About Amy Bao Photography

Hello hello! My name is Amy and I am a Bay Area wedding photographer.

I specialize in capturing timeless images that perfectly balance photojournalism with fine art, classical with contemporary, and are full of energy and emotion. I want your most beautiful memories to look as stylish to you as they will to your grandchildren, because your wedding day, well, that is the stuff legacies are made of.

Contact me directly by emailing amy@amybaophoto.com . I would love to hear from you!

Archive: ‘Personal’

Travel iPhoneography

Monday, February 9th, 2015

The best camera is the one that you have on you.

As much as I love to travel, one real downside of traveling is the increased chance of getting robbed.  A few months ago, someone at the Cologne bus station in Germany decided to relieve me of my camera bag (complete with all my camera and gear).  All I was left with were the photos on my iPhone 5S, and all I had to take photos with was said iPhone.  It was an interesting challenge, and what I discovered was that my phone was quite capable of capturing beautiful photos, and with the support of a few select apps, I’ve been quite happy with the results.

So for those who want to take nice travel photos without having to carry around a heavy DSLR + lenses (or, god forbid, you also find yourself in my situation), here’s how you work your phone.  (I can only speak for my model of iPhone, but my assumption would be that later models as well as other smart phones with quality camera capabilities will fall under the same category).

The Basics:

Hold that phone still.  Brace yourself against a wall or something stable if you must.  A sharp, in focus image will almost always look better and more professional than a blurry one.  It’s worth the few extra seconds to prepare.  You can also try taking a deep breath and slowly exhale as you take the photo to steady yourself.  This is especially important in low lighting situations such as during sunsets and sunrises.

Turn off your flash.  Don’t set it on auto, set it on off.  I have yet to come across a situation where the flash helped me get a better photo.

Keep your lens clean.  If you start noticing that your photos are looking a bit gray or unclear, you might just have a dirty lens that needs to be wiped off.


Because it’s much harder to control exposure on your camera phone compared to a DSLR, I generally try to expose for the sky, even if it means underexposing the rest of the image, when I’m faced with less than ideal lighting situations.  On the iPhone, you can tap on the area of the image you want to expose for.  Under lighting conditions with lots of contrast, you will have a very bright section (oftentimes the sky) and when you tap that area, the rest of the scenery will go dark if not black, and if you expose for a darker area (usually the foreground), then the sky might become blown out and just look white.  So the reason I choose to underexpose is because it’s easier to pull details out of the shadows than out of the overblown areas with a nifty little app called Photoshop Express.  There is a function called Shadows, and all you have to do is slide it to the right and it will bring out the details in the shadows without changing the lighter areas.  I also like to bump up Vibrance for for a little more color and the Bueno filter to sharpen the image further.  The result has a bit of HDR feel, which I like in landscapes.

Here are some before and afters:

IMG_7437Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar


IMG_5903Ballerina on the Charles Bridge.  Prague, Czech Republic

Composition and isolating the subject:

When taking photos of people with a phone camera, you have to be extra conscious of the composition.  With a DSLR and a good lens, it’s fairly easy to isolate or draw attention to your subject simply by opening up the aperture, creating a shallow depth of field, with the focus on the person and the rest of the image blurred out.  You can’t really do that with your phone, and composition becomes even more important in making sure your subject doesn’t get lost or clash with the background.  Even in the ballerina photo above, you can see the problem area where her leg intersects with the lamppost and both are in full focus.  If I had shot this with my DSLR, she would have been in focus and the lamp would have been blurred to separate the two.

Here are a few photos I took of my parents in Sri Lanka and the Maldives with my phone that turned out a bit better.




Maldives pano


If you want to take a close up of something small, it’s possible!  It’s also the one time that the phone camera is pretty good about creating a shallow depth of field.  The key here is to hold the phone extremely still and be patient, it’ll struggle with focus but it’ll get there.



I set my phone on the table for extra stability to get this shot of a hermit crab.

All that being said, there are many positives to taking travel photos with your phone.  For one, it comes with a very wide angle lens and the capability of panning is excellent for landscapes.  A good wide angle lens can be quite expensive, and for a photographer like me, not one I would use often for weddings and portraits.

IMG_7178Sri Lankan Tea Plantations

iceland pano 2Jokusarlon Glacial Lagoon, Iceland

iceland pano 1

IMG_7262Seaside town in Iceland.

It also makes it so much easier to quickly edit and share photos.  I really enjoy posting travel photos on Instagram and then looking at photos that others have taken in the same location.  I also like to preserve the ratio of the image instead of defaulting to square.  Squaready is a good app for adding the white space above and below the image for this purpose.

A few more photos for your enjoyment and I can be found on Instagram @amyxbao











Take Me Back to Constantinople

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Istanbul is a city straight out of the fairy tales and a photographer’s dream.  I’ll admit it, I booked my flight to Istanbul pretty much based on seeing the scenes shot there in Taken 2 (the plot was meh, but the setting was gorgeous).  And then seeing more scenes of Istanbul in the new James Bond movie the week before the trip, I may or may not have spent a few hours online trying to figure out how to get to the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar for a few panoramic shots (I unfortunately don’t know the right people here…).  Suffice it to say, I arrived with high aesthetic expectations, and the city surpassed them all.

The riverfront is just dotted with mosques, with their elegant minarets reaching for the sky.

My first day in Istanbul, I decided to see all the further out sights.  Among which was the Kariye Museum (Church) known for its mosaics.  Armed with a just copy of Lonely Planet, I proceeded to completely miss my bus stop and then had to backtrack, and of course, ended up wandering and lost in a cemetery.   But it was a really beautiful cemetery, so I can’t say I really minded.  Part of the beauty of traveling, I’ve learned, is to just enjoy the unexpected.

On the way, I came across another mosque (they’re truly everywhere) and went in to take a peek.  The main tourist mosques, the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, are certainly must-sees, but visiting the lesser known ones is a good way to feel the space as a religious sanctuary, away from the crowds.

Eventually found my way to the Kariye Museum.

Next, I tried to follow the old city wall all the way to the end.  Somehow I was under the impression that the wall was mostly intact and you can walk on top of the wall, clearly, I was wrong.  Most of it was crumbly, another good portion was under construction, so I had to take some detours and, of course, managed to get very turned around and very lost once again.

So, wandering around a sketchy neighborhood like this without a map and by myself was probably not one of the smarter things I’ve done recently, but I did get cool photos, so we’ll call it a wash.

Found the wall again!

In the afternoon, I took a ferry over to Asia (no big deal) for a late lunch and explored the local market.  The colors were incredible!

People feed the gulls so swarms of them follow behind the ferries.

Just after sunset.  Unreal.

Day two was truly a whirlwind of all the major sights.  Above is the tile work found in the Topkapi Palace harem.

The Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sofia.  Photographers, if you visit Istanbul, bring a super wide-angle lens, if nothing else than to capture the inside of this architectural marvel.

Now we can’t really talk about Istanbul without talking about the food, which was in short, amazing.  My favorite country for food has been Singapore for a very long time now, and a part of me expected Turkey to take its place.  I have to say, Singapore keeps its crown (probably because I’m still a bit more partial to Asian food), but Turkey is a very close second.  The above is a traditional breakfast feast.

Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.

I’m really not a coffee drinker, but even I found Turkish coffee to be quite tasty.  It comes in a very tiny cup and about a third of it is the finely ground coffee itself, forcing you to slow down and take tiny sips.  The grounds can then be used to reveal one’s fortune.  I think I see an angry owl in mine, not quite sure how to interpret that.

Another thing about this city is that it’s full of cats.  Seriously, the cat population density here rivals that of the squirrels on most American college campuses.  This one here was my favorite.

The world is a big, beautiful place, and for me, travel is the best way to experience that sense of awe and wonder.

Nostalgia for the Golden Age of Hollywood

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

I’ve always loved the look of old Hollywood black and white portraits.  The drama and glamour that radiated from those photos of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and the likes have been seldom (if at all) replicated since.  In this little side photo project, I tried to recapture a bit of the feel that era.

Mother’s Day 2012 – Orange County Lifestyle Shoot

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, my mom invited two of her closest friends in California for a photoshoot and picnic.  They met each other when we all first arrived to the US and were living in Kentucky, almost two decades ago!

Beautiful ladies.  I really hope I look this good when I’m in my 50s…

Jessica and her mom.  They look like sisters!

Jessica and her godmother.

Hanging out with a bunch of girls on a photoshoot was probably not Frank’s idea of a fun Sunday afternoon, but he was a good sport.

The hat was the perfect prop for such a sunny day!

Cover Girl.

We had the moms fan Jessica with my reflector to get a little bit of breeze.  Doesn’t her hair look awesome?!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dabbling in Self Portraiture

Monday, March 19th, 2012

It’s quite amazing how many photographers don’t have that many photos of themselves.  We’re all just having so much fun staying behind the camera shooting other people.  So for a little change in perspective, I set up my tripod and got in front of my own camera.  With a little inspiration from Degas, I was able to create this piece:

Back in Vegas – One Year Later

Monday, February 27th, 2012

It’s mildly ironic that I can view the changes in my life this past year through the lens of Las Vegas.  I have a hard time thinking of a more superficial city than this place, but as I drove through the glitzy Las Vegas strip, I found myself feeling deeply reflective.

One year ago, I flew to Las Vegas from New York City to visit a client site on behalf of Morgan Stanley.  The client was showing potential investors from China some renewable energy assets and I was sent to babysit and translate.  I stayed at the Four Seasons near Mandalay, had a $100 daily meal budget, and was driving a nearly brand new rental car.  Not a five star getaway by any means, but it was very comfortable.

Fast forward to a year later, I spent my first two nights in Vegas in a hostel (yep, I shared a dorm room with strangers).  Being way more budget conscious, since I was spending out of pocket, I tried to book hotel rooms last minute when prices usually drop without realizing that it was President’s Day weekend and there weren’t cheap rooms available (Joyce and Sonam, if you two ever read this, you guys have clearly rubbed off on me).  Despite having spent many nights in hostels while traveling through third world countries, this was my first time staying in a US hostel and it was nothing to write home about, came complete with funny smells and a lumpy mattress.

I was also trying not to spend too much on food, so I actually packed a cooler with nutri-grain bars, apples, and those little $1 buns with sweet fillings from the Asian grocery store.  I must admit, I missed my corporate AmEx when I walked by Joel Robuchon in MGM, where I had dinner a year ago.

As for the car, it actually was falling apart.  I drove my parents’ 12-year old Toyota Corolla that has perhaps lived through one too many Michigan winters filled with salted roads.  About 4 miles south of Las Vegas, the rusty metal band holding up the muffler finally gave out and the muffler started to drag on the ground.  For someone who hasn’t driven that much nor knows much about cars, let’s just say the loud sound of metal from one’s car scraping on the highway is somewhat heart attack inducing.  I was fairly certain it was setting off sparks and my car was going to blow up any minute.

Suffice it to say, my trip to Las Vegas last week was much more of an ordeal than the trip a year prior, but here’s the flip side.  I was there for the annual WPPI Convention, the biggest event for wedding and portrait photographers.  I went to hear amazing photographers (whose blogs I’ve been stalking) talk about their experiences and share their wisdom.  It was exciting, educational, fun, and most importantly, it was for me.  It was one more step in my journey, following my dreams and passion back into the art world.  I walked away feeling so motivated to do what I’ve set out to do, and compare this to a year ago, well, it was day and night.  I was happy to be in Vegas a year ago because it allowed me to leave the office, but the thought of going back had kept me in a constant state of dread and misery, and now I don’t really know what those words feel like anymore.

It really is amazing how much can happen in a year.  At the risk of sounding like a train wreck of cliches, being true to myself and following my dreams was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I don’t know what the future holds, the economy still kinda stinks, the competition is fierce, and I’m still adjusting to a new city, but I find that the uncertainty doesn’t scare me (much).  I’m doing something that makes me happy, so I have faith that things will work out at the end.


Oh!  And I found complete strangers who helped me fix my car!

I called for a car towing service who told me it was okay to drive but go slow, so I managed to get it off the highway and into a parking lot.  There, I found a security guard who just happened to have wires and a plier to help me tie the muffler up so it was off the ground.  Later, a guy at the hostel offered to find me a proper thingamajig from the hardware store to bolt the muffler back into its place and fixed everything up.  I love nice people!

Adventures Through Asia

Friday, January 20th, 2012

For the past three months, I have been taking a mini-retirement in Asia. I spent most of that time in China visiting with my grandparents.  I’m very lucky that all four of them, though already in their 80’s, are all alive and in relatively good health, but they are getting old so I try to make the effort to see them as much as possible.  This also conveniently allowed me to use Shanghai as a base to explore more of Asia.

This is Zhujiajiao, Shanghai’s version of Venice.

At the end of October, I took the bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing, and saw the capital for the first time.  The city truly had some of China’s most amazing treasures.  The Great Wall and the Forbidden City were awe-inspiring.  On the flip side, the smog was also a force to be reckoned with.  It did, however, make for some very artsy photos.

I also visited Nanjing with my mother, and climbed the many steps up Zhong Shanlin (Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum) for a gorgeous view from the top.

And then we spent two days in the small city of Yixin, and saw the house in the countryside where my great grandmother had lived.  My mother spent many summers here as well, and it was wonderful to finally put images to the stories she told me of her childhood.

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, a few close friends and I met up for two weeks in Japan and South Korea.  Our first stop was Tokyo, and I must say, Japan is one of those rare countries that far exceeded my expectations.  The most surprising aspect being the orderliness and politeness of the locals.  Arriving from Shanghai, this was culture shock.  There was utter silence on the subways and trains, there was no trash to be found on the streets despite the seeming lack of trash cans, and every single person we asked directions from was overwhelmingly helpful (two of whom walked us to our destination).  Japan is also one of the most beautifully designed countries I’ve ever seen, everything from its food to its temples and gardens appear to be meticulously crafted down to the last detail.  However, as much as I loved this place, I do have to say that Tokyo was one of the most difficult cities I’ve ever tried to navigate, as (1) the are multiple subway and rail systems stacked on top of each other with different ticketing booths and (2) the city planners apparently didn’t think much of actually labeling streets.

This is a food stall outside of the Asakusa, the main part of old Tokyo.

A wish hung at the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park that made me smile.

To see the famous tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, we woke up at the ridiculous hour of 3:30 am.  Only 60 or so people were allowed in every day at the crack of dawn so we wanted to make sure we got spots, but we were clearly too enthusiastic because there were only two people in front of us as we stood in the cold dark alley by the entrance.

Afterwards, we crammed into a tiny restaurant in the market called Sushi Dai for the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted.  The tuna belly melted in my mouth, the uni was sweet, and the clam was still wiggling.

We lucked out and arrived in Kyoto just in time to see the leaves turn scarlet.  Normally, this would have happened earlier in the year, but thanks to climate change, it was an unusually warm fall and early winter, the colors came a bit late.

I felt like I was transported back in time walking through the wooden houses in the geisha district of Gion.

For our first dinner in Kyoto, one of my friend’s uncle (who also hosted us) treated us to a Japanese BBQ dinner that still makes my mouth water when I think about it.  It was a feast for both the tastebuds and the eyes and came complete with a mini bio of the cow that contributed to this bountiful meal.

My favorite place in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, with its bright orange and red torii gates that led all the way up the mountain.  My friends and I spent so much time photowhoring here that we didn’t actually make it that far up the mountain before it got dark, but hey, we got some amazing shots.

Next up was Seoul, with its beautiful palaces that serves as backdrops for a continuous stream of Korean dramas.  Guilty pleasure #1.

I also spent many hours sitting in various Paris Baguettes with a green tea latte and other buttery pastries they’ve cooked up (they make tapioca donuts that’s to die for).  Guilty pleasure #2.

The most educational part of this trip was probably our visit to the DMZ.  This was definitely a place full of contradictions.  While we were warned of the mines and the trigger happy North Korean soldiers staring back at us, the bus after bus full of tourists and the colored lights filled ride into the Third Tunnel made the whole experience mildly comical.   Of course, a few weeks after our visit, Kim Jung-il’s death and the regime’s power transition hit the airwaves, confirming the tension that still exists in this place.

The border.

I concluded South Korea with a few days in the old capital of Gyeongju and the seaside city of Busan.

Over the Christmas holidays, another group of friends, including my roommates from New York, and I decided to explore Vietnam and Laos.  Our first stop was the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.  When I first arrived to the city, I was in for quite a rude awakening.  The air here was dreadful, quite possibly worse than Beijing’s if it was at all possible.  Furthermore, it was crowded with motorbikes that made every crossing of the streets seem like a matter of life or death.  I found out from one of the locals that the motorbike population is the same as the human population in Hanoi, and they ride based on instinct, “don’t need traffic signs or rules, yeah!”  My strategy for the first day was to wait for a local to cross the street with me, making sure s/he walked on the side of oncoming traffic to create a buffer zone, just in case.  I had to keep telling myself that this was not how I die.  However, eventually I figured that these bike riders were better at what they do than I was at being a pedestrian so I just crossed the street paying them cursory attention.  A bit reckless perhaps, but my theory held true.  Hanoi did eventually grow on me, it just had so much energy, and dare I say, charm — the fruit vendors that went around with their conical hats, the old ladies selling the lightest french baguettes you’ll ever taste, and the banh mi chefs who made the most delightful roasted pork donar kebab sandwiches.

To balance out the bustling city scene, we headed over to the coast for a 2 day cruise in Halong Bay.  The limestone karsts jutted out of the water to create a landscape many travel books describe as “unearthly” (however, it bore a striking resemblance to other earthly places such as Guilin, China and Phang Nga National Park, Thailand).  All jests aside, it was a lovely two days that even included some kayaking and cave exploring.

It’s the Michigan rock, shaped like a mitten!

Last up on this grand Asia circuit was Laos.  If I were to give Laos a superlative (and I love superlatives), it would be the most colorful.  I swear the even the sky was bluer in this country.  The temples were white and gold, flanked by purple and magenta bougainvillea blossoms, with monks in saffron robes wandering in and out.

Sunset over the Mekong River

The main attraction in Luang Prabang was the alms ceremony that takes place every morning.  I think I woke up three different times to go outside and check to see if it started as we didn’t actually know their schedule.  While it was a unique sight to see, in some ways, it was also a sad reminder of what tourism and money can do to a country’s culture.  People here are devoutly Buddhist, handing out food to the monks is a sacred act, but because so many tourists come to see this, and bring with them their money, the entrepreneurial minded have started selling food for the tourists to hand out to the monks.  Not all of this food is good to eat so monks have been known to get sick as a result, and we were advised to prepare our own food if we wanted to participate.  We ended up leaving the alms giving to the locals.

This is the first time I went down to the main road to check, sun wasn’t up yet, so I went back to sleep (also, roosters in Laos crow throughout the night and well into the day, not just when the sun comes out, sneaky birds).

Finally, I’ll leave you with one last photo from my travels.  I think it’s a good reminder that no matter where we go, who we meet, how different we appear to be, we’re all more alike than we think.

Wedding Inspiration – Venue

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Happy Monday!  Today, I want to share with everyone one of my favorite places in America, Oak Alley Plantation.  Located in Vacherie, Louisiana, an hour west of downtown New Orleans, it’s a beautiful estate with two straight rows of gorgeous, ginormous live oaks planted in the 18th century. Can you imagine having a wedding here and walking down the aisle flanked by those majestic trees?

And it was my parents’ 26th wedding anniversary.  Happy anniversary mom and dad!

Afterward, we went over to watch the sun set over the Mississippi River, and I nabbed this awesome shot.

New Camera, New Outlook on Life

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Welcome to my photography blog and welcome to my new life!  I’m so excited to share this journey with you.

Since the day I developed enough motor skills to hold and maneuver a pencil, I’ve loved art – drawing, painting, and sculpture.  The creative process made me feel fulfilled in a way that nothing else could.  However, when I discovered wedding and portrait photography, I felt another world open up to me.   Upon much reflection, I realized that what had held me back from pursuing a career in fine arts was not merely because the concept of “the starving artist” was drilled into me as a child or that there was too much pressure to “be practical and get a real job”, but because no one else could love my art as much as I did.  They were simply too personal to me because I alone had watched the process of their creation.  I couldn’t bear to send them off into the world by themselves.

Wedding photography, however, is different.  While I am still able to exercise my creativity in composing and capturing every image, you, the subject, will be equally active in the process.  Art that’s created from our collaboration will encapsulate some of the most important memories of your life, and with that knowledge, I am confident that you will cherish and love these works of art just as much as I will.

It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point today.  After spending my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan pursuing a business degree and then another two years on Wall Street making spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations, I thank God every day that he has put me back on the artistic path.  This is what “right” feels like.

Lastly, big huge thanks to Shang Chen for taking me under her wings this summer and showing me how the wedding photography industry works, I really could not have done this without your inspiration and help.

Bookmark this site and come back to visit me soon, there will be many many new pictures to come in the next few weeks!



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