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!















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!






















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!





















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,





















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!


















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,


















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,





















Beel Family Portrait Session

There’s nothing like photographing people in one of their favorite places.  Last week’s family session in Yosemite Valley with the Beels was certainly a prime example of that.  Brett and Lindsay Beel share a love for Yosemite, born of their passion for rock climbing, so it was only natural that they introduce their new little man to the mountains as soon as possible!

Nolan made his first national park visit at the tender age of 1 month and 1 day.  Yes!!!  You heard that right.  For a newborn, he weathered the outdoors unbelievably well and was quite content to be held by Mom and Dad as we played around in Cook’s Meadow.   Judging by how comfortable and relaxed he was, I’m thinking this is just the first trip of many!  Babies everywhere: the bar has been set, and it is HIGH.  🙂

Congratulations Brett and Lindsay on the new addition to your family.  I know you’ll miss Yosemite when you move to Pennsylvania, but here’s hoping that these photos remind you of your special time in California.  Thank you for inviting me to share in these memories with you.













What should I wear to my portrait session?

What we wear is such a wonderful expression of who we are as an individual!  Many of us put extra effort into our appearance on the day of a photo shoot (including this photographer, haha…but that’s a subject for another post).  I love helping clients style themselves, finding outfits that not just reflect their personal taste but also make them feel comfortable and beautiful.

Once I know a client’s personal style, I work with them to find portrait locations that reflect their taste.  I had an inkling Marisa would love the Palace of Fine Arts – and it proved to be a beautiful match!

Because most of the work I do is on location, I encourage my clients to think about where they would like their pictures taken, and how their clothing can help them harmonize with, or stand out from, the environment.  I recommend selecting outfits that allow you to do both – which is easy to do with the flick of an accessory or two.  Read on to learn more about this technique as well as other fun wardrobe tricks!

Today I’m featuring images from a summer session I did with the lovely Marisa Sergi, reigning USA National Miss California Golden Coast and CEO of RedHead Wine, to demonstrate…

Jessica’s Top 10 Wardrobe Tips for Portrait Sessions

1. Start with a “solid” foundation.

In a portrait session, the focus is on YOU!  Patterns and intricate details, while very nice on their own, take the spotlight off of your face, expressions, and location, all of which are important in communicating your story.  I encouraged Marisa to select solid colors that complemented her hair and complexion (for a redhead, a rich green like this is a natch) and then bring accessories to add variety.  For full-body shots, a neutral colored shoe is a sound choice, especially when your outfit is colorful…but don’t be afraid to go bright if that’s your style!  For the best balance, just make sure that if the accessories are colorful, the clothes are neutral, and vice versa.

When I saw Marisa’s green dress, I knew this lush garden setting would be the perfect way to harmonize her outfit with the background and draw focus to her face.  However, it can go both ways: Look below for examples of how a neutral backdrop switches the focus to her green dress and pose.


2. Be bold!

I’m a big fan of bright colors.  When photographing clients outdoors, where hues are usually subdued, a pop of saturated color  can really set my subject off from the background.  It doesn’t take much…a scarlet scarf, turquoise tie, or chartreuse shirt can do it.

For Marisa’s vineyard session, I knew she wanted to feature the California state flag.  To complement the flag, make her pop from the background, AND add a little patriotic flair, I encouraged her to layer this gorgeous blue coat over her white dress.  You can do this too by bringing a bright accessory or two to your portrait session.

Be bold with it – and have FUN!

I love how the rich blue color of Marisa’s coat contrasts with the state flag – and gives this image a patriotic nod, to boot!  Speaking of boots…it’s always a great idea to have a pair on hand for outdoor portrait sessions. 😉


3. …but be prepared to be subtle.

As much as I love love LOVE color, I also understand the value of backing off on it to achieve a more nuanced look.  This is another reason why starting your portrait session in a solid base (in the example below, a neutral one) can work so well.  When the light started to fade into the soft, golden sunset glow, I asked Marisa to ditch the blue coat and strike some poses in just her white dress.  I loved how her outfit complemented the subtle colors and warm tones all around her, really emphasizing the calm feeling in these last moments of the day.

Oh, and I got to wear her blue coat for a few minutes.  Score!

The bright blue coat worked beautifully earlier in the session, but would have detracted from the soft mood of this picture.  No one says you have to wear the same thing all session long.  Variety is the spice of life, let’s mix it up!

4. Consider the season.

Time of year is an important variable to consider when choosing your portrait session outfit(s).  What you would wear to the lake in October  is probably quite different from what you would wear to the beach in June, or to a ski slope in January.  Consider not just comfort when selecting your clothing, but also the seasonal colors and fabrics that are important to you.

Marisa’s San Francisco shoot was on the first day of summer, and the forecast was for sweet sunshine, so we knew that some carefree styling was in order!  Her choice of a yellow sundress was right on point for the time of year.  With each new setting – casual Baker Beach, formal Palace of Fine Arts – we mixed up her wardrobe to really capture the look and feel of the location.  No matter how different each outfit was, the mood of each is unmistakably “summer”.

Lucky us!  One of the locations on our shoot list was a cable car.  Although there were other nice cars to pick from, this yellow and red one matched Marisa’s outfit to a “T,” so we rolled with it (ba-dum-dum).

5. Consider the reason.

How do you intend to use the images?

  • A holiday family session might have everyone wearing matching silly sweaters or an accessory (scarf, hat, gloves) in a matching color to communicate fun and good cheer.
  • A spring maternity session might have mama-to-be in a pastel dress with a crown of delicate flowers in her hair, evoking the tender beauty and femininity of becoming a new mother.
  • A fall harvest session for a winemaker might have him in a casual shirt, jeans, and work boots as he tends to his grapes in the vineyard, speaking to his down-to-earth and hands-on approach to his career.

No matter what the reason, I really enjoy helping my clients pick just the right outfit to fit the intended use of their pictures.

For Marisa, the reason was to promote her bid for the 2016 USA National Miss title.  This of course required that we feature her pageant sash and crown.  Without these two key accessories her photographs, while strikingly beautiful, would not have communicated her intent as clearly.  And who doesn’t like to wear a crown now and then?


It’s OK to let your accessories do the talking!  I like how this sunset image of Marisa’s crown clearly captures the essence of  being California’s “Miss Golden Coast.”

6. Less is not always more.

Know this: I will NEVER judge you for packing too many clothes!!  As long as you don’t judge me for packing too many cameras…it’s all about being prepared.  Go ahead, I have extra trunk space. 😉

Because Marisa and I had talked ahead of time about her styling, she came to the session with a bag packed full of great outfits, and we were able to quickly generate many different looks for her.  She didn’t wear everything,  and that’s A-OK.  Sometimes we changed her styling on the fly, and having extra clothes on hand gave us the flexibility to adapt her look to each location we were shooting in.


7. And then again…with grooming, it is.

Less is NOT more with clothes, that’s for sure.  I’ve got your back on that one!  But when it comes to hair and make-up, a softer hand is often better than a heavier one.

So your hair has a chance to “settle in” and you have time to practice styling it, plan to get your hair cut no less than 2 weeks before your portrait session.  Whether you are a man or woman, a fresh manicure with clear or neutral polish is a nice touch, especially if we do close-ups of your hands (next to our eyes, our hands are the most expressive part of our bodies, and I feature them in most portrait sessions.)  And ladies, wear the make-up you are used to and comfortable wearing.  The day of your portrait session is not the time to try out purple eyeliner or coral red lipstick!  Stick with what you know, and if in doubt, go natural.  Lastly, don’t forget to bring some styling products along for touch-ups during the session.  I’m great at holding a mirror, BTW.

A sunset session is the perfect opportunity to channel your inner sun god(dess).  I schedule many of my portrait sessions for this time of day because the light is so flattering.  Marisa chose make-up in neutral colors and warm tones that accentuated, but didn’t dominate her features, and it worked great!

8. Be comfortable!

I always advise my clients to bring layers and comfortable shoes, especially if we are traveling between locations or shooting at the end of the day.  The more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you will be, and your photographs will reflect this.  Marisa had some beautiful heels to wear with her dresses, but she also packed a pair of flats for walking around the city.  Additionally, she had a warm blazer to put on when the San Francisco fog rolled in (as we knew it would).  A comfortable client is a happy client!

Never underestimate the importance of a warm jacket.  Not only will you be more comfortable, but it adds some extra variety to your portrait session wardrobe.


9. Go with the “flow.”

And by flow, I mean fabric.  As in fabric flowing in the breeze…  Ah, that’s one of my favorite things!  And there’s no surer way to infuse a photograph with a sense of life and energy than to capture the wind.  There’s a reason why fashion photographers always have a shop fan or two on hand.

Even if there isn’t enough wind to blow a feather, the illusion of motion can be created with sheer, lightweight fabric – a silk scarf, gauzy linen pants, or chiffon dress will dance on air with just the slightest movement.  These fabric choices are especially nice for beach sessions, where ocean breezes are a given, but will really work anywhere.  All you need is air.

Oh, and silk scarves are about the smallest thing to pack – so go ahead, stuff a few in your bag!

Even without a breeze, the illusion of motion can be created  by pulling lightweight fabric through the air.  Doesn’t it make this striking pose look even more dynamic?


10. Call your photographer.

Never underestimate the importance of a fashion consultant and confidant!  That’s what every good photographer is.  It’s our job to listen to your ideas, hopes, needs, and yes, even your insecurities and fears so that your photography session is an enjoyable and comfortable experience that produces photographs that you absolutely LOVE.

I repeat: it’s our J-O-B.  It’s what you are paying for!  So please, pick up that phone and call.  Let’s talk it out.  I want your images to be just as stunning as you do. 🙂

You are not alone in this!  Ask your photographer for wardrobe assistance.  And if they can’t or won’t help…find another photographer.

* * *

Jessica’s Top 10 Wardrobe Tips for Portrait Sessions:

  1. Start with a solid color as your foundation,
  2. be bold with color but…
  3. balance it with neutrals,
  4. match your style to the season, and…
  5. match your style to the reason,
  6. when selecting outfits, the more the merrier, but…
  7. with personal grooming, less is more…
  8. pack comfortable shoes and layers,
  9. incorporate lightweight fabrics for energy and intrigue, and…
  10. always feel comfortable consulting with your photographer.

* * *

Future Client: Being a creative professional, I encourage personal expression and want you to show your true self.  But, I also know that things look differently behind the lens.  For you to get the most out of your portrait session,  I recommend you consider the aforementioned tips when selecting your wardrobe.  And by all means, if you want some guidance, reach out to me!  I’m here to help.  And boy oh boy, do I LOVE to do it.

That’s it for me.  Now don’t you have some serious shopping to do??