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The Build Up

This past weekend was a wild ride.  After a fairly quick-paced, though tedious, day at work, I headed down to Orange County with a few SLO folks who wanted a ride down for Mother's Day.  For the most part, the entire car ride was filled with conversation.  One person of interest was my shotgunning passenger who is soon ending her career as a Dairy Science Product Technology undergraduate at Cal Poly.  During the ride, she shared about her passion for the artisan cheese industry (such a cool subject) and dairy industry in general.  This conversation piqued my interest as I had little to no idea about the cheese making process (or about California's dairy industry in general, at that rate).  One aspect I have grown to love the most about driving folks home include coming to know them as individuals and learning new tidbits about the world.

After a long night of driving around LA/OC and dropping passengers off, I finally made my way down to the relative's house I was crashing at for the weekend.  All was quiet as my cousin's husband opened the front door and I stepped inside.... mentally preparing to take on the weekend.  I would be spending a majority of Saturday hunting for apartments/housing with a friend (who at this time is living in Orange County) and most of Sunday morning at a graduation photoshoot for Esther, a good friend from my Cal Poly SLO days.  With a mind drearily burdened from work, exhausted from a long drive, yet excited for the weekend ahead, I unpacked my bag and quickly dozed off.

Saturday passed faster than it should have.  We spent a good seven hours of the day looking at apartments throughout Tustin, Lake Forest, and Santa Ana.  Thankfully, we settled on two prospective places but will be continuing our search just in case.  Saturday came and went faster than I could say "WHYRENTSOHIGH?

Sunday Fun-day

As preface, I met Esther through Cal Poly almost half a decade ago (wow, doesn't that make us all sound so much older?).  It seems like just a few moments ago she here in SLO attending Cal Poly, and then... BAM... on to pursuing her Masters of Accounting (which I learned is abbreviated as MAcc).  She was always quite an ambitious young woman, and... well... still is.  Accounting, IM games, heavy involvement in ministry... and probably many more activities always filled her plate.  I never quite understood how she did it, but she did, and now she's set to walk from USC in just a few days.  Meanwhile, I scraped by with my Electrical Engineering degree. Haha.

Esther had shot a quick text to me during the week prior inquiring if I had the time to do a graduation photoshoot for her and some friends at USC.  I think all, if not most, of them were to graduate from USC's Levanthal School of Accounting's Master's Program.  Originally, seven people were scheduled for a 3.5 hour shoot... but this number dropped to three.  I was content with three.  Of course I agreed to put on a small shoot for Esther and her friends.  It was a pleasure to be able to serve a friend from Poly in such a way (and get a sweet tour of USC's campus).  The last time I set foot on USC's campus was probably close to ten years ago for a cousin's graduation.

That Sunday morning I quickly threw on my go-to Hawaiian Style tank top, some cotton shorts, and my trusty pair of black Locals slippahs (because who needs to dress fancy when you're doing a photoshoot for fun, anyway?)  I arrived earlier than expected and met Esther and her roommate, Katie.  After a short while we walked a few blocks to USC's campus and met one of their other friends, Kay.  I learned that Kay also knew another friend from Cal Poly who graduated with my class... What a small world we live in. 

Most of the time we spent together on campus was figuring out where to shoot, how to shoot, and waiting for people to move out of our desired locations.  There was definitely solid conversation along the way, but from this point forward I'll only summarize the morning's events.

We started the day off near the Alumni Park in front of The Trojan statue.  However, there was a small waiting line so we ended up in front a building whose name I only know because of the ginormous plaque hanging above one of its major archways.  Big.  Right?

It was a slightly overcast morning, which proved in our favor for most of these photos.  Esther, Kay, and Katie were a fun group to shoot with.  There was plenty of laughter and chatter to go around.  A few other photographers and their subjects were wandering around and/or waiting in line for the Trojan.  Faithful. Scholarly. Skillful. Courageous. Ambitious. Now, those strong adjectives that I am certain describes these three women (and... hopefully the rest of USC). 

Afterwards, we made our way through to the Steps of Troy... which is, as you guessed... concrete steps with more adjectives inscribed in to it.  No pictures here, though! Some other folks were already busy on the steps, so we proceeded to walk a short distance to the Leventhal School of Accounting.  If I remember correctly, this is the building where all three women have spent the most time learning all things in accounting-land (aptly named by me as I have little idea as to what goes on there) over the past nine months.  A majority, if not all, of the buildings have a red brick exterior. The same style of archways and exterior appeal were consistent throughout all of the buildings we walked past.  I was not sure whether to be impressed by the potential age of these buildings or the fact that architects kept the same style throughout the years of constructing new facilities.

A short walk later and I found us in the courtyard of the Mudd Hall of Philosophy.  We found ourselves waiting quite a long time to take advantage of corridor (which you shall see a little further down)... so I did the next best thing... Sat them down on a bench in the courtyard.  I think this was natural laughter :). Ha.

After what felt like a quinquagintuple years (yes, that is an actual word), the corridor opened up!  After a few minutes of shooting, three more groups lined up behind us.  I struggled to shoot as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Think we got some good ones here though.

Afterwards, we packed up our bags and headed towards the complete opposite side of campus (I think).  I don't recall why we headed that direction, or even what the building we ended up at was called... But Esther and Katie led the way as I walked in the back with Kay.  We chatted a bit about life.  She shared a little bit about her family, life in SoCal, and a brief life history and I shared about my life back in Hawaii and about moving to the mainland since starting college.  I've always enjoyed talking with other people about the lives they've been leading.  (It also provides an opportunity for me to share about home, which immediately causes homesickness, which sucks.) 

Afterwards, Kay dropped us back off at Esther and Katie's place.  She then departed and the rest of us attempted to find a Hawaiian-inspired cafe to get some macadamia nut pancakes.  To my dismay, the cafe was closed... We decided to visit a Taiwanese breakfast place called Huge Tree Pastry out in Monterey Park.  I got lost on my way to the parking lot; In my defense, I'm not accustomed to an urban environment yet... That was my first time eating "traditional" (or maybe it was typical?) Taiwanese food for breakfast.  Honestly, I was impressed by its simplicity yet tastiness and would go again, though perhaps not by myself.  The three of us chatted a bit more, though I was already quite drained from the past two days, and then grabbed some boba afterwards.  At the boba joint, I ran into one of my cousins who happens to live in Orange County.  (Can you see the trend with the world being so small?)  I hadn't expected to see him as I was on the road most of the weekend, yet it happened.  We also bumped into two other friends from SLO who were making the trip back up the same day.  What were the odds?  Anyway, after drinking most of the sugary-milky goodness down, Esther, Katie and I parted ways and I started the ascent back SLOme.

Congratulations, Esther, Katie, and Kay.  Fight On.

What was learned...

  1. Switching lenses between locations is extremely inconvenient. Considering buying a second body if I ever need to do this as a full-time gig.  Or maybe my old D7100 will work fine. It probably will, in some instances.
  2. First time shooting with the 70-200 f/2.8.  It is a beautiful creation that generates sublime bokeh.  Going to take care of that baby... It is practically a baby.
  3. Shoot in the shade. Shoot in the shade. Shoot in the shade.
  4. Don't be afraid to start conversations. Even if it's about school and the future. They'll lead to other conversations such as family, travel, faith, future plans, and current experiences.
  5. Apartment hunting and doing a photoshoot on back-to-back days is exhausting.  As an introvert... I think I need some time to myself once in a while.

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Joshua Tree National Park: Bringing on the New Year (2016)

The last fleeting moment of 2015 came and went over the course of an instant.  Now, moment by moment, time inches forward into 2016 and onward to 2017.  Booooo.  Time, please stop.  Please?  But alas! I am excited for everything that is in store for this New Year.

It was only fitting that I found myself spending time with Jocelyn's family once again for Christmas and the New Year.  After much anticipation (following a very lethargic and slow work week to my dismay), I geared up and drove down to Orange County the day before Christmas Eve in a vain attempt to beat traffic.  Lo and behold, I am starting to realize more and more that there is no such thing as "beating traffic" in SoCal... especially through Santa Barbara, Ventura, and north LA.  After a grueling 6 hour drive (which should normally take between 3.5 to 4 hours) of stop-and-go traffic, witnessing over two dozen emergency vehicles drive by, and casually sipping on ice-cold water pinky-up style from my trusty stainless steel Contigo water bottle... I finally arrived at my destination.  

This was my second time joining Jocelyn and her family for Christmas and the New Years (and Joshua Tree).  Just like the last, this staycation was full of good company, food, fun and puzzles!  However, I am promising myself to go home next winter for the holiday season.  As much as I enjoy spending time with Jocelyn and her family, I realized it was also time to start spending more time with my family as well.  Also, Hawai'i won't be nearly as cold as California in the winter.

In due time, Jocelyn's family and I went on a short 8-ish mile hike through Aliso and Wood Canyon Park in Laguna Niguel.  It was a beautiful, though very windy, day to take a hike while surrounded by wild oak and sycamore trees.  The terrain itself ranged from flat to fairly steep inclines although we decided to avoid the harder routes and stuck with the medium to easy trails.  I considered this hike a moderate warm up for Joshua Tree which would take place later the following week.  During the four or so hours we were out and about, we ran into a multitude of young and old mountain bikers cruising along the trail, kicking up dust into the wind.  Additionally, as it was the weekend after Christmas, there were also many small families with younger children walking along the trails while enjoying the fresh air.

Afterwards, another week of part-work/part-play passed by much quicker than the last as the day to head to Joshua Tree loomed closer.  This time around, my college-buddy-slash-impulse-shopping-roomie Willis decided to join in on the fun.  I was glad he came along; otherwise, I would have froze to death alone in the tent at night.  Willis decided to spend the night before New Years Eve (the day we were to head out) at Jocelyn's place, so he and I offered to make food for her and the family.  We ended up making a bombtastic mouthwatering beef pot pie that pleased everyone's appetite, except the dogs who could not partake..  I miss cooking with that guy.  Hooray for recipes and not actually following them. Haha. No, but really...

New Years Eve

The day finally arrived to temporarily leave Orange County and head to Joshua Tree National Park.  We all woke up early in the morning, packed and loaded our belongings and camping supplies, and drove out at 9AM.  Some of Jocelyn's family friends also caravaned with us in their tricked out RV/camper mobile, complete with restroom (though often unused), kitchenette, roll-out canopy, and pop-up sleeping cab.  Did I mention a hot-water boiler and space heater?  Anyway, we drove through the suburbs... then desert... then desert... then desert... then you guessed it, more desert... and finally arrived at the north end of the park.  We stopped at Twenty-Nine Palms on the way to pick up some Subway sandwiches for lunch.  Our group was the only customers at the shop... Hooray travelers bringing all the business!  Just kidding, I'm sure they had other business through the day.  Subway is the place to be, after all.

After snagging some grub, we piled back into our cars and made our way to the Visitor's Center at the northern end of Joshua Tree.  The Visitor's Center had a room full of glass walled exhibits displaying some of the park's featured fauna and flora.  It was here that I learned kangaroo rats have specialized kidneys which allow them to secrete a paste-like urine.  In fact, kangaroo rats excrete some of the most concentrate urine out of all the mammals in the world!  Fun facts, huh?  Aside from that little critter, there were also trapdoor spiders, horned/spiny lizards, and a rattle snake on display.  Probably a few more others, too.

After perusing for a few minutes, we left the visitor's center and entered through the park's north entrance to try and find campgrounds at Jumbo Rock, but to no avail.  However, we did successfully found two adjacent campgrounds after a 30-mile drive to Cottonwood Springs near the southern edge of the park.  We set up shop over the course of an hour by pitching tents, snacking, unloading, and eating lunch.  Park map here.

All the young'ns went out for a short hike into the wilderness near the campground as the adults took naps or cleaned up.  Willis, Jocelyn, Jocelyn's sister, and two girls from the second family meandered around the multitude of rocky outcrops as I chose to explore a little farther away.  To me, the time I spent at Joshua Tree was a time of reflection over the past year.  Even though I was surrounded by people, there was definitely a large part of me that wanted to be alone with the wild.  Initially, many thoughts came to mind... ranging from family deaths to newfound friendships... from successful first-time adventures to failed decisions.  My mind continued to wander as I was called back to camp before the sun set.

As the sun set we prepared to heat up dinner.  Part of the menu was a variation of pre-cooked shoyu chicken and canned green beans.  I love shoyu chicken.  I love green beans.  As the congealed chicken fat melted onto the warming aluminum cake pan resting atop a propane burner, the group started to settle down for the night.  Darkness settled quickly as the sun set below the mountain-line and we all grabbed plates of food to eat as a few nifty LED lamps illuminated the night.

Afterwards, our little group of 10 piled into a single 6-person tent and played a card game called Tunk!  Time had never passed by so slowly as while playing cards.  At one point, it felt like 11PM while it was only 7PM.  My mind and feet grew antsy as we sat in the tent playing Tunk!  Eventually, it came to a point where Willis and I were vying for last place... Needless to say, he beat me for last place.... I don't know who was the real winner at that...

After a short while, a few of us decided to do some light painting.  The stars were out in force and the sky was littered with very few sources of light pollution to be seen.  Below are a few photos from the excursion.  Afterwards, we all decided to call it a night.  It was late.  Probably no later than 10PM.  None of us were awake at the stroke of midnight when the date and time turned January 1, 2016, 12AM..

New Years Day

Ah! A new day!  A New Year!  Well.  It still felt like any other day. Hello 2016, goodbye 2015.  You know what the best part of the morning was?  Waking up at 7AM without an alarm.  We all woke up bright and early to start our day. 

Breakfast consisted of Lil' Smokies and bread.  Everyone packed snacks for the long day ahead... trail mix, beef jerky, assorted nuts and bars.... Oh, and water.  Our group was aiming to meet a few more families at Skull Rock later in the morning.  Amazingly, we departed from our campsite on time at 9:45AM and arrived at Skull Rock around 10:30AM.  We waited for ten or so minutes before deciding to start hiking within eyesight of the cars.  Most of the group immediately started climbing the various rock formations nearby.  The weather was still a little nippy as the rocks were just starting to absorb heat radiating from the sun.  In due time, I shed three moderately thick layers and stuffed them into my new F-Stop Gear Ajna backpack.  This trip was a trial run for the bag and I was happy it had ample internal space for not only my camera equipment, but food and clothes for the day as well.  Eventually, the other families showed up and we ate a hearty lunch atop the rocks.  I consumed two of the remaining spam musubis I had on hand.  The rice was cold and hard, but who really cares when you have spam in your mouth :)?

In truth, I found myself in a fairly antisocial mood after lunch.  The group was advancing slowly and all my feet and eyes wanted to do was explore.  As such, I walked ahead of the group (though within visual range) and meandered around among the rocks, sand, and plants whose names I could not identify.  As the afternoon went on we wound up at the same camp site Jocelyn's family and I camped at the previous year.  At that point, we decided to return to the cars and rendezvous at the Cottonwood Springs campsite for dinner.

Before we returned to the campsite the group stopped by the Cholla Cactus Garden.  Hundreds of cholla cacti of varying shapes and sizes littered the ground around the well-marked path.  A few strangers dared to venture into the thick of cholla cacti.  Some unlucky wanderer found themselves with cholla spines stuck to their skin.  How unfortunate...  They walked into that one.

And then darkness fell.... and dinner came.  and the night was cold.  The beef stew was delicious.

The Second Day of 2016

After a rather cold and grumpy night it was again... another day.   Hooray.   Seeing a pattern here?  Time not stopping? Woohoo!  This time, a full nights rest brought my spirits back up.  Breakfast was simply some hard boiled eggs and leftover snacks.  We packed up the tents and loaded our cars, again, and decided to go on a mid-morning 8-9 mile hike out to Mastadon Peak.  It was a relatively easy trail with a few rock hopping points along the way.   We did lose our way once or twice, and ran into a rather large boy scout troop who thought we were part of a girl scout troop... I was slightly perturbed by that comment.  Just slightly.  Our group finally made it to Mastadon Peak in the middle of who-knows-where next to an abandoned mine potentially full of "unstable explosives".  That is quite literally what the sign said.  Did that deter us from climbing?  No. Absolutely not.  Mastodon Peak offered a 360 degree view of the surrounding area; it was both windy and breath-taking.





It is difficult to believe that it has been over a year and a half since my undergraduate study.  Graduating within four years with a B.S. from Cal Poly SLO's rigorous Electrical Engineering program was no trivial task.  Since then, I've been gratefully working as an Energy Engineer at a small energy consulting company in SLO.  During this period in life, I've been graced with the opportunity to be present when other great men and women walk off of Cal Poly's campus... young professionals who proceed into the world as auditors and accountants, designers and developers, marketeers and managers...  some who have traveled around the world as missionaries to foreign countries... some who have moved their permanent residences to places unknown... and some who have continued to reside in SLO.  Each individual destined to shape the world around them in some way, shape, form, or another... hopefully for the better.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of hanging out with a young man named Brian, whom I have known since beginning at Cal Poly.  He is a fellow Electrical Engineer who has just completed the 4+1 program and will be officially graduating in under a week.  You could say he "one-upped" me... I remember initially meeting him during freshman year.  He had a quirky, funny, and quiet (though not) demeanor.  He also loved food.  Yep.  Food.  Food is good.  The same characteristics hold true to this day.  Although I hadn't spent much time getting to know him through our years at Cal Poly, i was grateful for the chance to catch up on his life during a small graduation photoshoot.

Getting out of bed was the hard part of the day.  We had scheduled meeting on campus at 9:00AM.  However, i had slept fairly late the night before and was also planning on bringing Jocelyn to campus so she could work on a group project.  After groggily waking up and throwing on a pair of dark jeans, a beanie and jacket, and a pair of shoes (none of which I enjoy wearing on a regular basis), I picked Jocelyn up and headed over to campus.  We arrived on campus a little later than expected and I headed over to the Power Electronics Lab to rendezvous with Brian.

Brian opened the door and let me in to the lab; we shook hands and he donned his cap and gown.  Brian and I started chatting about life and the wonder of Cal Poly's Electrical Engineering program.  I starting reminiscing about the old days full of drudging through homework, labs, and senior project... Sigh, senior project.  Why does our senior project have over 1,700 views?  

It was a calm, overcast, and not-too-cold winter day so we ventured outside and continued talking about the past, present, and future.  A few strides out of the Electrical Engineering building I noticed a quiet undisturbed spot just between the Computer Science and Graphic Arts building where the trees had shed their leaves.  Afterwards, we continued on our way for a while, stopping at various locations, until finally parting ways.

Brian plans on traveling for a short while after graduation and will then start working for a well-established integrated circuit (IC) company.  He is the type of engineer I could never have aspired to be... a designer.  But I am sure he will perform extraordinarily. 

Congratulations and best of luck, Brian. You earned it.

If you are interested in having your graduation photos taken for Spring 2016, please feel free to contact me via email or Facebook and we can discuss further details.

What Was Learned

  • An ironed sash is a happy sash.
  • If a tassel has lettering (i.e. 2015) attached, be sure it is facing forward... or in a not-so-awkward direction (oops).
  • Tassel on the right before receiving diploma. Tassel on the left after receiving diploma.



Jacqui's Bachelorette Party


A short time ago, Katie, a good friend of mine from Cal Poly, shot a message to me over Facebook asking if I had the time to do a quick photoshoot for her best friend's bachelorette party.  The group of gals were spending a weekend near Pismo Beach at The Dolphin Spa and Resort out here in the Central Coast of California.  Originally, we had planned for meeting at 5:30 p.m.  However, I opted to push it off til 6:00 p.m., hoping the sun's intensity would die down and be less intense.  Of course, true sunset is still closer to 8:00 p.m, so that strategy didn't work as well as I had hoped for.

Yesterday was that day.  Work in the office was plentiful and tedious with a few major deadlines coming up.  I left the office at 5:00 p.m, went home, checked that my camera had adequate memory space and battery life, and hopped on the 101-S by 5:25 p.m.  There was considerable traffic on the way down... perhaps California's version of the pau hana party... with hundreds of people packed in cars moving 40 miles well below the regulated speed limit.  By the time I reached the Avila offramp, I decided to get off the freeway and drive street level to the hotel... resort... spa... whatever you want to call it.


I arrived earlier than scheduled to scout out the area and parked in a nearby residential area within a 5-minute walking distance of the resort.  There was a public access walkway to a "park" off the coast, which I chose to venture out to since I had a few minutes to spare.  The park itself was fairly uninteresting, which featured just a few benches facing out towards the ocean and a few coastal oaks. However, out in the distance were a swarm of seabirds flapping around and splashing in the water.  A few of the larger seabirds were also circling overhead.  I would assume they were feeding on a school of small fish.  Afterwards, I turned tail and headed towards the resort to meet the bachelorette party.

The Dolphin Spa and Resort is located next to The Cliffs, another well known coastal resort.  Originally, I had planned on arriving around 5:30  p.m. to scout out the area for potential shooting locations.   However, I arrived around 5:45 p.m and planned to meet Katie and the girls at the "dolphin near the pool" at 6:00 p.m, sharp (not really).  Since I had a few minutes to spare, I ended up walking around the resort near the coast line. I was rather impressed with the resort and the grounds, but was unimpressed with the lack of locations to do the shoot.  There was also a lot of hotel guests walking around the area and on the coastal walkway, perhaps just before grabbing a romantic (i.e. expensive) dinner on the coast. Okay, expensive is relative.

By 6:00 p.m. my mind was restless trying to figure out how to handle the whole situation.  First of all, I was unsure of where to shoot. Second, the group was to consist of 7-8 persons, a size of which I had not handled in the past.  At most, I had handled four with Jocelyn's apartment-mates. Third, I was worried of being awkward and fumbling the process.  Secretly, I was hoping Katie would inadvertently help to lead the entire process. Haha.

Finally, I ended my walk-a-round and sat at bench near the resort's pool. Katie popped out of a nearby door and greeted me. Shortly thereafter, six other girls exited the door in formal attire carrying... fire(wo)man hats.  One after the other, I greeted and formally met each of them... Jacqui (the bride to be), Katie, Priya, Nicole, Carissa, Caroline, and Anelise.  Apparently, my service was a surprise for Jacqui, who I must admit, has a pretty cool and unique name.

The Bachelorette Party

We all talked a bit then proceeded to walk from the pool to the coastline.  A few photos were taken at a short outcropping right off the coast, but the they didn't develop as well as anticipated.  The breeze was blowing a little too heavily, throwing mostly everyone's hair into disarray.  Wind, as I am realizing, provides more of difficulty than light when shooting photos for women. Therefore, no photos were edited for that segment.

Katie suggested that we move to the beach via a shoreline access.  I replied that I didn't know where it was, so she lead the way.  While the group walked to the access, she and I had a chance to catch up a little, which was nice :).  The shoreline access was no more than wooden steps inlaid into the the ground, covered with layers of dirt, gravel, and sand.  Most of the girls took off their footwear and went barefoot.  There was a quaint bridge that we inevitably stopped at... and shot more photos that didn't develop as well, either :(... Regardless, we ended up going down to the shore.  That's where all the magic happened :D.

Multiple families passed by on their ascent back up the stairs to return home.  Many of them had young children, probably no older than 3-4 years old who ran between the girls and I during the shoot.  It was quite comedic and cute.  Meanwhile, we stayed put. let the families pass, and finally captured a couple of good shots :]. Thankfully, the breeze was less intense on the shore compared to the cliff.  Less breeze = less stuff flying around = happier people. There haven't been many pictures posted beyond this point, so be ready for the upcoming bombardment! This was not a well balanced blog post... (Click to enlarge)

Overall, working with this group of seven beautiful ladies was quite fun.  Although my initial thoughts were apprehensive, it all went quite smoothly.  Time passed by as the overall mood was light hearted. The smiles and laughter were also in abundance.

Overall, 'twas a fun hour out in the sun and on the shore.  The sun was bright, yet the smiles were brighter. Dinner time came along quicker than expected and our time was up... so we bid our good byes, farewells, and so longs.

Jacqui, may your marriage be fruitful and  full of blessings :).

What Was Learned

  • Cliffs = Breezy.... Breeze + Long Hair = Problems
  • Shoreline = Less Breezy; but may result in problems with angles of reflectance on the water's surface, dependent on the sun's elevation. Crouching lower, but no lower than navel level, to put the reflected rays behind subjects helps a lot.
  • Be adventurous to make the shoot more fun. Take your slippers/sandals/flip flops off. Clean up later.
  • Laughter makes everything better.
  • As far as editing goes bright and cheery is the way to go to set the mood. Vibrant could also be a good word. Don't abuse "Vibrance" in Lightroom. Do this by shooting into the sun. There are probably other methods for this, too. I'll discover them later. Expose to faces using spot metering. Increase shadows/darks in light room as needed.
  • Sometimes, you have to desaturate bright colors a tad bit... You just have to...