Portraits from January (& the lessons learned)

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Hi! Happy February. I’m hoping to see a lot of love themed images this month.

love in chicago
Had to get this one in. ūüėČ

Month one of this new year is done (wow, that went quickly), and I still can’t believe I kept my NY’s Resolution to shoot more portraits. I officially shot five models (six, unofficially), so I thought it was time to do an end-of-month review that would also allow me to (re-)introduce my models and share some of the lessons I learned along the way.

Model #1: Anna

Chicago portrait

Anna and I met on New Year’s Day to kick off this whole “I’m going to do more portraits” project…and had a fun time. I wasn’t thinking of shooting the next day, but she mentioned she was free (before heading back to LA) and I thought, why not? I’m so glad we ended up meeting again¬†because I think¬†I got better pictures on the second day. Lesson:¬†Just go shoot. Especially if the¬†alternative is to rest. More likely than not, you won’t regret it. (Side note: if I had started off this Portraits Project with anyone else, I don’t know if I would have kept going. Anna¬†was a great starting point.)

Model #2: Paris

chicago portrait at art institute of chicago

I got lucky with Paris in various ways: she was photogenic, easy to work with, and there were a few shots that The Universe set up for us. While I was fortunate that things worked out the way they did, in hindsight I felt as though I could have gotten more shots if I had planned more of what I wanted to shoot. Lesson: plan your shoots as much as you can (i.e. put together an idea/inspiration board before meeting up).

Model #3: Kelsey

Chicago portrait by diana Nguyen, wicker park

Kelsey and I¬†decided to meet at 2:00 in Wicker Park one freakin’ cold afternoon. We got lucky with the light and walked around the area trying to find the right place to capture it. Lesson:¬†chase that light. (Oh, and when it’s cold, plan your outdoor shots so you know where exactly you’ll want to shoot. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering the streets trying to figure out a spot while the subject is freezing to death. Brrrrrr….)

Model #4: Janna

Chicago portrait by Diana nguyen, west loop

This girl is so cool. It was fun walking through the West Loop/Fulton Market talking and getting to know her while looking for places to shoot. Lesson: get to know your subject and let her personality shine through the pictures.

Model #5: Roma

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen

Roma was very easy going and cool to work with. Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake and had my camera on the wrong setting that afternoon. I shouldn’t say “wrong”, but it was a setting I wouldn’t normally use with this scenario. Short story:¬†I thought I was in my “go to” setting. (For the photographers out there, I thought I was shooting at f2.2 and was going crazy when my shutter speed was a lot slower that usual. Turns out I was shooting at f22. OMG. Translation: my pictures were A LOT more blurry/softer than I cared for.) Ugh. Lesson: double check your settings – and equipment while you’re at it. (We’ve all gone out shooting without a spare battery or memory card, right?)

[Unofficial] Model #6: Tatyana

Chicago portrait by Diana Nguyen, wicker park

I know Tatyana through Instagram, and we have seen each other a gazillion times and have no reservations about calling her my friend….but we’ve never hung out alone. I like her because she always says I’m crazy. (That’s really all it takes.) I like her for other reasons: she’s talented, encouraging and is the one of the sweetest people I know. (Girl power!)¬†We finally met up this past¬†Sunday (and we’ve known each other for two years! What gives?). We got ourselves caffeinated at the Map Room¬†(which is a cool bar, by the way) before walking toward The 606. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Tatyana is supportive with¬†my portraits initiative (i.e. she knew she was going to be a model that day….and dressed for it. I didn’t even have to say anything). She was nice enough to let me take my time with various shots. Lesson: shoot with a friend. If you can’t do that, make your subject your friend. Oh, and if you’re going to hang out with a photographer, you better get dressed and made up for it. (I ended up on the front end of¬†her¬†camera and was definitely¬†not prepared. I need a red coat…and maybe some matching lipstick.) Also this picture would have been better if I had gotten closer. So if you think you’re close, GET CLOSER. (How many times have you heard that?)

So things I’d like to focus on in February: planning shoots before meeting with each model….and taking sharper pictures (I have issues with focus). Overall though, I feel like the January portraits all gave me a great learning experience and I cannot wait to do more portraits in February. ūüôā

Colorful Portraits I’m Loving

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As of today, I have photographed¬†five models since the start of the year. And each time, I’ve come in without a game plan (“I just want to try capture lifestyle portraits“), which has its advantages. But I’m finding that it has more disadvantages. As my friend Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.‚ÄĚ So true. After each session, I go through my photographs finding ones I like but still having the feeling that something is missing: a plan. (Duh.) I’m vowing from here on out to have an agenda before each shoot so that I know where I’ll end up, more or less. ¬†And admittedly, I want to follow a plan that allows me to shoot pictures that go a little bit beyond lifestyle. On that note, here are a few colorful inspirations that I’m very much digging as of late (I’m blaming Pinterest for all this sensory/inspiration overload):

colorful portrait inspiration from pinterest  Confetti girl

P.S.¬†I’m starting to learn the value of Pinterest as a way of sharing ideas with models, which is something I should have done from the beginning so the model and I are on the same page. Funny enough, one model suggested it a few days after my friend Leyla did. (The model & Leyla are smart people.)

P.P.S. Hi Leyla!

When with Roma….

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Chicago, photo book, photography, Portraits

Meet Roma.

portrait photography diana nguyen

I had reached out to her in mid-January as she was interested in working with photographers to build up her portfolio. And of course, we picked a cold day to meet at Montrose Harbor. ūüėČ Brrrrrr…..

It was fun walking along the shore, shooting and getting to know each other, which I never realized would be the added benefit to doing portrait photography. I really like how it worked out that way.

portrait of Roma taken by Diana Nguyen

portrait of Roma by Diana Nguyen, Montrose Harbor portrait of Roma by Diana Nguyen, Montrose Harbor

While Roma was fun to shoot, I was fascinated with the amount of seagulls flying around us.¬†But I was¬†really¬†fascinated when I saw a trio of people pull a large bag of bread. I thought they’d take their time distributing it. But no. The guy in the group took the bag and went to town:

man feeds bread to seagulls
And friends, this is how to get 100 seagulls to flock to you!

Portraits at Architectural Artifacts Chicago

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Chicago, photography
woman on clock
It’s time….

Sometime last week, my friend Jeanne mentioned there was a meetup at Architectural Artifacts. A quick google search told me that this would be my type of place.

And OMG, it was. [Pst, that above pic of Mel in front of the clock was my favorite shot of the day – and so far, year.]

This was my first meetup in awhile as I decided to cut back on them. There was a period where I would try to go to every single one of them. Lately though, it has made my life easier to meet up with friends I’ve met on Instagram (and I’ve met and gained a good number of them in the last two years*) and allows for quality one-on-one time with them, knowing that we’ll allow each other to hit the “pause” button on our conversation when we spot a moment that needs to be captured. (This happens quite a bit with Elina.) I’ll have to write more on this topic later. Meanwhile, let me say that this was a great meetup. I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in awhile and work on shooting more portraits.

portrait at Architectural Artifacts
Leola. Gah, she looks so elegant in this shot.
portrait at Architectural Artifacts Chicago
Jina. I dig this girl. And everytime I looked at this on my camera, I thought it was a picture of me, lol. (Aside from the Asian thing, I don’t think we look alike¬†otherwise. Ha ha ha ha.)
portrait at architectural artifacts
Cat – one of the meetup organizers. I saw her dress and asked if I could take her pic. I didn’t notice her boots until I sat down to edit the pic. I WANT THEM.
portrait at Architectural Artifacts Chicago
A fun shot of Melissa
Architectural Artifacts Chicago
Jeanne & Elina

Gah, I loved this place. And I’m definitely coming back. Also, I hope someone gets married here and invites me. ūüėÄ

*For those of you starting out in photography, I encourage you to go to meetups to meet and network with like-minded people. The first meetup may not yield any results….but just keep attending them. It’s dramatic to say that doing this is “life changing” but it really has been for me.

Photography books I’ve been reading lately

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photography books on nightstand

“So tell me about yourself.”

I usually answer this question with mentions that I live with my roommates (er, family) in the suburbs, I like photography and that I enjoy reading. Naturally, the follow up question to the last question is¬†“What book are you reading now?” or “Do you have any book recommendations?” I think¬†they’re usually expecting fiction requests (The Kite Runner and or anything by Khaled Hosseini) and unfortunately, these days, I’m more of a non-fiction reader. I’ll spare you the business books on my nightstand now (did I just lose you?) since this is a photography-oriented site. ūüôā But for those of you who¬†enjoy a good picture book from time to time, here are the photography books I’ve poured over in the last month all thanks to the libraries in my area*:

Photo books I’ve read before that I¬†really liked:

Do you have photography books you’d recommend?

*Support your library!

Chicago morning with Paris

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Every year, I mention a New Year’s Resolution, but I can’t say I’m awesome at keeping them. This year, however, I think I might actually be on track with doing more portrait work. Yay!¬†It’s probably too early to determine if I stick with it, but so far it’s been fun and challenging that I just want to keep going.

I kept momentum last Saturday when I met up with Paris downtown where we shot around Buckingham Fountain and then at the Art Institute. In person, Paris is striking. In fact, while we were shooting inside the Art Institute, one of the [female] security guards leaned in to say “She’s the art here.” Indeed. But it wasn’t until I got home and went through the pictures that I realized that¬†she has a great facial profile. I wonder if she knows that….

Paris Jolly lookbook
Click on the image above to check out more pictures of Paris

On Tuesday, I was delighted to find that Flickr added this picture of Paris to the Explore section of its site.

Georgia O'Keefee at Art Institute of Chicago

Thank you for a fun Saturday, Paris. Can’t wait to shoot again.

Happy Sunday!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in photography, Portraits

Buckingham Fountain in chicago

As I’m typing this, it is 5 (FIVE!) degrees out. This makes Giada happy, but that leaves the rest of us¬†to deal. Brrrr….

I have had a full weekend up until 11AM today when I took LO to his swim class. Now I’m letting Sunday wind down by editing photos. I’m still keeping up with my New Year’s Resolution of trying to shoot more portraits this year and met up with a young model named Paris yesterday morning (when it was slightly¬†warmer out). I’ll share more as I get through the editing.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!


model in front of Buckingham Fountain Chicago

selfie with Andy Warhol's Elizabeth Taylor portrait

Photographing in 10 degree temps

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winter in evanston
Lighthouse Beach in Evanston

Last weekend was cold. I stayed out at home in the suburbs because it was Family Weekend (one of those self imposed weekends where I try not to head into the city to shoot so that I can maximize my time with both my 11-month old, Giada and The Dog Walker), which worked out nicely as I ended up taking advantage of shooting close to home. On Sunday, I took my LO to his first swim class and had lunch with a mom friend (her son fell asleep while mine decided to throw¬†things off the table. Lucky me!). Afterwards,¬†I headed home thinking I’d edit my photos from the day before.¬†Then, I got a text from Anjo.

“I am going to go to Evanston later. Do you want to meet up?”

My gut reaction was, No way.¬†I’m soooooooooo tired. So I texted back that I was tired but to let me know what time he was heading in the area in case I changed my mind.

“Sunset at Grosse Point Lighthouse,” he replied. I told him I’d let him know, but I pretty much knew my mind was made up in not going.

Or was it?

A few minutes later, I texted¬†him back letting him know I’d meet up with him. I’m not sure what caused the switch (I think it was mostly because I wanted to see Anjo as I haven’t seen him since before Christmas…let’s tell Anjo that’s what it was, he he), but I’m glad I did…..even if it was 10 degrees out that day (-18 if you factor in wind chill). Last year, one of my favorite Instagrammers Angela Conners posted a winter picture and accompanied it with a caption that read:

The days when you don’t want to leave the house and shoot are often the times you should.”

I keep that in mind all the time now. So while my pictures from that night weren’t phenomenal, I think taking the step to get out of the house and into the cold started a new habit. Thank you Anjo (and Angela) for inspiring me to get out for a bit last Sunday.

Couple at Evanston lighthouse beach

dog at evanston lighthouse beach
This dog wouldn’t release his ball to me. I tried not to take that personally….
lake michigan, evanston lighthouse beach
It doesn’t look cold, does it?

Anjo setting up his tripod to capture the icicles formed by the branches. I followed him....and a few minutes later, the high tide swept over my running shoes. Yowser. I didn't last much longer after this.
[Crappy picture alert] Anjo setting up his tripod to capture the icicles formed by the branches. I followed him….and a few minutes later, the high tide swept over my running shoes. Yowser. I didn’t last much longer after this.

evanston lighthouse beach night
Brrrrr….time to get indoors

My holidays in Chicago [a photo recap]

Posted 4 CommentsPosted in Chicago, Design, photography, Travel

Since my photography portfolio was a little bare in 2015 (I have a decent excuse¬†I think), I’ve been trying to make up for lost time and¬†keeping¬†Walter¬†by my side. If using my camera on a daily basis is a sign that I’m on the right path, then my year is off to a great start. I promise to keep this blog current….but before more time passes, let me revisit a few pictures I took over the holidays in Chicago.

Chicago architecture christmas 2015

My husband and I have a little tradition of visiting a museum every Christmas Eve. Sometimes others accompany us. Other times, it’s just us. This year, we had the little one (LO) with us and weren’t quite sure how long he’d be kept interested for so we did something a little different.

skydeck Chicago Christmas Eve, glass ledge
We went to the Sears Tower!

As soon as he went onto the glass ledge, LO¬†lost his balance and fell forward. Nothing out of the ordinary…except that it was on a glass ledge. All the tourists up who witnessed it all let out a huge “Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh!” But then all was fine. He got up and kept walking to to see more of the city. (My husband, on the other hand, was a little freaked out and tried not to think about the fact that he was standing 1000+ ft up in the air.)

sears tower skydeck

Skydeck chicago Christmas Eve

view from Willis Tower

I was surprised about how crowded it was (and we arrived¬†at opening time). However, it all worked out as we were only there for about 45 minutes. That gave us enough time to experience the view (within LO’s time tolerance zone) and then head back home. (We did stop by JP Graziano¬†on the way out of the city. Love their sandwiches. Also, if you’re a giardinera fan, my husband swears they make it the best.)

We spent the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the suburbs, but the day after Christmas, we ventured downtown with my brother and his girlfriend who came in for the holidays. We started the day by introducing Jessica to Italian Beef at Al’s (I don’t think there’s a better introduction). I hope we didn’t hype it up too much¬†for her as we kinda love Al’s around here. You’ll notice there aren’t any food pictures.¬†I was all over Snapchat on this day, so I didn’t take any food pictures. Oops. (Jessica did though.)

Al's Beef Chicago
Squad. (This was the only picture I got at Al’s…and it was through Snapchat. Bad Diana.)

Afterwards, we drove downtown to see Maggie Daley Park. I feel like I’m the last person to visit¬†this place (well, this and The 606 – I know, I need to get on that!), but wow, what a park.

Maggie Daley Park
Did I mention it was a cloudy day?

I cannot wait to come back when the weather is nicer.

From there, we took a slow walk toward The Bean by going over the BP Pedestrian Bridge. At this point, we thought it was a good idea to take the kid out of his stroller. He liked stretching his legs, but he kept bending over to pick up leaves from the ground (to put in his mouth, of course. Yum).


BP Pedestrian Bridge Chicago

The Bean Chicago

But don't worry, we managed to get a family selfie. :)
Of course, we captured a family selfie. ūüôā

We took a quick detour to the Chicago Cultural Center to warm up before heading¬†over to the West Loop to have afternoon tea at The Allis. It was a Saturday, and I didn’t think to make reservations. (Note: you should make reservations if you’re going on a Saturday. Duh.) But luckily, there was a cancellation so we were seated and had such a great time. I wish I had pulled out¬†Walter, but¬†I was occupied with¬†Snapchat (The Allis and tea presentation¬†were both too beautiful not to do an immediate share), stuffing my face and trying to keep LO entertained.

Afternoon tea at The Allis
Picture from my phone

A few things about The Allis:

  • The staff there was so nice, especially the hostess (whose name I, regretfully, didn’t get).
  • The Allis is a beautiful space.¬†I want to come back one day and just pour over the photography books they have on the shelves at the front entry….while eating everything behind the glass display up at the bar.
  • I want to spend the night at the Soho Hotel one night and¬†walk down to¬†The Allis the next morning to drink coffee and stare into space. (Yes, I really like this place.)
  • The afternoon tea service here is simple but so great. It was fun to watch my 10-month old eat sandwiches (he never had them before) and a bit of scone. He loved everything that went into his mouth (even if they weren’t leaves). The kid is ruined. Thank you to The Allis for that. ūüėČ

Do you get the feeling that I’ll be back? (Yes, I’ll be back.) So yes, that was my Chicago holiday in a nutshell. When my brother & his girlfriend (ahem, now fianc√©e) come back to Chicago,¬†I honestly wouldn’t mind repeating this itinerary although I may just do this on my own sooner rather than later.

P.S. I pulled together another photo book recap if you’d like to see it [just click on the image below and it’ll take you to the ISSUU page).

Christmas in Chicago photo book