Stephanie and Phil: 7/18/09

I knew the second that Stephanie and Phil said the words “West Point” that their wedding would be fantastic. Phil is a member of the renowned West Point military band, and if anyone knows how to enjoy themselves, it’s the military and musicians. They are both unbelievably sweet. Stephanie is a school-teacher, so instead of a limo we got to ride around in a bumpy school-bus with a driver who was either insane or far too used to G-force testing. The reception hall was beautiful and so was the day.

But the best part of the wedding was their first dance. They began to “Unchained Melody,” beautiful, touching, precisely what someone might expect. And then … SCRAAAAAAATCH! went the recording, and the entire wedding party broke into “Thriller”! The crowd, as you may imagine, went nuts.

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Secret “Thriller”!
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Rules for Shooting Wedding Couples

We’ve had Rules for Shooting Groomsmen and Rules for Shooting Group Photos, so now it’s time for the big one: Rules for shooting couples.

1. This is the most romantic day of their lives. Play on that energy and capture it.

2. These photos aren’t just for them. They’re for the parents, they’re for the children they might have down the line. Bring class to the image, and it will be a lasting work.

3. Watch your backgrounds. Nothing ruins a romantic photo faster than unwanted clutter.

4. Weddings are, by their very nature, ritualistic. Sometimes even tried and true poses can be classic and fresh just because it’s them.

5. All of these are good rules, but not all clients are the same. Elegance and beauty are important, but so are individual personalities. If they’re a bit nuts in the best possible way like Dara and Chris, don’t be afraid to show that off. (Of course, there are a lot of couples — one would say the vast majority — for whom this shot wouldn’t work. And that’s cool, too.)

Just an Expression

Ryan Brenizer Photography

A big part of the work I do on wedding days is the collecting of expressions. I love people’s faces, and I never get tired of finding telling, emotional-but-not-embarrassing expressions that capture the essence of a person in that moment.

By and large, these aren’t shots to base a portfolio around. If you submitted them to a contest, the judges would toss it away. If you submitted them to a high-end magazine, they would furrow their brows: “I don’t get it! This is just a picture of a person. Weddings aren’t about people, they’re about centerpieces!”

Magazines do a great job at what their supposed to do, but their clients, the readers, are generally people ABOUT to get married, looking for ideas. I work for people actually getting married that day, who have chosen to surround themselves with loved ones. If I can get photos that not only look cool, but bring out the quirks and way of being that these people carry with them, I’ve done my job. I call these my “That’s SO…” photos. I want to take shots that make people say “That’s SO my dad!” or, “That’s SO my crazy college roommate Bill.” I think these present a tremendous value to the couple, their friends and families, above and beyond just it being a good photo.

When I left my job as a photographer for Columbia University Teachers College, my (very cool) boss said something that puzzled me at first. “You take photos that actually look like your subject.”

At first, this seemed like the most underwhelming complement ever. Imagine showing someone your favorite image of a flower and them saying “Yes, that’s definitely a flower!” But, after considering it, I was elated. As valuable as it is to take a photo of someone who looks like they’re having their photo taken, or who is in Pose #68 from the Posing Rulebook, if I can take a photo that makes you feel like you know that person at that point in time, that they have independent essence and personality, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

The trick to photographing expressions is to use your peripheral vision and be very, very fast. I use fast-focusing cameras, fast-focusing lenses, and take hundreds of thousands of photos a year, so I’ve gotten pretty used to making my stuff work immediately. If you have slower lenses, the trick is to keep the focusing area close to where you want it so it doesn’t have to hunt much. This is the secret to getting great moments with, for example, the glacial Canon 85mm f/1.2.

(But I like centerpieces, too.)

Show Your Worst

100 percent out-of-camera (except for border and logo)

I’ve started a new thing this month — posting my day-of slideshows publically to my Facebook.

As a branding idea, photographers are told this is quite possibly the worst thing you can do. You’re supposed to show only your best work, carefully culled and processed to the best of your ability! The very last thing you should show your public are a bunch of pictures you picked out from the thumbnails and are straight out-of-camera, or with less than five seconds of editing. What are you, nuts?

Maybe. Oversharing IS a common photographer’s problem. I certainly remember seeing work of photographers I admire when I was just learning the basics and thinking “Oh my God, they’re human!” if they ever put forth something mediocre.

Everyone takes mediocre photos, of course. I think I took a photo of my foot yesterday, just because it was still there.

But I hope I’m on to something. Wedding photography is Different. It emphasizes consistency in a way no other demanding field does — Good Always will beat Brilliant Sometimes. It’s one of the few fields where it actually really matters how good the 100th best photo was you took that day. These things dovetail into day-of slideshows.

Of course, there are lots of benefits. Clients LOVE seeing photos the next day. You get out of the gate before someone else posts really bad photos to their Facebook and everyone assumes you took them. Everyone loves photos of themselves.

Better, though, doing a good day-of slideshow is HARD. Doing wedding photography right is already really, really hard, and day-of slideshows add a few more “reallys.” Hard is good. Do things that are hard, and you’ll never be shown up by the random guest with the professional gear.

Just this year, I’ve had wedding guests that were professional cinematographers, trained by Ansel Adams, photography teachers at major institutions, and all sorts of other intimidating things. If wedding photography really does flourish under a unique set of skills (I think it does), and if you’re a specialist, you should be aiming to do things they cannot. But those things will be the Hard Things.

I’ve been spending my entire life making things unnecessarily hard on myself. Now I think I’ve finally found a use for it.

Unfortunate Reflection

The cabbie wouldn’t get out of my way in time, so I went with it.

In my twisted mind, this is one of the funniest pictures I’ve ever taken. Good thing the couple has a great sense of humor.

For You Blue

More extreme white balance? Nope — this is exactly what the scene looked like in real life, thanks to the crazy night lights at the High Line.

I’m always looking to do something a little different from the norm with clients, and when it’s warm enough more and more I say "hey, why don’t we do the shoot when it’s pitch black out?" Even popular engagement spots like the High Line take a very different tone at night — during the day, this spot looks like a random airplane hangar.

Thanks, Bill, for holding the Lowel video light on this one!

Some Raw programs are more equal than others

I’ve discussed before the possibilities of using extreme white balance shifts in your photography — it’s a common practice to hit an outdoor subject with amber light on a tungsten setting to make the sky deep blue, like so:

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But why stop there? It’s the digital era. If I’d hit them with a flash gelled deep pink, I could get crazy greens in the background. Or I could make that blue totally saturated.* It’s a way to get that crazy gelled-background look with just one light.

But some raw programs are much better at extreme shifts than others. Adobe Lightroom is great at making things super-warm, going to 50000K, but can only go as cold as to neutralize an old tungsten light bulb — anything lit by red is out of luck.

This isn’t just an issue for your own crazy lighting — if you shoot concerts or anything extremely theatrical, you often have to deal with lighting managers who are clearly on some sort of loosely-controlled substance. That’s where unlimited shifts come into play. RAW Developer is pretty good at this, with an auto setting that will use whatever crazy setting seems right, but is still limited compared to my favorite, Nikon Capture NX. With the “set gray point” option in the white balance, you can set it to essentially anything you want. For example, here’s some crazy lighting from a wedding singer, as it looked in real life:

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Here’s the best that Lightroom could do with it (cropped slightly differently):

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But here’s what a simple adjustment in Capture NX did.

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Look! She has skin tone! See how the open flame went to a crazy green? Non Nikon users may want to try their own maker’s software or RAW Developer.

UPDATE: By popular demand, here is what Apple’s Aperture can do. This actually taught me something I didn’t know — in Aperture, the white balance dropper can get you into extremes that the slider alone can’t do. While the settings for this read 2000K, -150, it was actually far more extremely shifted than if you had just manually moved the slider.

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*(Be careful lighting with greenish tones, it can highlight skin imperfections)

Hello (again)!

I was trying to get this a BIT more finished before the Grand Opening, but I’ve been blessed with an incredibly busy shooting schedule, and wanted to give new readers some content to look at. For now, here are some links to “Brenizer Method” content!

As some of you might have realized, despite the PhotoJojo title, this is all about LESS depth of field than is normally possible, not more.

Here are some images that show off the technique (You can also search Flickr:)

Wedded Bliss

A Bridge Just Right

Blossoming.

The Dreaming Tree

New Life to a Tomb

A New World

While the Iron is Hot

Ceci n'est pas une photographie

REPOST: Jill and David

(Most of my posts from March until August are only on the Amazon blog, but I have a few on local draft:)

I got the rare pleasure of second-shooting a wedding with Dave Robbins, the fantastic union of Jill and David. (And that’s Dav-eed, he’s French). I don’t get to second-shoot much for the best of possible reasons — I have too many of my own weddings to shoot — but it’s always fun when I can to try new things, feel my way through a different pace, and just see things from a different angle. There’s no slideshow this time, so I included slightly more photos than normal.

The wedding itself was a fantastic ceremony overlooking the city from the Hotel on Rivington, after which all of the guests marched through town behind a group of musicians, ending up at the stunning Angel Orensanz Foundation. From there it was a big, unending party, with a fantastic band, a musical interlude where the flower girls sang a song the groom’s father had written, and great speeches. In my favorite moment of the night, as one of the best men was giving a speech, his daughter crawled up the stage, tugged on his pants leg, and wouldn’t let go until she was picked up. I love the natural searching instinct of children, and am probably doomed when I have my own, since I spend so much time silently hoping they never do what they’re told.

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Mystery Must-Have Lens Arrived!

(testing out the post-via-iPhone goodness … it’s good to have a supported blog!)

I just got a package in with a Nikon lens i will review. At first glance, i’d have to say this might be the one lens I recommend to just about every last Nikon DSLR user. Any guesses?

Their Middle Name

Their Middle Name

Not only are they hot, not only are they world-travelers, but they’re getting married today! I can’t wait to spend the day with this fantastic couple.

Living in Art

You know you have a power couple when you take them to the celebrated scultpture on the Metropolitain Museum of Art’s rooftop and they say “Oh, that reminds me! We should invite the artist to the wedding!”