Santa Cruz Engagement Photoshoot with Tammi & Dara

Two weekends ago Leanna and I packed up our suitcases and strolled through the security gates of John Wayne (also known as SNA) en route to San Francisco, Friday evening.




As we watched the sun set on sunny southern California behind a silhouetted jet, a joyful feeling rose at the prospect of traveling again.

We were on our way to spend the weekend with my older cousin, whom I haven't seen in circa 6 years, and his beloved fiancée whom I've never met, nor ever seen a photo of. Not only did they choose us to shoot their wedding, but they offered to fly us up to take some engagement photos and scope out the wedding locations, so that we can prepare and know what to expect for their wedding day.

It felt surreal to be asked such a thing. I'm barely learning how to tie my shoes in this giant school called the wedding photography industry, and I'm already being asked to shoot my first wedding, and to get flown up to shoot an engagement session.

But little did Leanna and I expect that this weekend was going to be a breath of fresh air in our busy lives, a warm family reunion, and beautiful memories to behold.


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Her name is Tammi, and his name is Dara (my older cousin, whose name in Khmer means "star," which is the American name of my older brother, and my older brother's khmer name is the maiden name of Dara's mother. Still with me?) They've known each other for pretty much a decade, and after sharing a whole day with them, Leanna and I really began to sense a humble maturity in their relationship, in spite of their silliness (mostly Dara).


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While Tammi is a native to San Jose and attended San Jose State University, Dara graduated from UC Santa Cruz. Dara drove us around in his old Toyota Avalon that I still remember him driving when he was in high school (I was probably in middle school. Or elementary, I don't remember). He took us to UC Santa Cruz, which is a gorgeous campus. It looked like a summer camp retreat center, up in the mountains dwarfed by the enormous giants of trees all around. There Tammi visited Dara many times, and we took some photos. UC Santa Cruz is incredibly rich in natural surroundings, which is where they love to be.



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They are such a fun couple to be around, and we loved each and every place they took us, like to a Brazilian breakfast café near the UC Santa Cruz campus.


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Santa clara county engagement photoshoot tammi dara60


Maybe the love of nature runs in the Lee family blood, so I was entirely content to be shooting them in natural surroundings. According to Tammi, making random sounds and noises also run in the Lee family, to which Leanna readily agreed about this family quirk. In the photo above, the field they are looking over is where Dara's graduation ceremony took place (you can make the field out if you look to the left of the bench).


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Here are the trees I was talking about. On the left, they are practicing their wedding dance. On the right, Tammi jumped off a wooden ladder we found in the middle of this forest, and Dara did a great job of catching her.


Santa Cruz Engagement Shoot

 Santa Cruz Engagement Shoot


Next they took us to Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz. While driving on the way there, I recognized a familiar building I've seen on websites before. Then I saw a logo and a name I instantly recognized, somehow I had forgotten along the way that my photo lab is based in Santa Cruz!


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And we kept walking, and walking, until sand and blue came into our view:

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You can almost feel your own barefeet touching the sand looking at this next image:

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The waves really added to the composition of this image:

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Santa Cruz Natural Bridges Engagement Shoot

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges Engagement Shoot


Leanna and I had so much fun driving around Santa Cruz and San Jose with Tammi and Dara, listening to the silly stories of their lives together. We learned so much about each other, and Tammi totally feels like family to me already. Can't wait for the wedding day!