A New York Story

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I try to be a storyteller, but it’s an amorphous thing. We all have a story, sure, but what was the story of your today? Was it just some stuff that happened? Was it something you learned? Something you felt? What will the story be when you look back on it later?

They aren’t simple questions, and that’s just a random day … a Wednesday, even. How do you tell the story of a place like New York? There have been thousands upon thousands of attempts, and they scratch just the surface’s surface of the complexity and the dynamics of this crazy town. Last night I saw a beautiful woman walk by openly sobbing. That, I thought, was a New York story. In the small town I grew up in, we keep our tears and our strangers separate. In New York, people’s pain is in your point, and the pain itself is part of the point. The grind of New York life is perhaps the most pervading part of the story, a rock that we dash ourselves against and that either whittles or breaks us. There’s a reason that if you make it here you can make it anywhere, or as a more recent muse put it “8 million stories, out there in the naked city. It’s a pity, half of y’all won’t make it…”

There are reasons that shooting hundreds of weddings in New York have turned me into a problem solver. We have problems. It’s stressful enough just living here, even when you aren’t planning a wedding.

Or when you’re just trying to get around. Kate and Andy were married at the Top of the Rock today, and while the rain parted for their ceremony, it returned with a vengeance just after, right in time to deal with epic New York Rainy-Day Traffic. The limo driver, who had a habit of leaving us several blocks from our destinations in the pouring rain, also decided to drive right by Times Square and put us in the modern-day Bermuda Triangle of Lincoln Tunnel traffic (for out-of-towners, picture a parking lot, except with fewer moving cars). This is when it’s good for us to remember that you might not always be having fun when a photo session starts. Not only do you have the natural nervousness of being in front of the camera, you might have had to plan a complicated day, get waylaid by a limo driver, have to walk several blocks on shoes you swear are medieval torture devices … and then be happy?

But then you find your place. You hold on to the partner you crossed an ocean just to declare your love and devotion to. An iconic New York taxi drives by and reflects the American flag back into the camera. And then, at incredible odds another one drives by at just the right place as well. Yellow and red and blue all sorts of love cutting through the gray, rainy day. And you remember the most important part of the New York story: New York is hard … but man is it cool.

Thank you Kate and Andy for letting me share in your story today.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G

The Moment Always Wins

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What we must remember as photographers that while we try our hardest to bring technical perfection to an image, there are other elements that are far more important: Emotion, storytelling, that perfect moment. At this moment, a groomsman was readying himself to jump into the groom’s arms on the dance floor. Connection, emotion, action.

This photo was taken at an adjusted ISO of 72,400.

I knew I wanted to get a lot of frames to tell the story of running and jumping, but I was shooting in a dark, hard-to-light area, so I knew my flash couldn’t keep up. I had my shutter speed at 1/250th to catch action, I had my aperture at f/2.5 so as not to be too shallow, so the only place to go up was ISO. I set my flash to a bit lower power setting to catch more frames, but still it had been working hard so it didn’t catch very many. And the adjusted ISO of the non-fired frames brings us to 72,400.

It’s a remarkable feat of the Nikon D4 and Lightroom that such an ISO even results in a recognizable photo. But of course there’s still plenty of grain. Did the guests mind? Does it ruin a moment between loved ones, an expression of years of fun and play and connection? Nope — whenever these shots came up on the same-day edit screen, people kept yelling “Guys, you have to see this!”

Yes, I’m a very technical photographer, and teach technique. Photography is both an art and a craft, and we do our best with both. But the moment always wins.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G

Ryan Brenizer Workshops: Early 2013 recap

I realized sometime last year that I no longer really have an “off season.” I do, however, have a somewhat sane season, and that is soon coming to an end. Even then, though, it’s hard to stay idle for one simple reason: I really like my job. I get twitchy if I’m not telling stories, creating images, and trying new things, and the winter and early spring are perfect time to take some of that energy and share it with others through workshops.

In February I had my first international workshop in London — I figured it would be a bit tricky to host a workshop abroad, so I figured a hop across the pond would be the easier than starting in translator territory. And we had a great time even though there London was in a freezing spell and the studio manager, apparently unaware of basic principles of convection, put the heater on the ceiling. But we kept our coats on and had wonderful experiences, from working with the fantastic Claudia Nallely to competitive foosball matches after each workshop.

I also learned I have so much in my head from shooting 325+ weddings that eight hours is a staggeringly short amount of time. The perfect length for a workshop, I think, is either 20 minutes or six months. So I’ve strengthened a lot of the free continuing support I provide to participants with separate portfolio reviews, continued online help, direct access to raw files for some of the trickier techniques I use, etc. This continued networking also allowed me to use feedback from members of every workshop I’ve ever given to create an even better, more formalized structure, one that I believe in more than ever, dividing the overlapping worlds of being a better photographer and being a better professional into two days. I debuted this at a workshop this past weekend at the studios of InFocusNYC Photography, and it went better than I could have hoped for. The studio was the perfect space for the group (and properly heated!), studio managers Pete and Daria were incredibly helpful, and I had an all-star cast helping out, from my studio manager Wendy lending her perspectives on the business day, to amazing past couples of mine I was thrilled to see again: Elizabeth and Anthony, Ariana and Eric, and Chika and Andrew.

Much like I learn to be a better photographer from every wedding (which is why I shoot so many!) I learn to impart the hard-won lessons I’ve learned the more I teach, and I enter 2013 more excited and confident than ever about future workshops. Now, of course, I just have to figure out when and where these new ones can fit given the beginning of crazy season.

I also highly recommend the InFocusNYC studio for other events, and for those looking for studio shares. I believe they still have a spot or two open.

Worth the wait

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This image was a composite AND a panorama, but that wasn’t what made it so hard. No, it was the Universal Law of Shooting in NYC: When you have scouted a location, and the whole time you scouted there were no people there, and you really need no people to be there, right as you’re ready to shoot a hundred schoolchildren will flood the scene.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: 8-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 42mm f/0.68 according to Brett’s calculator)

Foundry Wedding: Annie and Bill

I love a good party, and it seems like weddings at The Foundry are always fantastic parties. There must be some sort of neural connection between the preferences that make people love the dark brick and ironwork of the space and of a propensity to do the chicken wing on the dance floor. I don’t have to tell you that Annie and Bill were extremely fun; you’ll see that below. But they were also laid-back in a way that we forget New Yorkers can be, focused on just a great time with each other and their loved ones. In fact, family was so close that Bill’s sister served as Best Woman, complete with a tux just for the ceremony. Whether it was searching for the right-fitting female tux, a giant pile of cheese instead of wedding cake, or the beautiful hanging lights, they made sure that this day was their own, and I was happy to record it. Thanks to the fantastic Dave Paek for doing another great job as assistant.

The Red Balloon

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I’ve never actually worked with a big heart balloon on an engagement session before … seems a SoCal staple … so when Florencia and Jay brought one I figured we’d put a twist on it.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 135mm f/2 D DC

Stage 6 at Steiner Studios Wedding: Anna and Steven

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!

NYC workshops April 13-14

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.

Tappan Hill Wedding: Stephanie and Scott

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.