Monthly Archives: April 2009

Love Doves

04 | 24 | 2009


A couple of years ago, I photographed my friend Jenny’s wedding … all in Polaroids.  Maybe some day I’ll share Jenny and John’s whole wedding with you.  But for today, I thought these little cut paper love doves might make you happy as they make me happy.  I ♥ cut paper decorations.  So lacy and delicate.


Getting Great Wedding Photos Tip #2: Learn to Walk in Your Heels

04 | 23 | 2009


It really does make a difference.  So … all my fellow Jimmy Choo, Stuart Weitzman, Manolo Blahnik, and Christian Louboutin fans, please practice walking sexily in your wedding shoes before the big day.  And practice lots, particularly if you’re not an everyday wearer of heels. Not only will the proper practice make a great difference  in posture and poise (which I promise will show on camera), but later in the night you won’t be going barefoot on the dancefloor and dragging your dress around against your will.  (I would like to note that none of my clients have ever been guilty of this unsexy walking, but I have seen it happen to perfectly lovely brides at other weddings).


Wedding Traditions We Love (Photographing)

04 | 22 | 2009

I spent my weekend laughing and crying my way through my cousin’s wedding—and thinking a lot about why we do what we do at weddings (and why we should!) and some of the things I love photographing at weddings. Because weddings, even the so-called untraditional ones, are steeped in tradition. So I’d like to blog about traditions I love (as a photographer, of course!).    Some of my favorites are from Jewish and Chinese wedding traditions—creating a chuppah, visiting tables, and changing dresses.  But there are plenty of traditions I see at almost all weddings that I love just as much and hope don’t disappear in the push to cast off tradition.

Part I, Traditions I Sometimes See That Make For Great Photographs:

The huppah is lovely for a number of reasons.  Not only is it symbolically meaningful, signifying shelter for the couple and four open sides of their marriage, but it provides a beautiful backdrop for the ceremony.  Clearly this has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.  I have seen gorgeous huppahs made from the talis (prayer shawl) of a loved one who has passed away, ones decorated with flowers, photographs, branches, swaths of fabric, lace, and chandeliers.  I have also seen modern reinterpretations of the huppah with potted trees, but no covering, or with staging the ceremony under the canopy of Japanese maple trees or a large oak.

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Whatever your religious creed, and particularly if you plan to wed outdoors or in a venue that’s not traditionally used for weddings, creating a focal point for the ceremony can be helpful and add visual interest to your wedding.

Another tradition that I love, and see mostly at Chinese or Asian-American weddings is greeting the guests at the dinner tables by the bride, groom, and their families.  Everyone carries a glass of champagne.  Guests at each table often offer a toast.


This affords the bride and groom and their families a chance to happily interact with their guests, if briefly— something that may not otherwise happen.  And unlike with a receiving line (or formal table shots, for that matter), the photographs are really fun—everyone smiling and laughing with the festive detail of clinking champagne glasses.  Even if you do not want to go around to tables, do make time for your guests.  Both your wedding album and memories will be much richer for it.


Another favorite tradition that I’m starting to see cross-over cultural boundaries is the changing of the bride’s dress.  At Chinese and Chinese-American weddings, the bride will sometimes change her dress as many as four times at the reception, signifying the changing of the seasons. (A simpler incarnation of this tradition is that the bride will wear a white dress for the ceremony and a traditional red one for the reception).  Now that I think about it, there is a lot of costume changing in a lot of (usually Asian) wedding traditions. In the photograph below, Joy and Darrell were on outfit number two out of three.  Traditional Vietnamese, Filipino, and American costumes all made an appearance throughout the night!


With western-style weddings, I’ve seen the bride change from her full-length wedding gown into a shorter, white cocktail gown for the reception.  Not only is it wonderful to satisfy our collective love of a little-white-dress (and what better than two of them?), but it helps change the tone of the party.  A ceremony can be formal and grand, but the reception could still take on a more flirty and playful tone.  At the very least, it’s fun to imagine the possibilities.  And as long as we’re imagining, it’s fun to imagine it on an unlimited budget!

Part II, Traditions I See Quite Often and Will Always Love:

1. The giving away of the bride.  I think the historical tradition behind this is kind of archaic, but I love it anyway.  The need to wed in the presence/support of family and friends is still a powerful cultural instinct (and the giving away of the bride does illustrate her family’s blessing of the marriage).  I love sometimes seeing both parents—and not just the father—give the bride away, too.  Photographically, that moment just before they walk down the aisle can be perfectly magical, emotional, and honest.  Logistically, it’s not always possible to be there.   But sometimes, I choose to be there, even if it means I photograph the bride and her father walking down the aisle from behind.  Those images can show the environment and sentiment of the moment so well.

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As an aside, I think I promote any interaction between the parents and the bride and groom.  I wish I had involved my parents more at my own wedding.  The father usually has his two (fleeting) moments of glory—walking the bride down the aisle, and dancing a first dance with her.  But what about the mother? And are two minutes with your father enough?  My suggestion is to look for meaningful moments.  Seek them out.  And make them happen.

2. The first kiss.  Seriously, truly, and always.  My heart melts when the couple hugs just after they kiss.


3. The recessional!  It’s always so happy!


4. Cutting the cake¹, by which I mean watching the couple figure out how to cut the cake, followed by that superbly sweet first bite, followed by the even sweeter kiss.  That’s really my favorite part.

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5. The first dance.  Why have people stopped doing this as a matter of course?

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6.  Also, I ♥ big group dances.  The hora, Persian dancing, Greek dancing, line dancing, whatever!

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Actually, if I could draw one conclusion now that I look at all these traditions I love is that all of them center around the bride and groom interacting with each other and their friends and family in wonderful, meaningful ways.

One of my clients’ priests told them to participate in (only) the traditions that mean something to them.  I agree.  Good advice. Really good advice. To that I would like to add … planning a moment doesn’t cheapen its meaning at all.  I think there’s a misguided hope that meaningful moments will just naturally happen on their own.  But your wedding day passes by at lightning speed—so why risk it?

There’s a feeling, or at least, I have a feeling that these are moments that we all (as humans) are supposed to have and to share and to enjoy, and that even the most unconventional among us looks forward to from childhood, and that as adults, we look forward to sharing with our children, nieces, and nephews.

photo credit: Gia Canali


¹ Just to clarify, it doesn’t have to be cake.  Just something sweet.  That’s the point, anyway. So cupcakes, honey, a favorite family dessert, whatever satisfies your sweet tooth.


The Wedding Guest

04 | 21 | 2009

This past weekend, for the first time in almost six years, my husband Matt and I got to be guests at a wedding—my cousin Bre’s wedding!  (This guest-hood was made possible only because my twin sister, Meghan Valentine, photographed the wedding).  I cried through some of the ceremony … and all of Bre dancing with her father, my Uncle John.  When I wasn’t sobbing through the emotional moments, I was hamming it up with Matt in the self portrait station.  Congratulations, Bre & Jeff!  We love you guys!

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P.S. I was so excited to wear my vintage Tracy Reese dress!


We’re Being Featured on Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book Blog Today!

04 | 16 | 2009

Well, that title was a mouth full! I’m glad I didn’t have to say that out loud!  We are delighted that Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book Blog is going to share Justine and Robert’s excellent, earthy, and elegant taste with all their readers today.  {Click here} to take a gander at the first post, and check back throughout the day for more. They did a great write up on our blog, too.  Hurray!  (I’m blushing!) …



Collaborating with Your Photographer, 103: The Immeasurable Importance of Light & Lighting

04 | 15 | 2009

Photography is all about capturing the moment’s real light in a tiny box and saving it for later, for our memories. So it’s a pretty logical conclusion that the light itself matters significantly (at least as far as the photographs go).

Most wedding days span several types of ambient lighting and require a little extra help in the lighting department after dusk. I love to make photographs as the light changes—it adds so much variety to the body of wedding photographs you get. For this reason, we will revisit each part of the wedding day and discuss it in detail in the coming months.  But for now, here is a little lighting primer.

During daylight, perhaps you are a) getting ready (probably indoors), b) getting married in a ceremony, and c) having formal portraits taken.

Making the best of the getting-ready photographs is a topic of its whole own post, but for starters, please get ready in a neat and tidy room with giant north facing windows!  Not really.  But if you have a choice … think about the light in the room where you’ll get ready. If it’s impossibly dark or cluttered, consider faking some getting ready moments outdoors.  Lots of light is good for backlit images, too.

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There’s always an exception to my imaginary rules.  This is a windowless room where the bride put final touches on her makeup. The vanity lights make this just right.


For your ceremony, the best possible lighting scenario involves bright open shade, or waning late day light.  In California we struggle with the wine-country ceremony.  The light is always so harsh right up until  the so-called golden hour begins.  (Nearer the ocean, in Santa Barbara, say, like the wedding below, or in San Francisco, the light is completely different: diffuse, and marvelous).  At any venue, you’ll want to make sure nothing makes weird shadow and light patterns on your faces.  If at all possible, design your ceremony so that both faces are in even light. It is so hard to expose for one face in total shadow and the other in bright sunlight.  It doesn’t work. (I was just talking about this in the ceremony post, but I think that this is worth reiterating).


Making your formal group portraits picture perfect is really relatively straightforward.  Stick to shaded uncluttered locations.  If you are dead-set on having a certain type of scenery in the background, make sure the light is good. If it’s not, ditch it. It’s just not worth it.


If you are doing all of the above indoors or plan to wed in the evening, look for bright window light or bring in your own lighting. Somewhere with abundant lighting is always wonderful for photographs …  Not only is natural or abundant artificial light more flattering, you are likely to be much less camera aware than if your photographer needs to use a flash.


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During the evening hours, perhaps you are a) eating supper and being toasted, b) dancing your first of many dances , c) mingling with guests, d) eating a first bite of cake, e) sneaking off for a romantic moment with your beloved.  I have to say that with the exception of the last item, your guests want to see all this.  And I want to see the last one item, too. (Not to mention, we’d like to see the guests in the photos, sometimes a challenge if they’re lost in the dark).097lake6182

If there’s enough light to read by, your photographer should be fine to photograph the goings on.  But sometimes exciting parts of action happen where there’s little light.  There are so many kinds of light to choose from that you’ll have no excuse.  If you’re made of money, hire a lighting crew.  If not, perhaps consider adding candles, plain or colored glass lanterns, paper lanterns, chandeliers, strings of lights, etc.  (Even plan an afternoon reception if you’re really on a shoestring lighting budget). 

Anything you can do to lessen the need for flash will dramatically improve the photographs.  You ‘ll be able to, for instance, see the guests behind you while you cut the cake or do your first dance. This is bang-for-your-buck we’re talking about!

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Don’t forget the landscape and environment.  Usually a lot of thought goes into choosing  a gorgeous location.  But if it’s lost in the dark, it’s lost in the dark.

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Grant me one (more) wish and sneak away from the party for some romantic nighttime portraits.  We’ll show bunches more in a dedicated post, but here are just a couple.

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I’d love to hear some original lighting ideas.


We’re Being Featured on Style Me Pretty Today!

04 | 14 | 2009

Jessie and Matt’s sublimely adorable wedding is being featured on {Style Me Pretty} today!  Click {here} to see the first post, and be sure to check back throughout the day for lots more images.  Hurray!  Style Me Pretty is one of my favorite blogs … and one of Jessie’s, too, so we are both ecstatic!  {Jessie’s website} is well worth a visit, too, for lots more artistic inspiration.

Jessie just sent me her brand new website for her wedding coordination and design, Married :: by Jessie Abrams Baca.  Love the style! {Click here} to visit.

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