Back in the Swing of Things

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It was quite a week, but now we’re getting back to normal here.

Of course, with Susanne and Jason, it’s better than normal. Because they decided to celebrate their 15-minutes-old marriage with a stop by the carnival behind the church. No Photoshop effects here, just panning.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6

Christina and Brian’s Trash the CAKE session

Sometimes fate knocks on your door … and sometimes it brings cake.

I’d met the incredible cake-maker Hope from A Little Imagination Cakes at a Grace Ormonde event and I started thinking: Hey, your cakes are incredible. Why don’t we destroy one? Wouldn’t it be great to get a bride and groom just going nuts with it? Man, who could we find for that?

A couple days later, I get an e-mail from Christina. She wants to do a Trash the Dress session … but she really wants to trash it. No “just wading into a puddle and getting it a little wet.” She has a Vera Wang gown, and she wants it to go out in style.

Boom.

Christina and Brian had a comic book-themed wedding, and Hope went all out to make an awesome DC-hero themed cake for them — AND recreated their fantastic save-the-date on layers of the cake itself. All this for something we were about to smash to tiny bits. That’s love of craft.

And smash we did.

This was an awesome day. Thank you Hope, thank you Christina and Brian, and thank you Dave Paek for great assistance.

Midtown Loft and Terrace Wedding: Dana and Jamie

I don’t do as many destination weddings as I could because, in NYC, destination weddings come to you. Yes, I would love to go to Scotland and shoot a crazy celebration in the lush highlands, but I could also have clients like Dana and Jamie, you bring all of their guests and the band in from Scotland to celebrate at Midtown Loft and Terrace, a five-minute walk from my studio. And on a Wednesday, no less.*

It was an amazing day, especially thanks to the guidance of planner Christine at Exquisite Affairs Productions and the help of John Edgar and assistance from Dave Paek. John actually grew up in Scotland, so he was my cultural attaché. But even he couldn’t fully translate the heavy dialect of the grandfather’s nonetheless hilarious speech.

Randy kids, wild adults, waving kilts, grand marches, and lots and lots of alcohol. All of the destination, none of the plane travel. Thank you.

*I support this trend. I’ve photographed weddings on every day of the week in 2012, which is not a common feat.

The 67th annual Alfred E. Smith dinner, with President Obama and Governor Romney

In the middle of an important and extremely hard-fought campaign, two competitors who visibly dislike each other on personal and political levels came together to briefly put their swords aside, the mission of the Al Smith Dinner, which has been bringing candidates together since 1945. And yes, the moment was brief — one of the speeches seemed more biting than normal for an event primarily dedicated to self-deprecation — but it was there. President Obama and former Governor Romney met for the first time on friendly ground since 2004, the first sitting president to attend an Al Smith Dinner since 1984, and I was there, as the exclusive independent eye. They joked about Romney’s singing, they smiled in ways that showed exactly why they have reached the pinnacles of political life, and they prepared to bring the house down, raising millions for the archdiocese and marking the progress Catholicism has made in American politics. When Al Smith ran for president in 1924, the Klu Klux Klan almost managed to get an explicit anti-Catholic plank on the Democratic party platform. In 2012, both tickets have Catholics on them and no one even really notices.

It was an incredible honor in 2008 with Senators Obama and McCain, who as co-workers at the time were openly collegial throughout the night, but there is a unique thrill to photographing a current president, to tell the most powerful person in the world even which way to turn and smile.

I’d covered Presidents Bush and Clinton as part of press scrums for upstate newspapers, and won an award for coverage of Clinton when I sneakily broke away from the press pack with this crazy new device called a digital camera, but it’s hard to be fully prepared for an event like this. Even just maintaining sight lines for good compositions is a Herculean challenge when you are between the rock of not wanting to elbow aside a billionaire and the hard place of making sure Secret Service can keep a direct path to him at all times.

A challenge, and a thrill. One of the draws of photography is to spend my time doing something that will outlive me. I shoot weddings because these are images that people will value for decades. But to stand at a crossroads in history and witness the moment when these two candidates came together, shared each other a laugh, and called each other honorable men … thank you. Thank you for this.

Chateau Briand Wedding: Samantha and Tushar

When you meet Samantha and Tushar, they strike you as extremely kind, deeply in love, and a little quiet. Well, two out of three are true, at least when it comes to wedding receptions. With countless deep friendships that they’ve maintained over the years, extensive dancing, musical performances, and even an entrance via a pneumatic platform via the Chateau Briand, it was anything but a quiet reception. What else could one expect from a wedding featuring Tushar’s brother, from deep Georgia, the self-proclaimed “only Indian redneck?”

Gorgeous day, amazing people. Congratulations, you crazy kids.

Portrait of a President

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you can’t argue against President Obama’s smile (or Mitt Romney’s hair).

I can’t even describe how sharp this picture is at full size. I put the 24-70 aside for the last few years because it almost made things too easy and mindless, but it is an amazing performer.

Note: In all of these posts, negative political commentary against either side will be deleted. The entire Internet lies out there, waiting for your flame wars.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 24-70 f/2.8

That Fleeting Moment: Romney, Obama, and Cardinal Dolan at the Al Smith Dinner

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Whew. I just got back from the Al Smith Dinner. I haven’t even download all of the images yet, but thanks to hyper-efficiency of the media world, this one has already been sent out to the newswires a couple hours ago. It was an amazing event and an incredible honor to have a near-exclusive eye on history, flanked only by two campaign photographers who have already made an incredible mark on history themselves: Eric Draper and Pete Souza.

Apparently, other than the debates President Obama and former Governor Romney haven’t been near each other since 2004. And they haven’t exactly been sharing a laugh during the debates. So it was a pleasure to be there for that brief moment where two fierce competitors put down their guard for a fleeting moment … and laughed about Mitt’s singing. (“It was pretty good!” according to the president).

More to come.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 24-70 f/2.8

Another Chance at History

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I’ll be back as the sole independent photographer in the Al Smith Dinner tonight, with President Obama and former Governor Romney, among countless other luminaries. Watch it on C-Span at 9.

It has been an incredible honor to have an exclusive eye to history multiple times. Nervous and tremendously excited. Heck, I’m excited just to work alongside Pete Souza, let alone everything else.

Camera: Nikon D3
Lens: 24-70 f/2.8

Rebecca and Varun (D600 Review Coming Soon!)

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I’ve had the findings I need to review the Nikon D600 for a month, but I’ve been (not so) patiently awaiting the software I like to use to update to support files from the camera. Alas, this hasn’t happened yet, but I will listen to those of you who have clamored to hear more about it.

One big plus for it — it didn’t freeze up at all while shooting this 47-image panorama, while the D800 would have locked up several times from all that data coming in too fast.

Camera: Nikon D600
Lens: Lens: 47-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 28mm f/0.45 according to Brett’s calculator)

Quick Review: Tokina 300mm f/6.3 for Micro 4/3ds

882238Generally a lot of the stuff I review is on the professional, end of the scale, high-performing but expensive. There’s a pretty good reason for that — during the season especially at least 98 percent of the shooting I do is for paying clients, and I want to use the best equipment for the job. But when Tokina recently announced the 300mm f/6.3 Mirror lens for Micro 4/3rds, it stirred my interest. Mirror lenses seemed like things of the distant past, so I wanted to see how they had done balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the design for the new age. But also there seemed to be a unique opportunity when paired with the Olympus OM-D. Generally, the only situation that you can shoot something at 300mm and f/6.3 is under very brightly lit conditions, generally full sun. But with the impressive noise performance and highly effective in-camera lens stabilization of the OM-D, it seemed like it might be possible to shoot in more general conditions.

First: What is a mirror lens? In broad brush strokes, basically it’s a telescope that fits on your camera. They have one fixed aperture and with very rare exceptions are manual focus. They never became widely popular largely because of the fixed, usually very slow apertures, and because the design produces some very strange bokeh, turning any patches of light into swirly donuts:

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Ok, so what’s the point? Weight and cost. They tend to be much cheaper than equivalent “real” lenses and much, much lighter — especially when combined with the 2.0 crop factor of micro-4/3rds. Here’s what it’s like to carry the Canon 600mm f/4 (taken from Juza Photo) next to what it’s like to carry the OM-D and Tokina.

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These set-ups have similar frames of view, though of course the similarities end there. The tokina is manual-focus, a smaller unchangeable aperture, and in depth of field terms on a full frame camera it is similar to a 600mm f/13. But you can see why this might be the sort of thing a private eye would want in their bag.

As someone who only shoots above 85mm in certain situations, shooting at 600mm was an interesting challenge. For the first few days it was actively jarring to put the camera up to my face, and astonishing how far back I had to stand from my subjects. The Tokina has surprisingly close focus, and functions as a 1:2 macro. But even photographing something as small as a wedding ring meant standing two or three feet away!

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It’s almost unfair to compare the optical performance of this little guy to the professional glass I normally use, but in any case do not expect much. When my assistant looked at some photos I had taken with it, he said “I think something’s wrong with your camera, these are really cloudy.” Contrast is not very good at all in most situations — that can be corrected somewhat in post-processing, but post can never make up for that entirely. But when everything works right, it can be sharper than I expected:

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As the 100 percent crop shows, even with the good performance of the OM-D, shooting at f/6.3 indoors means learning to live with noise. To shoot this (from way, WAY across the room) in good window light, I had to be at ISO 5,000. This is not a normal use lens.

It’s also not very easy to manually focus an ultra-telephoto lens — shooting motion with this will take both skill AND luck. My diopter was off just a tiny bit on the OM-D, and even that made focusing nearly impossible. Something like the Panasonic 100-300mm is going to be well worth the extra money for most users. It’s almost double the weight, and is a lot more conspicuous … but nothing like walking around with a 600mm. Some of the possible uses for this lens seem well, a little creepy, but we won’t focus on that. For non-creepy users, it’s mostly recommended for people who want to shoot telephoto but very rarely, because this is a lot easier to keep in a little bag at all times than the Panasonic, or for people who really like swirly donuts. With the right subject, even a lens like this can turn out good results:

Boston Public Library Wedding: Erika and Chip

What a journey. First, they got married, with an uninvited guest named Hurricane Irene. All of the emotion was there, family and friends who had come in town for the wedding managed to make it despite the transportation shut down, but one thing was missing — a really good party.

So Erika and Chip turned to their home town, Boston, and threw a fantastic wedding at the Boston Public Library. And they partied, hard. Not just with dancing, but sharing joy with family, casting a giddy eye to the cloudless sky, and even getting a little crazy and showing some books who’s boss.

(Disclaimer again from the son of a librarian: These aren’t library books. We bought them from the pulping pile for this purpose.)

It was an honor and a pleasure to spend more than two years planning, laughing, and telling stories with Erika and Chip. Thanks to Jason Kan for joining me on this chapter, and doing great work.