We’ve been having some pretty terrible weather in New York this year, but the grey, cold skies opened up for Anna and Steven’s wedding at Steiner Studios, giving us some time to traipse about Brooklyn. I love doing Russian weddings, even though it always reminds me how rusty my Russian has gotten since college (these days I am pretty much limited to being able to ask where the post office is.) There is so much focus on family, and it is always a great party, especially when Anna and Steven’s friends give a surprise (and surprisingly great) Russian pop performance at the reception. Thanks to Dave Paek for assisting!
What better way to get attention than photos of the gorgeous Kelsie in the Nevada desert? I’m hosting my first NYC workshops in a year on April 13 and 14, heavily tweaked to get the absolute most out of our time for new ideas and evolution as a photographer and a businessperson. See more information here!
A lot of the tweaking for this came during my preparation for my recent WPPI speech. I took only a brief break to photograph Kelsie out in the desert, including some fun with Polaroids on the Mamiya RZ 6×7.
Great friends, great food, laughter that wracks through your whole body, work friends showing surprisingly awesome dance moves, cheeky grandparents, two kind and soulful binding their friendship and partnership … and SNOW! I love this job, I love Tappan Hill, and I love these people. And thanks to Kacy Jahanbini for fantastic assistance.
I’m in the air over Iowa now on the way to WPPI, where I will close out the party with a lecture on what to do when you’re shooting a wedding and everything seems to be working against you (otherwise called “most weddings ever.”) What better way to get ready for it than shooting two weddings? So much more to come; here’s a quick fix:
I’m pretty sure this is the soonest after a wedding that I’ve ever blogged the images — chalk it up to a pre-WPPI convention burst of productivity. But also these make me excited for a number of reasons. First, Jenna and Aaron are awesome, hilarious, and brilliant. I really love how frequently the best man and maid of honor speeches mention how freaking smart my couples are, since if smart people hire you, maybe you’re doing something right. Aaron, after all, if the sort of fellow who had Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, a thoroughly impenetrable book, out as pleasure reading. Sadly there were more important things going on than for us to sit and share a dialectical chat.
But also this was my first wedding since being named of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world by American Photo magazine, and my first wedding since the Foundation Workshops. Contrary to what you might think, the former fact never entered my mind all day. But Foundation loomed large in my mind — I have spent my entire career working as hard as I can to show lasting moments, people’s personalities and how amazing they look at their wedding day, but the intensity of the Foundation Workshop made me work harder than ever at being a perfectionist along the way — stressing over every millimieter of what is and is not included in each frame. Of course, sometimes the moment is strong enough that you just go for it — the ring bearer kissing his brother was impossible to frame perfectly, but even just mentioning the existence of the photo made their mother break out in a huge grin.
Also, though for a mix of modesty and SEO purposes she doesn’t want me to mention her name, I was joined by the amazing T, and she KILLED it. Lots of great photos, and even when running the photobooth she managed to take a simple setup and create art! I’ve never been so tempted to put photobooth images in a blog post. Thanks, T!
I’m so excited for 2013, and this was a great way to kick off the main season!
Sara and Alex’s wedding at Bayard’s was all about family … really. They struggled with changed dates and planning to make sure that Sarah’s parents could be there from the Philippines, and even just weeks before they still weren’t sure that they could make it. Thankfully they made it for a beautiful-but-freezing winter wedding. St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a gorgeous place for a ceremony — and apparently completely unheated. But whether in the church or on an icy Wall Street walk, there was little but ecstasy in Sarah and Alex’s minds, and it was infectious despite a few blue fingers.
Belt Craft Studios is filled with enough vintage-y props to launch a thousand styled shoots. When I saw them, my first thought was “How perfect for so many wedding photographers who are not me!” The images that tend to drive me forward, of course, are the moments, the illustration of real personalities and relationships and histories. But that’s silly, of course. From a viewer’s perspective, there is no me, there are only the photos — and perhaps I appear later. In Paris the other day, I saw an amazing Joel Meyerowitz retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The same photographer who spent years stalking streets with a small-framed Leica, documenting fleeting moments in color and shadow, also lugged around a gigantic 20×25 to create a completely different body of work.
As I mentioned in the last post, I had iterations of this specific idea in my head for many years, but I’ve also in general become fascinated with the process required to make it … slowing down. Instead of creating hundreds of pictures on an engagement shoot, what could I do if I worked to produce just five? Three? One? Not the right choice for all clients, but for some it could be perfect, and push me forward in different ways.
It may surprise those of you who haven’t worked for a while as a photographer, but it takes a lot more time and effort to create three photos on a shoot than to create 100. Claudia already has hundreds of photos of herself in bridal gowns, so for her actual bridal session we made just three. Here is the second:
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Olympus 12mm f/2
I’m in Europe, where I’ve just got done teaching two London workshops and am currently taking two days in Paris. It was an absolute blast with fantastic attendees, and a fair share of beer and foosball (or “table football,” as it is called here.) But some of the things I stressed were pushing yourself into places you don’t usually go, and working with clients for creative results, so I thought “well, let’s actually practice what I’m preaching.”
As part of the trip, I was reunited with Claudia, a great model who moved off to Germany after getting married, but in the process she never had any wedding photos of her own! So we arranged a bridal session. The problem before me was this: I knew we could get gorgeous photos. She’s gorgeous. I could put her in decent window light and take a snap with my iPhone and it would be gorgeous. And if I’d been doing a couples’s shoot I knew I could find the uniqueness in their relationship. But her husband couldn’t make it from Germany, so how do you shoot a bridal model’s bridal photos without it looking like just another bridal modeling session she’s done? We’re celebrating the real thing here.
I reached back to an idea I’ve had for many years, and I realized this would be the perfect time to put it in practice. And, more importantly, it was fun. Belt Craft Studios was a perfect place for this, with all sorts of props that we re-appropriated, but also a bunch of stuff that we simply stole from our apartment. This was one of the tableaus we created. Thanks to Tatiana Breslow for assisting, and to Claudia for being an amazing bride, and really working her core strength for these.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
A while back, I closed the lease on my new studio and thought “What trouble could I get up to with an empty apartment?” There could be few better partners in crime than fantastic model and actress (and budding photographer) Dominique Dicaprio, running through all sorts of techniques that are hard to pull off on a wedding day. We wanted to make some crazy pictures, and of course the more that you practice wild techniques, the easier it is to actually pull them out at a wedding — it took some time to make a 75-image panorama of moving people one of my “safe” techniques.”
Most of these are with the Nikon D4, but one of them is with the Sony RX1, which is on my pile of “things to review when I break my femur and am actually forced to stop shooting and travelling so much.” The best thing I can say about it is that other than a lucky guess, there’s no way to tell — it has every bit the quality of a high-resolution dSLR in a much smaller package. But I am addicted to viewfinders, so the default lack puts me off a bit.
Thank you Dominique!
Some funny things happen when you shoot more than 300 weddings in an area as diverse and sometimes nuts as the New York area. I’ve seen so many different cultures, so many different styles, and had just about everything thrown into my path, which has guided me as a photographer through the years. But I never anticipated that I might have the opportunity to become an expert at weddings affected by Hurricanes. I’m up to seven or so now, so I’m getting there.
Luckily for Dana and Ben’s wedding at the Highlands Country Club, Sandy was still on its way. But with a gaggle of guests from NYC and talks of bridges closing, it took a moment for people to say “OK, we can do this … we can have a fantastic time.”
And they did. Celebrating amidst the autumn leaves that had only hours left to stay on the trees, cooking S’mores with loved ones who made it through the travel hazards to laugh and dance and celebrate together, and knowing that, even if everyone did get stuck there for the weekend, it would have only been a continued adventure … these just added to the joy and thrill of the day.
Thanks to Dave Paek for helping out and braving the storm with me, despite living in Zone A.
“Awards don’t matter,” I tell myself. “I don’t do this job for awards.” And for the most part, I actually believe it. They’re handy signposts for my competitive spirit, but this is an industry where you are only as good as the photo you take next. After all, you will never hear a bride say “I hated my photos, but that’s OK because he’s taken really great photos for other people!”
But making the American Photo Top 10 list sweeps that aside for a moment in a rush of euphoria and amazement. Partially because this is The Big One, the list that everyone wants to be on, and which has been graced by unbelievably talented photographers who have inspired me from the beginning of my career to today. But mostly because this list is nominated by these incredible photographers. It still surprises and bewilders me that these people even know who I am, so to have them say “Yes, he belongs on a list of the best of the best,” is an honor too big for me to wrap my head around. Thank you.
It is also incredible to be named along with nine other photographers who are not only incredible, but who include personal friends such as Todd Hunter McGaw, or the man who made me laugh myself to tears this past week at the Foundation Workshop, Tyler Wirken.
But mostly thank you to my clients and their friends and families, for not only being amazing, but choosing to be amazing in front of my lens. You are awesome, and that’s what this shows. I’m just the guy that gets to document that.
But the competitive spirit in me must push me further. I can’t stop at the world. Wedding photographers of Mars, watch your back.
So this is it: I’ve been named one of the world’s top 10 wedding photographers. Wedding photography has never been a stepping stone for me onto other things — I already have my dream job. So clearly I’m exactly where I want to be, and there’s nothing left to learn.
You never stop learning in a job like this, and that’s one of the things I love about it so fiercely. I love learning, and I love a job that forces me to constantly use my brain in new ways. So I made a vow to take at least one workshop or photography class every year, forever. I’ve seen photographers like Joe McNally do their thing; I’ve been through several excellent courses at the top-notch International Center for Photography, and more. I’ve been forced to leave my comfort zone in a hundred ways for classes — I’ve used new and exotic equipment, I’ve contracted pneumonia, and I’ve been stripped naked both figuratively and literally. But in some ways this was all preparation for the Foundation Workshop.
Founded more than 10 years ago by Huy Nguyen and newspaper photographers who had transferred into wedding photography, Foundation is an intense, grinding, transformative experience that seeks to ground wedding photographers in the modes of hard photojournalism, both as a shooter and as an editor. The wedding photography experience tends to be defined by people in tears saying “Oh my god, we love our photos and we love you!” while photojournalism is defined by a coffee-chugging photo editor yelling “Hey jerk, there’s a tree coming out of this person’s head! Look at this horizon … were you drunk when you took this?” A great photo editor can make you love them and hate them at the very same time.
Foundation is about change, and in many ways the defining experience is making wedding photographers — harbinger of tears that we are — break down in tears ourselves. The 8:30 mark of this video sums it up. But it’s too reductive to think of it as a place where people will try to make you cry by being extremely hard on you. That’s one reason you might cry, sure, and people do. But I’ve been through photo school and the newsroom. While learning, I’ve had people tell me that my photos made them physically ill. I knew I could take some criticism. But Foundation brought me to tears anyway. What did it for me was that magic mix of sleep deprivation and incredible waves of emotion. You are in a small room with many of the world’s best wedding photojournalists, and there’s just no ego in sight. Strangers become colleagues, and then friends, and then family. And then, when you’re at your sleepiest, your sappiest, they hit you with the results of the week, the incredible work of your fellow students. And at least one of the assignments — Mary McHenry‘s — had the tears rolling down my face.
There are so many emotions that roll through you — I spent portions of the workshop ecstatic, exhausted, even incredibly angry — but I started with terror. I knew this would be a tough week, but staff member after staff member kept coming up to me and saying “Ryan, we’re doing our best to figure out how to kick your ass.” Oh boy.
This speaks to the incredible level of individualized attention you get at Foundation. My week there were 25 students, and 27 staff members. I don’t know anything else in the wedding world that even approximates that. You can’t get away with slinking by and giving a half-hearted effort, there are too many people looking over your shoulder … literally. By the end of two days of shooting, hours and hours of tight editing and mentoring, every single student knocked their assignment out of the park. We aren’t allowed to publicly show more than two images for some very good reasons, but there are a couple assignments that I really wish could be released to the world, because the work is so strong about sensitive subjects that they are actually important.
But they staff had a different challenge in mind for me. They work very hard to tailor assignments to the specific students’ strengths and needs, and they knew that I would relish any emotional or physical challenge, that I’d be happy to roll around for two days in dirt or blood or fire for the shots. So instead they challenged me with tedium and familiarity. I was assigned a small newsroom, the kind I started my career in. With my experience, I already knew that absolutely nothing visually interesting happens in a small newsroom. My proposed subtitle for the piece was “People threw away papers, and sometimes took a smoke break.” But it allowed me to drill down on technical aspects I never had time to really focus on during the frenetic wedding day, working on skills in layering, filling the frame with relevant information, reducing visual clutter in an extremely cluttered environment, etc. I even shot most of my assignment with the 12mm on the OM-D so I couldn’t use shallow depth-of-field as a visual crutch.
I couldn’t imagine a better team leader in this than David Murray, with his decades of experience shooting for newspapers and newswires. And imagine a workshop where staff is as packed with excellence as Erin Chrisman and Daniel Aguilar are the secondary mentors. Each of them pushed me farther to make great images from the mundane than I ever had before, and I am bursting with energy now, waiting to tear into this wedding season.
Thank you to everyone in my new family. I said this to Daniel at the end of the workshop, but it also applies to David, Erin, “team mom” Cliff Brunk and so many others: “When this started I loved your work. Now, I love you.”
Photo by Ed Atrero