When Matt & I first found ourselves at Reston Community Church, one of the first things that stuck out to me was how genuinely welcoming everyone was. Not that artificial warmth when they forget your name by the following Sunday; we were meeting people who were legitimately excited that we’d come to worship with them, people who invited us in and made us feel like family.

Jay & Caitlin are a perfect illustration of this. I’ve had the chance to get to know Caitlin over the past few months and am regularly awed by her- her sweet spirit, her ability to make anyone feel valuable, and the way she’s kept her chin up and her heart cheerful throughout Jay’s deployment. We were only at RCC a few weeks before Jay deployed, but the bit of time that we did get to know him, Matt really grew to respect him.

It’s been a long season for Caitlin, these past few months without her husband, and it’s their third deployment since being together so you’d think it might be less of an event when he comes home since they’ve been through this twice before. But watching Caitlin’s anticipation build as the day came closer and closer was exciting for our entire church- this past Sunday was full of hugs, squeals of joy and congratulations.

Monday morning dawned wet and cold as we made our way out to BWI to welcome Jay home. We met Caitlin at International Arrivals, she in her carefully chosen hot pink dress with an inability to stop smiling. The plane’s arrival time had waffled back and forth, but finally around 1:30 pm the announcement came that wheels were on the ground and we’d be seeing passengers come through the doors in just a few minutes. So Caitlin stood with her eyes on those doors, searching the face of every soldier, seaman and Marine that came through them. “Come on, Jeremiah- don’t keep me waiting!”

And then there he was, and her face broke into the sweetest, most blissful smile; her world was finally complete again. All was well.

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Welcome home, USMC Captain J. Adams!


  • Alison Mish - This is beautiful! I absolutely love how you captured the entire story through your pictures! Lovely as always :)ReplyCancel

  • stephanie g - omg crying at work. so sweet. and so thankful for his service!!!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - I have the BIGGEST lump in my throat right now! Abby, these pictures are precious. Not only that, but your writing in this post was so sincere and moving that even before I began looking at the images, I was already emotional! This is one of my favorite things you’ve produced to-date – BEAUTIFUL.ReplyCancel

  • Chelsea Batey - I agree with Rebekah. Oh my goodness. THIS is what photography is all about.ReplyCancel

  • Debbie Munoz - Abby–So touching and beautiful. This one made me cry.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - I LOVE THIS. Oh my gosh, I cried. This is so great…. seriously… thanks for doing this shoot Abby! The memories that are BURNED into my mind more than any other are homecomings. They are the best. They are what get us out of bed every morning. They are what motivate us to stay strong. The hope of them gets us through the darkest, hardest things we will ever face.
    What a great homecoming, too! I’ve never seen an airport decked out like that before. Awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Joey - Growing up in a military family I love to see these type of pictures! Beautiful job Abby!!ReplyCancel

  • Regan - Oh my goodness, I LOOVE this!! Totally misty-eyed right now!! I’ve been at the airport on the waiting end for my soldier twice now – there’s not a feeling in the world that can compare to the joy you feel when you finally see their face!! Amazing amazing job capturing the emotion!ReplyCancel

  • Erica - My eyes are tearing! Such a wonderful moment and you have done a beautiful job capturing this special story!ReplyCancel

  • Megan - This gave me chills, what a beautiful moment to capture on camera. I remember Phil’s homecoming like it was yesterday and to this day, it is still one of the best moments of my entire life!ReplyCancel

  • John Lennon - Abby, thank you soooo much for sharing this moment with all of us. I’m humbled and appreciative of your documentation this emotional and important moment. Wow! Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel Ziegler - Abby- It amazes me how you can capture all things that are beautiful through your images. But the way you captured their story through these pictures is simply amazing!ReplyCancel

  • Deborah Zoe - love, love, love, love!:)ReplyCancel

  • Edwina - Abby-

    These are amazing! I think they are among the best you’ve ever published on your blog!!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Holbo - Dang, I’ve got something in my eye….some dust or something….sniff sniff….. ;-)ReplyCancel

  • Mandy Naylor - This made me tear up!! Awesome shots!ReplyCancel

  • molly stillman - dang onions.

    this is beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Adams - Abby- these are incredible. I totally cried reading this and looking through the beautiful pictures. Congratulations to Jay and Caitlin, and God bless them both! :)ReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - What a wonderful idea this was. All we have of either of Ethan’s homecoming are just a couple of rushed shots. Everybody is right: that moment when you see their faces is the best. And I’m saying that as the mom of Abby and Ethan. I love that they decorated the wall for them. And it looked like there was a group of men waiting there to shake the returning troops home. I’ll bet they were veterans. I’ve heard of veterans doing that because the troops know that the veterans understand better than any how good it is to be home. So proud of you for catching these moments so touchingly!ReplyCancel

  • Dani - It’s not even 9:00am. I’m already crying. As a sister of a deployed infantryman, I naturally get super choked up about these sorts of things, but your words accompanying the photos are just beautiful. I don’t even know him but I know I am thankful that he is home and he is safe. Thanks for sharing these.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Peddicord - That one of her standing in line with her hands folded. Oh, my heart.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney Bay - This made me cry! I was doing so good until the picture of all the signs… Then the flood gates opened.ReplyCancel

  • Sami Orndorff - Abby, so glad you shared this link on today’s post!!! Seriously tearing up over here — absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!! You do such a great job at capturing emotion :)ReplyCancel

Last week I posted a little bit behind why engagement sessions are awesome (they really, really are!) and why I only shoot them with my wedding couples. My brides & grooms and I chat about e-sessions at the very first meeting so they can get EXCITED about theirs!  I know that I’m a planner and want to know what to expect for things like engagement sessions, so I figured today would be a good time to blog about things to consider when you’re planning for your e-session.

Planning for an engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

1) Timing- Are you planning to send out Save The Dates? Then you’ll probably need to have your e-session at least 6 months before your wedding. Make sure you leave enough time to get the Save The Dates printed, addressed and sent off! Did you have a particular season in which you wanted to shoot? Schedule your session as soon as possible to ensure your photographer is available during that particular season.

2) The photographer’s schedule- I’m generally booked about 6 weeks out when it comes to portrait session, and generally about 2 months out when it’s the middle of wedding season. I also only shoot engagement sessions Monday-Thursday, so my brides and grooms may have to take an afternoon off of work for their session, which may also require advance planning. I do my best to get my clients’ e-sessions on the schedule within 30 days of their booking- we don’t have to shoot it within 30 days, I just try to nail down a date so that we can prepare accordingly!

3) Location- is there a particular place that’s been significant in your relationship? A college campus, a city, a park, a coffee house? Consider shooting in one of those locations! It’ll keep your session more personal, tailored to you and your fiancé.

4) Outfits! I ask my couples to plan on two different outfits- one more dressy, one more casual. I LOVE when my brides send me photos of their outfits ahead of time so we can chat about the feel of their session. Last week I was chatting with my bride Tracy about their e-session we were planning to shoot in Great Falls, but after seeing Tracy’s adorable urban outfit choices, we made the decision to switch the location to Georgetown to match their clothing choices. Keep in mind where you’ll be shooting, then coordinate your outfits to match the formality/feel of what will be the backdrop for your session.

Planning for an engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

5) Hair & make-up- ladies! Definitely think about scheduling a hair & make-up artist for your session. Not only will it glam you up a bit, but you’ll FEEL more gorgeous. Scientific fact: false eyelashes improve self-esteem by 78-100%. I don’t know about y’all but, I’m impressed with myself when I can manage to apply liquid eyeliner in a straight line, so doing my own hair and make-up for professional photos is stressful! (Tip: don’t try to trim false lashes once you’ve already glued them to your eyelids- you’ll end up cutting your own real lashes. True story).

6) Weather- I don’t know about where you guys are from, but it is COLD in Virginia from December-February, sometimes March. I’ve found that when it’s bitterly cold outside, it’s just not as enjoyable of an experience for my bride and groom. My goal is beautiful images, definitely, but I also want my couples to have FUN! I want them to look back on their e-session and have sweet memories associated with their photos, instead of “I love this photo- remember how my fingers were turning blue from the cold? That was SUPER fun.” Because I want it to be a cheerful, gratifying experience, we typically won’t schedule engagement sessions from January to mid-late March to avoid frigid, blustery temperatures.

7) Time of day- I LOVE shooting at sunrise! But you guys already know that after this blog post. I put an especially heavy emphasis on sunrise starts if we’ve scheduled the e-session during one of the hot, sticky months- July & August can be miserably warm and humid, so if we don’t plan to start shooting until 5-6 pm, we’ll all be sweaty and uncomfortable. And since I want my brides and grooms to not only look amazing but FEEL amazing, we’ll opt to shoot at sunrise when temperatures are quite a bit cooler.

Planning for an engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

Happy Tuesday!

  • Lindsay - This is SO great Abby-simple and yet descriptive!! Way to go being upfront about your work hours… ahh you’re such an inspiration!!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - AWESOME tips! I love how much thought and care you put into giving your clients the BEST experience! :)ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie Judd - I have to second the hair and makeup! I attempted my own hair and makeup (and false lashes!) for my e-session…that was by far THE most stressful part of the day. There I was running late attempting to get these lashes to stick. Thank goodness they stayed glued for the session, but literally as soon as we got in the car afterwards, I blinked and one fell off! I can’t say enough about the value of having someone else worry about this stuff! :) Great post, Abby!ReplyCancel

  • Amie Decker - Love the tips Abby! Especially about the hair and makeup:)ReplyCancel

  • Bethany - I love all your tips & its good to know you only do e-sessions for your wedding couples (I some how missed that original post!). I also love how all the photos are in such different settings. You really are an amazingly talented photographer!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Adams - This is SO helpful for photographers too! I’ve never thought about a client sending me their outfit before! Totally gonna suggest that!ReplyCancel

  • Jean - Great information! Beautiful photos!ReplyCancel

Alright, Virginia weather. We need to have a chat. It’s March 18th and it’s snowing outside. This is, simply put, no longer cute. March is about the time I begin to expect warmer weather, chirping birds, daffodils and sunshine. So, what I’m trying to say is, QUIT IT.

Pardon that excursion into Debbie Downerville- now back to our regularly scheduled cheerfulness!

I’m not usually one to wish away a season, but I am SO EXCITED that Spring officially starts on Wednesday! Theres a tree in our little backyard that’s taller than the house, so its branches are eye-level with my office window; I’ve been checking every day to see if it’s started budding yet, but no dice. I love winter (our wedding was in January, after all), but I’m really, really ready to see some leaves on the trees around here. And I’m ready for engagement sessions! The weather’s been interfering with a few of my sessions- not cool, atmosphere. Not. cool.

As usual, lessons learned/events that transpired over the weekend:

  • Apparently the iPhone5 is much more fragile that its predecessor. I had my iPhone4 for almost 2 years, dropped it all the time and never cracked the screen. But on Saturday, 3 weeks after I acquired my new phone, it slipped from my pocket, hit the sidewalk, and the screen cracked. Anyone have advice as to a) the best cases to prevent this from ever happening again, and 2) how to get it replaced, short of changing out the entire phone?
  • If you ever want your dog to receive a dose of humble pie, take them to a pet expo. Lily’s used to being the center of attention, but with hundreds of other, much larger dogs walking around, she most definitely chilled out a bit.
  • Also, after seeing multiple dogs who’d had their coats dyed green/various shades of unnatural colors, I no longer feel like a bad dog parent for giving her one too many MilkBones a day.
  • You’d think that 18 years of living under my parents’ roof that I’d have experience every odd saying they have in their arsenal, right? Nope. We were over at my parents’ on Friday night and my mom went to pull something small down from the closet, it fell on her. And as it did, she exclaimed “Heavens to Betsy!!” ????

This image seem appropriate for today, right? I need to learn to be joyful about the unexpected white, fluffy stuff in life!

Allie Babiarz

Happy Monday!

  • Lindsay - OH my gosh, I haven’t cracked my iphone5 screen yet but it’s my BIGGEST NIGHTMARE!! Seriously Apple, what made you decide to make a GLASS phone?! I’ve heard amazing things about the Otterbox case, supposedly it’s unbreakable… but it’s big and ugly. Gah! So sorry for you :-(ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - “Heavens to Betsy!” – hahahahahaha that is AWESOME. Also, I’ve been an iPhone owner for 2 years now and used to work at the Apple Store and I swear by the bumpers. I’ve never, ever, ever had even a ding on my phone, even though I drop my phone ALL the time. You can get them super cheap on Amazon – they are awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Sabrina - It’s snowing up there… again?? Sheesh, we got one snowy-ish day but it only lasted on the ground for maybe 30 min. *sigh* maybe next year! As for the iPhone case (so sorry!!!), I’ve heard the LifeProof cases are amazing, albeit expensive. Had a friend drop hers in the lake with that case and after diving for it at the bottom of the lake, it worked just fine! Crazy!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Carter - Never heard “Heavens to Betsy!” before?! That is a pretty common phrase in the South I think. Lots of older people in my family say that quite a lot. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jean - Heavens to Betsy, you’ve never heard that before?? Your mom probably learned that from her mom….me! It’s what we said before folks started saying OMG!ReplyCancel

  • Alicia - There is a little kiosk at the Fair Oaks Mall that will replace your screen, not expensive at all :) It’s right outside the Hot Topic if you’re looking for it… good luck!ReplyCancel

  • leah - I can attest to the fact that if this is the first time you’ve broken your phone and you’re a somewhat cute girl, Apple just may replace your phone for free (well, with a refurb). I know it seems pricey, but having bought two refurbs during my last contract, the Apple Care plan is pretty awesome.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - I can’t believe the snow! Good luck rescheduling your e-sessions. I did an inspiration shoot yesterday and completely froze to death!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Adams - Besides your amazingly beautiful photographs, I LOVE reading your blog because you are the best writer! Always keep me laughing :) Love it! I have an otterbox for my iphone5…expensive for a phone case, but worth the investment i think!ReplyCancel

  • Jae - I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t dropped my phone from high enough to break the screen, but I always have a case on mine. I’m using a Kate Spade hybrid hard case – it’s got a soft bumper that goes around your phone before slotting into the hard backing. Very functional and cute! Also, my mum says funny things all the time too, like “oh my gulay” (which is also an “omg”, except gulay is Tagalog for “vegetable”). I think weird sayings are something that come naturally as one gets older heheheReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - As the exclaimed who shouted Heavens to Betsy, it is not because I am older that I say that, as in it didn’t come to my mind because I am older. I have heard all of my female maternal relatives say that and have used it from childhood. I have popped out with this in Abby’s past but she doesn’t remember it. But, it was awfully fun when she busted out laughing, thinking she’d never heard it before. She called the whole family into the kitchen, gathered to celebrate her brother’s birthday as she mentioned him in her blog on Friday, and they were all laughing at me. Well, Abby’s Dad wasn’t laughing at me but at the offspring who were laughing. He’s heard me say it plenty of times over our 32.5 years of marriage. As to iPhones breaking, I have the iPhone 4 in an Otterbox, at said brother’s recommendation, and it has been fine. However, I’ve never dropped it on it’s face. You know, that middle name of Grace was given to you by me with the hopes that you’d be more graceful than me! But also with the hope hat you would walk in God’s grace every day of your life. Matt is part of that prayer being answered.ReplyCancel

  • Mandy Naylor - Life Proof cases are awesome! You can get them at Best Buy.. They’re even water proof too!! That equals LOTS of fun at the beach and you can listen to music in the shower hahaReplyCancel

Welp, today my little brother enters his mid-twenties. WEIRD. I don’t remember a time without Seth, since we’re only 15 months apart, but I remember that cherub-like little face without a problem. More often than not, he had a mushroom cut, or “surfer cut,” as my mom referred to it, and he had the CUTEST smile. And the best laugh! Being the youngest, Seth loved making me and Ethan, our older brother, laugh til we were in stitches, so he’d do whatever it took, including saying “no-no words” my parents had forbade us to speak. I remember with striking clarity one particular such event that took place in the back seat of our old white station wagon: Seth was uttering one of the forbidden words over an dover again from his car seat as my dad reached back from the driver’s seat to swat him on the leg, and Ethan and I were ROLLING laughing. And even though Seth was being disciplined by my dad, he was in stitches too, that delight of a child who’s managed to make his older siblings laugh.

We had a lot of fun as kids. Things were often hard with my mom’s medical conditions and various other struggles my family went through, but I’ll always, ALWAYS treasure those times we laughed together. Like the time my parents were quizzing us on our catechisms and my dad asked Seth,”What covenant did God make with Adam?” And just to make us laugh, even though he knew he’d probably get in trouble, Seth answered “DISCO!”

Looking back on the difficulties my family faced growing up, I’m so much MORE proud of Seth and the awesome man of God he’s grown into. He’s a fierce friend and always makes sure to leave video “Happy Birthday” messages for others on their Facebook wall (but since I don’t know how to do that… a blog post will have to do!).

Seth’s in the US Army, serving as a Chaplain’s assistant, and for the past couple years we’ve been lucky enough to have him stationed close to home. He’ll be moving to a different base at some point soon so this is likely to be the last birthday we’ll get to spend with him for a while, and I’m going to miss having this kid nearby. I know he’s going to do amazing things wherever he’s going though, and I’m so excited to watch him grow!

Happy birthday, Sethy!

  • Rebekah Hoyt - Aww this is so sweet! I LOVE that picture of the 3 of you. It must’ve been so fun to grow up with two brothers! I have no idea what that is like. Happy Birthday, Seth!ReplyCancel

  • Matt - Happy Birthday Seth! I’m so blessed to be able to call you my brother-in-law! Hope you have a great one!ReplyCancel

  • Betty Rockwell - Happy Birthday Seth….I hope you have a blessed dayReplyCancel

  • Jean - What a nice blog about your brother. Happy Birthday, Seth!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - What a wonderful tribute to your brother. I love hearing about the stuff that happened that your Dad and I didn’t know about, as well as being reminded of some of those silly situations. The word he kept repeating in the car was fart, I believe. It was hard to be the adult in that situation. It really was funny.ReplyCancel

  • Dad - Awesome post Abby! DISCO!ReplyCancel

With wedding season fast approaching, I’m finding my calendar full of e-sessions. HOORAY! I la-la-love having this time with my couples before their wedding day. Because beautiful weather is just around the corner, I’ve been receiving more and more emails with requests from couples looking for JUST as engagement session- maybe because their wedding is still a year away and don’t want to decide on their photographer yet, maybe because they don’t have a wedding date yet, etc. Whatever the reason may be, my answer for JUST an engagement session is always a gentle “no.”

Engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

It’s not because I’m being a snob- it’s for THEIR benefit, and I always make sure to explain it as such! I’ve found that the best wedding photography experiences come when my couples and I have the chance to get to know each other prior to their wedding- we learn more about each other as people, I learn how they feel in front of my lens, and they get a feel for my shooting/posing style. I really treasure that time with my brides and grooms- it’s part of what helps foster the friendships that I LOVE having with my couples. And having that relaxed, non-rushed time together makes it so that when the wedding day portraits come around, my couples are already pros. Why is that important? Because if the timeline gets crunched, as it sometimes does, and instead of the glorious hour we schedule for bride & groom portraits I somehow find myself with 8 minutes? My bride and groom already know what to expect, I know which poses work best for them, and we can jump right in.

Engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

I always tell my brides and grooms at the beginning of any e-session that the first 20 minutes are going to be awkward, and that it’s totally fine! That they’re just getting used to me, I’m getting my settings adjusted, and as they’re not professional models, I don’t expect them to know what to do without a bit of direction from me. Now imagine if we skipped an engagement session, or a bride & groom did an e-session with someone else, and then their wedding portraits are crunched to a 25 minutes? The first 15-20 would be spent “warming up,” and just when the couple is hitting their stride, we have to stop. Cue: Darth Vader-esque “NOOOOOOO!”

In the same way that I really value that time with my clients, I don’t want to take away the engagement experience from another photographer. If a couple emails me for an e-session but has already booked their wedding photographer, I strongly encourage them to schedule engagement photos with the photographer they’re entrusting their wedding images with. Having that experience with whomever is shooting your wedding is important!

Engagement session- Abby Grace Photography

What about you all? If you did an engagement session with your photographer, did you feel like doing so made for better wedding day portraits?

  • kathy - Cue: Darth Vader-esque “NOOOOOOO!” – TOO funny! :) Great post and I love, love, LOVE that last image! :)ReplyCancel

  • Lindsay - I completely agree!! When I get to know my clients through their e-sesh, not only do they have beautiful casual images but their wedding images are so much more THEM. They know the poses and they remember how good they looked in their engagement pictures so they’re confident to rock it again! LOVE your work Abby!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - I couldn’t agree more. This is a definite. Abby makes you feel like a model and gives you great tips for the day of your wedding! My favorite is when she does her movie quotes/impressions throughout the shoot!! Makes for more care-free fun.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Adams - Abby!! thank you thank you for this post! I sooo admire your honesty and ability to express it so wonderfully! I may just use this blog post for some of my clients who ask the same question! I totally agree!!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - I love this and I am right there with ya! It’s always disappointing to tell someone “no” – they are contacting you because they want YOU and you are turning down potential income… but it’s so much more than that and being able to say “no” really shows that you care about the needs of the couples who contact you above your own. I wish everyone could see that it really is a selfless act, both by providing those couples with great advice and also providing your own couples with the BEST version of yourself. Great post, Abby!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - My experience was almost 33 years ago so I will not comment on that question. I did want to mention that the last couple, with both being blonde and wearing blue shirts, was a gorgeous shot. I hope they treasure that one!ReplyCancel

  • Planning for your e-session! » Modern Virginia + Destination Wedding Photographer - […] week I posted a little bit behind why engagement sessions are awesome (they really, really are!) and why I only shoot them with my wedding couples. My brides & […]ReplyCancel