Christmas in Arizona and Testing A New Lens

For the second Christmas in a row, my partner and I went to visit his sister and her family in Mesa, Arizona. Last year we drove and spent some time in Joshua Tree, unfortunately this year we couldn’t spare the time and thus were at the mercy of holiday flight schedules, and weather. The flight out on Dec 25? Easy as pie.

My gift to myself this year was a new lens, the Canon 85mm 1.8. I’ve been looking for a longer portrait lens with a wide aperture, and this one comes with rave reviews.

I haven’t spent much time in Phoenix or the surrounding area, as we primarily come to visit family. We did get out for a hike up to the top of a hill though, through a rocky area full of my favorite thing about this kind of desert – Saguaro cactus. They are incredibly stunning.




I’m fascinated by most kinds of plant life, orchids, succulents and cactus are my favorites though. The kids thought I was nuts for taking so many photos of them. I should also mention that these shots weren’t with the new lens, but my trusty 24-105mm L Series. I have a love/hate relationship with this lens, as it’s a heavy beast to lug around on hikes or wandering around town, but the image quality is terrific.



This is our niece, who’s skipping down the hill as fast as she can, unable to resist the lure of heading home to ice cookies.

More ( And actual images from the 85mm below the jump)


I don’t know if it’s just a Midwestern (David’s family is from Indianapolis) thing, but icing Christmas cookies is one of their family traditions. Having been born to semi-hippie Jewish parents in California, these holiday rituals are all new to me.

Pure sugar, these things are.

They’re delicious.


Our niece always eats her weight in them, so we take bets on how long before she throws a sugar-crash tantrum.

Kidding. Mostly. She’s a well behaved, sweet kid.

Here’s where the lens came in handy. The light was terrible indoors, uneven, and people were moving quickly. I’d read that this lens was sharp and I’ve got to concur. It’s also a light piece of glass (being a prime lens), which is a relief for tired arms when the candy hasn’t kicked in yet.


As I wanted to test the general sharpness, I chose center-focus points, but in the future will play around with different points on the 7d to get a wider range of effects.


Color fidelity is also good.



Safe to say the lens is sharp! I can see this being extremely useful while shooting weddings.


While I can’t imagine enduring the summer in Mesa, I’m beyond envious of the pomegranate tree flourishing in their back yard! And those incredible sunsets, of course.

Unfortunately, our flight home was delayed due to a huge storm hovering right over San Francisco. The landing was terrifying (I hate to fly), but we made it safe and sound to two purring kitties.


How to Shoot a Holiday Card

Holiday Season is upon us! I’m currently taking bookings for family sittings for holiday cards, but don’t wait until the last minute – the later you wait to get cards printed, the more expensive it becomes. I’m happy to travel to your home for a shoot, or can accommodate clients in my home studio. Contact me for information and with any questions.

My friend Aldythe Beltane recently commissioned a holiday card for her business, All Creatures Healing Network. Aldythe is a former vet tech whom I call the ‘cat whisperer’, because she has such an amazing connection to the animals she cares for. She’s also a tireless advocate for rescues, and every season torments her friends with a fresh batch of kittens and adorable rescues who need adopting. I hire her to do our pet sitting when we’re away, and relax knowing that our little monsters are going to be spoiled well cared for.

After a discussion of her vision for the card, we settled on a ‘winter’ theme, but I’d already decided how I wanted to shoot this.

Step one. Build a Set.


Step Two. Give your models a bit of time to adjust to being on set, as lighting can take some getting used to.


Step Three. Get the whole family together for a heartwarming group photo.


More steps and the end result, below the cut…

Continue reading “How to Shoot a Holiday Card”