How Your Subject Feels


Portrait Photography is not only about having CAMERA skills, but also PEOPLE skills — specifically, knowing how to make her subjects feel comfortable during a session and guiding them into the most flattering light and positions.

Here is an example from the other day.  I had an Executive Headshot session, which is typically 30 to 40 minutes.

The first set of images below were images taken in the very beginning of the shoot.  They are nice portraits and, for some photographers, the session would have ended right there.

Instead, we kept going and after some talking (for fun, not about the shoot) and some guidance… the images went from “nice” to “LOVE!”

First Few Shots ==> Nice

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Shots Later On ==> Comfort ==> Gorgeousness

Taking aside the difference in the background and jacket, just look at her face.  Even her eyes are smiling!

You can’t instruct someone to “look relaxed” or “smile with your entire face”; they do that when they feel at ease with and trust the photographer.

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How your subject feels during the shoot ends up being attributes a viewer perceives when they look at the photo.

Just look at the comparison below.

When you look at Image A and Image B, you may feel different things about their abilities, their competency and even their personalities.  And they are the same person!  That is the power of a headshot.

Who would you hire?  Who would you call?  Who would you prefer to work with? 



That doesn’t mean the last few shots are always the ‘money shots’.  Some photographers may choose not to take a single image until their subject is relaxed and ready.

For me, I go right in and start shooting because I think the longer people wait, the more anxiety or nervousness may build.  Then I talk to them and guide them throughout their session.

We all have different styles, but the goal is the same.

A Change is Coming

A change is coming to the corporate world in terms of photography.

Businesses are moving away from stock photography for their websites and marketing materials, and corporate head shots are also getting a makeover.

The new chapter for head shots is to have them look and feel more personable.

From a marketing standpoint, you want to know whom you’re going to work with when you look at a photo of someone. You don’t want to see a person standing or sitting in front of a sterile blue or stark white pop-up background, for instance.  Nothing stiff or stale.  You also don’t want to see a low quality selfie taken with a phone.  There’s nothing professional about that.

This morning, I photographed these two men in the lobby of a hotel.

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This is what it entailed:  They brought their morning coffee, their smart phones, a newspaper, printed workflows and a pen.  Then they chatted with each other across the table.

The result:  relaxed and natural head shots.

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By the way, this was my other view:  a cute little girl playing with my iPad!

My littlest monkey came with me to this super short shoot.  (Can you say that 10 times fast?!!)  I am the luckiest girl to get kisses during the shoot and get to hold her hand afterwards.  :)


Sunrise Shoot

For goodness sake, I am not a morning person.  Wait, where’d I put my coffee?  ;)  Okay, let’s continue…

So why do a shoot at sunrise?  For many reasons!  Here are a few examples using images from my Commercial Shoot last Sunday…

To get outdoor images without cars and people.


To capture a building’s lighting of signs and storefront.  These lights are usually in key places and give an added dimension to photos.  They are usually automatic, just like with streetlamps, so once it is bright enough outside, they go dark.


To get even lighting outdoors.  There are no harsh shadows or blown-out details from the strong sun.


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To capture images of the beautiful day break.


Notice the amazing horizontal light on the bushes?  LOVE IT!

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To capture animals and people in their freshest, calmest state. 



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Next time, find out what time the sun rises in your city and bring your camera!

Commercial Photography: Bishop Ranch Vet

Animals and children are a lot alike.  They can be shy, curious, excited and playful!  They all have unique personalities.  They all have a story.  And they all need boundless love, warmth and companionship.

That’s why a pet owner’s veterinary choice is so important.  You choose one whom you trust… one whose primary concern is getting your baby well from an illness or injury and helping them stay healthy.  The staff at Bishop Ranch Veterinary and Urgent Care are all of these things!

In fact, my husband and I brought our little Henry there for many years until he passed away last year.  We received enormous support there, beyond what we expected.  So when Bishop Ranch contacted me about a photoshoot (not knowing I had been there before), I was elated.

It wasn’t my intent, by the way, for this blog post to sound like a client testimonial!  haha.  Raves naturally poured out when I had to think about what to write!

Anyhow, see for yourself.  Below are a few images from last week’s Commercial Photography session.  You can feel the pride in the staff and that there is care and love all around!

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Tammy Brawner Styled

Styled shoots are like chocolate to me.  I enjoy every morsel of it, want more of it afterwards, and love it so much I feel a bit guilty afterwards.  It is THAT good!  :P

My last shoot of the year was a styled shoot of a talented athlete, Tammy Brawner of the Harlem Globetrotters!  Wearing jersey #6, she is best known as “T-Time”.

My goal was to show Tammy’s versatility because, when off-court, she can look commercial, editorial AND high fashion.

Check out the different “scenes” at the beautiful mansion at Elliston Vineyards…

The Bedroom

The Parlor


The College Campus


The Fashionista Outdoors


The Iron Castle

Venue:  Elliston Vineyards
Makeup:  Jasmine Davis
Hair and Styling:  Brittany Thomas
Photographer:  Annie Tao

Equipment info:  Nikon D800, 70-200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, reflector

Health, Safety, Education and…

When it comes to children, there is nothing more important than health, safety and education… except happiness.

I had the privilege of spending the day at Carden Academy for a Commercial Photography shoot last week.  I witnessed the most amazing thing:  students here enjoyed learning through creativity, faculty commitment, and innovation.

Teachers were passionate about teaching.

Small group learning meant more time with the teacher to learn at your own pace.

Students were excited about learning.

Creativity bubbled over into self-expression and individuality.

There were iPads for each student for research, note-taking and learning.

All of this breeded enthusiasm, participation and excitement.


The result:  HAPPY students.

That is definitely something to cheer about!  :)

End of the School Year

A few days ago, I photographed a High School graduation.  I’ve been to Pinewood School before (click here to see some photos).  It was so great to be back!  There is an energy here that is hard to describe.  Let’s just say, when the faculty talked about the students, it sounded like they were talking about their own children.  <3

With other photographers there to capture the formal shots, my focus was to capture the graduation in a photojournalistic style.  (Focus, get it?  Yea I know, it’s late.) 

Now onto the good stuff.


The end of the school year means more than just empty halls.

The end of the school year means…


Unwavering Support


Inner Reflection

Tears of Joy

…and maybe sadness too.



Congratulations to The Class of 2013 at Pinewood School and other High Schools! 

What an amazing achievement!  I tip my hat to you (I really am wearing one right now) and say, “WOOOHOOOOOOOO!”  :)

I wish you much success and happiness in all that you do.


Commercial Photography: Sifteo

With industry accolades like “Top Electronic game of 2012″, “Best of What’s New, Best New Gadget” and “Family Choice Award Winning Product”, Sifteo Cubes were a delight to photograph.  My goal was to capture real people playing with these little cubes of awesomeness.

[For those who aren’t familiar, Sifteo is an interactive game where you press, tilt, shake and bump the cubes to play.  It’s pretty amazing.  Here is a short clip about it.]

Below is a peek of my Commercial Photography shoot from a few days ago with Sifteo

Commercial Photography: Pinewood School

Can I just say how much I love photographing schools?!!

It uses both my Marketing background and artistic skills to assess and capture the best ways to highlight a school, staff and students.  I get to photograph kids and work with adults.  It blends Lifestyle Photography and Styled Shoots into one because some things are shot completely in their natural state while others require staging.  OH MY GOSH, IT’S SO FUN!

Enough said.  Below is a peek at the gorgeous Pinewood School.  Sit back and enjoy.   :)

Lower Campus


Middle Campus


Upper Campus

Commercial Photography: Lighting Challenge

This morning, I had a Commercial Photography project where I needed to shoot a few play rooms for one of Bay Area’s finest family entertainment centers:  Super Franks.

I thought it’d be fun to share a lighting challenge I had in one of the rooms and show you how I ended up shooting it.


For Super Franks’ newest room, the Beach Room, it was completely enclosed for the kiddies, but a section of the space was uncovered, so there was sunlight, and the other section was covered with no artificial light and very little ambient light.  Since this is a new room, they hadn’t set up toys and props yet.  Also, in the uncovered section, the sun didn’t shine evenly, so one side was super bright (as you can see in the photo below).  Another kicker:  I had about 10 minutes.

How would you shoot this room?


First, I talked with Mannie, the Marketing Manager, to determine that I didn’t need to get the covered area since nothing was set up there, so I focused on the uncovered, sunny area.

I asked Mannie to bring in an activity toy, which I placed on the blue flooring and turned it, so it would catch the light that bounced off the walls.  Now the image has more dimension and color, and the bus toy establishes the room as a play area.

Next, I wanted to show that the room was outdoors and create the illusion of being by the beach.

I shot from the sunny side of the open area.  I crouched down and shot upwards into the brightest umbrella.  Now the entire frame is filled with the beach scene and you can see the sunlight from above.

Here’s another perspective…

This time, I positioned the umbrella rod in the center of my frame and processed the image with more sunny goodness.  This image makes me feel like I am sitting at an outdoor beach cafe after rollerblading on the strand!

After shooting four rooms, I got a bonus:  I got a peek at Super Franks’ little campers!  (This is their first year offering Summer Camp.)

Super Franks is making some major changes this Summer.  I didn’t even think it was possible to make this place even cooler!