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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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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Janet & Mark’s Yosemite Adventure Session

I’ve been lucky to know Janet and Mark for several years.  Having cycled on many a bike ride with them through the backroads of Oakdale, I knew that they were the outdoorsy and athletic type.  (If I can manage, I sometimes get to snag an easy ride by drafting off of their super-fast tandem!)  So it was no surprise to me when they wanted to have their anniversary photo session in one of my favorite places in the world: Yosemite National Park.

The attraction to Yosemite was natural: Janet and Mark were married there in the little red chapel on Southside Drive, just a stone’s throw from the Merced River.  Making the chapel our first stop was no question, as we wanted to begin the session by returning to the very spot where it all began.  It was so special to share this moment with my good friends and see how much happiness it gave them to relive the memories of their wedding day.

An afternoon snow storm was building, giving us an amazing couple hours of dynamic, yet atmospheric light.  Believe it or not, sunny clear days can make capturing the beauty of the Yosemite Valley AND your subject very difficult.  Those bright granite surfaces are like big sun reflectors!  A light cloud cover can work wonders to reveal the many waterfalls, cracks, and crannies that line the rugged rock walls while at the same time capturing the beautiful smiles of the happy couple in front of the camera.  I was so excited to have these moments of quiet winter weather to capture Janet and Mark celebrating their special milestone.

Thank you Janet and Mark for inviting me to celebrate with you in Yosemite!  And thank you Steve Tallman for your most excellent assistance with gear and lighting.  Here’s to many more years of love, happiness, and ADVENTURE for us all!

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Byrd Grandkids Family Session

When Madeline asked me to photograph her grandsons for the holidays, I knew I’d be in for some fun!  Madeline and her husband Gary live across the street from us and for four years we’ve got to watch Gavin, Tyler, and Jonas grow up.  In fact, our first Christmas here, Jonas was just a little baby.  So when this trio showed up in coordinated Star Wars knit sweaters, my destiny was sealed: this was going to be a stellar session if there ever was one!

I really love how close these three boys are.  Brothers Gavin and Tyler are so caring and considerate with their little cousin Jonas, and in turn Jonas looks at them like they are the coolest kids on the planet.  He kept wanting to do everything his big cousins were doing!  We laughed, high-fived, and light sabered our way through at least five settings, and the boys worked overtime to keep the smiles coming.  Honestly, I had to ask their moms if they’d had a dry run at this ahead of time, or were practicing to be professional models – they were that good!

Thank you again Madeline for inviting me to photograph your awesome guys, and for moms Dana and Angela for coming along and supporting these supermodels from the sidelines.  It was really nice to capture the beauty of a late fall day in Modesto with these ginkgo leaf-throwing Jedis!  I can’t wait to do it again, and as long as I keep the chocolate dish stocked, I’m thinking the feeling is mutual.

May the Force be with you,

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Tatiana Sotelo Portrait Session

When Tatiana showed up for her portrait session, she declared “I’m a really bad model!”  I took one look at this raven haired beauty and I said “Umm…I don’t think so.”  She slipped into the role so easily and was so comfortable taking my cues, it was like she’d been doing this her whole life!  I was so excited to get back to my editing desk and see that the images captured were even more amazing than the previews I was seeing flash across the back of my camera.  Not a model?  Pfffft.

Tatiana chose Del Valle Regional Park for the session, which I hadn’t been to before but am  most definitely returning to.  This large park nestled above Livermore has lots of beautiful rolling hills, a quiet lake, gorgeous old growth oak and sycamore trees, and some great country roads straight out of a Johnny Cash song.  It was early December but the fall colors were still vibrant, and the sky was draped with a thin veil of clouds that allowed the most amazing autumn light to filter through.  I really didn’t want the session to end!

On the way back to town we pulled in to a local vineyard for some twilight shots.  It was the perfect ending to Tatiana’s portrait session.  I’m looking forward to the next time I can add this Livermore gem to my itinerary – and Tatiana, the next time you feel like being a “really bad model,” my camera is ready. 😉

Lovin’ this light,

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