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Making mistakes and learning from them

This past March I sent myself on a two week trip to Europe. It was GLORIOUS, exactly the soul-refreshing kind of experience I needed. But I had to come up with a way to pay for it: Matt didn’t mind me going, but we hadn’t really budgeted for it so his response to my request was “if you can find a way to pay for it, you can go.”

Venice, Italy film photography- Abby Grace

So I hemmed and hawed, briefly considered selling my kidney (just kidding, Mom), and finally came around to the idea of parting with my Contax 645. I’d purchased it back in 2012 and had told Matt, upon purchase, that if I didn’t end up going full film or hybrid (shooting a mix of digital + film) for weddings, that I’d sell it. Sure enough, I made the decision to stick with digital for my wedding work… and yet I’d hung on to the Contax anyways. And as of March, it was sitting, collecting dust in my office closet.

Venice, Italy film photography- Abby Grace

I shoot all of my personal + travel work on film, but I hadn’t really used my Contax since our previous Europe trip in the summer of 2013. So I decided I could afford to “downgrade” to a Mamiya 645 (around $2k less than the Contax at the time) and would use the profit to fund my international travel.

It worked out really well at first! I sold my Contax to a fellow Shoot & Share photographer who’s since put it to AWESOME use, and I went on my merry little way with my Mamiya. It served me mostly-well during my time in Italy, France & Ireland! See what I mean?

Paris, France film travel photographer- Abby GraceDoolin, Ireland film travel photographer- Abby Grace

But something was sort of “off”- for some reason, I didn’t feel nearly as confident with the Mamiya. I know the camera doesn’t make the photographer at ALL (I really and truly believe that!), but I just wasn’t as comfortable with my new medium format camera as I was with my old one. The Mamiya has a bit of a tendency to mis-focus on occasion, and it was frustrating getting some of my Europe film back only to have to trash several of the images due to a camera malfunction. And this past summer I made the decision to shoot my Anniversary Experience sessions with film and digital, which meant I was a lot less confident going into shooting scenarios where I actually NEEDED my camera to perform perfectly. It did its job well enough and I’m proud of the work I’ve produced with it, but I don’t like the feeling of clicking my shutter with a sort of question mark hanging over me. Does that make any sense at all?

So a couple of months ago, I made the decision to go ahead and re-purchase the Contax. Ugh. It made me a little sick to my stomach to have to re-buy something I’d just sold about 8 months ago, but the good news is I found an awesome deal on eBay. “Awesome” being a relative term- the price for the Contax has gotten way out of control the last couple of years!

Paris, France film travel photographer- Abby Grace

I guess the point of this whole post is that when it comes to running a business, everyone makes mistakes. And some of those mistakes are a bit more expensive than others, like this one, but that’s just part of the process of an evolving and booming career! I wouldn’t even really call this a mistake, since I managed to fund a life-changing trip out of it- we’ll just dub this a “learning experience.” But now I know, for the next time, to sell my kidney instead.

Just kidding, Mom.


Urška Majer - November 27, 2014 - 4:55 am

These are beautiful film photographs!

Things I’m loving lately: Align Album Design

You know that feeling when you find a crazy cool new shop (like Great Harvest Bread Company!) and you want to tell all your friends about it? Like “how on earth have people gone on with their lives for so long without knowing of this shop’s existence??” That’s how I feel about Align!

I first heard of Align when I stumbled upon Melissa Jill’s website, and then again when my sweet friend Katelyn blogged about them! At the time, I convinced myself that I was doing just fine with album design on my own, but I was sort of lying to myself.

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

Was I managing to get by? Yes. But was I serving my couples as BEST as I possibly could? No. It was taking me 2-3 weeks to get back to my brides with album corrections, and that’s not ok. My couples are EXCITED about their wedding albums, and by me taking way too long to get their revisions done, I was slowly letting the air out of their tires. Plus, even if they’d had an amazing experience with me prior to album design, I was souring that experience by leaving them with a not-so-awesome last impression. Not wise business management.

So I finally gave Align a try last Spring, and from the first album I was hooked. Kim & Brian’s wedding was the first one I sent to Align, and from start to finish, it took a week to complete their book. We’re talking initial design, three rounds of review, and delivery- one week. I was FLOORED, and completely sold on outsourcing my albums to Align! It helped that my bride Kim was totally on her game with getting her corrections submitted, but still: album design these days is always, ALWAYS faster and more efficient now that I’m outsourcing. I can’t imagine going back to my old way of doing things!

Align Album Design- Abby Grace PhotographyThe longer I own a business, the more I realize the value in recognizing your weaknesses and working to make those strengths. With my limitations (being a sole-member business, legitimate diagnosis of ADHD, and a general lack of organization), there are certain things I’m just never going to excel at. Album design was one of those, so rather than shrugging my shoulders and saying “screw it, my clients will just have to deal with it,” I made the decision to outsource. It does mean I spend a portion of my profits on the design fee, but it also means I’m able to serve my clients BETTER. Leaving them with a sweet taste in their mouth when all is said and done is more important to me than saving $100-$150. Plus, the time I used to spend agonizing over design (which is NOT a forte of mine) can now be aimed at things like TAKING PICTURES. You know, the thing I originally started my business in order to do?

SO! The good news for you guys is that Align offers HALF OFF your first design with them! So if you’re unsure about the whole outsourcing thing, this is the perfect excuse to give it a try. Check out a few more of my favorite spreads from this year!

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

Align Album Design- Abby Grace Photography

[…] who come to meet with me. After receiving my final design spreads from Align (more about that here!), it was just a matter of sending them off to Leather […]

Melissa Jill - November 26, 2014 - 1:03 pm

Wow Abby! Thank you SO SO much for this review of Align! We love having you as a client and working with your gorgeous images!

Monday Mash-Up

It’s almost Thanksgiving! This is typically around the time of year that things begin to slow down for wedding photographers, but somehow, December will end up being my busiest month this year. I’m not complaining, though- I have two trips to New York scheduled for the week before Christmas, and everyone knows that Manhattan in December is MAGICAL!

We hosted Friendsgiving at our house this past Saturday with some friends from church, and it was so much fun! Matt made this incredible 20lb turkey, and it was something straight out of a Martha cookbook- perfectly golden all over. It was almost a shame to cut into it… but not really. One of the best parts of hosting Thanksgiving? Turkey leftovers for DAYS. We have a turkey carcass in the fridge that’s going to be boiled down for some seriously delicious soup later this week. I hope the turkey’s soul is sitting in turkey heaven taking comfort in knowing that we’ll be enjoying his/her sacrifice for days to come.

As always, lessons learned/events that transpired over the past week:

  • If you’re not prepared to adopt a second pup, I don’t recommend visiting the animal shelter. I fell in love with a one-year-old German Shepherd, but we came to the conclusion that it’s just not a good time for us to bring another dog into our home. Break my heart, why doncha!
  • But it’s ok- all I have to do is look at THIS Instagram to remind myself of how awesome Lily is:)
  • It’s a good thing Black Friday is this week because my “no-Christmas-music-til-after-Thanksgiving” resolve it crumbling fast.
  • Adding onto the previous point, is it to early to start burning Yankee candles that smell like Christmas trees? The name of the candle is “Balsam & Cedar,” so it’s not TECHNICALLY holiday-themed, right?
  • I slept for 11 hours last night. IT WAS AMAZING! And this is how you know you’re not a young’in anymore: when you start bragging about how much sleep you got.

I got to hang out with this handsome guy yesterday!

Virginia wedding photographer- Abby Grace

…and thought this photo might make you guys laugh. This is my 8-year-old niece attempting to take a simple portrait with Willy the horse, but Willy was much more interested in the grass than he was in taking a photo.

Virginia wedding photographer- Abby Grace

Happy Monday! I’m off to shoot a ballerina session and am counting my blessings that it’s 70 degrees outside today!

Dad - November 29, 2014 - 1:07 am

I want a copy of that picture!

Dad - November 29, 2014 - 12:42 am

Awesome as always! I have given up trying to keep up with your granny

Jean - November 24, 2014 - 7:42 am

Love the pictures of Willie and Isabella! Love this time of the year!

New workshop date!

Happy Friday, lovelies! Matt & I are gearing up for Friendsgiving tomorrow and I am STOKED. It’s going to be slightly chaotic, but so wonderful- one thing Matt and I both feel strongly about is opening our home to host people- friends & family, workshops, small group, etc. So we’re really excited to share a pre-Thanksgiving evening with several of friends! The mad dash to clean our house will likely begin tonight…or more realistically, tomorrow, about an hour before people are due to arrive.

But I digress! After an awesomely successful first go-round, there’s a new date for the next Practical Wedding Workshop! Mark your calendars for Monday, February 23rd, 2015!

A Practical Wedding Workshop by Abby Grace Photography

See that graphic? I’m so proud, I made it all by myself in PhotoShop, hairline border and all.

But back to the workshop: I’m so excited for this. Watching the first workshop’s attendees have lightbulb moments throughout the day was EXACTLY why I began this workshop series. Whether it was something as simple as the way I prep my equipment before a wedding, or something a bit more in-depth like lighting a reception, this workshop is about helping you craft a wedding day PLAN. Finding a formula that allows you to find creativity within a wedding day because you’re no longer stressing about reinventing the wheel with each new wedding that you shoot!

 A Practical Wedding Workshop- Abby Grace PhotographyYou can learn even more by checking out the workshop website! Registration for the February 23rd workshop goes live on Black Friday, November 28 at 8:00 am. Seats are $550 and are limited to 10 attendees, but the earlybird code “TURKEYDAY” gets you $100 off your seat if you register within the first five days! The last workshop sold out, so I’d definitely suggest setting a reminder alarm if you’re considering going to this one :).

As always, if y’all have any questions at all, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. And in case you needed a reminder of how gorgeous our models were for the last workshop, here ya go!

 A Practical Wedding Workshop- Abby Grace Photography

 A Practical Wedding Workshop- Abby Grace Photography

Jordyn - November 22, 2014 - 11:38 am

Is this something that someone who has never shot a wedding in her life could attend and benefit from, or is some level of experience absolutely necessary?

Kristi Ellis - November 21, 2014 - 12:16 pm

Setting my reminder timer now!

Sophia - November 21, 2014 - 11:05 am

Gah! We wanted to attend the last one! How exciting! !

Daniel, Ann & Ruthie- one family’s story of adoption

The longer I’ve been in business, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s not necessarily what I’m photographing, but the stories behind who and what I’m pointing my camera at that often determine how connected I am. For anyone who’s ever asked me about family sessions, my standard answer is that I don’t photograph them. Like EVER. I just don’t have that gift required to photograph kids, so I choose to leave families to photographers who are really passionate about family photography!

But then I receive an email from Ann. An email explaining that she and her husband were in the process of adopting a little girl from China, Ruthie, and that Ruthie also happened to have Down Syndrome. Because of China’s “one child” policy, baby girls are often left at orphanages due to a preference for baby boys in order to carry on the family name. My parents were planning to take our family to China to be missionaries, and so I knew how great the need is families looking to adopting Chinese girls, especially Chinese girls with special needs.

I stumbled upon Daniel & Ann’s blog documenting their journey to finding Ruthie, and after reading their story, I knew this was a portrait session I had to shoot. God’s love shines SO clearly through this family’s journey! A couple with a burden for the orphaned, the fatherless, the ones in need of a home, and thousands of miles away, a precious Chinese girl with special needs in need of a family who would love her for the treasure that she is. And she is SUCH a jewel- this little one’s zeal for life, her insatiable desire to explore, her joy at learning something new. She is such a source of joy! Ruthie’s only been in the US for about two months now, but it’s so clear that she knows she’s home now.

Daniel, Ann & Ruthie- how can I ever thank you for such an amazing afternoon? Your family is so, so sweet, and it was my honor and privilege to document you all together. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. A week later and I’m still floating from my time with your darling daughter!

Maryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace PhotographyMaryland family adoption session- Abby Grace Photography


Heather - November 19, 2014 - 12:47 pm

I know it’s not just pregnancy hormones that had me tearing up at this story. I absolutely love this story SO much!!

Sarah Bradshaw - November 19, 2014 - 10:01 am

Abby, this SESSION!!! I love it!!

Caili - November 19, 2014 - 9:51 am

!!!! Ruthie is BEAUTIFUL! This post brought so much joy to my day.

Nicole - November 19, 2014 - 9:42 am

These are just bursting with joy and love – one of my favorite sessions of all time of yours. Truly amazing!

ashley mitchell - November 19, 2014 - 9:36 am

She is a DOLL – this is such a great session I love how infectious her smile is! :)

Allison - November 19, 2014 - 9:08 am

Abby you did such a wonderful job capturing this family! Their joy and happiness just radiates through the pictures!

Caity - November 19, 2014 - 8:43 am

Oh my goodness <3 You did such a wonderful job capturing the joy and love of this family. So beyond beautiful, and love their story. Amazing work!

Nicolette - November 19, 2014 - 8:10 am

Beautiful story, beautiful family!

Currie - November 19, 2014 - 7:54 am

Beautiful on a million levels Abby!

Sarah Beth Tapanes - November 19, 2014 - 7:54 am

Abby- these are SO full of joy. Truly life-giving. What a sweet sweet family.

Bethany - November 19, 2014 - 7:54 am

Such a beautiful family! & Abby – you absolutely have a gift for capturing special moments.

Melissa - November 19, 2014 - 7:51 am

Such a beautiful family and an even more beautiful story!