Few more tips when choosing a photographer (Wedding/Maternity)

I thought I’d share with you my views (and lesson learned) on hiring a ‘popular’ photographer.

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So at five months into my pregnancy (when my belly was still not so big), I flew to the states for my husband’s company party and to visit my lovely family. Because I only get see them once a year, I thought it’d be a great idea to hire a photographer and do a semi maternity/family/baby shower shoot for a small gathering with few friends and family at our house.

In the past for my wedding in both Korea and America, I hired the photographers I absolutely loved that had the style and color I was looking for- at a reasonable cost. While I admired the high-profile photographers that show up in magazines and blogs all over, I couldn’t fathom spending $6,000~9,000 or more for wedding photography. I thought the up and coming photographers, with at least few years of experience to have a substantial amount of portfolio that I can look through, would please us just fine in what we wanted from our photographer.

and they did. both my korean and wedding photographers were wonderful. Korea and America had different wedding styles and colors of their own, but it represented “us” and they really went out of their way to provide us with the most memorable pictures by capturing every moment. We can’t recommend them enough.

However, my justification in hiring a high-end popular photographer this time was that this would be just a few hours thing, like an engagement shoot, and it wouldn’t be as expensive as a wedding shoot (or so i thought). The price ended up being super high (in my standards) at USD $1800 for one hour ($1500 for ONE hour + $300 in travel costs from Santa Barbara to Orange County- three hrs by car). I told my husband it’d all be worth it since she’d create the most amazing pictures ever.

 a big mistake. let me explain why.

*Please note this is just an opinion from an ordinary blogger, as I only see praises and high-star ratings for all the photographers such as Jose Villa, Jen Huang and Caroline Tran.  I love soft colors in America photography so these were the “high-end” photographers I became a fan of, and we ended up going with Jen Huang Photography.

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1. We’re not models. 

Her per hour rate was nearly as much (or 2/3rds) as what I had spent for my wedding photography for the WHOLE DAY, from makeup to after party. But I told myself it’d all be worth it bc we would come out beautiful and it’d be something that’ll last us a lifetime.

When I received my photos- I had around 100 pictures to choose from, with half being prop shots.  This translated to around 2~4 shots for each scene. We were stunned.  This type of photography ONLY WORKS if you are the type that comes out good in every picture. If you and your date look like models, then please ignore this post as you’ll not run into this problem bc you’ll come out good anyway.  However, for an average joe couple like ourselves who NEEDS many many shots to finally find one that we both come out good in, you will be disappointed. From the 100 shots we received, we only ‘kind of’ liked… maybe 5 shots. 5 shots, at $1800. That’s $360 per picture. We didn’t know what to think.. sorry we don’t come out good every time, but we paid a substantial amount for your service and therefore we expected you to be able to find the angle and shot that would flatter us.

At our engagement and wedding shoots in both Korea and the US, the photographer took 600~1000 shots for engagement that we can choose from, most shot beautifully, and an average of 3000~5000 for our wedding shoot. From there, you are BOUND to find at least 100 that you like, which are the ones we posted and got high praises from all our family and friends.  I understand Jen uses film photos, which she may not want to snap away as each film costs money, but we really thought we’d have more shots to choose from as she charges premium price for her service.  Or shoot every picture like a champion so that we love every one of them. I also expected her to go back and forth and fixing my hair and pose as other photographers had, but there wasn’t much guidance.

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2. Service, or the lack of.

I understand that as a photographer, you want to be respected of your time and not let clients take advantage of you. But from the perspective of clients, we want someone that can be flexible and understanding, as things can’t work out exactly the way you plan it during special occasions as there are many things going on. We were very lucky to have met previous photographers who went over the time they stated time to get in the last shots at unexpected times. they were super easy-going and seemed so excited to be there and share the experience with us. However, our “expensive” photographer’s attitude was more of, ‘okay, my time is really valuable and i’m doing you a big favor by going over 15 minutes.’ Though we were very apologetic when i was held back for five minutes as my decorations were not done yet and my dad had trouble finding jeans to match, and though she probably saw me running around and trying to change into different outfits as soon as possible, she didn’t try to appease myself or my family or make this enjoyable and comfortable experience.  What was suppose to be a fun hour became super stressful. One time, she actually said “oh actually, we only have 15 minutes left so maybe we should just do this shot with that clothing.”

This is not a bad thing- for those who don’t mind getting exactly what they paid for. But even for myself, I’m the type that under promise and over deliver in my job, as I understand you gain ppl’s trust when you really go out of your way. She did go over around 15 minutes than the promised time, but it was more of her ‘i’m doing you a favor’ attitude that just caught me off. If at least the pictures turned out beautiful, if only her prices were way lower…  if if and more if’s. but for its price, and for the quality of pictures i got, she was NOT worth it.

I miss the fun Iris and Light (US) engagement shoot we shot from 2~8pm that turned out absolutely beautiful, at half her cost. I miss the 6 hour Korean engagement shoot (donggam atriumlee) that even photoshopped our features.

Jen actually lost few of the pictures we took and forgot to take detailed shots of the props I wanted, but there were no apologies, just a mere “it was due to light that I decided not to take it” (i’m too professional to admit to my faults and let the client know on the day of) or “we probably shot with an iphone then bc it can’t just disappear” (I possibly couldn’t have made that mistake).

In any event, a total loss of $$ and much frustration for five pretty shots.  Please note, the pictures posted- I had someone in Korea photoshop for me. They aren’t the originals, which were much worse.

*another note, the flower crown, bouquet, cupcakes, cakes, sugar pops were all made that day to prepare for this shoot.

lesson learned, go with your guts and hire a more down-to-earth, easygoing photographer that will accommodate YOU, not the other way around.

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Final shot I like (yes, it’s photoshopped):

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We’re in Korea! (Sept-March 2014)

We’re in Koreaaaaaa!

We temporarily relocated to Korea for six months due to… me being preggers and for my husband’s work matters. *celebrate* Things have been great this year.. we are welcoming our first child in December of this year, we just had our two year anniversary in Phuket, and we’ve moved to Korea… and I’m welcoming all the change. The timing had worked out perfectly because our new condo in Singapore isn’t finished building yet, and our current two-year lease had run out this month. In any event, I am sooo happy I’m here! I feel truly lucky that I have the chance to live in so many different cities despite the craziness from the constant move. Packing and moving all of our belongings into storage all in one day before getting on our midnight flight to Korea was just… chaos. I’m so thankful that we met such great movers and storage rep in Sing that helped me get all the things packed safely or else I don’t know how I’d be here right now.

We’ve relocated to an apartment in Chungdam-dong in Seoul, Korea. The location is great- it’s the Orchard of Singapore and Beverly Hills of Los Angeles, yet the price is very reasonable considering its location. There’s a view of hangang river from our apt, and due to Koreans preferring to live in big mega-projects , there’s an ample room for amenities including hiking trail around the neighborhood. Here’s few pic of the place we’ll be staying at for the next several months:

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I’ll post pictures of hangang view and the hiking trails when i can!

But best of all, I love that I’m close to all the top-notch hair/skin care/massage shops, and everything beauty-related that girls love. Korea is a girl’s heaven. I’ll be posting reviews soon of the prenatal massages and confinement centers that Korea’s also known for. I’m getting my first massage this week along with my facial and I’ll post detailed reviews on it soon after!

Korea also has the best and the fastest service. We joke that it may be because Koreans are impatient by nature, but we bought Samsung 1000ml refrigerator, kimchi fridge, and TV when we arrived to use during our stay (Korea’s cheaper and carries the latest Samsung products that aren’t available overseas, and we were fed up from using the crappy ones that came in rental housing. We will be shipping these and few furnitures to Singapore)- in any event, we made our purchase at 9PM. They delivered all the products the next morning. We called for internet and TV service, they also came the next day to set up. So we got all the electronics and internet/tv the day we moved in! After these awesome guys came in to set it up in a professional manner, they texted me with a smiley face (cute) to tell me that I can now use the refrigerator because it’s been plugged in for more than two hours. talk about great service! America sucks in that way and it feels really great to finally not be on the waiting end. Hope I don’t get too spoiled by living here.

So many missing posts.. vietnam, taiwan, phuket, our anniversary, my maternity pictures in America… i’ll post a sneak peak for now and post a review on my maternity shoot later.

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9 things I miss back home in California

I’m back home in California for a vacay, for my husband’s yearly work party and to see the lovely fam. It’s been exactly one year since I’ve been away. Gawd, how much I’ve missed being here! It’s been only few days since I’ve been back and I’ve been so relaxed and happy that i do not want to leave. Thought I’d jot down some of the joys of living in California (and states in general) in comparison to other countries, mainly Asia where I lived.

My parents home in Cali!

My parents home in Anaheim Hills, Cali!

1. Big and Spacious Home

You don’t have to be a big baller to live well in Cali. As an average (or upper? due to a comment that not all middle-income family can live like this-_- we never considered ourselves rich but I guess the definition is subjective) middle-income family, you can have six rooms with attached bathrooms, a huge kitchen with an island, three (or four) car garages, a private patio with a beautiful view, and a private pool at this beautiful 5000 sq ft home in a gated-community. How much I missed the space. I miss having a closet the size of my current room, having a huge island in the kitchen for cooking, and the quietness of the suburban life. Though this life is not for everyone- certain types would actually prefer the busy and excitement-filled city life like Manhattan.

Safe, quiet neighborhood

Safe, quiet neighborhood of Suburban homes

2. Safe and Private communities

I guess one stereotype that Asians have of America is that we’re constantly living in fear of being shot (?). I’ve gotten plenty of questions by both Singaporeans and Koreans if it’s “scary” to live in America. Not at all. I actually feel safer in my suburban home in the US than in condos of Singapore or Korea, as there is only a wall distance between you and your neighbors. Unless you live inside a major city (which is only a car-distance away) or live in a bad neighborhood, the cities in US are generally very safe. Us OC’ers only lock our cars once we enter some parts of downtown LA and other ghettos, but that’s okay because we are usually safe in our cars until we enter indoors.

3. Cheap Cars

Yes, it’s possible to get a nice bmw for USD $50,000. Little high-schoolers are able to drive around in Lexus,’ BMWs, and Benz because the cheapest grades start at USD $30,000. Better yet, if you lease your car, you can walk away with any of the three at no downpayment and around $500/month. Not to mention the way cheaper Hyundais, Hondas, and Toyotas. I never knew cars were such a luxury item until I moved to Singapore..  it’s been a pain getting around town without a car in a public transportation system and taxi because it’s hard to catch one (not to mention rude drivers occasionally) and public transit is used and abused. I know I should promote public transit as a planner, but it’s a bit unfortunate watching people squeezing in and out and looking stressed and depressed during rush hour. Public transportation is only appreciated if general residents actually have the choice of riding a private car or a public transit, like Korea or New York. My biggest complaint living in Singapore but I guess unless you’re filthy rich, it’s a waste of money to get a car. I guess car only system in LA has its cons- you have to drive or find a ride to get a carton of milk at a supermarket.

4. Credit Cards (and perhaps the US credit system)

So I’m the type that has to pay off my balances in full every month. And yet, I hold several cards, of them being: Chase preferred, Amex Gold, Amex Cash, and my favorite department store cards Nordstroms and Bloomingdales.  This is because American companies offers the best benefits: my cash is 5% on supermarkets and gasoline at NO Maximum cash back amount per year, Amex Gold offers the best pt per dollar system that can be used on Amazon (my favorite) and many other purchases, best benefits at signup (50,000 free air miles just for signing up), etc.  There are not much restrictions or regulations, as I’ve seen with Asian credits (cash back only up to $800/year, 10,000 free miles, at best).  The signup is awesome perhaps due to the amazing credit system in the US that tracks down everyone’s past payment history- the signup for credit is SUPER easy, as in, you write your name, address, social security #, your household income, submit online, and voila! you’re done. Typically, you are approved right away and the card is sent to you in less than 3~5 business days.  In Singapore and in Asia in general, there were so many instructions and requirements just for the debit card alone, where you are using your own money.  So imagine the stress and regulations of signing up for a credit card. In Korea, it’s even worse- you have to go through several passwords and codes to even buy a product online.

5. Central Air Conditioning

Agreed it may be wasteful, but American houses mostly have central air conditioning system, where if you just set your AC to “auto,” it automatically turns on the air when it gets a bit hot througout the whole house.  No more turning on individual A/Cs looking like an eye sore attached in every room. Upscale condos in Korea and Singapore have built in A/C, but you usually have a remote to turn them on and off individually. and fans… man, never seen so many fans in my life till I moved to Singapore. It’s one of the hottest countries and yet residents there bear the heat with just a fan. My sister who visited for a bit was so surprised to hear that locals eat at restaurants without air conditioning in southeast asian weather. Props to them, we’ve been really spoiled in America.

6. Return Policies in Stores

Nordstroms’ return policy is that there is no return policy. You can return anything, opened and without a receipt, anytime, most of them time.  You can return used makeup that you don’t like at Sephora, if you aren’t satisfied with your product. Not the case in most of the countries in Asia. I hear Korea’s getting a bit better, but Singapore usually has a 14 day only, exchange only, or no return policies at even many of the top international stores. Not to mention, if you buy something online from an online store, you can’t return them at the physical store like you do in America. You also have to pay return shipping. America is shopper’s heaven, with quality products at cheap prices and their awesome sales that go up to 70%. Thus the reason why I wait until I go back for all the shopping.

7. Best facilities and Equal living?

Due to land restraint, Asian countries typically require thousands of dollars in membership to use golf courses and park facilities that usually mimic a low-end park areas offered to residents in America… for free.  America’s a heaven for the low-income. Unless you are Paris Hilton rich, no one can really tell your wealth or status, though it’s easily spotted in Asia.  The places you go, things that you own, things you eat are generally same for people of all income.  For example, a doctor can own a medium sized home and drive a 3 series BMW. A waitress at a restaurant can own a 7-series BMW and eat at normal restaurants. In Asia, you probably can’t drive a BMW as a restaurant waitress, and you probably eat mostly instant boonshik in Korea or local stall food if you’re a Singaporean. If you’re the type to want to flaunt your wealth and you’re not too rich, America is not for you bc it won’t show.

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8. Weather

California is known for its beautiful weather. It is sunny, breezy, and not humid.  I can snowboard at the mountains in the winter, fish at a lake during summer, and do whichever activities I please without having all four seasons. This is perhaps the reason why you’ll find the prettiest flowers for wedding bouquets in California, in comparison to the limited selection in Asia. The greenery here is just beautiful. I’m attaching my wedding bouquet again because I absolutely loved it. :)

9. Abundance of Organic Groceries

There are local farmers market everywhere, and there are huge organic supermarkets in close proximity, such as Trader Joes, Wholefoods, Mothers, etc. that sell Organic produce and products for cheap. I really miss eating healthy for cheap.

9. Living in Your Own World

You really live in your own world in America. If you want to live like a Korean, you move to Koreatown. You can probably speak no English and live fine in those areas.  Same goes for any other ethnicities. There is no one to judge, no one to really mind your business. You just go about living the way you please, with whatever groups you please. All kinds of people exist here. In Asia, I see most people trying to “fit in” with everyone else, and those that aren’t are harshly judged and criticized.

There are many great things about living in Asia as well. That’s probably the reason why there are people that move back after having spent years here. It can get boring, monotonous, and too quiet for any person in their 20s. But I’ve just had a newly found appreciation for California now that I’m living abroad… and I really realize you really don’t know what you’re missing until it’s been taken away. As my friends say, I’m such a Cali girl, and I can’t wait till I settle back here someday. <3

Our honeymoon- Cocoa Island, Maldives! (2012)

Despite becoming a bit of an introvert at times, I’m so thankful I have a blog to return to. :) I was going to write on Vietnam (one of our favorite trips so far), but it’d be a super long post so I thought I’d reminisce on our honeymoon that was never posted bc I was busy settling in Singapore. My husband is traveling for work in the US but is coming back today, so this is usually the time when I update ;)

We really felt honeymoon was once in a lifetime, so we were really willing to make an investment for our getaway.  We’re so glad we did, because when would you spend over 10,000~15,000 on a vacation getaway? (unless you’re a Kardashian. I’ve become addicted to the show btw lately! lol). And I feel this is the time when you need to really relax and recoup without feeling the need or want to do touristy activities. Our criteria was straightforward: we wanted very private, separated villas with only few people on the resort (hopefully on its own private island, which we got), top-notch service, excellent food and near perfect reviews. After hours of searching on my limited knowledge of the many islands in Maldives, we decided to go with the resort that seemed to be ranked #1 on a website:

Tada… Cocoa Island by Como hotels!

We stayed for around a week and it was around $1050~1300/night without adding the cost of activities, food, and massages, which was the most expensive we’ve ever paid for any hotel stay. I recently read that Korean celebrities Lee Min Jung and Lee Byung Hun went to Jumeirah Dhevanafushi resort ($1,259~1,500/night), and when I checked out the website, wow it’s beauuutiful! Those who are looking for luxury resorts should definitely check these two out.  Cocoa Island was as great as it was said in the reviews- the Villa, service, food, beach, everything- and I really felt every single cent was worth it. As cliche as it sounds, it was heaven on earth. We told each other we’d go back in five years or so, but with so many places to travel and with it strictly being a “rest and relaxation” resort, we don’t know when we’d actually be back. Hopefully we return before we leave Singapore!

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We rarely saw anyone, except when we decided to eat out at the resort restaurant nearby (mostly, it’s delivered to your room).  We went snorkeling everyday that by the fifth day my back was BLACK from all the snorkeling lol. Our days went like this for the whole week :) : wake up, be served the most delicious breakfast ever delivered to our private villa daily, change to our swimwear, and literally plunge into the waters from our backyard. There’s no need for a pool villa, the endless ocean right in your backyard had the most clear and beautiful water I’ve ever seen with so much marine life. We’d snorkel around for few hours, get served the most delicious lunch, then go out for one of the couple activities (private sunset cruise, dolphin watching, fishing, massage, yoga, candlelight dinner). At night, we’d get ready for delicious theme dinners, drink and hang out by the beach, relax and talk about our future. it was so peaceful and relaxing that it made me forget all the stress and planning that we had to endure leading up to our wedding.

I highly recommend Maldives for honeymoon; the water is so clear and blue and it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen. I’ve been to Bali, Phuket, Hawaii and few of other known beach towns, but there’s nothing like Maldives and its private islands (with an exception of Bora Bora). Surprisingly, we didn’t take a lot of pictures bc we wanted to take in the beauty of the island as much as we can. but here are some pictures: I’ll try to update more as I come across them on my computer.

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We can’t wait to return and try out Jumeirah Dhevanafushi in the near future.  We’re going to Taiwan in two weeks! So excited and nervous to try all the delicious food I’ve only been hearing of. 

Random Thoughts

Wow it’s been super long since I updated. I’ve been meaning to update here and there but I guess I’m the type that goes through phases.  Sometimes when I travel to somewhere exciting, receive a meaningful gift, add a new addition to my whatever collections, had a memorable moment and/or find new amusing subjects to talk about, I want to flip out my notebook and start typing away. It’s pretty interesting to read back on your old journals/entries. BUT. I also go through my semi anti-social phase, where I start wanting to take down any of the pictures that includes our faces and writings that contain my personal thoughts, for fear of- publicity? being known? being found? I’m not too sure- and shutting down my little site that I put so much effort into. It’s the introvert in me- I think I’m pretty sociable or come off as pretty approachable when people first meet me, but once I start to relax and feel they don’t need my 100%, I usually stay quiet or shy away in my own corner. I am a recluse. But give me the space and time I need, and I come right back to being the normal outgoing self. :)

Why I’m this way- beats me. It’s an on-going conundrum of my life. But I think it has something to do with a person’s childhood personality remaining in you throughout- no matter how many people you meet and what experiences you go through, you are who you are. deep within. I was super shy when I was little, and I guess still kind of shy now, though some of my friends may not agree, bc i’m outgoing as everyone else is in front of people they’re comfortable with. But it does take me a longggg time- longer it seems as i get older- to open up to a new friend and really get comfortable. I still dread public speaking, networking, and any type of scenarios where the attention is all on me- I start blushing and looking around for the nearest exit. Now, I learned to look uninterested or show no facial emotion (aka boring, or looking bored?) to hide all my anti-socialness and nervousness. As funny as that sounds,  that’s my only way of trying to look “as normal” as I can and looking confident (since a girl’s gotta always look confident, right?). I always beat myself up for it later and hope that I didn’t come off the wrong way.

I also don’t express myself very well. I’d like to show my condolences to someone that’s suffering from a loss, but I feel I’m being rude or nosy in their personal affairs, so I remain quiet and hope that they reach out so I can be there. I’d like to lend a helping hand, but don’t know the right words to be more inviting. I probably think too much, noticeably more as I near late 20s, but… I also like that trait about me. That I take the time to think in other persons shoes, whether they acknowledge, care, or appreciate it. I don’t intrude into other’s space and I like to give people their space, let them come, go, whatever they like, though I do retract if they take advantage or are generally a selfish person. But I’m always forgiving. As awkward and passive as I seem, I’m also funny,  talkative at times, feisty (sorry hubby) and love girls night outs. how i got to this topic, i don’t know. I guess this is one of those jot-down-my-thoughts kinda entries.

I love Mille Cakes @ Lady M. Especially the green tea. We go there quite often.

I love Mille Cakes @ Lady M. Especially the green tea. We go there quite often after work.

I’ve traveled to Hong kong and Korea and back a several times, went to Hochiminh, Vietnam with our friend couple, and am going to Taiwan this May. wooot! I’d like to update posts on this soon, but as stated above, it depends on if I’m feeling outgoing and can mimic an extrovert. haha

RIP Grandma.. love you always.

RIP Grandma.. love you always.

My grandma passed away. I’ve become even more attached to her in my early 20s when I’d go to Korea often, and I can’t believe she’s no longer there to pick up my calls. But I know she’s at a better place now, and I feel really blessed that I have a great family. Didn’t really learn to appreciate this till I was older. Wow, do I have an amazing family!

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I’ve been wanting a hermes scarf and my hubby picked one out for me :)

I also have a super exciting news I’d like to post,  but I’d like to dedicate a post of it’s own. soon!

Few more things I’ve noticed interesting about Singapore to end this post on a not-so-philosophical note:

  1. Where the heck are the napkins? I’m a forgetful person and Singapore is not a welcoming place for a forgetful soul. I’ve eaten my hot noodles with runny noses many times bc food centers here don’t carry napkins.  I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for each plate just to have napkins provided at an eatery.
  2. Taxi drivers here BLAST air-conditioning as if their skin lost its senses. I get in a hot, sweaty person and come out as a snow woman.  So is my work or Singapore buildings in general. but taxis (oh and movie theatres where I lug around my parka that I thought I’d never need in Singapore) are the coldest.
  3. Yet many Singaporeans live without air-conditioning at their home. what the? I can’t even survive without one in less-hot climates like Los Angeles.
  4. I am a Korean-American and do not get offended if someone calls me Korean. Singaporean Chinese (or chinese singaporean?) gets offended, or so i hear, if one calls them “Chinese.” Yet they speak better Mandarin than English. Why? As an Asian myself I do not understand this whole ordeal. same with someone calling a Malaysian-Singaporean, Malaysian.