-usage fun in my portfolio and full weddings samples.

Steiner Studios Stage 6 Wedding: Igor and Mishella

New year’s resolution: Let the photos do the talking. I don’t have to tell you that Mishella and Igor were awesome. Any bride with emotion that pure and any groom who can rock a Funky Chicken that hard have to be awesome.

Southern gentlemen Zack Delaune and Taylor Hide were fantastic help on the day, and have a photo apiece in the mix. And the staff at Stage 6 is absolutely top notch. When I hear how solid and comprehensive day-of manager Eric’s pre-wedding run-through is, reiterating lots of things I tell my clients, I kind of want to give him a hug.
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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.

Fading Skyline

120316 151716 85mm f1 4A 28 images pano

One of the nice things about the Brenizer method is that it gives that same feeling with film that — even when you know exactly what you’re after — there’s still a bit of a surprise at how it comes out.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 28-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 (equivalent of 27m f/0.44 according to Brett’s calculator)