Coming of Age

I covered my first Mitzvah reception about 5 years ago. Before then, I had never even been to a Mitzvah and didn’t really know much about it. I was just starting out as a photographer and needed to get some event experience to test my skills. So I contacted the brother of a friend who owns a DJ company and he agreed to let me work to get some experience for almost no pay. I really just wanted the experience, because I wasn’t a photographer…….yet. I began working for him as a zap shooter. Those are the people that work for the DJ company and take pictures to put them up on the projection screen or plasma while the reception is in progress. They are not usually photographers, but someone using the DJ’s camera equipment to take still pictures.

Well, I learned more that day than any other time in my career. Event photography is not just walking around with a camera on auto and composing shots. I learned how to push my camera to its limits given the low light situation of a quite large, yet almost pitch dark catering room. A lot of my pictures in the beginning were blurry as a result, but they did get better. If it were me, I would not have hired me to shoot another day unless I was working for free and there were a more experienced shooter present. Well, the DJ dude didn’t actually look at the pictures I took and gave me several more jobs. I have to say, although he did not pay attention to the quality of the product he was delivering to his clients, it gave me an opportunity to grow with this craft and I knew I needed to do this exponentially with each assignment. I was reading everything I could get my hands on that spoke about photography, but nothing ever proves your understanding of it until your doing it yourself.

I have had the pleasure of covering quite a few Mitzvah ceremony’s and receptions in my career. I cover as many mitzvah events as I do weddings each year, and from my approach, they are almost no different. In fact, covering the mitzvah assignments is how I gained the experience and confidence to start shooting weddings. I keep a very similar mind set when covering these events. There are plenty of family present, a beautiful and structured ceremony and reception, lots of portraits and plenty of tender moments to find and capture.

My clients have been very good to me as my business has grown by word of mouth. I am thankful for the opportunity that my friends brother has given me to get started and for my wonderful clients that I have grown to know over the years. Here are some pictures from a recent mitzvah. I had a blast covering it and I look forward to many more this year.

My First Workshop

I have attended many workshops in my years as a photographer. There are so many different styles and categories of a photographers profession and some are quite diverse from the others. I have always followed my favorites, but I am open to listen to anyone who is doing something interesting, whether they are wedding, portrait, editorial, photojournalist, or freelance shooters. Even as a professional, you can never acquire too much information in any profession. You simply take what you can use, and hopefully the rest is reassuring that you are still doing things right.

I was asked recently if I would actually lead and instruct a workshop on portrait lighting for a group of photographers. My immediate thought was, WOW, I am not even known as a portrait photographer, I‘m a wedding shooter. I worked with a few people some time ago on a portrait session for charity and they liked what they saw when I was working. I was honored that there are actually people out there that want to hear me speak and teach them what I do. I don’t even like to hear myself speak, imagine what they were in for.

I gladly accepted and began to feel real confident as I realized the message I was going to communicate. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. When you learn from celebrity portrait photographers, they teach you their way of doing things with all their expensive equipment. They will sett up 12 profoto strobe lights, softboxes, umbrellas, gobos, gels and snoots just to take a head shot. And you know what, that’s how things are done if you are shooting professional portraiture for an editorial shoot. There are also makeup artist and hair stylists and a team of people just sitting around directing stuff. That is not likely in most situations and if you want to take a really nice portrait of someone, you start simple and can expand on this if you wish.

Simple portrait lighting concepts begin with one main light. This light could be a studio strobe, the speedlite flash unit from your camera, a continuous light (lamp or flashlight) or even the sun. Whatever it is, the direction of the light is what is most important. As long as the light is not coming from the same axis as your cameral lens, it will be interesting. The intensity of the light can be controlled from the camera’s exposure settings and if you are using a studio strobe or speedlite, you have even more control to set the power so that it is balanced with the exposure and ambient light.

Well, the workshop was held last Saturday and was a really great experience for me. We did an actual portrait shoot and I walked through setting up the camera and the lights based on the ambient light settings from which I was working in. I used one main studio strobe with a large softbox, a background light gelled with an interesting color to change the color of the background and a reflector to fill light coming from the main (key) light on the opposite side of the face. While working through the existing conditions, I continued to stress that they not focus on the equipment as much, but on the concept in which I am demonstrating. This could all have been done without any auxiliary lights. The same concept applies for outdoor sun light and window light indoors. If you don’t have a photographic reflector, just use something with a white, silver or gray reflective surface to add some fill light. If you bounce light off of something with color in it, the color reflected back to the subject will be the same color as the reflective surface it is bouncing off of.

I did receive some great feedback from the attendees afterward and they were very thankful for sticking around to answer their questions and being very detailed in explaining exactly what I was doing while I was doing it. I realize it is rare that someone will just teach you what they know for free. Most people spend years learning this stuff and years perfecting it. I have paid a lot of $$ to learn from many different professionals. They will teach you how they do things and tell you afterward that every piece of equipment they just demonstrated is something they are selling on their website with an inflated price tag, but the workshop special is buy 2 and get 5% off. Some of this is bullshit and I have lost respect for a few professional photographers because they turn from professional photographer to professional salesman. One very important thing to keep in mind is this, when they were up and coming photogs with a camera and a dream, they were not using the equipment they are selling today, they started out basic just like everyone else. Always keep it as simple as the job allows.

Take care and happy shooting!

Melissa & Teddy

I am almost ready to send another wedding album off for print and bind. Before I do, I thought I would post a Wedding Album Preview of some of the pages that will be inside this album.

I hope you like!

My Gear

I thought I would post some information regarding the equipment I use when shooting a wedding. There are plenty of options out there so it really comes down to shooting style and output. A Shoot-N-Burn photographer that simply shoots a wedding for really cheap and gives the client a CD with all the images can probably get away with shooting an entire wedding with a consumer-level SLR like a digital rebel or equivalent because they are not responsible for prints. For the absolute best image quality, you need a pro-level SLR camera back with good lenses and a solid workflow for post-processing.

Equipment is very important in wedding photography because you are a portrait photographer and a photojournalist and you need superior performance and image quality. If you are presenting your images in an 24×36 framed portrait or a 60 page 12×12 leather wedding album, you need very high resolution images and great lighting. If not, you are providing an album that is a beautifully gift-wrapped piece of crap.

Canon is my camera of choice. I started using canon due to their quality SLR camera backs and sharp optics. I currently shoot with the Canon 50D and I love it due to its image quality and high resolution raw image files. The 50D is a 15.1 megapixel workhorse and it creates beautiful images with my lenses. I always carry two cameras with me at all times during a wedding with different types of lenses mounted for the flexibility of capturing different types of shots.

often times, flash photography is not allowed during a wedding ceremony. This means that I need to capture the entire ceremony with available light, which is not always good light. This is where the expensive equipment really shines. Today’s professional SLR cameras are ready for those low-light conditions. Shooting at higher ISO’s with faster lenses is the only way to capture these shots where available light is scarce.

During the ceremony I have my EF-S 17-55mm IS (image stabilized) USM (ultra sonic motor focus) wide angle zoom mounted on one body for those wide shots of the ceremony and the other, I have my 70-200mm L IS  USM for those close up shots where it looks like I am standing on the alter with bride and groom. Most times, they do not even see me when I am taking these photos. I can also use this lens to get in close to capture reactions of the parents and family members in the first couple of rows which are really nice captures.

For the formal shots, I bring some extra lights and umbrellas with me to get the best light quality for any shooting conditions. I fire all my remote strobes using pocket wizard multi-max tranceivers. They allow me to trigger my flashes from up to 1,600 feet away as soon as I hit the shutter release on the camera.

The reception usually takes place into the night or in a dark catering ball room which works well because I can capture the dark mood shots as well as add my own light to certain shots where it doesn’t exist. For these conditions, I bring a lighting assistant with me who carries a quantum T5D-R flash head on a monopod stick and follows me around to get off-camera flash lighting while I am mobile during the reception. I also have a room light available if the ambient light in the room is just too low where my shutter speeds are slow and producing blurry images. This strobe is powerful enough to light the entire room when shooting it into a white ceiling. We want to always produce the sharpest images possible.

I have two more prime lenses that I carry with me and usually use them both at the wedding reception and they are my 24mm L 1.4 IS USM and 50mm L 1.2 IS USM. Canon’s L-Series lenses are their best offering as far as lenses go. When canon puts the L stamp on their lenses, that means  that is their best lens in that category. Each of my lenses are protected with a B+W UV filter that both protects the glass on the front of the lens and reduces glare if a stray beam happens to reach beyond the lens hood.

Throughout the day, I am going through several CF cards. As I finish shooting with a CF card ( I use Lexar Professional UDMA CF cards exclusively), I back it up to my Epson P-7000 Multimedia photo viewer (which is really just a portable hard drive for on-location backup) for safe keeping. I always keep a backup on location. When I get back to my studio, my day is still not over. No matter what time I return, I then import all the images into my raw image processing software, while at the same time backing everything up to my RAID storage device for yet another copy. This is a time-consuming process so I usually do all this while enjoying an ice-cold alcoholic beverage and cleaning my equipment so it is always ready for the next shoot. After all the files are safely imported and backed up, I backup the originals one more time to DVD which I keep with the clients file. My Epson Multimedia backup device stays with me wherever I go until all the clients files are finalized and uploaded to my online gallery. This is just one more safety precaution in the event of a disaster at the studio (God forbid).

I have many more toys and special use equipment that I use occasionally such as filters, gels, light-shaping tools, clamps and stands to mount flashes (or cameras) in a nice hiding spot, but the more important equipment is listed above. It’s nice to experiment with new toys, but for the most part, my shooting style and equipment setup during  a wedding is the same, unless otherwise necessary.

Post-production in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and album design is always custom.

If you are reading this, thank you for your interest.

Don’t be caught by surprise….

Getting married?

If so, congratulations to you both. Your wedding day is a day you should both look forward to. It’s hard enough trying to remember everything that has happened on this day. Heaven forbid something was to go wrong, you will be sure not to forget it. For most of us, it is the most important day we have been part of at that point in our lives. Tons of planning and anticipation leading up to one special day. In our minds we act out what the day might bring and it is always perfect, as it should be. Enjoy the anticipation and take time with your planning.

I have had the experience to shoot beside a wealth of different people in the wedding entertainment and service business and am very careful as to who I would actually label a professional in their field. Every catering hall has unique offerings and everyone does things their own way. Most of these people are business people and the smile on their face when you meet them simply means nothing more than “Can I have your money please?”. I speak from experience which I will not go into detail about here, but I will offer a few suggestions that I strongly feel are some of the most important questions people never ask?

  1. Ask your limo company exactly how much time you have the car(s) for and what time the driver needs to leave. Most companies book events back to back, so if you are running just a little bit late, you do not even have the luxury of offering the driver extra money for sticking around an additional hour. I’ve seen drivers get cursed out for being to pushy when trying to manage a tight schedule. You also need to consider your schedule. What time you should be ready, is the limo driver waiting for you to finish the ceremony, extra time for pictures after the ceremony, and is the driver taking you to a remote location to take pictures prior to the reception. Putting together a timeline and bringing it with you at the time of booking is not a bad idea.
  2. Make sure you leave time between the ceremony and reception for pictures, or just so you are not rushing around on a day you are supposed to be enjoying. Some couples elect to take either the formal or Bride and Groom pictures or both before the ceremony. This is usually a good plan and is a result of the fast-paced New York style weddings that we can never get used to, as long as you don’t mind seeing each other before the ceremony, which for some couples is not an option. Have you ever been to a wedding outside New York……totally different.
  3. Ask to manager at the catering venue how many events at most could be occurring at the time of your wedding. This is an extremely important question. If there are several parties going on at the time of your wedding, this may limit your use of the beautiful lobby or outdoor landscapes that they offer and assisted in your decision for selecting the venue. If there is another wedding occurring as the same time as your and the other wedding booked the bigger, more expensive room, they will have no problems dismissing your requests to take pictures at a location that is being used by another party.

Just some things to think about. If you ask these questions before you actually book, it will only assure you are getting what you paid for.

Long Island Wedding, Event, Portrait & Sports Photographer