Photo of the Day: Pure Grace

Pure Grace

Lens: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 — 15 image “Brenizer method” panorama
Camera: Nikon D3s
Light: LitePanel Micropro

I had a wonderful time teaching at the Digital Wedding Forum conference in San Antonio, and I got to do some really fun shoots along the way, testing out new gear for B&H Photo. Great weather, even better people. If you hate beautiful women, you might not want to visit the blog for a little while.

Photo of the Day: Focus on the Moment

There is nothing with such stark a connection between the power of the moment and the lack of power of the resulting photography as someone giving a heartfelt speech at a podium. I sometimes mix it up with freelensing because it’s hard, and thus rare, and it sticks in corporate clients’ minds who haven’t seen it before. I know my buddy Sam Hurd likes to do this in the DC press pool, and gets a lot of strange stares. Sorry for any bad influence, Sam.

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Camera: Nikon D3s

Memories of San Antonio

Thanks to the magic of scheduled posts, if all has gone well I should at this very moment be taking off from La Guardia airport, bound for San Antonio, where I will be the first speaker at the 2010 Digital Wedding Forum Convention!

The last time I was in San Antonio was on a magazine assignment, writing and photographing the remarkable Maybelle Montgomery, who was 109 years old at the time — born before J. Edgar Hoover and Buster Keaton! She had retired in 1945. She came from another world — half of the things she loved to do in her youth are impossible now — visiting the old Penn Station and the Battery Park Aquarium, climbing into the torch of the Statue of Liberty and watch immigrants stream into Ellis Island, among others.

I carted studio lights and a softbox all the way down there, and then made the wise decision that she would be far too bothered by the bright lights. Sadly Maybelle is no longer with us, but she lived a fuller life than most of us ever will.

Lens: Sigma 30mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D2X

Photo of the Day: Be In Love


Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s

Sometimes I think that by the Law of Conservation of Awesomeness in the universe, my clients are making the rest of us less awesome. I demand an apology.

Photo of the Day: Shining Through


Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lighting: SB-900
EXIF and GPS data

Once again, at the workshop I deliberately took people to terrible locations to show them how I would work through it. The key to making a nice, attractive negative space for Kelly to play in was using the off-camera lighting to kill the ambient light. Without it … well, the space doesn’t have quite the same effect, as you can see below:
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Wedding: Liz and Ariel at the Scarsdale Women’s CLub

Sometimes all it takes is the smallest detail to let me know that a wedding is going to be extremely fun. For Liz and Ariel, it was “well, since this is happening the day before Halloween, we’re going to end the reception in costume, and hand out vampire fangs to guests.” That was indicative of a whole day devoted to making sure their friends and family were having a great time.

Fall is absolutely my favorite season in the New York area, and they had a perfectly gorgeous late-fall wedding day. Cool weather, gorgeous color, and countless leaves that apparently were begging to be thrown into the air. Congratulations!


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Photo of the Day: (Light-)Painted Lady

Not everyone can make trying to stay warm look as good as Mae does.

I processed through all the photos from my last workshop just in time for my upcoming lecture at the DWF Convention in San Antonio. At the workshop the shooting scenarios were all about options to create attractive work in bad situations, such as, in this case, night-time. So we used light-painting to get the job done.

Lens: 24mm f/1.4
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lighting: Litepanel MicroPro
EXIF and GPS data

Wedding: Jackie and Kee at the Venetian

Like most people I photograph, Jackie and Kee felt like they were not naturals in front of the camera. I hate to correct you guys in public like this, but boy were you wrong — and I’d already known that from the engagement shoot. Not only did their great relationship with each other shine through visibly, but they were so wonderful to work with. I kept saying to Dennis Pike and Erica Camille — who helped me capture the day — “Aren’t they nice? Man they’re nice!”

I could spot from the first few minutes of the reception that things were going to get wild on the dance floor, and boy did they — especially once they cannibalized most of the props from the photo booth we were running. A fantastic day within the gorgeous setting of The Venetian, filled with great people.

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Review: Nikon 35mm f/1.4

Lens specs and pricing information

This review was very hard to be objective about. You see, I’ve been waiting impatiently for Nikon to release this lens for more than five years. At first glance, one would think that the increasingly light-sensitive sensors of DSLRs would kill off demand for fast primes, but the reverse has been true — and the reasons are simple. Having the option for limited depth-of-field and as much light sensitivity as possible is great, and now there’s not nearly so much guesswork about “was that shot actually in focus or not?” There are a lot more choices now than “f/8 and be there.”

100915-113906 mm_f.JPGI was clearly excited about this, since my non-photographer girlfriend asked me “What’s so special about this lens?”

Nothing, in a way. 35mm is a pretty unexciting focal length, on its face. Slightly wide, it doesn’t have the warped-corner look of an ultra-wide. It doesn’t have the instant eye-candy look of an exotic telephoto lens. It’s just a workhorse focal length, that strips everything down and focuses on content, and for general coverage, it is well-paired with moderate telephoto lenses like an 85mm f/1.4 or 70-200mm f/2.8.

Which made it so deeply strange that Nikon hadn’t made a professional lens in this focal length since 1981 (and that one wasn’t regarded as one of their best lenses.

There’s a lot of anticipation here to fill, especially since the new lens, at $1800, isn’t cheap, especially when you can get a full-frame 35mm f/2 for $360, or a DX 35mm f/1.8 for under $200. Can it live up to the hype?

Let me just get this out of the way: For most users, no. If you’re using an entry-level DX camera because that’s where your budget is, buy the 35mm f/1.8 for one-ninth the price. You’ll love it, and if you get into hefty full-frame gear later, you can always sell it for almost the same price.

For me? The lens is not 100 percent perfect, but I am thrilled. And here’s why.

BUILD: Not everyone likes the hard plastic build of modern Nikon professional lenses, but to me it creates an attractive, sturdy package. The lens hood is nice and stiff and easily reversible. And it’s big — almost as big as the 24mm and 85mm f/1.4 lenses in the same family. For lots of people, this will be kind of a shame because a 35mm is a great walk-around focal length, and this is really bulky for a lens to carry on you all day every day. For me, who mostly uses these on professional shoots with giant D3s cameras, it’s not quite big enough — I strongly prefer native 77mm filters on my lenses, instead of the 67mm ring this has. But that’s what step-up rings are for.

IMAGE QUALITY: Extremely good, but likely not an absolute resolution champ like the 100mm f/2 Makro. It really seems like this lens was optimized for wide-open performance, so the difference between wide-open and middle-apertures is not as great as with most lenses — f/1.4 is really sharp, and f/8 is just a bit more sharp, but you can find sharper lenses if you look hard. It’s great for me, because if I paid for an f/1.4 lens I want to use it near-wide-open unless I have a good reason not to, but there are easier choices for landscape and studio shooters.

Here’s a comparison at f/8 and f/1.4, which also shows the good close-focus this lens features:

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The bokeh is as good as I have come to expect from recent Nikon lenses. Nice transitions, good highlights:

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Example of good foreground bokeh, also a lack of flare despite multiple light sources:

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AUTOFOCUS: Users expecting the same lighting speed of the Canon 35mm f/1.4L will be disappointed at first — like the new Nikon 24mm and 85mm f/1.4s, this is not a speed champ, being just a bit faster than the 24. But it’s very accurate, even at wide apertures — noticeably more so in difficult focusing situations than the 24mm f/1.4 (which I also love, despite its trickiness). I could see right away that it was much easier to get in-focus f/1.4 shots on a dark dance floor with this than with the 24, though not quite as easy as the ludicrously fast-and-accurate 24-70mm f/2.8. I came to trust it pretty quickly.

NOTE: My copy needed serious AF micro-adjustment, about -15. This was not true of my 24G or 85G, but has been true of other lenses like the 135mm f/2. Be sure to test your lenses thoroughly. Micro-adjustment is the best feature invented for cameras since digital sensors.

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Even in the near-darkness of ISO 12,800 at f/1.4, it was able to lock on well:

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Speaking of ISO 12,800, this next one shows why we have f/1.4 lenses in the first place. The Church of San Frediano in Lucca, Tuscany is absolutely gorgeous, but to protect the art, much of it is too dark to make out with the naked eye. This part of the ceiling, captured at 1/15th, ISO 12,800, f/1.4, was almost black to my eye. I would have needed a tripod to capture it otherwise.

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Final verdict: This is going to be an extremely valuable part of my bag, and it was well worth the cost. Now that this is a new year, I will be restarting the Photo of the Day archive, and keep an eye out for lots of photos taken with the 35 there.

More Photos at f/1.4:

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Great handling of backlight
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Lastly, here’s one for full-res download, with all the bokeh you can handle. Click for full-size:

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

You can always count on the Adirondacks for a White Christmas. I’m spending Christmas Day the way I spent my year — travelling and processing photos, since there are some fantastic end-of-season weddings left to show you. 2010 was truly a fantastic year, blessed with a wonderful girlfriend, my fantastic friends and family, and sharing so much with so many wonderful clients. Also, I’m more than a little thankful that tomorrow I am headed to spend the New Year in Tuscany and Florence.

And there are good things to come in 2011, such as a big lecture at DWF in San Antonio, something fun I’m throwing together for WPPI in Las Vegas, and finally having time to do some personal work that I storyboarded way back in June.

Have a great rest of the year!

Stars in Her Eyes


Taken with the 24mm f/1.4.

From Cai and Johnny’s wedding. I’m still getting files out to clients for the holidays, but I think I’ll hold off on full wedding blogs until I get back from Italy in the New Year. I also have a review of the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 ready to go for ’11!

Double Rainbow, all the way

Double Rainbow, all the way

Wendy and I were in Boca Raton for a wedding, and, given how freezing it is in NYC these days, we wanted to take as much advantage of it as possible. So we went for a long, long walk along the beach, watching the sandpipers run along the waves, making up stories about the owners of the other footprints in the sand. It had been raining all morning, but that didn’t stop us. As we finally reached the point where we realized how far we’d walked, and that we’d have to walk all the way back, it started to rain a bit more, even though the sun was out.

“Look!” Wendy said. A rainbow seemingly began to grow out of the ocean. “I’ve never seen one right on the horizon before!” (We are not oceanfaring people).

It grew fast enough that you could follow its progress with your eye, first one band, and then a second. while behind us was a fantastic sunset.

You’d better believe we started shouting “What does this MEAN?”

And that’s why you always bring your camera with you. Regular ol’ panorama, 13 frames with the Nikon 35mm f/1.4.

Diandra and Erick at Hudson Terrace

Sometimes you know that a wedding is going to be amazing but then it exceeds your expectations anyway. I’d talked with Erick extensively, going over all the details, but that can’t describe the obvious love he and Diandra have for each other, or even the fantastic style, beginning the day at the luxurious New York Palace Hotel (where Vera Wang herself peeked in on our shoot) with a ceremony and reception at the swanky Hudson Terrace, highlighting a gorgeous sunset along the river.

It got at the heart of what weddings should be — all about connections between loved ones, the way we all help each other make our lives richer and fuller, with a very wild celebration thrown on top.