Jamie and Phil: Westin Governor Morris Wedding

Phil told me that when they decided on their awesome chuppa with the reflective floor, they’d said “Ryan’s going to love this.”

And they were right. And with a couple and their families who were so much fun, I loved the whole day. The decor was fantastic — the ceremony was played to a round with the guests facing them, the reception was gorgeous, and the talk of the cocktail hour was a bartender who can best be described as a love child between Lady Gaga and a table — and the day was lively throughout.


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Wedding: Robin and Sam at the Galapagos Art Space

I knew that Robin and Sam’s wedding at the Galapagos Art Space would be something special with just four words.

Catered. By. Dinosaur. Barbecue.

Now this isn’t just because Dinosaur Barbecue is amazing (it is). More important, it takes a special kind of fearlessness and focus for a bride to willingly surround herself with barbecue sauce on her wedding day.

Even having looked forward to this from the time I booked them, the day exceeded expectations. A thousand personalized touches, fantastic friends, great music, an unorthodox space used to the fullest, and a beautiful Brooklyn day made it a wedding to remember. Congratulations Robin and Sam!

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How I Spent My Weekend Vacation

Being a wedding photographer is a wonderful, amazing life, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. But it’s also not for the faint of heart — in the long run this profession requires endurance perhaps even more than talent. I had to look back at the calendar to realize that my last weekend off was March 13th and 14th. And, looking at my computer’s records, I spent a good part of that weekend doing my taxes.

But there is something harder than being a wedding photographer, and that’s being a wedding photographer’s significant other. They don’t get to temper the off-kilter work schedule with all of the incredible joys of sharing wedding days with amazing couples, or the honor of documenting so many amazing experiences. Poor Wendy did not need to look at her calendar to know that March was the last time we had spent a few consecutive days together. Does she sound patient and long-suffering? Well consider this — we started dating seriously in February. The woman is a saint.

So I blocked off this past weekend to bookings, and we headed up to the Hudson Valley to see the fall foliage and relax for a bit (even so, I processed an engagement shoot and ,ost of an amazing wedding you’ll see shortly). And it was incredible. First we stayed at the Mohonk Mountain House, an amazing resort that I knew from a wedding I shot there years ago. Absolutely gorgeous. We scrambled up a tricky mountain path called The Labyrinth to see a wide valley full of fiery foliage — and we liked it so much that we put the camera down and did it again for speed.

Next we stayed at the Cromwell Manor Inn, a charming bed and breakfast with an innkeeper filled with stories ranging from quaint to bawdy, and incredible, extravagant breakfasts. Certainly the first time I’ve had Basque cuisine at a B&B. With a hay ride, a trip to the Storm King Art Center, a few gallons of apple cider, and massages for the both of us, I’m renewed and ready to finish the season.

And I took some pictures.

This is really what our view from our window at Mohonk looked like. I felt like “Double Rainbow” guy.
Wendy indulges me as I do an 18-image “Brenizer method”
But she’s happy anyway.
“Regular-style” panorama
I did a 12-image Brenizer method of this to see if my software could handle it. It did much better than I expected.
Dancer+hay bale=instant fun.
We’re a power couple.

Workshop photos: 28,800,000 Percent

It’s been a week full of teaching for me. First I gave a lecture on flash composites at Adorama on Monday, where I also taught the additional, MacGyver-friendly lessons that yes, you can use an Adorama plastic bag as a flash modifier, and yes, you can use gaffer tape to mend a pair of jeans. It’s the photographer way.

Then came the big show, a day-and-a-half-long workshop aimed squarely at photographers knee-deep in the business of wedding photography. This was a more talking-heavy workshop than some of my previous ones, since I wanted to share any and every business trick I’ve learned along the way to building a successful photography business — and I left nothing out. I don’t have any secrets — if you want to be a successful photographer, work hard, capitalize on whatever luck you have, and don’t stop working hard. That’s about it. If your business model is based on not letting your competition find out your secrets, then, in the Information Age, you might be on shaky ground.

Still, we did some shooting, because we’re photographers after all, and I wanted to show both how I work with clients, and some of the things I do to solve problems in photography. The first is how I stopped being a slave to the sun. If you only like shooting outdoor portraits at golden hour, then you’re going to run into some interesting problems on hectic wedding days — or maybe even cause them. Sometimes you’re going to be forced to shoot at noon, and sometimes the best decision will be to shoot in the dark.

Since it was a night-and-day workshop, we got to tackle both. First, night:

We did a number of different night tricks; this one was based on the idea that sometimes your best friend at night is as weak a light source as possible. To get the tonality I wanted from the background, I had my Litepanel Micropro, which was my key light, just about set to “OFF.”

Next, day:

Wait … day?

Yes, I wanted to show that you don’t have to be afraid of daylight, that a speedlight can easily conquer the sun if you use it right, and that you can have the choice to have nice, blue skies even in a backlit, bright, cloudless mid-day sky, like we had.

But I really like to drive home a point, so I thought “Why stop at blue? Let’s take this glaringly bright sky and make it black!” So I went to 11 — f/11, ISO 200, 1/8000th of a second. Obliterating the sky. No dodging here — other than a bit of a crop, this is right out-of-camera. And it only took two SB-900s to light.

Here’s the really geeky part. A few back-of-the-napkin calculations showed me that in the first photo, my exposure settings are 288,000 times as light-sensitive as in the second photo. With the right techniques, we really can conquer any situation, day or night. More important is that they’re still compelling photos, thanks mostly to my wonderful subjects, Mae and Kelly.

Who said mixing linear and logarithmic math couldn’t be cool. Am I right?

Well, I think it’s cool.

Photo of the Day: Streets Ahead

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 70-200mm VRII

I don’t do a lot of family shoots, but when the best man from one of my recent weddings said he wanted some captures of his beautiful family, I knew it would be a good time. And man, it was. To get all sorts of angles of three energetic, playful kids … if I did more shoots like this I’d never have to go to the gym again.

As someone who basically grew up like Huck Finn, with a 300-acre backyard out in the middle of nowhere, I’m always fascinated by kids who grow up with the city as their playground. But whatever this family is doing, it’s working, since everyone was an absolute pleasure.

They decided to run a little race down a cobblestone street. Little brother here was a big fan of false starts — he took off when I said “Ready!” But no one seemed to mind.

Wedding: Charity and Adam at Breakers on the Beach

It was a Jersey Shore wedding with 100 percent less Snooki and a billion times more awesome. A sunny, blessedly cool day allowed Charity and Adam to get married right on the beach with a low-key, heartfelt ceremony. This was one of the few weddings where the clear photographic hams of the bunch were the groomsmen. I’ve finished photographing the bridesmaids and I turn around, and all of the groomsmen have themselves laid out around the area in various GQ poses, turned to the light just so. There was no question that we’d have a good time.

It was a gorgeous day, all the more welcome since we braved frostbite for the engagement shoot. Raucous, fun, loving, perfect. Congratulations!

Adorama talk coming up Oct 11!

Rain Can't Get Us Down

I’ve been talking so much about the full-day workshop on Oct. 12 and 13 that I haven’t really highlighted the separate Adorama talk on Monday. At the last talk, I saw a lot of interest about the process and potential of flash composites, so I want to devote an entire lecture to laying it out in a way that’s clear to understand, both in terms of how to put a composite together and some of the practical applications.

There’s nothing new to the idea of erasing your lighting equipment from a photo — the idea is almost as old as commercial photography itself. But that’s the beauty of it — so many of the looks that are in our visual vocabulary come from this process, and what I’ve tried to do is streamline it to make it really easy. I shoot well over a hundred jobs every year. I can’t do anything that requires a lengthy bout of mucking around in Photoshop. The photo above took three minutes to shoot (it was raining after all), and about three minutes to put together. I processed it over a few bites of dinner at the reception that same day. And it achieves an effect that would be quite tricky to do with independent lights — throwing up grid spots to light under their umbrellas is not something I’d like to do on a rainy day in Central Park.

No to mention all of the potential for supplementary lighting, such as the highlights on the walls here:

Love and Mansions

Again, three minutes to shoot. So for $35 and a couple hours of your time, you should walk away ready to do this yourself. Sign up here!

Photo of the Day: Beyond the Hustle and Bustle

I love shooting with other photographers, such as this session with British photographer Albert Palmer and his now-fiancée. They’re always up for anything, such as when I say. “Hey, how do you feel about sitting in the middle of Grand Central? It’s likely that we’ll get a talking-to from security.” “Sure!”

And doubly so, since I’d conceptualized shooting through the legs of a rushing businessman, pants and all. But I think this adds to their natural class.

I also seem to have a (subconscious?) habit of getting the American flag in whenever shooting British subjects.

The Best Sunset I’ve Ever Seen

I remember my father’s hands, mostly. Huge and and always warm; they dwarfed mine even though I was a tall, lanky eight-year-old. And a voice that sounded deep and resonant even compared to mine now, much less my excited boyish squeaking as we sat in a parking lot and watched the sunset.

“This is a 774!” I cried!

“I’m not sure sure about that, Ryan,” he said, pointing upward. “Look at the way the sun is catching those clouds. I think this is at least an 824.”

We had decided that there were exactly 1,000 sunsets, and that God and his angels put them on display for us, numerically ranking them according to how majestic they were, and it was our duty to catalog them. We did a pretty good job. I was fastidious about not ranking one sunset higher than another one I’d seen that had been even better. Beauty, I learned early, is contextualized.

It was cocktail hour at Lauren and John’s Battery Gardens wedding when the skies set themselves on fire. It started as a golden streak mixed with the rich blue, and grew more and more colorful and complicated by the minute. There seemed to be eight different types of cloud, all catching the sun in different ways.

I stopped, just to watch. Unless you’ve seen me in action at a wedding, you might not understand how shocking that is. I don’t stop at weddings. I’ve received devastating personal news at weddings and not stopped working, bobbing and weaving and looking for new angles. Later that night, my assistant literally had to chase me around the entire reception floor to give me back some memory cards he was backing up, because I was circling so fast.

I know that sunsets are pretty much the lowest-regarded form of art. I didn’t have anything to do with how nice it looked, after all — I just had a decent sense of composition and know how to get the right exposure. But more importantly it’s because my normal job is to take photos that look much better than reality does, but there was nothing I could do here to even match what I was seeing. After all, who knows how you’re viewing this? You could be cramming this slice of a sunset into your mobile phone screen. We had it spread out across the sky for us, morphing into different beauties over half an hour.

But if I can’t even allude to the best sunset I’ve ever seen, if I can’t share some pretty pictures because they’re disdained as fine art, then I have forgotten the joy of taking pictures in the first place. Or worse, I have forgotten the joy of seeing.

But my father made sure I never would.

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Wedding: Ela and Joe at the New York Country Club

I don’t think there’s much I can say about this great wedding at the New York Country Club featuring chill guys, hilarious, hammy bridesmaids, and a firecracker of a bride that the pictures don’t show. Secret handshakes, golfing at twilight, squaring off for a guys-versus-girls rendition of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”? It’s in there.

OK, just one thing. Polish people are hard-core. You think it hurts getting pelted with rice coming out of a church? The Polish tradition is to throw coins. That’s tough.

What a great day.

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Photos of the Day: Soulja Boy and Keri Hilson in Concert

Yesterday I was selected as the photographer for the launch of five new products in Monster’s Beats by Dre line, a series of high-end headphones (and now a high-end iPod dock) partnered with hip-hop legend Dr. Dre and a series of other celebrities, from LeBron James to Justin Bieber.

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(I love photos that look totally surreal even though they’re basically out-of-camera; this was just a white balance and contrast shift)

I have a feeling that publishing unapproved candids of Dr. Dre is the kind of thing that would lead publicists to shove flaming bamboo shoots under my fingernails, so I’ll hold off on that. But I also had the run of the place for the launch concert featuring Soulja Boy and Keri Hilson.

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Soulja Boy makes it rain $100 bills as his pants finally give up.

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Keri Hilson, a split-second before the curtain opens.

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That’s some microphone.

Workshop: “Lessons Learned the Hard Way,” Oct. 12-13

As previously announced, I’ve got a workshop coming up on Oct 12-13. Everything is set, and I’m really excited about how it’s going to turn out. Unlike the previous full-day workshops, this one is aimed squarely and solely at people who want to be in the business of wedding photography. And I’ve based everything around this idea: What do I wish I’d known when I started shooting weddings?

Years ago, when I entered this industry, I had already spent years as a photojournalist and a photographer for Columbia University, but there are a lot of things you have left to learn about how to translate that into a world of clients and of running a business and of the very specific skills required to do your best job on wedding days where it sometimes seems that everything is working against you, and you have absolutely no room for failure.

I like simplicity. I base my wedding packages on the simple question: “What would I want from my wedding photographer?” And so what I will be giving is exactly the workshop I wish I’d been able to attend years ago.

How to make your mark? How to stay passionate? How to make very particular clients happy? (Among other things, there will be a mock client meeting where you’ll see me handle every difficult question I’ve ever heard) How to run a business without running it into the ground, even if you’re the type of person who hyperventilates when you see a spreadsheet?

And we’ll be shooting, not just to take cool photos, but to solve the sorts of problems that are the common bane’s of a wedding photographer’s life. Bad weather (we’ll fake it if we have to), bad lighting, bad locations, tight timing, awkward subjects.

Let’s face it — a lot of people can take photos of a model on a tropical beach. You could make that look good if the camera went off by accident. But it’s the ability to solve problems that makes a wedding photographer consistently successful, and there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned along the way, mostly the hard way. By the end of a day and a half, I hope we’ll make them a bit easier.

Only $500, and six slots left (as I write this). E-mail ryanbrenizerworkshops@gmail.com for more information and to sign up.

I like pictures, so here’s one I made at the last workshop.

Photo of the Day: The Color of Night

The Color of Night

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Nikon 45mm f/2.8 PC-E

There are so many reasons to love the high-ISO capabilities of modern DSLRs, but more than anything I love that, with the right lenses and careful technique, we can actually take portraits and casual photos at night, that really shows wsa night looks like. Night is not the bright blue lighting cinematographers have had to use for decades to connote darkness. It is a barely grey darkness punctuated only by the things that humanity have made, the areas and objects that we deem important enough to light up when the sun goes down. It is many-colored, shiny and complicated. I love it.

I sometimes will be out shooting people at night with the tiniest of lights or no light at all, and I will see other photographers walk by , and I know they think I’m nuts. Right after this shot, a team walked by with a battery pack and a giant octobank on a boom. The way that you’re *supposed* to take photos at night, the way that destroys the night. It’s a good way to shoot, too — octobanks are killer light sources. But I love the freedom of choice.