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Napa Valley Engagement Session : Dana & Larisa

Northern California is my home, and this same-sex Napa engagement session is extra special to me because it is my sister-in-law, Dana Sabin, and her fiancee, Larisa Stephenson.  But going home has always been terribly difficult for me.  Out of site, out of mind is how I got myself through the past 14 years of separation.  

I was born at Kaiser Hospital at the corner of Divisadero and Geary and my love for San Francisco never got stale.  My childhood birthdays were typically spent traveling around in a hired car touring the sites of the city, dining at Sutter 500 or Postrio and hitting the art galleries with my family (while clutching my Mrs. Field's cookie which were all the rage then).

Views of the city are not hard to find in San Francisco.  Just walk a few blocks up any hill.  Pick one!  Any hill!  Each hill offers different views.  San Francisco made me who I am today.  My father loved the theater but my mother and brother could care less.  These birthday tours in the city, dinners and other cultural events continued throughout the year despite any special occassion.  While my father is a conservative Jewish Republican doctor, he loves art.  And because of that, he encouraged me to follow my dream.  Today, I get to make a living doing just that.

I get asked a lot why I left one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It is a long story, but in short, the rise in the dot com, tech industry and the exhaustive struggle to simply live a basic life.  Incredible topography, beautiful city, weather that does not seem to vacillate beyond 30 degrees from summer to winter and no ability for the city itself to grow larger due to the peninsula does come with a price tag.  All but one of my siblings fled, but I was the first.

You would think going home is fantastic, but it can get tricky and suck the fun right out of what used to be the most magical place on earth.  Three sets of family within 45 minutes of each other can zap those dinners, cultural events, museum visits, hikes through the Presidio, catching up with life-long friends and toss it to a growing list "Maybe During the Next Visit."

My mother was out of town while I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and my father was just about to leave (I saw him for dinner one evening).  Ryan and I went out West early and spent several days alone downtown so we could tackle a portion of that list.  It was a magical weekend for me.  One that was exciting, sad and left me feeling even more homesick than before.  As we headed onward to the 2nd leg of the trip to his family's home in the wine country, I found comfort knowing we left directly from a photography retrospective show of Garry Winogrand's work at the SFMOMA.  It was just like old times.

We headed directly to Napa to drop Ryan at his sister's home so he could rest and I could shoot their engagement session.  I brought almost every piece of gear I own because I thought I would test some new ideas swimming around my head on family rather than a paying client.  But as the day went on, and by the time we got to location number one, we had very little time before the light fell.  95 percent of the gear I brought never got touched, and I had to get myself into a familiar zone and plan of attack if I was going to pull something out of the session.

At first glance, I was not really thrilled with the location.  While I have fond memories and adore Eucalyptus trees, they are hard to photograph because they have tall, bare trunks with foliage growth starting many feet off the ground.  But, this little gem of a spot had rolling hills which helped elevate the two of them off the ground and into the trees.

We spent about an hour shooting, and after we finished I really thought I had missed the mark.  But while editing, I realized something unique that brought this session to life: Order and sequence.  Normally I pick out one of my favorites, or two, from each location.  This usually results in "pretty picture with this backdrop, pretty picture with that backdrop."  Because my backdrops were not changing much during this session, the success of this session was putting multiple pictures together to tell a story about Dana and Larisa and how they interact with each other.

Sure, I still can't let go of the expectations in my head, but the session looks absolutely incredible and it taught me a very good lesson: More variety in backdrops does not mean a more successful shoot.  And sometimes sitting through a session in one location can tear down the client enough allowing them time to relax and showcase their personality.

Over the past 2 years, I have been searching to refine my art and voice.  Things have become too routine for me to stay creative.  When I left for vacation, I promised myself when I returned I would tackle this issue and find my spark again.  But who knew I would find a little bit of it on my vacation which would lead me home to continue to turn that spark into a roaring fire?  I have no idea what is in store for me over the next 2 months, but I am certain something new will come out of it that will give me a renewed passion.

Oh, and the rest of my trip?  Ah-mazing.  Ryan and I spent the next week hiking nearly every day, touring small towns I deeply miss up in the Russian River area, dinning, sleeping, exercising (of course), resting (just a little), photographing (a lot), rising before dawn to watch the sun rise, stopping at the end of the day to watch the sun set and just soaking in San Francisco, Napa and St. Helena in ways we rarely get to because of obligations.

Dana & Larisa, I will see you at your wedding on September 28th, 2013 along with my wedding photographers from Chrisman Studios.

Please enjoy your blog post.

Be well.


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What they Said... [ 1 ]

Beautiful photos, Kevin. Absolutely beautiful light. I also enjoyed reading your journey. Love the perspective of focusing on what develops in one location.

Apr 01, 2013  /  Ashley Wittmer

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