Learning Photo Editing: Advanced Lightroom Tools

I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on this editing series, so thank you to everyone who has reached out! For the third post in the series, I’m going to talk about a few advanced editing tools in Lightroom that I think every professional photographer should be familiar with. I’m going to explain how to use the HSL panel and split toning.

New to this series? No problem! You can catch up by reading my post on different editing softwares and my tutorial on editing in Lightroom.

Photo Editing Blog Post Series

The HSL Panel

Ah yes, the HSL panel. It looks like some weird rainbow of sliders, but it gives you so much control over the colors in your image. You can use the HSL panel to help you develop a distinctive style or color palette for your images, or use it to refine the skintones of your subjects and get them just right. It’s located on the right side panel in Lightroom, beneath the tone curve.

HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance, and all three have their own sub-panels within the HSL tab. You can switch back and forth between the three by clicking on their titles, or click All to have them all displayed at the same time. Lightroom has each slider color coded to give you a sense of how each slider changes an image, but we’ll go panel by panel and I’ll show you what kind of adjustments I make to a test photo using the HSL panel.

The hue section allows you to tweak colors. Lightroom gives you 8 sliders, each of which have a spectrum with two differently colored ends. The yellow slider, for example, is a true yellow in the center, while the left end is more of an orange-yellow. The right extreme is a yellow-green. I make hue adjustments to correct any color skew produced during the course of editing. For example, when I’m photographing clothing for a brand, it’s important that the colors of the clothing are represented accurately to customers. Another great use for it is to produce color tones that help distinguish your photographic style. For example, I alter the greens in a lot of images because I don’t like the bright yellow-green that a lot of plants in Texas show up as in photos. Below, I’ve used the sliders to tweak the yellows and greens towards a yellow-green and green-blue respectively in the image to achieve cooler greens that are less yellow. (Note that all basic adjustments to the image have already been made. You can find a walkthrough of how to make those here.)

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The change gives me the cooler greens I want without me having to change the overall white balance of the photo (which would change their skin tones as well). In this photo, I’m able to use the sliders to globally adjust all yellows and greens in the photo. If one of the subjects were wearing yellow or green clothing, however, I would have to use an adjustment brush to brush my hue changes only onto the background, or the colors of their clothing would also change.

You can use the saturation panel to decrease the saturation of any overwhelming or unwanted colors, or pump up any that you want to be more dominant in the photo. Moving a slider left decreases saturation (full desaturation turns a color gray) while moving it right increases saturation. On warmer skin tones, I sometimes bring orange saturation down a little to prevent them from skewing too orange when I increase the temperature of an image. In this test photo, I think the greens are a little overwhelming after the hue adjustment, so I’m going to bring their saturation down a bit so they look less fake. It’s a fairly subtle change, but I think it helps draw the eye more to the couple than all the green.

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The third sub-panel is luminance. Luminance is easy to confuse with saturation, but instead of ranging from gray to saturated color, each slider goes from the darkest shade of a color the lightest. (Essentially from almost black to almost white.) I use the luminance sliders most often when adjusting skin tones. Above, I mentioned desaturating orange for overly warm skin tones, but too much desaturation can make subjects look gray. So if I feel like the skin still looks too orange, I’ll bump orange luminance up, altering the orange tones to be lighter. In our test image, both subjects have fair, pink-toned skin. His skin (especially his ear and the shadowy area by his mouth) is looking a little ruddy, so I’m going to bump red luminance up. (I’ve zoomed in so you can see it a little better.)

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My final note on the HSL panel is that for those of you that aren’t a fan of using the sliders, or if you aren’t sure which slider is right for the color you want to adjust, all three HSL sections have a little clickable target at the top left. Once you select it, you can click and hold on any part of your image to choose a color to adjust and then drag your mouse up and down (up correlates to right on the sliders, down is left) to adjust the hue, saturation, or luminance. Your pinpointed selection will tell Lightroom which sliders to change in response.

Split Toning

Split toning is a way to manipulate the colors in isolated tone ranges of an image. You can use it to add certain colors into either the highlights or shadows of an image. This lets you use it to cancel out undesirable tones or add a unique stylistic element to your work. I personally think split toning is such an incredibly powerful tool, and it’s definitely one that every photographer should become familiar with. The split toning panel is just below the HSL panel, and is divided into sliders for highlights and shadows. The hue slider lets you select what color you want to introduce, and then you use saturation to add varying degrees of it into the image.

In the below test image, I’ve already made all my basic and HSL edits, and I’m going to use split toning to stylize the image a little more. I wanted slightly icier highlights because I felt like the overall image was trending orange, so I introduced some aqua/blue into the highlights. To keep from the whole photo from shifting too blue, I added some warmth back into the shadows with yellow. If you focus on the highlights in the image (the  sky, the brighter areas of her face, and the white on her dress) you can see the shift to blue. You can similarly look at shadowy areas to see the difference in the shadows.

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One of the reasons I think split toning is so powerful is because color tone shifts help visually distinguish your style and can also help you imitate specific styles, such as the color shifts produced by different film stocks. I personally use it mostly on my editorial work, and focus on HSL for any color manipulation on my usual client work, but there are plenty of photographers who use both on a daily basis. (A great example is Ben Sasso, one of my favorite photographers. Read his post on manipulating tones using HSL and split toning here.)

That’s all for this post! I hope learning about these two advanced tools will help you take your editing to the next level! Have something else you want me to discuss in this editing series? Let me know in the comments!

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Learning Photo Editing: Basic Adobe Lightroom Tutorial

Welcome back to my editing series! If you haven’t read the first post, check it out for an overview of available editing softwares and a breakdown of where to find things in Lightroom. In this post, I’m going to go over the basic sliders in Lightroom’s Develop module to show you how they work and how to use them for editing.

Photo Editing Blog Post Series

Basic Panel

I think the basic panel is actually sufficient to make the majority of major changes to an image, like tweaking exposure, contrast, and saturation. It’s a great place to focus your attention especially if you’re new to editing. When I edit, this is where I make most of my adjustments. As I walk you through this panel, you can see how each set of sliders makes a difference in my test image.

LRblogbasicpanelFirst up is the white balance dropper in the top left. This is a way to let Lightroom do the heavy lifting on any image where the white balance of an image is pretty far off. All you have to do is click on the dropper and then click on a neutral color in the image. A true black or white (meaning something that you know is definitively black or white in real life) works best, though a neutral gray can also work in a pinch. I think the dropper is best used to correct images with heavily skewed white balance (or at least get them back in the ballpark of correct white balance) but I prefer the sliders most of the time to make adjustments.

To fine tune white balance (or adjust it further if the dropper isn’t getting it quite right), you have the temperature and tint sliders. Lightroom has helpfully color coded them to remind you what each does, but I encourage you to slide them back on forth on a test image to see for yourself. The temp slider is measured in degrees of Kelvin, so a warmer or higher temperature is correlated with a higher number. “Warming an image up” adds more yellow while “cooling an image down” by pulling the slider to the left causes it to take on more of a blue tint. The tint slider plays a similar role but with magenta and green. The original image below is backlit so it’s a little too cool, and the green plants around her reflect some green onto her skin. I’ve warmed it up and added a touch of magenta back in to make her skin look less blue/gray. (You can see the sliders move on the right.)

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The next set of sliders are exposure and contrast, which control brightness and contrast (obviously). The exposure slider brightens everything in the photo, as opposed to the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders, which isolate a portion of tones in the image. Our test image is underexposed, so I’m going to raise exposure and use the contrast slider to add a little extra pop. I like my images bright with a little bit of punch, so I’m raising exposure and contrast significantly.

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The next four sliders help you make isolated adjustments to your image. Moving the shadows or blacks sliders to the right makes the darker areas of your image lighter, while moving left makes them darker. I pull my shadows and blacks down when I want to add more contrast without changing my highlights/whites, and raise them when I feel like darker areas of an image are too dark. Raising highlights and whites can add an extra pop of brightness to an image, and I find a little boost in both helps skin look a little more luminous. If something bright in the image is “blown out” (AKA so bright that it has lost detail), dragging highlights or whites to the left can help recover some detail.

In our test image, I wanted to add back some of the depth/richness without the bright areas of the image getting too washed out, so I pulled the blacks down and raised the shadows to prevent it from getting too contrasty. I also brought the highlights down a tad.

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The histogram, shown below, has five click-and-draggable sections (blacks, shadows, exposure, highlights, and whites) and can be used in place of these sliders in the basic section. The sliders move in pre-determined increments while the histogram can be freely adjusted, so I generally prefer the histogram. The tone curve plays a similar function, and is another way to adjust contrast and shift the highlights/shadows in a more visual fashion than the sliders. Portions of the curve can be clicked and moved, just like the histogram. I encourage you to play with both along with the sliders to see which method works best for you!

The last three sliders in the basic panel are clarity, vibrance, and saturation. Increasing clarity makes the image sharper and more defined. A tiny boost in clarity can help bring out detail, however I think it’s really easy to go overboard with it, and for the most part, I think images that are in focus that already have their contrast increased don’t particularly need the adjustment.

Vibrance and saturation are both adjustments to the colors in an image. Saturation is a global adjustment, making all colors in the image bolder and brighter. Vibrance plays a similar role, but focuses on the softer colors in the image and doesn’t pump up skintones so much (AKA it won’t make everyone in your photos look like they got a really bad spray tan). I prefer not to touch the saturation slider, but the vibrance slider can lend your images a little boost in color (use it with a light hand).

And that’s your tutorial to the basic panel in Lightroom’s Develop module! Here’s a final before and after of the image, with only the adjustments we made in the basic panel. As you can see, just this one panel can make a pretty big difference if you use it to its full potential!

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What do you want to see in the next blog post? Let me know in a comment below, or you can always DM me on Instagram.

Learning Photo Editing: Editing Tools & Lightroom Basics

Editing is one of the the topics that I get the most questions about, so I decided to create this series of blog posts to go over some fundamental topics that I find really important for photographers who are learning to edit. I personally enjoy editing my work, and improving my editing skills helped me take my work to the next level professionally and enabled me to augment my income by editing photos for other photographers.

In this post, I’m discussing my most used editing tools and breaking down some basics in Adobe Lightroom, my primary editing software.

Photo Editing Blog Post Series

(Small disclaimer before we jump in: these posts are designed with the advanced amateur or pre-professional photographer in mind. I’m writing with the expectation that you’re already knowledgeable about camera settings and lighting and use RAW format.)

Editing Software

There are plenty of different options to choose from out there, but I’m an Adobe purist when it comes to editing. I use the Creative Cloud Photography plan, which costs me ~$11/month (including tax) and gives me access to Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC. Lightroom helps me manage and organize large numbers of photos at once (i.e. from shoots or weddings) and has all of the editing capabilities I need on a daily basis. I can make exposure, tone, and color adjustments and have access to tools that can be used for light retouching. I rarely use Photoshop, but I like having it just in case I need to do some more heavy-duty retouching such as removing background objects, etc. Photoshop is an excellent resource for portrait photographers that want to do advanced retouching like skin-smoothing, contouring, or altering. (I choose not to use these techniques on my clients, thus I edit almost exclusively in Lightroom)

If cost is an obstacle, Adobe offers a student discount and also has free trials if you want to test the software before investing in it. There are also free or low cost alternatives to Adobe products if the interface isn’t a good fit for you or you’re looking to save money. GIMP is a free alternative to Photoshop (it’s actually what I used when I first started) and RawTherapee is a free alternative to Lightroom.

Lightroom Anatomy

Since Lightroom is my home base for all things editing, I wanted to break down some of its basic features in this post. (Later posts in this series will go into detail on my most used tools, but if you have a specific question, feel free to leave it for me in the comments!)

Lightroom is organized into different modules that are presented as tabs on the top right of the screen. I spend my time primarily in the Library and Develop modules. The Library module, shown below, lets you view thumbnails of photos and is where you import/export images. It also lets you see an overview of each image: the metadata, histogram, and any keywords or comments you want to add to each image. The slide on the lower right hand side lets you adjust your thumbnail viewing, and the film strip at the bottom and the right and left hand panels can all be collapsed to give you an unhindered view of your images. (The GIF shows what the module looks like with and without all the sidebars collapsed.) I usually leave them in place unless I want to scroll through a shoot and check my images for consistency without anything else taking up screen space.

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The Develop module is where the editing action happens. Once you click on Develop, the side panels change to include your editing tools (the film strip on the bottom remains the same to help you navigate between images quickly). Just like in the Library, all the panels are collapsible.

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The left panel gives you access to your presets (I’ll discuss these in depth in another post) and if you scroll down, it shows you an image’s editing history so you can step forward and backward among changes. The right panel holds all your editing tools packed into little compartments that you can collapse and expand depending on your needs. (The above image shows the topmost compartment, the basic panel.)

Above the sliders are 6 icons that from left to right that are the crop tool, spot removal tool, red eye correction, graduated filter, radial filter, and adjustment brush. And at the very top is the beloved histogram. (Okay, maybe it’s just beloved to me, but the histogram is my life.) The histogram tells you at a glance how the data in your image is distributed across the blacks, shadows, highlights, and whites (AKA what the exposure is like) and lets you make refined tweaks by dragging each section of the histogram back and forth. I use this all the time to make adjustments to exposure and contrast without scrolling down to find those sliders.

I rarely use the other modules, though the print module can be useful to put together photo collages in Lightroom or format images for printing. I prefer to export my images from Lightroom and do any remaining print prep during or after exporting!

The next blog post in this series will break down in detail the sliders you find in the Develop module along with before and after images, so stay tuned!

Best of 2017: Travel

If you haven’t seen part 1 of my Best of 2017 posts, go check out my favorite portraits from this year here.

Ah, travel. Like a lot of other college students, I don’t often get the chance to travel. Most of my summers are spent taking classes or working, and my student-sized budget limits my travel options. However, I took a few weeks off from all things academic this past summer to travel in the western U.S. I visited a handful of national parks, spent some time eating myself to death in Vegas (I wasn’t 21 yet so my options were limited) and took a few (okay, a lot) of photos.

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I feel the need to preface this section by saying that I am absolutely not a travel or landscape photographer, but I did my best! This past summer was actually the first time that I carried my DSLR with me throughout an entire trip, most of which was hiking in various national parks in the U.S. I ended up loving some of these photos so much that I printed a selection of them to hang in my apartment, so enjoy!

The first photos in this set are from my visit to Zion National Park in southwest Utah. I was only there for a few short days, but Zion quickly became one of my favorite parks ever for its mixture of towering rock cliffs, beautiful rivers, and lively wildlife. I hope to go back soon!

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This last image above from Zion is weirdly one of my favorite shots ever, even though four out of five of the people in the photo are complete strangers. (My father is the one with the backpack and the tan cap on the right.) Something about the winding path along the steep cliff face combined with the centered hiker in the wide-brimmed hat, I guess.

Bryce Canyon, captured in the images of below, creates some really striking images with its vibrant red-orange rocks and towering spires. I spent most of my time hiking around the upper rim, where I could photograph the sprawl of the canyon from up high. The hoodoos (the rock towers) are actually massive, towering pillars, but I liked that they looked almost like little soldiers in formation from a distance. I spent a few hours navigating the steep switchbacks that lead into the canyon, pictured in the last photo.

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Arches National Park and Monument Valley were two really fun places to photograph, though the rock formations are much more impressive in person. While they don’t look that intimidating in the photos, I challenge you to look for people, roads, and cars in the images that will give you an idea of the scale of these monuments. Arizona’s Monument Valley at sunset, in particular, was a joy to shoot. The blaze of the sun lent so much rich color and drama to the images, making them some of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken.

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I’ll admit to being kind of obsessed with the the West and East Mitten Buttes, both for their unique shape and adorable name. The above photograph was taken on foot from one of the trails, while the ones below were taken from a higher vantage point near sunset. Look at the difference that the light makes!

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The last set of travel images I wanted to share is from Antelope Canyon in Arizona. I was absolutely thrilled to get to take my camera with me as we descended into the lower part of the canyon and wove our way through. Most of the passages are very narrow, making it so that I had to turn sideways to squeeze through some areas. The walls also block out a great deal of sunlight, making it somewhat dark (but blessedly much cooler than the desert outside). Before visiting, I was skeptical of the photos I’d seen, with their vibrant reds and purples. I thought the photographers had just pumped up the vibrance and saturation during editing, but as you can see below, the colors in the canyon are absolutely real. The guide told us that they shift throughout the day based on the angle of the light filtering down through the canyon, so that no two photos of the canyon are ever identical.

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That’s a wrap on 2017 travel photos, thanks for sticking around! I’m looking to take another trip this summer, so please send me your suggestions! I have never traveled to Europe or the majority of Asia, and would especially love to shoot in both places. And don’t forget to check out part 1 of this post!

Best of 2017: Portraits

2017 was full of amazing photographic experiences for me. I got to work with so many great clients, from my spring and fall seniors to local bloggers, and document some really memorable experiences of my own. I am so excited to be able to share my favorite portraits from this past year all in one blog post! (Stay tuned for travel photos, coming soon in a separate post.)

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Real talk: senior portraits are my bread and butter. It’s what I first started shooting three years ago, and it still makes up the bulk of my work! I have so much fun shooting with my fellow Longhorns and every graduation shoot makes me even more excited for my own this spring. This year I also incorporated some more work with couples, which has been a really fun change!

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I also wanted to include some of the amazing collaborations I participated in this year. For those of you that didn’t know, I actually got my start in photography as a blogger back in the day. (Surprise!) Shocking, I know, since I currently can’t be bothered to wear makeup, do my hair, or wear anything other than workout clothes. Still, I always love working with local fashion and lifestyle bloggers. Enjoy some of my favorite shots from shoots with bloggers and brands below.

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I shot these product images for Love Your Melon and Sume Jewelry, two businesses that make products that I absolutely love. (LYM also benefits a great cause!)

I met Jesse Coulter towards the end of the year, and got to shoot some winter and holiday outfits with her. She’s so funny and spunky, and I loved her style!

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Next up is my friend Jane, who is talented, genuine, and much more fashionable than me. Shooting with her is always such a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to more sessions as she builds her blog!

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Over the summer I also had the opportunity to shoot with Rachel Spross (a Longhorn alum) for the first time. I loved her outfits, and I would definitely recommend checking out her feed if you ever need style inspiration!

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Working with bloggers is something I’m looking to do more of next year, especially after I graduate college! If you’re a local blogger (or know someone who is), let me know! I would love to work with you.

And that wraps up my favorite portraits of 2017! It was such a great year for me, in that I had plenty of new experiences and got to push myself to learn new skills and further develop my style. I can’t wait for what 2018 has in store!

Didn’t get enough from this post? Part two is coming soon, with the best of my travel photos from 2017. Stay tuned!

 

 

UT Austin Class of 2016 Seniors | Mahrukh

Graduation shoots with my seniors are always so much fun, and it makes me so happy to be a part of a big milestone in their lives. Mahrukh graduated from UT Austin with her degree in Public Health, and we had a great time at her shoot (despite the chilly weather).

It was early Monday morning, so campus was still pretty quiet and we got to visit a lot of my favorite locations. We even had time to go downtown to Auditorium Shores to shoot with the Austin skyline in the background. She brought a friend to help her carry her outfits, and we squeezed in a few shots of them together at the end. Mahrukh is so sweet and smart, and I can’t wait to see where she’s headed next!

Catch some of my favorite shots from her session below.

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Glitter + Confetti Shots | Tips & Tricks

Throwing glitter or confetti in the air makes for a great photo, and it’s one of my most frequent requests from my seniors! They are so much fun to do, and I love that each and every one of them comes out unique.

In celebration of the beginning of 2017, I put together some of my favorite glitter photos from 2016, and included some of my favorite tips on how to capture a great confetti toss photo.

Tips + Tricks

  1. Get the good stuff: You’re looking for medium-sized pieces of glitter or confetti. If they’re too small, they won’t show up well in the photos, and if they’re too big, they’ll obscure your subject’s face. I particularly like sparkly and metallic types because they catch the light well and stand out.
  2. Watch the wind: If the wind is blowing from the left or right side of the subject, it’ll carry the pieces to one side and out of the frame while you’re shooting. You also don’t want the wind blowing into your subject’s face, since you don’t want glitter getting into their eyes and mouth. If it’s just a light breeze, put your subject’s back to the wind. If it’s especially gusty out, try to find a wall or overhang to protect you from the wind. (This is also a good reason to do your toss at the end of the shoot, so you don’t have to worry about glitter that’s stuck to clothes or in hair in later shots.)
  3. No puffer fish allowed: I prefer throwing the confetti in the air over having my seniors blow it to avoid “puffer fish face”, but a gentle reminder to pretend like they’re blowing a kiss generally helps 😉
  4. The low-high rule: For my camera setting savvy friends, shoot at a low aperture, like f2.8, and a high shutter speed around 1/200 or faster. The low aperture will blur out distracting background elements and make your subject and the glitter stand out crisply, and the fast shutter will help you avoid motion blur.
  5. Clean-up: If you’re shooting outside, do your glitter toss on pavement, not in the grass. It’ll make sweeping up the mess afterwards much easier. Alternatively, look for biodegradable confetti (yes, that exists), that you can safely leave behind. Leaving traditional glitter behind is inconsiderate and could harm wildlife.

Have questions? Leave them for me in the comments and I’ll get back to you! Now, enjoy my favorites from 2016 🙂

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Summer Elopement | Desiree + JP

Ahh, Texas summers. Summer is the season of scorching heat and blinding sun, and surprisingly, a lot of weddings. When Desiree contacted me about photographing her intimate summer wedding at Chapel Dulcinea, I jumped at the opportunity. There’s something about simple ceremonies, with just close family and friends present, that connects with me. I love how the day is focused so completely on the couple and their love for each other, and their transition into a new life together.

JP and Desiree were staying in the guesthouse of a charming South Austin home, and I met them there to photograph them while they got ready. Everyone then drove to Chapel Dulcinea, a beautiful outdoor chapel that sits atop a cliff that overlooks the hill country. The chapel is especially unique because it allows couples to get married there at no cost.

Desiree put her finishing touches on, and then headed down the path to the chapel. JP and Desiree exchanged the vows that they wrote, slipped on their rings, and were married. In Chapel Dulcinea’s signature tradition, they got to ring the chapel’s church bell after the ceremony in celebration.

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Special thanks to the talented Alyssa Jarae Photography for second shooting.

Fall Golden Hour | Stephanie Wang

Golden hour is so much fun to work with, especially when the weather’s nice. There’s so much beautiful, warm light that gives all of the photos a unique feel. After having our original session rained out, I was thrilled to see the sun come out again!

I had the wonderful opportunity to shoot with Stephanie, a friend of mine from high school. She brought her amazing sense of style and her gorgeous smile, and we had loads of fun exploring different places around the UT Austin campus. (Can we just take a minute to talk about how cute both of her outfits were?) I had such a great time catching up with her, and love the photos. Check out some of my favorites below!

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UT Austin Social Work Council Officers

Fun fact: I got my start in photography by taking new headshots for college students. Every fall, I return to my roots and take fresh headshots for all of the UT Austin students looking to update their LinkedIn profiles and resumes before job and internship recruiting begins.

For the third year in a row, I got to photograph the UT Austin Social Work Council Officers, and could not have had more fun. One of my very first paid shoots was with the SWC Officers in 2014, and it has been an amazing experience getting to work with them every year as I learn and improve.

These women are so incredible, with their leadership and commitment to serving the community, and it is always an honor to get to shoot with them! They were definitely one of my favorite shoots this year, so check out some of the photos from their session below.

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