A hidden advantage of the Nikon D4′s live view — being able to compose a shot like this without burning out your retinas. ISO 100, 1/8000th, f/8 — the sun, it don’t mess around.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
I try to be a storyteller, but it’s an amorphous thing. We all have a story, sure, but what was the story of your today? Was it just some stuff that happened? Was it something you learned? Something you felt? What will the story be when you look back on it later?
They aren’t simple questions, and that’s just a random day … a Wednesday, even. How do you tell the story of a place like New York? There have been thousands upon thousands of attempts, and they scratch just the surface’s surface of the complexity and the dynamics of this crazy town. Last night I saw a beautiful woman walk by openly sobbing. That, I thought, was a New York story. In the small town I grew up in, we keep our tears and our strangers separate. In New York, people’s pain is in your point, and the pain itself is part of the point. The grind of New York life is perhaps the most pervading part of the story, a rock that we dash ourselves against and that either whittles or breaks us. There’s a reason that if you make it here you can make it anywhere, or as a more recent muse put it “8 million stories, out there in the naked city. It’s a pity, half of y’all won’t make it…”
There are reasons that shooting hundreds of weddings in New York have turned me into a problem solver. We have problems. It’s stressful enough just living here, even when you aren’t planning a wedding.
Or when you’re just trying to get around. Kate and Andy were married at the Top of the Rock today, and while the rain parted for their ceremony, it returned with a vengeance just after, right in time to deal with epic New York Rainy-Day Traffic. The limo driver, who had a habit of leaving us several blocks from our destinations in the pouring rain, also decided to drive right by Times Square and put us in the modern-day Bermuda Triangle of Lincoln Tunnel traffic (for out-of-towners, picture a parking lot, except with fewer moving cars). This is when it’s good for us to remember that you might not always be having fun when a photo session starts. Not only do you have the natural nervousness of being in front of the camera, you might have had to plan a complicated day, get waylaid by a limo driver, have to walk several blocks on shoes you swear are medieval torture devices … and then be happy?
But then you find your place. You hold on to the partner you crossed an ocean just to declare your love and devotion to. An iconic New York taxi drives by and reflects the American flag back into the camera. And then, at incredible odds another one drives by at just the right place as well. Yellow and red and blue all sorts of love cutting through the gray, rainy day. And you remember the most important part of the New York story: New York is hard … but man is it cool.
What we must remember as photographers that while we try our hardest to bring technical perfection to an image, there are other elements that are far more important: Emotion, storytelling, that perfect moment. At this moment, a groomsman was readying himself to jump into the groom’s arms on the dance floor. Connection, emotion, action.
This photo was taken at an adjusted ISO of 72,400.
I knew I wanted to get a lot of frames to tell the story of running and jumping, but I was shooting in a dark, hard-to-light area, so I knew my flash couldn’t keep up. I had my shutter speed at 1/250th to catch action, I had my aperture at f/2.5 so as not to be too shallow, so the only place to go up was ISO. I set my flash to a bit lower power setting to catch more frames, but still it had been working hard so it didn’t catch very many. And the adjusted ISO of the non-fired frames brings us to 72,400.
It’s a remarkable feat of the Nikon D4 and Lightroom that such an ISO even results in a recognizable photo. But of course there’s still plenty of grain. Did the guests mind? Does it ruin a moment between loved ones, an expression of years of fun and play and connection? Nope — whenever these shots came up on the same-day edit screen, people kept yelling “Guys, you have to see this!”
Yes, I’m a very technical photographer, and teach technique. Photography is both an art and a craft, and we do our best with both. But the moment always wins.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Nikon 28mm f/1.8G
Lightroom 5 beta is out, and for once Adobe’s magical new promised tools really are pretty magical. The one-click straightening tool actually does a great job in a one-second edit, and the parallel lines of New York’s architecture thanks it.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4
This image was a composite AND a panorama, but that wasn’t what made it so hard. No, it was the Universal Law of Shooting in NYC: When you have scouted a location, and the whole time you scouted there were no people there, and you really need no people to be there, right as you’re ready to shoot a hundred schoolchildren will flood the scene.
Camera: Nikon D4
Lens: 8-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (equivalent of 42mm f/0.68 according to Brett’s calculator)
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
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
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)