So, I'm sitting here on the morning of my 25th birthday and reflecting over the incredible, tough, and beautiful year that I've had so far. As many of you guys might know, I made the leap into full time photography from a manager position at a local paper boutique back in May. I prayed and prayed and finally felt peace about making the next step in my life and turning over the leaf to a new season. I have a degree in Technical Photography but venturing full time into the world of photography (which is incredible saturated in Charlotte) was scary and unfamiliar.

But earlier this year, I got a giant tattoo of a ship in stormy waters and the words "fearless" are written above that picture. I had to make that my mantra or else I'd be living in a state of fear. All of my photographer/graphic designer/creative friends understand.. The constant struggle of will I book clients? Will I have money to pay my bills? Is this a giant mistake? .. so I grabbed my fear by the horns and ran headfirst into pursuing my passion.

I haven't regretted it one bit.

That leads me to the reason I'm writing this post! I've been so scared to sit down and actually put my feelings into words because I was afraid I would ruin the amazing memories that I created by speaking them out loud. But it's time that you guys understand why I shoot the way I shoot. Why I love the way I love. Who I am because of what I asked God to do in me this year.

Back in early June, I read an article from The Define School by the Parsons (Ash and Jeremy) and their humble spirit struck a chord in my soul. I loved how they put themselves out there as open and honest and hurting and imperfect people but unbelievably PASSIONATE about each other and their family and their photography. They aren't afraid to fight for what they love. So, like any normal person would do, I emailed them. I thanked them for being beautiful people and for showing the world how important moments are. I told them I would pray for them and asked them to never stop teaching. So they emailed me back and told me to come to their workshop (or at least to apply).. it was more than I could afford at the time but I poured over it in prayer and felt a tremendous relief about going, so I said HECK YES and booked my reservation.

Little did I know that I would meet twenty strangers who blew my mind and rocked my world with their humility and honesty.

I know it sounds so cheesy but in those three days up in a cabin in the middle of the mountains of Colorado Springs, my soul awakened.

I kept hearing stories about the workshop (btw, it's called the Don't Give Up workshop) and how it would change your life and how you needed to be open and honest and vulnerable, but I just shook my head and laughed because what's that even mean? These people were STRANGERS. Why would I open my heart completely to them? But I went in and gave it my best shot.

That same day that we got to the cabin and exchanged the initial awkward introductions, I was sitting on the porch with Ashley just talking openly (after about an hour of meeting her) about my insecurities in this photography business and she just looked me and smiled and said in her calm, Ashley way, "The same God that created the universe and all of this (she gestured to the sprawling hills and gorgeous mountains in the distance) created you. Just remember that YOU are enough.   (Thank you for that, Ash.) And as we sat around the cabin and answered the (seemingly simple) questions of "Who are you?" - I heard stories that made everyone break down (even the guys, which was so awesome to see).. all of our walls fell and we were raw and honest and crying ugly tears and sharing our fears and passions and worries.. their stories are not mine to tell but I can whole heartedly tell you that I'm a better person for meeting my DGU family. We broke bread together, cried together, we drank together, laughed together .... cried together. I am a better person because I picked up a little strength from each of their vulnerable moments.

As for the actual workshop, the teachings from Ash & Jer were less about HOW to shoot and more about the importance of WHY. (Don't get me wrong, you have to know how to use your camera, that's a no-brainer.) But they stressed that the "why" in life & photography is so much more important than the other little things. We were able to make pictures with each other, put beautiful moments into memories, see rainstorms sneak up on us in the middle of the afternoon, count the stars together and bond over sound machines and bunk beds (I'm looking at you, Jess!) We woke up to watch the sunrise and took some pictures of a beautiful expecting family. And ate some damn good food.

But after each session together, the phrase that kept creeping back into my mind was "being intentional" - the gentle reminder of making each moment count.

So I started to think: Why is this moment important? Why am I working with these specific people? What is their story? Do I care? Why am I telling them to do this? What's important about what I'm doing? In a culture where it's the "cool and prestigious" thing to get featured on a bunch of blogs because your detailed weddings are gorgeous, it's so hard to remember that I'm there on a wedding day to take pictures of PEOPLE. Of a union between two humans who love each other more than anyone else in the world and have decided to become one. The burlap table runners and succulent centerpieces should come secondary. And it's not to say that I don't absolutely adore details, because I do. But they shouldn't be the reason for booking a wedding. Now I ask myself, things like: will these images outlast me? Am I showing an honest portrayal of who these individuals are? .. you get the gist.

And it made me realize a couple of things: I want to be a visual storyteller of a love. I want to be there for the moments that you can't remember because you were too immersed in an emotional haze. I want to capture each tear falling, each loud laugh, each little smile, each imperfect moment. I want to spend time getting to know each person I work with on a deeper level. I want our relationships to be more than a working one.

I understand that not everyone agrees, or cares about bonding with their photographer, and I'm totally okay with you thinking I'm weird. But I invest time into people that I work with. It's a mutual & beneficial relationship. I want people who are EXCITED about my work because they can tell that *I* am. I want to be known as more than just "the photographer".

Coming back from the Parsons' and readjusting back to my everyday life was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. I was in a state of complete reclusion for .. well, a really long time. Just a time for a lot of reflection, you know? Since then, I've changed my business model (the introduction of the questionnaire that you've heard me speak about), realizing that my work is *not* for everyone, realizing it's okay to turn people away and give them a referral for someone better suited, my approach, and even my mentality about LIFE.

Being engaged, or expecting a child, or even celebrating your love many years after your wedding day.. those are all beautiful moments. We're given one life to life and for some, that comes and goes way to fast. So just remember to take a deep breath and look around.

So, yeah! As I mentioned before, I was surrounded by so much incredible talent it's insane. Here's a list of their sites, go check them out!

In no particular order // Ash & Jeremy Parsons  •  Gladys Jem  •  Magnus Lindqvist  •  Sam Le  •  Jessica Cudzilo  •  Alec Vanderboom  •  Emily Tebbetts  •  Brian Kwan  •  Dana & Zac Tavares   •  Isabel Furie  •   Kerri Green  •  Nate & Jaclyn Kaiser   •  Tara McMullen   •   Nathan Russell   •  Jessi Lueck  


(These images are by no means perfect - I'm okay with that - and I actually rarely picked up my camera, aside from the group shoots and individual assignments, but enjoyyyy!)



DON'T GIVE UP // 2013 from ALEC VANDERBOOM on Vimeo.