Suzanne & Brian’s Palm Springs Wedding at Rancho Las Palmas

Posted on: January 6th, 2014 by allana No Comments

I just got back from photographing Suzanne and Brian’s destination wedding at the Rancho Las Palmas, a luxury golf and spa resort in Ranch Mirage/Palm Springs.  The warm desert weather was a real treat for a winter wedding.

In the morning before the wedding, the boys gave Brian a relaxing sendoff by playing golf on one of the many 18-hole courses.

Meanwhile, Suzanne had her hair and makeup done in the spa.

Suzanne’s stepmom Donna made for her a stunningly beautiful brooch bouquet.  It’s very unusual and artistic.

Here is Donna helping Suzanne put on her beautiful mermaid-style dress.

The dress had beautiful embroidery and lace and needed to be carefully hand-tied.  It takes a village to dress a bride.

While all this was going on, the guys got dressed with matching red ties, suspenders, and boutonnieres, and then hammed around by the pool table.  Below are Miles (best man), Brian (groom), and John and Johhny (groomsmen).  I’ve never seen a more confident groom or a more jovial and supportive crew of guys.  John, Johhny, and Miles were so happy for Brian to marry the girl of his dreams.

The ceremony was outdoors on the Starlight Terrace.  After the wedding party procession, these three really cute kids came to deliver the rings.  From left to right we have Evan (4), Lily (2), and Brady (6).  Brian is a devoted Minnesota Vikings fan, so he tied the rings to Minnesota Vikings footballs and instructed the young boys to carefully deliver the rings.  They may be young, just 4 and 6, but they understand how important it is to deliver a football.

And the moment we have been waiting for … Suzanne and her father Louie walking down the aisle with the appreciative crowd in the background.

As a photographer, sometimes a single photo cannot do justice to the emotions.  Moments after Louie kissed his daughter, Suzanne beamed this emotional smile.  I like this frame the best, but the sequence thereafter is just charming.  It gives me tears each time I view it.  Thank heavens for motor drives!

And here we get to the solemn ceremony where the minister, David Fanning, marries Brian and Suzanne, forever changing their lives and making their dreams come true.

After the ceremony, we did a series of photos of family and friends.  Here is Suzanne with Tabby (left) and maid of honor Denise (right).

and of course the wedding party… left to right … Kerstin, Denise, Jennifer, Suzanne, Brian, Miles, Johnny, and John.

and the entire family.

One of my favorites is Suzanne’s almost face-breaking smile as she shows the signed Marriage License to the crowd with her proud minister David Fanning and her adoring husband Brian standing by her side.  Wow, does she look happy!

One of my favorite parts of a wedding is the bouquet toss and the garter toss.  For the bouquet, Suzanne aimed very well at Melissa who celebrated with her smiling boyfriend Ross.  Melissa did a good job of catching that bouquet.  Or did Suzanne just hand it to her?  :-)

The garter toss was quite a fracas.  Erik (purple shirt on the right) elbowed out his competition and proudly won the melee much to the pleasure of his girlfriend Chelsea.

and the crowd celebrated!

Blogs are always limited in size.  You can’t post too many photos or use too much text.  I just do the best job I can to tell and share the story of the wedding.  This wedding was joyful and I can see that Suzanne and Brian have the love to last them a lifetime.  Congratulations to them and thanks to their family for allowing me to capture their special day.

Shelly & Thomas’ Lake Tahoe Wedding

Posted on: December 31st, 2013 by allana No Comments

I recently had the pleasure to photograph Shelly and Thomas’ wedding in Lake Tahoe.  They chose to have their wedding on a luxury yacht, the Tahoe Bleu Wave, on Lake Tahoe, one of California’s most beautiful locations.  This gem of the Sierra is beautiful year ’round.

The day before the wedding, we had a short rehearsal and I took the opportunity to pose Shelly and Thomas on the dock in front of the lake.  Even though it was late November, the lake looked just like summer and was remarkably warm.  We were lucky to catch the last warm weekend before winter.

Seeing this, the rest of the family joined in…

Building excitement for the wedding, I took all the traditional getting ready shots… groom putting on his tie, bride doing her hair, etc.  The wedding party was ready early, so we took a short drive for some family photos to capture Tahoe’s natural beauty.  While Thomas was parking the car, Cindy and Valerie seized the moment to find a big flat piece of granite in fr0nt of the scenic backdrop of Emerald Bay.

Emerald Bay is the most beautiful part of Lake Tahoe.  Seeing a collection of boulders that would work well as chairs, I posed Shelly, Thomas, Cindy, and Valerie in front of the lake with the steep slope of Mt. Tallac behind them.

Soon, we assembled for a trip on the Tahoe Bleu Wave out the middle of Lake Tahoe for the wedding.

We sailed out to a beautiful area of still water and began the ceremony on the bow of this spacious yacht.

Here is a closeup of Shelly, Thomas, and Thomas’ daughters Cindy and Valerie with our captain who performed the ceremony.

After the ceremony, Thomas and Shelly proudly pose as husband and wife.

As the party gets going in the chambers inside, Thomas and Shelly slip out to the deck for a quick celebration on the bow.

For dinner, we headed to Mirabelle Restaurant for a lovely French meal from the Alsace-Lorraine region.

Earlier in the day, I arranged Shelly’s magnificent engagement ring with both wedding bands on a pinecone co capture the natural essence of Lake Tahoe.  Shelly’s wedding band tells an important story.  It has ten diamonds, one for each year she served as “step-mom-in-training” bringing up two very wonderful daughters.

The achievement of building a beautiful family together made the wedding even more special, and Cindy and Valerie were overjoyed to have Shelly officially join them.

He Put a Ring On It! — Samantha & Michael’s Engagement

Posted on: September 2nd, 2013 by allana No Comments

“He put a ring on it!”  The message reverberated around Facebook.  Pretty soon I was at the beach with Samantha and Michael to commemorate their engagement.

Samantha and Michael studied geology when they met at the University of Hawaii so they love the outdoors.  Me, too!  They suggested the beach as a venue for their engagement shoot.  I agreed.

We chose San Gregorio State Beach.  Zoom we were there.  Water, surf, the sand, cliffs — what more could you want?

When most people think of engagement shoots, they imagine environmental portraits which put the couple in front of a beautiful background.

I think instead about the couple.  At a wedding, all the focus is on the event and the family.  The engagement session is the only opportunity to really see the couple as they are without the hustle and bustle.

Since I learned posing, I learned that the engagement shoot should feature both an environmental portrait and photos that focus only on the couple themselves.  When you understand lighting and know how to pose a couple, you can make some really good photos.  And the beach is a remarkable venue.

So here we go.  First, I posed Samantha and Michael in one of the many classic engagement poses.  You can see how comfortable they are with each other in how happy they are to touch each other while facing the camera.  The beach provides soft light and a simple, non-distracting background.

The beach isn’t just about sand and surf.  The cliff walls provide some dramatic backgrounds, including a cave entrance which provides a dark, contrasting background.

Some of the best portraits don’t have everybody smiling.

We also tried a very modern style, a facial closeup inspired by my friends who photograph high fashion advertisements.  Sepia toning completes the look.

So far, I’ve put Samantha and Michael front and center but you might not know we are even at the beach.  Using the context of the ocean scenery, it’s simple to create an environmental portrait.

It’s also interesting to note that, so far, all my photos have used a square aspect ratio, reminiscent of the medium-format Hasselblad cameras invented in 1948.  Contrary to all the modern-day talk about rule of thirds, etc., the square format lends itself to photographing couples — both engagements and weddings — and persists to this day despite modern technology that uses a 3:2 aspect ratio.  Indeed, professional wedding photographers use use 3:2 equipment and crop down to 1:1 because it looks better.

But I digress… and I do use conventional aspect ratios, too.  Remarkably, 2:1 works really well, too.  Also a favorite of wedding photographers because it provides a convenient panorama photo for a square 12″x12″ album.  So back to environmental portraits.

When I photograph couples on the beach, I ask them to take a walk together on the beach and ignore me.  I run around on the beach, way ahead of them, and photograph them from a variety of angles.  Sometimes I come in close.  Sometimes I place them in the environment with just the water behind them.  Other times, I walk into the water myself and get the cliffs behind them.  The goal is to capture a tender moment between them that can only happen when they are relaxed.

At this shoot, I also noticed a steep sand dune resting against the cliff.  This was a perfect backdrop for the Brenizer Method which combines a wide-angle view with narrow depth-of-field. Using photoshop to stitch a panorama of exposures made with a wide-aperture medium telephoto portrait lens, you can achieve a look not seen since the days of large-format film cameras.  In my mind, this is the ultimate environmental portrait technique.

And of course, no engagement shoot is complete without a closeup view of the ring.  This session started with “He put a ring on it!” so we’d better take a closer look at that beautiful ring.

I pulled out my macro lens and a tripod and arranged the ring on some driftwood to get this closing photo.  Yes, in the digital days we still own tripods (I bought mine in 1993) and rings are among the most technically challenging photos in an engagement shoot.  Ring photography is old-school technique all over again.  And yes, I did use a collapsible diffuser to soften the light.  Macro photography takes a while so please be patient!

Congratulations to Samantha and Michael on their engagement and their upcoming wedding!


Valerie & Cindy Portraits in the Park

Posted on: August 18th, 2013 by allana No Comments

I recently photographed sisters Valerie and Cindy to commemorate an important milestone in their lives.  Valerie will soon head off to UC Davis to begin her studies and Cindy will be a senior at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, CA.

Valerie and Cindy suggested San Jose’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum for their portrait session.  The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens with a great variety of beautiful backgrounds.  The walls and trees provide very well-controlled shade which is optimum for portrait photography.  We arrived a few hours before sunset to get the best light, but this location would have worked well even in the middle of the day.

I brought along my Nikon D3 camera and used two lenses for the shoot, a 70-200 f2.8 AF-S VR2 and a 85 f1.4 AF-S G.  The 70-200 gives me great flexibility and is easy to work with.  Its fast f2.8 aperture allows me to work in low light and achieve narrow depth of field.  The 85 f1.4 allows even narrower depth of field.  Both lenses are known for their image quality and bokeh, which is the quality of out-of-focus areas in the background.

A row of Egyptian pillars made a great set for portraits.  Here’s one of Valerie.

Nearby, an exterior building with open windows gives soft well-controlled light.  Here’s Valerie again!

And the windows framed a beautiful view of the pond.  All it was missing was some talent.  Valerie and Cindy to the rescue!

I metered on the girls and let the background overexpose to give it a light, airy feel.

Then Cindy came inside for a few photos with the soft window light.  One of my favorite approaches is an up-close photo of a model’s face taken at an angle with the eye sharp and the rest of the face going soft.  For maximum effect, you need very narrow depth of field, in this case achieved with the 85 f1.4 lens shot wide open at f1.4.  It is very difficult to get accurate focus with this combination of wide aperture, high magnification, and the face at a sharp angle, but it gives a soft, glamorous look that I really like.

This technique is a favorite of mine, that I have been practicing for the past year or so.  It is time-consuming but produces some of my favorite photos.

Another favorite of mine is this view of Cindy in the garden where I again used the 85 f1.4 to create a dreamy look.

As the light was starting to dim, we headed across the street for  a few more photos.  Valerie and Cindy are very fond of the fountain, a popular backdrop for Prom photos, so we took our closing photo in the evening light here.

Thanks to Valerie and Cindy for a wonderful shoot!

Little Red Riding Hood — Salwa & Martin’s Engagement

Posted on: March 24th, 2012 by allana No Comments

I recently assisted good friend and fellow photographer Charles Schoenberger with an engagement session for Salwa & Martin.

Salwa and Martin live high on a hill in a beautiful forest.  In a clearing under the oaks on the top of the hill, Martin has built a swing.  Here is Salwa enjoying the swing.

and Martin smiling from the distance…

Chuck really planned ahead for this shoot.  He brought an entire pickup truck of lighting equipment, plus a few helpful props, including a fog machine.  It was an amazing experience to have an entire studio full of equipment in an isolated clearing in the forest.  Even better, Salwa had a makeup artist and hair stylist prepare her for the session.  Not only does she have beautiful features and perfect skin, but her makeup and hair was beautifully done, which made our job easy.

First we arranged Salwa & Martin in a romantic reclining pose.

Naturally, you can shoot this in more than just one way.  Here is a facial closeup.

and a simple head-and-shoulder pose…

Just before the main event, here is Salwa in one of her many outfits…

The main event was a reenactment of the famous fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood.”  Salwa’s role is to carry apples through the woods to feed her sick grandmother.  Unfortunately, she encounters an evil wolf who threatens to eat her alive.  Fortunately, Little Red Riding Hood is rescued by a lumber jack, played by the ruggedly handsome Martin.

Here is Salwa as Little Red Riding Hood in the foreground with Lumberjack Martin in the background with the evil wolf.

and Martin standing triumphantly over the wolf, with Salwa resting on his shoulder.

and finally Salwa is relieved because Martin has successfully defended her from the wolf.

Thanks to Salwa, Martin, and Chuck for a great session!


Bad Day to be a Fish (Osprey Family has a Feast)

Posted on: March 24th, 2012 by allana No Comments

It pays to always carry your camera.  I was hiking near Lake Poway in San Diego with my wife and my mom when we spotted a pair of Ospreys at fairly close range.  Ospreys have a 6-foot wingspan.  It is rare to see birds of this size in the wild at any reasonable distance.  In this case, one of the Ospreys had a successful hunt.  Here it is flying right overhead.

And then approaching the perch high atop a tree, in full braking mode, with the fish dangling, bringing the fish back to its offspring for a nice family meal.

Remind me to never leave my camera at home!

Oliver Black, Artist and Printmaker

Posted on: March 13th, 2012 by allana No Comments

I recently had the opportunity to photograph Oliver Black, local artist and print maker.  Oliver’s style is very modern, capturing the essence of contemporary art with an edgy urban flair.  Oliver employs a variety of techniques: line drawing, water color painting, screen printing, and digital offset printing.  His style combines two interesting directions, avant-garde paintings rooted in surrealism and some striking posters that capture modern city life.  His poster work reminds me of rock-and-roll posters of the psychadelic age that have today become collectibles (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane).

See it for yourself.  Check out Oliver’s website.  Some of my favorites are:

  • this painting — reminds me of René Magritte
  • Basel Castle — Monty Python anyone? :-)
  • 37 Cigarettes — this is not cubism, but it looks like it is… or is it? and it reminds me of one of Picasso’s most famous works ”Guernica”
  • this gallery of Oliver’s posters reminds me of 1960s psychadelic age … this one is my favorite … is the crow Oliver’s mascot?  or his Avatar?
  • Oliver’s watercolors combine Escher’s intricate fitting of compositional elements with some clever modern representations — it’s a very nice body of work

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing Oliver’s work.  Below are three photos I took of the artist himself.

First is a side view of Oliver wearing his signature hat and glasses.

Next, we are peering right into his piercing blue-green eyes.

Last, we have Oliver in a thinking pose.

And before I close, I should mention that Oliver comes from a long line of visual artists.  More than 100 years ago, Oliver’s great grandfather Alexander Black invented the “Picture Play” which is one of the earliest incarnations of motion picture technology.

Executive Portraits for CSIX

Posted on: March 8th, 2012 by allana No Comments

I recently photographed 125 people for CSIX.  CSIX is a professional networking group, founded by Hamid Saadat.  Hamid has received a Certificate of Recognition from the California State Senate for his tireless efforts to help people find jobs.  Hamid is a kind, soft-spoken, and insightful leader who has made a great contribution to Silicon Valley by helping many individuals make successful job transitions.  Here is my photo of Hamid.

125 is a lot of portrait sittings so I had to break it into three separate sessions.  Each session took a day for the shoot including setup and teardown plus another day for post-processing.

Most of the portraits were standard executive portraits — head and shoulders with a dark muslin cloth background.  I used a few softboxes for lighting plus grids, snoots, barn doors, and honeycombs where necessary.  I adjusted the lighting based on each person’s features, how they wanted to be portrayed, and the industry and role they are working in.

The executive pose suits project management and operations executive Evelyn Axelrad-Espinosa well.

Applications developer Natalie Burgess brought her iPad.  Including Natalie’s iPad in the portrait allowed me to capture Natalie’s personality, profession, and passion.

Fountain, Frank, and Patrick are three of my favorites.

You can see a gallery of my executive portraits here.

Giving Props to Joe’s Bicycle Painting

Posted on: March 5th, 2012 by allana No Comments

I just had one of my bicycles repainted at Joe’s Bicycle Painting in Watsonville, CA.  Joe’s paints all the bikes for Calfee, Leopard, and Kestrel, as well as a bunch of us locals who admire their work.

As my bike is a Leopard, it was originally painted by Joe’s.  The original paint was translucent green, beautifully displaying the carbon fiber through a translucent coat of green paint, and had decals with the name of my old bike club.  It was a truly beautiful paint job.

I repainted my bike because I switched clubs from Webcor/Alto Velo to Team San Jose/San Jose Bicycle Club.  I decided to paint the frame matte black with clearcoat decals.  This paintjob would work well for a 1970s muscle car and looks good on my bike, too.

Driving home from Joe’s, I took the newly painted frame and fork to the beach and photographed it with a background of wet sea algae.  The overcast sky turned the sun into nature’s softbox and gave me beautiful highlights in the matte black paint.

I took the new frame to Cupertino Bicycle Shop and had them rebuild it.  Just two days later, my bike is ready and looking sharp.  Here is a quick studio photo of my almost new Leopard.  I used three softboxes with my studio strobes — a strip light camera left, another strip light camera right, and a large rectangular softbox above and slightly to the right — and seamless grey paper for the background.  Not bad for a 2 1/2 year old bike!

A big thanks to George, Joe, and the crew at Joe’s Bicycle Painting for giving my old bike a new skin!

WPPI 2012 — Posing & Lighting Instruction from some of the World’s Best Photographers

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by allana 1 Comment

I just got back from the WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) 2012 conference in Las Vegas, NV.

In addition to the trade show floor where manufacturers exhibited their new cameras, studio and lighting equipment, software tools, wedding albums, etc., I had the opportunity to take seminars and workshops from some of the world’s best photographers.

People I took seminars and workshops from include:

  • Maryland-based wedding photographer and portrait scientist Clay Blackmore (he was Monte Zucker’s assistant until Monte passed away in 2007)
  • SF-based portrait & wedding photographer Bambi Cantrell
  • Pulitzer Prize winning celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith
  • Beverly Hills wedding photographer, classically-trained Flamenco guitarist, and recent author Roberto Valenzuela
  • Atlanta-based wedding photography legend and advocate of the photojournalistic movement Denis Reggie
  • NY-based fashion, portrait, and wedding photographer Lindsay Adler
  • Australian fashion, portrait, and boudoir photographer Sue Bryce
  • NY-based wedding photographer & teacher Doug Gordon
  • Washington, D.C.-based wedding photographer Moshe Zusman

While the scientific aspects of photography are well documented in books, the art of photography is not well covered in books.  It is much easier to learn lighting, composition, and especially posing hands-on.  I’ve taken many local seminars, but the expertise and instruction at WPPI is world class plus the opportunity to take 12 such classes is like getting knocked down by a firehose.  What a great learning experience!  What’s more impressive is that in this competitive industry, the very top photographers are so secure in their own craft and business that they are willing to pass on their knowledge plus they are interesting and down-to-earth people.

Above and below are a few photos I took during a hands-on workshop with the inimitable Moshe Zusman.  Moshe took a small group of us outside onto the strip to teach us how to do an evening glamour shoot.  The first photo was just as the sun was setting, making the light very soft.  Every bride wants to look her best, so  Moshe instructed us on how to pose our brides and grooms as though they were models.

After the sun set, all we had was street lights and neon lights, so we used a small radio-triggered softbox as our main light and a simple speedlight for backlighting.  With the sky still slightly blue, we got a beautiful mix of studio lighting and a nighttime look.

I also used a technique known as the “Dutch tilt.”  I have avoided this in the past because it can look cheesy when misused, but Moshe and others at the show taught me how to use it effectively.

Once the sun had fully set, we had to rely on city lights for ambience, so we posed the bride dramatically with the groom out-of-focus in the background.  This is one of the most popular looks in wedding photography.  The combination of her pose, the obedient groom waiting in the wings, and the busy city lights gives the photo a high fashion look.

A big thanks to Moshe for his excellent instruction.  In addition to being insightful and a wonderful instructor, he is an absolute nice guy to boot!