Green Building Wedding: Jenna and Aaron

I’m pretty sure this is the soonest after a wedding that I’ve ever blogged the images — chalk it up to a pre-WPPI convention burst of productivity. But also these make me excited for a number of reasons. First, Jenna and Aaron are awesome, hilarious, and brilliant. I really love how frequently the best man and maid of honor speeches mention how freaking smart my couples are, since if smart people hire you, maybe you’re doing something right. Aaron, after all, if the sort of fellow who had Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, a thoroughly impenetrable book, out as pleasure reading. Sadly there were more important things going on than for us to sit and share a dialectical chat.

But also this was my first wedding since being named of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world by American Photo magazine, and my first wedding since the Foundation Workshops. Contrary to what you might think, the former fact never entered my mind all day. But Foundation loomed large in my mind — I have spent my entire career working as hard as I can to show lasting moments, people’s personalities and how amazing they look at their wedding day, but the intensity of the Foundation Workshop made me work harder than ever at being a perfectionist along the way — stressing over every millimieter of what is and is not included in each frame. Of course, sometimes the moment is strong enough that you just go for it — the ring bearer kissing his brother was impossible to frame perfectly, but even just mentioning the existence of the photo made their mother break out in a huge grin.

Also, though for a mix of modesty and SEO purposes she doesn’t want me to mention her name, I was joined by the amazing T, and she KILLED it. Lots of great photos, and even when running the photobooth she managed to take a simple setup and create art! I’ve never been so tempted to put photobooth images in a blog post. Thanks, T!

I’m so excited for 2013, and this was a great way to kick off the main season!

Bayard’s Wedding: Sarah and Alex

Sara and Alex’s wedding at Bayard’s was all about family … really. They struggled with changed dates and planning to make sure that Sarah’s parents could be there from the Philippines, and even just weeks before they still weren’t sure that they could make it. Thankfully they made it for a beautiful-but-freezing winter wedding. St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a gorgeous place for a ceremony — and apparently completely unheated. But whether in the church or on an icy Wall Street walk, there was little but ecstasy in Sarah and Alex’s minds, and it was infectious despite a few blue fingers.

More Play, and Slowing Down

Belt Craft Studios is filled with enough vintage-y props to launch a thousand styled shoots. When I saw them, my first thought was “How perfect for so many wedding photographers who are not me!” The images that tend to drive me forward, of course, are the moments, the illustration of real personalities and relationships and histories. But that’s silly, of course. From a viewer’s perspective, there is no me, there are only the photos — and perhaps I appear later. In Paris the other day, I saw an amazing Joel Meyerowitz retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. The same photographer who spent years stalking streets with a small-framed Leica, documenting fleeting moments in color and shadow, also lugged around a gigantic 20×25 to create a completely different body of work.

As I mentioned in the last post, I had iterations of this specific idea in my head for many years, but I’ve also in general become fascinated with the process required to make it … slowing down. Instead of creating hundreds of pictures on an engagement shoot, what could I do if I worked to produce just five? Three? One? Not the right choice for all clients, but for some it could be perfect, and push me forward in different ways.

It may surprise those of you who haven’t worked for a while as a photographer, but it takes a lot more time and effort to create three photos on a shoot than to create 100. Claudia already has hundreds of photos of herself in bridal gowns, so for her actual bridal session we made just three. Here is the second:

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Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lens: Olympus 12mm f/2

Come With Me

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I’m in Europe, where I’ve just got done teaching two London workshops and am currently taking two days in Paris. It was an absolute blast with fantastic attendees, and a fair share of beer and foosball (or “table football,” as it is called here.) But some of the things I stressed were pushing yourself into places you don’t usually go, and working with clients for creative results, so I thought “well, let’s actually practice what I’m preaching.”

As part of the trip, I was reunited with Claudia, a great model who moved off to Germany after getting married, but in the process she never had any wedding photos of her own! So we arranged a bridal session. The problem before me was this: I knew we could get gorgeous photos. She’s gorgeous. I could put her in decent window light and take a snap with my iPhone and it would be gorgeous. And if I’d been doing a couples’s shoot I knew I could find the uniqueness in their relationship. But her husband couldn’t make it from Germany, so how do you shoot a bridal model’s bridal photos without it looking like just another bridal modeling session she’s done? We’re celebrating the real thing here.

I reached back to an idea I’ve had for many years, and I realized this would be the perfect time to put it in practice. And, more importantly, it was fun. Belt Craft Studios was a perfect place for this, with all sorts of props that we re-appropriated, but also a bunch of stuff that we simply stole from our apartment. This was one of the tableaus we created. Thanks to Tatiana Breslow for assisting, and to Claudia for being an amazing bride, and really working her core strength for these.

Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6

New Studio Madness with Dominique Dicaprio

A while back, I closed the lease on my new studio and thought “What trouble could I get up to with an empty apartment?” There could be few better partners in crime than fantastic model and actress (and budding photographer) Dominique Dicaprio, running through all sorts of techniques that are hard to pull off on a wedding day. We wanted to make some crazy pictures, and of course the more that you practice wild techniques, the easier it is to actually pull them out at a wedding — it took some time to make a 75-image panorama of moving people one of my “safe” techniques.”

Most of these are with the Nikon D4, but one of them is with the Sony RX1, which is on my pile of “things to review when I break my femur and am actually forced to stop shooting and travelling so much.” The best thing I can say about it is that other than a lucky guess, there’s no way to tell — it has every bit the quality of a high-resolution dSLR in a much smaller package. But I am addicted to viewfinders, so the default lack puts me off a bit.

Thank you Dominique!

Highlands Country Club Wedding: Dana and Ben

Some funny things happen when you shoot more than 300 weddings in an area as diverse and sometimes nuts as the New York area. I’ve seen so many different cultures, so many different styles, and had just about everything thrown into my path, which has guided me as a photographer through the years. But I never anticipated that I might have the opportunity to become an expert at weddings affected by Hurricanes. I’m up to seven or so now, so I’m getting there.

Luckily for Dana and Ben’s wedding at the Highlands Country Club, Sandy was still on its way. But with a gaggle of guests from NYC and talks of bridges closing, it took a moment for people to say “OK, we can do this … we can have a fantastic time.”

And they did. Celebrating amidst the autumn leaves that had only hours left to stay on the trees, cooking S’mores with loved ones who made it through the travel hazards to laugh and dance and celebrate together, and knowing that, even if everyone did get stuck there for the weekend, it would have only been a continued adventure … these just added to the joy and thrill of the day.

Thanks to Dave Paek for helping out and braving the storm with me, despite living in Zone A.

I have been named one of American Photo’s Top 10 World’s Best Wedding Photographers for 2013. Pinch me.

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“Awards don’t matter,” I tell myself. “I don’t do this job for awards.” And for the most part, I actually believe it. They’re handy signposts for my competitive spirit, but this is an industry where you are only as good as the photo you take next. After all, you will never hear a bride say “I hated my photos, but that’s OK because he’s taken really great photos for other people!”

But making the American Photo Top 10 list sweeps that aside for a moment in a rush of euphoria and amazement. Partially because this is The Big One, the list that everyone wants to be on, and which has been graced by unbelievably talented photographers who have inspired me from the beginning of my career to today. But mostly because this list is nominated by these incredible photographers. It still surprises and bewilders me that these people even know who I am, so to have them say “Yes, he belongs on a list of the best of the best,” is an honor too big for me to wrap my head around. Thank you.

It is also incredible to be named along with nine other photographers who are not only incredible, but who include personal friends such as Todd Hunter McGaw, or the man who made me laugh myself to tears this past week at the Foundation Workshop, Tyler Wirken.

But mostly thank you to my clients and their friends and families, for not only being amazing, but choosing to be amazing in front of my lens. You are awesome, and that’s what this shows. I’m just the guy that gets to document that.

But the competitive spirit in me must push me further. I can’t stop at the world. Wedding photographers of Mars, watch your back.

A Week with My New Family: Foundation Workshops

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So this is it: I’ve been named one of the world’s top 10 wedding photographers. Wedding photography has never been a stepping stone for me onto other things — I already have my dream job. So clearly I’m exactly where I want to be, and there’s nothing left to learn.

Ha. Hahahaha…

You never stop learning in a job like this, and that’s one of the things I love about it so fiercely. I love learning, and I love a job that forces me to constantly use my brain in new ways. So I made a vow to take at least one workshop or photography class every year, forever. I’ve seen photographers like Joe McNally do their thing; I’ve been through several excellent courses at the top-notch International Center for Photography, and more. I’ve been forced to leave my comfort zone in a hundred ways for classes — I’ve used new and exotic equipment, I’ve contracted pneumonia, and I’ve been stripped naked both figuratively and literally. But in some ways this was all preparation for the Foundation Workshop.

Founded more than 10 years ago by Huy Nguyen and newspaper photographers who had transferred into wedding photography, Foundation is an intense, grinding, transformative experience that seeks to ground wedding photographers in the modes of hard photojournalism, both as a shooter and as an editor. The wedding photography experience tends to be defined by people in tears saying “Oh my god, we love our photos and we love you!” while photojournalism is defined by a coffee-chugging photo editor yelling “Hey jerk, there’s a tree coming out of this person’s head! Look at this horizon … were you drunk when you took this?” A great photo editor can make you love them and hate them at the very same time.

Foundation is about change, and in many ways the defining experience is making wedding photographers — harbinger of tears that we are — break down in tears ourselves. The 8:30 mark of this video sums it up. But it’s too reductive to think of it as a place where people will try to make you cry by being extremely hard on you. That’s one reason you might cry, sure, and people do. But I’ve been through photo school and the newsroom. While learning, I’ve had people tell me that my photos made them physically ill. I knew I could take some criticism. But Foundation brought me to tears anyway. What did it for me was that magic mix of sleep deprivation and incredible waves of emotion. You are in a small room with many of the world’s best wedding photojournalists, and there’s just no ego in sight. Strangers become colleagues, and then friends, and then family. And then, when you’re at your sleepiest, your sappiest, they hit you with the results of the week, the incredible work of your fellow students. And at least one of the assignments — Mary McHenry‘s — had the tears rolling down my face.

There are so many emotions that roll through you — I spent portions of the workshop ecstatic, exhausted, even incredibly angry — but I started with terror. I knew this would be a tough week, but staff member after staff member kept coming up to me and saying “Ryan, we’re doing our best to figure out how to kick your ass.” Oh boy.

This speaks to the incredible level of individualized attention you get at Foundation. My week there were 25 students, and 27 staff members. I don’t know anything else in the wedding world that even approximates that. You can’t get away with slinking by and giving a half-hearted effort, there are too many people looking over your shoulder … literally. By the end of two days of shooting, hours and hours of tight editing and mentoring, every single student knocked their assignment out of the park. We aren’t allowed to publicly show more than two images for some very good reasons, but there are a couple assignments that I really wish could be released to the world, because the work is so strong about sensitive subjects that they are actually important.

But they staff had a different challenge in mind for me. They work very hard to tailor assignments to the specific students’ strengths and needs, and they knew that I would relish any emotional or physical challenge, that I’d be happy to roll around for two days in dirt or blood or fire for the shots. So instead they challenged me with tedium and familiarity. I was assigned a small newsroom, the kind I started my career in. With my experience, I already knew that absolutely nothing visually interesting happens in a small newsroom. My proposed subtitle for the piece was “People threw away papers, and sometimes took a smoke break.” But it allowed me to drill down on technical aspects I never had time to really focus on during the frenetic wedding day, working on skills in layering, filling the frame with relevant information, reducing visual clutter in an extremely cluttered environment, etc. I even shot most of my assignment with the 12mm on the OM-D so I couldn’t use shallow depth-of-field as a visual crutch.

I couldn’t imagine a better team leader in this than David Murray, with his decades of experience shooting for newspapers and newswires. And imagine a workshop where staff is as packed with excellence as Erin Chrisman and Daniel Aguilar are the secondary mentors. Each of them pushed me farther to make great images from the mundane than I ever had before, and I am bursting with energy now, waiting to tear into this wedding season.

Thank you to everyone in my new family. I said this to Daniel at the end of the workshop, but it also applies to David, Erin, “team mom” Cliff Brunk and so many others: “When this started I loved your work. Now, I love you.”

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Photo by Ed Atrero

Blue Hill Stone Barns Wedding: Kate and David

What do you need more than a gorgeous fall day, one of my favorite venues anywhere and a kind, beautiful couple? Well, a wild set of friends and family doesn’t hurt, and it’s always handy when the grandfather is a four-star general, because you never know what’s going to happen at a wedding, and logistics matter.

Thanks to Dave Paek for helping out and being awesome as always.

Heck of a First Kiss

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No matter how long we’re in this business, we should never stop learning and growing and pushing ourselves. One of the ways I did this in 2012 was to try to push myself to capture the first kiss in creative ways. There’s a good reason I hadn’t done this before, of course — this is an extremely important moment that really doesn’t need embellishing, so it’s more important to just capture it than to be fancy and risk not capturing it. But this is an outgrowth of using second shooters and assistants I really trust. When I see a shot that can benefit from a risky technique, I tell them beforehand “OK, your job is just to get the first kiss straight-up and close, keep it simple. I’m going to do something wacky.”

For Annie and Bill the wackiness was a tilt-shift to capture the overhead lights, as well as an SB-900 I’d placed behind the altar before the ceremony started, turning a very dark scene into this.

Lens: 45mm f/2.8 PC-E
Camera: Nikon D3s
Place: The Foundry

Wedding at The Venetian: Christine and Jesse

It seems like 2012 was a year of fashion for my couples. I had a bride who had a tattoo of the Chanel logo. I had a bride who the dress designer met by chance and simply insisted she must come to Italy for a private fitting. And of course so many fabulous shoes, in particular the Louboutins with their pristine, delicate red soles, fetish objects as much as footwear. But this was the first time that those red soles belonged … to the groom.

Yes, Christine knows Jesse quite well, and knew exactly what to get her fashion-conscious groom as a wedding gift. Shoes to walk down the aisle together in; to dance like a madman in … and, with their spikes, probably fairly useful for self-defense, but that luckily never came up. And they were put to good use, with a dance party so wild that I suspect the Bachelor’s Party was held at breakdance camp. It was a wild, fun day thanks to them and their friends and family, and thanks as well to Dave Paek, who did a great job helping out as always, and probably had the most important job of all, as he handled the shoes.

My First International Workshop: London area, Feb. 23

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Lots of UK folk have been begging me to come across the pond, and I’ve been dying to go to London ever since I was aware of what it was, so here we are. http://www.ryanbrenizer.com/workshops/ I want people to get real benefits from this, and am not a sunshine-and-rainbows peddler, so I may have written the only vaguely depressing workshop announcement ever. Like Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, I’m just keeping it real.

Rockleigh Country Club Wedding: Leigh and Bernie

You know, being based in the Northeast, I really didn’t expect to shoot so many hurricane-affected weddings that I’d start to develop an expertise at it. But starting with Erika and Chip’s wedding that Hurricane Irene rolled through, to a slew of November weddings I shot in Sandy-ravaged parts of NY and New Jersey, I’m starting to feel like hurricanes are just another part of the job to deal with, like makeup artists who nonchalantly run an hour or more off schedule.*

Leigh and Bernie had the worst bit of the post-Sandy schedule, with their wedding date falling on the Friday just a few days after, and locations on either side of the New York/New Jersey border. In some ways they were lucky — the reception hall got their power back a couple hours before the reception. In some ways they weren’t — the ceremony church thought they’d have the power back, but didn’t, so they neither had lights nor preparations to deal with not having light, meaning that the photos you see from the ceremony were too dark for the naked eye to see in any detail (thank you, Nikon D3s and f/1.4 lenses). I also started shooting the ceremony at more or less of a full sprint because a downed power line blocked the only road that led to the church. After more than 300 weddings, you think you’ve seen it all, but there’s always more in store — so we make it work anyway. I was helped in this by Adeel Bukhari, who not only did a fantastic job as an assistant and took some great photos, but had the most important asset anyone could that day — a car with enough gas to get around.

So … Hurricane Sandy? Leigh and Bernie have a message for you. (NSFWish)

The important thing is that even a hurricane can’t get in the way of a fantastic couple and their loved ones having an amazing time. Their emotions were close to the surface all day, and these were emotions of fun and laughter and love, not frustration. And the reception was a wild release, people dancing and laughing even though some had just suffered massive damage to their homes, and no one cared that the reception flowers didn’t arrive, or tht cars were lined up in front of the reception hall in a futile attempt to find gasoline nearby. Weddings are celebration, and the rest is just stories for the grandkids.

*They didn’t here; that’s just an all-too-common occurance.

My (Mostly) 2012: Year in Review

Goodbye 2012! You were fantastic. It felt like a long year, simply because I saw so much change and excitement. When I looked back at the beginning, I couldn’t believe that stuff had happened just one year ago.

I like it better that way. Simple lives are fantastic, eventually, but with complex ones it feels like you just get … more of it.

It’s the end of the year, so here is my “Best of 2012 Weddings” post.

Except that it’s not about 2012, or weddings, or about which photos are best.

You see, there’s a good reason that I haven’t done a Year in Review post since 2006 or so. When you have a busy shooting schedule, your year doesn’t really end on Dec. 31. You’re still processing away, crafting the stories that you recently documented, and you never know where the next photos are coming from. Heck, I have a fantastic wedding to shoot today, and I’d want to include it in any sort of year-end wrap-up. But the problem is, that means I can either do a year-end wrap-up that doesn’t have the full year … or I can do it some time in February. Neither option works for me, so I’m telling a slightly off-kilter story of a year. From 11/1/11 to 10/31/12. And I’ll do the same next year, so that my fantastic November and December weddings get their due.

But along the way, I realized it’s not about weddings either, or just picking out the “best” photos. I’ve said before in workshops that any individual wedding photo should be about the subjects and content, but if you place a whole portfolio together, then it starts to coalesce into a self-portrait. Wedding photography demands so much of our personal vision that the way we see the world is writ large, and ever part of our personality and experience is part of the story. So this is my self-portrait.

Best photos? Best weddings? Nah, trying to make those sort of choices would have ended my year with a breakdown. But I can tell you how I felt when I took every photo. I am not an impartial observer — I try to take photos that evoke emotions in the viewer, and as that shutter is clicking, all I am is the first viewer. My joy is reflected on my subjects’ smiles, my heart breaks at tears. I can tell you if I was excited, frenetic or calm. I can tell you what the temperature was, and everything that was going through my head for each one of these. And this is from someone who can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. When I make memories, I’m also making mine. This is my year — presented in a random order that isn’t random.


This post is quite long, and some of the images are fairly big, so I’m putting it behind a cut so it won’t drown the rest of my site with its mass. Also, unless WordPress have fixed the bug, iPads might not load most of it at all. Click on the image for the review.

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