Roberto Valenzuela and My Step-Daughters Wedding


Weddings, family, friends and then there is Roberto Valenzuela:



It all happened so fast.  One day I was born, then I was getting married, having a baby, getting a divorce, falling in love and gaining two more daughters while marrying my husband Paul.  The girls were so little.  Then I blinked and one was off to college and almost 10 seconds later she was engaged to be married and 3 seconds later I watched her dad walk her down the isle.  


WTF? Can we slow down just a little bit.  Well…. maybe it didn’t all happen that fast but sometimes it feels that way.  


I have been a professional photographer for more than 24 years.  While in recent years I am most known as a family portrait photographer my career began in wedding photography.  I have photographed hundreds of weddings over the years but nothing prepares you for one of your own daughters wedding.  The day you know your own child is getting married nothing else matters except hiring the BEST wedding photographer.  As photographers we know that the day goes by in the blink of an eye and the only way to relive each moment is through the photographs.  The beautiful dress will be packed and put away most likely never to be seen again, the cake is long gone, the flowers have wilted and all that is left are the memories, funny stories and of course the photographs. 


I have had many great mentors and the two most notable are Hanson Fong and Monte Zucker.  Monte passed away 7 years ago.  Monte was simply contagious.  He loved photography, people and teaching.  The combination of those three things make him the legend that his is.  I have always said “there will never  be another Monte”.  He could make you laugh and cry in the same sentence and you had no idea where all this raw emotion was coming from.  He never stopped learning and being curious about new technology.  He is one of the greatest influences in my career and he will always be a huge part of my heart. 


And then Roberto Valenzuela was born.  Humble, funny, inspiring, kind, smart, genuine, curious, lover of people….  He creates a class all his own.


Roberto was the very first phone call I made when I found out Alli and Austin were planning a May wedding.  Heart pounding and praying he would be available I called and left a message - 


He made me laugh when some  of his first words were “Michele Celentano is calling me to shoot her daughters wedding? (insert funny Mexican accent) “Yes, Roberto” - “Michele, who did you call before me?” Me…. “Ummm no one Roberto, I called you first”  Roberto- “are you freaking kidding me?” 

This went on for several minutes….. 


Roberto checked his schedule and prayers were answered when he said he was available!!! 



Most weddings involve some stress - ours was no different.  The engagement was 12/31/2013 and the wedding was planned for 5/25/2014, there is no time to waste in getting plans made.


Alli and Austin wanted the wedding in California and so we were not able to help much in the planning process.  


I knew it was going to be emotional for my husband Paul (he is such a big mush when it comes the the girls).  Roberto made sure that Paul had a very special moment seeing Alli for the first time after she was dressed.  I wanted to be there and so I held the ICE light and tried to stay out of the way.  (Oh Jerry.... if you are reading this I would really like an ICE light!) 


Part of the fun for me was just watching Roberto work.  They way he thinks about every single image.  Not one image he creates is by chance - they are all by design.  The light, the pose, the background, the expression - he masterfully crafts each image.  The way he interacts with his subject is magical.  He is charming and funny and even kind of silly.  He directs his assistant with backwards directions “Could you move that television into my shot a bit more, I really like the LG logo”.  Translation - move the freaking TV, it’s ruining my carefully crafted image.  


Of course Alli ran an hour late as most brides do and that gave Roberto less time - but in no way did he appear rushed or worried about time.  He didn’t rush his images - he still took time to stop, think, create and execute the images he wanted.  While watching him shoot I kept thinking I want to spend a week in one of your workshops…..  I wanted to study more and learn to slow down, think a bit more, be less reactive and more creative.  It was inspiring.  


Throughout my years in the amazing photography industry I have met thousands of people.  Some were students, educators, vendors and people just wanting to make a living creating photographs for people.  I have said a million times that the business of photography is 80% personality and 20% technical knowledge.  Roberto is the real deal or the “full Monte”! 

He is 100% personality and 100% craftsman!  


When Monte passed I felt that there would never be another Monte….. What Roberto possesses as a person, a human being, an artist, a teacher and a photographer are the same qualities that made Monte who he was. He was so loved because he made everyone smile, laugh and cry.  He was the most authentic persons I have ever known.  In this current culture of “Rockstar Photographers” -everyone and their mother is teaching and selling something.  I have seen many inflated egos rise only to be popped.  But - to have an inspiration like Roberto is a powerful reminder of what we are all about - people! Caring about people, teaching, learning, laughing, never taking life so serious that you can’t laugh at yourself.  


In this wonderful industry I have many many acquaintances, a lot of good friends, a few great friends and a handful of those who became family (maybe two handfuls) Roberto and his beautiful wife Kim are family.  They forever captured along with Mike Colon a moment in time.  The beginning of a story, a life together - the emotions of a father letting go of his little girl and watching her become a wife.  There will never be enough thank yous, or words of appreciation.  


In the end all we have left to remind us of the greatest moments in our lives are the photographs that documented those moments.  How incredibly lucky and blessed are we that Roberto, Kim and Mike did that for us.  


The morning after the wedding we had a chance to sit down and exchange book signings… it was pretty hilarious.  My daughter Anna asked if Roberto could sign one of his books for her.

We sat giggling in mutual admiration affectionally signing books for each other.  This may be one of my favorite moments of the weekend and my husband Paul was there to document it.


Roberto my friend, always stay as pure and humble as you are now.  Maintain your silliness and love for people and your craft.  You are the present and the future of an amazing industry that needs more leaders and craftsmen like you.  It is an honor to call you my friend and family and I will spend at least a week in one of your workshops because I know I will be a better photographer and person after studying with you.



Love and hugs,









Allie Miller  commented on  May 27th, 2014

You had me crying by the end of this well written story! Congrats!!! And I love how you described this sweet emotional process! Harder yet as you are yourself an exceptional photographer as well! Roberto is lucky & so are you Michelle!

Brook Rieman  commented on  May 27th, 2014

Having had the pleasure meeting Roberto, I think your description of him is pretty darn accurate. He is such an authentic person, I really appreciate that. I feel the same about you, Michele. You have such a kind heart and giving personality. You are two of my faves! And I own all 3 of those books, by the way :)

Albert Goodman  commented on  May 27th, 2014

Michelle- first congratulations on your life, your lives, your step daughters wedding and this monumental essay on this wonderful person, teacher, craftsman and your friend. I've been at this a few years and he's the first who could actually explain the inverse square law. His new book is meticulously awesome and oh, by the way, so are you.

Noel Del Pilar  commented on  May 27th, 2014

Wow, thank you for sharing this. I need to talk to Robert, the first time I met him I disliked as a person (rare)and I don't know why. I need to change that, I hear many many good things about Roberto.I am convinced that photographers are a big family. Congratulation for your Big Event! Hope I can see some finished pictures soon!

Joe Buissink  commented on  May 27th, 2014

CONGRATS Michelle and fam!!! And you as well my dear friend Roberto :) What an honor.. for both!

Wilson Lugo  commented on  May 28th, 2014


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