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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take a firecracker of a bride, a calm and cool groom who’s love for friends and family shows through the rare smiles they goad out of him, and a gorgeous day in a late Manhattan fall. Add laughter, tears, rambunctious children, and a Dad who really knows his way through Gangnam Style. Mix it all together in Studio 450 and stir. I would have had a fantastic time at Rosanne and Chris’s wedding regardless, but it was a further pleasure to be joined by Andre Lambertson and Dave Paek.
I’ve tried every professional camera that came out in 2012, and I’ve never had people clamor for my review as much as with the Nikon D600. It’s clear that the attractive price point, including staggering holiday sales with lens bundles, are attracting people to move up to a full-frame sensor while it becomes more affordable than ever. Great! In late September I got one of the first models, I tested it out, found some things I loved, some things that I didn’t, and I was ready to go! I used it on an engagement shoot, used it at a wedding, and was ready to really put it through the paces in my extremely busy fall schedule.
And then … it broke. I’d started my second engagement shoot with it, and almost immediately it just stopped autofocusing. Not good. It turns out that my model had been damaged in transit. This means a couple things for this review:
- The reason you are reading this in late December instead of early October is that I had to sit and wait to see if this was a persistent problem with the model. I suspected this was a one-time case of bad luck, but if I’d started reading reports that D600 autofocus was failing left and right, then this would be a very different review.
- I have not been able to test it nearly as thoroughly as I like to for a dSLR review, especially as it was just a backup camera at the wedding I shot. I would have skipped the review altogether if people didn’t beg me for it every single day. That said, I have some insights on it as a working camera that I believe are valuable.
I have not seen anything about this being a persistent problem with the model, so I wouldn’t take this as a point against it in the review. A single data point is not in any way valid for determining whether the camera is particularly fragile.
OK, let’s get to it:
What is this camera all about?
This, not the D800, is Nikon’s real successor for the D700 … which shows how confusing the model naming system is. The D700 was all about fitting a full-frame sensor in as compact and broadly usable a camera as possible for a more affordable price. The D600 has the same mission, and uses a few design choices and technological progress to make the camera even more compact and affordable, weighing 22 percent less than the D700. The D800′s mission is totally different — from extremely high resolution to crazy dynamic range, Nikon set out to make the best ISO 100 DSLR around, and they did so. But the trade-offs are giant files and a sluggish, un-Nikonlike response speed. (see full review here)
So one of the central questions people have is this: Is it a worthy upgrade? Absolutely. In almost every way, the D600 is a superior camera to the D700, so pay no attention to that model number. It’s been four-and-a-half years since the D700 was released, and that’s a lifetime in sensor development. Even though the D600 has twice as many megapixels, you will absolutely get better prints at the highest ISOs from it, especially in regards to color fidelity. The D700′s sensor is virtually identical to the 2007-designed Nikon D3, and the color and overall tone gets muddy at the highest ISOs. Five years ago, no one cared that a photo was a bit muddy at ISO 6400 — we were too busy saying “I can take a usable photo at ISO 6400? What strange sorcery is this?”
The Nikon D600 at ISO 5000, good color and all
The only major potential drawback in the comparison was that the D700 used the best autofocus design available at the time, the same as the much more expensive Nikon D3, while the D600 uses a modified version designed for the “semi-professional” Nikon D7000. I expected this to have more of an effect on me, but I used it all day next to the D3s and in practice I didn’t notice any real difference in focus acquisition. Any effects were minimal compared to other factors like which lens you were using.
The diamond design of the focus points plus the large frame make the AF points feel a bit more clustered than others, especially if you’re shooting in the corners. But pretty much all full-frame cameras are pretty bad on this front, so I’ve learned to adjust for it a long time ago. Get as close as you can, then focus and recompose — it’s the full-frame way. (Live View actually lets you put the AF point wherever you want, but it’s much slower). Someone coming from, a pro DX camera like a D300s might be shocked at the difference though.
So what’s it like to use?
Even though its resolution pales next to the D800′s 36 megapixels, the 24 MP of the D600 is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s take a look at a picture of the New York skyline next to a 100 percent crop of the same picture, that lets us look at all of the best footholds for King Kong on the Empire State building:
Now, I know what some of you might say. “Noise on a low ISO image?!? Get the pitchforks!” But this image was taken underexposed to keep the data in the highlights, and then sharpened so that it would look good in a smaller print. Luckily I’ve uploaded a RAW version for the techies to play with, because I care.
Nikon seems to be maximizing the resources of its sensors, whether they’ve designed them or they’re tweaking Sony’s designs, because all of their full frame cameras from the D3s on have the same general high ISO output of “very, very good.” They all look different at the 1:1 range, but if you were making an 8×12 print from each camera at high ISO, they would all fall pretty close to each other. I haven’t tested the D3x, but according to DXOMark, the D600 wins the battle of 24MP on all fronts at dramatically lower cost.
On Color: Another reason this review took a long time coming is that 3rd party software took forever to properly support this camera, and it is still very hard for me to get the results I want out of Lightroom with D600 files, particularly in skin tones. This is likely just a continuation of my frustrations with Lightroom, but I’ve got it pretty well figured out for the D3s, and it certainly treats D600 files differently. Capture One does a better job for me, and I suspect that Capture NX2 does it perfectly … but I can’t test that because I lost my serial number long ago after I realized that processing a wedding in Capture NX2 is like crawling across a field of broken glass in the hot sun, except without the sense of adventure.
Started the processing in View NX for better color
This is not a manly camera, and that’s the best thing about it for me. It’s as small and light as Nikon has ever had a full-frame digital sensor in, and is a fantastically compact package when paired with great lenses like the 28mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G. Like most cameras without a vertical grip, I find it poorly balanced with heavy-but-not-gigantic lenses like the 24-70mm f/2.8G, since too much weight gets put onto one wrist (luckily there’s an optional vertical grip).
But there’s something even better than weight — it’s quiet, really the only full-frame Nikon DSLR that I would give that designation to. Particularly in silent mode, the shutter barely disturbs your subjects. Now, I love the giant shotgun miror-slap of a 6×7 camera and the sharp clack of my D3s, but I shoot weddings and photojournalism for a living, and I count every shutter click as an “annoyance unit.” Stand in front of someone and fire off your camera, and eventually they will think about you instead of what they’re doing, and soon thereafter be annoyed by you. The quieter the moment and the louder the camera, the quicker the annoyance. With my D3s I never press the shutter multiple times in a church ceremony, because the sound carries everywhere. But with the D600 I felt more free to capture multiple shots to get the right expression, capture a small panorama, and whatever I needed without the subjects thinking about me:
For a Nikon wedding photographer, this is easily the best feature of this camera over others.
Also, the D600 retains that classic Nikon responsiveness that the D800 doesn’t have — generally, the camera can keep up with you, and you know that when your finger hits the button, a picture will happen. Doing multi-image panoramas with the D800 can be an exercise in patience, but the D600 kept up handily with this 47-image stitch, resulting in an image near 250 megapixels:
The dual slots are a great feature, and I like that they’re the same kind of card. It just makes my life easier … (I’m looking at you, Nikon D4). In fact, if not for the next paragraph, I could have easily made this my next camera, as its strengths make it a good complement to a D3s or two.
Here’s where my disappointment comes in. I don’t want to end a review of a great camera on a down note, but I would really like Nikon to listen to me on this. One of the things that would have made this the perfect complement to the D3s is an even better Live View. Live View is one of the few recent camera bells and whistles than can dramatically improve photography when used correctly. A good live view system can show you everything you need before the image is captured, from exposure to white balance to true depth-of-field to flare and backlight and details in light too low for your eyes to make out. Recent Nikon cameras not only have better back LCD’s than the D3s, but they also fix the D3s’s major Live View problem, which is that it only works up to a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. So I took it out of the box and immediately played with the Live View. Nice and sharp! Good color! OK, so how do I set it up to preview my exposure?
You can’t. You can’t.
Nikon doesn’t generally play the game of intentionally crippling their cameras for purposes of market segmentation, (unlike some major camera-makers), but its hard to see this as anything but. The other professional cameras they’ve released can do this — the D800′s works great but is filled with lag, and the D4′s is a dream. There’s no reason for them not to fix this. I imagine they could fix it in firmware, but I thought the same with the Canon 5d Mark III‘s glaring “black AF point” problem and as far as I know they haven’t fixed that yet. Nikon, if you are reading this, fix this. This reason alone is why I didn’t ask for another one when this one broke.
(Of course, I then bought two Nikon D4s instead, so I’m not exactly teaching them a lesson).
I think for most users this will not be a huge issue, and certainly not worth a $4,000 premium to move to the Nikon D4, but it was for me.
Let’s consider this a race. Will Nikon fix the Live View crippling first, or will Canon fix their AF points? Who will win the firmware battle of consumer satisfaction? I’m not taking any money on this, but if this sounds like a nitpick to you, then you might want to consider putting money on the D600, because otherwise this is a great camera.
Just don’t smash it on stuff.
PS: One issue that has received a lot of press is the grease and dust spots in the upper left corner that seems to be pervasive. Yes, I saw it. Here’s the upper left of a stopped-down image:
I can’t confirm this, but from what I’ve read this goes away after a couple thousand shots and a good cleaning, so if you buy one, go to town for a week or so and then clean it well before using it seriously.
Other D600 photos:
It’s the end of a busy year, and even though weddings are a bit slower here we have lots and lots of photos to process before 2013. But personal work important, sometimes to explore entirely different genres, sometimes to clear out your head of the normal way of doing things, and sometimes just to play. yesterday, with Dominique Dicaprio, I got to do a bit of all three.
Personality, connection, inner children, playfulness — it all comes out on the dance floor.
There’s a reason that we dance at weddings. You’ve worked so hard for months and months for an event that you could have done by yourself in a few hours. Why? To celebrate with people you love. After so much work, and with so much emotion, a few hugs and polite conversations won’t do — let the music come and show that you don’t care about decorum, about anything but having a good time with people you care about.
I love crazy dance floors at weddings for these reasons (and I’ve been known to get a bit crazy myself on my own time), so I knew right from the start that I’d have a great time documenting the wedding where the bride is a fitness instructor and dancer.
But I was doubly excited, because Lindsay and Brian are my neighbors. I didn’t have to just guess that they were awesome, I know that they are. You form a certain bond with people when you play Rock Band with them, and I have respect for anyone that can stand my singing voice.
The beauty of the New York Botanical Gardens was a fantastic backdrop for the outsized personalities of this great couple, their friends and families. Thank you Lindsay and Brian; I’ll see you in Rock Band.
“Great photography is about depth-of-feeling, not depth of field.”
This is likely the most currently popular quote about photography. I’ve seen it attributed to W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, and countless other masters, but as near as I can tell it goes back to 1987 and Peter Adams (no relation). Now, if anyone should want to argue against this, it should be me. I’m well-known for a technique to increase depth-of-field control beyond normal physical limitations. Heck, it has my name on it. But no … I feel this quote more and more deeply the more that I shoot. After all, I could take photos with impossibly shallow depth-of-field right now, in my apartment. And yeah, they’d look kind of cool. But instead I’m out there weekend after weekend, reveling in the chaos and joy and affection unfolding in front of my lens on wedding days.
In so many ways, Trish and Bill’s wedding brought this all into sharp relief for me. We start with the couple themselves. Bill has the kind of laugh that you have to join in on, the attitude that yes, life is supposed to be fun and we’re all in this together. It would be hard to get the two of them to stop smiling even if I wanted to. Even if we were strangers, I would have looked back on this day fondly.
But no, we share countless connections. Their wedding took place just miles from where I was born. When I walked in, I saw the coordinator I’d been e-mailing back and forth with … and realized she was a classmate I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. I went to elementary school with the pastor (who likely gave the funniest wedding speech I’ve seen in more than 300). I spent half my time growing up at my grandmother’s house, next door to one of the best men. And yes, that’s my mother popping up in some of these photos, since she’s a co-worker and apparent co-conspirator with Bill. And the reception was at the same venue that I photographed the first wedding I ever booked (but not the first I had shot), oh so long ago.
But there’s more. Because I have these connections, I learned that Bill’s lovely grandmother had died shortly after the wedding … but she made it to the ceremony. Those photos matter … not just to Bill and his family, they matter to me. It reminds me of my great-grandmother, who hung on at the hospital until I was born. She saw me, she held me, and she died a few days later. All I have of her are stories … and photos.
This is why. Magazine articles and awards and and workshops and the like are all very nice. They keep me fed, make me proud, and allow me to get hired for more weddings. But it’s times like these that remind me of the central paradox of weddings — we take getting married, something that can be very quick and easy, and we make it very, very hard. And yet it’s worth it. Because each envelope we lick, each seating chart we pore over, every place card we carefully pick out … each are a person, a relationship, a history. And that is worth capturing.
Thank you, Bill and Trish, for having me document all of this.
One of the problems with the Brenizer method is that it’s hard enough to pre-visualize and execute a multi-image panorama of a portrait, and much, much harder if you want to have a sense of motion or candid dynamic emotion in the image. But no one said this job was supposed to be easy.
Now that the season is just about to slow down a bit, I will first be making sure my fall clients are taken care of, but then working on the how-to to end all how-tos for how to do these sorts of photos in all their iterations, taking people from “the What method?” to flawless execution, for a cost that you could probably pay just by scouring your couch cushions. Watch for release in early 2013.
Camera: Nikon D600
Lens: Lens: 35-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 30mm f/0.5 according to Brett’s calculator)
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of my favorite venues anywhere in the world, much less in the NYC area. When clients even mention it I start thinking about the beauty of the Rockefeller farm, and the food … oh man, the food. Jingjing and Yixi had the same thought — they wanted to have an intimate wedding for themselves and about 30 of their close friends and family, and what better way to share that experience than over a fantastic meal?
They are warm, caring and kind — the sort of people who, when doing a picture of all their Columbia friends said, “Hey, Ryan went to Columbia! Get in here!” They take the people around them and make them friends. That is a relationship I am thrilled to document. The gorgeous venue just doesn’t hurt.