The Bitter Sweet Nostalgia and Comfort of Photographs

I don't know about you, I hope I am not alone in this, but it's at night, when everyone is fast asleep that I feel waves of nostalgia roll over me.

As a mom, there are other things that tumble through my mind as well, all sorts of worries, spasms of anxiety, lists of to dos and self judgments of all the things I haven't done. Night time has always been my contemplation time; when the lights are off and there's nothing to distract, nothing to divert me from my mind's wanderings.

Most often my thoughts turn to my kids. As they sleep with wild abandon, I think of their innocent selves, I think of how much they have grown and will grow and I feel a bitter sweet sense of longing to slow things down. How did they turn so quickly from chubby gurgling baby, to a far slimmer, talkative toddler? How did their imaginations explode so massively? How can I keep them in their trusting, joy filled innocence for as long as possible? Have I kissed and held them enough? Will I always remember the smell of their honey scented skin? How long will my eldest let me pull her in to nuzzle and sniff her hair? What did they look like when they were twelve months old again? Will I remember what they look like now? Will I look back at now, this moment, and wish I had seen how little they still were and miss this time?

It's at these moments that I take great comfort in knowing that I have my photographs. I can walk into my living room and look at the photos I have displayed there. My girls as newborn babes, as crawlers, as rambunctious pre-verbal toddlers, as mischievous, fully verbal three and five year olds.

I will look at those images and I will feel deep love, some sorrow and wistfulness for moments now long past, joy that we have these experiences together, excitement for what is yet to come. The photos are the ties to the past, the documentation of a life-time, something to share with future family. They are priceless. I take great comfort knowing that they are there, to remind me, to send me back to those moments.

And now I'm all teary.

S

PS check out my events page for upcoming mini sessions!

 

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Allie & Jon's Wedding

Allie & Jon first contacted me almost a year ago. Allie was an old classmate of Britt, whose wedding I had covered during the fires last October, she had seen the photos on Instagram and wondered about my availability. I was very upfront about the fact that I am currently building my wedding portfolio and that they would have to look at my other work to decide whether I was the choice for them. This didn't faze them in the least and so we schedule a time to meet the next time they were in the area.

Usually I suggest that a couple do a test run with me: hire me to do engagement photos and see what they think before they decide whether they want me to be their wedding photographer. This is because I think that a good working relationship is important. If we don't jive well, you certainly don't want to see my face all day at your wedding- because you will be seeing a lot of me if I'm your gal on that day! Allie and Jon had already taken engagement photos at Disney Land where Jon proposed to her. The difficulty was that while they live in Southern Cali, they wanted to have their wedding in Northern Cali where her parents live and so needed a photographer from that neck of the woods. That's where I came in. 

Ultimately Allie and Jon ended up having a second engagement session, this time with me! I encouraged them to do it, despite the redundancy, because it was about whether they felt comfortable with me and liked the images I produced. Evidently, it all worked out great because we immediately started planning for the wedding.

The day of the wedding was gorgeous. The property in Angwin where everything was to take place had a sweet little cottage with all the amenities, including some much needed air conditioning! The ceremony was to take place outdoors overlooking vineyards, beside a beautiful barn that would house the delicious wood fired pizza as it came out to order (SO good!).

Allie and Jon had planned their day so well there was never any doubt as to what was coming next. As is always the case, there were a few folks who didn't follow the finely crafted outline (lol!), but Allie and Jon were always right on the mark, and when it came to the end, I had also done my part to get all the shots in the right amount of time. We had a good high-five and pat-on-the-back session when all was said and done!

Allie had considered all aspects of the day, and there were really sweet touches, like the letters they wrote to each other to read as they got ready and before the sneak peek. 

Allie's dress was beyond stunning. If my little girl had been there, she would have called her a princess, a real, living princess. I myself was very taken with it: she looked so amazing I couldn't stop taking pictures of her! I can't imagine what went through Jon's head the first time he saw her! (Or maybe I can!)

The ceremony was simple and beautiful, from the florals to the amazing wood fired pizza, the lawn games, the sweetheart table and the tree as a symbol of their commitment, the day was gorgeous and a smashing success.

I wish Allie and Jon all the best as they move forward as husband and wife! Thank you for having me as your photographer, it was a joy!

Cudos to all the vendors: Florals: Lindsey Herdell, Pizza: Napa Valley Crust, Cake: Nothing Bundt Cake, DJ: Alex Storm, Hair & Make-up: Whirlwind Blow Dry Lounge, Dress: Bellasposa Bridal, Coordinators: Tracy and Alexa Blunt

 

 

Sharolyn

PS. Thank you to Melanie Cahill for once again being me assistant and back-up shooter!

Sadie & Chris's Wedding

Oh my, oh my was this a special day! Of course for Sadie and Chris and little miss Ellie, but for me as well! I've been a photographer for many years, but weddings are relatively new for me. The fact that Sadie and Chris entrusted me with the responsibility of documenting this incredible day was a gift.

I first met Sadie and Chris when I took their engagement photos over a year ago. Right from the start I was enamored with them; best friends who decided to locate here in beautiful Sonoma county close to Chris' family. Sadie and her daughter Ellie were choosing to leave their family behind in Oregon. I identified immediately with Sadie, my story being similar: convinced by my California man to leave my home in Canada to relocate and get married. Sadie's daughter Ellie is about the exact same age as my eldest daughter. It's not an easy transition, but with the love of your partner and a solid, loving extended family to support, it's possible, and Sadie has this.

We had fun during the engagement session using Chris's Mustang as a key element, and of course, that tied right back in on the wedding day (How could it not!). You can see pics from their engagement session here.

Chris and Sadie's day was held together by love and family. Their venue, food, decor, was a home-grown, family affair. St Vincent de Paul in Petaluma, the site of their ceremony, is their family church, the reception was held at Chris' parents beautiful, spacious property. It was absolutely perfect.

I know how stressful this day can be, but despite that Chris and Sadie never lost sight of the reason why they were doing this. It all started, actually, the day before when we all showed up for the rehearsal...but there was no one there! Everyone took it in stride and decided that this was a bummer but not the end of the world, they would have to wing it on the day. And they did, and it was fantastic. Sadie was as cool and calm as could be...even when Chris almost saw her in her wedding dress as we uncovered the Mustang in the garage and he and his best man, Jose, unexpectedly showed up to drop off one of the family dogs! A funny moment I managed to capture on camera.

I hope I did their day justice. It was a beautiful day full of love and a whole lot of fun.

I wish Sadie, Chris and Ellie all the happiness in the world as they move forward as a family of three.

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Enjoy the photos!

 

Sharolyn

PS Much thanks to my second shooter Melanie Cahill who aced covering the stuff I couldn't and  hefting the gear for me!

 

Babies, Babies, Babies!!

I am so lucky to get a chance to take pictures of babies, newly arrived on this earth. I had a lovely little cluster of newborn shoots recently that had me all giddy with delight. All of these sessions took place "on-site", meaning I went to each family's home. I think it's really important to provide that service, I mean, who wants to leave the house after giving birth? Everyone is in their laying-in, baby-honey-moon stage, and I love to enter into that environment, and take pictures where everyone, especially baby, is at ease. As these lovely families would attest, I don't require a lot of space to take pictures, often just a few feet of space with some great natural light.

My first session came with the arrival of Kayla, such a delight to Christine and Steve and big brother Brayden. She was so bright eyed and easy going. In fact, she was so bright eyed that we never got any sleepy baby poses as she just wanted to stay awake to take it all in, despite some good mama's milk. Christine had gorgeous hand knit items they'd received as gifts that we got to outfit her in. I was so pleased with the images we got from this session. Big brother Brayden LOVES to do photo shoots (we did a session a little while ago when Christine was still cookin' Kayla in her tummy and he took to it right away). He could not wait for me to get set up and was super eager to get into position. He is the sweetest kid and I am so excited for him; he is already nailing being an amazing big brother.

 I couldn't and still can't stop giggling at little Kayla's spiky hair- I LOVE it!! Asian baby hair is the BEST ( I can attest to this as my sister had that hair too and we used to pour over her baby photos and laugh and oooh and ah). Here are a few of my favorites from the session! Look at those alert little eyes.

 

Next, baby Chase. He was only a week old! So tiny and so fresh that he still hadn't lost his chord (ironically, a few hours after our session, it came off, Autumn informed me! Cue head smack.). I always suggest that if there are any special "props", items of significance you want to include, that we should use that rather than props that I can (and will) bring. Autumn and Ricky had some great props and ideas and we tried to incorporate as much of it as we could. Like Kayla, Chase was resistant to sleep even with mama's milk, but with patience we managed to get a few gems with him curled up on the back of a big toy truck. I love these! He was so cooperative.

I have to share this: Little Chase was...very well hydrated (as all babies are, drinking milk all day long!), and as a result of all my administrations, removing diapers, wrapping and placing him, was quite stimulated to ease his little bladder...several times. I say this, because when one looks at baby pics they often don't think of all the stuff that happens in the background, between the shots. It's not all picture perfect, but it is perfectly normal and totally joyful! Autumn and I, both seasoned moms, are unfazed by such things. We were well stocked with swaddling cloths and baskets, so a quick switcheroo and we were back in the game. Big Brother Rilo needs mentioning here too. I had the pleasure of first taking his picture along with mom and dad over a year ago. He has grown quite a bit since then! Adjusting to being a big brother, can be a big learning curve (this goes for all kids welcoming a sibling!) but he was taking it in stride, guided with love and patience by mommy and daddy. He is a sweet, curious boy who, it would appear, had remembered how to model from last time! He gave me some great, direct gazes (his Magnum?) that made the shots- thanks Rilo!

My final session was in beautiful Petaluma at Anat and Travis's home with their new addition, baby Ayden. Let me just say that, as a photographer I couldn't have asked for a better setting. Their home was perfect for a lifestyle shoot, Anat having carefully chosen colors, props and furniture for Ayden's room, which made my job exceedingly easy. Some of my favorite shots from this session took place right at the beginning, on their bed with the light streaming in, with them cuddling and laughing, Travis tending to Ayden when he fussed. Again, I had promised that mama's milk would most likely do the trick and he'd be all sleepy, but these babes keep proving me wrong! Ayden, like his cohorts, wanted in on the action and didn't stay in dream land for very long! All babies are different and Little A did not like going sans clothing, but that was okay because we had plenty of cute swaddling cloths and clothes to dress him in. I think he and I had a connection, because he posed just perfectly for me with nary a fuss.

In fact, all these babes were incredible! I cannot believe how amazing all of these sessions were, how lovely and welcoming each family and how chill and adorable these little ones were. I left all of these sessions feeling totally jazzed, and filled up with love.

I wish so much joy to all of these beautiful families. I know that at the session I seem very down to business, trying to get all the shots in, but inside I am SO very much aware of what it is like, adjusting to your new addition. It's not all roses, it is exhausting and confusing, but also SO incredible, even mind blowing. You made a human!!! Thank you for inviting me into your homes to document such an incredible moment in your lives.

As always, with gratitude and love,

S

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How to Take Great Cell Phone Photos in Dim Lighting

Last week I did a post about taking better photos in outdoor lighting conditions, with natural light. Today I want to address the more challenging conditions of low light, indoor photography. While shooting in low light can be challenging, there are a few tricks that you can use to vastly improve your images.

Well, you say, "low light, no problem, just use a flash". Yes. Yes, you can use a flash. It's very easy to default to flash by pressing that lightning bolt symbol, but, in all honesty, it doesn't look very good. Cell phone camera flashes end up making an image look cheap and ill exposed. Take these two images for example, I bet you can guess which one is with a flash:

The first is with ambient indoor light, it is slightly yellow and a bit fuzzy around the edges. Cameras have a hard time focusing in low light and have to "collect light" by keeping the shutter open longer. This is the case even with digital as well, the sensor needs more time to gather the info. Thus a slightly blurred image. 

The second one is with flash. It is a lot clearer because the flash shortens the time the sensor needs to be exposed to collect light, thus no blur. However, there is a cut-out quality ( due to the cast shadows) to it that I just don't like. It throws a cool light on the subject which is different from the warm light around them. Often the flash leaves shine marks or "hot spots" on the subjects face. I would choose the image on the left and adjust the yellow cast using filters. There is a time and a place for flash- namely at a party, with revelers goofing off for the camera. In that instance the subject being sharply highlighted by the flash in all their glory with the background fading to black is acceptable. That is the one exception.

Here is a set of three images, 1. No flash, 2. Flash (in Selfie mode which is inadequate), 3. No flash and adjustment filter:

In number one the shadows are terrible. Number two looks just too blown out. Both one and two have bad shadow placement and uneven light. Number three is shot with no flash and a simple adjustment using the phones built in filters that evens out the shadows, de-saturates the color, and in my opinion looks the best, not good, but better than the first two.

Okay, so if we are going to avoid using the flash, what kind of light should we be looking for?

Look around you for the sources of light. If it is overhead lighting, make-sure that you stand a little ahead or behind the light, not directly under or you will look like this:

 Narly, unflattering shadows as a result of standing directly under can lights in the kitchen.

Narly, unflattering shadows as a result of standing directly under can lights in the kitchen.

The easy fix is to stand a little back of the direct light and to tilt your head upwards:

 

 By stepping back a bit and tilting my chin up, I achieve more even lighting on my face, though there are still a few shadows around the nose (unfortunately the camera back-focused, but that's another problem entirely).

By stepping back a bit and tilting my chin up, I achieve more even lighting on my face, though there are still a few shadows around the nose (unfortunately the camera back-focused, but that's another problem entirely).

Better yet, look around you for white or light, neutral walls. White is your friend, your handy dandy natural light reflector (conversely, very colorful walls are your enemy since the color will be cast back onto you). Take a look at these two photos up next. In the first I have my back to the bright white of my kitchen walls and cupboards. In the second, I simply rotate in place and I face towards the white. Tell me which one you find to be better lit (hint: the second one!), even the color of my skin is better and more accurate as white does not have a color cast.

I took a shot of the space, our kitchen (don't tell my hubs, he'd be mortified by the clutter). On the right the wall is bright, but not as much as on the left which has under cabinet lighting that bounces around against the white tiles and cupboards.

Okay, here's another tip that might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed how often this rule is not followed: Face towards the source of the light. Unless you are going to use flash to fill you in, never put the light behind you when it's dark.

Here's a shot of my hallway. The light in the bathroom is on. In the first shot I stand in the doorway facing out to the hallway. In the second I stand in the hallway facing the source of light:

So simple, right?!

Okay, last bit of advice. Our phone cameras are pretty smart these days. They automatically adjust to lighting conditions as best as their amazing tech can, quite frankly I'm amazed at how well they can take photos in low light. Even in how the camera tries to calibrate color.

Here's the thing, if you are in mixed lighting, i.e. you have a good ol' tungsten light on (think yellow cast) alongside a fluorescent or more likely these days, a cool tone LED overhead light, your camera is going to start flipping-out a little. It will do it's best to adjust half way. But it's not always going to get it right.

So, here's how you help your poor camera sensor out: Choose one light source and eliminate the other (if you can. If you are at a club, forget about it- just go with whatcha got!) by turning it off.

Here's an example for you again:  I am in my art room. I've got the overhead light on which is tungsten ( conventional light bulb) and I'm standing by my patio door with natural light spilling in (cool light). My camera was working over-time switching between making me look blue or yellow as it tried to decide how to read the situation. It settled at this:

 Here I am looking decidedly blue.

Here I am looking decidedly blue.

I decided to have mercy on my camera- I turned off the room light and was left with only the light from the window.

 Me looking decidedly more human and less like an alien from Star Trek.

Me looking decidedly more human and less like an alien from Star Trek.

And that is it! Simple fixes for getting the best shots you can in low light, indoors. I hope you found that helpful. Try out some of these fixes and let me know how it goes.

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With gratitude,

Sharolyn

How to Take Great Cell Phone Photos in Outdoor Lighting Conditions

Cell phone cameras are amazing. They have come a looooong way. We take them for granted, but this technology is sci fi come to life. In our lifetimes, our phones also functioning as cameras became a thing. Before that, it was something out of Star Trek. Don't forget that.

The ease with which we can now take images, without buying film and loading it, without even having to bring along a bulky camera body that does only that one function (gaw! It doesn't make phone calls?), has lead to an explosion in the quantity of images we possess. 

Yet, even with all the built in auto focus, color correcting, exposure, etc.etc. built into these amazing feats of technology, we can still end up with lousy shots. Tech cannot correct all our errors...at least not yet...

So, while we wait for that, here are a few tips for great images in a variety of outdoor lighting conditions.

Before you can make these small adjustments to vastly improve your images, you need to know the basics of assessing light quality. This might sound daunting, but it's not rocket science. Simply ask yourself:

Is the mid-day sun blazing down on me with nary a cloud in the sky? Okay, that's intense, full sun. Think: dark shadows, unflattering, contrasty.

Is it an overcast day with nary a sliver of sun shining though? That's diffuse light. Think: even light, flattering, not as much light, very few shadows.

Is there sun one moment and then overcast conditions the next? You've got mixed light, baby! This will keep you on your toes. But the same rules apply...you just have to adjust to which rules to use as the conditions change.

(Then there's night time, but that is a post for another day).

None of these types of light quality negate photography. Au contraire, if you know what light you are dealing with, you can adapt to it in order to get the best shot possible.

Full Sun:

This is the type of light professional photographers who like to use natural light, shy away from like vampires emerging from the crypt prematurely. Why? Because intense sun creates too much contrast. So much so that one end of the spectrum, either the light or the dark is not going to register in the image. It can also be very, very unflattering on a subjects face: dark shadows in bad locations, squinting subjects.

So, if professionals don't want to shoot in it, should you not take any shots then? Of course not, photographers have to take shots in full sun all the time at weddings and other engagements. They have some secrets that help them deal:

1. Find solid shade (not mottled as this will be far worse!) and take a picture there. Easy peasy. Just don't try to include a background that is in the full sun, like a mountain range, flower garden with open sky etc. All of the background that is in the sun lit area will be blown out beyond recognition. Frame in only what is in the shade.

2. If no shade can be found, place your subjects back to the sun and shoot towards the sun. Have your subject block the sun with their body, or use a tree to block the strongest rays. Turn on your flash mode to force a flash. You will need this to fill in the big shadow that is your subjects face. You want the person to be perfectly exposed for and let the background blow out. Expect to have some crazy flare and haze in your shot...but it can be really cool and desirable to have depending on where the flare is placed. Experiment with your shooting angle.

3. Use the environment to help reflect fill light back onto the subject. Think white, or light. Have the subject stand on a light walk-way with the sun behind them. The light ground will take some of that light and reflect it back onto the subject and fill in some of that shadow.

I want to show you how dang easy it is to improve a shot on a sunny day. Below,  yours truly, taking a rare selfie with her phone just to prove a point:

 Direct, unfiltered sun.

Direct, unfiltered sun.

Here I am in the first shot. The sun is directly infront of me, it's about 2pm, I have to squint to see anything. The light has thrown dark shadows under my eyes, the shadow lengthening along my nose is unflattering, my eyes look dark, I even have a shiny spot on my forehead. Not a keeper.

Now, take a look at my second shot. I literally took two steps to change my location and vastly improve the results. What did I do? I stepped in the shade. Note how the light is now even on my face, there are no gnarly shadows where they shouldn't be. I look like I'm glowing in comparison to the background that is in shadow. You can even see the detail in my eyes which are now nicely lit up. I can also smile and look at the camera without squinting.

 Fixed! I let the shade be my light modifier.

Fixed! I let the shade be my light modifier.

 The location. One side is in full sun, the other in shade.

The location. One side is in full sun, the other in shade.

As you can see, I simply had to move from one corner of the building to the other. A few steps. This was at the Children's Museum in Santa Rosa. I took these two images on the way to the car with the girls. It took all of 30 seconds and most of that time was taken with unlocking and pulling up my camera on the screen. Simple fixes, folks.

Overcast Days: Diffuse Light

These are the best days for portraits/selfies. Overcast (even rainy) days are like stepping into the shade on a sunny day, only you don't have to find any shade because there isn't any (at least not much). The cloud cover provides a defused light, much like photographers achieve with light boxes in their studio.

The only caveat is that the filtered light provides less light, so be careful of blurry images because the sensor can't collect enough light quickly enough. Stick to subjects that are going to stay relatively still.

Some helpful pointers:

Tilt your subject's face slightly upward while you shoot downward...this allows more light to fill in under the eyes. Shooting upwards at a subject is inherently unflattering and in this type of light, you will not have enough available light to fill in the subjects face very well.

See here, another example. This one I shot quickly as we exited the house and the sky was completely overcast. When I shoot from below everything is a mess, namely I look like a gremlin that is all cheek and jowl, and nostrils! Don't forget the nostrils! The shadows overwhelm my face, there's just not enough ambient light to light my face properly. Then in the second I simply hold my camera at an angle slightly higher than I am and I tilt my face towards that beautiful light box in the sky and voila! Much better, don't you think?

Dull days can be...well...dull. So make sure that you use color to your advantage...pops of color in the background or better yet, on you, will make your image more interesting. During overcast conditions, colors are at their best, not blown out, not in shadow but lit just perfectly. So go find that patinaed barn door you love, that rock wall with glowing moss, your electric blue corvet, put a red rose in your hair and take some pics!

I hope you found this helpful. Please comment below, ad your tricks for improving photos, or ask any questions that have popped up for you.

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