Alexandria & Jonathan

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Allie and Jonathan for the second time. The first time was several months back  to discuss wedding packages and let them suss me out and see if they wanted me as their photographer for their wedding in July.

Happily, they did choose me and I am so very excited for their special day!

As part of their wedding package, they had an engagement session. Allie and Jonathan already had a beautiful engagement session at Disneyland where Jonathan proposed, but I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to get in front of my camera and do a "practice" so to speak, before their wedding day.

Allie and Jonathan are such sweet and down to earth people. They let me know that they felt awkward having photos taken and that they would prefer doing it somewhere not too public ( I completely empathized, I as the photographer don't like being the center of attention!). 

I did a few scouting missions leading up to the day. Allie had mentioned a few wineries, but when I directly inquired with one of them they shot me down immediately. I knew that rules and regulations for weddings in the Napa Valley are strict, but was shocked to learn that it even extended to professional photography related to weddings. Very disappointing.

Luckily, in a previous scouting mission for mustard fields, I'd found a great public access space in St. Helena. No fear of being shut down and a relatively quiet place with the occasional dog owner taking their pooch for a walk. It ended up being perfect because Allie wanted their dog Zoe in a few shots and it was a great environment for her.

The day started off overcast and rainy. In fact, both Allie and I had been monitoring the weather all week and the forecast stubbornly insisted it would be nothing but gray. I arrived at the site a half hour early to scout and figure out how to light for a dreary day. I even had a prop umbrella and plans to do some rainy day shots. But literally, just before Jonathan and Allie pulled up, the sun burst out from behind the clouds. Gorgeous. However, I now had another set of challenges with light. Because of the sun's intensity, I decided to find shaded locations while we waited for the golden hour glow. We started under some redwood trees and then did a small walk-about, stopping at various locations that suited the ever changing light. By the end, Jonathan and Allie seemed totally in their element. When Allie's mom arrived mid session with their dog Zoe, everyone was instantly even more relaxed (should have started with her!), I caught some of my favorite images of the day right around then, at the end of the shoot.

Being very aware of how Jonathan had expressed his discomfort with being photographed, I tried to be better about explaining how it would go, give some tips on posing etc, and remind them both to just have fun and enjoy being with each other. This was good practice for me as I can sometimes be so excited to get shooting that I don't give enough of a preamble. Always learning!

Well, I think Allie and Jonathan nailed it. Going over the photos to edit I was laughing at their interactions and feeling all warm and fuzzy looking at how much they love each other, so visible in the images. What a gorgeous couple, I can't wait for their nuptials in July!

What Should I Wear?

 

Trying to figure out what to wear for a shoot can be the number one struggle when preparing for a session. Nearly all of my clients have expressed their stress and/or uncertainty around it.

Hopefully I can eleviate some of that uncertainty, and thus stress, for you:

You have choices, you can go all out and buy all new outfits for everyone or you can work with what you've got.

For those of you who love an excuse to go on a shopping spree- this is an excellent one! It doesn't have to be pricey- Old Navy and similar stores have a ton of awesome, current, trendy or classic outfits, often at deep discounts if you catch a sale.

If you are doing a maternity shoot and want that flowy gown, specially designed to enhance your gorgeous belly, look to online sellers, I've heard from many that that is the way to go as actual stores specializing in maternity are hard to find and tend to be expensive.

You can also go the route of...what do we currently have in our closet? This is fine too. I don't know about you, but my kids have WAAAAY too much clothes, there's always something in there that is dressy that has not been used. You yourself must have a few go to pieces that will serve you well. Simple and elegant or classic is what we're going for- your clothes are not the subject, you are!

Essentially, what I want is for you to feel great in the clothes you choose. If you are comfortable and feel good, it will show in the images. Kids DO NOT respond well to wearing tight, scratchy clothes- you will get a lot of shots of them tearing off your thoughtfully assembled outfit!

The main rule of thumb is to wear something you feel really good in, and, if you are doing a family session, to choose outfits for everyone with a unifying color. We’re going for a harmonious look. I do not suggest that you all wear identical outfits- maybe the kids at most. Looking identical has its place and if you are looking for a comical family portrait, we can totally do this. However, if you want a less humorous, more dreamy, calm, beautiful family photo aesthetic, the best look is when everyone is wearing the same color palette, but entirely different pieces. For example, Dad might wear a gray sweater and blue jeans with a navy blue hat. Mom wears a navy blue dress with gray shawl or scarf, kids wear blue jeans and navy shirts with gray sweaters.

Additionally you can think about where you are taking the shots. Outdoor in yellow mustard fields? Contrasting colors like blue are great. White or off white is very dreamy and light. Are you in an industrial gray location? Then be the pop of color- red, orange, teal would look AMAZING!!

You might also be choosing seasonal colors depending on what type of session it is.

If all else fails, Pinterest and other amazing sites on the web are bound to give you some great ideas.

As always, we can message each other and work it out. I don’t want this to be stressful for you!

 

Another question that comes up is: Should I do hair and make-up? The simple question that leads to the answer is: "Would it make you feel more confident?" If “yes”, then yes!

Make-up can really make you pop in an image, and great hair, is, well, great hair! But if you are more of the au natural personality, I dig that too!

I want the photographs to celebrate you. When you look at yourselves, will you see you? If you are going to judge yourself on specific things, then attend to those things for the shoot. If what matters most to you is that moments, expression, emotions are captured, then I've got you covered!

 

S

Please, if you found this article helpful, comment below, like and share. 

You can also follow me on Instagram and my Facebook Group: sharolyntownsendphotography- deals, inspiration and events.

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What to Expect When Booking a Photography Session

I'm going to be honest here, it is very hard for me to speak for other photographers because the way that photographers set up their booking system is so varied.

I've been on sites where you can book a package without ever talking to the photographer, you just click on the package you want, scroll through the pop up calendar for available dates et voila! The magic of automation.

I am impressed by that photographer's ability to dial in their package what with all the possible variables and their skills with setting up automated intake.

Other photographers will have no info at all. It's basically a "call me" scenario. I don't know about you, but that scares me off instantly. Clearly I'm not their consumer if they don't even want to tell me a round house figure. What am I going to be quoted? $500? $1000? $10000?!? I'm too embarrassed to inquire and find it is way over my price range.

So really, I can only speak to what I do and hopefully you can gain some understanding of one process and tentatively apply it to other photographers you are looking at (keeping in mind their system could be entirely different).

On my pricing page you will see a general portrait commission price of $200. This is the fee that any 1 hour session, be it newborn, engagement, grad, maternity, boudoir starts at. This fee covers the session time plus editing and communication. It will also cover a certain number of digital files (this is not the case for all photographers- some do not give any files away, some require that you pay for every file you get). I like to include some files because I know that these days folks like to have the images on their phones, or have consumer grade print work done on online sites like Shutterfly etc. That said, I don't give them all away. Each file represents a piece of visual art crafted by me. Additional files to what you get in your session package and printwork are extra and you can take a look at those via your online gallery after your session.

I have not automated my booking, though sometimes it is tempting, because I like to communicate with my clients one-on-one via email, text or messenger to get a more detailed picture of the type of session you are looking for. Hiring a photographer is like commissioning an artist, the artist needs to understand the elements you hope to see in the work before they can figure out the amount of time and expenses that will go into the project.

Another piece to know is that every type of session comes with its own rigors, so to ask to have a family photo shoot, but also a few newborn shots, or combining family photos with maternity, or even including the family pet introduces a whole other shooting scenario. Don't be surprised if the price goes up because of this. The more elements in play, the more the photographer has to do to achieve the shots.

For the most part, most sessions are very straight forward, no extras, so that fee you see on the pricing page is the exact amount you will be paying. The other great thing to know, is that because I really, really, really want to encourage you to print some of your favorite images, if you order a print package I will always apply $100 of your session fee to your print package order. So you're already starting ahead there!

To give you an idea, when you first inquire about my services I will ask for your email so that I can send you a basic intake questionnaire. Following your response I will be able to quote you a session price based on your parameters. If you like it, we move ahead to the nuts and bolts of a contract and reserving the date with a retainer fee. If it's not quite what you are looking for, you let me know and we try to tailor it to you more accurately. I always appreciate the interest and will not be insulted if, after inquiring, you are not ready to book. I get it, hiring a photographer is a big decision. 

Once you agree to the type of package, your photographer should send you a contract. This could be a paper contract sent via mail, by email for you to print and send, or online. I am now set up to send contracts via ShootProof and you can digitally sign the contract, and I will as well (all hail technology!). You should also receive an invoice for the retainer or reservation fee (usually a percentage of the total session fee) which is non-refundable. Once that fee is paid, the date is set and will be given to no one else. This is one of the reasons why the fee is non-refundable: the photographer is potentially turning down other clients requesting this date and time. Each photographer should have a cancellation or re-schedule policy. I allow for one reschedule with one week notice.

As far as final payment goes, the photographer should specify. I always ask for final payment before or on the day of the shoot.

And, there you have it. It should be a fairly straight forward process. Enjoy the search for the best photographer for you. The images that are created will last a life-time!

 

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What Should I Expect at a Session?

This is an excerpt from my welcome package after you book a session with me. For those of you who have lots of questions and really want to know what to expect so you can be prepared, I hope this helps!

Arrival on-site:

I will be at the location ahead of you, barring something unexpected, to scope the light and possible locations for shots. I’ll be that gal with the camera; please wave and let me know it’s you if we haven’t already met! We’ll get a bit of time to chat (If you arrived a little early! Always ideal.) I will take payment if that hasn’t already been dealt with ahead and then we will jump right into it.

Shooting:

I often call the first few shots my “throw away shots”, they are really to get the light exposure and to get you used to my lens pointing at you. DO NOT WORRY, it is TOTALLY NORMAL, to feel TOTALLY AWKWARD. Unless you are a celebrity, it’s unlikely you are used to being the focal point of a shoot. The biggest thing to remember is to breathe and try to relax your body and facial expressions, I will be there to guide you!

Posing:

The truth of the matter is, that most of the great looking “natural” shots you see are at least partially posed if not entirely. This can seem counter to what you desire, if you want to just feel like yourself and not feel “fake”. I totally get it, I’ve always come from the approach that I want it to be as natural as possible. I will be shooting a lot of candids, (I love them so much!) but I will be tweaking stances and positions to be as flattering as they can be for the camera. I will also suggest poses to try as we go along.

End of Shoot:

Either the light will be what ends our session, the designated time, or the fact that I’ve already gotten all the shots I need ( yay for efficiency!). I will, no doubt, continue to shoot even as we wrap things up and you breathe a sigh of relief….I find I often get some of the best shots at the end, when you think you’re done. LOL!

We will go our separate ways, but you will be seeing sneak peaks in the next one or two days via Instagram (if you opt into that by signing a model release). You can expect to get your edited files within a week or two and print work anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after a session depending on the type of print work (more on that later!).

If this is helpful to you, please comment below and let me know. Likewise, if you still have additional questions, fire away! I will be happy to answer them.

I will be posting more write-ups about "What to Expect..." in the coming weeks!

Follow me on Instagram and join my Facebook group: sharolyntownsendphotography-deals, inspirations and events.

 

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Krysteen's Journey

 I've recently been pulled in this direction of boudoir photography, which has been a bit of a surprise to me; but I go with the flow and with my gut. I see boudoir as not just "sexy" photography but as a celebration of the female by a female (me!). My goal is not to objectify the body but to create art and in the process, an experience for the client that is liberating: Liberation from hesitance, self hate or judgement and insecurity. I believe the feminine holds so much power. And believe me, as I've done these sessions, I have felt the raw power of the female energy- it's sensual and magnetic, it's joyful and intense, a bit scary, I'll be honest! For a woman to feel comfortable baring a lot of herself, not just physically, but emotionally to me as she learns to forget the lens and tap into the essence of herself, is an honor. 

About a month ago I put out a model call in search of women who might be interested in the experience of being my model for a day. I got quite a few responses for the model call which was very exciting. As I weeded through the applications, I chose carefully, looking for those that fit my "mission" if you could call it that. I want to photograph real people, moms, teachers, insecure librarians, doctors, you get the picture. Not real models that would treat this like a job. I wanted women who looked at this as an opportunity to tap into themselves, go out of a comfort zone, explore a new possibility.

Just after my model call ended, I got an application from a woman named Krysteen. She'd found me through Instagram, my call had shown up on her feed, and though it was past the deadline, she felt compelled to reach out.

I always play things straight and fair, so I couldn't include her in the model call, but I was intrigued enough by the little bit she told me of herself, that I extended a special offer boudoir session, which she happily agreed to.

Over the course of our session together I got more and more of her story, and it truly floored me. I wanted to share her story and asked if she might write a bit in her own words. I didn't want to leave out the details. 

"The best way that I can describe my story is that it's raw, it's real. My life has been made up of chapters of transformation. And only up until recently have those transformations manifested into a physical form as well."

She had her first son at the age of 16, got married at 18 and then had three more boys. She considered motherhood the greatest most singular accomplishment of her life.

"I quickly jumped into the nurturer for everybody else forgetting myself along the way. As much as I pride myself on the title of being a mother, I almost got lost in it. I struggled with my weight like most women do through multiple pregnancies. Finally after the birth of my fourth son and at the heaviest weight that I could have been I decided enough was enough.

Krysteen made the difficult choice to take care of herself, to do something for her and to know deeply that it wasn't selfishness on her part, by taking care of herself she was not taking away from her boys, but actually giving them the gift of a healthy mother.

" After a year of making choices to not just change my physical appearance but to try to get my spiritual and mind aligned I decided to undergo gastric sleeve weight loss surgery.  I really  struggled with taking this route because the stigma of weight loss surgery is 'taking the easy way out'.

And absolutely having the surgery is an easier alternative to helping lose the weight but for the last five years I have put in the hard work of keeping the weight off. By not only changing eating habits but changing my mindset as well. Any weight loss surgery is only meant to be used as a tool. Just like gym equipment it is a tool to help you become a healthier you if you just stand there on the equipment it does no good you have to put in the work. 

My hard work paid off within about a year and a half.  Getting rid of 175 lbs. Notice I didn't say LOSING 175 lb because typically when you lose something the intent is to find it again and I have no intentions of ever finding that weight again!!!!

So after all this hard work and determination, you are left with the aftermath of what your body looks like.  

As proud as I am of my amazing transformation, there is a sad reality most weight loss people are left with: the loose skin. It robs you a bit of all the hard work. I share this not to take anything away from the weight that is gone or minimize the accomplishment,  but I share because I have chosen to be raw and transparent and share the Before and After transformations not usually shared ! But this is my truth and reality."

And it's the willingness to share her "raw truth" that lead to the opportunity to be part of a reality show, Beauty and the Beach, where Krysteen was flown to Thailand for 21 days to have major surgeries to remove the loose skin from her arms and legs and reconstruct her breasts which she says were left completely deflated. All of this, while being filmed, interviewed and documented.

" During the course of the show The Producers asked me, after my surgeries were performed, if I felt more confident about my new body. 

 I had to stop and really think about it.

Because these surgeries meant more to me than just the cosmetic aspect; they really were a transformation of Mind, Body and Soul. My confidence came in the form of freedom! Freedom not to hide behind one single identity, to know that I was made up of so much more. 

But my story doesn't end there or my transformations. Transformations are more than just physical.

In July of 2017 myself and the Band of Brothers (her sons) relocated to Sonoma County. I had lived in Merced County for 30 years and all my boys were born and practically raised there. So this was a huge transition for us all.

Within a few months after arriving we experienced with all of what Sonoma County had to experience the devastating fires. Although we were fortunate not to lose are home it was a very scary time.

In November of 2017 I survived  a stroke that was caused by a dissected carotid artery, which created a clot that caused the stroke.

Though the size of the stroke was fairly big I was left with virtually no adverse visible side effects. 

Come to find out later I have recently been diagnosed with Fibromuscular dysplasia. Which is a disease of the arteries that causes thinning or abnormalities in your major arteries. This leads to being more susceptible to dissection and tears of your arteries.

Apparently this is a very rare condition. I have always been a rare individual but now it's been medically proven that I am! lol. The great news with a diagnosis is that now I know how to manage it to help prevent any future strokes."

Krysteen sees all these obstacles and chapters in her life as having made her who she is today and going forward into the future. I love her description of herself:

"I am a Wonder Woman, I am a survivor, I am a mother, I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. I'm a transformation , I'm hope to not give up, inspiration to share your raw, your truth, your real. I am a story that is still being written. I am Wonder Woman!!! 

So thank you for giving me an opportunity to take these photos as a reflection of my journey."

It was an honor to capture her and help her see her transformation through my lens.

Sharolyn

An Attempt to Give to Those Affected by the Fires: Family Portrait Sessions

My heart has felt heavy for a while now. I've been struggling with feeling impotent in the wake of October's fires. I am stunned by the destruction which I slowly took in, over time, as I drove unavoidably into areas where the devastation is the worsts. The fires came close, but we were the lucky ones. Now, the last thing I want to do is forget about those still dealing with it, unable to move on like we have because they are in the thick of recovery. 

I have no spare money to donate other the than $5 here and there that I manage to put in fire relief jars at my local grocery stores. My time, as a full time mom, is sparse in regards to being able to dedicate it to volunteering in any capacity. But I do have one skill that might be of use, my photography. And I know that many lost some very treasured memories when they lost their photographs. I decided that maybe I could offer my services, free of charge, to those who lost everything in hopes of helping to rebuild a collection of treasured family images...or at the very least, make them feel a little bit special by aiming my camera in their direction for a brief moment in time.

It took some time, not sure how to get the word out. Finally, in conversation with a fellow mom at a toddler dance class, I learned her cousin was nine months pregnant and had lost everything. With heart racing (worried she'd think I was being too pushy) I gave her my card and said, please give this to your cousin if you think she might be interested in newborn photos when the time comes. A few weeks later, I was delighted to hear from Erin. She'd had her baby and would love a newborn photo shoot. We set a date a few weekends later- her newborn, Gwen, would be three weeks old.

Then I heard from a woman I hold dear to my heart, Hanna, the student midwife who was there for the birth of my first child. She ferried me through that intense experience with a calm certainty I will not ever forget. She also happened to be the reason I started up my photography business last year, when she remembered I had majored in photography and contacted me to see if I'd take pictures of her and Nate and their then brand new baby Abel. I did, and after that, just didn't stop, I kept taking pictures for people and started up my official business. So, when I heard from her again this year, wondering if they could book a shoot, I said yes! And then I remembered that I'd seen her post about the loss of their rental in Glen Ellen and all her precious photos and memorabelia of her mom. I knew those things she'd lost were priceless, but I could do some small thing and help her rebuild her photos starting from this point on.

So this was my wonderful past weekend: doing my art in service of those who have lost all. I am grateful to have been able to do something for them. My heart feels a little less laden.

S

PS, It's now the New Year and I've been holding off with this post in order to ad one more family's story and photos: Christine is a wonderful lady whom I met randomly a handful of time at playgrounds in our neighborhood where I'd take my kids and she hers. I later came to see her more often at my local barre studio where I workout and also do childcare and watch her son Brayden now and then. It was coming on Christmas and I got to talking to Christine at the studio, only to discover that she had recently moved from our neighborhood to Fountaingrove, where they promptly lost everything in the fires. When she found out I was a photographer she immediately said she wanted family photos for Christmas. I, of course said yes! but there would be no charge because it would be my honor to do this small service for them who have lost so much. 

Without further ado, here are the photo sessions!

Little Baby Gwen and Big Sister Gen

I wish I had taken a context shot to show you what you can do in a small space. When I arrived for the shoot Erin showed me to the window where she said they had some available space. Because they were temporarily living with her mom, they had a very full house. Unfortunately the light was not coming in the available window, but the sliding doors to the right had light pouring in. Perfect! We shoved their dining room table to the side, swept the floor and and I set up a little arrangement with the cloths, basket and flowers I'd brought. With creative use of my reflector to block the most intense light, a few clothes pins to pull the drapes in a way that they would not cast shadows, we were on our way. Gen, a sweet five year old, was anxious for me to be done with the baby shots so she could get in the shoot too. She lay on the limited floor space, unwilling to leave in case she missed something, so I sometimes had to crouch right over top of her while I angled for a shot of the very sleepy and compliant Gwen. It was fun to tease her and say "don't worry, I won't sit on you...well, maybe a little". A chair was the perfect perch from which to shoot some of the straight down shots. When it came time for Gen to join the shoot, she knew just what to do. The love these little girls have for each other already is very apparent. At the very end as I was snapping a few final shots (it's always so hard to stop when the subject matter is so cute), Grandma suggested I try saying "Genevieve" to the sleeping Gwen because she usually smiles at the sound of her sister's name. I tried it, and gosh darn if it didn't work! The last shot was of baby Gwen, on her side, eyes closed and grinning dreaming of her sister Gen!

Hanna, Nate & Abel

Driving up to this amazing location I felt relief for Hanna and Nate, knowing that at least they had a place to stay surrounded by the beauty of the countryside.

Unlike many of my shoots that take place an hour before sunset for optimal light, we'd agreed to a 9am shoot. I had half expected it to be overcast, but it turned out to be bright and sunny. The light was intense already. It definitely ruled out a lot of locations. I found a space under the shade of a beautiful oak. Not only did I get to take pics of this beautiful family, they had their new puppies there too! So much cuteness!!!

I kept the sun at their backs for the most part, having to let the background blow out to a large extent. It was to be a half hour shoot but I couldn't help but take a ton of photos. Abel has grown so much in the intervening year. What a treat to get to take their family photos again.

 

Christine, Steve, Brayden and Baby to Be!

I was really excited to do this shoot for Christine and her family. I absolutely adore Brayden, he is such a bright spirit and one of the most easy going kids I know, so I knew he would probably feel alright with me pointing my camera at him. And I was right, he seemed to really enjoy it. Christine said she couldn't believe he was actually looking and smiling at the camera. 

I couldn't quite believe that on top of having just moved...then lost their home in the fires...now struggling with insurance and renting a much smaller place, Christine is also pregnant. What a joyful thing but what a time! I was happy to spend some moments at the end of the shoot taking a few maternity shots as well so that they would have ample record of this time in their lives. 

The best part? Receiving their Christmas card in the mail with their happy smiling faces, using the photo I had taken. 

What a fabulous way to end the year!

S

Brittany & Michael's Wedding

Brittany and Michael's wedding was a triumph of love. I don't know how else to put it without underplaying how miraculous their union, on July 14, 2017, was. It was in the midst of the raging fires all over Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Their wedding ceremony site had burned. Their reception location (Brittany's family home) was in the mandatory evacuation zone, just miles away from the Tubbs fire's origins. In the midst of the chaos of first losing their venue at Hans Fahden (owned by Michael's family), then themselves having to leave because of mandatory evacuation from Calistoga, Brittany and Mike managed to make the decisions, and get the help they needed to make their day happen. All of this was due, in no small part, to their friends (Hannan and Joe Kim) who were giving them a place to stay and who's idea it was to put out an SOS call on social media (#burninlove), along with a few perfect strangers who answered the call,(stylists Lauren Vigil, Sarah Bernate and Brianna Malvino, all the way from San Francisco with amazing decore ) who somehow managed to salvage their wedding. 

On my part, after the initial shock of having a natural disaster at my doorstep and dealing with my own family's evacuation from our home in Santa Rosa, my thoughts kept going to Britt and Mike. I wanted to be there, if, by some miracle, they still wanted to proceed. I had gotten a text from Britt's friend, Bryanna, that there was a possibility of a small ceremony still going ahead, was I still available? and Britt would understand if I needed to be with family.

I discussed it with my husband. We felt in no threat after the initial few days of drama. I was available. I called my second shooter, Melanie, and she was still in too.

And then I waited. I knew, on their end, there must be some frantic taking stock and decision making.

Not until the day before was it confirmed: It was a go; it would happen in Napa at the residence where they were evacuated to.

My play book was scrapped. All the careful planning of where and when to be, who and how to shoot was out the window. The bride didn't even know if the groomsmen were going to show, certainly not all of them. Half the guests would not make it, in fact, there would not be room if they did. Funny enough, this relaxed me, this was going to be photo journalistic style shooting all the way and I felt comfortable with that. I would be flying by the seat of my pants, with Melanie there as my second lens to try to catch all that we could.

We would meet at the salon where the ladies were getting hair and make-up done at 11 am.

The drive there was a bit surreal. Smoke was in the air. As we approached Napa from the south, we could see charred hillsides, see smoke laying heavy over patches of the sky. The fires were still burning in the hills, the entire city of Napa was on alert. Ash was falling and there was no avoiding the smell of campfire.

My first impression, as I walked into that salon, was of calm acceptance. Brittany's mom, as always, greeted us warmly, and offered us champaign. Wasn't life crazy? And yet here we all were, to celebrate.

Needless to say, there were emotions; but everyone held it together well. Brittany was the picture of poise and calm, not sure whether it had yet to hit or if she was just rolling with the punches. Regardless, that girl had her priorities and head on straight!

When Brittany's hair stylist Alexis, heard that she had no shoes for the wedding (many detail items had been left behind during the evacuation- luckily she had the dress and rings!), she immediately called a friend who arrived with a selection of beautiful, gently used shoes in Brittany's size. It truly felt like everyone was there to hold Brittany up and make her day happen. Both Alexis and Crystal (the make-up artist )were amazing women, ready to be there, in the midst of crisis.

In a lull at the salon, as we sat chatting, the impact of all that Brittany and Mike had been dealing with hit. She was emotional because Michael's parents could not be in attendance as they were still up at their property, Hans Fahden vineyards, defending their home from the ravages of the fire. The thought of it and how Michael must be feeling caused her to tear up and I think we all got a little damp eyed at that point. 

It was  a cathartic moment, and everyone managed to shake it off and moved on, to focus on the celebration of life despite the disappointment of all the failed plans, the losses and the absences.

After the relative leisure of shooting at the salon, it was down to serious work of capturing all the moments as they came flying at us. We went ahead to the house where guests were already gathering. 

The bride and bridesmaids arrived, some dressed elsewhere, some on location as space was limited and everyone was scrambling to find the finishing touches to outfits they didn't know they would be wearing on this day.

There were the shots of the dress to take, the final moments of the bride getting dressed and composed for the moment everyone had worked so hard to get to.

And there was the moment when we learned that Michael's mom was going to make it. Somehow she had managed to convince the authorities to let her out of the evacuation zone temporarily. She said that when she began to cry, telling the fireman that her son was getting married, he took pity and gave her a special pass that would allow her back in after the wedding. Amazing. Even the first responders were instrumental in allowing all the important pieces of this day to fall into place!

Then I was told we were going to do a reveal shot. It had not been in the original plans, but I was game! The plan for the day, in lieu of any solid outline, was to roll with whatever came up. The only space available for the shots was the small front yard.  The sun was pouring into my eyes just over the top of the fence which was not ideal; it was a challenging time of day in a challenging location, but I managed to make it work. Britt and Mike were just so honest and fun, that it made this set of images fun to capture.

Then it was time for the ceremony. It was not the location I'd envisioned when I planned my shots months ahead. Rather than a sweeping view over a valley with ample room to maneuver, we were in a small backyard with very limited wiggle room. But it was perfect, perfectly decorated as if this were the original venue and not the emergency fill-in, perfectly full to the brim with family and friends. Everyone gathered, standing in a community circle and I plunked myself right in the middle. My ninja side-kick, Melanie, squeezed in the back to get out of my shots and capture some images from behind. 

My favorite part of the ceremony was when the rings were passed from hand to hand around the circle to be blessed by everyone in attendance. At the end we were told that we had all touched a piece of Gary, Brittany's father who passed away several years ago, and there was not a dry eye in that backyard.

Then, voila, the short, meaningful and beautiful ceremony was over and the celebration began. Brittany and Michael were visibly relieved. They had done it! Against all odds, they had done it. And had it not been for a community of loving family, friends and perfect compassionate strangers, the day could not have happened. It was a confluence of effort, love, compassion and joy.

I am proud and grateful to have been a part of this incredible wedding and I wish Brittany and Michael all the best for their marriage, which is clearly founded solidly in love.

 

S

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Two Family Photo Sessions, One Weekend

I'm a little behind on my blog here; this fantastic weekend I am about to write about took place a few weeks ago but only now am I catching up. It was a lovely line-up: My friends Tony, Jennifer and Bella on Saturday, my friend Melanie and her family on Sunday. How lucky was I?

We had only just emerged from the haze of the recent fires here in Santa Rosa. I had to take stock and figure out which locations were still a viable option. Luckily, the open space I like to use was still beautiful and untouched, so I was able to have Jennifer and her family meet me there.

Jennifer was no stranger to photo shoots, and had expertly assembled her family's wardrobe, knew how to look at the camera and help engage Bella. Tony, though perhaps not so keen on such an activity, was still very game. It was an hour long session, part family shoot, part Mommy and Me. An hour long session is always a challenge, the first half is when the littlest among us has the most interest and energy, which wanes over time (but still great for those candid moments), while the longer the session goes, the more comfortable everyone becomes and usually the best shots come at the very end. I think we managed to strike the balance. Little Bella has such a gaze, when she looks at the camera, it's magic. In fact, even when she doesn't, she's quite the model...just like mommy. I am very happy with the results, and you can judge for yourself below.

The next shoot was of my friend Melanie, her hubby and two girls. Melanie is herself a photographer and this year we decided to do "tradesies" on family photo sessions so we'd both have images for our holiday cards. Again, this was an hour long session. Melanie's girls are active! I knew this going in, and we were determined to get the shot. On my part, I just kept shooting. I must have left with about a 1000 shots to wittle down. Luckily, Melanie, being a photographer herself, knew how to stay the course, keep finding new positions and locations and help to engage the girls. Scott was an expert all himself, cracking warm smiles and knowing just where to position himself. We needed the hour because we really explored that location, finding numerous spots to 'stop, drop (the baby bag) and pose'. The girls were hilarious and cute. I enjoyed all their silly faces and antics; they certainly helped keep it dynamic! Again, I think some of the best shots came at the very end, when everyone was done and we were walking back to where we'd started: Melanie was holding Lily and Scott had Little MJ on his shoulders. Love those shots. Also happy to have caught some intimate shots of just the two adults- love their chemistry!

Both families were gorgeous. I felt so lucky to get to spend my weekend shooting and editing photos of two amazing families. Man, I love what I do!

Emma

I've been waiting a while to get to post these pics. A friend of a friend, Emma, contacted me a few months back to see if I could take a few photos of her tattoos so that she could send a framed print to her tattoo artist (as a thank you for the amazing work he did). Emma was cool with me posting some pics after the big reveal to her friend; it would take a while to get the work printed, framed and sent off to Spain!

Emma had a few ideas of how she wanted her tattoos documented, something simple against a white or black background. She also sent along some pics from the internet of poses that she thought looked good and would highlight the art. I thought a dark velvet background would be good too, but didn't have the cloth. We both hunted for some and Emma came through with something that we could work with.

One hour didn't seem like enough time. I felt like I was back in art school doing studio work and it felt amazing. Emma was an incredible model and her tattoos are gorgeous!

I had SO MUCH FUN doing this shoot. Afterwards I wanted to do more and would eye anyone I saw with a tattoo wondering if I could approach them and see if they wanted to document their skin art. Ultimately shyness won out.

Still, if you're reading this and you have tattoos, consider a session ( ha, shameless plug)!

Enjoy, below, the beautiful artwork on Emma's skin!

PS A few of the last shots are de-saturated for effect as well as hyper saturated on the last one. Let me know what you think!

S

Sadie & Chris & Little Miss Ellie

I was surprised and honored to be chosen out of a long list of suggested photographers, when Sadie put a call out on a Facebook group for recommendations. I'd thrown my name and website in the mix, not hoping for much given the stiff competition! 

Sadie was ready to do her engagement photos as soon as possible and I was happy to oblige as I had an opening that upcoming Sunday. And then began the search for the best location. The challenge was to find a place that we could park a Mustang for a few shots, but that was also kid friendly so her daughter, Ellie, could be in a few shots as well as the family dog, Roxie.

I spent a couple of hours over several days looking for the perfect spot and kept coming up empty. One location would be great for a car, but not kid friendly and vice versa. Where to find open space without fences or restrictions where we could feel comfortable taking pictures? I sent out an email to a friend who had a connection to a piece of property out near Sebastopol. On their end, Sadie and Chris had a friend who had property but he was away on vacation.

Come the day of the shoot, Sadie and Chris's friend had come through...right as my friend had finally answered with a yes. Suddenly we were flush with options. However, I wanted Sadie and Chris to feel as comfortable as possible, and their choice of location was not only familiar to them but also fantastic, so we went with that.

What gorgeous grounds we had access too! 

Sadie had let me know that this was not something they were used to doing, so I was prepared to help guide their poses, and yes I did some of that, but it actually turned out that they were naturals. Having Ellie there at the beginning really helped loosen us all up with her beaming smile. Then onto a couple of shots in the Mustang- so cool! Chris's Mustang was just the perfect prop for these two- Sadie's idea all the way! Its gorgeous red interior and shiny silver body was the perfect backdrop.  I favor the one hour photos session as it gives us all a chance to relax into it; by the end of the session Sadie and Chris were taking poses as though I weren't even there. They were also so cool with me continuously saying "Okay, last shot!" and then totally not making it the last shot, because I kept finding great spots to have them pose. I had a lot of fun.

I really appreciated their amazing sense of humor. Their love for one another was brimming over.

This family of three to be was stunning and the love they share made me kind of weepy, actually, as I went over the shots during editing.

I hope you like the shots as much as I do!

S