Three days in to the party, a first dance.
Time flies. It was almost four years ago that I started playing around with panoramas not for the traditional reasons of super-wide frames or insanely high resolution, but to dance my way around a simple problem of physics: to get incredibly shallow depth-of-field, generally you need a lens with a long focal length set to a fast aperture, but that restricts you to a narrow frame of view. You could shoot medium or large format film as one way around this problem, but physics gives us another problem: there’s a good reason you don’t see f/1.4 lenses for large format cameras. They’d be ginormous. But using panorama techniques effectively increases the size of any camera’s sensor, allowing us to use super-fast and relatively compact SLR lenses to achieve incredibly shallow depth-of-field even on wide-angle frames.
I loved the look I was getting and set out to see what I could do with it. How can I shoot panoramas with people? Of candid action? How could I use flash? I was happy to share the things I was learning, and photographers seized on it, trying it for themselves and naming it the “Brenizer method.” (You can read more about it, including a tutorial video, here)
Years later, countless thousands of photographers around the world have made this technique their own, using it for everything from weddings to still lives to even George Clooney. It makes me thrilled to see people taking this and using it in ways that achieve their own vision or just make beautiful photos … and so I want to see what y’all can do with a little incentive.
To that end, I have partnered with B&H and some fantastic photographers for the first Brenizer Method contest. We want to see exactly what you can do. The basic tool is simple — it’s just a way to shoot at crazy effective apertures like f/0.4, but that alone doesn’t make a photo good, you do. And so I’ve partnered with some amazing photographic teams to help the judging:
Cole and Jacob of Nordica, and Seth and Tenielle of Feather and Stone are absolutely fantastic photographers, skilled in various techniques and brilliant in compositions. Seriously, spend some time drooling over their work. They also don’t as far as I know, use the Brenizer method. In the end, this contest isn’t about using the biggest lens or the most photos in a panorama — it’s about creating the most compelling photos — and I’m excited to have them aboard.
Honorable Mention photos will be featured on this blog and related social media sites and linked to by the B&H media mammoth. All photos will be credited with links back to your Web site (if you have one.)
The top three photos will be awarded gift cards to B&H Photo. Third place will win a $50 card, second place will win a $100 card, and first place will win a $150 card. These photos also will be given top spot in the Web feature.
First, of course, these photos must be taken with the Brenizer method. Not all panoramas count — what the method does is rely on a fast aperture and close enough subject distance to show a visibly shallow depth of field. This is not a Brenizer method photo:
But these are:
The entries do NOT have to be wedding photos, or even of people. They just have to use the method to create compelling photos.
We will be accepting entries until midnight EST on July 1, 2012.
All photos will be properly credited and you retain full copyright. Images will just be displayed in conjunction with contest results.
E-mail entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. No more than five entries per contestant, and use a separate e-mail for each photo. Each entry needs to contain a reference to the camera and lens that were used, and how many frames were used to make the final result. Please include how you would like to be credited, both your name and the Web site.
Resize photos to 1000 pixels on the largest side. NO WATERMARKS. My assistant will be managing the entries so that judging will be as blind and fair as possible.
I’d met Tom, a photographer himself, way back when he attended my very first workshop. I always love working with photographers of all stripes, since we can really just jump into a sort of creative collaboration. Doubly so when the couple is as kind and open as Tom and Nicole. It was a deeply emotional and beautiful day, the April weather bringing just the right coolness to get the Grandview dance floor moving — not that much convincing was needed. The ceremony was at their alma mater, Marist College, a gorgeous campus where all the ground is apparently at a 45-degree angle.
To say that Ariana and Eric are a pretty cool couple is like saying that the Metropolitan Club — pretty much what you’d expect from a place built for J.P. Morgan to hang out in — is a pretty cool place to get married.
The D800 is a very different sort of camera than the D3s or D4, but a performer in its own way. And, since this is an ISO 3200 photo in a very dark spot, it’s a surprisingly good low-light performer. Of course, the exported TIFF of this photo was 217 megagbytes, so I will never have enough hard drives from now on.
Lens: 35mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D800
But there’s only one real challenge it faces in my book … and it’s not easy. Can it pry my beloved D3s from my hands? I’ve taken 338,378 photos with my D3s’s. They’re worn down to the gunmetal and aren’t slowing down. The D3s is the first camera I’ve ever used that isn’t just good, but something more important … it’s not annoying in any real way. Anyone who’s worked with a lot of cameras on a wide variety of shoots know how profound this is. The things cameras can do these days is astounding, but boy can they also be annoying. The D3s just does its job and gets out of the way, even at crazy-high ISOs, so what can Nikon do to make professional users buy a pricey upgrade?
The most obvious answer is video. The D3s does video … decently. It uses the amazing night-vision chip well for video in the dark, but it’s only 720P, which is below-standard for professional usage, and most of the controls are sort of tacked on. So if you’re looking for a fast-FPS professional Nikon that does great video, you don’t really need to read the rest of the review, just buy the D4. It does 1080p, it has dedicated video controls and a much better live-view screen. Go for it.
But that’s enough of that. This is a camera review. I’ve had video-enabled DSLRs for almost three years now, and … I really don’t care. I’d rather do what I do really well then tack on something else I do decently. The question is how it performs as a photographic tool.
The answer? It is both the best workhorse camera I have ever used and one that I’m ambivalent about.
Nikon managed to add video controls and two joysticks — one for horizontal operation and one for video — without making the camera feel cluttered. There’s some additional gripping for vertical holding, a lighter but still-powerful battery — just a fantastic overall design. It’s a potential self-defense device as much as a camera.
The screen and Live View: Live View is tied to a camera’s video functioning, which means that in the D3s it works … OK. But in the D4 it’s fantastic. Sadly the D3s Live View only works up to 1/250th of a second, which can leave you hanging in bright situations. But the D4 Live View works at any shutter speed, has a fantastic refresh rate, and allows autofocus that isn’t super-speedy but is surprisingly accurate even in poor light.
You might ask why someone who doesn’t care about video is so impressed by good Live View. Sometimes you want to shoot from angles that aren’t so easy to get your eye in front of:
Or when you don’t want to stare directly into the sun, or into a very close light bulb:
Live View is also an incredibly helpful tool for advanced photography, particularly for someone who likes to manually focus fast lenses. Nikon’s fastest lenses, the 50mm f/1.2 and 58mm f/1.2, only come in manual focus varieties, but the problem is that the optical viewfinder doesn’t show anything like the true depth-of-field of an f/1.2 lens. Live View is almost a necessity to get good focus with these lenses wide-open:
It also comes in tremendously handy for freelensing and even tilt-shift, since it very accurately shows the plane of focus.
But even if you use AF lenses, perfect manual focus comes in very handy for precise situations, such as being able to zoom in on someone’s eyelashes in the dark, with the LCD being much, much more light sensitive than your still-adjusting eyes. That allowed me to know I was getting this image sharp at f/1.4, since the scene was almost completely dark:
Which brings us to:
The great sensor: Like the D3s before it, the D4 is a champ at high ISO. Sadly, while the D3s was a huge step above the D3, which was a GIANT leap over the D2X, the D4 is no better than the D3s in this space. In fact, the D3s is probably very slightly better, but at a given print size it’s pretty much a wash. They’re both fantastic, but the D4 isn’t breaking any new ground.
Of course there are other advantages. Resolution is slightly higher at 16 megapixels, and now it natively goes to ISO 100 instead of the D3s’s ISO 200. In the photo below, to bring down the sky’s exposure and sharpen the foreground I had to shoot at f/14 at ISO 100. With the D3s I’d have to shoot at a less-sharp f/20 at ISO 200.
But the big guy on the sensor block these days is the D800. And it’s true, that thing works magic at ISO 100, with unmatched resolution and dynamic range among DSLRs. But the D4 sensor is clearly designed for sports and photojournalism where ISO 100 is a rare luxury, and according to DXOMark it starts to outperform the D800 in dynamic range at higher sensitivities. As a wedding photographer in New York, I live in dark spaces, so this is worth consideration.
Unlike the 5D3, the D4 deals very well with pushed exposures or dodging.
But a light-sensitive sensor is nothing without light-sensitive…
Autofocus. Sadly the AF system doesn’t correct the one thing about the D3s that is almost annoying — the AF points are clustered too closely together on the FX frame. At first glance it looks exactly the same as the D3/D700/D3s AF system, but it’s rated to be twice as sensitive in low-light, and when you do a lot of work in poorly lit environments you can feel the improvement (even though the D3s is no slouch.) The lighting at this wedding with Sam Hurd was intensely purple, which drove the normally-great Canon 5D3 autofocus a bit bonkers, but it was hard to shake the D4 off its game:
Overall, this and the D800 seem to be the best in class for low-light autofocus. We’ll see if the 1D-X has any tricks up its sleeve.
You Can’t Buy Just One: Most of the people in the market for D4s are professionals, and thus need backup gear. If you shoot with two cameras at the same time (like I do), then you’re probably going to want to buy two. The D3s looks and feels so similar that you’ll keep forgetting which is which — until your thumb reaches for a button and you remember that it’s not there. The fastest way to do things with the D4 are via the new joysticks, but that was another thing to remember when I had a D3s slung over the other shoulder. The AF mode switching, the metering selection, there are so many little changes that will frustrate you down the line. If you use a D800 as a second body, not only will your files randomly be vastly different sizes, but you’ll be dealing with three different memory card systems. Which brings me to:
Hybrid cards: Nikon had this right with the D3 and D3s, and now Canon has it right with the 1DX. The best way to implement a dual-card system is with two of the same kind of card. I am constantly switching cards in and out to back up as I go along, and with nothing but CF cards the chain is seamless — all cards are either in the camera or actively being downloaded at any time. But throw in a different sort of slot and it all becomes some sort of strange juggling act that is at best annoying (there’s that word!) and at worst can endanger valuable data by misplacing a card. Honestly, I can’t wait for the D4s where they figure out whether the XQD system was worth it or not. Go all-in or don’t.
This is an amazing camera, with a few quirks that will only annoy people who are very set in their D3s-shooting ways. It combines Nikon’s excellent flash system (with upgrades like remembering flash-head zoom positions after they’ve been turned off and on) with a great overall sensor and a world-class body. Is it worth the $6K when the D800 is half the price with more resolution or the D3s is still hanging around at a discount? For most Nikon sports photographers and photojournalists who increasingly live in a multimedia world, the answer should probably be yes.
For people who are counting every dollar? Perhaps, going forward, but ponder this: if I were unethical, I could have written this review without ever touching a D4. Any of these shots could have been taken with the D3s and you’d never know the difference, even with 100 percent crops (the difference between 12 and 16 megapixels isn’t huge). Only the images where I used Live View in the day time provided a clear practical advantage.
But I have loved mine to pieces, and kept turning to it, as these sample photos will show. This is a camera that is built to work:
Sometimes photography requires a good deal of trust. The coordinator from the New York Botanical Garden stood in front of me and said “We have transportation, and you have access to all the wonders and beauty of the gardens at your disposal. Where would you like to go?”
“Well … I saw a really great patch of unmowed grass. Can we go there?”
I’ve said it before: I always love weddings for fellow Fordham alumni, because they always know how to party. What I didn’t know was that Phillip is one of humanity’s nicest guys, and that Ketrin must have some sort of Red Bull-powered V8 engine in there somewhere, because she never stops moving or laughing — she beat the car back from the evening portraits because she decided it was easier to just sprint back to the wedding! Take a beautiful day at the Glen Island Harbor Club, sprinkle in some Albanian traditions, and you have a recipe for an excellent day. Sadly they weren’t allowed to light things on fire and throw them around. Funny, that.
Thanks to my buddy Zack Delaune for assisting.
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.
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 email@example.com to check if spots are available instead of just paying the deposit first.
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:
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.