Beginnings and Endings

Ryan Brenizer Photography

For Kyle and Meghan, a kiss before entering the reception. For my poor 85mm f/1.4, a last shot before getting stolen from the bench behind them.

OK, this is a "brenizer method" panorama, so it was the last 24 shots.

At least it was a pleasant way to go.

(You can always cheer me up by ordering prints. Just sayin’.)

For reference, since I know this still confuses a lot of people, here was one of the 24 images in the panorama. This is one uncropped shot with the D3 and the 85mm f/1.4:

Ryan Brenizer Photography

WPJA Awards!

I don’t generally enter contests, but the Wedding Photojournalist Association was one of the things that inspired me to get into wedding photography in the first place, so I’m thrilled to participate. The images the site regularly put forth in its contests showed me that the era of stilted poses was over, and that the storytelling coverage I had come to love as a newspaper and university photographer could be transposed to the wedding day. It is a highly prestigious contest filled with the best storytelling work of some great photographers.

So here are the latest results! You have to search for your wins and I’ve been known to have trophies arrive on my doorstep for images I didn’t know had placed, so tell me if I missed any:

3rd Place, Cake Cutting (From Eva and Lane’s wonderful New Orleans wedding)

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4th place, Creative Portrait (From Jen and John’s great wedding in Chappaqua, NY)

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and 5th place, Emotion, showing Kayla dancing during a wonderful little two-hour wedding at Lyndhurst Manor in Tarrytown, NY

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Sarah and Jeff: 8.1.08

Sarah and Jeff had a fantastic wedding at NYC’s Union Square Ballroom. I know that any couple who can keep a near-100-pound dog in their midtown apartment is up for the surprises, joys, and responsibilities of marriage.

What a whirlwind their wedding was! With proper priorities firmly in mind, we set out early in the day to meet and take portraits so Sarah could come back to the hotel, take off the dress, and have some AMAZING barbecue for lunch before heading off to the ballroom. As you’ll see in the slideshow, we got some of the local Union Square color in to the day, as a group of people with “Free Hugs” signs were ecstatic to be able to hug the bride on their wedding day. Also, this was a very strong contender for my favorite wedding cake ever. Icing astroturf? Awesome.

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Ryan Brenizer Photography
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Out for a Spin

Ryan Brenizer Photography

Candid moment: Emilie practices for her first dance.

Corinn and Jeff, 7.31.09

Corinn and Jeff had the sense to get married on a wonderful day (my mother’s birthday — Harry Potter’s too, if you’re interested). Sadly, the weather was not *quite* as wonderful. But that didn’t keep their spirits down for a second. After a beautiful Catholic ceremony led by a longtime friend of Jeff’s family, they had a great party at the Greentree Country Club in New Rochelle. As you can see from the photos, they never stopped making sure that they and their guests were having a great time.

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Quick tip for better food snapshots

In the digital era, there are a lot of people who photograph appetizing food before they eat it, and I get a lot of people asking me how to make these pictures better. The secret to food photography, from a photographer’s point of view, is lighting. Good light brings out color and contrast and texture. Soft, dark, contrast free light hides all of the above — the very same romantic light that makes you look good makes your food look bad.

So, what to do? It’s probably not a good idea to whip out an octobox every time you make chili, and whatever you do you should avoid being rude at a restaurant, but if you’re whipping out the camera anyway, you can probably make small efforts to find a bit better light. You’re generally going for a low angle, bright and somewhat soft.

The picture below, of delicious hake chowder by Rochelle Bilow, was taken by the iPhone in a dark kitchen. I knew that would spell muddy disaster, so I opened up my nearby laptop, opened a blank browser page, and moved it in close. Still a cameraphone shot, but much better.

Table candles are often too dim and harsh to be good for this, but they’re better than nothing. Any bright-screened cell phone or media device can stand out in a dark room. If you’re near a window, you can try moving the dish a bit closer. To use these dim
Light sources you will usually need a fairly high ISO setting, which is where bog, expensive cameras tend to excel. But remember that the problem with muddy, unappetizing food shots is mostly in the light, not the camera.

(posted via iPhone)

Battle of the Sexes

Ryan Brenizer Photography

Sometimes, I try to turn challenges into opportunities. One of the toughest times to shoot is peak mid-day. This is counter-intuitive to the layman: “Photographs need light! Let’s shoot when there’s as much as possible!” but the sun is a very harsh, extremely strong light source, and there are few less attractive places to put a hard light than directly over someone’s head. (Coming directly from below is worse, but for obvious reasons that doesn’t happen very much with the sun).

So we try to work against it or overpower it. But there’s the second problem — overpowering the sun is about as hard as it sounds. Wee little flashes only do well if they’re close, which limits the sorts of compositions you can do. That’s why I’ve taken to doing multi-frame composites recently, so I can get the flash close to my subject in a big frame and then quickly digitally erase it later.

But there are other ways — who says the light source can’t be in the frame? Who says you can’t have some fun with it? The rooftop garden at the Met is absolutely one of the brightest places I’ve been in New York, other than the waterfront. I used every trick to get “normal” frames well-exposed, and then dipped into the abnormal.

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)