Inspiring Illusions

Danny Ray is a Christian Illusionist sharing God’s transforming message through captivating illusions. But he’s so much more than that to my husband and I. Danny isn’t just a friend; he’s family. No-not by blood; well, that’s not true-there was some blood shed on the cross by a man that saved us many years ago…and that makes us part of the family of God.

I’ve known him and his (at the time; soon to be) wife Kim for well over 20 years now. I bet you can’t guess that we met at church. 🙂 At the time we were youth leaders. After they married, they moved to Colorado where he attended seminary. It wasn’t until they moved back that I started to truly bond with them. We worked together with the youth, and eventually Danny became the youth and college pastor at our church. Several years later he took the chance to follow the calling that was put on his heart to reach out to many people that he couldn’t necessarily reach through a church setting.

In 2003, Danny left his position with the church to start a ministry that shares the gospel with people all over the world in a very unique way: through illusions! What started as a hobby for Danny as a young child; as he performed magic tricks at a local restaurant, has now become a passion that touches the lives of thousands of youth and adults alike. Danny creates moments of astonishment with captivating messages that still completely blow my mind! He used to call me to come see his new illusions because he said I had the best reaction. That was until he met my husband-yeah, I’ve got nothing on him!

When I met the love of my life, Danny Kim were one of the first people in my life that I introduced him to. In 2010, Danny performed our wedding ceremony on a beautiful day at Corona Del Mar Beach. To say that this guy is a huge part of our lives in an understatement. I was beyond thrilled when he asked me to shoot his recent head shots. But these photos were much more than just head shots or photos for a business portfolio. I mean, c’mon, he’s an illusionist!

Danny Ray Selective Color Cards (2 of 2).jpg

We spent a good 4 hours, with a total of 6 people on this fun photo session. Danny is definitely one of those creative genius types who has grandiose ideas. Some of which are totally fun and had me excited or even laughing (and all of us working hard). And some of them, well they just didn’t make the final cut! Now remember, I cannot reveal a magician’s secrets-so don’t even ask how we did these amazing photos! I could tell you, but then…well I’d have to kill you-and I just don’t want that on my conscience!

Danny Ray Levitate (with shadows bw)

We had such a blast working with Danny again-and it was worth all of the effort to see how pleased he was with the final images. I feel like I put even more pressure on myself when my client is someone that I’m close to. Don’t get me wrong, I work just as hard for clients that I don’t know, and I want nothing more than for every person I photograph to walk away loving their photos (and the experience). But I don’t see most of my clients on a weekly basis-where if they weren’t happy with their photos, they don’t really have the chance to give me the stink eye…haha!

Danny Ray Teeth white (1 of 5)

After I finished the edits on these photos, Danny got the call to perform once again at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. He was so jazzed that now he has updated photos to use. Surprise-he’s performing the week of Halloween and the images needed to be themed…and they needed them within a week! No problem! Thankfully we were able to get some fun images that work for the theme!

If you are curious what this get-up is all about, you will have to come check out Danny Ray when he performs at the Magic Castle. That is, if you know someone who can get you in! It’s very exclusive! But don’t worry, he has performances all over the country. Actually, he’s performed in multiple different countries as well. You can find out more about Danny Ray, where he performs and even purchase a copy of his amazing book Magnificent Mark here.

I can’t wait to work with this guy again in the future. But for now, I think I’ll just stick to babies! 🙂


There with you from the start…

I’ve always loved when I’m able to see something all the way through. You know what I mean, right? Like when I was working with troubled youth years ago, and I wonder how they’re doing now when they pop up on Facebook happily married with a beautiful family! Or when you start a project at a former job, and you still see the fruit of it growing in the community today. Or when you pray for something/someone and that prayer is finally answered. Maybe that’s just me…but I love to see the follow through.

It’s kind of how I feel about some of my clients who have come full circle with me. I met Nick and Erika in October of 2014. Erika’s mom used to work with me on the State Campaign while I worked at United Way. We had a blast talking about Dancing with the Stars, and kept in touch through Facebook. I was very excited when she contacted me about her daughter’s engagement! I took their engagement photos at Ford Park in Redlands and that’s where it all began!

After our session, I mentioned to Erika that I would love to work with them again…I was very fortunate to do so in Spring of 2015 for their beautiful wedding held at Edward’s Mansion in Redlands. It was my honor to be a part of their special day and I still think of their group portraits as some of my favorite wedding memories ever!

You can probably imagine what comes next, right? Yes, they adopted an adorable dog named Irwin! 🙂 Well, then I was over the moon excited to hear the news in 2016 that they were expecting a baby girl! Erika booked me for her maternity session for this past January and she had the brilliant idea to go back to where it all began…Ford Park! I can already see future family sessions in the plans…with Irwin too! Of course we had to capture some images of them on the same bench where the ring shot was taken. I think we all got a bit emotional over that (ok, maybe just Erika and I).

Little Ava sure took her sweet time gracing us with her presence, but when she finally arrived, I couldn’t wait to get her in my studio in all of her cuteness! She was such a sweetie-giving us smile after smile, and even Grandma joined in on the fun during her session-giving us 3 generations of women.

I’m so blessed by being able to capture the special memories of this wonderful family and I look forward to doing so for many more years (and maybe even many more babies) to come! Thank you for bringing me along for the ride! Welcome to the family Ava!

10 Tips to Improve Phone Photos

I occasionally run into people who ask me what kind of camera I use, how much it costs (yes, they actually ask that), or comment on how they could take amazing photos if they had a camera as nice as mine! I usually laugh, because it’s not the camera that takes the photo, it’s the person using it. And although my images taken with my Canon 5d Mark iii are much better than when I used a point and shoot camera, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take fabulous photos with something you already own!

Since I can’t follow you around every day, capturing those special moments that may happen (and you can’t afford to hire a photographer on a daily basis) I wanted to draw your attention to a piece of equipment that most of you have already. This device that has become somewhat of a permanent attachment to most of our hands, can actually take some pretty awesome photos as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. Of course you all know what I’m talking about…your smart phone! I currently have the iPhone 6S, and though I will be sharing a few tips that are specific to the iPhone, all smart phones can do just about the same thing (you just need to modify).

#1 Lighting is key! Lighting is very important no matter what equipment you are using. It’s vital that your subject is well lit so the focus is on them. When using a camera on your phone, try to make sure that your subject isn’t back-lit. This means that the sun/source of light should not come from behind your subject. If you want to take a picture of someone in front of the sunset, even if you turn the flash on, your subject will be too dark. Instead, angle your subject so that the light is coming from behind your head-or at least from the side (if it’s a selfie, the light should be in front of you). These pictures show exactly what I mean. The first one, you can see the sunset, but not me. The 2nd is turned just slightly so that the light shows on our faces (excuse our day at the pool attire).

#2 Keep your hand steady! Sadly, a lot of the photos I see on Social Media are blurry. The most common reason for this is that the camera was moved during the process of taking the photo. Try to keep your hand steady when you push that button. Get a kickstand and use the timer if you’re just too heavy handed. The 2nd most common reason for picture blur is that your subject is moving. This is hard to prevent using a phone, but you can try to lessen blur by following your subject with the phone and snapping your picture in the process. It won’t always help it, so chances are, moving kiddos will be blurry. This is an example of what happens when your subject and your camera are moving! 🙂


#3 Flash is not always your friend! Most of us have cases on our phones which actually makes the flash bounce off of the case and pretty much ruins your image. Other times the flash makes your subject have yellow skin (or very pale skin) and red eyes. As a rule, I tend to not use the flash on my phone unless I’m doing a selfie after dark. Some phones do not have this option, but the iPhone 6 & up do-and it’s fantastic for most dark situations. This was taken on vacation after dinner and it brightened our faces and even showed the lighting around the pool in the background.


#4 Get close to your subject! Using the zoom feature on your phone camera will not always produce the best results. In fact, just don’t do it unless absolutely necessary! It’s almost always better to crop after taking the photo then using the zoom. If you want a photo of an actual person or animal, get up close to them-fill that viewfinder! If you use the zoom feature, chances are high that your image will be grainy and you just won’t like the results. Trust me on this.


#5 Edit, don’t filter! The big fad lately is using filters on photos…Don’t do it! A filter is obvious and changes the look of the entire photo. Instead, go into the editing tool and bump up the shadows (if too dark), lower the highlights (if too bright), and play with the saturation and hue of an image until you get it just right. Your image will look great and no one will know that you edited it. If you use a filter, like I did on these, they will know. HAHA!

#6 Angle matters! The angle of your vantage point is important. Do not shoot from the ground up unless you are doing so in an artistic way. Women especially, will not like photos of themselves from this angle. If at all possible, raise yourself slightly above your subject for the most flattering shot. Most young ladies have perfected this angle with the selfie. They have figured out that when you hold the camera up, it gives a more flattering viewpoint. But take care not to hold the phone up too high, as this just makes the subject look awkward. I’ve seen this with selfies the most. Trust me, we don’t want to see the top of your head-we prefer to see your eyes and lovely smile!


#7 Keep your lens clean! Because we take our phones everywhere (yes, even there), it’s important to keep them clean. This is especially true for the lens of your camera. It’s very easy to get food or dirt on the lens, so I clean mine every few days (when on vacation, I needed to clean it almost daily). You don’t want to find out after it’s too late that a crumb or a fingerprint ruined the photo of your Aunt Betsy doing a hand stand!

#8 Focus on the subject! Your subject is the person or thing that you are photographing. Sometimes your subject is a baby, your pet, or even a mountain. Regardless of your subject, you want it to be the most interesting point of the photo (you want the eyes to go directly to your subject)-so it’s important to make sure that your focus is clear. Some phones are different, but for the iPhone you just need to touch the screen in order to make it focus on a certain part of the image. This also brings up a tool to brighten the image before capturing it. Using Depth of Field in my camera can give that blurry background effect, which puts focus on your subject. The iPhone 7 portrait mode can actually help create this effect-but be careful, as it’s not 100% accurate and can blur out things you want to be clear. But it’s a fun new feature. And your subject does not have to be centered-in fact it’s often best not to center your subject. Can you tell the subject in these images?


#9 Be creative! Although there are many rules in photography, it is artwork, so those rules can be broken. Making sure your subject is in focus shouldn’t be a rule that you break, but  changing your perspective to look from the ground up to capture something artistic can rock! Look for repetitive patterns in things, don’t be afraid of empty space, use symmetry, capture small details, play with reflections, and most importantly, have fun!

#10 Put your phone away! This is the best tip I can give you. Though pictures are important, I mean come on, I’m a photographer; living and enjoying life is much more valuable than anything on your phone. That food tastes much better than it looks, so put the phone down, eat the food, and chat with your friend/spouse/child! Enjoy life, my friends. It’s fleeting. With that being said, get off your phone…this blog post is toast! 🙂

I want the dress, but not the price-tag!

A young lady was shopping and saw a beautifully crocheted dress that she loved. She asked the dressmaker how much it would cost to have her make her a dress like it. When the dressmaker told her that it was XXX amount, the lady was shocked- how could a simple dress cost her so much? She proceeded to tell her that she charged too much. The dressmaker asked her “Then what do you think I should charge?” The young lady replied that it should be X amount because the yarn only costs such & such amount, buttons this much, ribbons this amount and scissors only cost this much. Even though this amount was much less than she normally charged for such a nice dress, the dressmaker agreed on the client’s amount, took her money and a few days later a beautiful package arrived on her doorstep. The young lady opened the package expecting to find her beautiful dress and instead found yarn, buttons, ribbon and a pair of scissors. The young lady went back to the store with her box of items and yelled at the dressmaker “How could you do this to me? I asked you for a dress & you sent me yarn, ribbons & buttons?” The dressmaker looked back at the young lady & said “My dear, you got exactly what you paid for. If you want me to actually make you the dress, that comes at a much higher cost”

Why am I sharing this story about a dress on my photography blog? That’s a great question! The answer is simple- we get what we pay for. As a business owner, I often get inquiries from people who do not become clients because they feel that I charge too much. The problem is that most people do not realize just how much goes in to something that is custom made; whether it be a dress or a family portrait. Also, with a camera in every phone these days, most people don’t realize that it’s not the camera/equipment that creates the gorgeous photos, it’s the talent of the photographer. A pair of scissors doesn’t make you a seamstress any more than a nice camera makes you a professional photographer.

So many times I have gone out & purchased the cheap shoes because I don’t want to pay extra for the good quality ones. My husband used to give me such a hard time about my shoes. I used to shop at Payless relentlessly. And guess what? I always complained that my feet hurt! The shoes I bought at Payless always fell apart on me. So, I would end up buying more shoes anyway-spending the same (if not more) money than I would have if I had just went with the quality shoes in the first place (don’t tell my husband that he was right)!  Once I bought my first pair of shoes that cost me over $100 [gasp!] I knew exactly what the difference was: quality! My feet now thank me-and my husband!

There’s a lesson in these stories. You get what you pay for. I know that custom photography is not for everyone; people place their value in different things. Some people are the first in line when a new iPhone comes out and don’t even blink at spending hundreds on a phone. For others, designer handbags are what is important. For me, I put value in the artwork that my hairstylist does so I pay her more than I ever thought I could (because I see the difference in her trained work versus what I used to do on my own). For some people, they value their memories and are willing to pay to archive them in a very special way.

I have to say that if you value photography for what it truly is: artwork; you will come to realize just how much goes in to capturing each and every one of your precious memories. And when you choose a photographer who has invested so much time into her own craft, does the research to find the best professional labs that offer the finest quality prints and products for your hard-earned dollars, when you find someone who takes the time to get to know you and your family, someone who plans your fabulous custom session and presents you with beautiful artwork that you will pass down from generation to generation, you won’t blink when you get your invoice. My goal is for each of you to leave with a smile on your face, joy in your heart, and memories on your wall.

If you would like to invest in your family’s memories and work with someone who truly cares about your wants & needs & will do anything they can to meet your goals, contact me or anyone other full service photographer who offers custom services. We would love to take care of you and your future memories to come. Happy 2017!

A fond farewell to a blast from the past!

There’s one certainty in this life; we will all lose someone that we care about. Most of us have already lost several people. Unfortunately, some of these people leave this earth way too soon. 53 years. That just doesn’t seem like enough time to spend among the living. 53 years old? That’s only 12 years older than I am now. Wow! That’s amazing to think about. Recently, we said farewell to my High School Drama Teacher. Don’t teachers always seem so old to you when you are a kid? Adulthood seems so far away, that in our heads, they must be at least 50! But he was only 12 years older than me. I’m still shaking me head at this one.

My memory is not great-it’s actually pretty horrible! But, I do remember this…I hated High School! Just about everything about High School made me uncomfortable. I was always a big girl, and that did not make school easy at all. People made fun of everyone who was different. I also had a last name that people made fun of; “Cox”. I know, people are so immature! I heard it all, believe me (none of it worth repeating on my blog)!  I guess these are some of the reasons why I was so shy and reserved back then. I was quiet & pretty much kept to myself, until my Junior year. This is when I was introduced to drama & to JR.

Raise of hands…how many of you who have been out of HS for over twenty years have kept in touch with a teacher? Not many, I’m sure. Although back then he seemed so much older than all of us, he was only 12-14 years older. That probably explains why so many of us felt like we had a friend in him. JR had a way about him that was different than any teacher I have ever met, to this day. It wasn’t that he was a sappy, sweet as honey kind of guy; quite the contrary. JR really gave it to you straight-especially if you messed up your lines. At hi memorial service, a student of his shared a story about when he sat down in JR’s class & he told them all that they would either receive an A or that they would fail miserably because there was no room for mediocrity in his class. He would often yell “F!!!” at you when you forgot your lines. If you didn’t know him, you might think he were a grump. But we knew better.

There was something about him so real and honest that brought out the true person from inside of you. He helped me, as well as many others, find myself and jump right out from under that shell that I had been hiding under. I finally found my voice-and boy did I know how to use it! My family will attest to this fact as it was difficult to shut me up after I found it! It wasn’t just the getting up on stage in front of an audience, or even being assistant director to JR for Anything Goes. It was his passion for Ethel Merman, Broadway Musicals, and Cole Porter. It was his stories about going back to live with his dad. It was his adventures of working at Disneyland that seemed to come to life. It was his love for all things Christmas. It was him using a green pen instead of red when correcting our work (come to find out he used it for everything-even Christmas cards).  It was the fact that my teacher saw something in me; in all of us, and he pushed us to explore it.

He truly went out of his way to help each of us and to show us that he truly cared. In fact, he’s the only teacher that I can say that made such a huge impact on my life-even 24 years later! I guess I wanted JR to be a permanent fixture in my life because at one point, I tried to set him up with my mom (don’t worry, she was single at the time).  Can you imagine JR as your step-dad? You didn’t do the dishes “F!” Go run your lines…again! But every Christmas would be amazing and trips to Disneyland would be the greatest thing ever! Well, I made a plan to introduce the two of them at the cast party that was held at our house. Turned out that JR would rather sit and chat with my Grandmother than flirt with my mom. Such a JR thing to do.

I kept in touch with JR for a few years after I graduated in ’92. I even went back to see his version of Grease, which I believe was a dream of his to direct. But as time and distance grew, I soon lost touch with him. Three years ago, I did the happy dance when I found him on Facebook! (Isn’t social media amazing?!) We caught up a bit, swapped stories, and several times we tried to meet up but unfortunately failed to do so. Before I knew it, he had moved to Iowa and we lost touch shortly after.

My heart ached when I heard of his sudden passing on January 3rd. The world became just a bit less bright, just knowing he was no longer in it. His memorial service was truly a beautiful and inspirational tribute to the man that he was. From songs that he cherished, to stories of his missionary work overseas. From his best friend giving his eulogy and bringing every one of us to tears, to the pastor sharing how his last days were spent giving to others. I was moved during this service, so much so that I felt a nudging to go up on stage and share a funny story about him. I didn’t want to speak; I hadn’t prepared anything, but I knew that I had to share. I totally fumbled over my words, but I know that it was the right thing to do. I absolutely lost my composure when Erin sang “When you wish upon a star” and my husband, never meeting JR, even became emotional when the bagpipes played.

I know that there are many other stories about this wonderful man, and if you knew him, please feel free to share your stories in the comments below. But this was just a small testament to him and to what he meant to me. I only hope that he knew what a huge difference he made to so many people. His legacy will live on in our lives and the memories of him in our hearts. Thank you JR, for all that you did for so many of us. Your footprint has been left here for good. We love you. “F!”

These photos are mostly just horribly grainy screenshots of JR or newspaper clippings from our HS plays, but memories just the same:

JR, back in the day…

“Don’t drink the Water”- Curtain call, then my crazy chef character…

Newspaper clipping and our Drama Club photo…

A more recent photo of JR & the photo from his memorial service…