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.

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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.

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Meet DCPG Mondays | Rina

Did you miss last week’s installment of Meet DCPG Mondays? Click here to meet Lester!

Today’s featured member of Team Peeg is Rina! Rina has been working with us almost as long as I’ve been in DCPG and has been my partner in crime over the years for many, many shenanigans including moving to Seattle, various musical groups, and brainstorming MANY business ideas ranging from t shirt companies to record labels to our current makeover photography, Malaya by DCPG.

Rina, like our older sister Carrie, is a multi-hyphenate mama. She is a senior photobooth technician, but you’ve also seen her work as a make-up artist and hairstylist on my fashion/boudoir shoots, or helping me out with my baby sessions. She is also a working musician, occasional actor, wife of Zern and mama to the sweetest little boy, Tonio. Here’s Rina, in her own words:


  1. When you’re not twerking DCPG, what is your day job? Insurance agent
  2. If you were on death row, describe your last meal and drink. Ezogiku’s chuka ramen with an order of their gyoza and their fried rice. Topped off Southern style with a big ol’ rocks glass of Jack Daniels.
  3. If you were on Death Row Records, what would your rap name be? I actually was in a rap crew once, the aptly named Rap Crew, and my name was Lunchbox.  But that may sound “soft” for Death Row so maybe Hilary Shank?
  4. If you could have an artist alive or dead follow you around and provide your theme song, who would it be? M.I.A. Bad Girls. I’d feel like such a bad ass and that I could do anything.
  5. Which actor would you like to portray you in your biographical movie and why? That’s a tough one. I don’t know who I’d like to play me but I know that I would want Bolo Yeung to play my dad. That casting is mandatory.
  6. Name three things that drive you absolutely crazy. These are in no particular order . . . Girls that still use scrunchies, kids with excessively long fingernails (if your kid visits my apartment and has long nails, they’s gettin’ cut!) and people without manners
  7. What are three things you are madly passionate about? Again no particular order . .My family, the belief in basic human rights and equality for all, and music.
  8. The title of your autobiography is: Make Em Say Uhhhh . . Rinanana
  9. Formulate your spy alias by adding your favorite adjective + your childhood best friend’s first name +your favorite rapper/MC’s stage name. Arbitrary April B.I.G.
  10. Shirts or skins? Blouses!
  11. My favorite thing about DCPG is: The staff! It’s all family and close friends so it never feels like work :)

You’ve seen her makeup and hair work on many shoots. We started Malaya by DCPG many years ago together to give women makeovers with sessions that made them feel beautiful. Instead of marketing these types of shoots as holiday or Valentine’s gifts to other people, we encouraged our clients to do them just because (treat. yo. self.) It’s such a fun job and some of the girls come back more than once just as a confidence booster, to celebrate, to heal or just for fun. She doesn’t just do the makeup and or hair, she instrumental in the styling and even the posing of the clients. We made such a great team that I brought her on for weddings and senior portraits as well!

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Speaking of her makeup work, here she is at a shoot a few years ago displaying just how big of a difference expression, makeup, angles and lighting make for a photograph. Pretty much the greatest before and after of ALL TIME! Another reason I heart Rina is that she not only lets make take these photos, but lets me post them :)

She is also a regular fixture at the photobooth and baby sessions. I love when she’s on either of these because she’s such a quick hands on learner that, after initial instruction, she is the model of an independent worker. She’s self-reliant, confident and able to problem-solve very quickly.


This photobooth job below was special because it was the wedding of her son’s father, Rene.  Rina and her husband Zern worked the booth together and she loves this photo because it showcases how happy their little blended family is and how Tonio is all the better for having so many people that love him.

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She loves working with kids and has been such a natural with them even when we were kids ourselves. She loves them so much you will usually see her on her off time surrounded by a gaggle of beautiful, multicultural kids courtesy of our friends. Ask any one of them and they will tell you how much they love Auntie Rina.  Halloween is her favorite holiday since it combines makeup, dressing up and all of our kids:

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If you caught the video from April’s wedding, you saw/heard that homegirl can SING.  She likes to keep super busy in the music scene, you may have seen her rocking the stage with 2UpHigh, the various groups Carrie and I have also been in, or whipping her hair back and forth at a Pharaoh and the Manhattan Project show.

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This is a quick promo shot of our most recent group, Parks & Wrecks:

You can also find her on Youtube playing fun covers and making guest appearances in Happyslip videos as Auntie Girly, Auntie Baby’s even louder bestie (she is wearing all our mom’s clothes for this character, btw. Hahah):

Anyone who knows her or has worked with her also knows she is not only talented, but also one of the funniest people EVER and is one of the few people that I can spout off old TV show or movie quotes/references to (even if it’s something we haven’t watched in years) and she gets them right away.  In that spirit, I will leave this post with a final shot of her laughing :)

Follow Rina on the internets here:


Meet DCPG Mondays | Lester

Meet DCPG Mondays is an on-going series where you will get to know the various members of Team Peeg.  If you missed last weeks installment, click here!

Lester “Moto” dela Cruz  is the creative soul behind DCPG. When he and Mendell joined forces, their combined photo + design skills not only formed DCPG, but inspired me as well to pick up a camera and develop a critical eye for design. The camera is almost a natural extension of his arm that we always joke that he makes Mendell and I look terrible because we’ll be packing our gear up and he’s still shooting away because something caught his eye, haha.  Because of that passion, I am taking forever writing up this post because he has SO many great photos to sift through and I’m having a hard time choosing.  This one was a no brainer, though:

Here’s the Moto in his own words:

  1. When you’re not twerking DCPG, what is your day job? Twerking on Church St. and Brambleton. Just kidding. I’m a Senior Creative Manager at ForRent.com and Homes.com. I make things visually pleasing!
  2. If you were on death row, describe your last meal and drink. Sushi — Mermaid Roll from Kyushu and May Roll from Domo. Drink of choice — Orangina! Wait, and a side of Tuna Poke.
  3. If you could have an artist alive or dead follow you around and provide your theme song, who would it be? Jose Gonzalez. He has a lot of songs from the soundtrack of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and it’s pretty epic with a nice and soothing ambiance.
  4. Which actor would you like to portray you in your biographical movie and why? Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street. Just kidding! This is a tough question! Possibly Paul Rudd because he’s likable, funny, doesn’t take himself too seriously, nice and low-key. He’d have to tan a little, wear some glasses, take some design and photography classes, have a little bit of eczema and lose a few inches on the height to play me.
  5. Name three things that drive you absolutely crazy. Not being punctual (both for me and others). Drivers who pull out in front of you and don’t speed up. Slow people in the fast lane.
  6. What are three things you are madly passionate about? Arlyn + My family, photography + design, happiness.
  7. The title of your autobiography is: Hello Moto.
  8. Formulate your spy alias by adding your favorite adjective + your childhood best friend’s first name +your favorite rapper/MC’s stage name Delicious Valencia Biggie Smalls.
  9. Shirts or skins? Skins. No pants policy at the moto household. Beware and be ready.
  10. My favorite thing about DCPG is: Me? Just kidding. Getting to work with my family and do what I love!

More about Lester:

Lester’s shooting style is characterized by wide angle, dramatic shots that often employ his signature low perspective.


More often than not, you’ll find Lester rolling around on the ground because he will do ANYTHING to get that shot, such as putting his hand in a patch of burrs and later accidentally breaking Robyn’s sunglasses while making this amazing photo of her and Mark:


He’s a great business partner to work with. I started out in DCPG knowing next to nothing and he and Mendell encouraged and celebrated my growth as a photographer instead of feeling threatened or crowded when 2 shooters became 3.  Of course, he is also a very creative and super skilled photographer on his own; game for anything. I have thrown him into many situations where he was totally unprepared and shooting solo and not only does he take these assignments cheerfully, the photos always come out totally BOSS. Things like, “Hey, our new clients want to shoot their engagement portraits in a glow-in-the-dark indoor mini-golf park and maybe at outside at night; we’ve never met them before, can you do the shoot in 2 days?”



Or, “Our friend just broke both his arms, can you go cover the wedding he was supposed to do tomorrow?” Why not, indeed!

He is obviously great at lighting and setting up portraits, but since he is constantly finding moments as well, he is amazing at capturing these beautiful split seconds like this one of Bylle and Doug after she walked him down the aisle:

He is a strobist at heart, consistently employing the classic DCPG dramatic lighting:

But he can work natural light like nobody’s business as well:

He is amazing on his own, obviously, but when we are all together, it’s like a photography Voltron!  At both weddings and portrait sessions where 2 or more of us are present, we will take turns being principal shooters and will often hold lighting and assist for one another. No egos, just teamwork.

In the photo below, Lester is holding the backlight (Mendell was shooting and I’m holding the main light) but all three of us put the shot together almost by telepathy. We literally had only seconds to make this shot happen; it had just started pouring rain and the sun was just about gone. I handed Nedie and Edmond an umbrella, we all instinctively moved into position and ended up with this one-of-a-kind portrait:


Lester is just a happy, fun and kind person that people genuinely like being around. Every wedding we photograph, some dude develops a a man crush on him and/or tries to get him to drink up with the groomsmen. He is the kind of person who will bring his mother-in-law along on what could have been a romantic European getaway for him and Arlyn. He is also the guy who will buy a single taco in the middle of the night and deliver it to Arlyn while she works the night shift at the hospital. I personally appreciate the way he lets me talk his ear off the rare times we get to sit down together in our fun business strategy/catching up sessions that we have.

I’ll leave this post with a bunch of photos showing his own personal photos of his most favorite things*:  planes, traveling and of course, his beautiful wife, Arlyn.  I asked her for her thoughts on her hubby and she says, “I love that he loves me back as much I love him and more, he is always kind, patient, he laughs at my jokes, he is adventurous, he sees beauty and kindness in everything and everyone and he tolerates me and pays me no mind when I whine.” (haha love that last part)

*Note that cars and food are conspicuously missing.  He has a million car and food photos and I could not choose one; hit up his Facebook or Instagram if you want to see them!

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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 :)


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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

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: