Category Archives: personal work

On Beauty, Light & the Power of Seeing Yourself

One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten has been from a client’s mother who asked her “does Vanessa only photograph beautiful people?” I laughed, first, because it’s funny, but then because I didn’t have an answer. How do you answer that? I had no idea. If I say no, well I’m calling my clients ugly and if I say yes then those who believe themselves to be not so beautiful won’t feel worthy of being photographed. Today, I can freely answer that question because I now fully understand what I do and why I do it.

Photography has been connected to a part of my soul that has always seen more than I could be cognizant of in my day-to-day life. It was as if I entered another part of me whenever I photographed people. I could filter through to the smallest gestures, the truest expressions, the subtlest of emotions, without knowing how, just seeing something that lit up, a spark of life beyond words, a glimmer of light, an undefinable beauty.

I had never known what drove me, what gave me the patience to wait for those sparks to show up, what it was that I was seeing. Now, I know, it is light. It is the light inside. That light that turns on when we are born and turns off when we die. For a very long time, I realize, I could not see that light in me, but I could see it in my clients, especially when photographing children. That untarnished light was visible in everything they did, and I wanted to capture it, I wanted to remember it, to connect to it.

That light is in us all, it is what makes us all beautiful in our own unique way, it is what I look for when I shoot, it is what I see when you hear me say from behind the camera “there it is.” We all have it. Yes, every one of us. But, because of our own issues and the continuous diet of photographic lies we consume with every magazine cover we see depicting ‘beauty’ as perfection and flawlessness, we believe the superficial description of beauty. We believe that the lines on our faces, the dimples on our cheeks, and the marks on our bodies are ugly, uncommon, and unacceptable. We feel less worthy of compliments, less accepting of ourselves and in turn less accepting of others. And that light slowly begins to dim, every day, to the detriment of our well being and to those that love us.

Too many times I hear my clients shying away from being in a photo because of weight, self-image, insecurity, or all of the above. The irony is that they understand the value of a photograph, the impact of it, they get it, they hired me to photograph their family, they know it’s important, they value the fleeting stages of life and want to capture them; but yet, they degrade their own fleeting time with simplistic descriptions of themselves that say nothing about who they are and everything about how they feel.

For some time now I’ve been speaking to different women clients/friends about the importance of having a professional photo taken of themselves, just them, as women; not as Moms or caregivers or part of a family, but them as individuals. It is as important for them, for everyone, to see themselves as being important, worthy of it, to see that beauty, to see that light sparkle, to remember who they are and that they are here to shine.

So, this year, for my 38th birthday, I decided I would begin a new tradition for myself, and put my money where my mouth is so to speak. Starting now, I will do a self-portrait on my birthday every year until, well, the end, no matter what. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially for photographers (who notoriously hide behind the camera and are probably the least photographed bunch in the world). However, because I’ve been in search of that light inside me for some time and finally feel like it’s beginning to shine again, I wanted to document it, even if it was hard to do.

Now, I know this is a good year for me to start this, as those of you who knew me prior to 2008 are probably thinking. But, I also know that I’m no model, and I’m no Benjamin Button, and I’m not getting any younger, and the lines will get deeper, and the hands will get more wrinkled, and gravity will take it’s toll. So it’s even more important to me to remember how I feel, to see the light sparkle, to document what I looked like and how I felt at 38 (I know my 88 year old self will thank me one day).

To answer the most pressing question on your minds, yes, I’ve done very minor retouching on these, the same I do for my clients, but I don’t believe in ironing the skin beyond recognition; so, you can still see my frown line, my imperfect skin, my veiny arms and hands, the marks on my skin, the scar on my forehead etc. I will post some before & after shots on the Facebook page for the curious few.

Ladies, women, Moms…I urge you to open up and give this gift to yourselves. I promise you, you will not regret it. You are beautiful. I can see it. As a photographer, that is always my goal. To reveal beauty beyond what you see with your eyes, to go to that place that reveals the beauty that is in us all, to reveal the beauty that is not just seen but the one that is felt.

I will post a special promotion for our Facebook fans that want to see the beauty in themselves.

Keep shining.
♥ Vanessa

VLM Studios photography

I’m going to do this more often • Miami Beach Editorial Photographer

It happens every time. I do a session in Miami Beach and say to myself, “I gotta do this more often – come to Miami Beach”. Living so far west in the burbs of Miami, approximately 40 minutes away, I don’t go to Miami Beach very often. Yes, I do a lot of beach sessions, but rarely in Miami Beach. Last Friday, while the rest of the country was submerged in snow, I was doing a 6 month baby session at South Point Park in South Beach and, although cold and windy, it was breathtakingly beautiful. After the session ended I stayed a bit longer to take it all in. The light was gorgeous and the waves were nice enough to attract a few surfers, one of whom I asked if I could photograph as he stared at the water in reluctance at having to leave. Such beauty…it almost looked fake, like if it had been painted. These colors are exactly how it looked. I love Miami in the winter. ♥

© 2010 VLM Studios • Vanessa Lam

© 2010 VLM Studios • Vanessa Lam

© 2010 VLM Studios • Vanessa Lam

Thank You…

A year ago I went to visit my good friend and fantastic photographer Aris Wells in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was going through a very turbulent time in my life that necessitated a withdrawal from my surroundings. I called Aris and told her I needed to get away….without hesitation she extended me an invitation to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I got on a plane and headed her way. She picked me up at the airport and as soon as I saw her I started to cry. I learned many things that weekend, about myself, about relationships, about families, and about my passion. The weather was mostly cold and gloomy, almost a complete reflection of how I felt. Yet, on one day, the sun came out….and it shone like a beacon in the darkness. I took this image on that day…the sun shining through a leafless tree, which, to the naked eye, appears dry and lifeless, but whose heart was still beating just waiting for Spring in order to blossom again….and Spring always comes after a fall.

Thank you ~ friends and clients ~ for continuously supporting me, cheering me on, and showing me immense patience and love throughout this year…I’m eternally grateful and honored. Thank you “mi amiga”, for taking me in when I most needed it, you may never know how much that small gesture impacted my life. Thank you God, for never leaving me, for always guiding me even when I didn’t want to listen and for always teaching me…thank you.

Sending you much love this day and always…. ♥ Vanessa

Thank You

A Quarter More • miami photographer

First, I must precede this post by defusing the question that will undoubtedly arise about the horrible hairstyle I’m sporting in this picture. “What the heck was that?!?!?!” you may ask. I must rightly attribute that masterpiece to my Mother who apparently was channeling Edward Scissorhands as she evidently attempted to create the “Cesar” look on my unsuspecting and unruly head of hair. I’m certain she bit her lip 10 years later when George Clooney famously popularized the cut….”if only”– she said waving her fist in the air. As that statement completely absolves me from said transgression…on to the story of why I’m posting this picture.


As you’ve probably read in my bio on the website, my father was an avid photographer, so I have tons of snapshots from my childhood, and much like you, they’re in a big box, in a closet. I know you all know that box…it has all the old family photos that you only remember are there because you decided to “get organized” and, in your organizational madness, you came across it and proceeded to spend the next three hours going down memory lane…..and there went your “gonna-get-organized” project. That’s what happened. I was “organizing” and came across one of my three boxes full of photos and, as I merrily made my way through the box, I found this rare photo of me as a kid taking a picture (of what I don’t remember). I do remember where this was though and more or less when it was, but couldn’t recall the actual date. Back in those days, the photo labs printed the month and year on the back of the print (one of my favorite things about old photos), so I flipped the photo over and it said August 1984…EXACTLY 25 years ago this month! I was twelve years old.

I had traveled with my mother, older sister, and bother to St. Croix U.S.V.I. for a swimming competition. Traveling for swimming competitions had become quite normal in my family. I now realize how lucky I was to travel at such a young age, especially living in a small Central American country like Panama, where most people would never experience the world beyond their borders. By the age of twelve I was well travelled and, even more, I loved to travel. Airplane traveling was a big deal back then and a really fun experience too. They actually served real food with real utensils, each traveler got a nice pillow and blanket (which I permanently “borrowed” many times), and the flight attendants were actually nice. Yet, as much as I had traveled, I had never had a camera on those trips. By then I had already learned how to use my father’s fully-manual Pentax camera and was head over heels in love with the smell of the darkroom; but, I had never used his camera without his supervision. Consequently, I was beyond ecstatic when I got to take my father’s camera on this trip. If you ask me how it happened I wouldn’t be able to tell you…did I ask to take the camera? did he offer it? I don’t remember…all I remember was this…OH. MY. GOD!!! My Dad let me borrow his camera!!!!! ME! All by myself!!! Needless to say, I guarded it with my life. I don’t remember what I photographed or if any got printed. But that feeling of confidence and independence at having that camera was priceless.

25 years later, I’m still in love with looking at the world through that little hole in the camera. The choice of what stays in and what stays out of the picture is uniquely mine. What I see…how I see it…how I interpret it…what makes me click now versus a second, two seconds, three seconds later…it is an intrinsic mystery that I will never solve yet I know it is sensed, as all of who I am and have been gets imperceptibly imprinted in every one of my photographs. I’m excited to see the next 25 years as they will be undoubtedly shaped by the filters of my life experience and I look forward to continuing to live this mystery of life through photography. Here’s to another 25 and more…♥ Vanessa


“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed� in the deepest sense,
and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
~Ansel Adams

notre dame • fine art photography miami

One of my favorite cities in the world is Paris. It has such a relaxed, artistic, bohemian energy, with its little streets, bakeries emanating the sweet smells of freshly baked baguettes and croissants, their amazingly fresh culinary creations, the cafes, the art, the history…it’s just magical. I’ve been hearing and seeing so much about Paris lately, through friends either going on vacation or living there (like my fabulous photographer friend Sarah Gardan) that it made me nostalgic for it. So, I was going through some of my Paris photos and thought I’d share one of my favorites. It was my first foray into digital photography (using my brother’s Canon 20D) and I ended up shooting over 1,200 images. I have probably 30 different angles on Notre Dame cathedral alone, but I love the simplicity of this one. Can’t wait to go back to Paris, visit my friend, roam around the little streets, snapping away…I wonder how differently I would see the city the second time around and how differently I would document it. See you soon Paris…♥

notre dame cathedral © VLM Studios