Ode to Black and White

I was about 19 or 20 years old when I became serious about photography.  I scraped up money to buy my first SLR camera, which was thrilling to achieve as a poor College student.  My preferred film was a roll of BxW Ilford 400s.  The following Summer, I took a film photography class at UC Berkeley, so I could learn how to develop/print my own film and have unlimited access to the darkroom, which absorbed a good part of that year.

BxW can look really moody, which I love, but that’s not what draws me to Black and White (BxW) Photography.  I think it’s because BxW is more challenging to shoot.  It forces me to look at the World differently.  I have to pay closer attention to lines, textures, backgrounds, expressions.  In color, you don’t notice that level of detail as much; instead, you appreciate the feeling of the light and the hues and shades of all the colors.

In BxW, you strip everything away and are left with only the bones of the image.  It is raw.

The first few years of my professional photography business, I shot a mix of color and BxW, but at some point in my career, I found myself shooting almost entirely in color.  It was a slow, but distinct evolution.  In self-reflection, I realize the change was based on a number of things — mainly that many clients preferred color over BxW and I grew to have a ‘signature style’ with how I edit my color images.  They are creamier whites and sunnier shades.  Hey, I like happy photos!  🙂


I still love Black and White Photography.  With a passion.  So here is a post dedicated to only BxW photos, as an ode to my first love. ❤️







San-Francisco-lifestyle-children-photography-young-girl-picking-dandelions-BxW  San-Francisco-lifestyle-children-photography-young-girl-blowing-dandelions-BxW





back to top

Pin It. · Share on Facebook · Follow me on Facebook · Link to this Post · Email a friend · Comments Off on Ode to Black and White

The Personal Side of Photography

Lifestyle Photography is not only about the person in the photo, but about the person who is creating it.  Photography is dependent on more than the photographer’s skill and experience level, like I once believed; it’s influenced by how the photographer views the World!

How the artist views life leads them to their unique point of view during a photoshoot.  How do they interpret what is happening in front of them?  What do they define as important?  How do they feel about their subjects?  About themselves?

The answers will determine how they shoot the scene, what details they capture, and even if and when they press the shutter.

With this preface, I want to share a personal story with you…


One evening last year, I was having one of those need-to-refer-to-your-calendar-and-set-alarms-throughout-the-day kind of days, and when I got home, I started coughing.  I was sitting in my home office to finish some work, but the cough got so bad that I folded over to hold onto my desk.  I realized that in-between coughing fits, I had a hard time breathing.

Maybe it was an asthma attack, I thought, even though I don’t have asthma.  My 9-year old heard me, so he rushed over and asked if I was okay.  In what sounded like Darth Vader whispering, I instructed him to find his dad’s inhaler, which was stored away somewhere and collecting dust.  I used the inhaler throughout the night, but it was clear in the morning that the problem was not going away.


The next few days was a whirlwind that halted our busy life’s regular activities.  I went to Urgent Care twice, the Emergency Room (ER), and then the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  I was having a severe reaction that impeded my ability to breathe, and the usual methods of treatment brought relief for only a few short hours.  No one could figure out why.

Even with all of this happening, I wasn’t scared…. until these two things happened:

1.  One of the doctors talked about how she wanted me to live!
2.  The ER doctor told me I had to be admitted to the ICU because I had so much epinephrine in my body that I was now a cardiac patient.


Life is a journey and apparently, so was trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  This journey took a full four months of tests, medicines, visits to different doctors, and trips to the hospital.  It occupied all of my free time and impacted my family.

With the help of a few dedicated doctors and my husband’s determination, I finally got a diagnosis, found the right medicine, and started to feel better.  Things aren’t back to the way they were, but I can manage my symptoms.

I’ve always believed that everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and my strength was being grateful for everyday things.  However, this experience took gratefulness to a whole new level.  I am now grateful to breathe!  The first time I was able to take a deep breath after being discharged from the ICU almost stopped time.  I remember the clarity of sounds and smells around me…even the taste of the air.  I had to close my eyes.  So that’s what a deep breath feels like!

I still have busy days (hey, I have 3 kids, a husband, a puppy, a house, and my business) — but I will never forget that the “little things” are often the “big things” in disguise.

Here’s a little collage of photos I took with my phone during the months after I was out of the hospital.  I baked with my kids, went to the library, watched the Warriors win another championship, played with my puppy, held hands with my hubs, ice skated, received the cutest drawings from my kids, hugged them tight…

And breathed.


So how does my view of the World impact my photography? 

I find joy in a situation, which is why I gravitate towards bright, light-filled scenes and laugh often.

I pay attention.  A touch of a hand or a lean are more meaningful than some may think.  The soft nails of a newborn or the unruly wispy hair of a toddler will be missed before a parent may notice.

No detail is too small.  No stage in life is insignificant.  Every relationship has multiple facets of emotions and stories.

I value authenticity.  I’d prefer to photograph non-smiling people who are real than people faking it for their shoot.

Real-everything is always better than fake-anything. ❤️


[These are a few photos I took during our road trip after I was out of the hospital.  We went electronics-free and soaked in the beauty of nature and each other’s company.  It will always be one of my favorite vacations ever, and hopefully one of many many more.]

Annie-Tao-Photography-lake-surrounded-by-canyons-view-from-top  HsuRoadTrip2017-126-bg

HsuRoadTrip2017-012-bg  HsuRoadTrip2017-092_bg


Take deep breaths.    xo ~annie


You know that David Bowie song, right?  It’s a classic.  “Ch-ch-ch-changes…”  It’s a good thing no one is in hearing range of me because I am now singing it!

So a lot can change in a year, but in TEN years, the changes are even more obvious.

This morning, I started scrolling through some photos I took in 2008, just to see how things have changed over a decade.  I like doing this activity every few years because seeing concrete changes means I’ve continued to learn, which is what I want.  To my surprise, there were also some things that remained the same — such as, photographing children in their natural state and seeking out emotional moments.  That tells me I’ve stayed true to who I am, which is something I tell my kids to do, so it’s good to know I do it too.  (Phew!)

Here are some examples of what I found…


Different:  I’ve changed how I process my images.  Goodbye over-saturated colors.  Hello warmer, natural tones.

Same:  I still love photographing kids being kids.  No forced smiles or posed shots.  They are free to be themselves.



10 Years Ago



Different:  OMG, the light!  I now know how to ‘find’ the light and know how to control it.  This results in a lighter, brighter image, which makes my heart sing!

Same:  I still love family photos where everyone is bunched together — group hugs, big kisses, and snuggles are the best!



10 Years Ago



Different:  Slanted images are now equivalent to fingernails-on-a-chalkboard to me.  I wish I were kidding, but it’s true.  I also love shooting with backlight now, whereas a decade ago, my preferred light was in the shade.

Same:  I always look out for authentic moments and interactions to photograph.



10 Years Ago



Different:  Over the years, I’ve trained my eyes to notice distracting elements in a frame.  Some images can have many environmental details, especially in pulled-back images that include the background, but those details cannot distract from the main focal point.  The two images in “10 years ago” feature adorable kids, but the photos probably wouldn’t make my cut now.

Same:  I still shoot at different angles to get interesting perspectives.  I also still love tight shots where subjects run off the edge.



10 Years Ago

DSC_5624bg Rogers_4668


Different:  I lean towards creamier whites and warmer washes of light than before.  I also include images that are hazy and “imperfect” if it captures a mood or a tone.  In other words, I let myself be artistic more than before.  🙂

Same:  I still seek out joyful moments because if they make ME smile or laugh, then these images will surely bring emotion to the family.



10 Years Ago



Different:  No more artificial glow added in post-processing.  (I don’t know why, but I REALLY liked that effect back then!  I also used makeup bronzer back then, so maybe that was a window into my editing style — haha!)  I now have cleaner edits.

Same:  I still love shooting at a distance where I give my subjects some breathing room to forget I am there, and I get to capture the family with some of their surroundings.  The San Francisco Bay Area is just too beautiful to not include!




10 Years Ago


What is MOST amazing is that many of my clients have been with me from the beginning of my business!

It still blows my mind.  I’ve known some kids since the first day they came home from the hospital.  I’ve watched little kids grow up into teens and go off to College.  I’ve photographed families in various houses that they’ve moved to and made their home sweet home.  I’ve witnessed couples become parents… and families expand in number, along with their hearts.

This compare/contrast activity over the past decade reminded me how lucky I am for being in business this long and how blessed I am for having a business that I am proud of and clients whom I love!  ❤️

back to top

Pin It. · Share on Facebook · Follow me on Facebook · Link to this Post · Email a friend · Comments Off on Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Simple is Best

One of the life lessons my father instilled in me was:  Simple is best.

This is relevant in so many ways, including photography.  I had a couple years where I picked up trendy props and backdrops for indoor shoots.  What I found was my most favorite shoots were rarely when things were complicated with over-thought details.  My favorite shoots were usually when the location was simple, props were few, and my time together with my subject(s) was easy-going and free-flowing.

Take for example my shoot this week of my Mia who just turned 12.  (I do a photoshoot of each of my monkeys around their birthdays.)

We didn’t have anything particular in mind, other than Mia requested that her shoot be short.  (*ehem*  I will try not to take that personally.  smh)  We picked out her outfit just before we left, I told her to brush her hair, I made sure there was still battery life in my camera, and we headed out.

The area I had in mind for the shoot was under construction, so I kept driving.  After a bit of driving aimlessly purposefully, we stopped at a red light near a strip mall (classy, I know) where there was a parking lot and an unkempt hillside behind a row of bushes, which appeared to be planted to keep people out.  So obviously, I saw that as an invitation to climb over.  😉

Voila, my mini shoot of my sweet Mia!

THE TAKEAWAY:  Sure, you should plan for your shoot, but you don’t need to overthink it.  Sometimes, my dad is right… simple is best! ❤️

east-bay-lifestyle-children-photography-girl-with-hat-climbing-up-hillside  east-bay-lifestyle-children-photography-girl-holding-hat-atop-hillside


east-bay-lifestyle-children-photography-girl-putting-on-hat  east-bay-lifestyle-children-photography-girl-smiling-with-hat


east-bay-lifestyle-photography-curve-of-a-bush  east-bay-lifestyle-children-photography-girl-with-hat-picking-wildflowers



Bathtime Shoot

I am slowly accepting the fact that my kids will continue to grow up (as much as I’ve resisted it – haha), so I wanted to capture my youngest the way she is right now for her 7 year old birthday photoshoot!  A Lifestyle Shoot will be a departure from the last few years of doing Styled Shoots — like the Train Station Shoot and the Fairytale Shoot.

When Ava is at home, you can usually find her sitting on my lap, snuggling with me, singing me a song, playing with me, or being busy right next to me.  She’s my small, cute shadow.  Thus, I realize a “regular day” would be difficult to photograph unless I shot through mirrors or with a selfie stick!  haha.  So I narrowed down the shoot to bath time!

Bath time would show how she is in-between the stages of “little kid” and “big kid” because she can do everything herself, yet she still finds bath toys and bubbles fun.  Some things I wanted to capture:  she started wrapping her hair in a towel; she lost her 4th baby tooth a few days ago, so now her smiles have holes; she has creations displayed all around, like her Dr Seuss-inspired Pig In A Wig doll; and she loves singing and dancing right after a shower or bath.  With a hairbrush.  And the towel still on her head.

I am thrilled with how the images turned out and wish I could share more images with you, but thinking into the future, I want to respect her privacy and don’t want to embarrass her, so I can only show you a few select ones.  You’ll get a feel for it though!

Happy birthday to my Ava Bear.  ❤️

East-Bay-lifestyle-photography-pink-bath-duck  East-Bay-lifestyle-photography-bath-tub-at-sunset



East-Bay-lifestyle-children-photography-young-girl-looking-at-tub-faucet  East-Bay-lifestyle-children-photography-child-holding-up-ten-bubbly-fingers



East-Bay-lifestyle-children-photography-child-wrapping-head-with-towel  East-Bay-lifestyle-photography-candle-on-counter

[FYI:  This image isn’t originally cropped this way; I cropped it more at the bottom out of respect and child safety.]


This is me with my Warriors shirt and messy ponytail.  I know, my bathroom has kids stuff E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.  C’est ma vie. 

By the way, if Ava wasn’t in a bathtub, she’d be right there at my side, probably hugging my hip while telling me how pretty I look (even when I am looking ragged and tired).  Or she’d probably stick one of her little fingers in a ripped hole of my jeans and giggle.  🙂


Holiday Music


Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la!

A random fact about me:  I love listening to Christmas music.  I will turn up the volume and belt it out.  If you’re in my car, I will insist that you sing with me.  I can listen to it throughout the year, not only in December.

But what if your season ISN’T jolly?

There is nothing jolly about my heater breaking the other day and it was only 35F degrees out — and I have 3 kids and a puppy to keep warm.  I was struggling to stay sane with my husband, Lawrence, away on another business trip.  This past year, I had some health issues, which has effected us emotionally and financially.  And every Christmas, I feel the void of my dad’s passing because this was the holiday when I’d see him.

Well, get this…

I still love listening to holiday music even though it may sound contrived when there are things I’m worried/stressed/unhappy about.  You know why?

Because every Winter, there are cheerful holiday songs playing on the radio.  No matter what.  That reminds me that time never stands still.  Things are ever-changing, and that includes how we see things.

We had warm clothes to wear when the heater went kaput.  Whenever my kids found out I was cold, they’d rush over to hug me to keep me warm!  Lawrence travels frequently for work, but he always returns home safely.  I found some great doctors who helped me with my health issues.  And although I wish we could be spending the holidays with my dad (or just have my kids and Lawrence meet him!), I know that it was his sudden passing that gave me the kick in the pants to change my career to one that makes my heart happy.

The songs remind me that things will be okay, so why not be joyful.  Be thankful.  Be good to others because some have it worse than I do.  And enjoy the little things because time continues to move, and you don’t want to find out that the ‘little thing’ was actually a ‘big thing’ and miss it.

So last Sunday, I had my last shoot for 2016 with Leonard, Gabrielle, Christian and Livvy.  It was a Styled Shoot with a Winter theme, so we had it at a Christmas Tree Farm.

Everything about it makes me want to belt out holiday music.  <3

bay-area-lifestyle-photography-man-gleeful-while-sitting-with-family-in-tree-farm  bay-area-lifestyle-children-photography-boy-holding-jar-of-marshmallows




bay-area-lifestyle-family-photography-mom-helping-daughter-with-ornament  bay-area-lifestyle-photography-family-hugging-in-tree-farm



bay-area-lifestyle-family-photography-woman-sitting-on-haybale-with-kids-bxw  bay-area-lifestyle-children-photography-boy-being-silly-in-tree-farm-bxw


The Wishing Shrub

For my Mia’s 11 year old shoot, we chose to concentrate on her love of creating with her hands, reading, and creative writing.

So she made 11 cranes out of origami paper — one representing each of the years of her life.  Then, obviously, we turned one of our hydrangea shrubs into a Wishing Shrub.  🙂  Mia carefully placed each crane while thinking about the meaning of each year.  With the last crane, which represents this upcoming year, she made a wish.

Afterwards, she hung out on our swing bench and read a story she wrote.

It was so… “her”.   <3


East-Bay-lifestyle-preteen-photography-girl-holding-origami-crane-behind-wishing-bush  East-Bay-lifestyle-preteen-photography-girl-making-a-wish-with-origami-crane




East-Bay-lifestyle-preteen-photography-girl-on-bench-swing-looking-away  East-Bay-lifestyle-preteen-photography-girl-smiling-on-bench-swing


back to top

Pin It. · Share on Facebook · Follow me on Facebook · Link to this Post · Email a friend · Comments Off on The Wishing Shrub

The Other Side of a Selfie

I ain’t gonna lie.  I take selfies just like the rest of the under 35 population — except I am allegedly above that number, but shhhhh!

Anyhow, what I find horrendously awful, yet funny are the stories I read about how some teens and 20-somethings spend HOURS, if not most of the day, taking hundreds of photos to get that one perfect selfie to post on social media.  It is to a point of addiction, but of what?  Self-promotion?  Self-consciousness?  Validation of self-worth?

I don’t know exactly, but I do think it needs to get under control soon because I’d hate for my kids to grow up in a society where their internal happiness is governed by how many views they get or how many people clicked “like”!

With that said, I thought I’d show everyone just how funny “the perfect selfie” can be…or more like, NOT PERFECT!  🙂

[Note:  these shots were taken with my iPhone.]

My Selfie


The OTHER SIDE of my Selfie


I was about to step out to meet with my friend, and I didn’t do the dishes yet.  They’re not even pretty dishes…they’re kids’ plastic and melanine dishes that don’t break.  There’s also some trash on the counter.  In the background of my selfie, you actually can make out some plastic from bread rolls and a half bottle of a “one buck chuck”!  I think I didn’t finish putting on my lipstick either…or maybe I just ate something?!!  Well, this is where there was nice light, so I stood next to my dirty dishes.  And I needed to leave, so I didn’t fuss with anything.  Whole thing took about 15 seconds.

Funny, right?!!

Let’s keep it this way, folks!  Don’t aim for Perfection.  Aim for Realism!  Be real.  Be you.

And know that the only “like” you need is the one you give yourself.



When I Grow Up

East-Bay-lifestyle-children-photography-young-girl-facing-away-with-pink-umbrella  East-Bay-lifestyle-children-photography-young-girl-sitting-with-shadows

I remember crying in Kindergarten when my teacher insisted that each student announce what they wanted to be when they grew up.

I was a shy child whose parents split up when I was three and we moved around a lot, so talking in front of a group was far from being ‘fun’.  (By the end of Elementary School, I couldn’t stop talking, so there was a weird life symmetry there!  ha!)  Anyhow, I remember thinking to myself, “How would I know what I want to be?!!  I am only five!”

The result of the silence and all eyes on me:  tears.

Fast forward to 6th grade.

It was a similar situation, but this time, the teacher asked us to think about what we wanted to be when we grew up.  This time, I did.  I put a lot of thought into it.  I had friends who named the profession of their mother or father.  Some wanted to be what they considered a ‘hero job’:  a doctor, a firefighter.  For me, I had always loved Art.  Always.  Yet, I thought being an Artist meant standing on a sidewalk with my paintings and hoping to sell something, so I could have money to eat!  Thus, Art was never something I considered as a plausible career.

Instead, I came up with two things.  I was 11 years old, and I knew I wanted to be…

A mother.


I’ve always loved kids and thought the coolest thing in the entire World would be to be a mom.  To have kids.  To hold babies.  To love them unconditionally.  To teach them skills and help shape them to be confident and good people.

And happy.  I didn’t know what job I wanted.  I didn’t think about income, industry, or position.  I didn’t care about the details.  I just knew that whatever my career would be, I needed to be happy.


So going full circle here, I am now a business owner of something I am passionate about:  creating art.  I am also a mother of little humans who test my patience sometimes (haha), but they make me grow and learn and teach.  They make me want to always see the World as a silver lining, to find good in people.  I can humbly say that I am happier with them in my World.

Thank you — yes, YOU — for sharing in my journey!

Now why on Earth am I thinking about all this?

Well, my littlest monkey just turned 6 years old.  (These photos are from her 6 year old photoshoot.)  She is in Kindergarten, and I remembered how I was asked that question when I was her age.  Unlike me, however, Avie knows what she wants to be when she grows up.  A singer.  Well, not any ordinary singer.  A Singing Baker.  So in a few years, if you hear about a bakery that just opened up where the baker sings, you’ll know it’s my child!  🙂

When I grow up (hey, I’m still growing!), I want to be where I am now.  But just older.




Pom Pom Bouquet

Wanted to share this fun DIY pom pom bouquet I made for our Beach Room.  (Yes, I named many of our rooms because…well, why not?!!)

I made pom poms with my kids, collected sticks around our neighborhood, washed a bottle from a drink I had, and used shells the kids gathered on the beach last Summer.

I love the result!  The bouquet gives the room a touch of whimsy and fun!

East-Bay-home-photography-DIY-home-decor-pom-poms  East-Bay-home-photography-DIY-home-decor-pom-pom-bouquet-2


How is this related to Photography?

Well, it isn’t.  But it turned out to be because I decided to photograph it.  So it became a mini shoot of an item, like a Product Shoot.

If you’re ever needing creative inspiration or have time in your busy schedule, I encourage you to try it on an everyday item or a special item, if you prefer.  It can be anything, even a fork.  Really.

Task yourself with finding a way to shoot that item to make it look its best.  Give yourself a time limit.  What kind of light will compliment that item the most?  Where can you place it?  How would you arrange it?  What angle would you shoot it at?  What settings would you have?  How would you compose the image?

This is a great 5 minute activity that can be helpful for any experience level!  I’ve been doing this for years to spark creative juices, and these mini shoots have helped me on my client photoshoots.  🙂