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Let me tell you about this wedding in the beautiful Upstate New York.

All things happen for a reason. The little annoyances. The things that just don’t work out. The disappointments. It may take some time but eventually, you will look back and realize it was for the best.

When Ben and Liz inquired about me photographing their wedding it was supposed to be in Yosemite. I was pretty excited to photograph their big day at one of the most beautiful places in the world. Then came an e-mail that really had me concerned when they wanted to chat about big changes in venue, as well as the date. You see, after seeing Ben and Liza’s amazing proposal video, I had this vision in my mind that this was going to be an incredible story to document.  I could see their passion for storytelling, and knew I wanted to be a part of that. So imagine how stressed I got when I found out that during a busy season I had a wedding date change!

Well, the good news is that I was still available for their wedding. Look at that – all things working out. The reason for the change was because Ben and Liz had been spending all this time looking for a California venue that reminded them of Ben’s childhood family property in Upstate New York. They finally decided “it’s our wedding, let’s do what is true to us”. They took the plunge and arranged to take their vows on the docks of the lake. I was available. I was excited. I bought my plane ticket. I knew this was going to be an incredible experience, but I don’t think I really knew how incredible it would be.

This group of people had the most incredible vibrations of happiness and love. I could feel it as the small boat took us to the private little island on the lake. While I was meeting everyone for the first time that day, I was able to completely immerse myself into their world. They welcomed me with open arms, and it was through this openness to share their love that I was able to document a story that still brings tears to my eyes as I look through the images.  They gave me a story to tell. They gave me love to document.

 

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This couple threw one of the most classy and elegant weddings I have ever seen. It took place at the historic Legion of Honor in San Francisco. A windy day in the city made for the perfect backdrop to their soft pink palettes. The way these two look at each other are better than any words I could possibly write here…

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Venue: Legion of Honor 

Coordination: Cierra Lockwood

Hair and Makeup: Tammy Do

I’ve been shooting wedding photography for about 7 years now.

Rachel met me in my second year of photographing weddings full time when I photographed her brother’s wedding. At that time I got to get close with the family, fell in love with all of them. In instantly felt a connection with Rachel. We both had the same silly personalities. Creative minds. Always laughing. Let’s just say I had my fingers crossed that our paths would meet again.

The day came that Rachel got engaged to James, and soon after I got the e-mail asking me about photographing her wedding. I was damn ecstatic at the possibility of hanging out with this girl again and getting to photograph her wedding. Of course, I got further excited when she showed up to her engagement session with James with her fluffy dog friend in Scott’s Valley. So not only did we have everything else in common, but she was also a dog lover. Can we say Bride/photographer soul sisters? I think so.

Let me tell you about how much I love photographing James and Rachel. They are a breath of fresh air. I swear the whole time I am photographing these two half the time my side is hurting from laughing so much. It’s not often I find people that make my laugh more than my own terrible jokes.  There were definitely times that we had to take deep breaths to get that romance flowing for some of the portraits. It was a challenge, but a good challenge to have. We kept laughing together as the sun fell down over at Rios-Lovell Estate Winery, and had to remember that time was running out for portraits. We quickly got it together and made some magic happen.

 

Magic had to happen.

Not only were these two darlings, but just look at Rachel’s fashion! Hot damn. Or should I say… Haute Damn! Rachel was completely dressed in pretty things from Haute Bride Couture. Anyone that knows me knows that I might be slightly obsessed with everything at their boutique! Add in touches from The Little Flower shop and Rachel and her mother’s store The Owl box, and there was a whole lot of WOW going on.










I have to admit – I love a good party. Good whiskey, great music, and some people that just want to let loose and get a little crazy.  That is just what Kayley and Stephen delivered for me to document on their outdoor Lafayette wedding day.

There was already a special bond in my heart for Kayley. I remember meeting her in my old stomping grounds of Hayward to chat about her wedding day. Both her and her mother were sweet and warm to me and were swapping stories from growing up in the Hayward / Castro Valley area. I knew that this wedding would be filled with my kind of people. You can imagine how stoked I was when Kayley called me and said that they wanted to book me.

From High school sweethearts to man and wife. Two kids and years of memories and there they stood under that beautiful forest canopy, and sealed the deal on their love story. There is something really special about watching a couple be able to have their kids as part of their wedding day celebrations.  After the emotional ceremony, speeches and dances, it was now time for a kick ass dance party that went all night.  And damn do us Hayward kids know how to party.

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Wedding trends come and go. One of the biggest trends right now with photographers is promoting themselves as strictly “natural light photographers”.

This is clearly a popular trend because natural light in photography is absolutely beautiful. The tones. The soft glow on the skin. The natural, organic feel it gives. It’s also the easiest way to photograph. This is why so many new photographers are strictly natural light.

Is it the right choice for you to book a photographer that is only skilled in available light?  

This really depends on so many other factors than just your taste of wedding photography style.  It really depends on your wedding design and location.  This article is here to help you guide you through the questions that you should be asking your wedding photographer. Along with what kind of photographer you should look for that will match your wedding day.

Examples of weddings that a Natural Light photographer will excel at.

As you can see, this wedding was 99% outdoors. All the wedding details were in beautiful light throughout the day, and the ceremony was perfectly backlit behind a tree. No reflectors or lighting modification were needed at all. Look at that beautiful glowing skin! This was also a summer time wedding. Therefore the couple had this beautiful light until around 9pm.

Even natural light photographers are going to have to photograph indoor receptions. However, when it comes to shooting with natural light, the point of it is to not have a lot of gear and keeps things as simple as you can. For this wedding I photographed the whole day with nothing but my cameras and on camera flashes. See those beautiful white ceilings at the Piedmont Community Center? The bright white walls and ceiling of the venue make it easy for even a strictly natural light photographer to bounce light and make beautiful imagery. Basically if you have a white room for your wedding reception – your natural light wedding photographer won’t have any issues!

This low light shot was taken with only available light. The couple really wanted to capture the pretty twinkle lights of the reception location. So I got my settings just right to capture this for them. A quiet intimacy is featured in the shot that flash wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Mind you, to get this kind of photograph the lanterns must be bright enough and your photographer needs to correct gear to shoot wide open apertures or high ISOs.

If you want a shot like the one I photographed above, ask your photographer for examples to see. It is important that their capabilities match your vision.

If you are getting married in a Church or Chapel that does not allow artificial light or flash of any kind, you can feel safe in the hands of a natural light photographer. Remember the check with the rules of your ceremony location to see if any sort of flash is allowed inside. For this wedding at the Mission Santa Clara de Asís  no flash or artificial light was used in the making of these photographs. High ISO, steady hands, and the experience of shooting in such venues made these images come out clear and beautiful despite the darkness.  Is your indoor ceremony location denying the use of flash? This is a great sign that a natural light photographer would work out just fine for you.

Examples of weddings where you need a skilled artificial light photographer

candlelit wedding ceremony at wente vineyards

Candlelit wedding ceremonies.  I cannot stress this enough! If you are having a dimly lit candle ceremony like this romantic ceremony of Mckenna and Brian at Wente Vineyards, I highly suggest a photographer that is skilled with studio quality light as your wedding photographer. This was a challenging ceremony. I was faced with not only a flash of bright light as the bride came in, but then a ceremony that was so dark it would have been impossible to photograph anything quality using just the available light.  Instead I set up external flashes with diffusers so that I wouldn’t ruin the ambiance that the couple was going for. Thank God for my experience in studio photography! I would have probably resorting to pumping up my ISO (delivering grainy photos to my clients) or direct flash (ruining the ambience of the golden hues from the candles).

If you are having a candlelight wedding ceremony, definitely make sure you hire a wedding photographer that has skills in artificial light equipment.

Mad men vintage hollywood styled wedding inspiration at the Omni Hotel in San Francisco

Winter weddings are not the best for natural light photographers. What do you do when the schedule gets mixed up and the sun is down at 4pm? A photographer that is skilled in the art of off-camera flash, studio lighting and can work under pressure will save the day. For this stunning Mad Men themed wedding of Holly and Rob they knew that they would be losing the sun early on. They knew that I had previous studio lighting skills and a love for the cinematic. They gave me their trust and in turn I gave them this killer one of a kind portrait that reflected their wedding style goals. I was ecstatic to capture these classic Hollywood style wedding portraits for them.

Proving no sun on your wedding day? No problem. 

A bride putting on her chuck taylor sneakers for her wedding reception so she can dance at Domenico Winery in San Martin by Heather Elizabeth Photography

Dark Reception Halls. These tend to be found in wineries and old churches.  I basically consider any reception hall with dark wood or black ceilings and walls a panic zone for a strictly natural light photographer. There is no white walls or ceilings for flashes to bounce off of. So forget the easy way of using your on-camera flash. A photographer that knows how to set up multiple external flashes around the room in addition to the one on their camera is who you need to hire. It’s only this way can you capture your wedding reception without losing the ambience you so carefully chose.

Not all weddings need to be outdoors – this is your wedding day. You simply must find yourself a wedding photographer that has the skill set to take on your wedding venue!

Classic vintage Hot rod wedding portrait at night time in Livermore, California for a Car Club couple

Do you have a love of night time portraits? This couple wanted to capture the glow of the wedding venue as well as the groom’s classic hot rod ride at the end of the night. Capturing this in available light wouldn’t have given the same effect. I set up a single flash behind the couple in the right direction. That way not only could I highlight the couple’s figures, but the groom’s prized car and the glowing headlight.  If you really have some interesting night time photographs in mind, I would highly suggest putting out the investment for a skilled photographer that knows how to capture such things.

If night time photography isn’t your jam, then perhaps you don’t need someone so fancy! This is all up to your personal needs for your wedding story that you want to document.

crazy candid kids dancing at a wedding reception in woodland california

Outdoor wedding receptions. This is a tough one and really depends on what style you like.  Many natural light photographers might just turn on their direct flash for a night time outdoor wedding reception. With no walls to bounce off of, that is basically the only choice they have. However If you are looking for something with a bit more style for your dance reception photos, you might look for a skilled artificial light photographer. The photograph of these kids rocking out was taken out on a lawn with nothing but the twinkle lights and random spot lights you see in the background. A giant soft box flash was put up on the stage so that my flash had the height to get the guests rocking out on the dance floor.

If you are looking for this style of photograph, you probably might want to stray away from a primarily natural light photographer. Rather book a photographer that can show you how they light these receptions.

 

There are no rules when it comes to booking your wedding photographer.

Go with your heart. But also remember to really take into account the kind of wedding that you are having. If you are having an indoor, candle ceremony and dark ballroom wedding in January, it might not be wise to book a photographer that you see that they have only natural light images on their website. The more examples the better. Ask to see full weddings.

Remember ;

Go with your heart. It’s your Barb-e-q. Make sure you pick the right sauce.

Be practical and know the kind of wedding you are having, and what skills the photographer needs to capture it

Make sure you wouldn’t mind grabbing a few beers with your wedding photographer.

 

 

xo, Heather 

 

I have a confession. I am a total nerd.

Star Wars. Harry Potter. Game of Thrones. X-men. You name it, and I nerd snort over it. In fact I have spent a lot of my day today watercoloring a portrait of Harley Quinn from Batman fame. While listening to video game soundtracks. Yeah, I am pretty far down the nerdy rabbit hole.

Which is probably why I got along so well with Tyler and Queena. I am sure you remember them from their epic sunset engagement in Livermore, right?

Their love story is one of the most memorable I had ever heard in my 7 years of photographing weddings. Apparently, Queena first spotted Tyler while he was wearing a bright neon green Teenage Ninja turtles hoodie. It was clearly love at first sight and she had no choice but to make that handsome fella her husband.  Ninja Turtles are clearly more awesome than for enlightening my childhood with great memories (GO MICHELANGELO!)

There was no discussion of a theme before the big day, but I wasn’t surprised at all when I showed up and it was a Harry Potter themed magical wedding. All the small details they put into making it a classy, elegant fairytale wedding under the trees of Saratoga Springs showed how much excitement they had to incorporate the beloved books into their day. And the moment that really hit me that they were my kindred nerd folk? When I was enjoying the delicious food during dinner and suddenly heard “The Rains of Castamere” playing. Are these two seriously that awesome that they would 1) play THAT song during a wedding reception and 2) be that big of Game of Thrones fans that they would have any songs from the soundtrack on? 

The answer to both of those questions is YES and YES. They did have the sense of humor to play that song. And if you don’t watch Game of Thrones, trust me on this one – it’s a pretty hilarious song choice.

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Do all things in Love

I recently read an incredible book. It is called The Alchemist.

For a year or so now I have been on this journey of self improvement and spiritual discovery. What direction am I going? How can I make all things I want in life into creation? How can I make my time on this physical earth the greatest experience I possibly can have?  The Alchemist finally gave me the epiphany.

Do all things in Love.

I have found that switching my way of thinking is drastically changing my world. Instead of stressing about making my couples happy, I remembered how much I loved them and wanted to create beauty for them. My photographs became more beautiful than ever. Work outs became something I did because I loved my body enough to give it that gift. Conflicts with loved ones started to decline because every response to them was crafted in love, not fear. I used to scroll through social media for hours in fear of my life adding up to the countless lives competing with mine. Putting down the phone and remembering that I love to paint and read changed my evenings from going to bed in fear, to going to be full of loving experiences to calm the soul.

The more I was operating in love, the more things I loved would come into my life. Today I took my beautiful friend who needed some love in her life to some of my favorite places in the bay area. I brought my camera and I documented a day that I will always love.

I even showed her how to take a few photos. Because… I also needed my epic hero shot.

“This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

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We sat there at that little cafe.  I hadn’t seen Nicole’s face in years due to adulthood pulling us in different directions. But upon greeting her with a hug, it was like no time had passed.

 

I’ve known Nicole since we were both in the 5th grade. The 5th grade. Can you believe it? And now here we were hitting our 30’s sitting at a cafe catching up. Delicious food, great company. Nights like this need to happen more often. Too often in life do we let the beautiful chaos of the world accidentally pull us apart. Luckily all of the stars aligned for us to be sitting there at that table together.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We were all on a trip with our 5th grade class to Sacramento. Nicole, our friend Stefanie and myself were in a group and Nicole’s father was our chaperone. We were all so excited when he treated us all to an Old Western photo session. You know those little boutique photo studios that let kids pose with 6-shooter pistols? Well there we were. All dressed up and mean mugging for the camera together. Nicole’s father ended up spending a small fortune on prints for all of us.

One day you are on a field trip to Sacramento together, the next your friend is sitting across the table from you happy and engaged. I still have that old Western photo of our little 5th grade faces and pistols on the wall. The world had brought us all on such different paths. Through everything, we always remained connected. In my heart I know Nicole and I will always have that connection. No matter where our adult, crazy lives take us. When we sit at a table to catch up – nothing changes. Just new exciting stories come spilling out of our mouths to each other in excitement.

When Nicole asked me to be her wedding photographer, my heart dropped a little. This was my friend since the 5th grade. I felt this immense pressure to create some of my best work for her. This is a person that through the years while others came and went, I knew I could always find her. One of the best humans I had ever met in my life was asking me to document her marriage to the love of her life.  How do you create images good enough?

John Wayne said “Courage is being scared the death – but saddling up anyway”. So That’s what I did.

With excitement I told her that I would do it. But she had to tip me with some of her amazing custom Mickey Mouse Ears. Preferably, featuring BB-8.  Also that we both better be wearing matching Ariat boots. She obliged. Helps she was already planning on making me ears as well as wearing her own Ariat boots!

There was already excitement for the photographs I could take when Nicole told me that Mark and her would be getting married at the incredible Barn SZ Ranch. I am a fan of dirt roads, animals, and real barns. So the ranch was one of my dream locations.  After a relaxing drive I remember driving down that main dirt road and being amazed at the views. This was the perfect place for my friend to get married. The scene was set, my inspiration booming. And my heart felt like exploding I was so excited for this day to happen to her.

I got to watch the man Nicole loves cry happy tears when he opened up her boudoir photographs and say “I just love her so much”.  I got to see my beautiful friend in her wedding gown on her big day. Memory lane was my destination as I got to see Nicole’s mother and father for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. It felt like everything had just come full circle.

Aside from the incredible wedding day where I got to see Mark and Nicole come together as man and wife, I got to see Nicole do something so wonderful. Mark’s son, Xander stood up with them during the ceremony to really solidify that this marriage not only brought this couple together, but Xander in as well. This marriage made them a family. While they had already been a family for a long time, it was that final topping on the cake of a wonderful story.

Who wants to hear how their wedding also had the best wedding favors?


Yes, that is a kitten. Yes she followed me around the whole venue. Her and her little sisters were a big part of the wedding celebration. Little barn babies won over everyone’s hearts! Nicole brought one home herself! And me? Well… I might have left with a box of kittens. Four kittens to be exact. While two of those babes were fixed, made nice and healthy and adopted out, this little girl and one sister can’t seem to leave.

All of Nicole’s wedding details were handmade. She runs her own incredible online store with crafts and wedding decor. Flower crowns, bouquets, EVERYTHING was hand made. Is this woman not superwoman?

So I hope you enjoy Nicole and Mark’s Bar SZ wedding photos as much as I loved photographing them. And I hope you enjoy kittens. Because you are about to see a lot of them.

 

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