"Brenizer Method": Just six shots with the 135mm f/2. You don’t always have to go nuts with it to get a good effect.
I’d been looking forward to Emilie and Noel’s wedding the moment they said the words “former professional dancer,” and “I have a bridal dress made for spinning.” Nothing brings energy to a wedding like centripetal force, and this one had it in spades.
Held at the luxurious Montauk Club, not only did Emilie and Noel have one of the best first dances I’ve ever seen, but threw a fantastic cultural affair paying homage to her Basque heritage. I really like the idea of starting out a meal with a table already laid out with bread, cheese and wine. The idea is that by getting people to break bread and pour wine, you are already starting conversations and breaking tension — which may be why the party was so much fun.
Like most of my weddings, the day began with a personal well-wishing from the president…
OK … not true (though I did take that picture.)
In fact, Meghan and Kyle’s wedding began on a gorgeous weekend in Boston. After a summer filled with rain, to come and see gorgeous sunsets, the swell of Boston Harbor, and this fantastic couple, well, that’s the sort of thing I’ll even drive down I-95 at rush hour for.
After a Catholic ceremony at a gorgeous church, the reception took place high up in The Boston College Club, letting the guests really soak in that sunset and great views of the city. The music was great — it was the first wedding band in a long time that had an electric guitar battle, and it was even more fun than it sounds — and the party was lively, as you shall see:
The bride and her father practice their dance.
I hope, at this resolution, you can still see Kyle’s eyes welling up.
A gendered twist on the oldest shot in the book, but Kyle wasn’t expecting it, so the surprised expression was real.
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:
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)
4th place, Creative Portrait (From Jen and John’s great wedding in Chappaqua, NY)
and 5th place, Emotion, showing Kayla dancing during a wonderful little two-hour wedding at Lyndhurst Manor in Tarrytown, NY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.