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Natural. Real. In the moment. Portrait art of Children & Families, High School Seniors, and Bar & Bat Mitzvahs. We offer a highly personalized experience from the initial planning consultation to final delivery of your custom portraits. Keep checking back often to see highlights from the latest portrait sessions and events, my real life stories, tips for taking better photos, and the latest special offers. Enjoy!

March 25, 2014
filed under: Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

Leo | Bar Mitzvah
Date | 2.1.2014
Service | Temple Isaiah, Lafayette, CA
Reception | Cal Berkeley Memorial Stadium
DJ | Denon & Doyle
Decor | Balloon Thrills
San Francisco Bay Area Bar Mitzvah Photographer | Cheryl Bigman


When I first met with Leo’s family about photographing his Bar Mitzvah, they told me they were hoping to have the first ever Bar Mitzvah party at Cal Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium. I always love the opportunity to shoot somewhere different, and this was definitely not going to be your typical hotel/country club venue. So many ideas were running through my head, especially when I found out we might have permission to shoot on the field before the party. This was one of those ideas…





Leo’s big day began at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette with family portraits before the service. I knew my favorite outdoor spot to shoot would be under construction that day, so I scouted around earlier in the week and found a great location where I could shoot from under a shaded overhang while keeping Leo and the family beautifully backlit by the morning sun. (A little photography tip – when taking pictures of people in bright sun, face them away from the sun, try to find a darker solid background, and position yourself so your subjects are between you and the sun. Best of all, you won’t have anyone “squinting” in the pictures!)








As we moved inside the sanctuary for our more traditional portraits with the Torah, I decided to grab this shot of Leo with his parents looking on in the background. Temple Isaiah has the most beautiful glass ark backlit by a very brightly colored wall of stained glass windows. As beautiful as it is, it can be tricky to get a proper exposure of both the background and the people in the foreground. I purposely shot this in Manual mode, giving me full control of my camera, and diffused the background so only Leo was in sharp focus.











And then I focused on the details. I’m always looking for the little things that help to tell each family’s story in a very personal way.





Using my Canon 5DMkIII pro camera mounted on a tripod, I was able to shoot Leo’s service as well. This amazing camera allows me to shoot in Live View mode just like a videographer, in low light with no flash, and silently with no shutter click sounds. Using a long telephoto lens (100-400), I was able to get up close and personal from the very back of the sanctuary.





After the Kiddush lunch, it was finally time for me to head out to Berkeley and set up for the evening party. This was my first time at the newly renovated Cal Memorial Stadium’s Field Club, so I confidently walked into the elevator, not realizing that you need the “special” card key to access the Club level. No matter how many buttons I pushed, the elevator doors wouldn’t open and the elevator wouldn’t move! All I kept thinking was I’m going to be stuck inside this elevator all night (which is not a good thing if you have claustrophobic tendencies like me), and this is going to make a really funny story…  someday! I finally got a cell phone signal and called the event manager who rescued me. Whew!


Before the guests arrived, the family and I were escorted out to the stadium field for our own private shoot. So much fun!











Then it was party time!




















I loved this shot of all the guests with their hands in the air, but what followed was even better…










One of my favorite things about the Field Club was the many LCD screens scattered throughout the space displaying Leo’s Cal-inspired logo.





Later in the evening, we used the screens to play a Same Day Slideshow of all the best pictures I had taken that morning, plus a few from the beginning of the party. They also played Leo’s montage, and of course, the Cal Bears basketball game. Leo and his friends got just a little excited watching the end of the game.





Out of curiosity, I ventured upstairs to see if there might be a way to shoot from a higher angle and sure enough, I found the perfect place to take some group shots of all the kids.




This party was nonstop fun and Leo had the time of his life celebrating with family and friends. Thanks to Leo’s family for allowing me to capture all the great moments from his special day!



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San Francisco Bay Area Bar Mitzvah Photography

I hope you enjoy this San Fransciso Bay Area Bar Mitzvah Photography provided by Cheryl Bigman Photography specializing in Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah photography throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cheryl Bigman Photography is unique among other San Francisco Bay Area Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah photographers. Each Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah is one of a kind, and we feel your Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah photography should be one of a kind as well. Every Bar Mitzvah and every Bat Mitzvah is treated with the utmost care and attention in order to creatively weave together the story of your day.


Service Area Information

Cheryl Bigman Photography offers Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah coverage throughout the San Francisco Bay Area including but not limited to the Tri-Valley and Contra Costa areas of Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Pleasanton, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Mateo, Burlingame, Redwood City on the Peninsula, Marin County in the North Bay, and the South Bay.

Not looking for a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah Photographer? Please consider us for your custom high school senior photography and all your family photography needs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Destination photography outside the San Francisco Bay Area available upon request. Call for more information.


January 15, 2014
filed under: Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

Mitzvah Season is Here!


Last weekend, I photographed my first Bat Mitzvah of the New Year and I am SO excited that the mitzvah season is under way! Ever since I made the decision to specialize in Bar & Bat Mitzvah photography, I’ve looked forward to January as it marks the beginning of one of my busiest and most exciting times of the year. I never get tired of shooting these wonderful events. Each service is unique, each 13-year old is unique, each party is unique, and it just never gets old. Sometimes I think I have more fun than some of the guests!


I loved capturing Annie’s expression of pure joy at her Bat Mitzvah celebration last weekend.

It truly is a great day for family and friends to come together to celebrate a young person’s entrance into the Jewish community as an adult. Very often, this is one of the few times when family members from far away are all together at the same time. It’s a great opportunity to capture these family reunions in photographs that become treasured family keepsakes.

I am always impressed by how mature and confident some of these young people are, and how seriously they take their studies. I truly enjoy listening to their Dvar’s (speeches on their interpretation of that week’s Torah portion). Having grown up going to synagogue, having my own Bat Mitzvah, and recently having my daughter’s, I feel right at home each and every time.

As the season progresses, I will be blogging about all of my B’nai Mitzvah experiences. There’s always a great story to tell!

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December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!


It’s the last day of 2013, and it’s the time of year when many of us reflect on the past 12 months and think about all of our hopes and dreams for the coming new year. Just the other day, my dad asked me this question – “When was the last time you took a vacation?”  Honestly, I could not remember! In fact, I couldn’t get that question out of my head all day. I realized that I tend to get so focused on the day-to-day tasks of my photography business and running my house, and being mom, that I forget the importance of taking a “time-out” once in awhile. I also realized that being a single person, I sometimes shy away from doing things alone. Flying solo never sounds as fun as enjoying someplace special with someone else.

Soooo, yesterday I forced myself to do just that – fly solo. I’ve always wanted to photograph the migratory Monarch butterflies that cluster in the eucalyptus groves of Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz. It’s definitely not something I normally shoot, and I thought it would be a great way to exercise my photography muscles, get those creative juices flowing, and just have a change of scenery. As I drove up Hwy 17 toward the coast, I could already feel the stress melting away. I must have driven that highway 100 times going to the beach with friends when I was in high school. But never had I gone alone.

I reached the park by 10:30am and it was about 48 degrees. Butterflies cannot fly in temperatures below 55, so I thought this would be the perfect time to see them cluster in the trees. I walked up and down the path 2 or 3 times looking for any sign of a butterfly and almost gave up. Then I took a closer look directly above me in the shade and there they were. Not the easiest to spot as they really blend in with the trees, especially when their wings are closed.



The closer I looked, the more clusters I saw until I finally found the one shot I was looking for. After lots of maneuvering, I started shooting this beautiful cluster. It was like a moving piece of art where no two shots looked exactly the same.


Using a 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x extender, I was able to zoom in fairly tight to get this shot. I also used my flash to even out the high contrast between the shaded butterflies and the bright background. (ISO 800, f8, 1/125)


As the weather warmed up, lots of visitors arrived to see the butterflies. Apparently, the big spectacle everyone waits for is when the temperature gets warm enough for an entire cluster of butterflies to fly at once. One hour went by. Then two. And then the funniest thing happened. People started asking to see what I was seeing on the back of my camera (which was like looking through a telescope). Soon a line of people formed, all wanting to get a close-up view. I was happy to do this as I felt so bad for everyone trying to get a decent picture with their phones and iPads. The clusters were just too far away and too shaded for them to get a decent shot. And here’s the best part – one smart lady had the bright idea of taking a picture of the close-up picture on the back of my camera. Yep, you guessed it… everyone else wanted to do the same thing! They were all proudly showing each other the pictures they took of my picture. Too funny! (Maybe I should have set up a business right there, LOL.)


The lady who started it all – taking a picture of my picture! (iPhone shot)



The picture she was taking a picture of. (iPhone Shot)


Back to flying solo. While everyone was waiting for the “big event” when all the butterflies would take off together, I noticed a few single butterflies bravely taking to the air. Some quickly floated to the ground as it was still a bit chilly to be able to fly. Others just fluttered around, not straying too far from the security of their friends who were still clinging to the tree branches. What a metaphor! It never ceases to amaze me how the universe sends you signs just when you need them most. There I was, flying solo out of my comfort zone, just like those brave little single butterflies.


You can see a couple of “singles” flying around the cluster. At 1/125, my shutter speed was slow enough to show motion in the flying butterflies while keeping all the others in focus.


I spent a total of 3 hours in that grove, shooting pictures and enjoying meeting all the people who got a chance to see the butterfly world through my lens. That’s one of the things I love about photography. It opens doors to conversations I never would have had otherwise.

Those clusters of butterflies never did take off. And showing pictures to all of those people ate up my battery, so it was all iPhone pictures from here on out! I headed up the coast to some of my favorite beaches. Hard to beat 64 degrees and sun on the beach in December. I sat there taking in deep breaths of fresh ocean air, and just watched and listened to the waves crashing onto the beach. Wow, instant serenity.


iPhone Shot



iPhone Shot


I thought about how blessed I am to be able to share my passion for photography with others, and to be able to do what I love for a living. And most of all, how thankful I am to have such wonderfully supportive family, friends, and clients in my life. Wishing you all the best in 2014! Happy New Year!!!

iPhone selfie :)

iPhone selfie :)



November 27, 2013
filed under: Families & Kids

It’s that time again… the annual dilemma of  whether or not to do holiday cards. And then there’s the question of when we’ll ever have time to take that long overdue family portrait to put on the card. Have to say, even in this age of Instagram, Facebook, and iPhoneography, I still love getting those handwritten holiday cards with the latest pictures of my friends and family. I set them all up on my kitchen table and look at them for weeks after the holidays because they make me smile! I appreciate that someone took the time to wish me happy holidays in such a personal way.

Putting the effort into creating and sending holiday cards isn’t usually at the top of our favorite things to do list, but who doesn’t love getting them? There’s just nothing like receiving a beautiful card in your mailbox to open and enjoy like a gift. So what do you say, Old School or Still Cool?



I say still WAY COOL! The good news is, taking new professional family portraits doesn’t have to be a long time-consuming process. In fact, it can really be a fun way to spend some time together. For example, I recently photographed Jenny and Mark’s wonderful family of four boys at a local park, and did all of these poses in less than an hour:

  • The whole family
  • Just the boys together
  • Each boy individually
  • Just mom and dad
  • A few creative shots of everyone just for fun



We kept the session moving along and had lots of laughs along the way. A couple of the boys thought it would be fun to try and confuse me with their names which I was desperately trying to keep straight. Max, Calex, Rex, and Paxton – now you understand!  Some of my favorite shots were the more candid moments in between the posing when the boys would say something silly and crack themselves up.

Raffield-5556 Raffield-5558


I purposely chose this location because I knew there were lots of different “sets” to choose from while having fun places for the boys to explore if they got antsy. Turned out they were awesome to work with and had fun playing in the park after our session.



From this one session, Jenny now has a wonderful collection of current portraits of her family for a holiday card, a stunning new canvas for her home, a DVD slideshow set to music, and plenty of beautifully edited prints to give to family and friends as gifts for the holidays.







So if you’re questioning whether or not to take the time this year to create a beautiful holiday card with your family, stop! Just do it! You’ll have fun AND you’ll put big smiles on the faces of your family and friends when they open it!



Big thanks to Jenny, Mark, Max, Calex, Rex, and Paxton for allowing me to capture all the fun moments with your family! You’re awesome!!!

* To see more from Jenny’s Family Portrait Session, check out the album on my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153508791705274.1073741828.255970605273&type=1&l=1be2038cb9

And while you’re there, be sure to hit the “Like” button to stay up to date on what’s new at Cheryl Bigman Photography.



September 18, 2013
filed under: Families & Kids

One of the best things about my job is getting to explore new locations and recently I found another little gem right in the middle of downtown San Mateo – Central Park and Japanese Tea Garden. Ari and her daughter Rachael scheduled a double portrait session for Rachael’s Pre-Bat Mitzvah portraits, and Ari’s professional head shots. Ari asked me for suggestions in her hometown of San Mateo, but being from the East Bay, I wasn’t that familiar with the area. So I googled away until I came across Central Park. Located right off El Camino in busy downtown, Central Park is a little oasis with multiple shooting location options.

It’s always a bit of a challenge going into a new location sight unseen AND we decided to meet at 12 noon, the brightest, harshest time of the day to shoot. Just our luck, Saturday was the day of a huge Fireman’s Cookoff at the park and there were tons of people! We decided to focus on the Japanese Tea Garden which was much less crowded. There was a beautiful koi pond and bridge right in the middle of the garden, but as you can see, it was very bright with that midday sun overhead and no shade. (Photography enthusiasts: I used Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4′s sliders to bring down the harsh highlights and bring up the deep shadows.)



After scouting around the garden, we found a spot with the perfect blend of shaded greenery and interesting structures that made for a great shoot. As a professional photographer, overcoming harsh lighting conditions is part of the job and I immediately put Ari to work holding my diffuser so I could get the shots. (Photography enthusiasts: Backgrounds can make or break a portrait when lighting is a challenge, so I looked for darker greenery without a lot of bright highlights shining through. I also blurred the background by putting some distance between my subject and the greenery behind her and using my 70-200L lens wide open.)



We started with Rachael in a fun, funky outfit of her choice. Rachel was a bit more on the serious side and I loved her soft winsome smiles. It’s important to not only capture your subject’s personality, but to know how best to interact with them to get a truly authentic looking portrait. This little wooden tea house structure made for a great “mini-set” as well.



While I was waiting for Rachael to change outfits, the most adorable little girl decided to play hide-and-seek with me. I showed her mom the pictures on the back of my camera and asked if it was okay for me to take a few more. Her mom was thrilled! We talked for a bit, exchanged email addresses, and I sent her the pictures. She was so excited that she now wants to book a family portrait session. Another reason I love my job – it opens the door to meeting new people I would not have met otherwise.





Here a few more favorites of Rachael in her 2nd outfit, a pretty white dress. Again, lighting was even more important as white can easily become too bright or “blown out” as we say when shooting midday.





Then it was mom Ari’s turn. Ari needed a new head shot and once again we took to the open shade. As a therapist, it was important to convey the right image for Ari – approachable, friendly, easy-to-talk-to, yet professional. Ari is a naturally friendly personality who’s always smiling, so she made my job easy. Here’s our favorite:



Finally, we decided to grab some shots of Ari and Rachael together. For these shots, the bush behind me was my assistant as I balanced the diffuser on my head. I’m sure I got lots of stares, but hey, gotta do what you gotta do! Here’s my favorite.



While I usually shoot portraits closer to sunset, there are times when it’s just not possible and that’s when you have to make it work. I’m so glad we tried out this beautiful new location that I can now add to my list of favorite places to shoot. So go out and explore all that our Bay Area has to offer and you too might find a great hidden gem. And please share if you have a favorite location by leaving a comment – I’m always looking!


September 11, 2013


New York has always had a special place in my heart. I lived across the Hudson River in New Jersey for 2 years back in the late 80′s, and spent every chance I had playing and exploring in NYC. It was a great experience for this native California girl. I’ll never forget the first time I went to the top of the World Trade Center and sat in one of those window seats where you feel like your feet are dangling over the edge. Truly breathtaking!

On my 24th birthday, I got to see the World Trade Center from a different angle after having dinner at The River Cafe just on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. The sun was setting and the towers became silhouetted against the skyline while reflecting in the river.




The morning of September 11th, 2001, I remember turning on the TV and seeing those first images of a plane hitting the WTC tower. It was hard to comprehend what was happening. As more information came in, I think we all had that same feeling of incredible vulnerability. I remember thinking, “Are we next?”. I was glued to the TV most of that day and the days following. My heart ached as I watched the horrific images being played over and over. I don’t think any of us will forget exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news.

Even though I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, New York feels like my second home and I still love returning as often as I can. During my last trip, I finally had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial for the first time. I brought my camera gear of course, and really wanted to capture the feel of this special place. The new World Trade Center tower was nearing completion and already looking impressive. What an emotional experience it was to be standing where the original towers once stood. The site is such a beautiful, moving tribute to all the victims and heroes of 9/11.



I wandered around the two memorial pools which sit in the footprint of the original twin towers. On the ledge of each pool were etched name after name so that no one will be forgotten.



Then I found the name of one of the victims from my own hometown of San Ramon – Thomas Burnett, Jr.  Thomas was one of the 40 passengers aboard Flight 93 who thwarted hijackers’ attempts to crash their plane into the White House. “Victims” just doesn’t seem like the right word when referring to Thomas Burnett and his fellow passengers. They were determined not to become victims and instead became heroes.



As I was taking pictures, drops of rain began to fall on the ledges of the pools. They reminded me of tears.


Just before closing time, I decided to try and get one last shot as the sun was setting and the city lights were coming up in the nearby buildings.



On this 12th anniversary of 9/11, we remember the victims, their families, and the heroes who worked tirelessly to save lives during one of the darkest days in our country’s history. I also honor those who serve to protect our freedoms today. Thank you.



July 2, 2013
filed under: Families & Kids

As I sat with my friend Marcy, enjoying a beautiful warm evening out to dinner last week, I remembered how wonderful it feels to genuinely connect with another person. We often get so “busy being busy” that we forget the importance of creating and maintaining those relationships that feed our soul. Marcy and I talked for hours. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced (and I think we could have closed the place down). You’d think Marcy and I had been best friends forever. The fact is, Marcy is one of my clients who I first met just a little over 1 year ago when she was looking for a photographer for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

So what does this have to do with the Making of a Great Family Portrait? Everything! While it’s important to plan out all the logistical aspects of a Family Portrait Session (style, clothing, location, etc…), I’ve found that the absolute most important element in making a GREAT family portrait is the connection between the photographer and the family. No amount of planning ahead and no amount of technical expertise will give you a great portrait without establishing that crucial relationship.




People looking at my work often ask how I’m able to get such natural expressions from my clients. I always struggle a bit with the answer because the process for me is so organic. I’m genuinely interested in getting to know what each family is all about, how they relate to one another, what gets them excited, what makes them laugh, what stirs their emotions, what compels them to hold each other tight. We just talk. Before long, the words become less important than the interactions that occur naturally during the session. It soon becomes clear when to click that shutter as I start to feel the same emotions that are unfolding in front of my lens. It just happens. We connect. And for me, that’s the key – the magic ingredient that makes a family portrait great!

Within minutes of my portrait session with Marcy, Andy, and their children Shaina and Marcus, it was obvious that they were a very close and loving family. I especially loved the moments captured between Shaina and her parents.







It was obvious that Shaina’s relationship with her dad was a bit more playful…







Even their gentle giant Celia the Pit-bull had a special moment with Shaina.




When it was time for little brother Marcus’s moment in the spotlight, we chatted up a storm. He was such a happy guy!




And for Shaina, it was all about bringing out her own personal style. I loved showing her what we were getting on the back of my camera, and it gave her the confidence to just be herself.




We even added Shaina’s creative input to make this shot.




As I looked through the pictures back in my home studio, I remembered the feelings we all experienced together and the connection we made. It’s those feelings that guide my decisions on how to best edit the final portraits. Whether it’s converting from color to black & white, or cropping in to the image, I know that if I feel the same emotions I felt during our session, I have created a great portrait.










I’ll never forget the day I got to show Marcy and her family all their pictures for the first time. They invited me into their home, and I projected all the best pictures up on the big screen. After Shaina’s Bat Mitzvah, they invited me back for dinner (on Christmas Eve), and we did the same thing with over 400 pictures!  Marcy and I have kept in touch, and it was so great to meet again last week just to reconnect and catch up on each other’s lives.




I truly treasure each and every new relationship made with my clients. I know that not only will that connection make for some great family portraits, but also open the door for creating a lifelong friendship. Many thanks to Marcy and her family for opening that door 1 year ago.

Love to you Marcy, Andy, Shaina, and my little boyfriend Marcus.


June 25, 2013

As a photographer specializing in Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, one of the best things about my job is getting to see so many of our beautiful synagogues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I never realized just how many there were until I started photographing B’nai Mitzvahs! Each one is beautiful in its own unique way, and the variety of architectural styles and decor makes them so interesting to photograph.

Since most of us attend just one synagogue or church, we rarely have a reason to check out any of the other houses of worship scattered throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I thought it would be fun to show you a sampling of some of the synagogues around the bay that you may have never seen. So sit back and enjoy the virtual tour!


Temple Isaiah, Lafayette





One of the most dramatic looking newer sanctuaries in the East Bay, Temple Isaiah features a gorgeous backdrop of floor to ceiling stained glass and an art deco free-standing ark of frosted etched glass with metal framework. My favorite feature at Temple Isaiah is definitely the stained glass windows. While it can be challenging to photograph people against such a bright background, I’ve gotten some amazing shots of the kids holding the Torah behind the ark with all the vibrant colors behind them.





Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek





B’nai Tikvah is set high up on a hill and features an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by sprawling oak trees. The synagogue has one of the most stunning outdoor spaces I’ve ever had the opportunity to use as a background for family portraits before the service.




What I love most about B’nai Tikvah is that the sanctuary brings the feel of the outdoors inside with lots of natural light and a round Star of David window high above the ark looking out to the trees. During the morning service, I can always count on a bright stream of light to shine on the Bar/Bat Mitzvah family just as the parents are giving their speech.





Congregation Beth Emek, Pleasanton





Beth Emek has an awesome craftsman-style look with a wood beamed ceiling and a lovely stained glass ark with vining flower motif. My favorite thing about Beth Emek – the natural light that comes in from all angles and gives the room a very bright and cheerful feel.





Congregation Beth Chaim, Danville





Beth Chaim’s colorful art glass ark makes for some striking photographs. My favorite thing about Beth Chaim – Rabbi Dan! Anyone who’s ever attended one of his B’nai Mitzvah services will tell you the same thing – he has a way of making everyone feel included and evokes the warmest of emotions. Many joyful tears have been shed at Beth Chaim – including mine! And Beth Chaim happens to be my synagogue. My daughter became a Bat Mitzvah here, and both my parents had their B’nai Mitzvah here as adults.






Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland





Because Beth Abraham is a conservative synagogue, Saturday photography is not allowed. However, I had the rare opportunity to photograph here during a Monday Bar Mitzvah. The colors in this synagogue are so beautiful together and the large gold doors to the ark cast a warm light around the room. Being an older synagogue, there was character not just in the sanctuary, but throughout the entire building. Curved stairways, stained glass art, a round half-circle main entrance with old wooden doors. But what I loved most about this synagogue was actually a small detail that made a big difference  - there are small reading lights placed on each podium that cast a warm glow onto whoever is standing in front of them. Really cool looking when the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child is reading from the Torah.






Congregation Kol Shofar, Tiburon





Congregation Kol Shofar recently underwent a major renovation and in the interim, services were temporarily held in the office space being used by the religious school. The very first Bat Mitzvah I ever photographed on my own was in that temporary facility. Needless to say, when I got the call to shoot a mitzvah in the newly renovated building, I could not wait to see it! My favorite feature of the new Kol Shofar is that it is one of the few synagogues that has a sanctuary in the round. A 2-sided bimah (pulpit) stands right in the center of the room. It also features a beautiful copper lined ark with etched glass doors, skylights, and walls of warm copper mixed with gold, and sage green that photograph so beautifully.






Peninsula Temple Beth El, San Mateo





Peninsula Temple Beth El (or PTBE) has SO many beautiful elements that all work together to make you feel so good when you walk in. Colored art glass streams a rainbow of light through the high ceiling windows and the doors to the ark are decorated with hanging squares of colored art glass. The light colored wood used throughout adds to the bright cheery atmosphere. Photography is not allowed during the service, but what is allowed is my favorite thing about photographing at this synagogue – I get to take pictures in the Rabbi’s office before the service as he’s preparing the family and giving the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child their Tallit (prayer shawl). The moments that occur in that office are priceless!






Peninsula Temple Sholom, Burlingame





Artistic metal work forms the backdrop to this sanctuary and makes for very interesting photographs. The earth tones and wood textures fill the room with warmth. My favorite thing about this temple – the lovely music played during the service and the amazing sound system. They actually have a professional soundboard in the back of the sanctuary. The cantor is an excellent guitar player and always sings a song specially chosen just for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child.






Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills





As a child, I remember going to a Bar Mitzvah at Beth Am where I had family who were members. Coming back to photograph here for the first time was really special and I’ve been back several times since. Beth Am is another synagogue that has amazing natural light in the sanctuary. What I love most about it though are the colorful cloth Torah covers and whimsical crowns. They are the most unusual I’ve ever seen. The Torahs are mounted free-standing against a stone wall and covered by a beautiful tapestry-like curtain.






Congregation Sinai, San Jose





Congregation Sinai is another conservative synagogue which allows pictures during the rehearsal only. A unique feature of this synagogue is the 2nd story balcony seating with high windows that stream in really cool directional light, casting shadows across the sanctuary floor.




The ark is also very unique, set inside a stone arch that reminds me of the Jerusalem buildings you see on Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s) cards. I love playing with composition in this synagogue using the arch and ark offset in the background.




There are SO many more synagogues around the San Francisco Bay Area – too many to fit into one blog post! Some I’ve worked in and others I have yet to see. The very large older synagogues in San Francisco like Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Sherith Israel (where my parents were married) are full of history, artistry, and style, and definitely worth a visit. But don’t overlook the smaller lesser known synagogues as they each have something unique to offer.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into some of the Synagogues Around San Francisco Bay. Would love to hear which one you belong to or have visited, and what you love most about them. Just leave your comments below.




June 18, 2013
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Today’s the day. The day I’ve been anticipating and dreading all at the same time. The big 50. A half century. AARP qualified. Yikes, where did the time go!

It’s funny, from my parents’ perspective (now in their 70′s), I’m still a baby. From my daughter’s perspective I’m… old, but still cool. (After all, I do like hip hop!) From my perspective, well it’s been interesting. On the one hand, I’m so grateful that I’ve made it this far through all that life has handed me. There’s been some very tough personal challenges along the way. Challenges that I wouldn’t trade for anything as they’ve made me into the strong woman I am today, and have given me the courage to follow my dreams. On the other hand, after losing so many friends and colleagues my age, I’m definitely feeling that life clock starting to accelerate. And I’m feeling the need to make the most out of whatever time I have left!

I had to laugh at my daughter the other day. She was sad that middle school was over and that summer break was SO long. I remember as a kid feeling the same way, and how the older I got, the shorter that summer break seemed to be. In fact, the older we get, it seems the faster time flies. My parents tell me all the time how they don’t know where the time has gone.

Leading up to this birthday, I’ve done so much reflecting. I feel oddly peaceful and serene. It’s almost like all the years leading up to this day were one big class. Even though I know the learning will never stop, I finally feel like I’ve accumulated enough life experience to know what I need to be happy and fulfilled. I look back on how much time and energy I’ve spent on things that in the grand scheme of life, really weren’t as important as I originally thought. I’ve learned to not let others dictate how I feel at any given moment. I’ve learned how not to “settle”. I know it’s not all about me as much as it’s about what I do for others, and doing what I can to make a positive impact on the world. It’s a good place to be.

So what now? Onward as they say! So much more to see and do, and I can’t wait to see where the road of life turns next.

(On a recent night shoot with my dad, saw this sculpture and thought it really captured the essence of how I feel – like a child ready to fly off into life’s next adventure.)



What about you? Are you approaching or already joined the 50+ club? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.






June 16, 2013

It’s Father’s Day and this year, me and my Dad decided to go on a photo shoot together. We did this once before a couple of years ago exploring Sunol, taking a ride on the Niles Canyon Railroad, and visiting a local winery. This year we’ve decided on a night shoot which I’ll save for a future blog.

My dad was a photography enthusiast way before I ever dreamed of becoming a professional photographer. In fact, his passion for photography began in jr. high school when he was taken under the wing of one of his teachers – to keep him out of trouble or so I heard. He told me he spent many hours in the school dark room learning the craft and even built his own darkroom!

Growing up, I remember his passion for documenting our family events both in film and super 8 movies. We had countless movie nights setting up the portable screen in the family room and popping Jiffy Pop popcorn on the range (hoping it didn’t explode!). Thanks to my Dad (and whoever converted all of those movies to DVDs), my whole family now has a library of our years growing up in Sunnyvale, CA – every birthday party, every Thanksgiving, every sleepover, every prom, and on and on…

As I well know, being the one behind the camera usually means you’re not actually in that many pictures, but I found this one from August 1963. He was all of about 22 and there’s me at about 2 months.




And here we are almost 20 years later at my college sorority on Dad’s Day in September 1982. He was always the youngest looking dad!




As a little kid, I remember taking my first pictures with an Instamatic – you know, the ones with the disposable spinning flash cube on top. But it wasn’t until much later that I really took an interest in learning how to use a camera. My Dad gave me one of his 35mm film cameras after upgrading to a new one, and the journey began. One thing about my Dad, he’s VERY thorough and wanted to teach me everything he could about how to care for and use this camera. I studied all the books and manuals he gave me, but I am definitely more of a “learn by doing” person and I got easily frustrated when I didn’t get the results I wanted. Oh and let’s not forget the countless trips to Wolf Camera to process film only to find half of the pictures were throw aways.

Then came the age of digital. Once again, when my Dad was ready to upgrade his camera, I got his old one. First it was a little Canon PowerShot. Then a Digital Rebel. Ahhhhhh – now I could see instantaneously what I was getting. My whole world changed. Eventually, Dad handed down lenses, a tripod, and lots of other camera goodies for me to play with.

I’ll never forget my first real Family Portrait Session. At the time, Photoshop was the scariest word I knew and I had no clue how to do any post-processing on digital images. In a panic, I brought my memory cards over to Dad’s to see if he could make the pictures “look good”.  He helped me edit the pictures and the family loved them! From that point on, I never stopped learning.

Last Fall, I had the privilege of doing a portrait session of my parents and got this great shot of my Dad. Such a handsome guy, don’t you think?




So now that my Dad and I both know our way around a camera, going on a photo shoot together has taken on a whole new meaning. “Talking shop” has given us something in common that we never had before. It makes me smile to see my Dad’s pride in watching me grow as an artist. If it wasn’t for Dad’s encouragement and support, I would have never found my passion for photography and I would have never had the career I have now. A career that I truly love! So thanks Dad and Happy Father’s Day. I love you very much. Now let’s go shoot!