Sweet Sixteen Photography

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Tucson Quinceanera Photographer

After years of photographing weddings, anniversaries and other events, the opportunity finally came around for me, last year, to photograph my first Quinceanera. (Quinceaneras, at age fifteen, and Sweet Sixteens’ are similar, in that they both mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood in Latin American or Mexican culture.)  Why it took me so long  to photograph one has everything to do with the fact that, without any previous experiences to draw from, I never advertised myself as a Tucson Quinceanera photographer.

It took a wedding couple, familiar with my services, to get the ball rolling. They mentioned my name to a family from Tucson, who later contacted me about photographing the Sweet Sixteen celebration of their goddaughter, Sophia. They said they loved my work and considered my prices very reasonable, in light of what I offered. I was flattered, of course, and very grateful for the opportunity, but with no prior experience photographing Sweet Sixteens’, I felt obligated to express some minor misgivings. Undeterred, they went on to explain, that I would find the experience very similar, if not easier, to photographing weddings. In that case, I told them, if they did not mind working with me and were willing to provide me with details of the traditions beforehand and alert me when they were about to unfold, I would be happy and most honored to be their photographer.

Sophia - Sweet Sixteen Portraits

Sweet Sixteen Portraits of Sophia, by the Fountain

Quinceanera Portraits

With their package, it was important to include a photo shoot of Sophia, the Quinceanera, and a large print, of one of the images, to be used for display at her celebration party. Similar to weddings, this pre-shoot of the Quinceanera harkens to an earlier time, when it was common for a bride to have bridal shoot, well in advance of her wedding day. The portraits of Sophia, above and below, were taken six months before her main event.

Sweet Sixteen Portraits of Sophia - Part 2

Sweet Sixteen Portraits of Sophia – Part 2

Sohia - Sweet Sixteen Portraits - Part 3

Sophia – Sweet Sixteen Portraits – Part 3

Quinceanera Grand Entrance

Traditionally, the day of the celebration occurs on or near her birthday and the celebration opens with the Quinceanera, making her grand entrance. The process unfolds similar to a wedding party being introduced into the reception hall, with the Quinceanera, appearing last, as she is escorted by her parents or  chambelan (escort of honor).

The Quinceanera is introduced into the ballroom.

The Quinceanera is introduced into the ballroom.

Quinceanera Shoe Tradition

The changing of the Quinceanera’s shoes is symbolic of her transformation from girl to woman. Traditionally, the Quinceanera enters the ballroom in her quinces (flat shoes). The girl’s father (or close relative) is honored with changing her shoes, by removing the flats and putting on high heel shoes. See images below.

Quinceanera Shoe Ceremony

Removing the Flats

Quinceanera Shoe Tradition

Putting on the Heels

Quinceanera Waltz

Below, with her father unable to attend, Sophia takes turns with her godfather, godmother and mother, for the traditional first dance as a woman.

Quinceaneras Waltz

Quinceaneras Waltz

The Quinceanera Cake

Given the importance of the day, the Quinceanera birthday cake is probably a bit more elaborate than usual.

Sweet Sixteen Cake

Sweet Sixteen Cake

Below, Sophia decides to have her cake and eat it too and why not? That is what they make them for!

Quinceanera Cake Ceremony

Sophia’s Cake

The masquerade theme was Sophia’s choice. It is not part of the Sweet Sixteen or Quinceanera tradition. It was just Sophia being Sophia, enjoying her moment!

Quinceaneras Masquerade

Quinceaneras Masquerade

I would like to thank Sophia’s parents, godparents, her Aunt Nellie and of course, Sophia, for all your patience and willingness to work with me, as I went about photographing my first Sweet Sixteen. You not only made it easy for me, but a heck of a lot of fun!

Since Sophia’s Sweet Sixteen, I am happy to report, I have booked another Quinceanera, for this coming spring, the second of what, hopefully, will be a long line to come! God Bless!

UPDATE: The contents of this article was published by The Valley Wedding Pages, in their second edition, on Quinceaneras. Released in late August 2016, if you are unable to get a copy of the magazine, you can still check it out on line, by clicking the previous link. The article was renamed “The Cinderella Experience” and appears on pages 59, 60 and 61.

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About Paul Van Helden

Paul Van Helden is a professional, wedding, headshot, family, portrait, event, engagement, still life and landscape photographer, based in Tucson Arizona. Some of his published credits include The Valley Wedding Pages and Sierra Club. Paul has worked professionally for over twenty years. Nature photographer Fred Dodd Jr. first introduced him to photography in 1982. Later, Paul studied photography at Dean College and learned to photograph weddings under the tutelage of Craig Roberts of Franklin, Massachusetts. After working as a freelance wedding specialist for five years, he started his own wedding photography business in Bellingham, Massachusetts in 1995. He went on to shoot hundreds of weddings, throughout New England. In December of 2004, he moved to the American Southwest, a part of the country that has fascinated him, since his first visit to the region in 1984. Since his relocation to Tucson, Arizona, Paul has expanded his photography services well beyond weddings and nature, to include headshots, corporate photography, portraits, quinceaneras, anniversaries and much more.
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