Behind the Scenes at Help Portrait Berkeley

We all have that one photograph that we wouldn’t trade for anything. One that reminds us of the good times… of loved ones… of life before wrinkles.

In my favorite family photo my mom is rocking giant 80’s shoulder pads and a huge Asian perm fro. I’m 6 years old wearing a Captain America fanny pack and I have mini version of her perm fro. This photo brings me joy every time I look at my mom’s huge smile (she was so proud that she did the perms herself!) The truth behind the photo is at the time my family was struggling on welfare to make ends meet. But I don’t remember that, I just look back and remember that I was a happy kid with great parents.

On December 8th I got the chance to give that kind of photo to a stranger though Help Portrait, a community of volunteer photographers who donate their gear and expertise to provide portraits to those in need. Participants at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project were treated to a full makeover, professional studio photography, and a print to take home.

I had a great time doing event coverage photography. I learned a bit about studio lighting and posing from watching the pros at work. Got to play dress up with cute kids. Chatted it up with a diverse range of photographers. Even ate my first camera cookie. All the volunteers were so positive–I loved taking in their energy.

But the best part was connecting with the ‘models’ for the day. I admire the folks that showed up, despite their hardships, they knew how important it is to preserve the memories. It was so amazing watching them light up in front of a camera. These folks definitely taught me a thing or two about enjoying the moment.

There is a saying I love and it goes, ‘collect moments, not things.’ Here are a few of the moments I collected throughout the day.


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Tomato Battle: Food Fight of a Lifetime.

To the tune of Prince’s Purple Rain: “Ketchup rain, ketchup raaaaaaain!”

Tomato Battle at the Alameda County Fairgrounds was the food fight of a lifetime. Party people young and old gathered in an open field to throw tons of tomatoes at each other. Why? Just for the heck of it! You would think that a tomato would be soft and squishy–not true, they hurt! Beer magically transformed average athletes into major league pitchers for the day.  If a tomato wasn’t coming for you from the air, it was ankle deep at your feet or getting shoved in your face. Or in my case, shoved down my shirt by smiling strangers.

It was crazy. It was awesome. Yep. Crazy awesome.

Shooting wise, I was mostly using a 35mm lens so I was in the middle of the action. With marinara sauce flying everywhere, I was wiping debris off my lense every 5 seconds. I definitely had a few uh-oh moments when I didn’t see a fast moving tomato headed straight for my camera. Oops. My poor camera, I put it through so much crap. Worth it for these shots though!

Life is too short not to get messy every once in a while.

If you’re wondering what I looked like afterwards, here you go. I had tomato in places where tomatoes should never be for days. haha.

Urban Bonfire in the Mission

This year was a great time in baseball for Bay Area residents, the Oakland A’s had the most incredible season in years and of course who can forget the San Francisco Giant’s taking the 2012 World Series.

I was in the city during the final game win and the atmospheric was (figuratively and literally) on fire. Just imagine fans dancing on top of random cars.  Champagne bottles popping left and right. Brooms in the air (to represent the sweep of course!)  There was soooo much love for the Giants everywhere.  Not so much appreciation for public property though!  I’ll tell you this one thing, you can’t deny that SF knows how to party hard.

Here are some photos of San Francisco residents enjoying a celebratory bonfire in the streets of the Mission.

SJ Made at San Pedro Square Market

Today at San Pedro Square market in San Jose I shot SJ Made, an indoor vendor fair showcasing handmade goods by local artists. If you love Etsy, then you will adore this event.  Jewelry, homegoods, clothes, accessories galore for your holiday buying pleasure.

You know what’s great about buying handmade goods? It’s that they are oozing ‘meraki.’   What’s that? Just my new favorite foreign word–It’s Greek and has no direct translation in English.  It means to put your love, soul, and creativity into whatever you are making or doing.   I chatted it up with a few vendors and you could really tell these artist had tons of meraki for their creations.

Shooting style wise, I challenged myself to ask strangers if I could photograph them.  I was nervous at first, but I realized quickly that they always say yes.  A smile never hurts. Here are my shots from the day.




Vietnamese Beauties at the San Jose Ao Dai Festival

A fact about me: before coming to America, the first year of my life was spent in a Vietnamese refugee camp in the Philippines (which my parents fled to in order to escape communist rule.)  Growing up in an immigrant family, Vietnamese culture was so deeply ingrained in my fiber.  Just test my blood and you’ll probably find traces of ‘nuoc cham.’

So when the 2nd annual Ao Dai festival took place I had to stop by to support my people.  Every woman was donning a beautiful Ao Dai. Some history behind our national costume: these flowy feminine pant dresses came about when a Nguyen dynasty emperor banned skirts in 1841.  He deemed them ‘silly bottomless pants.’  And to think, elsewhere in the world women were chastised for wearing pants!

Though I sadly know very little of the language anymore, I am proud to be a Vietnamese woman.  Enjoy these beauties from young to old.

Aren’t those old ladies cute? I wonder what secrets they are sharing.

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