When your shoot doesn’t go as planned

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, photography, Portraits

Jocelyn and I had been in contact and made plans to shoot one Saturday morning. Since we were both out in the suburbs, I suggested shooting at the BAPS Temple. I had visited it many moons ago and took a handful of pictures then. On this particular day, however, I was immediately stopped and prohibited from taking pictures.


A few tips when this happens:

  • Keep your cool.
  • Respect the wishes of the property owner/handler.
  • But if you need to, roll your eyes. ūüėČ
  • Move on and brainstorm another location.

Luckily, there was a golf course down the road that Jocelyn had spotted, so we headed in that direction and spent an hour there shooting. We stuck with taking pictures around the pond and the parking lot. Not ideal, but we made it work!

Chicago portraits by Diana Nguyen

Do you believe in regrets? I have them from time-to-time, especially in photography. (What is this whole “I don’t have any regrets because the lessons from yesterday make me the person I am today” nonsense? Regret and learning from your past are not related.) In this case, I regret that I didn’t take close up pictures of the tattoo on her left shoulder there. I think it would have been an interesting picture taking a picture of it from the side and letting the eye naturally lead up to her face.

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen
This was a swimsuit cover up that has been sitting in my closet for years. I originally thought I’d be cool to have it flow behind her at BAPS, but I think it flows just as nicely against the blue sky….in a parking lot. ūüėČ

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen

We don’t see too many hot air balloons in the suburbs, especially not in great numbers like this. But wouldn’t this be cool? (I need to get to Cappadocia¬†one of these days…)

Fun fact: Canon shared the last picture on its Instagram page! :-O

Out of Chicago Portrait Conference: A Recap

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, Learning

Over the weekend, I attended the Out of Chicago Portrait Conference. I have to say that I expected to leave with a whole lot of new information (I did!), but was surprised at how inspired the conference left me.

From Steve Neilson's "Off Camera Flash!" class at the OOC Portrait Conference
From Steve Neilson’s “Off Camera Flash!” very hands on class at the OOC Portrait Conference. I guess you’ll see me use flash more often!

The event started Friday night with Lindsay Adler, who is a crazy awesome fashion photographer and is currently the youngest Canon Explorers of Light¬†member.¬†I have to say, she was the highlight of my weekend because 1) I love her work and 2) I admire female talent, especially in this field. (Case in point: in most of the workshops I attended on Saturday, there were 3 men to every 1 female. Bummer, right?) Lindsay’s¬†keynote was on inspiration and creativity. I liked hearing someone¬†(FINALLY)¬†say that creativity is a process and is¬†“like working out to build muscle” – it’s not something that just comes out of thin air. (Why is that something people generally believe?) In addition to that, the two big takeaways from her talk was that¬†a great¬†photograph needs impact (which is dependent on color, emotion, composition, light, movement and/or an interesting or unusual subject matter)….and you must control all the elements in your picture. Reason for the latter? People can’t see your excuses – all they see is an amazing or a boring picture. Amen, sister. Lindsay spoke for 90 minutes, and I left with 6 pages of notes and a brain racing with ideas. For the record, I will gladly pay to sit in on any future workshop she teaches! Friday night was definitely a good night.

Saturday was also a good day, but was a tad bit longer (with the day going from 8:30AM to 8:30PM). I attended five workshops with the the first being “Creating Drama with Speedlights” led by Nick Page. Now, I didn’t know who Nick was when I signed up for his class – I just wanted to learn more about tackling flash. But I Snapchatted a picture of Nick after his presentation and two of my (photographer) friends sent me a message asking how his class was. I should have known he was popular by how amazing his work is. (I’m pretty jealous that he’s only been at this for three years. That is pretty amazing.) For his presentation, he went through his portfolio and explained how he accomplished the final images. Some takeaways:

  • Photographers tend not to get the light close enough to the subject
  • Be aware of the light angle
  • He uses the¬†Youngnuo line of flashes, which run about $60-80. (That’s it???) Hearing this floored me, but this is something I’ll look into when I purchase my next Speedlight
  • He contributes to the wildly popular Improve Photography podcast where he shares a lot of his photography knowledge

The¬†next workshop I sat in on was “Practical Retouching in 90 Minutes” with Mark Serrano. I was the first one in the room and met him and his wife, who mentioned she was a makeup artist. “How cool! I need to get your information because the models I work with keep asking about makeup and I never know where to direct them.” She was very sweet and helpful with tips in that regards (as was Mark). This workshop was very much Photoshop-driven, so I’ll avoid highlighting that information to prevent this post from sounding like a tutorial but¬†things to note:

  • Mark is known to spend more than 2 hours on each photo…and four is not unheard of
  • Good retouching should be natural looking, has visible skin texture and provides even skin tones and smooth transitions
  • The skin tone and color of the face should match that of the body. This never occurred to me, but it makes a lot of sense
  • His book recommendation: Direction & Quality of Light: Your Key to Better Portrait Photography Anywhere (Neil van Niekerk)

After Mark’s presentation, there was an hour break for lunch. I had intentions of running down to Macy’s to buy a new tube of MAC’s Touch (my color) lipstick because I left the house that morning without taking my lipstick out of my purse and putting into my camera bag (which is what I was toting). But I was hungry, so I ducked into an Asian restaurant (that served Thai, sushi and Chinese) and ordered ramen. I don’t know what happened, but that ramen gave me a stomachache. Lesson learned: order ramen from ramen restaurants only! Before heading back, I stopped at Starbucks for a mint tea and a brownie – both seemed to settle my stomach. Whew.

After lunch and with Starbucks on hand, I attended “Professional Headshots – Step Away from the Selfie Stick” with Scott Lawrence, who is a photographer up in Libertyville (a northern suburb of Chicago) and shoots only headshots. Cool! Scott¬†was the only instructor who had an ice breaker activity in all the classes I attended that day. He had us all “make a friend” and take that person’s headshot with our phone. I took a picture of a guy named Jeff, who was sitting in the same row. I thought we were going to do something with the picture, but nothing ever happened with it so I still have Jeff’s picture on my phone. I’m wondering if I’m still on his…ha ha ha. After that, Scott¬†went through the factors needed for a great headshot, which include expression, light, pose, angle, backgroud, crop and retouching. (Fun fact: one of his slides had a picture of Mara. “Hey, I know that girl!” I thought and immediately texted her.)¬†He mentioned that he retouches each picture for only a few minutes, which I thought was interesting because it was the complete opposite of Mark’s post production method. (Just goes to show that there isn’t one right way with photography.) ¬†Scott also went over his basic light set up, which included the main, fill, background and kicker lights – and like Nick Page, mentioned that the softbox should be as close to the subject as possible (“Otherwise, it defeats the purpose.”).

Following Scott’s presentation, I attended “Light Painting 101 // Taking the Portrait to a New Level” with¬†Michael Novo, who I would give the “Best OOC Presenter” award to if such a thing existed. He had a great sense of humor (it’s dry with great timing) and went through the process of light painting in a fun way. So basically, light painting is starting with a composition, picking the parts you want¬†lit (or “painted”) and taking a picture of each individual thing you “paint” using either a Speedlight or a flashlight. (Example: In a large living room, there’s a book, couch and dog you want to light paint. So¬†you would take one shot with the Speedlight flash hovering over the book, another of the couch and again, with the dog.) In post production, the individual pictures are layered in Photoshop. There is a lot of masking, deleting and and erasing involved during this process so that only a small part of each picture makes it into the final piece. This link includes¬†a few of the examples he covered. He also showed an example of actor Jonathan Banks (aka Mike from “Breaking Bad”) at home with his wife. I¬†think¬†Michael said Jonathan was his father-in-law, but nobody in the room¬†reacted so maybe I was hearing things? If if they’re not related, it’s pretty enviable that he had access to Jonathan!

After Michael’s workshop, there was a dinner break where I had time to run to Macy’s and get that lipstick. Whew! (I didn’t end up opening or using it until Monday morning though. Well, at least I’m covered for next time!) I also went to¬†Latinicity¬†for a quick dinner (I liked it! I’ll definitely be back again if I’m in the area) and¬†then,¬†grabbed cupcakes and a large tub of banana pudding from Magnolia. I figured I’d butter up my husband, who had been home watching our 14-month old while I was at the conference all day. (By the way, you do know that Magnolia makes the best banana pudding, right? THE BEST.)

Although I was sad about attending my last workshop of the day, I was exhausted. But once I was in “Off Camera Flash!” with Steve Neilson, who has a VERY high energy level, I got my second wind. (“I don’t know where my model is. I think she stepped out a minute to take a poop!” he exclaimed. OMG, ha ha ha ha.) He was not going to let us sit while he presented. Nope, Steve made us all whip out our cameras while he set up different lighting scenarios. He started with one light on his model; then, a second; then, a third; and then finally, the third with a¬†color gel on it.


This was a great session and it was good to get in and learn about and understand flash in a hands on way. Like, Nick Page, Steve also uses the budget-friendly Yongnuo Speedlights. (Seriously, I know what my next line of Speedlight will be.) I would share the pictures I took here, but they’re nothing to be proud of. However, if you ever attend an Out of Chicago Conference, I’d recommend sitting in with Steve….although know that you probably won’t be doing much any sitting!

There was so much information – much more than I’m including here – during the Out of Chicago Portrait Conference that there’s just no way each attendee won’t become a better photographer. At least that’s how I’m feeling as I’m still on a slight Conference High. At the moment,¬†I can’t wait to start planning shoots and applying some of the things I’ve learned¬†although first, I need to get off Amazon. I’m enjoying checking out those Yongnuo Speedlights….


More Dancing Tween Photos

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, photography, Portraits

Hi there! Happy Friday! I let the week go without posting, but I made a promise to blog once or twice a week to keep this site regularly updated (and in turn, keeps me going with taking pictures). So here I am! ūüôā Anyway….

In the last post, I shared some images I took of Lily in her pointe shoes, a white dress and balloons tend to create an ethereal mood. It was exactly the look I was going for. And then, Lily and her mom gave me another costume option:

lily bickley ballet dancer photographed by Diana Nguyen

ballet dancer Lily Bickley photographed by Diana Nguyen

I have to say that I loved this “black swan” look and wish I had taken a gazillion more pictures of her in this attire.

ballet dancer Lily Bickley photographed by Diana Nguyen
Did I mention we were shooting in a parking garage?

Awhile back, my friend Elina recommended a book called Studio Anywhere¬†by Nick Fancher.¬†I try not to buy too many books (support your library!), but this one looked like something I needed. And it’s a book I’m now glad I own. It’s a great DIY photography lighting book and is a good reference I’ll go back to repeatedly. (I am looking forward to rereading it….after I get through the stack of library books, whose¬†days with me are numbered. Those three weeks always go so quickly!) Near the end of the book, Fancher mentions that parking garages are great places to shoot. “Gah!! There you go Nick telling everyone about this secret spot!” I mentally yelled at the non-reactionary book. Nah, but it’s no secret¬†and it really is one of the best places to shoot. You can get aerial shots from the location you’re at, but in this case, there were no cars or people on the top level so it gave us space to work with.

ballet dancer Lily Bickley photographed by Diana Nguyen
This was shot in the parking garage stairwell

Sadly, this is all I have to share of this young talent. I hope I’ll be able to shoot with her again soon, as my mind is racing with ideas and I’m getting really excited thinking about it!

ballet dancer Lily Bickley photographed by Diana Nguyen

Have a great weekend!

When Your Model Becomes Your Game Changer

Posted 3 CommentsPosted in photography, Portraits

This is the amazing, talented 13-year-old Lily Bickley:


Awhile back, I put¬†out a casting call for lifestyle models. Her mom replied on her behalf and mentioned that Lily was a dancer. I was pretty ecstatic as I’ve been wanting to shoot a dancer for awhile now.¬†And I have to say she did not disappoint.¬†I had a few concepts that I shared with Lily’s mom. I figured that she would take a look at it and say, “Cool! Let’s do it.” Well, that’s exactly what the reaction was.

And then some.

Her mom stayed in touch and texted me several costume and prop ideas a few days leading to our meeting time. (I may or may not be privy to the fact that they have a prop closet at home.) It was pretty amazing. And helped us all bring life to the photos. Preparation is key, everyone!

Funny thing: I almost didn’t bring the balloons, but the night before, I figured it didn’t hurt to have them on hand.

chicago model, dancer photography by diana nguyen

This is the amazing, talented 13-year-old Lily Bickley:
The balloons definitely helped.

I was impressed with how easy the leaps, jumps and twirls came so easily to Lily. But then again, I think she dances about six times a week. I wish I had that sort of discipline – for anything – at that age. (It’s just more motivating to me now, even being more than twice her age. Better late than never, right?)

When I got home later that morning and looked through the camera roll, I wondered if I could go back to shooting lifestyle portraits. The answer is yes, but I also want to focus on photographing dancers. I wonder if this is cliche (if you go on Flickr, Instagram or the general internet there are MANY dance images out there) and if I’ll be able to have a voice in this saturated market. Basically, this girl has made me consider changing the course of my photography.

Thanks, Lily. ūüėČ

Like a well-prepared model, Lily came with several outfit options. So naturally, I have more pictures of her…

chicago model, dancer photography by diana nguyen

…which I’ll share in the next post. ūüôā

Happy Wednesday!


Chicago Portraits: When Everything Comes Together

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Chicago, photography, Portraits


I don’t know what the heck is going on, but I have been so lucky to meet a lot of great people ever since I started with portraits. Helen is one of those people. We texted back and forth before meeting up last Saturday. She pointed out earlier in the week that the St. Patrick’s Day festivities were taking place, which I had totally forgotten about. So we decided to meet at North Avenue Beach (which I haven’t been to in ages) later in the afternoon. I arrived first and scouted the location. Then, I spotted Helen. At that point, I knew this day was going to work out a-okay.


I joked later that this was one of those locations where you could bring your Motorola Razor Flip Phone and still take a stellar picture. (This is not a challenge…although if you do it, I want to see what you end up with.) But really, the model (ahem, Helen) helped to pull this together.

So while everyone was downtown seeing green, we were in Lincoln Park with the blues.



helen-NorthAvebeach-031216-10  Helen-lakefront-031216-21



For this picture above, I had Helen sitting on the edge of the pier. When we had met up, the temperature was fairly decent but slowly plunged. You probably can’t tell, but she was cold at this point. I was trying to get one last shot when two Wave Runners quickly approached us.¬†Crap,¬†I thought,¬†here come some jerks wanting to splash us.¬†Before I could warn her, one of the vehicles approached us and just as quickly,¬†turned off his motor. “Girl, aren’t you cold?” he said through his masked wet suit.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

He was very nice and  flirting with Helen big time curious about what we were doing. I always forget that Chicago is one of the nicest cities. (Am I biased? Yeah, maybe.)

If you think this is the last you’ve seen of Helen – whether here or in someone else’s portfolio – you’re nuts. She’s clearly photogenic, intelligent (she’s working on her Masters in Clinical Psychology) and such a joy to work with. [On a similar note, I picked up “The Power Playbook” by La La Anthony at the library sometime last week. It’s a quick read and along the lines of #Girlboss if you’re looking for an inspiring career/life book. La La mentions – more than once – that being kind will take you further than just talent alone. Just passing along good advice to those of you who are wondering if being a b*tch – which seemed to be a popular school of thought¬†when I was in the corporate world a decade ago – will take you further in your career. Be nice and work hard, y’all.]


Clearly, I’m looking forward to working with Helen¬†again. ūüôā

St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago: A Picture

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, photography

men in kilt running, St Patricks Day in Chicago

I took this picture two years ago and liked it. A LOT. And kinda forgot about it.

Then, last week, I noticed it had been added to 200 different VSCO Collections. Cool! Seeing this again made me remember this day two years ago.¬†I had my (at the time) 11-year-old niece with me. We took the Metra in from the suburbs (which was loaded with drunk suburbanites. Her facial expression kept switching between shock to amazement….yeah, Aunt of the Year right here). We were heading into the city as she wanted to see the green Chicago River. In return, she got to see how Chicagoans celebrate this holiday. (Ha.) My favorite memory of the day was leaving the parade and her pulling on my coat. “That guy just broke up with that girl.” Huh? What do you mean? “That guy just broke up with his girlfriend and the girl was like, ‘Are you really breaking up with me on St. Patrick’s Day?'” Bwahahahhahahaha. And that, my friends, was her introduction to St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.¬†Is there a better city to celebrate this fine holiday? Methinks not. ūüėČ

P.S. When I use VSCO these days, it’s primarily through Lightroom on my computer. But from time to time, I do use the app on my phone. You can see a few of those photos on my VSCO grid.

Chicago Portraits with Rachel

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, photography, Portraits

Have I ever mentioned that I love the West Loop?

Love it.

So when Rachel mentioned she lived near Fulton Market, I happily suggested shooting in her neighborhood. (My only issue is that parking never seems to be easy, and normally, I find myself pretty lucky when it comes to Chicago parking. It just seems like¬†everybody¬†is in the west loop I’m there. But after driving around for 15 minutes, I always seem to park at the same spot on Washington and Halsted. Now that I’ve told you that, please don’t take that spot when I’m there next time. Please?) We met in front of The Allis, and I was happy to see that she had on a white coat. It was a little chilly, but more importantly, I thought it brought a natural brightness to her face. (“My pale skin needs this coat,” she joked. For the record, I – personally – wouldn’t call her pale and admired her complexion.) We also happened to meet at 1:30 on super, duper bright day so I immediately looked for a place out of the sun, which brought us to¬†across the street at Green Street Smoked Meat where there’s a cool alley with string lights.

chicago model portrait photography by diana nguyen

chicago model portrait photography by diana nguyen
She mentioned she was a vegetarian, so later, when I was editing pictures I changed the “Green Street Meat” sign to this…probably more appropriate. ūüėȬ†

From there, we walked aimlessly around looking for interesting backdrops. At one point, she pulled out her phone and came up with a list of possibilities from an ongoing list she has saved on her phone (I should do this. My mental list isn’t as reliable), including a store front area with colorful doors.

She mentioned she was a vegetarian, so later, when I was editing pictures I changed the "Green Street Meat" sign to this.

[This placed turned out to be a dog play/day care location.]

Chicago model photographed in West Loop by Diana NGuyen
A stop at Girl & The Goat


I was obsessed with this light
I was obsessed with this light

We ended the day with a stop at Glazed and Infused. “Can I put a stack of doughnuts on your head?” I asked.

“Sure!” she replied. I love working with great sports.

Of course, the shoot ended with two of the three doughnuts falling off her head. I tried salvaging them, but no luck. At least we got the picture(s).

doughnut photo shoot with Chicago model Rachel photographed by Diana Nguyen

After Rachel and I parted ways, I went back into the store to get doughnuts to bring home to the family. “Weren’t you just here?” the guy behind the counter asked. I explained what happened, placed in my order and pulled out my wallet. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.¬†Awwwwwwww. I love this place.

Molly Page & her awesome book “100 Things to Do in Chicago Before You Die”

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Chicago, Portraits
Author Molly Page and her "100 Things to Do in Chicago Before You Die"
This is Molly Page & her new book “100 Things to Do in Chicago Before You Die”

Sometime last summer, my friend Molly¬†mentioned a book she was writing about things to do in Chicago.¬†Hmmmm,¬†I thought,¬†definitely sounds like something up her alley.¬†She’s very much an advocate for Chicago (she gives tours around the city) and also works for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Fast forward to February, and OMG, the book is very much done. :-O

Last weekend, to celebrate, she had a book party at Logan Arcade¬†(which happens to be the #25 thing to do in the book). In case you can’t tell in the picture above, Molly is always smiling and has to be one of the nicest, most genuine person in Chicago – if not the world.¬†If it’s true that you can judge a person by the company she keeps, then you know that she’s a great person as everyone at her party was so supportive of her; her¬†crazy, ridiculous talent and omg, this year-long commitment she made to writing this book (from what I could tell, it certainly was a labor of love). I was only there for a short time, but what I noticed was there were so many smiles and hugs on Saturday. The girl is loved. And so is her book. So I’m going to have to tell you to go out and grab 100 Things to Do in Chicago Before You Die. (You can also order it on Amazon.) Then, if you’re in Chicago, reach out to Molly¬†(seriously, she’ll love it)¬†and have her sign your book. I assure you that 1) she would do it and 2) she would love¬†(LOVE)¬†to hear from you.

100 Things to Do in Chicago book signing, molly page
Molly signing my copy ūüôā

While you’re at it, go to the book’s Facebook page; “like” the page and then admire the profile picture. Look familiar? ūüėČ

Candice Cameron looks great

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Fan Girl

DISCLAIMER: This is totally a random what’s-been-on-my-mind post.

Candice Cameron
Candice Cameron

Last¬†Saturday, I asked somewhat what they were watching on TV. I forgot the name, but it sounded like a “thinking” show that you have dedicate yourself to every week. I wish I had something more meaningful to add to that conversation, but¬†ha ha,¬†I’m watching “Fuller House” on Netflix. Go ahead, judge me.

Everywhere You Look… Fuller House is now streaming on Netflix!

Posted by Fuller House on Friday, February 26, 2016

I am loving it so much. SO. MUCH. Yes, I¬†have a little place in my heart for the entire cast as this was a show I grew up with. (My heart is bursting¬†as I type this.) I was hoping to see more of Steve (I’m only on episode 6) because OMG, I need this Steve & DJ love story to happen. I’m also hoping to see more Danny, Joey and Uncle Jesse.

But let’s get to the point of this post:¬†I cannot get over how great Candice Cameron looks.


How does she do it?

The hair and makeup I get. I mean, you better have a great hair and makeup team if you’re on a hit show. Her hair especially is always spot on and there is no way a real life person has her hair like that at all times. Or maybe they do and I’m trying to make myself feel better? In any case, her hair & makeup look great on the show. Always.¬†Although¬†if you go on her Facebook and Instagram pages, she pretty much looks great¬†always.

Candice Cameron instagram page

I ask again: How does she do it?

Gah, I love it. And I heart you, CC.

On a related note, we’re going to San Francisco to visit my brother and Jessica in May. If I’m not mistaken, the painted ladies homes are on the itinerary. I’m secretly hoping we have a run in with John Stamos.¬† (“Have mercy.”)

A Photo Shoot in the Suburbs (Finally)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in photography, Portraits

I love Chicago, and as a photographer, I don’t think there is a better backdrop.¬†Sometimes, however, it is nice when I find a fellow suburbanite who is willing to collaborate and saves me a trip into the city.


Last weekend¬†I got to work with Paige in Arlington Heights. [We both live in the northwest suburbs and thought AH would be a good meeting place.] We had been emailing and texting a bit before we met. I didn’t really get a sense of her personality (there’s only so much you can get with a “When/where should we meet?” text correspondence), but when we met, I was relieved. I really, really like Paige¬†and her easy going nature.

Arlington Heights Metra train station

We started off at the Metra train station where I think I had her walk up and down the platform about 100 times. She was so down with it (i.e. she was super cooperative and a great sport). Thank you, Paige!

At the Metra train station photographed by Diana Nguyen
My favorite picture from the shoot

Playing with hair shots

I got super excited about this red wall and picnic table. Okay, I also got overly excited for the “No Trespassing” sign and the thought of someone yelling out “Get off my property!!!” ¬†It didn’t happen, (un?)fortunately. But it was fun to get Paige to flip her hair over and over again. (See? Great sport.)

Also, can I just say that I¬†love¬†her jacket? The last model I worked with had a similar jacket that came from Nordstrom Rack. I forgot where Paige got hers from, but yes, I think I’m in the market for a new long jacket.

black and white picture of Paige photographed by Diana Nguyen

Anyway, after years of being “geographically undesirable” it’s nice to find someone in the same boat. You’ll definitely be seeing more of Paige here as we have a bit of text relationship these days (“Where do you want to shoot next?????”). I like that I’m¬†at¬†the point where I am planning¬†follow up¬†shoots with the models. Since the first test shoot is a “getting to know you” it gives us both the chance to see what will work (better) the next time around. And with Paige, my brain is on overdrive with possibilities. I cannot wait to see what we come up with next.

By the way, where are all you suburban models? Get in touch!