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game on!

February 16, 2011 7 Comments

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Engagement sessions can be super, like, the best to shoot. Or they can be really challenging and difficult. That’s my fault. I don’t like to do generic shoots where I drop two people in a park and tell them where to look. I think those are terribly boring, and although they may produce very pretty pictures, they don’t tell you anything about that person, or that couple. They’re stock sessions, and I don’t do stock.

In Sarah’s very first email to me, she told me that she and her fiancee, Nick, were big gamers. They play board games, thumb wars, anything that’s competitive. And they’re self-described nerds (she’s an engineer and he’s a banker). Even though I didn’t appear to have anything in common with them (I’m so not competitive, and haven’t played a board game in forever), I found them so much fun to hang with. And when they told me that they were having In-n-Out (see: my life) cater their wedding, it was like POW! “I know you!”

So setting up their e-session was a snap and so obvious. We met at the Santa Monica Pier and I had them play some games. Now, I didn’t just have them pose in front of some buildings and have them show their game faces and give me silly poses. They were going to play a series of games and actually compete for a prize (which was kept secret until the end). I can’t even tell you how much fun we had. All in all, we spent about ten dollars and three hours getting to know one another. We started at the chess tables with the best of five in Thumb Wars, and then moved to the arcade on the pier. They each got to pick their game of choice, and we threw in some others, and then I made them play the dreaded dance game. (I’ve tried that with Jenna and it’s freakin’ hard, and bonus: you look extremely silly playing it). Nick was a great sport (even though I know he did not want to dance) and they got so into it, they attracted a crowd, and some people even took pictures of them.

Then I got them into their good clothes, put Wellies on them and took them under the pier. This part wasn’t really a game, but I love the look down there and when I’m shooting, I get to boss people and i wanted to boss them into that water. 🙂 And besides, they were really so into all their games that it was a little difficult to get anything but an action shot. Grimaces, laughing, gritting teeth and throwing arms into the air in frustration. All that made for great photos, but I know they needed some “nice” ones too and that’s where the Wellies and the dressy clothes came in.

Eventually, Nick beat Sarah (by just a few points) and she was the best loser. She offered to present him with the prize: a $50 gift card to Brookstone where they have robots! But even after the prize was awarded and the shoot was over, I spotted the argyle socks in their car and they put those on and had a sort of footsie war! Too cute.

Ok, I’m going in all kinds of directions here, so I’ll stop now and let the photos speak for themselves. Thanks Sarah! Thanks Nick! Thanks nice lady at the carousel who helped us get some great stuff


wedded bliss: the sequel

February 10, 2011 4 Comments

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Do you remember the morning after you got your first car? Your first kiss? The first time you made love? The morning after your significant other said “I love you” for the first time?

It’s like, you’re so excited you can hardly go to sleep, but somehow you do. When you first wake up, it’s like…a few seconds pass and then you realize: oh yeah, something’s different today! That straight line your life was taking took a turn; and not one of those wavy “curve ahead” turns but a sharp right that you nearly missed because you weren’t paying attention.

The morning after my wedding day I woke up and looked over and thought, “Wow, that’s my husband. What a trip.”

The day after your wedding day is definitely different; no matter how many years you’ve known one another, or lived together, from that day forward, things are just not the same. And they never will be again.

When I arrived (early) to shoot Celine & Mark’s morning after, C had already slipped out to check on their daughter and Mark was still in bed. Celine came back and they settled in together on the bed and we started talking, and I started shooting. There was a vibe in the room (I’m a big believer in vibes and energies); nobody was glowing and there wasn’t any radiating going on. Nobody was screaming and jumping up and down, yelling “I’m married!” (Although you can see there was a bit of jumping later on.)

It was quiet. It was warm. It was familiar. It was contentment. It was….it was being married.

how high?

February 9, 2011 7 Comments

Nah, not really. At least, not me.

If you’ve ever shopped around for a photographer (especially a wedding photographer), you will be told by a good percentage of them, “yeah, I can do that.” That is someone you should so not hire.

I always tell prospective clients that who they should hire is a person that they could feel comfortable hanging out with for the day, and someone whose style they just love. Everything else, you can work out.

My style is very collaborative. Instead of arriving with a shot list that I must.follow.exactly. I work more on the fly. No two weddings are the same…the people are different, the vibe is different. What I thought was a really great shot for Wedding A just might not work for Wedding B. That’s why I remain flexible and just go with the day; with whatever happens, whatever needs to be shot.

No waxing poetic in this post, just a little reminder as booking season heats up, that after the guests are gone, the food has been eaten, the cake has been devoured and the decorations taken down, all that’s left is you, the person you married and the photos. So make sure you choose someone whose already doing the stuff you love; not someone who can try and fake it for a few hundred dollars less. Believe me, if you do that you will really regret it. Nobody hears more horror wedding photographer stories than wedding photographers, and I’ve heard just about all of them.

So, if you tell me, “Jump!” My reply won’t be “how high?” It will be something more along the lines of, “well, instead of me jumping why don’t we try you jumping, oh, but you know what? I’ve taken a vow to never make people jump so what if I put you in this chair and you do this and you people in the back, you do that and let’s see how that looks.”

But in case you were wondering, yes, I can jump. Hella high. I just don’t take money to do it.

have you met my dogs?

February 2, 2011 13 Comments

Those of you who have known me for a few years know this story; if that’s you, feel free to ignore this post and just ogle the photos of the most awesome dogs ever.

If you don’t know me (and I’ve gained a lot of friends through Facebook in the last couple of years; Flickr too, and my FB page followers), and something tells me you don’t know of how all of this happy came to be. I’ll try to make it short; Lord knows I’ve written reams on what has happened in my life over the last 5 years; in fact, if you want some backstory, feel free to go check out some of my writings and photos at Flickr (although I confess that when the Bad Things started to happen, I went through a period of massive deletion of photos). Some important ones are still there; they’ll always be there.

Ok, so…during a 12-month period between 2007-2008, all three of my dogs–my entire pack–died. My beloved Buzz, Lola and Gracie all succumbed to the eventuality of death. Illness or old age, it really doesn’t matter how they left me, what matters is that they did. No, I take that back. They didn’t leave me; they were taken from me. During that time, it was not all that uncommon for Mr. Susan to come home from work and find me all fetal in the dog beds; crying my puffy, reddened eyes out. I got tattoos; I got cremation jewelry; I pored through old photos; I spent my days cursing my Karma and my nights dreaming of my dogs running away. To say it was a difficult time for me is the most absurd understatement I could ever make.

When Gracie, my mija, the last of my pack died, I went though a sort of trauma. I hadn’t been without a dog in the house in almost two decades. I remember coming home from the vet’s, where I had to leave Gracie after she died; coming into a completely silent house. Nobody was wagging their tail when I came in. Nobody barked like they were out of their mind when they heard the sound of my car pull into the driveway. That Vast Empty that greeted me that day was almost crippling. To make it worse, Mr. Susan was going out-of-town the next day for a week.

I was going to be alone, and I was terrified.

Mr. Susan was so frightened for me, so worried about what might happen to me in the Aftermath, he almost had to cancel his plans. But he went, and I woke up that next day, and for some reason, I knew I had to go see my friend Bonnie. Bonnie runs Hearts for Hounds, an amazing rescue that I’ve had the pleasure to photograph and visit many times. She runs a little adoption every Sunday here in Long Beach, and I got dressed and immediately went out to see her.

I just wandered around, looking at the yapping dogs, the quiet dogs, the ones who looked terrified. I didn’t want another dog. I wanted my dogs, but I found it comforting in a little way to just be around some dogs. Just walk around the cages and pet them, talk to them, and for just a few minutes not be alone without a dog.

Anyway (sorry, this is getting long), I spotted Jack first. Oh my gosh, he was one of the terrified ones. He looked up at everyone with these pleading brown eyes, and my heart broke for him. For all of them. I told Bonnie what had happened and she scooped up Jack and put him in my arms and said, “just for company. Bring him back in a few days, and in the meantime, he’ll make you feel better.”

Ugh. I was about to put him back when Bonnie pointed over to another cage at a little goofball on his hind legs, pressed against the cage, watching us. “That’s his buddy,” she said. “They came together.”

Oh man. It wasn’t a love for them that made me take them home that day; it was a horrible, horrible fear that after bonding in the adoption circuit, they would be separated and would again be traumatized by losing something, or someone, they had grasped onto for love & companionship.

Now I’m going to make this really short: I didn’t love them at first; in fact, I didn’t even like them. I resented them for not being my old dogs, my real dogs. But they clearly loved one another, and they were warming up to me pretty quickly. That night they slept in the bed with me, and even though they weren’t my old dogs, they had the same comforting signals that told me everything was ok: the rapid heartbeat; the dog breath slowly puffing on my cheek as they fell asleep; the warm little bodies snuggling up against me under the covers.

Short story: I fell in love with them. I had to train them from scratch; that took 6 months and they still have accidents. They didn’t know how to play. Can you imagine that: a dog that doesn’t know how to play! But now they do: T (his name was RT when I got him, but I shortened it to T, but Pickle is his nickname and that’s pretty much the only name he’ll come to now), T prefers the tennis ball. He’s completely mad for the ball. Jack likes squeaky toys; he likes to destroy them and pull the squeaky out. And he likes to wrestle with me. He’s very clever, and will run through the house and hide and jump out at me.

Mr. Susan calls them clowns. They totally are clowns, and I love them so much, that sometimes I’ll catch sight of them and I’m terrified at how bonded we became and because of what they had gone through (their histories are terrible, and I’ll save that for another day), and because of what I had gone through, I know that their deaths will impact me more than…more than I can ever imagine.

I photograph a lot of dogs; some puppies, some old. Lots sick. I’ve photographed dogs the night before they were to be put down. I photograph shelter dogs and it’s my favorite work of all. Dogs are my thing. Rescue dogs. Spreading the word, helping to find fosters, getting other people involved in animal rescue. That’s my thing.

So you see, when I introduce you to my dogs, I actually introduce you to a part of me that you might not even know. We’re inextricably bound; these dogs and I. We’re pack mates. We’re best friends. We’re roommates. We’re sentient beings and we love one another like there’s no tomorrow.

Believe it or not, that’s the short version of this story. Once in awhile I like to get down on the floor in the studio and take some pictures of us. It’s sort of like marking your child’s height on the door frame to his bedroom, only I do it with a camera. And with my dogs.

The dogs whom you’ve just met.

this is our moment; the others can wait

January 30, 2011 9 Comments

I am in love with the candids. The posed portraits, though they may be gorgeous, funny, inspired, technically well done and all that stuff, they are always lacking something–something very specific. What they lack is that little spark that is shared between people, or within someone who is sitting alone, that happens when nobody is looking. It’s like the old riddle: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?”

Hmm, if a spark is shared and nobody is there to see it, or to capture it, does it still light? I think it does. I know it does.

For this month’s “Be the Bride” series shot, I chose our backyard. I got a few props and I had meant to do something very fancy with the light set-up. Well I’ll just confess that that didn’t really work out. I’m sure we could have done it, but honestly, walking around barefoot in the dark in the wet, freshly cut grass while wearing a 25-pound wedding gown was taking me out of my happy place. I did have everything set for this shot, but when the lights failed to go off, I stayed there, with my cheek pressed against my husband’s, and I said, “let’s stay, just like this, for a minute.”

So what was meant to be a staged portrait turned into 30 seconds of exquisite silence between me and the love of my life; all I could hear was our breath and we tried to stay as still as possible. The moment became so intimate and precious, and it reminded me of how fleeting these moments are, so I stayed long after I needed to for the exposure. I stayed because I was sitting in the dark, in my yard, in a wedding gown, with my face touching my husband’s, and all I could hear was the tree falling in the forest.

No, honey; it’s actually not all about you.

January 29, 2011 4 Comments

You know, I hear brides (mostly on “Bridezilla”) say things like “this is my wedding day, it’s all about me!” or someone crying hysterically because the DJ played the wrong song and they go off on a tangent with that “It’s my day!”

Well, all you brides and wives to be out there, I’m going to tell you something that nobody in the “wedding machine” (as one of my brides brilliantly put it) would ever tell you:

Yes, you’re getting married, but no, it’s not all about you.

Those of you who disagree…well, I know you’re out there but you’re not even reading this because there’s no reason at all for you to be on my site and…I shouldn’t even be talking to you if you’re not here.
If you’re still reading–well, I know you are, and this is getting very meta isn’t it?–and you do agree, great! If you agree only a little, or if you’re a teeny bit upset, let me put my arm around your shoulder and tell something…tough luck! Yeah, it’s your wedding day and in that way, it’s totally about you (and let’s not forget that person you’re marrying). But it’s that part, and only that part.

In my (most humble) opinion, it’s about everyone. It’s about your friends, people who gave up their plans for the day because nothing could stand between them and watching you get married–not even 3,000, or 8,000 miles! Because now when you and your friends get together to play Jenga, this person–this new person!–you’re marrying will be there too (so make sure he/she is good at Jenga).

It’s about your family, because although it’s obvious that you’re having a life changing experience here, remember that they are too. This person, this person in front of you to whom you’re devoting yourself, they’re becoming a part of your family, and you a part of theirs. Holidays, birthdays, hell, Wednesdays–all the days that make up your life as a family will now include this other person. Wow! I mean, this person is going to watch your parents grow old, with you; they may become an aunt, or an uncle, through you. What a trip, huh? And who’s going to meet the love of their life at one of your parties, or even at your wedding?

And it’s your mom’s day and your dad’s day because when your kid gets married, that is…man, if that’s not life changing, I don’t know what it is. My daughter hasn’t married yet, but on the day she does, I’ll have all these things going on, these feelings of happiness and sadness and nostalgia and, just…I don’t know what! It hasn’t happened yet!

With everyone so worried about how you feel and how you look and if you need a drink of water or if you’ve eaten anything yet and did you get a piece of your own cake…just take a second to remember that all these people in this hall/park/beach/backyard have just become part of your history. Honor that. Honor the fact that from that day on, everyone’s life will change in some way–some big, some small. Honor the fact that you and this person you’re marrying–the love of your life–are the reason for that. You’re changing all these lives, at once.

How awesome is that? It’s like, a wonderful life 😉

Here’s to everyone changed by you two and your wedding, and your marriage. Here’s to everyone who changes you, too.

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a formal introduction

December 30, 2010 4 Comments

I look at a lot of wedding portraits: magazines & websites are a constant source of inspiration for shooting. All photographers do this, it’s nothing to be ashamed of (and if your photographer says they don’t get inspiration from other people’s work they’re fibbing). I mean, come on…there are only so many original ideas out there. In order to keep my style fresh and constantly moving forward, I need to see what others are doing.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll take a portrait that someone else has shot and meticulously recreate it for my own client. But I’m not above doing a variation of something I’ve seen that’s caught my eye. And I fully expect that other photographers may do it with my shots, and that’s ok. Flattery, sincerity, imitation and all that.

One thing that is conspicuously lacking in the portraits I’ve seen is the formal portrait, in a formal setting, like a studio. Everyone wants to be jumping or kicking their heels up or hidden behind brightly colored umbrellas. That’s ok too; they’re fun pictures and if my client wants something like that I’ll definitely give it to them. But I would love to bring back the studio portrait; not the stuffy “you sit here and you stand behind her and put your hand on her shoulder” kind of portrait. Formal doesn’t have to equal boring. And to prove my point, I decided to take another “be the bride” shot in my studio. (Oh, and by the way, I’m clearly way too excited over this project and this dress to do just one a month, so I’ll go out on a limb here and declare that I’ll be shooting these self-portraits all year long.)

So, ok: I’m standing in my studio, in my dress, and I want to make a formal portrait. And this is what I come up with. This is my interpretation of the formal studio portrait. Look at it: even with the chalkboard, the lack of bouquet (and groom), there’s something…classic about a studio portrait. I love mixing the classic with the new. Now, if there were a groom there, it would be great, but Mr. Susan is at his “real” job and so this turns into a formal bride’s portrait. Still, I imagine how much fun it would be to get a just-married couple into my studio for some of these, and I decide that I’m going to try to get as many clients into my studio as possible. The day of, the day after, the week after: doesn’t matter. I think that 2011 is going to be my year of the formal portrait, so I’m going to offer this option to all my clients.

I think it’ll be a kick, and I hope that all my clients take me up on this.

If you’re getting married this year and I’m not shooting you, ask your photographer to shoot you in her studio. Mix it up a little; find something like a chalkboard, a chair, a cane…the possibilities are endless. And they’re fun. And that, bride-to-be, is what your portrait should be.

our typical Cali christmas

December 25, 2010 1 Comment

We have a saying in our house: “It isn’t Christmas ’til someone cries.”

We had just a tiny bit of crying from a very overexcited gbaby who was literally spinning through the living room with excitement and overstimulation. No family fights, no food comas, just comfy clothes, some Buffy marathon and some of J’s famous baking. And, of course, the photobooth (which is my favorite part of every family get together). This year was so laid back that Mr Susan and I did most of the snapping, but once I shut the curtains I did hear some serious strobe popping and I caught a peek of a what may be a candidate for “Awkward Family Photos”). I love doing these home sessions so much I may throw on the wedding dress for some tomorrow.

I love Mr Susan back there in his comfy clothes (the man didn’t know what comfy clothes were until he met me) and me in my Christmas clothes. Yes, these are my Christmas clothes: I bought them yesterday, especially for today. A pair of ridiculously soft chinos from Hollister and an even softer plain white tee. My good clothes. As some of you will understand: My Zombie Apocalypse Clothes.

But the holiday that has been creeping up on us since the day after Halloween) is over, except for the folding up of the little earth-friendly Christmas tree and stowing it back in the garage until next year.

We hope you all had a grand day; that you all caught some of Scooby gang, and all of you got that one thing: whether a gift, a wish, a kiss or just a look in the eye that you have always wanted and will never forget.

Have a good night’s sleep, and get up early tomorrow so we can start the countdown all over again.


December 20, 2010 6 Comments

Defined by the Urban Dictionary, as “an expression the speaker says to the listener to encourage the listener to be extravagant, to go all the way, and do whatever you are doing to its fullest [and] a phrase describing a champion’s lifestyle. A way of life. An attitude.”

Part of my photography, especially my self-portraits, has been about going big, because frankly, I’m not ready to go home. It’s not about getting attention, or getting a rise out of the viewer; it’s about doing it right, being true to my concept and not letting the fear that someone may not like it keep me from shooting it exactly the way I want.

I started my photo project: “Be the Bride: 2011” as a way of connecting with brides, to put myself in their shoes (even if just for an hour or two during the photo session) and especially to show them that there’s more than one way to get married. I want to encourage brides to have the wedding that they want, not the wedding that their mothers or family members or bridal magazines tell them they want.

My specialty is offbeat weddings. Like I’ve said before: McGyver weddings. Offbeat can range from everything to choosing to not be married in a church to being married on the plank dressed up as pirates. But all offbeat brides have one thing in common: they know what they want and they’re determined to make it happen. And pretty much 100% of the time that I’ve seen, they go big. Even if it’s small, they go big.

No vows? Not a problem. Female groomsmen? It’s pretty common. The family first-dance? Catherine & Tommy pulled that off beautifully.

Ladies! There are no rules when you’re getting married; just like there are no rules when you fall in love. This is a concept that is really hard for us to feel comfortable with, because our society is all about rules, expectations, “should’s” and “shouldn’ts”.

But as the year progresses and you see more of my “Be the Bride” self-portraits, you’ll hopefully see that no, dammit! You do not have to be photographed looking off into the sunset and if your groom doesn’t feel comfortable jumping with the bridal party then nobody should make him do it (especially me, because besides the whole “do your own thing” I’ve got a real bone to pick with the jumping shots and I simply refuse to shoot one). I know that Blaise thinks she’s going to get me to do one at her wedding next year. LOL. We’ll see.

So here it is: the first of my series in a bride’s shoes (not terribly comfy shoes, I might add). Now, something important about this shot, and why I chose it for the coming out piece: I saw something similar to this set-up a few months ago: a bride sitting on a toilet. I showed it to Mr. Susan and said, “this is a bad photo. Do you know why?” He didn’t. “Because,” I said, “this photographer has the beginning of a great concept, but he’s afraid to take it all the way and do it right. He’s afraid to go big. And to be successful with a concept like a bride on a toilet, you must go big. You must not care if someone will be offended, because honestly? If someone is offended by this photo, then that person is not somebody I would shoot. Not just because they don’t like this photo, but because they’re in a different zone than I am; they think differently than I do; they find humor in other places and those are so important to me in a connection to my clients (or potential clients).

I’m guessing a lot of people will love this photo. A lot of people will not love it; in fact, maybe hate it. That’s OK. It’s not a picture I took to please everyone; it’s a picture I took to please myself and to get a point across.

Do I look like I’m ready to go home?

No. Not by a long shot.

(ps: a huge thanks to Alison Turner for lending a hand. Thank you thank you thank you!)

"The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom."

December 10, 2010 1 Comment

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I know, a strange title for a post about a wedding. Maybe it should be something more traditional like, “lovebirds in love,” or “two hearts beating as one,” or some other meaningless phrase that sounds suspiciously like the lyrics of a song by Air Supply.

But this is the perfect title for a post about Catherine and Tommy, because they were both raised by single mothers, and after spending just a handful of hours with them, it’s obvious that their mothers’ hearts could take on Stephen Hawking’s brain any day. No matter what Bill O’Reilly would say about single parenthood destroying society, I personally don’t think he could buy enough vowels to get it. Single moms rock the love and they rock it hard. They have to, because if they don’t, nobody else will. And I’ve never known a mom–single or not–who was willing to let her kids go through life not feeling like the most loved person in the world.

But I digress.

Catherine has the best sense of humor; she’s smart and real and sharp as a tack when it comes to cracking of the wise. Tommy is so sweet; he honors the women in his life–his mother and his sister–and now Catherine, his wife, the way that all women wish to be honored. Their first dance, a time-honored tradition in weddings, was interrupted after only a couple of minutes so that they could stop and express  their love of family and how nothing would be possible without their sisters and their mothers. And then there was the first family dance, something I’ve never seen in all the weddings I’ve shot. Tommy & Cat, their sisters and their moms, all hugging and dancing and celebrating the life and love they’ve just promised to share until death do they part.

Wow. Just…wow. It was really something to see, and I was really, for real, honored to be chosen to capture those moments.

So this is for Catherine & Tommy & and their families; and it’s for all the single moms (so many that I know) who keep on keeping on and who, without sound bites or televised points of view, stay in and raise good people. That’s their job, you know. It’s every mother’s and father’s job to raise a good person, and all I can say to Tommy & Cat’s moms is: well done.