“What is he going to do with a camera?” The famous words my mom spoke when my dad purchased my first camera for me from a department store in NJ. The brand was a Chinon. It came with a 50mm, a flash and a bag. And I never looked back. My mom is now my biggest cheerleader.
Photography was pretty much the only class I excelled in in school. I never went to college. Just after high school, my mom had a consignment store in Red Bank NJ. It was there I was introduced to Danny Sanchez, a well-known portrait and fashion photographer.
He was in need of an assistant and I was eager to step in. He had a friend named Mark Weiss who was the top rock photographer at the time, who also happened to be in need of an assistant. My first job with Mark was assisting him on Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’ promotional photos. It was there an entire world opened up. I thought to myself “You can make a living shooting rock and roll bands?!?!?!?!” So that was basically my start.
I eventually went out on my own photographing rock bands for about ten years. It was in those years I became friends with a girl named Andi who worked for Atlantic records in NYC who was getting married. She asked if I would photograph her wedding. I said, “Sure but I’ve never photographed a wedding before”. She said, “That’s ok. I’ve never been married before”. And that is how my career photographing weddings began.
There were no rules. No cheesy poses. No “cut the cake and look at the photographer”. I was basically doing what I did when I would photograph a rock and roll band. Only this time I was capturing a bride and groom and telling their story through my lens. Once again I thought to myself, “If I can capture weddings my way this would be amazing.” 23 years and over 1000 weddings later, I still love what I do.
I was recently written up in SLR Lounge on the importance of educating yourself. Never stop learning. You will NEVER know it all. That’s what I love so much about this field. I can learn something new from someone who just started or someone who has been shooting for as long as I have. There is always room for growth. One of my favorite quotes from Jerry Ghionis is, “You don’t have to be the best. Just better than last week” and that’s what I strive for every weekend I’m lucky enough to tell someone’s story.
Nikon D5 – My work horse. I absolutely LOVE this camera. I am extremely hard on my gear. And this camera can take it. I opted for the dual XQD cards. I shoot 128 gig cards. One with RAW and the other backed up to JPG. The write speed is so quick I never miss a shot.
Nikon D810 – Believe it or not I primarily shoot with my D5 all day solo. I use my D810 for the ceremony and pretty much the first dance during the reception and that is it. I’m usually shooting the 70-200 with my D5 and the 16-35 (my new FAVORITE lens. More on that later) on the D810. One of the main reasons I don’t use it as much is really just the size. I love the ergonomics of my D5. I’m a big guy and it just feels good in my hands. The D810 is a little small. I know about the battery grip but it still just doesn’t feel the same.
Nikon D800 – Strictly a backup. Just in case. I may not bring it out for weeks. But if anything was to happen I know it’s there.
I carry a lot of lenses. Some used often, some not at all. I will go in order of mm size.
Nikon 16mm f/2.8 – I know, I know. The ‘gimmick’ lens as some call it. I still believe there is a time and place for this lens. It is definitely not for everyone but it’s still a classic. It’s great for big group shots and when you have that quirky couple that ‘gets it’.
Nikon 35mm f/1.4 – Excellent prime lens. Sharp through and through. Great for low light reception photos and of course general story telling all day. This was one of my favorite lenses that some days would never leave the camera especially during receptions.
Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 – Ahhhhhhh yesssss. My new favorite. I know it sounds strange after just writing about a 16 & 35. But… there is a difference. This has pretty much replaced those two lenses. I can practically capture the entire reception with this lens except for first dance and toasts. What an amazing lens. I can get right into the action on the dance floor. I used to have the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, which I affectionately called the ‘Cyclops’. Those that still have one will know what I mean. But the 24mm just wasn’t enough if you suddenly needed to get a group shot or fill the frame a bit more. Having that 16-35 makes a HUGE difference in the way I shoot my receptions. Just wish it was a little faster. That is one of the reasons I still keep my Nikon 35mm f/1.4 in my bag.
Nikon 50mm f/1.4 & Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro – There was a time when I would use these lenses a lot more, but not much at all lately. Again, more in my bag as backups. I now carry a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 that I find much more versatile when I’m using a macro lens.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4 – When someone just starting out in photography asks what lens do you think I should invest in first. I almost always say an 85mm especially for portrait work. I don’t believe there is a better lens for capturing portraits. Love this lens. It is my go to for B&G portraits and especially the family formals. Such great sharpness and bokeh. I almost want another one in my bag just in case something happens to this one!!
Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8 – This is my details lens and for amazingly incredible outstandingy (is that even a word?) photos of the bride. Tack sharp, fast, beautiful lens. I also use for my reception close ups including the cake and table settings.
“And last but not least. Do I have to say his name? Do I have to say his name? (said in your best Bruce Springsteen voice. Nod to my Jersey roots) The big one… Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 – What can I say that hasn’t been said about this work horse. Amazing speed, sharpness and everything else you want in a lens. Definitely one of my most used lenses throughout the day especially for B&G portraits. I use it for all my first dance shots and toasts, also during the reception.
Godox V860IIN (6) – I recently switched from my Nikon Speedlights to these as I was very unhappy, not with the flashes but the radio system I was using. It was so unreliable. A friend of mine introduced me to these and I love them. They are very reliable and so far I have very little complaints. They do sometimes overheat if you use too much power and shoot fast so I’ve learned to adjust the output to what I need.
Godox AD360 II N – Love this flash. This is my go to flash for all my OCF portraits throughout the day. I use a 26-inch Octabank for all my light. Beautiful, soft, even light and the power I can get with this flash is often enough in HSS to really saturate those skies. Great flash and great recycle time.
MagMod– I have to admit I don’t use these as much as a lot of other photographers. It is a great product though. It is nice to have them on hand in your bag o’ tricks to pull when needed. I mostly use them for bride and groom prep and some reception.
The ‘green monster’ (my cooler bag as I call it). In an interview I heard on Howard Stern, with Lars Ulrich of Metallica, he was talking about his health and stretching routine for playing the drums the way he does night after night. He said something that I think is also very true for wedding photography. You have to respect it. I don’t think people realize how demanding it is and hard on your body. Lars talks of the importance of stretching and eating right. And that’s where this brings me.
I pretty much stopped eating ‘wedding food’. Sometimes when I used to, the vendor meal consisted of left over cocktail food or some crappy sandwich seemingly made a week before the event. Certainly not enough to keep you going and staying at optimum speed. To keep me powered through the day I am constantly eating or drinking something. Every opportunity I get I am ‘fueling’ my body. But not with sugary drinks and candy bars. I’m talking healthy. I drink close to two gallons of water every wedding day, 4-6 coconut waters, and 2-4 Orgain protein shakes.
I choose Go-Macro energy bars that are full of protein. Vermont turkey meat sticks. (I don’t eat mammals) If I need a pick-me-up I drink a natural Hi-Ball energy drink. They taste great and again, no added sugar. I’m not a coffee drinker so I need a little caffeine boost every now and then and these are great.
The rest of my cooler bag has usually 2-4 hardboiled eggs, fruit such as apples and bananas. I also carry Garden of Life ‘Magnesium’. Helps prevent leg cramps and muscle fatigue for weekends when you have a double or triple. My wife also makes me these amazing ‘power cookies’. They have a sweet potato and nut butter base and various nuts, seeds and some kale or spinach. You would be shocked at how good they are. I eat about a dozen of these cookies every wedding.
My last powerhouse in my bag – my, or I should say my wife’s essential oils. I have my personal custom blend roller to support focus and stress. And always a bottle of peppermint, good for everything! Young Living only. They help me to stay sane during my crazy days and keep my mind in the game!
Thank you so much Mark for letting me talk a little about my gear! After years of reading about Shotkit photographers, I am honored now to be one of them. And thank you to any fellow photog out there that made it this far in my post. Cheers!!