(and a couple thoughts on photo contests)

My submissions to wedding photography contests are relatively few. So, earning a Truckee engagement photos award (“Diamond Award”) from the WPJA is always good for some warm fuzzies. Even though it can be rewarding to see my images with a fancy stamp on them, I acknowledge the potential drawback. Namely, winning photography contests does not necessarily make me a better photographer for YOU. And trying to make photos with nothing but a contest in mind most definitely does not. Of course, every bride and groom wants beautiful photos. But contrary to what many people think, a significant part of your photography experience extends beyond the images themselves. In fact, an important part of how you feel about your photos comes directly from your experience at the time the photos were made. There are a number of important factors at play. In particular, I believe that being mindful, observing the present moment, and capturing what I see is worth far more than my ability to consistently construct contest-winning photographs.

Needless to say, many events and gatherings cancelled this year (2020). Which means I finally have the chance to catch up on some long overdue blogging. My plan is to get up to speed on all the weddings and engagements in the queue. I decided that along the way, I am also going to throw in some photos that garnered recognition of some kind from third parties. More than simply pat myself on the back (as I probably did here, once here, and again here), I want to dig a little deeper. 2020 is proving to be a year of self-reflection in so many ways, right? With that in mind, I plan to share more than just the images themselves. In this case I wanted to share two “award-winning” photos that are actually both from the same Truckee engagement photography session. This is about reflecting on what I see as a photographer, what I find interesting, and some of the elements I aspire to capture at every portrait session or wedding that I photograph.

A Few (of many) Lessons Learned

I met Lindsey and Chris for this session on Old Highway 40. This beautiful area continues to be my go-to spot for Truckee engagement photos. This is for a number of reasons. For one, the views are incredible.  Second, the access is easy. You don’t need a permit and you can park pretty much anywhere there is room to pull over. Third, there isn’t any private waterfront limiting where we can go. Lastly, sunset on the Sierra Crest provides more of a “Golden Hour” than many of the locations in the Tahoe Basin that generally go into shade well before dusk.

In spite of these benefits, there can be a major challenge trying to shoot here. Namely, exposure to the elements. If there is a thunderstorm, this is not where you want to be. If it is a little breezy at the lake, it can be nuking here. Wind gusts on the Sierra Crest can be well over 50 mph (even over 100mph!) during winter storms. If it’s a little chilly at the beach, you will surely need extra layers up here. Although some days are simply not salvageable, it can still seem “iffy” on other days. What I have noticed, however, is that I sometimes debate rescheduling when I should be doing the opposite- getting ready for exciting conditions! It is indeed a fine line. Scenic blue skies are commonplace in the Sierra. But what about those dramatic storm clouds? And the golden beams of light set against a background of dark rainclouds? Some of my favorite images come from days that I thought might be too cold, windy, or at risk of lightning.

Many brides and grooms that love North Lake Tahoe use their Truckee engagement photos for their event website and save the date cards.


Why I Like These Photos

In the first image, a summer storm was not far off. Even though the wind whipped up a few times, the rain stayed clear of us and rain clouds spread out across the sky above. As Lindsey and Chris walked along a narrow granite ridge, the clouds behind me parted and spotlighted them with golden evening rays. I photograph this location often. But it is a completely different photo when the background is simply blue sky. I think this image stands out because of the gradient of tones in the rock and sky as well as the contrast between light and shadow. I also love the lone pine tree sharing and balancing the frame. The viewers eye goes to the brightest part of the scene (the white pants!) and the movement of Chris sweeping Lindsey off her feet adds some dynamic energy to the frame. Although it can feel safer to shoot with a warm and sunny forecast, touch and go conditions sometimes yield beautiful and unique results.

The second image was taken while looking in the opposite direction. The same evening light illuminates Lindsey and Chris, this time coming from behind. During a brief moment when Chris pulled Lindsey close, I clicked the shutter. Technically, there is nothing mind-blowing about this image. Of course, the light is pretty. And the lens flare creating a leading line straight to them doesn’t hurt either. But I believe it is a special image, and I know they do too. Mainly because you can tell their interaction is genuine and authentically spontaneous. In the end, a beautiful moment always tops light or composition.

Engagement photos in Truckee are popular for couples getting married in Lake Tahoe.

Lindsey and Chris married at the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn. Since they both love Lake Tahoe skiing, their Squaw Valley winter wedding (click to see photos!) weekend kicked off with an 80’s ski party .

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