Ting and Weiji: New York Botanical Gardens Wedding

I’ve put in my time at the Ivy Leagues, so when I say a couple is frighteningly educated I mean it. I think Ting and Weiji have 57 degrees between them, at rough count. Their wedding at the New York Botanical Gardens was perfectly tailored to their personality and the sunny, warm daytime feeling. Instead of a simple DJ or band, there were dance lessons in Argentinian tango, a cross-table trivia game, and board games aplenty. I can safely say these are the best Jenga photos of my career.

At every stage their wedding was helped along by friends, from the dance instructors to the musicians and officiant, showing the connections they’ve formed together in their travels and considerable charity work, giving the day a blessedly stress-free, low-key feeling. Congratulations!

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The New PocketWizard Frontier

A little news for the photographers among you: I was recently honored to be a beta tester for the new Nikon-compatible line of PocketWizards. As someone who loves to use off-camera flash, but also loves high-speed-sync (Nikon calls this Auto FP), I was really excited.

While it was fun having secret special status, I’m even happier to say that the latest beta period didn’t last long. The engineers were happy with latest developments, and they’re shipping out now, primarily to Europe. I haven’t tested the latest iteration yet, but I should get a chance soon.

Leila and Sam: New Leaf Cafe Wedding

Leila and Sam’s wedding at the New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tryon Park was marked by incredible taste, simple but elegant, and a welcoming, low-key attitude that permeated the entire day. I don’t usually go nuts over details, as the true beating heart of weddings for me are people and the way they connect to each other, but her individualized centerpieces went straight into my “take note for future wedding” brain compartment.

It was a gorgeous day, with twilight coming in over the Hudson river. One thing I love about word-of-mouth referrals is seeing some of the same crazy, awesome guests from previous weddings, and there were hams aplenty in the crowd.

Fantastic day.

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Photos that Matter

Something that deeply informs the way I shoot weddings is to always think about the kinds of photos that really matter to me. I know what kinds of photos I love to take as a photographer, and what sorts of photos I like to look at when the frames are filled with strangers, but it can be a very different thing when it’s me in the photo, or my friends and family. When I’m shooting the sorts of photos I like to look at as a photographer, I’m trying to be clever, to see angles other people might not see, to do things that I and other people haven’t done a thousand times before. But as a normal person with my own feelings and connections and history, the photos I hold most dear, the ones that I would cry and scream over if I ever lost, aren’t very tricky at all. And I know I’m not alone, since I’ve asked this of many other photographers — exactly the sorts of people who would be into deeply artistic shots — and I hear the same thing.

My Aunt Lita took one of my favorite photos of the past couple years as my mother surprised me with birthday cake after Thanksgiving dinner:

Not the most flattering angle of me, and I was unshaven, full of turkey, etc., and of course taken with a point-and-shoot. But I love everything about it, because of how real the moment was to me. I didn’t even know the photo was being taken, or care. My family is very musical, while I am sort of a Bizarro anti-musician who destroys every note I come near. But they love me, so when my cousin and uncle started banging out the last few songs of the Beatles “Abbey Road” on the piano, no one ran off screaming as I joined in. It was fantastic. I don’t get to see my family very much because I live away and work such grueling and strange hours, and here was a moment of intense connection and joy. And then, right after the last bars of “Hery Majesty,” my cousin Jay seamlessly transitioned into Happy Birthday.

And I started singing it. For my uncle Jim, whose birthday was later that week. Quite honestly, I’ve been so busy that I kept forgetting that my birthday was coming up. But when my mother brought out German chocolate cake (my late father’s favorite and thus, of course, my favorite too), I realized that it was all planned for me. And I was overwhelmed. And FLASH went the camera.

Thank you Mom, and my family. And thank you, Aunt Lita, for being there, for the memory, and for another reminder why I do what I do.

Quick Review: Lumiquest Softbox LTP

As a wedding photographer and photojournalist based in Manhattan, I have specific, and sometimes esoteric needs. So it’s not often that I see a product from a manufacturer that makes me wonder if they were living inside my head, catering to my secret desires. The last time I remember that shock was 2007, when Nikon released the D3 — going for speed and low noise at High ISO in their first full-frame camera instead of a billion megapixels.

Well, this time the welcome shock comes from Lumiquest and their new speedlight-mountable softbox, the Softbox LTP.

I love off-camera light, and I want to be as versatile with it as possible. But as a photojournalist, and specifically one who works with just the tools he can carry, I travel as light as I can. And so I loved the previous model, the Lumiquest Softbox III. It gave me some versatility in light-shaping, and a nice soft light when I was working close, such as this picture, when it was right outside the frame.

(This shot looks crazy-Photoshopped, but it’s not. The skies were insane that day, and the light from the Softbox III was always slightly pinkish. Combine that with Irish ruddiness on a cold day, and you get room for a hue shift into geen.)

It’s a great tool, and I’ve worked mine literally to death, but I always wanted it to be a bit bigger so I could have more working distance from my subjects and still get soft light — but of course, if it’s too big it’s not truly portable anymore.

And this is the genius part — Lumiquest said, “Hey, you know what photographers carry around a lot? 15-inch laptops. And even if they don’t, every large camera bag or even normal shoulder bag is sized to hold 15-inch laptops. So let’s make a softbox the exact size of a 15-inch laptop.

Genius. If you use any bag that fits that size, the new LTP will give you 40 percent more area over the Softbox III without sacrificing a bit of portability.

Here it is in action, lighting yours truly, with a wider crop so you can see it work.

Here it is with kind of a funky headshot. (For these I used velcro to affix it to a video light, the Litepanel MicroPro)

Now in my professional work with these kinds of lights I will often use multi-frame composites to get interesting lighting options out of small lights. The LTP is perfect for these. Especially when shooting people, the rectangular shape of it makes it effectively even larger, since you generally want to light a vertical area. So here is a panel of my assistant lighting a bride:

and here is the finished shot

And one last composite: Here I used the softbox and gel to put a soft, warm light on the couple, and then took it off for cold, hard light on the steps:

As you can tell, I’ve fallen in love with it already. But it gets better. It’s not just bigger than the older model — it feels significantly sturdier, with extra velcro options to keep it from sagging despite its greater weight.

This is definitely a tool for off-camera light, not something to put on your camera-mounted flash and blast forward, but I’ve never been a fan of that anyway. If you feel any of the same tingle of shock that I did, I highly recommend picking one up — after all, it’s only 1 percent the cost of my last shock, the D3.

Wedding: Lauren and Chris at the Meadow Wood Manor

I don’t really have to tell you about Lauren and Chris. All I have to do is show you this:

Hilarious, fun, low-key, more than a little iPhone-obsessed … it all suits them. But I can tell you that their wedding day at the Meadow Wood Manor was a joy to document, that these two are so unbelievably nice that they wouldn’t even let me call a taxi after the wedding, driving me to the train themselves. That just shows a small part of the selfless nature that made the day such a pleasure. Congratulations!


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Family Photos in an Urban Playground

I had a wonderful time at Allie and Vilas’ wedding, especially with the constant entertainment of Vilas’ adorable, energetic neice and nephews, so I was thrilled to get a call from his brother to do a family shoot. As I said in the preview, as someone who grew up in a forest essentially like Huck Finn, I’m always fascinated to see how excellent, personable well-adjusted kids can make the city their playground, from games of tag on cobblestone streets to energetically relating about the times they’ve seen a rat. Of course, there’s a bit more culture in TriBeCa than in the forest — my main exposure was trying to stay up late to watch Airwolf.

I had a great time shooting this family, and keeping up with them meant I didn’t have to go to the gym for about three days.

Photo of the Day: Gone De-fishing

I don’t often work in extreme wide-angles, but sometimes it’s a great change in perspective. And there are few wide-angle lenses as crazy as taking a fisheye lens, in this case the Nikon 16mm, and “defishing” it in software. In terms of this lens, I’ve found that Lightroom 3 actually does a better job of getting it perfect than Nikon’s own software.

Sherlynn and Michael: Four Seasons, Singapore

Singapore. Crazy.

I’ve talked before about what an honor it is when a couple flies me into Southern California to shoot their wedding, because there are so many great photographers who are closer. But Singapore? You know who’s closer than me to Singapore? Pretty much everyone. So I knew going in that Sherlynn, Michael and I had a shared vision for how we could capture their wedding. What I didn’t know was that the wedding itself would be as great as Singapore is humid. (Did you know that Singapore is the city closest to the equator? It makes packing a lot easier when the suggested clothing is “as little as possible.”)

What can I say about these children of the world? People ask me if the couple is from Singapore or New York — honestly, I don’t know how to describe where they live, and neither do they. Singapore, New York, Melbourne, London — they have boxes all over the place. You might see the photos below differently when you hear that Michael’s brother is a vocal dead-ringer for Heath Ledger.

Three days in some of Singapore’s most fantastic locations, from a Four Seasons wedding reception to portraits in the National Museum to times that felt just like a jaunt around the city with friends, it sounds grueling but it actually gave everything a far more relaxed air than just doing a 20-hour-long traditional Asian wedding in one day. Never before have the wedding party and I stopped during a wedding-day portrait shoot to sit down and have some lunch. Fantastic style, including a Vera Wang wedding dress, doesn’t hurt either.

It was more than a pleasure to spend this time with Michael, Sherlynn and their families, it was an honor. And yes, we took a few pictures along the way.

PS: Michael, I’m sorry I never ate the durian.

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Rachel and Jonathan: Garden City Hotel Wedding

In turns gorgeous and wild, classy and fun, Rachel and John had a fantastic wedding at the Garden City Hotel. The fashion was top-notch at this wedding, with a gorgeous wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses so nice that, when I saw the first bridesmaid, I thought she was just a guest with impeccable taste. And then I saw five more.

The reception was something else entirely. I’ve worked with this band before, and they are always fantastic, but I have never seen them respond and rock out with this much energy — and, after talking to them, neither have they. The father of the bride got up to sing, half the band ended up writhing on the floor, the lead singer started playing the guitar with the microphone — it was probably the best rock performance in the NYC area that night, and it just happened to be at a wedding. I credit Rachel and Jon’s incredible energy for the performance.

Congratulations!


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Danielle and Andrew: Blue Hill Stone Barns Wedding

I work in so many wonderful venues all over the world that it’s hard to pick favorites. But when a couple tells me they’re having a wedding at Blue Hill Stone Barns, I get particularly excited. You see, I love food. Some people call this being a “foodie,” I call it being a functioning human being. But in any case, there is nowhere I’ve been so devoted to reverence for food — from a gorgeous, pastoral farm setting where the ingredients are grown and raised, to exquisite preparation, just writing about it makes me want to go back there. But I get even more excited when I get to photograph a wedding there with a couple as classy and as fun as Danielle and Andrew.

I could talk about how amazing and strong their family connections were, about how down-to-earth they were the whole day, about the gorgeous ceremony, the exquisite details of the reception, and the food … oh, the food … but mostly I’m excited about the photos, so I’m going to get out of the way and show them to you.

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