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Nikki Tran Blog | Designer. Artist. Photographer bio picture
  • Hello Friend…

    and welcome to the blog! I'm Nikki, a creative old soul who loves the romantic things in life. Tea time, tip-toeing through gardens, old and worn books, slow-dancing to records, painting by candelight, lakeside walks with Rusty, and starry-night picnics with Paul. This blog carries snippets of my life with just the two of us - I hope it brings you smiles and happiness as you snuggle in with your cup of tea and begin reading. Enjoy, friends! (Latest posts on the right!) --->

Hello, dear friends. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat, shall we?

I’ve been quite a flake this past year (for lack of a better word). Or at least I’ve certainly felt flakey. I announced my decision to quit my photography business a little over a year ago (our last official Nikki Tran Photography wedding is this Friday!) and have been flitting between ideas for so long I feel like I’m a little kid deciding which toy I want more on the shelf at Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m the poster child for Changing My Mind. And for the last year I’ve felt like something’s missing, like my life wasn’t being fulfilled enough. And when that thought started to creep in my mind, I began to downplay that thought by telling myself I’m just being entitled, or something like that.

Who was I to want more than what I already had?

I had a beautiful home, a perfect husband, a darling puppy, enough nieces and nephews to make my heart burst, and we were/are financially stable.

And then I began to think that maybe I had made a huge decision too quickly. Was I a failure for quitting photography, something I was actually good at it?? I had poured nearly 5 years of my life into it and now it seemed it was all gone. Earlier this year I cleaned my office out and I saw my old gift boxes and business cards, welcome packet materials and notebooks, all fall into the garbage. A slight panic ensued.

I tried to get passionate about something, anything really. I opened the Etsy shop thinking my energy would come back and I’d be awake until 2am painting away. I tried to resuscitate my Photoshop actions, holding onto any little strand of hope that it would ignite some passion back in my heart. I even began trying to write my book – the book I’ve been dreaming I would write/illustrate since I was in high-school. Nothing lasted, it was like dry sticky tape. Nothing stuck and I began to feel slightly hopeless, like I would soon just be pulled away with the current, never able to accomplish my big dreams and never able to say I own my own small business again (something I was incredibly proud of during those years). I would be lying if I said I had no regrets at all during this past year, but then something fabulous happened.

I got my spark back.

I don’t know why it happened, or why it took so long to happen, but I feel like I did back when I was in school and cramming my study hours with photography and contracts and website design. Maybe it’s because I’m combining all my talents and loves into one funnel – there’s no shortage of creative outlets to supply. I can switch from painting to Photoshop to writing to designing to business tasks.

It consumes me, friends. I go to bed at night (not yet able to stay up until 2am – I was younger then :)), reading business books, jotting down notes, smiling to myself, and sometimes even shedding a single tear from complete joy. I keep my notebook and books with me at all times because I really cannot get enough of it. I listen to podcasts and webinars on creative businesses whenever I have a spare moment, and I can talk Paul’s ear off about new things I’ve learned or ideas that have popped in my head or tasks I’ve accomplished.

And you know what makes me so entirely happy? You guys are with me through this, too. You’ve been there since I started photography in 2012, you’ve been there when I was so excited about new weddings and trying to create this blog, you’ve been there for my family get-togethers and garden projects, you’ve been there during my “retirement” announcement, and you’re still here for this new adventure. I wish I could squeeze you through the computer screen and give you the biggest hug. And I wish instead of me just talking to you, we could talk about what’s going on with you. Are you chasing dreams? Do you have something exciting that you’re working on? Is your garden blooming and you’re just bursting with happiness? Even if I can’t see you, just know I appreciate you. And thank you for riding along all these years. :)

Xoxo times a million.

Hello dear friends! If you read my last post about our little trip to San Diego, then you’ll know this post was coming up. If you missed it, that’s okay! Go ahead and take a look. I shall wait…:)


Annnnnnnnd we’re back! So, as you know, I did not bring my huge Canon camera to our trip to California. I had brought it on our last trip to Jamaica, to California in 2015, and even to Mexico for our anniversary. It was such a burden on our trips. Besides being heavy and bulky in our luggage (I kept it in my purse because I was paranoid about it breaking), I would worry about carrying it around everywhere we went. What if it broke? What if it gets wet? Why oh why are they so stinkin’ heavy?!

For this trip, I decided to do it differently; I would only use my camera for photos. I’ll be honest, I was a little terrified. But then I remembered that I’m a photographer – I know the skills needed for a good photo and I could transfer that when using a phone! (Silly me.) After being so pleased with the photos from our trip to San Diego I thought to myself that everyone could take great photos with their phone! All they needed was a few simple (and hopefully helpful!) tips. (I promise, these are literally the 4 things I do when taking photos with my phone – it doesn’t have to be crazy and complex.)

1. Frame your photo.

Although it’s easy to just quick stop, snap a photo (half the time while still walking), try to stop and really see the photo before snapping away. Look at the photo as a full scene. If you’re taking a photo of a beautiful tree don’t cut off it’s elaborate, windy, twisted trunk. Get the full picture. If there’s a building that has you by the heart, take a few steps back to get all the intricate details in the frame of your photo. If there’s a beautiful field of wildflowers, get down on its level for the photo. Not every photo has to be taken at eye level. Be creative – you can always take more. :)  (Can you imagine shooting film again?!)

2. Expose and focus.

It might not be the same depending on which phone you use, but with my Android I can simply tap on the object or person I’m trying to photograph and my camera will automatically properly expose and focus my photo. By tapping on something specific, it will adjust its settings the best it can and for the most part, expose and focus the photo properly. Be aware that if you’re shooting facing the sun, it might be harder for your camera to focus on the subject (which in my case will be Rusty for the rest of this post, it’s easier :)). Just keep trying to tap and even try hiding some of the sunlight with your hand so your camera can get a better grasp on Rusty’s adorable, fluffy face.

3. Use natural light.

This is not always the case when you’re out and about, however, if you can help it, try not to use a flash. If it’s during the day and you’re outside under harsh afternoon light, find a shady spot to snap a photo. If there’s no shade to be found (it happens, even at weddings) simply have the sun be behind Rusty. Even if it’s 1PM, there’s still a tiny tilt to the sun and it can be behind your subject. Not only will Rusty’s little eyes thank you for not having the sun right in his face, but your photo will have a bit of a glow. (That photo of Paul and his ice-cream? That was taken mid-day with zero shade around. I stood facing the sun and Paul had his back to it. Easy peezy.)

If you’re taking a photograph at sunset (best. time. ever.), the sun can be behind him (dreamy, dreamy lighting) and if late enough, can even be in front of him. If you’re inside, find a window or a doorway – having Rusty face the window or wherever the light is coming in. If you’re inside and it’s dark and there’s zilch lighting around, then clearly now is the time to use a flash. But even if there’s a lamp, use that first. Flashes that are pointed directly at someone is a. blinding and b. quite harsh.

4. Use a simple photo editor for minor enhancements.

I use VSCO Cam for my editing program and it. is. so. easy. It’s a downloadable app and I just import the photos I want to edit, edit them, and save! Easy peezy! Although I don’t use the filters, you can certainly use them! They have a great variety of matte and light, and bright and colorful. However, I manually edit each photo and literally friends, it takes about 10 seconds. It’s nothing over the top, nothing too fancy, but it just makes me sad that sometimes the color I see with my eyes isn’t quite there in the photo. So I give it a little boost.

And that’s it! Try one or two (or even all 4 if you’re feeling adventurous!) of these tips the next time you pull out your phone. I’ll be honest with you, I’m so stinkin’ excited that I don’t have to bring my camera to DISNEYWORLD next year. It was a bear to bring to Disneyland last year and so this will be absolutely lov-a-ly.

Anyways! I hope this post was helpful, friends!! You deserve to have beautiful photos of your family and adventures hanging proudly on your wall. Cameras on phones are made so well now, it’s time to take advantage of them. :) Enjoy!! xoxoxo

It seems like yesterday we were waking in the early hours of the morning, saying good-bye to Rusty (tearful on my part), and jetting off to the sunshine and ocean views of San Diego. My Nana and Grandpa have been vacationing there ever since I can remember, wisely escaping the wrath of Minnesota winters. Before this year I couldn’t understand why they would ever want to leave Minnesota. Perhaps as I’m getting older I’m slowly understanding the appeal of the “snowbird” life and maybe eventually we’ll follow in their footsteps. It was certainly hard leaving them after only 5 days together and I’ve definitely felt pangs of homesickness for the carefree days we had, exploring bits and pieces of their 6-month hometown.

From venturing out at sunset to Old Town for margaritas and tacos, to ocean-side drinks and people watching, to sunsets on dangerous cliffs, to wearing sweaters while eating apple pie in the mountains, this trip has me by the heart. We couldn’t have asked for more welcoming hosts. Nana had the fridge stocked with all sorts of food – fruit galore, Easter Pizzas (quite the delicacy), key limes pies, wine, beer, hashbrowns. They wanted to show us only the best places in San Diego, taking us to BBQ food and old-fashioned ice-cream and eventually all the way up in the mountains to the best apple pie my Grandpa’s ever had. We stayed up late talking, laughing, telling stories, drinking and reminiscing, until finally us young kids would pass out from sleepiness. (We’re not used to staying up late and walking everywhere – those two are like the Energizer bunny.)

As soon as the plane landed in Minnesota, we couldn’t help but want to turnaround and go back. These trips to visit them continues to remind me how lucky we are to have the relationship we have with them. If you’re lucky enough to have your grandparents around, give them a big hug, ask for a story, and take some time to just be with them. Hugs and kisses to you, Nana and Gramps! Welcome back to Minnesota!! :) xoxo

PS. I decided to leave my big camera at home this time. I wanted to see what my phone could do and my goodness, I was not disappointed. All of these photos are taken with my phone and then lightly edited through a program on my phone as well. Next blog post (Thursday’s!) will be on some tips and tricks when using your phone for photos! Stay tuned, friends! :) (Music as you scroll? Of course!)

Old Town is such a unique and beautiful place – if you’re ever in the area, spend an evening walking around, sip some margaritas, and get lost in the beautiful Mexican culture.

Nana and Gramps enjoying some fruity drinks. :)


There we were, eating chips and spicy salsa, and sipping drinks, and then all of a sudden a live band began playing as the sun sank.

Me and Nana. :)

Dear Gramps. :)

I just love the background and everything about this place.

Isn’t it lovely?!

A rose-covered gate.

One of the days we spent with just the two of us. We stayed at Nana and Gramps’ house the whole trip, but while they went to the flea markets we decided to let fate be our guide and we just explored.

Oh the blues. :)

We decided to start the day at Balboa Park.

We roamed through old buildings…

…through beautiful, sweet-smelling gardens…

…into a conservatory…

…and then found our way to the beach. More drinks!

And of course, people watching.

We walked the boardwalk, got some ice-cream…

…watched the waves crash in…

…ate more ice-cream…

…and then it was time to watch the sunset. I had a goal on this trip: to watch the sunset over the ocean. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, really.

So we drove to Sunset Cliffs (how appropriate of a name). All along the walk to the cliffs were signs saying “Dangerous. Keep away.” Clearly, people would rather watch a sunset.


Goodness. What a view.

That night I wanted to find somewhere special to eat. You know when the most perfect day is happening and you just want to keep the perfectness going? That was how I felt. So we did it. We found an adorable restaurant in a bustling part of town. We ate on the patio with twinkle lights, hanging baskets, and French music playing. We ate duck and delicious comfort foods, and cheered with our wine and beer.

The next day we drove a bit to visit my Uncle Buck, Nana’s older brother.

He’s such a wonderful, warm, adorable man. So grateful we got to visit him and see his home. :)

And then we took a trip to the mountain town of Julian. We were their chauffeurs the entire trip (Paul gets carsick). :)

I learned something about myself on this mini road trip: I don’t care for heights. I love rollercoasters and all that jazz, but driving up in the mountains and overlooking the cliffs made me extremely anxious. Who knew?!

Our always calm and steady driver. :)

The cutest little town with the sweetest little pie shop. We had lunch at Julian Pie Company (soup, sandwiches, and pie), strolled along the streets, shopped at the most adorable tearoom (see the next photo), and smelled the sweet-smelling scent of lilacs blooming recklessly over picket fences. I left a bit of my heart in that town.

Just a couple of gals trying on hats and trying to convince ourselves we need everything in this store. :)

And that was our darling trip to San Diego. We miss it already, but we’re planning for our next big trip…DISNEYWORLD!! To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. :) Until we meet again, dear friends. Happy Monday. :)