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Comfort Zone

When we noticed that all the photos we chose for this article were taken with prime lenses, we thought, that sounds about right. A wedding photographer’s day is a long one, and Ryan Brenizer wants the lightest load possible.

Turns out, that was only half the story.

“Wedding days are 12 hours long,” Ryan says, “and I carry two cameras, and even though they’re not small, I find them very manageable as long as they have lighter lenses on them. But the main reason for those lenses is that it’s so important to make people comfortable, and a big part of that is not walking around all day with a camera up to my face framing a shot. People will be uncomfortable when they’re staring down the lens of a camera, but they don’t think about me if I’m walking around and what they see is my face.”

Ryan’s taken hundreds of thousands of photographs with his prime lenses and knows exactly what the frame is going to be before he brings the camera up to his eye. He can walk around, waiting and watching, and when the photo is there, he can quickly raise the camera and take the image he’s previsualized at 24mm or 35mm or 50mm. “I can tell looking around a room where the frame lines will be.”

There’s more: “At the reception, where I want to get a variety of perspectives, I’ll move the camera around—hold it over my head, shoot over someone’s shoulder—putting it in places where I couldn’t really stand, but that have interesting perspectives. I know exactly what my frame is going to look like.”

And still more: “With a camera up to my eye, even with a wide lens, I’m missing a lot of things that are going on in the room. I may be framing one shot but I’m missing something more interesting that’s happening to the side.”

Getting to the real emotions of the day requires that people be as comfortable with me as possible.

Ryan’s goal for his photographs is, he says, “to go beyond what things look like and get to how things feel. Most clients hire me for my journalism skills, for my ability to document the day in a way that shows real emotions, and getting to those emotions either in portraiture or in documentation requires that people be as comfortable with me as possible. So I’m very big on making sure that at every stage of the game they’re comfortable with the whole process and can start to relax a bit. Then I can see their real selves coming through in the photos. Being comfortable is what makes them look great. Your ‘photogenicness‘ is so tied up in comfort. Thirty years from now I want the couple’s kids to say, ‘I can’t believe my parents were so cool.’“

To get what he’s after, the pictures have to be practically personalized. “None of it—the settings, poses, backgrounds—is cookie cutter,” Ryan says. “It’s not about thinking, here’s the corner where everybody stands. It’s about the look and the personalities of the people matched to the feeling of the day and what the day is giving me. Where's the light coming from? What’s the weather like? What’s the background? I think, right now, where’s the best place? I want to see the people and the setting with fresh eyes...and I want everything, all the elements, to work together.”

To achieve that takes a fast thinking and personable photographer with eclectic skills. “If a commercial photographer shooting for a magazine or an ad campaign is the scientist in the lab, slowly building to the result,” Ryan says, “then a wedding photographer is MacGyver. He’s got five minutes, everything’s working against him, he has a potato and a wristwatch and has to make a bomb.”

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