Becky Miller


MPA: Why do you love photography?

BM: Photography gives me the opportunity to share beauty and adventure with the world (or my little portion of it). I love when I get that one great shot. And I really love when someone really likes my photos.

MPA: Your favorite thing about MPA?

BM:  I have always loved taking photos and as I was taking them I was sure they were just going to be photographic masterpieces but then they came back from the drug store as regular old tourist pictures. But that has definitely changed since joining MPA.They have helped me SO much with my technical skills but they especially help me by taking the time to call attention to creative ideas I had not thought of. All the instructors are so approachable and knowledgeable. They always take the time to be sure I truly understand what they are explaining. Another favorite thing about MPA is all the new friendships I’ve made on my travels with them. It’s always so fun to be with a fun group of people with similar interests. And, of course, another big favorite is the opportunity to travel safely around the world and experience places and fun times I would probably never have done by myself.

MPA: Your favorite trip or course with MPA?

BM: So far, my favorite trip was Tanzania in 2015. It was beyond amazing! My photos from that trip are some of my very favorites. I have also done a few US trips including going to Montana two years in a row and got to photograph baby animals at Animals of Montana. I have also done several other international trips with MPA and every one was well thought out and completely fun,
enjoyable and educational.

MPA: Your aspirations as a photographer / artist?

BM:  I want to continue traveling and learning how to take better and better images. Practice makes perfect, right? And what better way to practice than with excellent instructors and company in exquisitely beautiful locations!

MPA: Where do you look forward to traveling next?

BM: My next trip with MPA is to Alaska at the beginning of December to photograph the Aurora and the beauty of Alaska. I went last year and the trip was phenomenal. 2017 is going to be an amazing year for me too – I have trips scheduled to Patagonia and Antarctica, Croatia and Iceland with MPA!

Julie Wilson

Why I love photography?

This is difficult to put into words but I will try.  I lost a large part of the vision in my right eye in 2007.  I lost a lot of memories as well.  I had an arterial bisection in my brain.  I am lucky to be alive and functioning at all.

I don’t know why I decided to buy myself a camera.  Maybe I was looking for a way to regain my ability to see and I was looking for a creative outlet to satisfy the artist in me.  I cannot paint or draw anymore.  The message gets scrambled from brain to hand.  So I thought maybe I can use a camera.  I researched on Amazon and I splurged on a Canon T3i.  Hey, free shipping right?!

When it arrived, I put the battery in and away I went.  I was enthralled and challenged.  It was exactly what I needed.  After two years now, photography has become my passion.  There is always something to learn.  Always something to strive for.  Always a wonderful surprise when a photo comes out just right or better than you envisioned!  Photography is my escape from stress and my pursuit of beauty all rolled into one.  If I have a bad day, I go shoot and all is right with my world.


My favorite thing about MPA?

Traveling with a group of like minded people, (photographers), while being watched over by the McKay crew.  Any question I have about photography, someone is available to help.  I love to travel without stressing about the itinerary or where I will stay, etc. etc. etc.  It is really quite nice.  I need a support group and they keep me on track.

My favorite trip with MPA?

Cuba, Bavaria, Vermont were all fantastic experiences.  But my favorite trip is still my first trip.  Winter Yosemite 2015.  Adam Furtado took me under his wing the first morning and showed me how to shoot Manual mode.  I have not looked back since.  The encouragement that I was given on that trip helped me to get through the initial frustration of learning something so new to me and gave me the understanding that this was worth the effort.


My aspirations as a photographer/artist?

I want to be as good as I can be.  I would like to continue creating and capturing for the rest of my life.  I set goals for myself.  This year my goal is to learn portrait photography because I found myself to be very intimidated by it.  Next year it may be to start charging people for those portraits!  Not necessarily because I want to go into business but it would be lovely to retire and have an additional source of income from my photography that will pay for the gear and travel!  Best of both worlds right?


Where do you look forward to traveling next?

Yellowstone in January 2017 is my next big trip with MPA.  But I like to schedule something every 2-3 months on a smaller scale.  In the fall I am attending the portrait academy for the second time.  Visits to friends and family are always good.  I would like to explore just about everywhere in the world but can only take the time for one international trip per year.  Shorter trips to explore the US are easier to fit in and really enjoyable as well.


Any info I want to share about myself and work?

I share the fact that I am a traumatic brain injury survivor because one of the biggest issues for those with this challenge is that they feel isolated and alone.  Symptoms are not visible to the average person and understanding of the challenges faced every day is almost non existent.  Depression is a very real outcome for most because they do not see how they can lead a life of exploration and independence.  I want them to know it is possible.  I want them to see that I am doing it and so can they.



Steven Cheng

Why you love photography?
Ever since I was little, I seemed to have always had an interest in taking pictures and seeing how they turn out.  It wasn’t until I got my first SLR that it really started opening up the possibilities of what I can potentially do.  I get inspired when I look at the type of pictures that professional photographers take and it drives me to try and search and take the same type of amazing images.  The statement “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings so true to me.  When I take pictures there is usually a story behind it and I love to tell people about those stories or hear about the stories behind pictures that other people take.

Your favorite thing about MPA?
Before I became involved with MPA, I only knew how to shoot in automatic mode.  Using any other setting on my camera was a bit foreign and intimidating.  I’ve always wanted to lean how to become a better photographer and when I saw a Groupon to attend introductory photography courses by MPA, I decide to give it a try.  I’m so glad I did.  The way that David and Ally teaches take the intimidation of out learning all the details and they are really good that simplifying the concepts.  Then when I went on one of the MPA photo safaris and put all the concepts to practice, that was when I really started to get into photography as the coaching really opened up the possibilities of the type of photographs that I was striving to achieve.  The entire MPA team is very patient in the way they teach and are very approachable to ask questions on virtually anything to help us become better photographers.

Your favorite trip with MPA?
I’ve done a few local trips with MPA such as San Francisco and Point Lobos but my recent trip with MPA to Cuba was absolutely mind-blowing.  Cuba has always been a top destination on my bucket list and to be able to travel to such a destination, getting to meet some fantastic people, and getting photography instruction with MPA along the way was priceless.   They do a great job at organizing the trips.  I had such a great experience on the Cuba trip that it convinced me to book their upcoming Antarctica and Patagonia trip.

Your aspirations as a photographer/artist?
Anytime I go out a shoot, I’m always looking for that one or two shots where you can say, yeah, that’s the one.  It’s the inexplainable feeling you get when you absolutely captured the moment in a way that gives you goose bumps.  If I can build up a respectable collection of those shots, then I can say I’ve reached my goal as a photographer.
Where do you look forward to traveling next?
Traveling is a top priority in my life.  So far I have traveled to 49 countries across 6 continents.  My next upcoming trip with MPA is Antarctica and Patagonia which is by far one of the most exciting destinations I can imagine going to.  What fantastic destinations to get me to my 50th country and my final continent!

The best places to photograph holiday lights in San Francisco

And, personal tips from David and Ally McKay on how to get the best shot

It’s that time of year again and a great time to dust off the camera in your closet and get out and do some shooting! The Holidays are a great time to enjoy festivities and create wonderful images. San Francisco is always a fantastic location to photograph any time of the year. However, during the holiday season, it’s the most “wonderful time of year”!  (Christmas song playing in my head!)

There are MANY photographic spots in San Francisco, but below are some of my favorites. These are in no particular order. However, I tend to love to work through the city in a strategic plan. So I will take you on the route I usually do that makes a general loop through my favorite spots.

Treasure Island

san francisco skyline photography

Treasure Island is a perfect vantage point to shoot from across the bay the city skyline. It’s not that you will get the best Holiday Light images from here, but it is a great place to shoot and get yourself situated. It’s also a great place to park and then carpool if you are meeting others to go out and shoot the city and coming from various locations. Be warned though; do NOT leave ANY valuables or anything that looks like valuables in your vehicle.  With that said, the area is safe, but break-ins are known to happen.

Union Square

macys san francisco union square
holiday photography union square

Here you will find yourself right in the middle of all the action. It is busy so be sure to arrive early to get parking if going on a weekend or the Santa festival is taking place.  Otherwise, it is impossible to park.  I love shooting here because the Holiday Spirit is in full swing. Everything from the outdoor ice skating rink, the drunken Santa’s and of course the Macys Christmas tree window display can be found. One particular tree worth photographing, are the palm trees that are lit quite nicely each year.

City Hall

san francisco night photography

Each year the city sets up an array of Holiday cheer in Red and Green.  It is possible to get some very nice images of the building as well as the leading lines of the pathways that lead up to the steps.

Ghirardelli Square

SF Gheridelli 1 FB
ghiradelli skyline photography

There are many photographic opportunities here and personally I love coming here during the holidays.  The famous Ghirardelli sign is lit up in special color for the holidays which makes an awesome shot from across the street. One of my favorite images to get here is the long exposure passing of vehicles and their lights streaking by. It makes for great visuals and below in the tips I explain how to do this.  If you are lucky, you may get a Cable Car load of revelers on their way by adorned with colorful Christmas lights as well. This can really make your images unique!    Do not be afraid of extra-long exposures to get these shots!

Upstairs, make sure to photograph the fountain. It can be busy but if you start late enough, usually by the time you are here it’s not too bad. Long exposures of the red lit fountain can be beautiful. Next, walk on over to the large Christmas tree. One of my favorite things to take pictures of is reflections up close in the large golden ornaments.

After this, a stop for a good hearty bowl of clam chowder and hot chocolate at Lori’s Diner should warm you up for the last part of our circle of favorite locations.

Piers 14 & 24

pier 14 bay bridge night photography
SF Sculpture FB
san francisco skyline photography

I love to end the evening here. Usually, by the end of the night it is much quieter and a nice place to really create some spectacular photographic images of San Francisco and the city-scape.  Many of the buildings of the skyline will have color lights on them.  First, prior to going out on the pier, take a few images of the modern sculpture work all decked out ion holiday cheer!  Next, go to the very end of the pier and shoot back towards the city. Don’t worry about the pedestrians in your images, they will hardly show up during a long exposure anyway.  Use the leading lines of the walkway to lead your viewer to the city scape.  Taking a low angle can create a sense of the walkway being right there for your viewer to “step into”. I love it when it has rained a bit here. Everything is so still and quiet and the walkways have a beauty of reflecting light. Look for puddles if it has rained to see what reflections you can come up with!

Last, I also love to shoot from Pier 24. It is just a great location anytime of the year to shoot and get some great images of the bay bridge.

Gear needed:

  • Camera with Manual Settings
  • Tripod (It must be sturdy!)
  • Extra Memory Card
  • Extra fully charged Battery
  • Warm clothing

Tips for photographing Holiday Lights

Check out our video on shooting holiday lights here.

1.     Tripod Use

A good tripod is essential for this. A cheap one from the local electronic store will not work! Your images will only be as good as you can get your camera still. If there is ANY movement at all in your camera with the long exposures, your images will not be sharp. Be sure to understand how to use your tripod correctly prior to going out. It is much easier to learn how to use it in the comfort of your own home rather than out on a cold damp night in the city!  Make sure everything stays secure while working with a tripod or otherwise; you may find yourself with a broken camera and asking Santa for a new one! Check out our video on tripods here.

2. Use ONLY manual settings

The key to photographing holiday lights or any night time scene is to use full manual settings.  Start by setting your ISO on 100. (The best quality for sensitivity, but takes more light to expose)

As this will require more light to make your exposure, you will find that you need to open up your Aperture/F-Stop to the smallest number (largest opening) your lens will allow.  The more expensive the lens, the more ability you will have to go to a smaller number such as F2.8 as an example. Most standard lenses will only go to about F3.5 or 5.6.

Next, adjust your shutter speed according to your light meter in your camera.  Since you will be working in low light conditions and also using an ISO that requires more light to expose the sensor, you will find that many of your exposures will be very long. Do not be worried about long exposures that may be 10 or 15 seconds or even longer! That is why we have the tripod.  Simply adjust your shutter speed to the length of time needed to create a well-lit image!  See this video on exposure.

3. Use a cable release

If you do not have a cable release, that’s ok. You can simply set your self- timer on your camera for 2 seconds. The key here is to make sure you are “hands off” when the shutter goes. While depressing the shutter, vibration from your hand will cause the image to be shaky. It’s the little things that count sometimes and this little item can make or break your holiday images!

4. Get creative in composition!

Work with many different angles and compositional techniques. Do not just set up and shoot horizontal eye level! That is what EVERYONE sees on a normal basis. The trick is to get your viewer to see a perspective they would not normally see. In doing this, you create something different for their eye which can translate to more impact in your photographs!

5. Try various lenses

Be sure to try all the various lenses in your bag. Personally, I love shooting with a wide angle lens. I work with it so it feels as if my viewer is taking a “journey” through my image. By allowing the viewer to see angles and lines that “lead” into your main subject matter, it’s as if the viewer can step into the photograph and walk through it.

6.  Go to F16 or F22 and get car light streaks

A larger number with your Aperture creates a smaller opening inside the lens for light to enter.  Usually, with low light we tend to need a small number as mentioned above. However, by doing this and taking light away entering through the lens, we can compensate by allowing our shutter to stay open even longer (30 seconds as an example) and as vehicles or lights pass by, they will become streaked with their motion.  This can have added effect to all of your images.

7.   Shoot on RAW or large Jpeg

Shooting on RAW will give you the very best in a quality image.  If you are not sure yet how to process a RAW image, at the very minimum, at the minimum, shoot on a large jpeg. For Canon, this is called Large and for Nikon it is called Fine.  I have seen so many people get great images only to see that their quality suffered greatly as the camera was set on a lower quality image selection. Simply go into the menu system of the camera and you can adjust for this.  See this video

8. Have fun and don’t be a scrooge!

Isn’t that the point!? Have a great time and enjoy the journey and the Holidays!

Here is another video for you to check out on how to photograph Holiday Lights very clearly explained as well as how to do it with people in your images such as your kids in front of the tree or fire place.

From myself as well as Ally and all of us here at MPA, have an AMAZING Holiday Season and Happy New Year!

David McKay

Shiloh Nicola

I first started of with buying an entry level camera just to kind of learn and see exactly what was possible or the possibilities were to make images I see, to be able to myself do the same thing. I first signed up with two other companies to take their classes to explore my options and learn about the magic behind the camera. I learned a few things, but felt my expectations were more than what they were willing to show me. I wanted to be able to take an image and make it look like what I can see with my naked eye. I wasn’t getting that knowledge after spending the money with these other two companies. Now after endless experiences, opportunities, classes and instruction, I am above and beyond with what I thought could ever be possible. With MPA, the sky’s the limit and feel that I am so impressed with where I was and where I am and look forward to keep expanding and improving.

MPA: Why do you love photography?

SN:  I love to travel and take pics and feel that photography is a great way to document travel and life experiences. It makes me happy and is fulfilling to see a great image I captured, it’s motivating and inspirational.

MPA: Your favorite thing about MPA?

SN:   I love that MPA has it all from one on one instruction, classes and travel opportunities, a photoshop program, the experiences, memories, and friendships made. It’s not something you can find anywhere else. MPA also has this great dynamic of all kinds of instructors and each one of them is different and it’s great to listen and learn from each one of them. Ally and David are open books with what has made them successful.  Very refreshing in this competitive industry.

MPA: Your favorite trip or course with MPA?

SN:   My favorite trip by far has been Tanzania, I cannot put into words how amazing this trip was and I’m so excited to be returning in 2016!

MPA: Your aspirations as a photographer / artist?

SN:   My aspirations are to keep building and learning. With each trip I learn so much more and would like to eventually create a website to show case my work and to maybe make some profit to fund my love for travel and photography.