We Are Not a Brand | DCPG Behind the Scenes

Unlike Beyonce, I did not wake up flawless, but instead with a phrase rattling around my mind.

We are not a brand.

We’ve been in this business for almost 10 years now, so we admittedly rose on the tide of digital photography to its current flooded state. If I were to believe the current social media landscape, the most successful photographers are walking perfection with their trendy outfits, impeccably decorated studios and stylish branding. They look amazing, seem to be making tons of money and are shooting lavish, magazine-ready weddings.

I mean, I know DCPG is great at what we do. And successful enough that I’ve been running it this whole time without having to work a day job (being your own boss totally rules, by the way)! But every now and then, a teenage sense of doubt creeps in watching these beautiful photographers with their Beyonce-level confidence and knack for self-promotion. I see the adulation they get from their lifestyle alone and secretly fret if that’s the ideal we need to live up to. In those moments, I feel like a brown Laney Boggs.

I mean, I’m over here wearing mismatched sweats (#iwokeuplikethis), typing this blog while sharing some Oreos with my daughter. I’m not at my studio/office because the elevator over there is broken and the only other way in is the creepy alley fire escape. There is a 75% chance we are eating cheap pizza for dinner and a 100% chance I will not move from this chair. No Louboutins or cake stands of artfully arranged macarons ’round these parts – the struggle is real!

However, once that flicker of doubt passes, I remember two things:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

(Side note: I love this quote, but I love even more that you can buy a print of this locally! Lettering, photo and print by Norfolk studio, Maple & Belmont.)

At the end of the day, I know who we are and believe in our work. We built our business slowly and steadily, so the foundation is strong. I know that we’re not “less than” others for just doing things differently. This isn’t to say rockstar or lifestyle marketing is wrong, because, let’s be real, it works amazingly well for a LOT of people. Nor do I believe our way of handling our business is perfect or better than another. Like the corner of Kempsville and Princess Anne Rd, we are a never ending work in progress. However we choose to present ourselves to the world, I just want it to be authentic to ourselves and always in service to others. Even if it means looking like a weird combination of these:

If you haven’t meet DCPG, these photos pretty much sum us up. We are a bunch of happy weirdos that love each other and what we do!  Keep reading for our “manifesto” and some of our favorite DCPG images.

PeegBoof 534559_10151239097261051_1465957709_n as Smart Object-1 copy

736727_10151304523851051_758433867_o as Smart Object-1

The moment Rina realized sh*t just got real

I know the angle says otherwise, but Lester is in fact NOT photographing my butt.



We are not a brand.

We aren’t concerned with labels. We can’t inspire you with a Pinterest-worthy lifestyle. We know you care more about substance than glitz. You’re not cookie cutter, and neither are we.

So, who are we?

We are family. Every single thing we do comes from a place of love. We love what we do the same way we love our families —

Wholeheartedly, selflessly, fiercely.


We are photographers. More so, we are your photographers.

This makes us both your historian and your mirror and we treat that responsibility with passionate care.


We are respectful of everything that you are and that you love.

We strive to create images that reflect the beauty we find in

your happiness, your life, your uniqueness.


So yeah, we’re not a brand, we’re just us.

We may not be the loudest or coolest kids on the block, but we don’t mind.

The love we put into our work speaks for itself and, hopefully, it speaks to you.

Because (your) life is beautiful.

411876_10151060595871051_1641038201_o as Smart Object-1 copy allegra 882287_10151446880536051_1097790371_o-2 copy annekrunsaway242169_10150200924396051_8327561_o as Smart Object-1 copy yoda 617225_10151240202556051_117092085_o as Smart Object-1 copy 460625_10150962754861051_435271899_o as Smart Object-1 copy

Meet DCPG Mondays | Carrie

Being that our last blog post was in October, I think it’s safe to say we are terrible at blogging regularly.  We brainstormed over the snow days and came up with a different theme (or two, depending on the day) for each weekday to at least give us a starting point so we’re kicking off the new year with Meet DCPG Mondays!!

If you’re familiar with DCPG, you’ve probably discovered that there are a LOT of us; 10 in total.  We started out as just family, but added some close friends as new associates over the years.  I decided to give the inaugural post to my sister Carrie since I had her come up with the silly survey questions and she and our little sister Rina are the two people who have worked for us the most over the last 9 years.

Meet Carrie in her own words:

1. When you’re not twerking DCPG, what is your day job? I’m an apprentice instructor at IMPACT Martial Arts Academy and an apprentice entrepreneur at Virginia Benefit Corporation, Norfolk Fair Trade Company.

2. If you were on death row, describe your last meal and drink. Southern Comfort Foods. My aunt Jeanne’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, collard greens, and baked macaroni and cheese with a gallon of Chick-Fil-A’s sweet tea and Left Hand Milk Stout in the bottle. Mint chocolate chip gelato in a waffle cone.

3. If you were on Death Row Records, what would your rap name be? It’s a tie between C-Note (thanks, Uncle Sino!) and Sweet Riot.

4. If you could have an artist alive or dead follow you around and provide your theme song, who would it be? Wu – Tang forever, baby.

5. Which actor would you like to portray you in your biographical movie and why? Aziz Ansari because I feel like he’s more vulgar Indian male version of myself.

6. Name three things that drive you absolutely crazy. Weak and flaccid hugs. The current lyrical content of unintelligent hip-hop and r&b. People who are inconsiderately condescending.

7. What are three things you are madly passionate about? Facilitating learning and growth (geek alert!). Effervescently encouraging people especially children. “Loving the crap out of everything.” – The Optimism Revolution

8. The title of your autobiography is “A Fun Sized Memoir : My journey with Jesus into womanhood and martial arts”

9. Formulate your spy alias by adding your favorite adjective + your childhood best friend’s first name +your favorite rapper/MC’s stage name.    Delightful Jewel Q-Tip

10. Shirts or skins? Game, blouses.


11. My favorite thing about DCPG is…working with some of my favorite people on the planet.

Carrie through DCPG’s eyes:

Carrie is what I lovingly call the James Franco of our group because she enthusiastically dabbles in a million different things that are dear to her.  She’s an entrepreneur, mental health advocate, mama, honeybadger, martial artist, poet, etc and so on! Not only is she a multi-hyphenate mama, she is also the kindest, selfless and most humble person you will ever meet, who is more than happy to greet you with a tackle hug, even if you just met 10 seconds ago.


You’ve probably seen this beautiful face delivering your album to your door, guiding you through the photobooth, or snuggling your baby while I set up lights at a Baby Steps session.  Or perhaps you’ve seen her when we post her annual TreatYoSelf portrait session:



Which over the years has morphed into the annual Bad Ass Extravaganza with our bro Costa:


Or you’ve seen her and Costa as teachers/students at IMPACT Martial Arts Academy:


You may have also seen her at Last Tuesday’s or Fuzzy Wednesdays blazing the stage with her poetry, either solo or part of all-girl music/poetry supergroup, Parks & Wrecks.   She would be too modest to tell you, but she has a great singing voice too; it’s bluesy in this awesome Amy Winehouse way.  Btw, big thanks to Neleh for permission to use this photo :) (I don’t have any of these pics because I”m on stage w/ Carrie, haha)

Photo by Neleh Sawsiengmongkol


Or perhaps you’ve seen her enthusiastically telling you about B-corps and selling beautiful fair trade items in Downtown Norfolk’s cultural gift store, Norfolk Fair Trade Co with her mini-me Cordie usually in tow:


I mentioned at the top that she is a mental health advocate and with her permission, I wanted to post this photo of her and her late husband and Cordie’s dad, Christopher, who they lost to suicide 10  years ago.  I mention him because although she doesn’t let the term “widow” ultimately define her or overshadow her life,  she still honors him by being candid and passionate about bringing more light to mental health and suicide related  issues.  A few links she wanted me to mention:

  1. AFSP
  2. Stop Soldier Suicide
  3. To Write Love On Her Arms
  4. Ransomed Heart Ministries

Thanks for reading and happy Monday!



Mia at age 9 | Norfolk Child Photographer

Disclaimer:  this is a personal post, so if you’re not interested, avert your eyes! Haha! Anyone who has worked with us and/or follows us on Instagram should know my sweet daughter/DCPG mascot, Meems.  About 90% of the DCPG instagram is either her insanely detailed drawings or cute outfits.

We bought Meems a fancy dress for no reason and she’s probably growing out of it as we speak, so we did an impromptu portrait session at the Pagoda.  I didn’t get to do her 9th birthday portraits back in February, so I was glad to finally get a free moment to take some “official” photos of her! We kept it simple; natural light, barely any editing and no makeup or fancy hair.   We were really pushing it that day time-wise, so by the time we got to the Pagoda it was cold and we literally had 15 minutes of usable daylight.  Everything worked out; the soft sunset light was perfect, she was a trooper about the weather and she magically did not argue once about posing or location.

Taking a cue from my friend at http://mamamccuan.tumblr.com, here is Mia at age 9:


  • Drawing
  • Drawing
  • Drawing
  • Did I mention drawing?
  • Doing things by herself (even if it means running away from Mama at stores)
  • Manga, anime and collector toys esp. from Madoka Magica, Yotsuba
  • Mark Crilley tutorials
  • Blazers, skirts and skinny jeans
  • Kali at IMPACT Martial Arts
  • Her new iPod
  • Japanese culture
  • Fancy dinners


  • Being told to take a shower
  • Meat that’s too chewy
  • Clothes w/ baby-ish designs or text graphics
  • When adults talk about her in front of her
  • Onions
  • Singing in front of anyone
  • When Mendell asks her too many questions while she’s trying to sleep
  • Wearing socks
  • Soda (thank God)

What’s new at age 9?

She was accepted into Old Donation Center’s visual arts program, which was a no-brainer.  We’re letting her do more things on her own, simple things like making her own breakfast, riding the elevator at the Creative Space w/o us or being home alone for short periods of time.  The baby steps toward independence are mostly for the sake of Mendell and I because we’re so used to hovering around our only child, haha.  She’s very entrepreneurial minded; I’ve stopped her many times from attempting to sell her drawings to people at parties and suggestions she’s made to me about DCPG or business ideas in general are surprisingly practical. Sometimes talking to her is like talking to an adult; her tendency toward introversion makes her really thoughtful and insightful for a 9 year old.  Even if the end result is her not getting what she wants, she is always open to listening to reasoning and for the most part understands, even if she doesn’t necessarily agree.  She is shy to strangers, but outgoing to people she knows/loves.  She’s a pro at ordering her own food at restaurants.  She is still working on doing cash transactions at stores by herself, but loves doing it. She has Mendell’s inherent and effortless kindness, which draws people to her.  Babies love her! We also noticed a funny trend where shop owners/restaurants will give her free cookies for no reason at all.   She was an orange belt in Muay Thai, and a yellow belt in Kali (Filipino Martial Arts) but discovered this year that she wants to focus only on Kali.  She craves independence but still likes to snuggle with us at night before bed.   She still sleeps w/ her favorite bear from when she was a baby.  These years of her still being a little girl are fading fast so we’re trying to hold on and savor this time before the tween years hit! Being the self-aware person she is, she says, “I hope I stay sweet, even when I’m a teenager.” Me too, Meems.

All in all, she is a lovely little person :)


MIaSpring-1324 MIaSpring-1367-Edit MIaSpring-1263 MIaSpring-1295 MIaSpring-1412 MIaSpring-1361MIaSpring-1246 MIaSpring-1308

My favorite people in the whole wide world.  I love them so much!!


These two are like living anime characters, haha.


I hope to make portraits an annual thing for her and her cousins; it’s nice to shoot for yourself and your family every now and then!

– Cies

  • Dress, shoes, flower pin | Target
  • Moto jacket | Dillards
  • Photography | Ciesther dela Cruz

NEWS | Movin’ on up!

…to the 3rd floor!

Before I get to the good news,  I have to go back to the beginning.  A year and a half ago, we moved into downtown Norfolk as an early adopter of a  co-working space called the 757 Creative Space.  It was serendipitous at the time, as I was sick of meeting clients in coffee shops, but we lacked the funds and manpower for a full time retail storefront.  Someone on Facebook (of course) mentioned the Creative Space and lo and behold, the very day I researched it, they happened to have an open house going on.


Not more than 30 minutes into the tour, we were sold.   I was honestly sold before we even got there, but Lester and Mendell luckily loved it as much as I did.   Before we left, we picked out our office:


And planted our flag:


Then returned the following day to sign papers!




We were the 2nd company to sign up for an office and it’s been amazing to see the space fill up with so many different businesses, people and ever changing local artwork on the walls.    I love working here at the Creative Space and in Norfolk in general, but our office was getting tight (if you’ve ever had a meeting with us, you know the pain of having to move our chairs around haha) and with the unstable Hampton Roads weather, I found myself longing for something a little bigger that we could use as a small indoor studio space.  I told Sarah we were thinking about moving after our term was over and, God bless her, she sprang into action right away.  She and Clint started looking for spaces to expand the Creative Space into, with extra attention paid to spaces big enough to accomodate our studio wishes.  They were looking to expand anyway, but their sheer effort to accommodate us, plus their awesomeness/helpfulness in general is something we will forever be grateful for.   Sarah and Clint (and Harper) rule!

They had a false start with a potential space elsewhere in downtown but it fell through due to overpricing and a next door tenant optioning the two rooms that were the basis of all of us even liking that space.   LUCKILY, it turned out that our upstairs neighbor at 259 Granby was going virtual and vacating the 3rd floor.   So super long story short, I am stoked to say that we’re movin’ on up to the 3rd floor and taking over the large front office that overlooks Granby.  It’s almost 3 times the size of our tiny office, it has huge windows, tall ceilings and exposed brick, and best of all, we are still part of the 757 Creative Space.  Sarah and Clint have great plans for the rest of the 3rd floor and I can’t wait to see how it all develops.

Please excuse my crappy cell phone photos, we’ll post better ones once we’re all moved in and decorated:



But wait, there’s more!!

It’s magazine season and you’ll find DCPG in not one, but TWO local bridal mags:  Premier Bride and Vow.   For Premier Bride, we were contacted by the publisher to shoot an editorial spread for a cotton-candy wedding styled session.  The concept was based on an inspiration board created by Apryl Roberts of Memorable Events by Apryl.    Lester, Mendell and I teamed up and tackled parts of the shoot both separately and together – one of the great advantages to hiring us is the fact that we’re not just a team, but a team of 3 principal shooters, no assistant or second string shooters.  Anyway, right when everything was set up, it started raining.   The large magnolia tree we were shooting under acted as a huge umbrella and we actually stayed dry and the photos came together beautifully!  Here are the tearsheets from our spread, titled “Love is Sweet”:

Hampton Roads 2012-2 ISSUU-90 Hampton Roads 2012-2 ISSUU-91 Hampton Roads 2012-2 ISSUU-92 Hampton Roads 2012-2 ISSUU-93

Credits again with links!

Everyone was so great to work with; we all threw this together in a week and it turned out amazing! :)

We also had a half page advertisement (we loved the strategic area our ad was placed, thanks Christy!).   She gave us a bag full of magazines, so please stop by the 757 Creative Space sometime and pick one up!


Our photography made some cameo appearances in the latest issue of Vow as well!  The Sheraton Virginia Beach used Kam + Ren‘s hilarious jumping shot in not one but two advertising areas.  They also used one of our detail shots in their main ad as well:

We’ve got some other good things on the horizon as well, but I’ll save those for later.  Thank you for bearing with this long winded post and we’ll get back to posting wedding and baby photos soon :)

– Cies


Photobooth Event | AIGA SHRED | August 22


DCPG has become a sponsor at AIGA’s awesome upcoming summer event, SHRED | Surf & Skate Exhibition.  SHRED is a fundraising competition and art exhibition where local designers, fine artists, surfers, skaters, and students showcase their artwork for a skate deck and/or surfboard. The event will be held at the Virginia Aquarium on August 22nd during the week of ECSC. There will be food, drinks, entertainment, and the raddest surf/skate art you’ve ever seen.

We’ll have the DCPG Photobooth set up in all it’s glory taking photos all night, all of our great staff and a little table setup with more of our photography work for you all to check out.   We have also donated a Commercial Portrait Session for their raffle, so if you need headshots or promo shots, definitely try to get it!

For more info visit:  AIGA | Facebook

This isn’t the first AIGA event that DCPG has made an appearance in; a few months ago Ciesther was a guest speaker on an AIGA-sponsored panel about Facebook marketing.   We are looking forward to what is sure to be a super, super  fun event and we’d love for you to come out and see why DCPG has the dopest staff on the planet: