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Corey & Lyn- a sunrise engagement session at Virginia Tech

Their love story began when she mentioned apologetics at a small group meeting that he also happened to attend. His ears perked up at the topic, intrigued by this strawberry blonde beauty who also happened to be working on her PhD at Tech. So they planned a time to talk further, and Corey, not knowing quite where he stood with her, covered all his bases: with him, he brought a bottle of wine for Lyn, and a box of treats for her Wheaton Terrier, Wallace. Well-played, sir. Well-played.

She’s crazy about him- that smile that lights up her face when he pulls her closer, the way she fits so perfectly in his embrace. And he’s utterly enchanted by her- that timeless grace she carries with her, her strong intellect and desire to see relationships flourish, all of it. They’re perfectly in sync, crafted just with the other in mind.

Corey & Lyn, last Tuesday morning with you was something out of a dream. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with you both, and thank you for choosing such a stunning backdrop for your engagement session! And Lyn, I will forever love you for wearing that perfect tulle skirt. I’m SO excited for next May!!

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sunrise Virginia Tech engagement session- Abby Grace Photographysunrise Virginia Tech engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

Jill Moore - October 1, 2014 - 6:35 pm

Beautiful pictures – so many cute poses! I love these.

Julia Korzeniewski - October 1, 2014 - 5:55 pm

These are absolutely stunning! So much love :)

Dad - October 1, 2014 - 4:46 pm

OK and I spelled”tulle” wrong….so sue me!

Dad - October 1, 2014 - 4:43 pm

And a tool skirt to boot! Lynn you look beautiful!

Nikki Santerre - October 1, 2014 - 2:14 pm

The light, outfits, and posing are all so dreamy! Beautiful!

Shalese - October 1, 2014 - 10:16 am

When you Instagrammed a peek of this shoot, I sent it to my boyfriend because he went to Tech. He was all, “HECK YES, that’s Hokie stone!” I think you made him miss it. :) Such a beautiful shoot!!!

Lyn Moore - October 1, 2014 - 9:52 am

Abby, you are AMAZING!! I love these images and I’m so excited to have them!! Thank you so much for coming to Tech and getting up so early to shoot with us! You’re the best!

Deborah Zoe - October 1, 2014 - 9:46 am

The fog!! So beautiful:)!! And I adore that last image:)

Jake & Abby- a sunrise engagement session in Ocean City, Maryland

They’d planned on meeting for drinks only, both bookending their nights with plans with other friends. “Just in case the date went poorly and we needed an excuse to get away,” she recalled with a laugh. And yet, both Jake & Abby cancelled those after-drinks plans with friends; they’d enjoyed their meeting so much that they decided they weren’t ready to leave yet. Besides, what’s drinks without dinner to follow? And so the date that was only meant to last an hour some how turned into two, then three, and so on. She was hooked and so was he, and they haven’t looked back once.

Jake & Abby, it was an inexpressible joy to spend the morning with you both as the sun steadily climbed higher. You both are so relaxed and free with one another, it was inspiring to behold and photograph. Thank you for letting me in! I’m so, so excited for your Charlottesville wedding next year!

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Jean - September 30, 2014 - 12:15 pm

gorgeous photos, Abby. Now I want to go walk on the beach!

Susie Arganese - September 30, 2014 - 12:04 pm

What beautiful photos and couple!! Their happiness just jumps off the page, along with Sadie of course. Great job, Abby!!

kaitlyn phipps - September 30, 2014 - 11:16 am

dang that last shot is absolutely GORGEOUS

Sarah Beth - September 30, 2014 - 10:18 am

Your sunrise sessions=my favorite. So much lovely <3 And that shot with their pup in the air? Perfect.

Monday Mash-Up

Gah. I’ve been attempting to write this blog post for several hours and keep getting distracted by the various windows open in Chrome- it’s like “oh! A puppy!” every time I look at the URL bar.

So I started this morning off at 4:30 am- we had our 20-miler today and I wanted to get up early enough to have a cup of tea beforehand, so I sat at my laptop as I sipped my English Breakfast culling through Saturday’s wedding. Can we just talk about how much MORE work you can get done when no one else is online? No emails coming in, no FB notifications or texts. It was glorious. I think I need to start turning off my wifi during editing marathons!

This weekend. Yeah, it was AWESOME. Tim & Cristina, one of my all-time favorite duos, tied the knot in a stunning ceremony at the Carnegie Institution for Science. From Cristina’s custom Milk & Honey kitten heels to the Mama’s Donut Bites truck that came during the reception, it was just perfect. You guys are going to LOVE these images!

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

  • I pulled up to a stoplight on 14th St in DC on my way home Saturday night, looked to my left, and saw a Michael Jackson impersonator in the car next to met. This dude was a SPITTING. IMAGE of the late King of Pop, down the slightly creepy nose job. I laughed and laughed at the absurdity of it all.
  • Fact: food trucks make any wedding more awesome. This past weekend was the second time Mama’s Donut Bites has visited a wedding I’ve shot and their apple cider, sugar-dusted donuts were even better than I remember. T + C’s wedding guests loved it!
  • We went to one of the last regular-season Nationals games last week with a family we adore from our small group. Baseball games are infinitely more interesting with commentary/observations from a 5- and 6-year-old. After purchasing a souvenir baseball bat + ball, the thing they were most excited about was (and I quote): “IT’S SAFE FOR INDOOR USE!”
  • Also, if you ever want to win free stuff at a game, bring along an adorable baby. Works every time.

I’d never seen a wedding dress with a bubble hem until Cristina’s gown- how exquisite is she?? More of this wedding and adorable couple soon!

Classic DC wedding at the Carnegie Institution- Abby Grace Photograhy

Nancy - September 30, 2014 - 8:13 am

Abby,

I just wanted to thank you, again, for making Timothy and Cristina’s wedding day
so special. They both spoke so highly of you and now after meeting you, I know why!!
David and I are really looking forward to seeing all the photos from the wedding.

Best,
Nancy

Sarah Bradshaw - September 30, 2014 - 7:21 am

Ummmm… turning off wifi while editing??? Yeah, stroke of GENIUS!!!

Megan K. Marcus - September 29, 2014 - 3:28 pm

Oh my gosh! What a fun dress! I’m excited to see the rest of this wedding!!

Lessons Learned: Avoiding burnout by having boundaries

There seems to be a pattern with wedding season that happens around the same time each year for me. See, there are ebbs and flows as the Spring turns into Summer, and as the Summer gives way to Fall. I tend to book most of my year’s engagement sessions in May, September & October, due to the unpredictable summer temperatures here in Virginia. I LOVE that my couples want to take advantage of the spring mornings and changing fall colors, but in the past that’s meant that I’ve often over-scheduled myself and end up feeling totally exhausted and frustrated with the cause of it all: my own inability to make boundaries and keep to them!

Avoiding burnout during wedding season- Abby Grace Photography

I’ve reach the “breaking point” (you know, when you open the refrigerator, realize you’re out of milk, and ugly cry/weep from the stress of it?) four times in my career. Looking back, there were a few common denominators in each of those four situations:

  1. I was booked every weekend for at least six weeks in a row
  2. I had at least one engagement/anniversary session throughout each of those weeks
  3. I WASN’T scheduling/keeping to my days off
  4. A lack or overall organization and help

These days, I still have times that are more stressful than others, but I’ve found a few specific ways to prevent myself from hitting rock bottom again!

A) Know your limits for how much you can handle. Some photographers can handle double- and triple-headers week in and week out, but I’m not one of them. That was a limitation I used to try and push, but every time I did, I ended up miserable as a result (that misery was with MYSELF, not any of my clients!). I’ve learned my limit is no more than 4 wedding weekends in a row, and that if I AM going to make an exception and book a double header, I need to be really enthusiastic about both couples for that weekend. I put so much of my heart into every wedding that it’s emotionally as well as physically demanding.

B) Know your turnaround time, and do everything you can to stick to it. My most recent low point came as a result of sheer poor planning. I had six wedding weekends in a row, and I let the editing from each wedding spill over into the following week… and sometimes the week after that, as well. The result was having, at times, 2-3 weddings on my plate that hadn’t even begun to be edited, with another 2-3 engagement sessions and a wedding coming up that weekend. Outsourcing will hopefully be something I do next year, but for the here and now, it’s my policy not to allow major edits to spill over from one wedding to the next. It’s not fair to my couples to make them wait weeks and weeks for their images- I promise my clients 4-6 weeks for their wedding photographs, but it’s my preference to have them done in 1-2!

C) STICK to those limits! When you have a client who’s really excited about doing a fall engagement session, it’s easy to look at your already-packed schedule for October and think, “One more engagement session can’t hurt!” But I’ve learned that I’m actually doing my clients a disservice by overbooking. It’s not fair to my wedding clients if I arrive to their big day completely deflated, devoid of inspiration because I tried to pack too many sessions in before their wedding day.

D) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This thing we do, running small business often completely on our own? It’s not easy. Thinking of all my favorite/most successful photographers, they all have something in common- they all have HELP, whether that’s in the form of their spouse being their business partner, a full-time assistant, etc. Many of us don’t have that luxury, so finding help becomes that much more important. For me, my biggest sources of job-related stress-alleviation come from my shooting interns + Align album design.

So, practically speaking, what do MY personal boundaries look like?

  1. No more than 4 wedding weekends in a row
  2. During a week that I have a wedding, no more than ONE engagement or anniversary session (not both)
  3. No shooting the day before a wedding
  4. Anniversary and engagement sessions are limited to Tuesday-Thursday, to give me a day off after a wedding weekend (Monday [since I spent a full weekend day working]) and a day to prep before a wedding (Friday).
  5. Wedding-free weekend? That’s marked as time OFF on my calendar- no portrait sessions/meetings on the weekends!
  6. Email responses are limited to 9-5, Monday-Friday. Unless there’s an emergency, I don’t answer email on the weekends.
  7. My family comes before my business. It’s because of this that I don’t shoot portraits or host client meetings on weekends- free Saturdays are a gift, and Matt deserves that time with me.
  8. One I’m booked, I’m booked. No ifs, ands or buts- these boundaries are in place for my own sanity.

One of the best tools I’ve found for helping me stick to my boundaries is my Day Designer + washi tape! This has become a total lifesaver. I can tell at first glance whether I have availability during any given week, and once I’m booked, I can tell that at first glance as well, which makes keeping to rule #8 even easier!

Avoiding burnout during wedding season- Abby Grace Photography

^Here’s what any given month might look like on my Day Designer^. And here’s what it all means-

  • Gold washi tape means “available”- I know I’m free to book an anniversary/engagement session on those days. Since I only book anniversaries/engagements Tuesday-Thursday, I just put a small piece on all the days during a week that could work. Once ONE of those days is booked, though, I remove all pieces of “available” tape for the week, since I only book one portrait session during weeks that I also shoot weddings.
  • Teal washi tape means “session”- so I know I’m BOOKED that day and can’t accept anything else, shooting-wise.
  • Black & white washi tape means “day off!” I’m not allowed to schedule meetings or shoots on those days.
  • No washi tape in a particular week? That means I don’t have any availability left.

This would be really easy to do in Google calendar, too, I just happen to be more of a paper-based kinda gal.

It’s taken me 4 wedding seasons to figure out what boundaries are essential to both my success as a business owner AND my mental sanity as a person, and I still occasionally mess up and bit off more than I can chew.  I know these rules will continue to change/develop as I grow, but I can’t even begin to express how freeing it is to abide by these ones. It makes it easier to say “yes” when I know I have the time, and that much easier to say “no” when I know I don’t. AND, I feel a heck of a lot less guilty about taking time off on my days marked “off!”

These rules have developed from a desire to continue to love what I do. I don’t ever want to become so burned out from running my business that I end up wanting to leave it all behind, so I create boundaries for myself that separate work from LIFE, enabling me to enjoy my couples, their love stories, their wedding days. My desire is to “work to live,” NOT “live to work.” I love what I do, but my life story is so much bigger than just what I do for a profession.:)

paulina - October 1, 2014 - 12:36 am

just as i was about to double-book myself for an upcoming saturday, i thought about this post and realized that it wouldn’t be worth it.

abby saves the day! ;)

Kelsey McNichols - September 30, 2014 - 7:47 pm

I see my name on your calendar! Now I’m even more excited than I already was :)

Maria - September 26, 2014 - 4:36 pm

I love this system! Love that there are visuals to SHOW you when you are booked. I may have to do this myself :)

Marisa Crider - September 26, 2014 - 10:54 am

Abby, this is one of my favorite posts you have written. It is so incredibly true. Creating boundaries as a business owner is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve been faced with. I’m very much a “yes” person. But when you create boundaries you find yourself more refreshed and ready to take on the day or task! Thanks for sharing this! Definitely inspiring :)

Alysha Christine - September 26, 2014 - 9:04 am

Thank you so much for this post…seriously I felt like I was reading a story about my current situation right now. I feel like having healthy work/time boundaries is something MANY photographers struggle with (myself included) and it’s really encouraging to see how you’re handling the stress! One of my goals for “slow season” or “off season” is to sit down and evaluate everything that hasn’t been serving me/my business/my clients/my family/etc. this year. Time boundaries is definitely one of those things! It’s so hard to pick a day off a stick to it! I’ve always felt somewhat less than other photographers because I really struggle with double and triple headers, but I think that’s something I’m going to work on for next year! :) Thanks for the encouragement!

Caili - September 26, 2014 - 8:56 am

WASHI TAPE! That is the answer! I love this system, and already pulled my tape out to make changes to my calendar. Thank you for such a great idea! I learned so many things about boundaries from you, and sticking to them has helped my business (and my marriage!) so much. Love you, girl!

Jean - September 26, 2014 - 8:11 am

I may be prejudiced but I think you are doing a super job in managing your business and your family life. So proud of you.

Clarissa - September 26, 2014 - 8:11 am

That last line? LOVE IT. We seem to be in the same situation! except I have yet to think about my own boundaries and try not to break them.

Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:09 am

UM. You’re a genius. The washi tape is the BEST IDEA EVER. As a visual learner I NEED to SEE the calendar at a glance and know- otherwise I spend like 5 minutes trying to figure out what the heck is going on. My new Day Designer is set to be mailed out mid October, and I am COUNTING DOWN. This is SO helpful, and man- did I need this today! PREACH!

Alexandra- a Washington DC ballerina session

I always arrive to ballerina sessions with a slightly elevated heart rate- these portraits are something I care so deeply about, a product of my very soul, and I get nervous that I’m going to come up short. But with dancers like Ali, all that fretting was pointless- I drove away from the Kennedy Center last week feeling as though I could fly. We planned, we shot, she danced, we raced against the clock to make it to the Kennedy Center in time, and in the end, the result was one of my all-time favorite ballerina portraits.

Ali, I’m so grateful you entrusted me with such a gorgeous session! It was an absolute joy to spend the evening with you; you’re gorgeous beyond words and I loved having the chance to photograph you in your element!

Washington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace PhotographyWashington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace Photography

Washington DC ballet session photographer- Abby Grace Photography

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Sarah Beth - September 26, 2014 - 8:16 am

LOVE these for so many reasons <3 BOTH of those spots are favorites spots for Joey and I- I think ya know the one <3 That spot in Georgetown-Joey took me to when we first started dating-and it's been a favorite spot ever since! it's SO awesome. Last time we were there I saw two ballerinas taking photos of each other, and thought of you! How perfect that you used it! Seriously, Abby- EVERY. single one of your ballerina sessions blows me away and leaves me speechless. And I think that's the general consensus of all who are followers of your amazing work- you leave us all speechless!

Becca B - September 25, 2014 - 10:17 pm

Ohmygoodness these are all beautiful beyond words. I love the subtle edginess behind such classic elegance. That last one needs to be submitted for some kind of award!!!

Jean - September 25, 2014 - 12:20 pm

these are beautiful photos of a lovely ballerina! Just gorgeous. Great job, Abby!

Alicia - September 25, 2014 - 10:42 am

I started scrolling and each one I was like “new favorite”… scroll… “new favorite”… scroll… haha these are stunning, your best yet!!

Shalese - September 25, 2014 - 9:01 am

AH! That last shot is EVERYTHING!