Timoria, Queen

Rockin' the Altar

More to come from this wedding. Much, much more.

Freada and Mike, 2.21.09


View the complete slideshow here!

From the pages of “Now That’s What I Call Efficiency!” here is Freada and Mike’s fantastic wedding from just this past Saturday! Man, I love Brooklyn weddings, and this one was oh-so Brooklyn. Both Mike and Freada started their days at their parents houses — which happen to be on the same street! From there it was on to the venue — Bubby’s Pie Company in Brooklyn, which has a great mix of the classy and the quirky, and served some truly fantastic cupcakes. The ceremony was ably covered by a pastor and a rabbi who have been working together for 25 years on ecumenical ceremonies.

I couldn’t get enough of this couple, or of the great DUMBO environment. We wandered out together on the night-time city streets, glistening with moist river air. It shows how good a time we were having that I eventually had to say “Hey … don’t you have a wedding to get back to?”

I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my first NYC wedding of the year.

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Do you take this … cupcake topper?

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Shining City

Not your usual yearbook

It’s been a wonderful year, and I wanted to commemorate that with an album that highlights some of the great places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and stories I’ve been able to tell while photographing weddings. So I’ve put together a swanky, stylish book from Fiano, a company that makes gorgeous wedding albums.I want to show my clients that wedding albums can be thought of as portable art galleries, so I kept the design as simple as possible, with nice big pictures — and at this album size, a two-page image will be nearly two and a half feet across! These are just a collection of themes that I liked together, not necessarily my favorite pictures or weddings, but it was great to relive so many moments that have happened in front of my camera this year.

I will be sure to show off the album itself when it comes in, but for now here is the design. Each of these represents two pages,.

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Congratulations Freada and Mike!

Shining City

I had a wonderful wedding on Saturday, which also brought a return to the “Brenizer Method” of bokeh panoramas. The image above is a panorama of 26 images taken with the 85mm f/1.4, giving it that 3D look.

I did a little video blog focused on day-of slideshows. Embedding rarely works when I publish to Amazon (a price I’m more than willing to pay for such wonderful sponsors!), so you can also view it at this link. I love doing day-of slideshows, especially since they allow me to put up a Web gallery of selections the very next day. But as you can see from the video, it’s also all about guest reactions.

Much more to come from this fantastic wedding!

Lady in Black

I had a fantastic time shooting with Lydia yesterday. I’m prepping to do a review of my new video light equipment, but here’s a little taste:

Lady in Black

Profile in Courage

Profile in Courage

Patrice had a good career in his native Cameroon, but couldn’t stand by as he watched his countrymen be oppressed, so he joined the political resistence. He was beaten and jailed, and eventually tipped off that he was about to be killed, so he came to the United States. For more than a year, he has been penniless and homeless, but after his story ran in the New York Times, he was offered a job opportunity in Texas. I’m doing a series of high-key portraits on commission to document some of the Neediest Cases. I made this one low-key for myself by not triggering the background lights. Other than the crop, this is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG, using the native black and white mode.

Stephanie and Kenny: 1.18.09 Bancroft Hotel, Berkeley, CA

View the slideshow!
(And try not to be drinking anything, lest you snort it out your nose.)

These two crazy kids broke my system! I had resolved to myself that, no matter how much I loved a couple and the photos, I would always edit a blog post down to 10 photos and put the rest in the slideshow, so I could show a little self-restraint. But I didn’t count on Kenny and Stephanie, or their willingness to act out a skit in a Berkeley college classroom that, as a sign of the gods, already had a chalkboard filled out with equations like “2Love+ 2Love = 4Love” when we came in! The skit would have taken up half my set, but the whole wedding was so fantastic I couldn’t let it stand. So let’s start with their act:

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(That’s my messy handwriting)

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Kenny and Stephanie, as you might have imagined, are absolutely hilarious. In fact, professionally so — they’re both writers, and Kenny in particular works for comedic television shows, and many of his friends were alumni of his college humor magazine (watch the slideshow to see them successfully pull off a human pyramid with the bride on top!)

It was a beautiful time of year to be in Berkeley and San Francisco, and a fantastic ceremony, including touching statements from bride and groom about why they’re marrying each other, and a lengthy, poignant reading of David Sedaris. The only sad part was I had to go back to freezing New York!

Extreme Wedding Sports

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Wanna experiment?

Shock it to Me

This entry is directed at my current clients and clients-to-be for 2009, but I won’t mind if you listen in. It contains a really good idea you can steal. After all, I stole it.

John Michael Cooper, who is 10 pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag, gave a fantastic lecture at the Digital Wedding Forum. From light-painting subjects to complicated Photoshop layering to use the same flash countless times in the same picture, he sent everyone there scrambling to their notebooks for techniques to copy. But the thing that really held my attention was a throw-away comment: “I ask my clients for 10 minutes to try something that may or may not work.”

Brilliant.

I’ve been struggling with a dilemma for pretty much my entire career as a wedding photographer. The best photographers don’t just push the envelope, they push beyond it — which means they fail, quite a bit. But when it works, it really, really works. Generally speaking, though, that’s not the best way to shoot a wedding. “Sorry guys, I tried this great technique, but it didn’t work, so there are no photos from the ceremony. I hope that’s OK.” You have to play it safe. Now, I’ve spent thousands of hours working to make sure that I can do some pretty crazy things and still know that I’m going to get photos exposed exactly the way that I want. But I’m absolutely at my happiest when I take a wedding photo different than what I’ve seen before. My bokeh panorama technique has been great for that, since as far as I know no one has ever used that at a wedding before … ever. But I practiced and practiced it until I knew I could make it work on a wedding day, and now it’s a fairly safe part of my repertoire. Gotta keep pushing that envelope.

So … will you give me 10 minutes at your wedding? 10 minutes to try something that could be fantastic, or could totally fail? I’ll spend the rest of the day working and pushing the envelope, but give me 10 minutes to bust out of it and play around in the mailbox. If you do, you could get some great shots that look nothing like your friends’ photos. And you’ll be paying it forward … the crazy stuff that I can make work on a wedding day will quickly move from “experiment” to “part of the repertoire.”

So … will you give me 10 minutes?

Emily and Jeffrey: 11.23.08

View the slideshow here!

You know, most couple are lucky enough if they have a fabulous wedding, surrounded by loved ones, laughter, and great food, but Emily and Jeffrey got to do it twice in the same day! The marriage ceremony was at the fantastic River Cafe in Brooklyn on a freezing November day. Apparently this is the best view of Manhattan anywhere, because even despite the cold we saw seven or eight other wedding parties wander by! Without a doubt ours were the most fun, though, especially the ladies who were willing to freeze in their dresses for good photos! This is when being able to work quickly comes in handy, but I couldn’t resist a little “OK guys, just hold that pose for … twenty more minutes…”

After that, the wedding party headed to Queens for a giant Chinese reception, complete with Emily’s outfit change and course after course of delicious food. On the way in between, I designed a slideshow of the wedding ceremony, which allowed the 80 percent or so of the reception guests who weren’t there to experience the full day. I was sore but ecstatic after two separate ceremonies, but not nearly as much as the couple.

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A New World

The Groom's Secret Service

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An ever-changing world

Just in case my blog didn’t have enough typos already, I’ve discovered the WordPress application for iPhone, which I used to give appropriate credit to David Williams in my previous post. I may use this space for fleeting photography-related thoughts that are not quite fleeting enough for Twitter.

I’m on my way to two client meetings now. I have a nice little space in my office to greet clients properly, but a lot of the couples I work with are nose-to-the-grindstone New Yorkers, so I come to them when I can. While packing, my old RAZR phone fell out of a drawer,and I realized something: the ever-changing tech world drops values more than we may realize. While it’s shocking that a phone that, just a few years ago, was a super-expensive luxury item is now too cheap to bother selling, it gets worse. How much would someone have to pay *me* to go back to just a normal cell phone, even a sleek one? North of $1,000, for sure, given how useful smartphones are for small businesses. How much would someone have to pay me to shoot weddings with my old “Frankencamera,” the Fuji S2? I shudder to think.

How quick people are to adapt to their environments. I did fine with that old camera, which churned out great files for its time. Before long we’ll all wonder how we could have shot anything without ISO 5 billion, as we watch the burgeoning field of “inside a closed refrigerator” photography.

What piece of tech would you never, ever part with, even though you were decently happy before it existed?

Alexandra and David: 12.6.08

View the slideshow of this wedding!

This wedding couldn’t have come at a better time. I recently got back from a seminar where I heard the great Australian portrait photographer David Williams talk about the importance of families, and of photos in our own personal histories. At the end of the day, what we wedding and portrait photographers do isn’t about equipment or Photoshop actions or textures … it’s about documenting the stories of friends and families, and shaping memories. And I felt that so keenly at the wedding of Alexandra and David.

You see, once upon a time, there was a bride named Marisa. New Yorker through-and-through, as you can see below:

Giving the (ring) finger

I shot her wedding in May 2007, and had an absolute blast. Marisa had a sister, Natalia, who was getting married in November. “I LOVED your photographer,” Natalia said, “but I want to get married in Miami. Where can I find someone like him down there?”

Marisa said, “you know … I don’t think Ryan would mind leaving New York for Miami in November.” And so I shot Natalia’s wedding:

Kiss by Dusk

It was an especially great compliment to be flown down because, as of the last census, South Florida has 156 wedding photographers per square foot. It felt like a personal reunion as much as a wedding, and I left with a glow, loving life and my job.

You can probably see where this is going. There was a third sister, and her name was Alexandra. With the help in particular of her amazing mother, she was able to plan her wedding all the way from Singapore, where she and David live. It helped, of course, that she saw what had worked and what didn’t for her other sisters … and hiring me was a foregone conclusion. Our first client meeting basically boiled down to … “So, do you book the flight or do we?”

It has been such an honor to shape so much of a family’s history, to walk into a home during bridal preparations and see prints of my work hanging on a wall. It’s times like these that even a 14-hour day doesn’t feel anything like work. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that the wedding was at the fantastic Red Fish Grill in Miami, not a bad place to be in December).

I’m only sad that I’ve run out of sisters.

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Greetings from Miami

Lifeguard Off Duty

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Sharon and David: 11.29.08

View this wedding’s slideshow!

You want to talk intimidation? How about shooting for a family of surgeons where they joke that the Harvard-attending world-class fencer is the underachiever? How about a groom who’s a top-notch, award-winning cinematographer? How about trying to do justice to a gorgeous ceremony at New York’s prestigious Yale Club?

In fact, though, every moment of shooting David and Sharon’s wedding was a joy. They are warm, fantastic people, and there’s nothing quite like shooting for a room full of cinematographers. Every five minutes or so someone would come up to me and say, “Hey, that shot you just took? That was a great frame!” Above all, the emotions were heart-felt and vibrant. Eventually people stopped even trying to wipe away tears, it was just no use. And guest after guest lavished praise on the couple. As the best man said when it was his turn to speak, “I know there have been a lot of long speeches already about how great Sharon and David are … and this one isn’t going to break that mold.”

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Stephanie and Jerry: 11.14.08

View the full slideshow here!

What a wonderful couple Stephanie and Jerry were. I feel like I’ve known them for years. Oh wait … I have.

I’ve known Stephanie and Jerry for more than 10 years, and all that time Jerry has been crazy Stephanie. Most of the time, she returned the favor. I knew right away that their wedding was going to be something I didn’t want to miss, but they also really wanted my photographic vision to cover their day. Since Jerry is a television producer, I figured he knows what he wants. So I did double-duty on this wedding, photographing all the great moments while also getting to break into a Kid N’ Play routine on the dance floor. As you can probably tell, I had a blast the whole night.

Stephanie is a foodie (her father noted she carries maple syrup around in her purse in case she ever runs into a pancake), so it’s no surprise the food at the venue was fabulous, including a specially-made cake that was basically a giant three-color cookie. The ceremony was at our alma mater (and now one of my favorite corporate clients), Fordham University. It was cold and rainy, but that just made for a beautiful, colorful scene, and in about 15 minutes in the rain we did one of my favorite formals sessions of the year.

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Michael and Nadia: 10.18.08

View this wedding’s full slideshow!

I’ve always appreciated irony, so I love it that probably my most Manhattan wedding of the year, that just dripped that intimate, cosmopolitain feeling, was that of San Franciscans Michael and Nadia. How intimate? The wedding, a stylish affair in the gorgeous SoHo House, had seven guests. With just the closest friends there, everyone was comfortable and at ease. Also, one of the big advantages of a wedding that size is that you can have the reception under a normal reservation at the amazing Japanese restaurant Morimoto. This isn’t your father’s wedding food.

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Review: 135mm f/2 D DC

Specs and purchasing info.

135mm sometimes seems like the forgotten focal length. Dead-smack in the middle of the 70-200 range, most professional shooters have replaced this lens with more versatile and f/2.8 zooms. But a prime lens still has some advantages — it’s twice as light-sensitive wide-open, and much smaller and lighter to boot. Below, here is the 135mm flanked by the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms:

Not only is it lighter than even the normal-range 24-70, it has a built-in lens hood, so you don’t have to deal with bulky reversible hoods. But this is a double-edged sword — the smaller built-in hood is much less effective at reducing flare and protecting the lens element.

So is this lens any good? Yes, it’s great … in some ways. In some others, this lens, which has been essentially unchanged for 18 years, is sorely in need of an update.

BUILD QUALITY: It’s solid metal, with the great crinkly focus rings of other pro Nikon lenses from the 90s. It has the vaguely annoying AF-MF switch because it’s a screw-driven lens, but everything operates well. It has an aperture ring, so it will work on pretty much any Nikon SLR ever made for the past 50 years, but it’s not going to autofocus on the D40 or D60. It’s light enough to be well-balanced with all but the smallest cameras, but not too light for the D3.

DEFOCUS CONTROL: The 135mm, like Nikon’s 105mm f/2, has a special trick called "Defocus Control." What this essentially does is use multiple focal planes to give your subjects a hazy glow without being exactly out-of-focus. Here’s an example at it’s most extreme. First, without the effect applied, and then one at the maximum setting:



Nice, contrasty and sharp



I am zee sexy, no?

Let me get this out of the way: I hate this effect. It’s an artifact of 80s and 90s portraiture that hasn’t aged any better than parachute pants or Vanilla Ice, basically a high-tech way to smear Vasoline on your lens. It had some use when everyone was shooting film and it was a good way to soften the wrinkles on older subjects. But computer retouching can do a much better job these days without, say, hazing someone’s flesh tone over their eyeball. So I find the very thing that makes this lens unique more of an annoyance than a feature. The good news is that when you switch this feature off, it makes a pretty darned good fast telephoto.

OPTICS: It’s fairly sharp (not as sharp as my sharpest lenses, but sharp enough to count the eyelashes on your subjects even wide-open) and has smooth bokeh. I had hired a model to show off the bokeh, but she stood me up, so you’re left with this ugly mug:

As you can see, this is a good focal length to take fairly tight portraits without distorting someone’s features. The disfigured bokeh on the edges is normal for fast lenses. You can choose whether or not to care that you can see greenish chromatic aberration in the highlights even at this tiny size.

It was meant to be a portrait lens, and it works well as one. It will focus more closely than either the 70-200 or the 85mm f/1.4, making it easier to get close-up shots or tight portraits of children, like so:

Its color transmission is consistently great, right up there with the best Nikkors:

AUTOFOCUS: It’s a screw-driven lens, so it depends on your camera’s focus motor. On the D40 or D60 there’s none at all, on a big-motored camera like the D3 it’s pretty zippy, faster than the 85mm f/1.4 since it has a smaller front element to move around. I shot a few high-school basketball games with it as a favor for some relatives and it kept up OK — the initial focus acquisition is very fast, but it’s a bit sluggish at tracking a subject. Perhaps not coincidentally, this means it works very well in focusing for portraits, which this lens was made for, but is middling for sports:



Burned!

CONCLUSION: If you really love the speed and depth-of-field of f/2, or hate the lack of close-focus and weight of the 70-200mm f/2.8, this may be a good lens for you. It’s a great lens for portraits, and 135mm paired with a 24-70mm covers a lot of situations on full frame. On DX cameras, it functions like a 200mm, which may make it less useful since that’s more of a sports focal length, but in the end that’s up to you. It would be nice if Nikon could update this into something similar to Canon’s 135mm f/2, which casts aside all the Defocus Control stuff to just be a fast, tack-sharp lens. Even better would be going to 135mm f/1.8 to compete with the Zeiss lens for Sony’s mount, but don’t hold your breath for either of these. Nikon hasn’t been too keen on updating general-use primes, and really needs to fill their fast-wide gap first. In the meantime, this current lens is a solid performer, great at some things and merely good at others.