HD Slideshow: Sameepa and Beeren

From some perspectives, I am a terrible businessman. I always approach my client offerings with “What would I want from a wedding photographer?” and often throw things in because I think they’re cool, for free. Photos want to be seen large. They want room to breathe, they want to run around on mountaintops and sing. So I decided to make my life a bit more interesting and design my post-wedding slideshows to be not just bigger, but HDTV compliant. And what a wedding to start with — the bigger-than-life multi-day Indian wedding of Sameepa and Beeren! See it here in 720p HD or see it smaller if it’s just too much of their awesomeness for your screen.

Touché, Time Warner

If anyone out there was placing an over/under on what it would take to get me to break my stream of daily content, here is your answer: Time-Warner Cable. Having no Internet in the office makes it awfully hard to run a business over the Internet.

On the plus side, when I return, I’ll be returning with a gorgeous Indian wedding. And as always previews from recent shoots are featured at my Facebook page, including a fun engagement shoot in Park Slope from Friday.

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Workshop recap!

Immediately after February’s “Creativity on the Fly” workshop, I got lots of messages from people wishing they could have made it. Free weekends are a rare commodity for me, but luckily I had one more before the season exploded and got a bunch of great photographers together for a day of discussing advanced techniques to make the most out of bad situations. I figure any workshop can take you to a fabulous beachfront estate, but what happens when you come back to real life, and all you have to work with is five minutes and a parking lot? I am lucky to work with Philip Stark in his studio, which is a great place to meet, but it’s almost TOO fantastic, so we spent the day looking for the least photogenic parts of the building and discussing what we could do with them.

Again, I want to say what an honor it is to have people come from across the country and the world to hear me prattle on for a day or two. Some people have asked me why I’ve started to do workshops when I have some rather well-documented gripes with the photography workshop industrial complex. First, it’s really, really fun. Second, it lets me try to address those problems by simply doing things the way I want. But lastly, the more I teach the more I realize that it is going to make me a much better photographer. I do so much client work that sometimes I don’t get the chance to step back and look at what I do from a different perspective. Teaching forces me to do that, to break down what I do and why I do it instead of just, you know, doing it. And by making me put this in some sort of sensible framework so people can reliably see whether a given workshop will be helpful for them or not, it has made me think about exactly the message I want to put out in the world, what things are valuable for me to teach.

Few things break my heart more than hearing people say “I wish you’d taken my wedding photos. We hate ours.” I think that wedding photography is important, and I want as many people as possible to love their photos, whether or not I took them. And I want as many people as possible to stay in love with the process of photography. And so, whenever I can find time within my packed photography schedule, I teach.

Here some of the workshoppers gather for the day. None of them seemed to need nearly as much coffee as I did to start at 9 a.m. Hmmm…

I always want to do these with people I’m comfortable with, so the day was filled with people who have been featured on this blog before, such as my friend Rochelle, who made a fabulous model. On the left she is looking cheeky for a Brenizer Method demonstration (I took the class through the whole process, from visualizing to stitching and output) and on the right we are mixing ambient and off-camera flash.

It was brisk, but much warmer than February, so we headed outside for some flash composites. This is three frames used for stark contrast with the ambient light.

And here is our “wedding party.” Flash composites are great for group shots, and here it wasn’t used as starkly, just to provide attractive light and better contrast. Again, I took the class through everything from pre-visualizing to the (very fast and easy) photoshop output.

Here I was doing a quick demonstration of Auto-FP flash, using 1/8000th of a second to bring the room ambient to blackness.

Then we moved on to couples, including my intern Isla and her husband Dan. I put them in the only part of the studio you would never want to photograph in — the kitchen we had just made dirty. To bring down the background, I stuck three flashes outside the window, mimicking bright daylight and getting interesting textures from the bars on the window.

Our next couple was the amazing Kindiya and Thomas, otherwise known as “The Couple on the Rocks.” Now we went to the ugliest part of the whole building, a nasty stairway where, Thomas noted, it looked like they were about to conduct a drug deal. Although, I said, it also looked like a place where a couple might actually make out. I don’t know anybody who spends a lot of time making out in front of gazebos. Off-camera flash and some movement to blur the shadows brought the effect here.

Here we used a very warm tungsten video light to cool the puke-green ambient into a nice turquoise. And you can see all the voyeurs in the class.

The sun came out and I showed the class how to kill it dead. f/22 wasn’t nearly dark enough for the effect I want, so we used the Sledgehammer of Light and Auto-FP to shoot at 1/8000th, f/6.3. That sky is straight out-of-camera. No HDR here.

Then we used the dramatic effect with flash compositing to light the couple from the left.

Then I wanted to show how to work when you had very, very little time, such as when you are holding an elevator. Yes, the “shaft of light” from the last post is an elevator shaft. The important thing here is pre-visualizing and then working quickly. We tossed three flashes in the reflective elevator at half power to turn it into a glowing room of white and positioned them right in the doorway. We also had a second, safer shot using video light inside the elevator.

We had a session of free shooting so everyone could work through some of the things they saw, and I took another Brenizer Method shot of Kindiya and Thomas, as well as showing the effects of studio lights (not shown).

Group shot! One of these days I’ll remember to do a group shot at the beginning, before many of the workshoppers leave.

Thanks so much everyone! This is probably the last weekend workshop I can host for a long time, but I’ll put together a weekday one aimed squarely at wedding photographers, covering business as well as wedding-specific issues, in the mid to late summer.

Photo of the Day: Greetings from the Workshop!

The workshop is going really well, and, being the technophile I am, I’m using the lunch break to post a quick picture. Here we used flash composites to create a quick “wedding party” photo. If only more brides wore leopard print dresses like Rochelle.

Photo of the Day: Great Things Ahead

I am extremely excited to a) have my workshop coming up this weekend and b) have Sameepa and Beeren’s wedding in the pipeline. This is going to be fun.

Photography tip: Fun with t-stops

Here’s a quick descent into geekdom. I’ve seen hundreds of new macro lens owners run to me with the same question: "When I focus closely, my maximum aperture closes a LOT! Is my lens broken? Was it made cheaply?"

Nope. In fact, your aperture isn’t really changing at all. All that happens is that to come up with a good, general-purpose macro design, there is a trade-off that at super-close distances, a "bellows effect" means that the lens is less effective at transmitting light. (Something that’s measured in t-stops) Note, though, that the aperture of the lens isn’t closing down (measured in f-stops). But new lenses and cameras are smart, so they let you know "Hey! You’re not getting as much light as you might think, and you’ll want to adjust for that!"

Confused yet? Maybe this video will help. We start out with a way-out-of-focus image of a nickel, and there’s a big ol’ blown highlight. Note that as I use the Nikon 60mm AF-S macro to focus all the way in, the exposure gets darker, and the blown highlight goes away. But the *aperture* doesn’t change — you don’t all of a sudden see more depth-of-field.

So don’t freak out when you buy a new macro, but adjust your ISO or flash power accordingly when shooting close-up.

Photo of the Day: Playing in Traffic

Remember Dora and Josh? We couldn’t get enough of each other, so we went for another round!

A few questions for you: Would you take a photo of a bride and groom in the middle of an active street? Would you take NINETEEN photos of them in the street, to stich them together in a panorama? Well I would.

One more, for those with a good sense of perspective: Dora and Josh are standing in a safe zone called the cross-walk. Where was I standing when I took the nineteen photos? Right, the intersection.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

(Phillip Stark’s) Photos of the Day: Workshop Review

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Studio picture by Phillip Stark

Given that this is a blog devoted to my photography, generally I’m going to feature … my photography. But today I have a good excuse. Phillip Stark, owner of 2 Stop Brighter Studios where I conduct my NYC workshops, sent over some great shots of last time. He has a great space over there, and I thank him for all his help!

I am extremely excited for the workshop on Friday and Saturday. We were full to the level I wanted, but there are a couple spaces open now due to two last-minute personal emergencies, so contact me if you’re interested! We’ll be spending a lot of time talking about advanced techniques that can pull off good shots no matter the ambient lighting you have to work with. In addition to all the great things that we did in the February workshop, it will be a bit more intimate, and I promise the weather will be warmer this time. The reviews show happy attendees despite the freezing weather.

There’s a huge hoopla going on right now in the wedding industry about which workshops are rip-offs — 95 percent of you will have never heard of this debate, and you are lucky, as it’s pretty ugly. I don’t have anything to say of consequence, since the alleged scammers are people I’ve never heard of before. But someone exclaimed I was “giving it away!” by offering workshops at $350. Maybe. But I also know how much 10-week courses at the International Center for Photography cost, and they aren’t $30,000. I simply bring the same philosophy to my workshops that I do for my weddings: Price as low as supply and demand will allow me*, and hustle like crazy to do good work. As a long-term strategy of someone who wants to stay in this business for the next 40 or 50 years, and who wants to make sure as many people as possible have great wedding photos, it’s working pretty well.

I’m not alone in this idea. I don’t know any wedding photographer who knows lighting as well as Joe McNally — I mean, really, the guy has evenly lit up coliseum-sized telescopes while standing in a crane — and you might be amazed at the low prices of his workshops. I’m not a rock star, I just know some neat tricks and like to share them. Information wants to be free, I just don’t have quite that much time.

There is also some extremely exciting news to come on the workshop and lecture front, but I can’t tell you yet.

Onto the pictures:

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*I should probably point out that this only works well if, by working hard, you are continually raising demand.

Review: Nikon 24mm f/1.4

100411-131055-135.0-mm-f_3.2.jpgI have been on Nikon’s case to release fast, wide primes since about 30 seconds after they discontinued the 28mm f/1.4, sending the price of existing copies into the stratosphere. It has been the biggest gaping hole in Nikon’s lens line-up, and as zooms got better and better, and each new camera pushed the ISO boundaries — 6400, then 25,600, now the D3s’s 102,400 — I worried Nikon might think professional fast primes were a thing of the past.

Thankfully not. With the new 24mm f/1.4, Nikon shooters have the option for extreme low-light shooting or depth-of-field separation at wide angles, but it comes at a steep price — 2,199.95, almost enough to buy five Sigma 24mm f/1.8’s. So the question is, is it good enough to be worth it?

Let’s face it, for most people the answer is going to be no. Most people are never going to buy a two thousand dollar lens, and if they do, they might pick more of a general-use workhorse like a 70-200 VRII or the (bit cheaper) 24-70 f/2.8. The price and specialized nature puts it squarely in the market of rich amateurs, primes addicts, and that now-rare class of photojournalists who somehow make money. My documentary wedding style in dark, dark New York City venues puts me in the market, but most people may be better served with another lens due to price alone.

But if you like fancy toys, or can simply justify that it’s still more than $4,000 cheaper than Leica’s 24mm f/1.4, read on. Lots of pictures to follow, so I’m sticking it behind a cut. These are commissioned pictures, so I can’t release full-size images, but you can see full-size snapshots and RAW samples from my quick impressions here.

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Build Quality:

Way more solid than the Sigma 24mm, it feels like a solid hunk of polycarbonate. It’s small enough to feel well-balanced on mid-sized bodies like the D700, but it’s large for a wide-angle prime, so the smallest SLR bodies could be hard to shoot one-handed or lay flat. Operation is simple; there is only one switch, for manual focus, and the focusing ring turns smoothly with an even throw. The hood is slightly flimsy like most wide-angle hoods, but fits tightly and can rest on a flat surface so you can rest the lens on it, unlike the hood for the new 70-200 VR II.

Autofocus:

It’s not as fast racking through the whole focus range as some of the professional zoom lenses, but the autofocus is accurate so you usually won’t have to. it locks focus fairly quickly even in moderate darkness, but fast wide-angle lenses require you to be absolutely certain you are locked on to the the focal point you want. Because it is wide, the camera’s AF sensor might cover areas of very different distances, because it has a wide aperture, you will actually see that effect. New users might get some misfocused shots until they get used to that, but that is a problem not with the lens, but with physics. With AF assist, it has no problem locking onto fast motion in the dark, such as the groom spinning his bride around on the dance floor:

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Close focus:

THe Sigma wins handily here, with a reproduction ratio of 0.5. The Nikon is only 0.179x, meaning you’re not going to use this as a macro. But that’s just due to the wide-angle — you can still shoot less than 10 inches from your subjects, meaning you will never be limited by the lens when you’re shooting people. Here’s a shot very near close-focus distance.

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Optical quality:

Really, really good. Really. The 24 has the same excellent color transmission as most other recent Nikon professional lenses and starts out quite sharp. If you’re trying to get maximum resolution out of a D3X you’ll want to stop down a few notches, but otherwise you could leave this on f/1.4 all day and the images will be sharp and contrasty. Here’s a shot of a gorgeous bride getting ready. At f/1.4, even though it is a wide angle shot, there is enough separation to make her pop:

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Here is a 100 percent crop:

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You are usually not going to get extreme bokeh because it is a wide-angle lens — at 24mm, any separation from the background is an achievement — but if you are close to the main subject you will. So here is the bokeh of the busiest subject imaginable:

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And an example of foreground separation:

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Smooth, but not quite up there with the smoothest lenses. Still,I like the look of it much better than the old 28mm f/1.4.

And, of course, being an f/1.4 lens allows you to shoot in extremely dark situations without grain. Here is the bride walking down a dark aisle, ISO 2000:

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Is there any downside? Well, being a low-light specialist leaves it limited to f/16 on the low end. I know that most fast prime shooters don’t like to spend a lot of time at f/22, but I like as varied a portfolio as possible, and have litle choice over clients’ schedules, so I often have to work in bright days close to noon. f/16 and the base 200 ISO of Nikon cameras will not fully kill bright sunlight. For this shot I had to resort to Auto-FP trickery, at 1/8000th, f/9. Anyone who’s worked with Auto-FP a lot know that, because it decimates flash power, f/9 isn’t a easy target to hit:

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So, do I like this lens? No. I absolutely adore it. I haven’t been as excited about a new lens since many years ago when I first got the 85mm f/1.4. But it’s extremely specialized. 24mm is wide for a prime. You’re either going to feel like you’re getting too close to your subjects, or you’re going to often have things in your shots you don’t want. If Nikon releases a 35mm f/1.4, that may have a bigger usage base. No one can say what’s right for your style, but given the size of the investment I would make sure that you really like shooting at 24mm before you buy this one. But if you do, you’re going to like it a whole lot more now.

Photo of the Day: Seclusion Amid the Streets

From Ellen and Jeff’s engagement shoot, taken with the new Nikon 24mm f/1.4. Now that I have a couple thousand images under my belt with it, the review is coming very soon! Clients’ needs before gearheads’, though.

Remember you can always see previews from my weddings and engagement shoots at my Facebook page!