Jo Sun Luksun

Today, for the first time in a very, very long time, I had an actual desire to blog. The sudden motivation and excitement to sit down and work on a post took me by surprise. All thanks to the precious little boy pictured above and an idea that took me back to the roots of my journey as a photographer.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she was interested in having lifestyle portraits taken of her family. Her post spurred a lively discussion on what exactly that entailed. “Lifestyle” is one of the many adjectives that have become trite in the realm of portrait photography – these days, people use it to describe just about any photo taken outside of a formal studio. I’ve seen photographers share lifestyle photos of both clients and their own families, ranging from perfectly staged to beautifully raw; I love it all, but have never pursued it as a possible service to offer my own clients.

When I’m shooting for a client, I need a plan. My approach to shooting weddings is all about structure, and even my portrait photography relies on tried-and-true formulas and poses. Showing up to a session without any directions to give? I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, aside from fighting an oncoming anxiety attack. But the type of session she described in her post involved little to no direction at all. It was simply a day in the life – dirty diapers and clutter included.

Real. Candid. Photojournalistic. 

Exactly the type of photos I used to take when I first fell in love with photography, 8 years ago.

Thanks to that Facebook friend, I had a spur of the moment idea this morning – why not try taking some lifestyle photos while visiting my friends Stephen and Sou-Wah?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I imagine this is a glimpse of what life might look like… with a child of my own.

Jo Sun in Cantonese means “good morning” – it’s one of the simple phrases I’ve picked up while hanging out with this sweet family. I woke up to the pitter patter of Luksun’s footsteps this morning as he ran around the house looking for me. “Jo sun Luksun!” I whispered sleepily as he sidled over to see if I was awake. By the time I had wandered into the living room, playtime had already begun.

First it was a game of getting tangled in his pei pei (blanket), then he prepared to set sail on his quilt. Of course, the voyage required a supply of pre-cut fruit!

Luksun mischievously ate the remaining “chocolate jobies” he located in the pantry – chocolate rolled wafers from Trader Joe’s, called “jobies” after the logs of wood in the tv series Thomas and Friends.

Next he had the idea to hide tou tou, a tiny bunny, underneath the sofa and coffee table. “You’ll never find tou tou!” he shrieked with laughter.

There was a lot of slurping and sipping, both imaginary and real…

“Cheers baba!”

I found myself making mental notes of the funny little things Luksun would say while playing, only to forget them all by the end of the day! We had such a lovely, relaxing morning before heading out to the park. Sou-Wah and Stephen, I had the best time playing and chatting and hanging out with you this week! Luksun, I love being your Aunty.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I’d like to dedicate this post to Kim, one of the coolest and most creative moms I know; and Hana, whose lifestyle photos of her three children inspire me daily.

The Future Mrs. Fujii

When starting this blog, I didn’t exactly intend to write about things that happened to me. It was meant to be a place to share content that I’ve created – photos I’ve taken, recipes I’ve tried, lists and guides I’ve put together.

But then this bridal shower happened. And even though I had no part in any of it (really, all I did was show up!), it still seemed like something worth writing about. 🙂

– – – – – – – – – –

Sou-Wah and Stephen (with 2-year-old Lucas in tow) arrived at my parents’ house at 10 pm with tired but happy smiles. “Don’t come in until I say so!” Sou-Wah shouted at me from the foyer as I built a train track for Lucas in the living room. Stephen grinned at me as he carried in their bags. “I don’t even know what she brought,” he said with a chuckle. “She’s been staying up late all week working on it.”

Soon afterwards, my parents had gotten involved. I could hear a bustle of activity in the front area of the house – bursts of laughter, excited chatter, nails being hammered into the wall. Time passed by, both slowly and quickly. “It’s almost midnight!” I exclaimed. “When can I see it?!”

Sou-Wah wrapped her arms around me and led me out to the foyer, where Stephen was waiting with a camera on hand. She giggled as I gasped in delight. “The Future Mrs. Fujii,” I read aloud in wonder. I walked through the room slowly, taking in every detail. Everywhere I looked, I found another thoughtful touch. It was more than I could have ever imagined.

– – – – – – – – – –

The next morning, the house was abuzz with preparations for the event. My parents prepared and plated the food for the guests – my mom had picked up a special flat bread from the local farmer’s market to serve alongside a feast of tasty dishes from Yalla Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Sou-Wah finished up some final touches for the games; Stephen was kind enough to photograph the details before taking Lucas out for some father-son quality time. The party hadn’t even started yet and I already felt showered with love.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to find anyone to photograph the shower as it happened, but my mom and Sou-Wah did manage to take a few snaps on their phones during the games. (No one likes having their picture taken while eating anyway!) Stephen did an amazing job documenting the decor – you can see for yourself what a labor of love it was.

The lovely little welcome area, featuring an Instax station, “Tip Jar”, and the wonderful banner that inspired the title of this post!

We received our engagement photos just days before the event. The timing could not be more perfect. As soon as I shared the good news with Sou-Wah, I received a stern demand: “Please email all of them now. Immediately, young lady!” As it turns out, both she and my mom had printed photos from the shoot to use as decor. These photos on display were chosen and framed by my mom. 🙂

While admiring this adorable banner, I asked Sou-Wah if it came with an alphabet of letters to arrange as you please. “Did you think it was store-bought?!” She laughed. “I made that!”

… as in, she cut out every single pennant and letter. Uhh… yeah. *cue jaw drop*

I loved each and every piece of decor, but this inspiration board may have been my favorite. The visual mix of colors, words, and textures was just so pleasing to look at!

How cute is that sign, with a countdown and everything! It even included the hashtag Garrick made up as a joke! One of the games (pictured on the right) was to guess my age for every photo displayed on the board. It was a tough game… The highest score was 3/10. Hahaha.

At the Instax selfie station, you could choose from an assortment of washi tape, stickers, or frames to decorate your picture with before hanging it on the banner.

Out of all the guests, I’ve known Courtney the longest – we’ve been friends for 20 years (!!). She generously offered to provide awesome Sephora goodies as favors for the shower and I was secretly jealous of the guests! 😛 I didn’t get a chance to peek at what was inside the bags, but there miiiight be an extra one left. I’ll definitely update this with photos if and when I get the chance.

These beautiful garden roses came from my parents’ backyard!

My future last name was sprinkled all throughout the shower in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. I had a lot of fun finding it in unexpected places, like the tag and print outs for the Tip Jar. Guests could leave tips and marriage advice in the jar. One of my favorite tips was from Courtney: “The secret to a happy marriage is always making sure you are well fed.” Solid advice.

Mom, Aunty Anna, and the lunch spread.

The dishes catered from Yalla Mediterranean were a big hit!

There was baklava for dessert. 🙂

This hilarious lottery game involved handing an envelope to each guest. We all opened the envelopes at once to see who “found the groom”! Among the possible eligible bachelors were Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  and Grumpy Cat, to name a few. Kathy ended up finding Garrick (looking very handsome in a tux by the way) and won the prize!

The final game of the day was a quiz to see if anyone knew me better than the groom. Everyone filled out a quiz with 15 questions and when they were done, I answered the questions aloud. Sou-Wah (with the help of best man Henry) managed to pull off ANOTHER big surprise and showed us a video of Garrick answering the questions! I had no idea she had contacted him at all and it was so fun for him to be involved, even through a pre-recorded video. He put forth a good effort, but Andrea got more questions right than he did. 😛

After games, we spent the afternoon mingling, enjoying tea & coffee, and snacking on more baklava and macarons. I received lots of kitchenware and serveware which I’m excited to put to good use! There were also a few handmade gifts that Stephen helped me photograph.

My bridesmaid Andrea painted this adorable painting of Maui, complete with our initials and wedding date. I have always admired Andrea’s artwork and I’m thrilled to now call one my own! It’s already on display in my living room. 🙂

The oh-so-crafty Sou-Wah not only made this super cute jewelry box – she also HAND STAMPED my future last name onto a necklace for me. (As if she didn’t already do enough for the shower!!)

 My beautiful mother who graciously took on all the behind-the-scenes work of hosting the shower – cleaning the house, providing the food, setting the tables, arranging fresh flowers, etc.

Everyone says I look just like her. #twinsies

Me, Lucas, and Sou-Wah (aka Wonder Woman). I only have a vague idea of how many hours and how much effort you put into making this bridal shower extra special. It is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I am so, so grateful that God brought us together when we moved to LA. I love you jie jie!

The entire day from beginning to end felt like my birthday (… actually, maybe this was better. I don’t have birthday parties like this!). Thank you to my friends and family for making me feel so special and loved! It’s such an exciting time in our lives and I’m forever grateful to have the support of my loved ones. 🙂

Photos courtesy of Stephen Anthony Photography.

Chasing Poppies: SoCal Superbloom 2017

Thanks to a much needed winter of heavy rainfall, the deserts of Southern California recently erupted in a “super bloom” of wildflowers – including the famed California poppy. Considering our failed attempts to see the super bloom this year, it seems a bit silly to write a post about it! But I wanted to share what we learned from the experience (tip #1: do your research before you start driving). Here’s hoping this post helps others next time a super bloom comes around. 🙂

Back in March, word of the #superbloom had been quickly spreading via social media, but hadn’t intrigued me enough to consider seeing the blooms for myself… until I saw this.

Photo credit: @haserad
I had never heard of Diamond Valley Lake until our friend Ken posted an iPhone shot on social media.

Still, I let days and weeks pass before making any solid plans to drive out to the lake. Finally, nearly two weeks after seeing Ken’s photo, we set aside a weekday for a day trip. Golden hour is my favorite time to shoot and I figured it would make for some beautiful photos of the poppy fields.

Diamond Valley Lake is about 1 hour and 45 mins east of Long Beach (about 45 minutes northeast of Temecula) – very much doable as a day trip from LA/OC. We ended up heading out a little later than planned and stopped by a poppy field in Wildomar (the intersection of Clinton Keith Rd and Salida Del Sol) on the way. As Garrick pulled up to the field, I rolled down the window and surveyed the scene. Several other cars had parked along the roadside, and eager families, couples, and photo enthusiasts were already out in the carpeted field of orange.

I wasn’t impressed.

After taking a lousy iPhone shot from the passenger seat, I muttered “Ehhh… the lake will be a lot better,” and we promptly drove away.

About 40 minutes later, we were greeted by two things – a sign that read “Welcome to Diamond Valley Lake” and a closed chainlink fence… with a lock on it.

My heart dropped.

“What do you mean, it’s CLOSED???” My mind raced as I tried to brainstorm our options after driving two hours to get to this location. I begged Garrick to look for another way in. I asked him if we could hop the fence. He (wisely) shot down my ideas, reminding me that I was a) not very good at climbing fences and b) wearing a dress… and he turned the car around.

Still reeling from the disappointment, I frantically looked up #superbloom on Instagram in a last minute attempt to salvage the day. The photos tagged at Walker Canyon looked promising, so it became our impromptu backup plan as we headed back west on I-15. Garrick jokingly pointed out wildflowers on the side of the highway to cheer me up. “We made it!” he grinned. “We can go home now.”

By the time we parked at Walker Canyon, it was 5:30 pm. Last minute research on my phone informed us that the poppies had most likely already closed their petals for the day – up until then, we had no idea they did that!

We had just over an hour to make the mile-long trek into the canyon, where the best blooms could be found. The trail had us couch potatoes huffing and puffing as we made our way up, but I’m pretty sure it would be considered easy for anyone else. 😛 Both of us sneezed and sniffled our way through the flowers as the sun went down over the hills. The poppies were closed, but golden hour was glorious.

I don’t even know what he’s doing here. But it makes me laugh. 🙂

 I love love love how this dress from Anthropologie twirls!

We were fortunate enough to find plenty of clearings and patches of dirt in the fields. No poppies were harmed in the taking of this photo.

One of my favorite shots from the day.

I’m grateful to have an easygoing fiancé who shares my sense of adventure. Despite the fact that we didn’t find what we were looking for, we learned a lot of useful information about poppies that will come in handy next year. 😉

Tips for Seeing the California Superbloom:

1. Don’t wait!
The flowers are so dependent on weather conditions that if you wait a week after the last rainfall, you might miss your chance to see entire fields in bloom.

2. Use Instagram or to keep track of the blooms.
Try searching #superbloom, #walkercanyon, #diamondvalleylake, or your location of choice to see the most recent photos people have taken. Check the user reports at for daily updates on where to find wildflowers!

3. Make sure the trail you’re planning to visit is open.
Diamond Valley Lake is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Don’t make the same mistake we did by driving two hours to see a locked fence!

4. Plan on seeing the poppies midday, around 10 am – 3 pm.
My friends went to Walker Canyon at 6:00 am to catch the sunrise. They didn’t know the poppies didn’t open their petals until later in the day. We made the opposite mistake!

5. Wear comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
The trails were super dusty and the best scenery was about 1 mile into the canyon.

6. Bring plenty of water.

7. Take allergy medicine before you go.

In the end we made the best out of the situation and I loved the photos we took. Can you imagine what it would have looked like if we had make it to the lake (OR if the poppies were fully open)?! Hope this post helps someone see the next superbloom that comes around!

What is Your Passion?

About a year ago, I attended a birthday party that happened to be chock full of creatives. There were musicians, managers, photographers, bloggers, producers, writers, etc. – all under one roof, mingling and networking and doing whatever creative people do when they get together (I’m sure there are plenty of Youtube parodies on exactly that). I’m not a fan of networking. It’s not my scene. Small talk is not my jam. But I did have one conversation that went beyond the small talk… and the transition was so quick, yet so profound, I was left in a stunned silence.

Someone asked me this.

“If you could photograph anything in the world… what would it be?”

I blinked and stuttered. I looked down at the ground and mumbled to myself, frantically searching my brain for an answer, utterly dumbfounded by the question.

The truth was, I didn’t have an answer.

 – – – – – – – – – – –

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

As someone who claims to be “following my dream”, “pursuing my passion”, or “doing what I love”… being unable to answer that question is a scary thing. Do what you love, love what you do. It’s a mantra I believe in. Posters and mugs with similar cheesy sayings speak to me. But I’m not so sure they actually apply to me anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I still do love weddings. I love capturing moments as they unfold, documenting first kisses and first dances, and creating frame-worthy portraits of all the important VIPs, whether it’s the bride and groom’s flower girl or puppy or uncle with a life-threatening disease. It’s an honor to photograph all the details that the couple spent so much time and energy on. And of course, I love taking portraits of the bride and groom to cherish and admire in 10, 20, 50 years.

But over the years, I’ve slowly come to the realization that maybe, just maybe, weddings are not my endgame. There is a chance that they are not my deepest passion. And you know what?

That’s okay.

It’s taken years to be able to acknowledge and come to terms with that.

– – – – – – – – – – –

“Creativity is not something you can force, but when you turn your passion into your paycheck… sometimes, you have to. And while you’re thankful to be doing what you’re doing, it’s really easy to get lost in it all.” – Steppie of Steppie Clothing

I am a wedding photographer. Not an artist. My priority is my clients – which in itself is a good thing! What that has translated to (for me) is an unrelenting commitment to getting the shots they want on their wedding day. Over time, that has also meant less willingness to take creative risks when shooting weddings. Weddings are by default a high-pressure environment; you have a limited timeframe and one chance to get all the shots you want. If you waste your time with too much experimenting, that’s it – you can’t exactly come back the next day to try again.

So I’ve learned to be fast. Efficient. Predictable. Even though I knew it was happening, I ignored the reality of the truth – that my creative juices had almost completely stopped flowing.

I’m fortunate to know and be surrounded by other creatives who have struggled with the exact same thing. Burnout is real. And staying inspired is a struggle that we all go through. 

  1. Sarah is a wedding photographer. She recently taught photography to girls in Kolkata, India through the Focus of a Child program.
  2. Anna is also a wedding photographer. 🙂 In 2013, she published Pointe of View, a book featuring her personal project. Here’s the story behind the project and her store where you can purchase prints, a calendar series, or the book itself.
  3. Esther shifted careers from shooting weddings to blogging her travels. I loved her transparent post about why she decided to quit wedding photography.
  4. Diana made the transition from a wedding photographer to a lifestyle blogger. Read more about how she overcame burnout and learned to say no in order to maintain her sanity.
  5. Steppie is an artist and creator whose decision to put her business on hold (and the reasons behind it) really resonated with me. After a brief hiatus, she’s back in business with a fresh perspective on what it means to do what you love. 
  6. Melly is a conceptual portrait photographer and creative director who recently moved to New Zealand to get out of her comfort zone and grow as an artist.

Even though I haven’t quite found my source of inspiration, it’s been encouraging to see my friends find theirs. Which brings us back to the question at hand. If I could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?

I’m hoping this blog will help me find an answer. 🙂