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John-John and Mom at Avila Valley Barn

When I’m in the moment photographing someone, I don’t have much time to check the image or think deeply about the moment I am capturing.  I look for great light (or create it), interact with my subject (or just observe them), and furiously spin the wheels on my camera settings to create new and different effects as the environment and mood changes.  There are no fewer than twenty different technical and social actions being driven by my mind at any given time!  Somehow, through that miasma of creativity, interaction, and physical exertion (I move around A LOT), an image is born – an image waiting on my hard drive for the day that I sit down to do my editing.

And that is when I catch my breath.  Because for all the doubt I may have about how a session turned out (I could have done this, or that…always, any number of things), when I open the files all I see are beautiful smiles and tender moments.  The feeling I had when I looked at Jamie and John Arevalo’s mother-son portrait session was love.  Love love love love love!  One image after another of two incredible people and the beautiful bond that they share.  I will never get tired of that feeling.

I know Jamie well and have photographed her family before, so having the opportunity to reconnect with them in their new home on the Central Coast was a special treat!  I will travel anywhere to photograph my clients, but luckily this time my personal travel to the coast coincided with Jamie’s availability.  We decided to go to one of John-John’s favorite places, Avila Valley Barn, and have a little fun in the dirt.  Such a nice location, but I think poor John-John was confused about combining a trip to his familiar hangout with a paparazzi following him around!  Nothing that frequent changes in location and an ice cream cone couldn’t handle, though.  He’s an active little boy and at three-years-old is really into exploring his world.  I got a kick out of it – you can literally see the wheels in his head turning in some of these photos.

It’s those moments between mother and son that really tug at my heart though.  The love John has for his mom is so clear.  And clearly, she is an amazing mom, if these photos are any proof.  When John is older and maybe being bull-headed, maybe being aloof, you know, just going through the paces of growing up – I want him to look at these photos and be reminded of what a beautiful, selfless mommy he has.  Because Jamie, you really are.

Thank you for inviting me back to photograph you on the gorgeous Central Coast!  Next time we’ll get Drew in there for some good father-son fun shots.  Congratulations on the move to one of my favorite places in California!

Cheers,

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I Love Chihuly

Seattle is known for several special things.  It’s the birthplace of grunge rock (Nirvana and Soundgarden, among others) and everyone’s favorite overpriced-hot-milk-disguised-as-a-latte cafe, Starbucks.  There’s the quirky Space Needle and even quirkier dedication to all things Yeti.  The Public Market is the embodiment of all things farm-to-table and the vast woodlands surrounding the city pay homage to the art and culture of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans.  Seattle has drizzly rain, majestic mountains, fuzzy flannel, and a vanguard vibe all uniquely its own.

It also has Dale Chihuly.  If you have never heard of this artist who has (legitimately) earned the right to go by the singular title of “Chihuly,” then allow me to introduce you!  Less of a diva and more of a legend, Chihuly has dazzled the public for decades with his larger-than-life sculptures of vibrant spun glass, installations that defy physics and excite the senses with their incandescent color and impressive scale.  So delicate, yet so accessible, each piece is displayed openly, inviting the viewer to get up close and personal with the art.

I have to say, it is SO TEMPTING to reach out and touch the jade, aqua, and plum orbs that hang tantalizingly in front of you, or to pluck a sapphire spiral from a 14′ tall chandelier.  I repeat – it is SO TEMPTING!  But this is what makes Chihuly’s work wonderful.  We can step into a room filled with neon flowers and galaxy-swirled beach balls and experience art in a way we rarely get to: by becoming it.

The grandaddy of art glass, the man with the electric shock of curly hair and the pirate’s eye patch, began life in Tacoma, Washington.  While studying interior design at the University of Washington he was introduced to glass blowing and clearly (get it??  bah dum dum) developed a passion for it.  Later, on a Fulbright scholarship to Venini, Italy, he learned the technique of team glass blowing that would forever change his approach to the craft.  Upon returning to Washington, Chihuly established the Pilchuk Glass School and began his lifelong pursuit of elevating glass blowing to a fine art.

I was first introduced to Chihuly’s genius in 2012 when I visited a traveling exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.  I was so taken by the dream-like beauty of the vibrant glass sculptures that I purchased a museum membership for the sole purpose of returning and enjoying it as many times as I liked.  Finally, someone who understood how I feel about color!  I tend to have a “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” approach (gratuitous shout out to another favorite artist of mine, Michael Jackson) to color management and prefer to teeter on the edge of dazzling reality, while avoiding technicolor garishness, in my own work.  Some people think achieving balanced, rich color tones is easy because the artist makes it look easy – but in fact, it’s anything but!  Managing color in photography is a challenge all its own, but managing color in an amorphous liquid tinted with a cocktail of chemicals, spiraling out of a kiln at 2000 degrees F?  Yeah.

On my trip to Washington last week I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit Chihuly’s permanent installation, Chihuly Garden and Glass, housed in Seattle under the spindly shadow of the Space Needle.  While many of the indoor pieces where ones I was familiar with from the San Francisco exhibition, the Garden Gallery and Glass House were something completely new and exciting.  I spent a fun hour or so photographing the glass in creative, inspired, and colorful ways.  So did everyone else: there wasn’t a single person who didn’t have a camera or cell phone in their hand, trying to capture a little bit of the Chihuly magic.  I’d like to think that somewhere between my eye, my camera sensor, and my editing technique, I was able to replicate the experience of dramatic composition and luminous color that Chihuly does so well.

You be the judge!  Scroll down to see the art of photographing art.

Cheers!

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The Rock Star of Yosemite

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a very sheer, 3000′ tall granite rock), you’ve heard about the landmark free solo ascent of El Capitan that climber Alex Honnold made this week.  Free soloing is exactly as it sounds – climbing by yourself, without any safety gear to secure you to the rock except your own two hands and feet.  It’s about as risky as it gets, and when you combine free soloing with a granite face higher than the world’s tallest skyscraper…well, we just summited a whole new level of crazy.

Without any warning, without any fanfare, the internet suddenly went ablaze this week with stories of this amazing feat of physical and mental dominance.  I mean SERIOUSLY – who does this??!!  I can’t even shimmy within 5 feet of a 30 foot vertical drop without a jolt of leg-liquifying adrenaline pulsing through my vertiginous joints.  How does someone have the power and nerve to climb the incredibly flat, notoriously fragile face of a cliff that is over a half mile high?  Without ropes?  Without a safety harness?  Without a parachute or wing suit or paraglider or God knows what to ensure a pleasant glide to the bottom should one of your 3,000 steps fall short?  Can someone please explain to me….HOW DOES SOMEONE DO THIS?????

The point is, we can’t explain it.  That’s why Honnold’s story has captivated us so much.  He has single- (or, more appropriately, double-) handedly thrown not just the climbing world, but the world of rational thought into an existential tailspin.  Because it’s not just his awesome athleticism that is inspiring – climbing El Cap in under 4 hours is insane enough to make him the stuff of legends – it’s the mental muscle it took to overcome the very real, very human fear of falling/dying and will himself to do something humans (or really, any animal) aren’t supposed to do.  Didn’t he ever look down and think, “man, that’s pretty far, I kind of wish I had my ropes with me today?”

In the short snippets of interviews with Honnold that have already been released, he mentions that mental preparedness is just as important to his free solo ascents as physical fitness.  That’s why we didn’t hear anything about this landmark climb until after it was all said and done.  Heck, his MOM didn’t even know he was doing it, which in retrospect, was a fair call there, Honnold.  For him to believe, truly believe that he could do the incredible, he needed to only be surrounded by others who believed he could do it.  Too much worrying, too much hype, too high of expectations and his whole chi could go haywire.  Which pretty much meant Honnold’s circle of trust centered around himself (and a handful of National Geographic photographers, videographers, and journalists that may or may not have believed he could do it, but wisely thought it best to keep those thoughts to themselves).

In celebration of what is either the craziest or most inspiring thing to happen in Yosemite this year, I thought I’d share some rock-centric images from my April trip to the park.  Congratulations to Honnold for proving that what was once impossible can become incredible – if only we look within, and then UP.

Cheers!

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In the early morning, warm sunshine bathes the east face of El Capitan.  Look closely and you’ll see the cables for a climbing route.
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“El Cap,” as it is affectionately called, is on the west end of Yosemite Valley.  Here it is silhouetted against a sunset view of Half Dome, giving some perspective on just how tall and sheer it is.
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The abstract beauty of Yosemite’s granite walls is something I never tire of.
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Coffee, anyone?  Climbers waking up 1500′ above Yosemite Valley, preparing for another day of climbing the face of El Capitan.
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A tributary fall spills over the east edge of El Capitan, catching the dawn light as it cascades to the rocks below.

 

Amy & Tyler’s San Francisco Engagement

There’s no such thing as leaving your heart in San Francisco – when you love SF, a little piece of the city embeds itself in your soul and travels with you everywhere you go.  Such was the case with Amy and Tyler, who brought their love for each other to the city that they adore, making it a richer and more beautiful place than ever before.

It was Amy’s idea to do their engagement session at the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts, a place I know well and am only too happy to photograph anytime!  Though the encroaching fog canceled our plans for some Golden Gate Bridge shots across the street, it did give us soft, filtered light that made for stunning photography at this classic San Francisco landmark.  Amy and Tyler were resilient, weathering the quickly dropping temperature with lots of giggles and grace (and plenty of hugs!  Note to self: *slightly* under-dressing for coastal weather makes for a verrrry cuddly couple, must try again).

Usually, at the beginning of a session, I give prompts to couples to encourage them to interact with each other in an authentic and natural way.  In other words – hold hands, kiss, and forget that me and my lens are all up in your space!  Not so with Amy and Tyler.  From the very beginning, they only had eyes for each other.  What I wouldn’t give to know what Tyler was saying to his fiancé to make her laugh so much!  It doesn’t get much better than working with a deliriously happy, beautiful couple in one of the most striking locations in San Francisco.  Architecture and landscape are the two themes that drive my photography style, and when I get to experience both with the emotions of a lovely couple…oh, it’s just magic.

Tyler’s parents are longtime friends of mine (I’ve known his dad for 15 years!), so it was really awesome to have this opportunity to get to know him and Amy by sharing this special milestone with them.   Congratulations Amy and Tyler on your engagement and all the best as you plan for your wedding.  It’s going to be amazing!

Cheers,

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A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Once upon a time, my sister Melissa turned 42.  And on this birthday, as she had upon so many birthdays before, she made one wish: to celebrate at her favorite place on Earth, Disneyland!

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Proving that age ain’t nothin’ but a number, Melissa embarked upon her theme park odyssey with the zest and zeal only the young at heart possess.  Lucky for me, some family traits don’t branch far along the family tree, and I was only too happy to grab the mouse by the ears – err, bull by the horns – and join my sis in some Disney debauchery.  “YOLO” isn’t just the county this chic lives in, it’s a way of life!  (Yes, Melissa DOES live in Yolo County.  Because, of course.)

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OK, so we didn’t do anything worth getting thrown into the infamous underground jail for (Although I threatened!  Who wouldn’t want to get locked up by Little John?), but we did have a blast eating junk food, riding fast roller coasters, seeing Johnny Depp (for reals), and otherwise just being obnoxious kids.  Except we aren’t in third or fourth grade – more like our third or forth decade of LIFE.  Doesn’t matter.  YOLO.

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Melissa has cognitive and physical disabilities that have always made her daily life a balance between a challenge and many blessings.  Challenge because she can’t do or understand things as easily as most of us, and that creates frustration for her and sometimes confusion and judgement from the people she interacts with.  Blessing because more often than not, the very traits that make her “different” are also the things that bring out a wellspring of grace and love from the wonderful people of the world.  The fact of the matter is, Melissa is a pretty happy woman, and she’ll be a Mickey’s uncle if you aren’t going to greet life with a happy smile, too!

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I think I know why Melissa loves Disneyland so much: It’s the one place she truly feels free and accepted.  Walt Disney wanted his humble little theme park to be a place where the young, and the young at heart, could come and lose themselves in a world of imagination and fantasy.  It has always been a place focused on promoting positivity and providing a personalized experience.  In keeping step with their unique brand of all-encompassing customer service, Disney has always been at the forefront of inclusivity.  A trip to one of the Disney parks is truly a chance for us ALL to have our inner child cherished.

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Accompanying my sister around Disneyland and California Adventure for two solid days was a chance for me to see the world through her eyes.  (Eyes which clearly have laser-sharp focus for Space Mountain and the Matterhorn).  It was also an opportunity for me to witness the care and kindness of people from all stages and walks of life.  Watching the news or surfing the ‘Book, we only see the extremes of human behavior: grown children slinging slurs and verbal dirt at each other like playground bullies, or a heroic good Samaritan saving a cat/dog/dolphin/orangutan from imminent doom.  What we don’t see are the leagues of everyday folks – like you and me – that live our lives with consideration for the lives of others.  Melissa and I met so many good people in those two days, enough to remind us that the “Happiest Place on Earth” is also filled with the “Nicest People on the Planet.”

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Because I’m a photographer, my birthday gift to Melissa was the gift of remembrance.  Between pushing her wheelchair up and down deceptively steep ramps (“pull your brake!!”) and sipping on Coke and a cold beer in the food plaza (thank you thank you thank you Karl Strauss), I was snapping shots of my sister enjoying her Disney experience.  Below are a handful of my favorites.

Happy birthday sis-tah!!  May you never stop being young at heart.  YOLO.

Your lil’ sis,

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Mary & Bart’s Engagement Session

Happiness!  That’s pretty much all I need to say about Mary and Bart’s amazing evening engagement session at the Burroughs Family Ranch in Ballico.  When we started the session, I warned them that it was going to be one big love and kissing fest, but wasn’t prepared for them to take me so literally.  (Haha, I’m glad they did though!)  These two only had eyes for each other, laughing and enjoying some peaceful moments together on Mary’s family ranch.  Aside from Bart’s constant joking that kept Mary in stitches, there were photobombing lambs and their rambunctious Jack Russell, Brodie, to keep things lively.

I met Mary several years ago on a Best Buddies cycling team, and we’ve been friends ever since.  Mary and Bart are also involved with Team In Training and are avid adventurers, so it was only natural that they include something athletic in their engagement session.  I was so excited when Mary told me that they were bringing vintage bikes – because what could be better backdrop for some vintage cycling than dirt roads and ranch silos?

Everything about Mary and Bart’s engagement session was perfect: the light, the location, and of course, the LOVE between these two amazing people.  Seeing your friend find someone that means the world to her, and then becoming friends with that person too – understanding just how awesome he is in the process – is priceless.  I can’t wait to photograph their wedding this fall.

Thank you Mary and Bart for inviting me to capture your love for one another.  And special thanks to my husband Steve for providing lighting assistance and offering his flawless dog handling skills!

Love & Happiness,

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Arevalo Family Almond Blossom Session

The Arevalo Family picked a beautiful spring evening for their photography session at Burroughs Family Farm.  The session started with warm, late afternoon sunshine bathing everyone in a happy glow and ended with a soft blush sunset over the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It was so nice to step out into the fresh green grass and clean March air that the weeks of rainfall had brought to the valley.  From start to finish, the evening was filled with happy laughter, big smiles, and lots and lots of love.  In other words – perfect!

I really enjoyed chasing John around through the blossoms.  Once he hopped out of the car, he was ready to run – so naturally, we all followed suit!  It was so sweet to see how much he loves his mom and dad, and how much fun they all have together.  Working with beautiful families like the Arevalos is definitely the highlight of my job.

Thank you Jamie, Drew, and John for the wonderful spring evening in the almond blossoms!  And thank you Burroughs Family Farm for offering such a lovely ranch for their family session.  We can’t wait to be back!

Cheers,

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Mitchell Family Almond Blossom Session

The Mitchell Family braved bright sun, bees, and a few barking sheepdogs to enjoy the almond blossoms at beautiful Burroughs Family Farms.  I had so much fun following Owen and Amelia around on orchard roads and through grassy pastures at this organic almond ranch, dairy, olive oil farm, and pasture-fed egg provider.

After days of rainy California skies, we were treated to an unusually clear afternoon – and got to see Half Dome from the ranch property, too.  What an amazing sight!  From what mom Diana tells me, the kids had such a good time on the ranch that they are already asking when they can have another photo session.  I say, bring it!

While it is tempting to tread through any ol’ roadside orchard to photograph the almond blossoms, establishing a relationship with a rancher ensures that you are entering the land when it is safe to do so (i.e. no pesticide residue or protective guard dogs on patrol) and that you aren’t disturbing the peace and tranquility of someone else’s property.  I feel so grateful to Benina Montes and Mary Burroughs of the Burroughs Family for giving myself and the Mitchells the opportunity to enjoy this piece of paradise.

Thank you Diana, Kevin, Owen, and Amelia for sharing the afternoon with me!  I am excited to share a few of my favorite images from your session.  I’m already looking forward to the next session with these little adventurers!

Your Buddy in the Blossoms,

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Adriana & Jeffery’s Yosemite Adventure Session

Some adventures are just waiting to happen.  It’s just…some adventures have to wait longer to happen than others!

Adriana and Jeffery’s Yosemite adventure had to be rescheduled twice on account of some pretty epic weather.  When it’s winter in the Sierra’s you have to roll with the punches, and Mother Nature was certainly throwing them – first with a white-out storm that crippled the park with icy roads and pea soup visibility, and second with a deluge that flooded the Valley Floor and triggered a total park closure.  So it was with elation and anticipation that we looked at the forecast for their late January session and saw nothing but white snow and blue skies.  And those thundering waterfalls, of course.

Little did I know how special of a place Yosemite is to Adriana and Jeffery!  As we roamed around the Valley they filled me in on several fun facts: that first date hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls (oy!), their wedding at the Ahwahnee (majestic), Jeffery’s solo winter ascent of Half Dome (wow), and many other fantastic moments that they have experienced in this beautiful place.  Without a doubt, this is a special setting for many of their memories.  I was so excited to be with them to document one more!

From waterfalls to rivers, rock walls to granite bridges, we made quite the circuit in our two hours together.  I could have photographed them all day.  Thank you Adriana and Jeffery for choosing this fabulous place for your portrait session!  Here’s to many more Yosemite moments for you two.

Your Wild(erness) Photographer,

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Yosemite Winter in Black and White

No matter how advanced digital photography gets in color capturing and printing technology, there will always be a special place for black and white photography in Yosemite.

John Muir was spot-on when he christened this natural gem the “Range of Light.”  The rugged 2,000+ foot granite walls sheltering the narrow Yosemite Valley, with its northeast-southwest orientation, make for spectacular plays of reflected light and deep shadow all through the year.  Anyone who photographs in Yosemite is aware of the challenges that such hard contrasts in light can bring to a full color image.  But when viewed in black and white, these hard stops reveal texture, form, gravity, and emotion that aren’t immediately obvious in the full color scene.  There is a sensitivity and richness that comes through when the color is stripped away and the landscape laid bare.

Ansel Adams was, of course, the king of black and white Yosemite photography.  If he were alive today and had the option to record his vision in color, I wonder if he would see things differently?  I’m secretly glad he didn’t have a palette of technicolor tools at his disposal.  There’s a reason why, despite having access to advanced technology, millions of photographers continue to emulate his style.  Adams’ images are so clear, so honest, so strong yet delicate in their handling of light and darkness.  It’s like watching a ballet unfold frame by frame.  Without the beautiful distraction of color, a whole new world opens up that invites a new kind of contemplation.

This January was my first winter camping trip to Yosemite.  Although I did not approach every scene with the intent of capturing it in black and white, I found that I was often pulled that direction in my editing.  White snow, black shadows, bare tree branches outstretched against a pale gray sky…all lent themselves perfectly to the black and white approach.

What do you notice first in each of these images?  Would you see something different if they were in color?

Cheers,

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