Category Archives: advice:

engaged!! now what? 7 wedding planning tips from a photographer

Wedding planning tips by me, a photographer.

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Happy New Year and congratulations on getting engaged! It’s fairy tale romantic, until the gargantuan task of planning a wedding hits you. Fear not, what you perceive as big issues are just brimming with possibilities. You may not want to hear some of this, but trust me things will go more smoothly if you consider the following wedding planning tips.

  1. It’s not all about you and your dream wedding, at least not in every situation. Recently I had a bride who wanted to dress like a ‘boy’ but she didn’t, because she wanted to make her terminally ill dad happy by wearing a dress.

Let’s talk about moms. It is about them too, like it or not. They also want to look gorgeous, and they often have a dream of what the day will be like. Humor them. They love you more than you’ll ever know. Unless you have kids, then you know.

  1. Choosing a bridal party is often a sensitive task. Especially if you want a big group and you have a lot of friends. Personally, I think people will get over it. And in many cases, be relieved that they weren’t chosen. But don’t be surprised if someone outside of your bridal party ends up being your angel on your big day. There is always, always someone who comes out of the blue and saves the wedding day. It may be your sister or your maid of honor, but often it’s a random friend who sews your dress back together, who finds your earring, who decorates the last minute indoor setting plan B. Just appreciate it and know that angels do exist. Not wedding planning tips, but a fortuitous aspect to consider.

  2. Please please don’t fret about the weather. Just be zen about it, not just on the outside, but deeply. We all know that there’s nothing you can do to control the weather. I have been to dozens of too hot, too rainy weddings, and nothing was lost. Rain is like a special effect. So is fog and wind. Some of my prettiest pictures were from rainy weddings.

  3. Pick vendors you personally like. A snobby florist, a pushy photographer, and an inflexible caterer has no place in your special day. Save all your compromises for your loved ones, not vendors.

  4. Cut costs wherever possible, but realize that you will pay in other ways. Sanity, time and money. Pick two. Even if you’re uber-organized and can DIY like no other those projects are very time-consuming. If you love it, go for it! But beware of the dream that you can do all flowers yourself. Once, as guests were arriving at a wedding the bridal party was still arranging the centerpieces. Avoid that kind of hustling whenever possible. And know that everything takes more time than you think.

  5. Related to #5, don’t worry about every little detail. I hereby give you permission to dump those ideas you just saw on Pinterest. No, you don’t have to make cookies in a handmade bag as a parting gift for each guest. Before Pinterest, before the sea of wedding blogs, people still got married. Weddings don’t have to have a theme. I’ve gone to weddings where essentially nothing was done to the table settings. Just some nice cloth napkins and a simple centerpiece. And I’ve been to weddings that were more elaborate than the Taj Mahal. While it’s wonderful to have those special touches it’s not essential for a festive wedding.

  6. When things get stressful, repeat after me, HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHA! Don’t take it too seriously. Watch a lot of comedies on Netflix. I won’t go so far as to say your problems are first world problems, but they are. Remember what you’re doing, marrying that love of your life, that person who is on the same team as you, who will always go up to bat for you. Now knock it out of the park and happy wedding planning. Call if you have any further questions or would actually like solicited advice.

Bonus piece of advice. Dress for the season, and make sure your shoes are comfortable or at least broken in.

are you ready for the future? try film photography

My film camera is up and running again after a brief repair hiatus. I have to check myself when I run away with the convenience and clarity of digital photography, which I like to call pixel phtography. At first, it was horrible. Especially the separation of pixels with color, but now, it’s wonderful, so if you love pixel photography go crazy. But my film camera is where my heart lies. Film is wonky and imperfect, the grain is sometimes dramatic. Why spend hours in photoshop trying to achieve the effect of film grain when you can simply get the real thing by dusting off your old cameras and having fun? Photography was never broken. In fact, it was better. That’s why you treasure the prints from your grandparents, and risk losing your current photos in the cloud.

With a digital camera, I complain about the weight when I use one that’s too heavy. But with the film cameras, I marvel at the weight of the lenses, and the quality of the glass. If you oohhh and ahh about traditional film photography, call me and I’ll show you my old cameras.

I hope that film remains alive and well for a long time. It used to be so easy to turn in your film canisters to the drugstore. Much easier than remembering to make prints from your iPhone. I hope that it becomes the future of photography.


Hello!! Welcome to the wonderful world of Elizabeth Solaka Photography.

This coming year, I am booking no more than twenty weddings. I want to be able to give each wedding my all, and not be overwhelmed. I am currently interviewing couples for the 2015 season. Why? Because I always have a lot of questions about your wedding, Storyteller that I am, and I want to make sure that your wedding and my photography is a match made in Heaven. Look forward to hearing more about your wedding, and I also love answering questions.

Do I need a Tripod? Or Bye Bye Tripod?

Do I need a tripod anymore? Over the years as a photographer, I’ve gone from using a Pentax K1000, a Yashikamat  (think Rolleiflex), Hasselblad C series, Holga,  Nikon D70 DSLR, to new(ish) Canon DSLRs. I love dark situations, night-time, dark rooms, window light in a room on a cloudy day, the beach right before sunrise. In short, the low light on subjects without the use of studio lighting or flash. This is what my photography, and many others, different from people just snapping photos. Why? Because I use a tripod. It’s been the only way to have access to creating these images, that which is already there. Until recently.

Now, cameras are created to see in the dark, and to enable low light photography and high ISO ratings that have never been seen before. Now, I hardly use a flash, or studio light, or a tripod.

There are lighting situations using on-camera flash which result in a wonderful, a retro photo journalistic feeling. There are even new gadgets that try to emulate this. Just for the memories, I’m going to be posting a blog of an event where I used my flash, and a lot. Coming up next.

Here’s an example of a photo I took last night with my phone. In this case, I wish I had a tripod. Or, I wish I’d remembered to stop walking, and lean up against a signpost. Exhale slowly and click.


need to do something with all those photos on your phone?

Read on and let me help.

This Christmas, I was having trouble figuring out what to give a grandma friend of mine. I wanted to offer something really special, meaningful. I thought of offering a portrait of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchild, but the family was living in India. So I thought of something even better. I asked her kids to send me via dropbox, as many family/baby photos as they could. What an amazing collection of images they collected on their travels, and homes. I edited them to give them that special glow, and then printed them up. Grandma was so happy, she ordered a duplicate set of prints for the other Grandma. The result, two exuberant grandmas. And we all know that there’s nothing more sweet than two exuberant grandmas.

The parents were too busy to do the back-end work of photography. So many of us can take the photos, but never get around to following through to create product. Your computers and hard drives will crash, who knows what will happen to your cloud, and your phone will fall in the toilet. Make prints. It’s an awesome feeling to have a box of them in your home.

If you are too busy, dropbox me a folder of images. I will edit them, print them professionally, put them in a pretty box with the year on it, and within a few days delivered to your doorstep. Voila.

ditch your professional photographer! DIY tips for taking great family pictures

It’s Spring. Things are thawing, including your toes and your photo-taking fingers. Year after year, you say to yourself, “I need to hire a photographer to take family photos.” But things get busy — homework, soccer, vacations, and oh yes, work — and it never gets done. You also never know what to wear. You feel too much pressure dropping a lot of money on a photo shoot that may turn out to be a disaster of kids in bad moods, sun not shining, and a bad hair day for you. Not to mention your husband feeling uncomfortable with a stranger and hating getting his picture taken.

In addition, your life isn’t one day at a park with a pro. It’s many days. Lazy mornings, vacations, birthdays, visits with friends, grandparents. Sports events. Those times when you look at your kids, filled with emotion, that you just want to keep forever. It’s so much that a pro can’t capture.

Photography is love, all the time.

Well, as a professional, I say, ditch the professional portrait session. If the following list doesn’t interest you in the least, and you’re willing to pay, feel free to call me. Otherwise, follow these steps to get started on improving family snapshots.

1. It’s not the camera (or the phone.)

So many of you shutterbugs think that you need to invest in a better camera, in order to take better photos of your family. You couldn’t be more wrong. While it’s frustrating to see photos that don’t have the clarity that you want, having photos that are too sharp can be equally undesirable. Some of my favorite photos are soft and grainy. In addition, phones of today can make lovely 8×10 prints.

2. Turn off the flash!

When you think you need a flash most, you don’t. Nothing worse to ruin the mood of a room is blasting a flash. If there’s one gizmo you should learn on your camera, it’s how to turn the flash off and to set it on ‘night time’ mode or increase the ISO. The soft, warm light on your children’s faces will glow in the lights of the Christmas tree.

…..So I turned off the flash, but now I get blurry photos from all that movement.

It’s possible that you’ll get blurry photos if your kids move too fast or if you don’t hold your camera steady in very low light. The solution? No, not an expensive tripod. Just lean up against a wall and exhale slowly. This is a DIY human tripod. I often even hold my camera against the wall too, to keep it steady. Another option is learning to set a timer on your camera and setting it on a table. If it’s a phone, and has a timer, prop it up.

The second cause of blur is movement from the subject. If this happens, embrace it, while still using a makeshift tripod method. This will give you sharp images of everything, except for the bouncy kid in the picture. This tells a story and is a technique used by pros. Another option is simply finding a moment when the subject is still.

3. Turn ON the flash!

Yes, you heard it, turn on the flash. In order to take a great photo, you need to have manual control over the flash. And you OFTEN need to turn it ON when the camera thinks it should be OFF. Example? On your beach vacation. You tell the kids to stand at the water’s edge. If you let your camera do it’s thing automatically, chances are you’ll have the kids’ faces in shadow and the landscape exposed properly (unless you have a camera/phone that exposes for the faces, in which case you’ll have them exposed properly and the sea, sand and sky whited-out). Either way you lose. (Unless you are looking for that silhouette look, which can be lovely especially if the kids are facing the sea, or building a castle.) THE SOLUTION? Turn ON the flash! It will be lighted more ike a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit shoot, only with better models, your kids!

4. Stop telling your kids to smile!

Because it’s not usually even a real smile. It resembles what they do at the dentist — show their teeth. Sometimes it’s cute to see what kind of poses the kids come up with when a camera’s pointed at them. And that’s an art in itself. This point leads me to the parent/child relationship, and how often the child resists photos just because they don’t want to listen to parents. This is where things get tricky and sometimes strangers take better photos. But, you know your kids more than anyone. Instead of instructing, interact. Ask them questions. Remind them of a funny time. I like to pretend there’s a spider on my head, or camera, to make them laugh. Or if there’s another adult around, have them get behind the photographer and make funny teasing faces. In short, try to elicit real smiles somehow.

Or not, because those quiet moments when you simply let your child be, are often the most lovely of all.

5. Backlight the subject.

Put a child in front of the sun, at an angle. Let the rays cast lines and spots on your lens. Create mood. So much nicer than a noonday sun beating down on a child’s squinty face. When you shoot in the day in summer with the sun behind you, you often get a flat, colorless image with little interest. (Of course there are exceptions to everything. I could go on. But just to keep it simple.)

6. Of course, wait for the golden glow of sunset.

Everybody knows this, but few people know the trick of waiting for AFTER sunset. At this time, things get crazy-beautiful — the sky does wacky prize-winning things after the sun disappears. AND, even in the dark, utilizing the techniques in #2, (turn off the flash) you can find magic. Start looking to light your subject with car lights, street lights, moonlight. Tap into your inner Scorsese.

7. Frame it so there’s pretty stuff around.

Seems obvious, but some pretty flowers in the foreground, or in the frame, will add color and texture and, yes, magic to a photo. Even some blurry blobby thing, the edge of a chair, anything, could add interest. Which leads me to my next point…

8. Figure out how to specify what’s in focus.

A pretty picture of flowers in the foreground with a blurry child smiling in the background is probably not what you’re aiming for. Make sure you know how to specify focus points on your camera. It’s not that hard and will open up worlds of creativity.

9. Create interesting composition.

This is not so easy if you don’t have it intuitively, but it can be learned, through experiment over time. The subject need not be centered on the frame. This is what school pictures are for. Spin around the camera. Lie on the ground. Play.


And I’m talking to myself, too, as a mom.

Many of the world’s biggest photographers set up the camera and scene and actually have assistants click the shutter.

The biggest mistake the photographer can make, who is often a mother, or father, is to be absent from all photos. My goal for this season is to have more photos with my kids. Once you learn these tricks, you can set your camera and even frame it and have a friend do it. It takes a village. In fact, have a friend bring her family over, or go on an excursion, and be each other’s photographers. Get ice cream. Strawberries. Bring toys, beach balls, colorful stuff. Don’t lose your sense of humor, and don’t be too goal-oriented. Just see what unfolds and have fun!

Still need help?

+1. Learn how to get those pictures off your phone. How to put them in a dropbox. How to make prints. OR, let ME help you with all of this, and edit and print your photos.

If you want to do it yourself, 4×6 prints are cheap. Put them in a cigar box or album and accumulate them.  In my opinion, those Snapfishy type albums will not stand the test of time. They will lose luster and fall apart. Prints are classic. Your computers and hard drives will crash, who knows what will happen to your cloud, and your phone will fall in the toilet. Make prints.

Hope this helps. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. If you are in the NYC area, I will be holding tutorials in Central Park from time to time. Have fun!

Baby photography

We’ve seen newborn photographers dress up little ones in blueberry costumes. The photographer waits for the baby to fall asleep, then they contort the newborns body as they please. Usually, either swaddled or propped up with elbows on the floor and hands under chin. I love newborn photography sessions. What a magical time. As is.

What happens when they get a little older, they have free will, and they don’t want to be a blueberry? Or, when they see the photos when they get older, they may be upset that so much theater and photography was happening when they were asleep. What if they just want to sleep, be cute and left alone? Herein is the basis of my style. Natural. Spontaneous.

The Rainiest Wedding Ever!

Think twice before fearing a rainy wedding day and praying for sunshine. We did this wedding for a lovely couple. You would think that a rainy wedding would be an unfortunate thing. But my photos turned out better than I ever imagined, and the video is hilarious and touching. I love it all, the light and colors, the laughter, though I was very limited in movement and could only use one camera. Thank you to all who held umbrellas over me.
My favorite part starts at 6:29.
Have a lovely weekend, All.

The Maternity Portrait

Should I even do this? I look awful!

Some women look and feel great throughout their pregnancy. Others look and feel awful. Most of us are somewhere in between, depending on the day.
During my pregnancy, I took some self portraits, and I’m glad I did. (I actually copied a professional portrait of my mother, when she was pregnant with me, in profile holding a sparkler.)
My professional photos are much more flattering than the snapshots taken by others.
If you’re looking tired, if your face feels a bit bloated, or if your skin isn’t glowing as usual, I simply take the emphasis off of the face. It’s not a headshot, it’s a mood, an idea, a season in your life. I often do maternity portraits in the mom-to-be’s home, use familiar props, light and shadow, silhouette. Often the subject is not looking at the camera at all. She’s resting, petting a cat, looking out the window. Recently, she was playing guitar.

At what point in my pregnancy should I have my portrait taken?

When you are really showing, but not uncomfortably so, usually 6-7 months. I did once photograph a mom-to-be in labor.

Should I bring the daddy-to-be?

Sure, why not? Unless it’s a surprise. Some pregnant women bring older children, and parents as well.

What should I wear (or not wear)?

We all have our most wonderful stretchy dress that we love to wear. Bring it.
I also love tank tops for some reason. They just look nice. Some women have brought along silk wrappings, white sheets and what not. I was suspicious at first, thinking maybe it would look cliche, but they ended up looking lovely. Other women have brought their favorite baseball jersey,  formal night gowns,  white panties and bras. You name it.  Most of my subjects do have some nudes done as well. That’s fine, too. I usually take several that are more abstract in nature, or anonymous.