My Philosophy

I scoured through thousands of my client photos and pondered my philosophy on photographing people.  What I realized was that my philosophy was incredibly simple.

Looking at all these gorgeous faces and families, my heart melts a little.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.   ~annie

Want to see more?  Yippeee… here’s a video on why you should choose Lifestyle Photography.

Why Lifestyle Photography? [Video]

Why choose Lifestyle Photography?  Here is my answer in 1 minute 14 seconds!

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Life and Love

Out with the OLD:


In with the NEW:


The reason why creating my new brand took so long was because I wanted something that was fresh, clean, modern and sophisticated.  It had to be something that would match all aspects of my business — from lifestyle photography of children/families to commercial and event photography.  That’s quite a tall order!

For my logo, I wanted an icon that represented my creative style — emotive and natural — yet also symbolized my reason for starting my photography business.  (If you want to read about how I started, it’s in the first part of my feature in the September 2011 issue of Kodak Exposure.)

In the icon, there are 2 sets of leaves, one representing me and one representing my dad.  Together, they form the shape of a blossomed flower.

It has been almost 11 years since my dad unexpectedly passed and I had to plan his funeral with my brother.  He never met any of my 3 children or got to attend my wedding or even met my husband.  He didn’t get to witness my career change into an Art field, something he encouraged me to pursue since I was a child.

I think about him every time I am sad and when something great happens to me… and a million moments in-between.  Thing is, I also realize that it was because of his passing that pushed me to pursue my dreams.  So I feel blessed to be able to take something positive away from something sad and tragic.

When I look at my logo icon, I see life and love.  It reminds me that happiness is what I make of my life, not what happens to me.  So I am proud to present my new blogsite and branding to you all.

Do something you love every day, my friends!  It doesn’t have to be your career; the “small” things are just as important.




Weigh In: Reflection or Illusion?

Right now, I am editing photos from last night’s lifestyle shoot.  An image that intrigues me is of a reflection in a pool.  I can’t stop looking at it.

I would love for you to weigh in on the 2 “After” images.  Take a look…

BEFORE (straight-out-of-the-camera)


AFTER, version A

I oomphed the color and contrast, “dodged” (lightened) parts of my subjects, then flipped the image upside-down!


AFTER, version B

Same as above, but cropped out the bottom, so all you see is the reflection in the pool.


Which do you prefer:  Version A or Version B?

My thought process:

I took the shot to include the actual subjects’ legs, so that it would be obvious the image is a reflection.

Once I started editing the image, I realized that I preferred the image upside-down, so the reflection looks right-side-up!

The more I looked at it, the more I love the image.  Except now, I’m not sure if I like the legs at the bottom.  With the bottom cropped out, it looks like you’re looking through a window — or maybe through a big hole in the ground (ha ha).  You only realize it’s a reflection when you see the random leaves and stuff floating in the “sky”!  The image becomes more of an illusion when cropped.

Not sure if I prefer the image to look like an illusion, or if I’d rather it be an obvious reflection.

Please weigh in.  I’d love to know your thoughts!

What to Wear to Your Lifestyle Photoshoot

Other than location, choosing your outfit for your lifestyle photoshoot is one of the most difficult decisions to make.  And as it should be!

When there is more than one person in your photoshoot — like, if you’re having an engagement session or a family session — you will want to put some thought into your group’s attire.  Your outfit can make your photos look drab or fab!  (Hee hee… sounds like an ad jingle, doesn’t it?!!)

The Key

You want to look coordinated, but NOT matchy-matchy!

The modern way of coordinating groups is to let everyone be unique, as we all are.  What you want to avoid is having everyone in identical outfits, like the same colored shirts and the same kind of bottoms.  This was a photography trend in the ’80s and ’90s.

Important Note

I am not saying that anyone — clients or other photographers — who prefers that groups entirely match in outfits should change their style or have bad taste.  Style is completely subjective.

These tips are to help those who would like tips in choosing outfits.  Please remember, in the end, wear what you (and the rest of the group) feel most comfortable!  Being comfortable and “yourselves” is what will make you the most relaxed at your shoot.

For instance, if a woman decides to wear a skirt with high heels, but she hasn’t worn heels in years, her discomfort will show in the photos.  If little Bobby prefers soft cotton shirts, but his parents put him in a crisp linen button-down….oh boy!

Whether you follow my tips or the tips of others, always remember who you’re dressing and what everyone will enjoy wearing.  Being comfortable and happy in what you wear should trump any tip!  🙂

Tip:  Be an Individual, Not Identical

One way to start is coming up with a color scheme, style, pattern or theme.  It could also be a piece that inspires you, like a scarf, a shirt, or a hat.  Then tie everyone else’s outfit around that inspiration piece.

Example A:  A flower theme.  Mom can wear an outfit with a floral pattern.  Dad can wear jeans and a green shirt.  Baby can wear a pastel outfit with a flower clip in her hair.

Example B:  An inspiration piece.   (This is an example from my own family shoot!  A photo is included below.)  I chose the entire family’s outfit based on my daughter’s patterned shirt.  I pulled different colors from her shirt to create everyone else’s outfits.

Example C:  Style similarity.  Everyone is wearing casual Summer attire.  Or dressy evening attire.  Pick one and stick to it.

Real Examples

The attire:  cocktail dresses.

If everyone wore different length or style dresses, like full-length dresses, cocktail dresses and sundresses, then they wouldn’t look coordinated!


This is from a recent shoot and I just loooooooved their outfits!

The mom’s top was the inspiration piece.  (When the baby was clothed — tee hee — he had a cream shirt and a navy blue jacket.)


Okay, I did this shoot yesterday, but it’s another good example…

Blue is the coordinating color, and everyone had on Converse All-Stars!  As you can see, everyone’s top is entirely different.  This gives them individuality, but keeps them visually unified.


The color theme is earth tones and the style is dressy-casual.

Again, they all have different patterns, but it works!


There we are from last Fall!  You can see my daughter’s top was my inspiration piece.

(Photography credit goes to Christine Szeto.)


Attire is casual.  Everyone was wearing short-sleeves.


Parents were in muted colors and the kids wore bright colors.  The style was urban chic!


[Note to ATP Clients:  You will receive more tips on what to wear after booking your shoot.  If you need further help, I would be happy to help pick out your outfits in the beginning of your shoot or you can send me photos of what you are considering prior to your shoot.  I am here to help!]

Oomphing BxW Images

If you’ve followed my blog or even spoken to me about photography, then you already know what oomphing means.

To Oomph = verb.  Annie Tao’s process of editing images  🙂

I was taking a gander at some photos online recently and saw some BxW images that were plain as can be.  I thought BxW would be a terrific blog subject because there are various ways you can process (or edit) BxW images.

Using a recent photo I took at a client photoshoot, I will explain why I changed it to BxW and what some other versions of BxW are out there yonder!

Original Image (Straight-Out-Of-The-Camera)

My thought process:

* There is a lot going on here with the color of the baby’s pants and the livingroom background.

* I wanted to highlight the parents’ facial expressions, which is why I love this photo.

* Changing this image to BxW would accomplish all of this:  place attention on the parents’ faces and take your eyes off the background and baby pants.


BxW #1:  Plain & Un-Oomphed

Most people have access to photo editing software, so anyone can turn a color image into a BxW image.  You can even do this when you walk into the photo section of a drugstore or Costco!

There’s nothing wrong with this image.  Many photographers will stop right here.

To me, it’s a little flat.  So let’s continue with our BxW journey…


BxW #2

Do you see a difference?  Do you think it’s better or worse or the same?

It’s a little brighter, but I find the highlights slightly unappealing.


BxW #3

This version is grainy.  I actually like this better than the first two because it has more character.  Looks like a photo in a newspaper.


BxW #4

This version has a lot more grays.  This would look great on certain photos with less emotion, but I think the steel gray hues make this family photo feel a little cold.

It doesn’t convey a mood that matches the image.


BxW #5

This version is soft and dreamy.

It looks like a scene in my head after I’ve fallen and lost consciousness!  Ha ha.  Or maybe a scene in a movie about Heaven.  Again, not the mood I’m looking for.


BxW #7:  My Oomph-ed Version!

This is what my final image looked like.  (You may have already seen it in the sneak peek.)

Do you see how it’s different than the other versions?  What version do you prefer for this image?


There are a kajillion ways you can edit a BxW image.  I only shared a few with you just to give some examples.

My point is that there are many ways to edit a BxW image, so pay attention to how you edit your image if you’re a photographer/amateur photographer/enthusiast.  Notice what kind of mood your editing work places on the image and think about whether that is the mood you want to convey.

And if you’re not a photographer, notice what kind of editing work photographers are doing to their BxW images.  And if all they’re doing is converting it to BxW without putting anymore thought into it, then run for the hills.  😉

There should be just as much thought placed into editing BxW photos as there is in editing Color photos!

Macro Investigation [Part 2]

Annie Tao getting a new lens = a kid in a candy shop… a bee in a field of flowers… a shoppoholic in NYC…

So, as any addict would have it, I couldn’t help myself.  I HAD to keep shooting… shooting different things to further investigate the abilities of the Nikon 60mm 2.8 macro lens.

What if I got closer to the subject?  How does it render skin tones?  How fast is it in low light?  How does it handle moving subjects?

So here are a few more shots from early this evening, around 5:30pm as the sun was setting and all three monkeys were awake!

People Close-Ups

So now that my monkeys were awake, they were my test victims {insert scary laugh here}!


Skin Tones

The 60mm macro lens was awesome with skin tones.

This photo below was straight-out-of-the-camera!



Can a macro lens double-up as a portrait lens?  Heck ya!

And check out how razor sharp this lens is!  I am seriously impressed.

(Note:  I focused on Melia’s left eye.  This image is straight-out-of-the-camera.  No tweaks whatsoever!)


My Afternoon Drink

I was sitting with the kids at the table and decided to raise my camera over my glass of OJ and take a few shots.  I didn’t even look through the viewfinder.  This is what I got.

Not bad, right?


Bubbly Goodness

This time I focused on the bubbles.

Who knew there were micro bubbles in my OJ?  Well, people with a macro lens, that’s who!  😉

My takeaway:  this lens will be fab for food photography, too!


Just For Fun

I caught Ava blowing a spit bubble.  Tee hee.


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The 60mm Macro

I received my new lens last night:  the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED, a cool macro lens for close-ups!

So a couple hours ago, when my monkeys were in their rooms napping, I got to put the lens on and take it for a test run!

Here are a few of my test shots from around my house.

Crayon Tips

That’s some mighty creamy bokeh!  (“Bokeh” is the area that is out-of-focus.)


Hear Me ROAR!

Just so you have some scale, this wooden lion is very small.  You could hold it in your fist and not see it.


Henry’s Face

Oooh, mama like!  I can see the individual hair on his face.


Sitting Pretty

With the close-up of a macro lens and the sharpness of a Nikon, you can almost feel the rough texture of his foot pad!



Overall, I loved the quality of this lens — solid construction, excellent image quality, superb color rendition, everything.  The price was decent too!  The only thing is, I could use a higher magnification, which I didn’t think I would need.  So I may check out the 105mm 2.8!

If you have any suggestions on macros, please let me know.  I’d love to hear what you love!

Client Cards

Before I put ALL my holiday stuff away *sigh*, I thought I’d share some of the holiday cards I got from 2009 clients…

It was really cool to open up these cards to see what masterpieces you had created with the images from your shoots with me!

THANK YOU for thinking of me during the holiday season and thank you again for choosing me to be your photographer in 2009.

From the sincerest place in my heart, I wish you the best in 2010.

I have a lot of new things to introduce in 2010, so stay tuned and be prepared to be wow-ed!  I can’t wait to see you all again.  And if I haven’t worked with you yet, I hope to have the pleasure of doing so this year.

~  Annie


My Photography Bio

Howdy!  These are some common questions people ask me, so I thought I’d write them down and share my answers with everyone.

Hopefully you’ll know me a little better after reading this.


How did you get started in photography?

I have been interested in photography since I was a young child, about eight years old.

I got my first SLR camera (a Nikon, no doubt) in 1991.  Back then, they were all film cameras, not digital.  I took a BxW Photography class at UC Berkeley (where I was attending College) to learn how to develop film and enlarge photos.  That’s when my passion for photography started.

Since then, I’ve taken my cameras wherever I go, all over the World.

I’ve once gone trekking in a remote region North of Chiangmai in Thailand.  We hiked from dawn to dusk for several days, going up and down mountains, all on unpaved ground.  We had to carry all of our belongings as well as our own water in the 100+ degree humid weather!  At night, we would camp on the floor of tribal villages.  It was an amazing adventure, but the trek was very difficult and sometimes treacherous.  If you carried too much weight, you would fatigue quicker and also risk slipping when climbing.  So I carried one backpack with only one set of clothes (let’s just say we all needed a shower BADLY after just the first day), my glasses, and toothbrush and paste.  I limited myself to only 2 large water bottles a day.

One bottle was in my backpack and I carried one by hand!  My other hand was holding my heavy Nikon camera, which was bruising my chest when it hung unsecured around my neck.  (Other people carried 4 bottles – 2 in their backpack and 1 in each hand.)  I sacrificed hydration for taking pictures!  Taking my camera was imperative to me.

It’s funny when I think back on this trip.  I remember feeling lightheaded often and seeing halos from being severely dehydrated, but not once did I regret bringing my camera.

This may sound like an extreme story, but I did that sort of thing all the time because photography is so important to me.  If I couldn’t bring my camera somewhere, I’d rather not go.

In Limon, Costa Rica… (taken with film)


In Cinque Terre, Italy… (taken with film)


On the back of a boat in the Galapagos Islands, gutting a fish to eat for dinner… (taken with film)


On a trek in Northern Thailand, as described above… (taken with film)  (Note:  I was probably about to faint when taking this photograph!)


So when did you make it a business?

It started with my friends and family asking me to do photoshoots for them – whether it was for engagement photos or portraits.  This started soon after College, which was in the early ‘90s.  (Yes, I’m dating myself!)

It led to people commissioning me or asking for photos in place of wedding gifts.  So it was a fairly natural transition for me to start my own business, especially since it was the electronic era once I began.  Creating my online portfolio on my website was the first step.  Then pow – my business was born.


Do you have a background in photography or are you self-taught?

Definitely self-taught.

I haven’t had formal training.  I took one photography class on developing BxW film and printing enlargements back in college.  Then in 2009, I won an award — the Heidi Mauracher Scholarship from Professional Photographers of California (PPC) in which I got to take a Lighting class with Andre Costantini through the West Coast School of Professional Photography.

What has made the biggest impact on my photography is that I’ve always had a love, talent, and respect for Art.  I have been painting and sketching my whole life… since I could hold a pencil.  My first job was for a famous artist in Lexington, MA when I was 15 years old.  When I was 18, I won awards for some of my watercolors and had paintings displayed in a Boston gallery.

My favorite Art mediums, other than Photography, are watercolor and oil painting.

I think it is from my experience in Fine Art that my photographs have a different perspective.


How does having a background in Fine Art influence the way you photograph?
I think having an artist’s perspective on photography allows me to see images as images of emotion, images of beauty (like recognizing patterns), and images of light.

I’d say my strengths are composition and playing with light to make an image interesting.  I think that’s why my photographs have a distinct style.  They’re not your traditional “portraits”.

For client photoshoots, I make sure to have some traditional portraits in the mix because I think we all should have some, but my style is a little more raw and natural.

My favorite photos usually have interesting shapes, play with light, show a varied perspective, or capture an emotion.  Having an art background makes this second nature for me.

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So what is your background in?

Marketing.  I was a Psychology major at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) with the purpose of going into Advertising and Marketing by understanding the minds of consumers.  So that’s what I did for about 10 years.  My last corporate job was a Category Manager at Frito-Lay.

All the while, I had a love for children, so for pretty much my entire adult life, I worked with children in my spare time through volunteer work, like the Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the Child Development Program at UCLA’s Medical Center.

Eventually, I quit the Corporate World and went into teaching underprivileged children in San Francisco.  And of course, I was taking photos all along the way.  🙂

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What kind of photography most interests you?

Children!  I looooooove children of all ages – from babies to teens.  Children aren’t jaded by society yet and wear their heart on their sleeve, so you can see right into their soul through their eyes.  Only from photos of children can one look make me tear up or smile.

I also love photographing things that have interesting patterns and light.

And I love challenging myself with what I paint or photograph.  With painting, I may choose something I haven’t painted yet or paint in a new style.  With photography, I may choose an area that is not considered attractive by most, like a construction site.  Once I went to the back of a warehouse and found “beauty” underneath a truck and in the run-off of rain water.



What is the most rewarding part of your business?

I enjoy meeting new people (I’ve had the coolest clients!) and going through my photos right after I return home from a photoshoot.  But the most rewarding part is giving the clients their photos and hearing their reaction!

I do what I do because I love doing it!  But this moment reminds me that my photography can impact other people’s lives.  Because of me, they now have beautiful reminders of a point in time – their son’s quirky personality, their baby’s love of her blankie, or a feeling they had.  It warms my heart to touch people’s lives with my artwork.

It’s like the old adage:  I am happy when my client is happy.