Life is about lifting up others

Lessons from my fathers: my thought process, without photos

First thought:

One of the many lessons I learned from my daddy was that in life, you must be good to others, and lift them up when you can.  I watched countless times as he would put himself out there to help a stranger for no good reason other than, “it was the right thing to do.”   He would not even speak about it, just do what was needed, and move about his life as though it was a part of his daily routine.

Second thought:

I know that for many, hiring a professional photographer can be an expensive endeavor that requires planning, saving, and sacrifice of both time and resources.   My grandfather has albums upon albums of photos of his 9 children growing up.  Even  at a time in history when it was not affordable for the average person to take photographs – he did.  He traded a Buick for a Contax camera, and for that – I am able to step back in time through his black and whites.   My daddy also picked up this habit.  We have mountains of photographs capturing monumental family moments like our road trip across America to find the best scoop of ice cream.  From my fathers, I learned the importance that a single frame can have in telling a lifetime of stories.

Third thought:

I am fortunate to have been cared for by such men.  It is more than I deserve.  My daddy was and is the role model that I aspire to be every time I think about my two daughters.  My grandfather is my best friend, and has taught me the value of humility, hard work and the importance of family.  I couldn’t imagine a world without them.

Unfortunately, there are some children out there who grow up without the benefit of a father.  I have a special place in my heart for the women who bravely raise their kids on their own when…  life happens.

My mother-in-law raised two beautiful and accomplished women on her own.  She did everything that she could and provided for them in every single way they needed.  I cannot count the number of sleepless nights I’ve had, taking turns with my wife, bouncing and rocking my babies because they could not find rest in their beds.  Then, the next morning I would have a full day of work, only to continue the cycle in the evening.  Again, I couldn’t imagine doing it alone, but I can tell by the way my wife cares for our kids that she was held, and she was loved as a baby.

Final thought:

After I graduated college and returned to Houston, I felt God calling me to to find community.   I started to attend a church that offered, to my surprise and joy, many complimentary services to single mothers – such as a mechanic on site to help them repair their cars.  I thought: that is the kind of tender Father that I want to serve:  One who looks out for the hurting and broken.   From that day, I have felt a mission to make this part of my ministry.

I feel like every family should have the same chance at memories like I did as a kid with photographs adorning the halls of the Chee Compound.  One thing I would like to do is serve those single mothers who might not be able to afford me as their family photographer.

I know being a mother is a thankless 24-7 full-time job.  I would not be the person I am without my mother.  She is the heart, soul, and glue of our family and she would do everything humanly and unhumanly possible to care for us.  I’ve never seen so much devotion from one person to one sole task… but I definitely felt loved every single day, to this day.  If I were to call her for help right now, she’d drop everything and be over instantly.  So to all of you mothers – “Thank you very much!”

With my limited schedule, I’m going to start off with 2 families this year, and then figure out how to do more.  This is not a viral marketing campaign like most “giveaway sessions.”  I am not looking for anything other than the chance to serve a few single mothers out there.   It is going to be handled as discreetly as I can think of:  through e-mail.  This may not be the best way to do it, but it will allow the family a bit of anonymity, and afterwards the choice if they want me to blog about them or not (no pressure).   I will gift those 2 selected:  a 2-hour weekend or weekday portrait session, and a custom box of 4×6 prints of the final images.  If you know me, I take great pride in my family sessions and hope this will be a fun experience.

Here are the guidelines:


– send me an email to

– In the title put the first and last name of the single mom

– Include contact phone number, email address of the mom, and then include her story and photos.

– I will select 2 single moms from the entries.

– Deadline: May 5, family will be selected on May 10 (mother’s day).

– the session must take place around/near Houston

– I know that every one of your entries will be special, and I thank you for your time, in advance, for helping me connect with these special women.

– Okay, Get workin!

– Lots of text, so thanks for reading this far.

– p.s. if you did not already wake up this morning thinking you needed to call your mom and thank her for putting up with you all these years… please hurry and do that now.  k. thanks.

Best wishes.


Thankful and a tangent

Excerpt from a previous blog 12/20/13:
In more ways that I can count, I have a lot to be grateful for this year.  I’m sure many of you feel similarly.
I have my faith that I can rely on; I have family and friends to walk beside me in life; I have a great job working with people that I respect; I have a roof over my head to protect me while I rest; I have clothes to guard my body and skin from the elements; and I have food to provide me with energy and sustenance to function throughout the day.  By my standards, I have more than I deserve.
To some people these are just the basics of life.  But for others, small things that we might take for granted, like a bed to sleep in, a friend’s shoulder to cry on, or regular meals, could be a foreign concept.  It can be especially difficult during the holiday season, when there is so much extravagance and waste, to deal with hardships.  It doesn’t always take donating money or “stuff” to give life back to someone who might have found themselves down and out this year.  Sometimes a smile or your company as a fellow human can warm hearts more than you might expect.   I am not advocating going out and volunteering at every soup kitchen that you can find (although that couldn’t hurt), but perhaps simply have your eyes open to suffering, and perhaps consider opening your heart in this season to a family or friend or stranger in your own way.
Shifting gears:

In several days, you will enter familiar territory – the merryness that is an intimate family/friend gathering.  Many of you will be surrounded by people who you might only see once a year, and you want to make sure that in this rare gathering of special people your camera skills are sharp.  I’d like to share 5 tips that should be helpful whether you are a seasoned pro, an avid iphone instagrammer, or a noob with a point-and-shoot.

1) Notice your surroundings – Reduce the clutter in your photo and think about what your subject is.  Think about all of the photos that you’ve taken that could have been GREAT but there was a trash can full of empty plates sitting next to grandma or looking at your family photo everyone is smiling and the sky is beautiful… but you have messy powerlines cutting through the background.   Separating your subject from the background can be achieved many different ways, the easiest is to just take a moment to look and avoid it.   Another way to separate your subject from your background is to actually create distance between your subject and the background, leaving your background more out of focus.  The last way I will mention to reduce clutter is to use your legs to move up/down and around your subjects to find the best vantage point.  Sometimes a simple shift of perspective can make an entirely different image.

2) Know your camera – The most rewarding exercise that will yield the largest gains towards capturing better images is to understand the tool that you are using.  There are so many functions that camera manufacturers pack into these new cameras, and many of them can be helpful in certain low light situations.  Read through your manual and get familiar with the camera’s special functions so that when the day comes to take the pictures, you don’t have to fumble through odd controls to get the right shot.  Auto mode will most definitely give you the worst possible shot… so make the most of what you paid for and explore those other modes.

3) Be patient and observe – For the best candid moments, you almost have to be an ineffective ninja.  By this, I mean that you have to be sly about the fact that you are taking photos, but also make yourself noticed by people in the room so that they are comfortable with you and your camera.  People have a strange way of posing oddly when a camera is in front of them… some shy away and some rise to the occasion with absurdity.  I find the best way to not be noticed is to carry a small camera that is not intimidating or that screams SMILE, let the people you are photographing get used to you with a camera in front of them while you are having conversation (don’t put it in their face), observe everything, and then casually take your photograph when the moment arises.  Don’t run around the room clicking as fast and as many shots as possible (that is a recipe for wasted time later on going through the photos).  But rather, be thoughtful, take your time, and anticipate and predict what will happen around the room, and put yourself (with your feet not with a zoom) in the right place at the right time.

4) Watch your light – Indoor photography is often a challenge for point and shoot cameras because they just don’t have the right hardware to do the job in really low light situations.  If you are indoors try to put your subjects next to a window (with sheer curtains to diffuse the harsh light), observe the lights around the room so that you don’t cast any strange shadows on your subjects, and try not to use direct flash unless absolutely necessary.  If you have off-camera flash, this website is a great resource to understanding light and using your flashes  Another thing to note about light is that it will affect your color balance in your photos.  All that your camera is smart enough to do is to try and find grey, and then match the rest of the colors based on that. Most indoor light will have a warm, orangish hue.  If you read your manual, your camera might have a way to correct this by modifying the color balance to match your surroundings.

5) Live in the moment –  The most important piece of advice that I can give you is to live in the moment.  Don’t let your want to take a photo or capture a moment with your iPhone take YOU away from the scene.  New studies released reveal that humans remember less since the release of smart phones with cameras.  The reason is that they view the world through the phone when they record everything, and because of this they are subconsciously storing it on their phones causing their minds not to remember the event happening.  Don’t let yourself get caught up in living moments through images.  Remember that those special moments in life cannot genuinely be reproduced, and you should enjoy it while it is happening, and use your photos to remind you of those moments.

Thank you for your support and comments.  I have appreciated all of them.  I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and hope that this year end brings you some good tidings.  If you have specific questions about your photography feel free to ask.

If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to comment below

When I grow up I want to be like…

Excerpt from a previous blog 12/13/13:
I had a chat with AndyO, a coworker, about my frustration with a recent call that I had taken from support, and I was reminded about the importance of patience.  Andy is Filipino, so in the spirit of our Asian-ness he used this moment to relate with idioms and fatherly advice.  Paraphrasing – He asked that if my daughter was doing something she was not supposed to be doing, would I lash out at her impatiently and in frustration, or would I take the time to calm down and try to use this as a teachable moment for myself and for my daughter?  My initial reaction, in jest, was to answer with the earlier; however, in retrospect, I believe it is a good idea to reach for patience when patience might be a hard tool to find. 
As a person in the service industry for over 9 years, I know that it takes a lot of deliberate patience to do my job really well.  My first two years, I felt like quitting every day, frustrated by tongue lashings by total strangers.  At times, I reminded myself that 99% of what I am feeling is not personal, even though a conversation might seem that way when I am on the other end of a bad call.   I largely felt this way until I was promoted to a management position, and decided to take a more personal investment into my career.  I learned that in this industry of customer service, success is measured by perception.  Not by our perception as the servicer, but by the perceived experience of the end user.  We are not doing anyone justice to leap head first into any reactionary emotion from how a service interaction is going.   Rather, it is our job to be true to who we represent, be honest at all times, and when things feel precarious, to look at how a conversation is going from the other person’s perspective.  If we find ourselves being untrue to our core values of servicing the client to our best ability, then that should be a call to reach into our tool bag and find some patience.  I think more than an occupation, this concept of deliberate patience is something that is life giving.
When I get home from work, I look at my little girl and I wonder how she views me as a person.  Am I too quick to react harshly with her mother or with other people?  Am I a good, kind and honest person?  Do I say inappropriate things around her?  Does she notice these things and emulate me?  Would I be proud if she grew up wanting to be like me?  
These thoughts encourage me to want to be the best version of myself not only to the people that I love, but especially to those perfect strangers.  Some people might think that it is ludicrous to requite rudeness with kindness and patience.  For me, I feel like it is just another chance to be the person I want to be.   

I encourage you to take a brief moment to think like a 14-year old idealist who wants to be somebody.  Who are your heroes?  Who do you admire and what qualities do you wish to aspire to?  Then take a moment to be introspective.  

Thanks for taking the time to read this – if you have any comments or questions please feel free to write a comment.