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: ‘Photography’

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











Tess & Andy | Featured!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Tess and Andy are featured on WeddingWire!  Stay tuned for more photos from their wedding.

Amy Bao Photography_Tess Andy Wedding_WeddingWire

Save Your Memories From Digital Purgatory!

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I love the instant gratification that comes with digital photography, but I also miss the film days when all the photos would get developed so there’s something physical to hold.  It seems that with the ease of sharing photos online, we often forget to bring them into the real world.  And that is unfortunate because there’s really something to be said about photos in printed form.  Whether they’re simply printed on photo paper and framed, or turned into beautiful leather-bound albums, or enlarged onto canvases, they will almost always look better than the pixels on your phone or laptop screen.

Camera and Gear

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

 A few friends have emailed me for advice about getting a camera over the past year, so I thought I’d share some of the advice I gave them here:

What kind of point-and-shoot should I get?

Don’t bother.  If you just want to be able to get snapshots of your life, get a phone with a high-quality camera.  When I got my iPhone 4, I gave my point-and-shoot to my mom (who has since upgraded to a fancy phone with a good camera as well).   I think the difference between a high-quality camera in those smart phones and the average point-and-shoot are becoming quite negligible, and the added convenience of the phone means you’ll actually end up taking more pictures.

I want a camera that can get DSLR-like quality photos but I don’t want to lug around a big camera.  What should I get?

You should probably consider investing in Micro 4/3 mirrorless ILC camera.  Both Panasonic and Olympus makes great cameras in this category.  They’re compact, portable, and allows you to change lenses, perfect for traveling.

Okay, I’m getting a DSLR, what kind should I get?  (We’re just talking camera bodies here…)

This is largely dependent on what your budget is and how serious you are about your photography.

If you don’t care that your camera is brand new, definitely check out craigslist.  Photographers upgrade their cameras all the time and you can find pretty good deals on second hand cameras.  One thing to be aware of, camera bodies (unlike lenses) do have a lifespan that can roughly be calculated by its shutter count or actuations (how many photos it has taken).  This obviously varies with model, but a very rough average for the life of a camera is about 100k actuations.

I think the biggest difference between a consumer/prosumer camera and a professional camera is the sensor size.  Consumer/prosumer cameras have a smaller sensor (cropped), while professional cameras will have a larger sensor (full-frame).  A full-frame sensor, across the board, will get you better image quality and better ISO performance, meaning you’ll get better photos when there’s very little light.

Just for fun and on a budget – go with something in the Canon Rebel series or Nikon D#### series.

If you’re pretty serious but not ready to splurge on professional gear – go with either the Nikon D90 or Canon 50D.

You want professional quality gear – go full-frame.  Full-frame cameras start a little north of $2,000.  For Nikon, D600, D700 (which I have), and D800 are all fantastic options.  For Canon, the 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III would be a good place to start.

Nikon or Canon?

Don’t we all love a good rivalry?  Honestly, both make excellent cameras (though it seems like Nikon might be winning in the pro market).  When I was shopping for my first DSLR, I was deciding between the Nikon D90 and the equivalent Canon 50D.  I ended up going with a Nikon because the reviews suggested that the body was sturdier and less prone to breaking.  Nikon cameras felt a little bit more solid, while Canon cameras I tried felt a bit more “plasticy” (but really, the difference was small).

However, if you want to get into video, I would go with Canon at this point.  For the longest time, the Canon 5D Mark II was the industry standard for videography.  The new Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 that came out earlier this year both have fantastic video capability, but reviews suggest that Canon still beats Nikon on this front.

Both Ken Rockwell and Laurence Kim do great reviews of specific cameras and gears on their sites.


If you’re serious about photography, this is where you’re likely to make the bulk of your investment.

First off, don’t bother with the kit lens, it’s usually a poor quality zoom lens with a small aperture that they try to bundle with the camera body.  It’s just a waste of money in my opinion.

Also, while Nikon and Canon both make phenomenal lenses for their cameras, if you want to save a little money and don’t care about brands, Sigma and Tamron make very good lenses for both Nikon or Canon bodies.

Lens 101

1.  Prime (fixed) lens v. zoom lens: A fixed lens has only one focal length, meaning if you want to zoom in or out, you have to use these nifty things attached to your body called feet.  A zoom lens, as the name suggests, allows you to zoom.  Prime lenses tend to be much less expensive than zoom lenses for similar, or even wider, aperture and they’re usually much smaller and lighter, which is why I shoot predominately with primes, but this means I also have to switch lenses more often.

The above are the prime lenses I use the most.  85mm f/1.8 is my favorite and gets me gorgeous portraits.  The 50mm f/1.8 is the first lens I had and is probably the most versatile.  The 28mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/1.8 I use for the occasional landscape and large group photos.  (Note that the 35mm is a DX lens, that means it’s made for the cropped sensor so I only use it on my D90).

2.  Aperture (f-stop):  This is probably the biggest determinant of lens price.  The larger the aperture (the smaller the f-stop number), the wider the lens can open up, the more expensive the lens.  The main benefits of having a wide aperture are 1) it allows in more light so you can shoot in lower light conditions, and 2) you can get a shallower depth of field (which I’ll discuss more in a later post about basic photography).

3.  Focal length:  This is how wide or zoomed in a lens is (##mm), the smaller the number the wider the lens, and in turn, the larger the number, the more zoomed in the lens.  In general, 35mm and below is considered wide-angle, which is great for street photography, architecture, and landscapes, and if you get below 17mm, that’s considered ultra-wide or fisheye, and you’ll get a good amount of warping effect around the edges.  50mm is considered a standard lens, meaning what you see through the lens is what your naked eye will see, a fairly all purpose lens and a great lens to start with.  70-200mm is a good range for portraits.  Anything above 200mm, you’re getting into telephoto territory (these tend to be big and heavy, and are great for sports, nature, and spying).  One thing to be aware of here, if you are using a camera with a cropped sensor, the focal length you will effectively get will be about ~1.6x what it says on the lens.  For example, my 50mm lens on my D90 body actually acts like a 80mm lens.

4.  Macro: If you want to take close-up photos of very small things (insects, dew drops) you’ll need a macro lens (which is usually denoted on the lens as “micro”, don’t ask me why).  It allows you to get very close to the object and focus on it.  Normal lenses tend to require you to be a certain distance away from the whatever you’re photographing in order for it to be able to focus.  You can also get macro filters to achieve similar results.  I only need to take macro photos for ring shots, which comprises all of maybe 1% of the photos I take, and I don’t want to have to carry around an extra lens just for that purpose, so I use the filters.

What did you start with?

As I alluded to throughout this post, I started with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens.  I still use both piece of equipment quite often (and can probably wax poetic about the 50mm for about a good half hour).  The 50mm f/1.8 is about $100 and you will NEVER find a better bang for your buck in the rest of your photography career.  If you’re brand new to photography, I would recommend putting the 50mm f/1.8 on your camera, set it to aperture priority, open the aperture to its widest (1.8), and go take some photos.  This is the fastest way to appreciate the power of DSLRs and see the difference between this and a snapshot you get from a regular point-and-shoot.

My D90 plus the 50mm.

This is one of the first photos I ever took with a DSLR.

For wedding photography, I also have a full-frame Nikon D700 and use the D90 as my backup.

What about flash?

That’s a great question!  Your camera will come with a flash unit attached.  DON’T USE IT!  Seriously.  (Okay, maybe there are exceptions, but those are very rare occasions).  I hate how the built-in flash unit is attached to the camera because it’s pointed straight at your subject, so if you’re taking a photo of a person, the flash will cause them to look completely washed out and create strong ugly shadows.  It’s just not a good thing.  Generally speaking, if you have a good camera with high ISO capability and a good lens that can open pretty wide, you won’t need a flash in most lighting conditions.

For those times when it really is too dark and you need some more light (especially indoors), get a separate flash unit.  I have a Nikon SB-900 Speedlight.  Most of the time, I attach it to my camera and point the flash up allowing the light to reflect off the ceiling, so it’s like I’m creating a light source from above, providing much more natural lighting.  I also use the small bounce card attached to the flash so it pushes some light forward onto the subject.  For wedding receptions, I have a second flash unit (SB-600) that I put on a light stand and sync it to the SB-900 with Radiopoppers.

There’s a lot you can do with flash and various off-camera lighting set-ups.  The Strobist is a great resource if you want to learn more about the topic.

At the end of the day, your camera and gear can only carry you so far.  Put an average quality camera into the hands of a great photographer and you’ll still get great images.  High quality camera and gear will certainly give your greater control and flexibility in creating your images, so get the best your budget will allow, but then focus on the technique and the art.  Good luck.


Shaina – Venice Canals Lifestyle Shoot

Friday, August 10th, 2012

After being in front of the camera so much, my friend Ling (who has been featured on this blog quite a few times) decided to try getting behind the camera.  We brought Shaina with us to Venice Canals and did a fun little photoshoot, and I was able to give Ling some pointers as she worked.

Here’s the lil’ baby duck photographer in action.

And here are a few adorable photos I snagged on my camera.

Love the flowy dress!


Ling, we’re going to miss you.  Good luck and have fun on the East Coast!

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.

10 Tips to Instantly Look Better in Front of the Camera

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Let’s face it, in front of the camera is not always the most comfortable place to be. Oftentimes, you swear you look way hotter in life than what the photos suggest (unless, of course, I happen to be your photographer ;-p ).  So here are some quick and easy ways to become more photogenic.

1. Have good posture and avoid slouching.  This makes you appear confident, taller, and more energetic.

2. Stick your chin forward a little (not up, forward) and then down a little.  This one is a bit less intuitive but, trust me, it’s the best antidote to even the slightest hint of a double chin.

3. Keep a little bit of space between your upper arms and your body, don’t smoosh arms against your side.  If you flatten your arms against your body, your arms will look wider (mind-blowing, I know).  If you don’t know what to do with your arms and hands, stick your hands in your pocket or rest your hands on your waist (a la models at the end of the runway) and bend your elbows a little.

4.  If you’re sitting down, perch on the edge of the seat instead of sitting all the way back and getting too comfortable.  If your legs are pressed against the seat of your chair, they will look wider, same idea as above.

5.  Stand at an angle to the camera instead of straight on, instantly slimming!

6.  If standing upright, it’s very flattering for most girls to put their weight on the leg further away from the camera (or push your hip away from the camera), bend the leg closer to the camera with your feet close together, and lean forward a little towards the camera with your chest.  Just remember that whatever is closer to the camera looks bigger and whatever is further away looks smaller.

7.  Relax your hands and fingers.  We’re not always conscious of our hands when being photographed, and sometimes out of nervousness, we unknowingly curl our hands into fists and or keep them very rigid.

8.  Wear flattering clothes.  Wearing clothes that fit well and that you feel comfortable in will go a long way towards enhancing photos of you.  If you know the environment you will be photographed in, you can plan your wardrobe accordingly.  Wear colors that will stand out from the background, don’t camouflage yourself into the scenery (i.e., green outfit and a green field of grass, not so good).

9.  Find good light.  Light is one of the most important elements in photography.  The golden hours around sunrise and sunset have the best light, it’s soft and glowy.  Bright direct sunlight tends to be unflattering because it creates strong highlights and shadows, not to mention it will be hard for you not to squint your eyes.  If you’re stuck getting your picture taken in the middle of a very sunny day, try to find a shaded area and get out of direct light.  If that’s not an option, close your eyes and have your photographer tell you when to open them when s/he is ready to take the photo.  This way you’re not stuck staring into the sun and tearing up, I’ve been there, not fun.

10.  Most importantly, have a real expression!  If you’re giving the camera your best smile, think happy thoughts, smile with your eyes and mouth.  This is not the time for the fake smile you give your boss when he hands you a stack of work.  I better see crinkles around your eyes!

Simple, right?  Now go try these out!


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:

WPPI 2012 – Review

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

For anyone who is serious about pursuing photography as a career, attending at least one WPPI convention is a must.  Held annually at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, it is the biggest gathering of wedding and portrait photographers in the world, and of course, comes complete with an all star line-up of celebrity photographers.

While it’s fun and educational, it can also be quite overwhelming. Here are some of my takeaways for those planning to attend in the future (especially for those looking to not blow a lot of money):


Register early, there’s an early bird special.  Register with other photographers as each registration comes with a full access guest pass (2 for 1 basically), and each guest pass after that is only $150.  Or you can always sell your guest pass to offset your cost.

If you’re in driving distance to Las Vegas, drive.  It’s great to have a car while you’re there.  This allows you to stay a bit further away from MGM, where the hotels are more reasonably priced, but still be able to get to the Convention Center easily.  The Riviera, Circus Circus, the Stratosphere, and Rio all have nice rooms, are a bit further up the Strip and are a fraction of the cost of MGM ($30-50s v. $150-200s).  I haven’t done the math, but perhaps renting a car while there is worth it too.  Aside from MGM, the Excalibur and Luxor are also in walking distance.  Room with friends and/or other photogs if possible.

Las Vegas is in the desert so it’s fairly hot in the middle of the day but very cold in the mornings and evenings, so dress accordingly.  I was freezing the first two days and eventually dug out my pashmina scarf from the bottom of my suitcase and kept it with me.  Wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking a bit.

Keep a supply of snacks on you during the day to keep your energy up.  MGM’s food court, restaurants, and buffet is a bit of a hike from the main Convention area (and pricey unless you’re eating fast food).  WPPI does provide dinner (at least every night I was there).


Full registration comes with access to all the Platform Classes, these are held in very big rooms with hundreds of people.  Master Classes, PLUS Classes, and WPPI U are all additional, but done in much smaller classroom settings.  I only attended Platform classes so I’ll just speak to those.

There are huge differences in quality between the various Platform Classes so definitely spend some time doing your research on the speakers.  Some speakers just end up giving a sales pitch, luckily I was able to avoid those.  SLR Lounge did a great review of the speakers from WPPI 2010 that I found to be very helpful.  You’re allowed to pre-board for five classes which guarantees you a spot, and I ended up switching all five of my classes a week before the event after a bit of research, and I was pretty happy with the classes I attended.

Sue Bryce did an amazing talk on her marketing strategy and how she built up her business in the first year, and delved into very specific business tactics she implemented to create the best possible experience for her clients.  She was the only speaker I saw who received a standing ovation at the end, and it was well deserved.  She’s also hilarious.

Suzette Allen did a very helpful demonstration of Photoshop tricks.  All her tutorials can be found here.

Dane Sanders and Colleen Wainwright both talked about competing in today’s economy and the use of various social media platforms.  While the information wasn’t entirely novel to me because I’ve been following the writings of Seth Godin for years, and his philosophy was central to both their presentations, the classes themselves were still well worth the time.  (Seriously though, read Seth’s works.)

I also really enjoyed presentations by Jerry Ghionis, Jasmine Star, Joe Buissink, and Jason Groupp (basically if their name starts with “J”, you’re good).

The amount of information thrown out is immense and you quickly realize that every photographer has his or her own philosophy towards their art and business, and often contradict each other.  For most people there, the goal is to just walk out of each class with 1-2 actionable takeaways.

Trade Show:

The trade show can be extremely overwhelming, and most photographers advise going in with a very specific shopping list and sticking to it.  I didn’t really need to buy anything specific so wasn’t swept up by the shopping frenzy, instead I used it as a way to get a thorough overview of the products and services available to me.  There are some good deals to be found at the trade show, so if you are on the market for certain items, this could be a good place to get them, but do your research.

In addition, many photographers and speakers do mini presentations on the trade show floor.  Since I missed some classes due to a conflict in schedule with other classes I wanted to attend, I was able to catch a few condensed versions at the trade show.

Jesh de Rox actually skipped presenting a class altogether this year and just did small demonstrations at the trade show, and he was amazing!  He demonstrated a technique he developed over the last few years called ‘Beloved’, where he gave people prompts that encouraged them to access their real emotions in front of the camera.  He took volunteers from the audience and had them laughing and crying in the middle of a Las Vegas trade show floor, it was incredible.

Overall, WPPI was a great experience and I came away with many ideas that I want to put into action.

“There are no such thing as perfect pictures, only perfect moments” – Joe Buissink

Katherine and Will – Anniversary Shoot in Beacon Hill

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

A big part of being a wedding photographer is knowing how to pose people.  More often than not, the couple you photograph have never had a professional photoshoot, and will require a good amount a direction from the photographer.  Ironically, to make people look natural and highlight their best features in photos sometimes require poses that can feel unnatural to them, to stand and lean in ways that they normally wouldn’t, and it’s the role of the photographer to guide and give clear instructions.  To give me more practice in posing, Shang invited two of her friends, Katherine and Will, for an anniversary shoot.

This one is probably my favorite, it reminds me of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor on the cover of Moulin Rouge.  So romantic!

A bit of fun with sunflares.

Katherine, who is incredibly creative, wanted to so something with shadows, and this is what we got!

I just love the colors and minimalist feel of of this photo.

More coverage of this photoshoot can be found on Shang’s blog here and Katherine’s blog here.


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