I’ll be completely honest with you guys- my method for shooting family formals was actually born out of an inability to use external lighting. During my year of second shooting with my mentor Mike, I saw that he used an off-camera flash inside the church for the post-ceremony formal photos. The flash was necessary because in most of the situations, the church had a prevailing yellow overcast, so our goal was to overpower the tungsten chandeliers with clean, white light from the flash. When I began shooting my own weddings, I hadn’t the slightest idea as to how to use off-camera flash, so in my cowardice I began asking families to join me outside for group shots. This accomplished two things:

1) my couples didn’t have to see me sweat over trying to overcome the indoor lighting with just an on-camera flash, and

2) something shifted ever so slightly, making the previously-stuffy portraits into something more relaxed!

These days I’m much more comfortable using external lighting, but I still ask to take family formals outside because of point #2. Because family formals are typically taken inside the church, there’s an atmosphere of formality. That formality can be really helpful when it comes to organizing each combination, but it’s also the same contributing factor that leads to stiff shoulders and rigid smiles. It truly becomes a FORMAL photograph, and it becomes difficult to make it look like anything more than a record of which family members were present.

I’ve found that moving family formals outside takes away the somber, reserved atmosphere of a church sanctuary and gives a family permission to relax and let down their hair. Whenever I’m directing family formals, I typically tell everyone to “throw your arms around each other- look like you like one another!” It generates a laugh, but more importantly, it takes a stiff portrait and makes it PERSONAL. It’s no longer just documenting those who attended- it becomes a record of that family’s JOY on the wedding day! I’ve given that same direction both inside a church sanctuary and outside beneath the cover of trees, and it never fails that I get more of a reaction when we’re outside, away from the more reserved atmosphere of church altar. Smiles get a bit wider, shoulders relax, and heads tilt in, demonstrating closeness among the family members. It takes an image that could otherwise be very standard and boring, and really does make it a treasured photograph for the couple. So people may look at me like I’m nuts when I ask to take family formals outside on a 35 degree day, but trust me! It’s SO worth it!

Shooting family formals outside- Abby Grace PhotographyShooting family formals outside- Abby Grace PhotographyShooting family formals outside- Abby Grace Photography

Happy Wednesday!

  • Elizabeth - Wow! I never would have though what a difference indoor vs outdoors would make, but these family shots are great! I love them! So different from the traditional on the steps at the alter ones.ReplyCancel

  • Jean - Love the outdoor photos! Never thought about the relaxed vs formal look, but I totally get it now!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - I LOVE this! I love doing family pictures outside for the same reasons – they are so much more natural and relaxed! I love all the pictures you shared above! They are so fun and laid-back :)ReplyCancel

  • Michelle Renee - Amen, sista! I can do the OCF thing, but I don’t wanna. :) Thanks for posting.ReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - I never had a clue as to why you do your family picts outside but thinking back to a few family shots of Our family, they were outside because you wanted the best lighting. They turned out to be terrific and are hung on the wall in the entry for visitors to see. Thinking back on all of your posted wedding and engagement photos you’ve posted here on your blog, they’ve been done outside and were beautiful. Now I know why. Aren’t you clever? MomReplyCancel

  • Dad - The guys have it so much easier!ReplyCancel

  • heather - Love doing family photos outside if I can convince them :)ReplyCancel

A while back, my sweet friend Natalie Franke wrote a blog post about prints. About the fact that our digital world has made it less and less urgent to print our images because the files can find a home on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. And as a photographer who spends so much time working on images for other people, I’ll admit that it takes more of an effort to print images of and for my family than it would if I weren’t a photographer. It took me eight months after we received our wedding images to finally order ONE canvas for our walls. But over the past few months, after receiving hundreds of 4″x6″ proofs with my negatives from Richard Photo Lab, I’ve realized that there is nothing that makes an image come to life like holding it in your hands.

Photographs aren’t meant, weren’t designed to live on a DVD, flash drive, or online gallery. Limiting an image to digital storage only would be like settling for email and Facebook messaging instead of getting together for a girls’ or guys’ night with your friends. Prints MATTER. They matter for us, for our children, for our grandchildren- for the people that come after us, who want proof that love DOES conquer all, who can look at a photograph of their grandparents’ wedding day, knowing that these two souls have a story worth telling. These artifacts, these records of a single blip of time, they MATTER.

Washington DC wedding photographer- why prints matter- Abby Grace Photography

Maybe the lack of prints these days is just a byproduct of the increasing chaos of everyday life around the world. Or maybe it’s a result of being overwhelmed- your wedding photographer sends you 700 images from your wedding day, and you’re thinking “how on earth am I ever going to choose which ones to frame?” Or maybe you don’t know where to print your images.

Here’s some encouragement- just DO IT, already.

As a kid, I loved sitting down and combing through all of the albums my parents filled with images of us. Even though the photos weren’t professional, even though they were crammed into an album my mom probably bought at Wal-Mart, I loved looking through them. Can you imagine if my parents had just settled for the negatives? If they thought “we’ll get around to making prints some other time?” And now, with the negatives lost somewhere along the 20 years since they were captured, all we have are these prints. These 4×6 memories of my brothers and I, of Seth’s cherub-like chubby cheeks, my three-year-old self’s bowl cut, Ethan’s blond hair and that mischievous glint in his eyes.

I’ll make it easy for you- MPix is a great place to start. It’s online, it’s easy to navigate, and the quality is much better than what you’d find at a Kodak kiosk at Target. Or even better! If you’ve had professional photographs taken, order from your photographer- chances are they’ve provided you with an online gallery specifically for that purpose, and the quality of their images will be top-notch. I know a lot of photographers (myself included at times) who’ve all but given up on prints, because with the rise in demand for digital images, people just aren’t taking the time to put those images on paper. People, this is crazy! I KNOW when you booked your wedding or family photographer you weren’t thinking “I can’t wait to upload these photos to a Facebook album and stop there. It’ll be so great to log on and reminisce ever few days.”

Do yourself a favor- when you get home tonight, take 20 minutes to pick out 10 photos you’ve been meaning to print. Then sign up for an MPix account and make it happen. Tonight. Not tomorrow, not “sometime this week.” Tonight. Just DO IT, already.

Washington DC wedding photographer- why prints matter- Abby Grace Photography

Happy Tuesday, friends.

  • Wendy {Weswen Design} - You’ve seen my house….. so I wholeheartedly believe in this! It makes your home so much more cozy and “home” when you utilize all that beautiful photography! Just do it!ReplyCancel

  • Erica Hamilton - Amen to that, Abby! The physical photograph is so important and very rewarding to hold an look at them years later, especially since technology is expanding fast, you don’t want to take a chance to losing your family or couple’s memories!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - So true Abby! The power of holding a print in your hand is something quite unlike anything else. I’m so glad you suggested MPix – I’ll have to remember to share that with my clients as well!! :)ReplyCancel

  • Jessica Fike - Great post!!! You’ve inspired to preach for prints, too! :)ReplyCancel

  • Emily - So true!! I have so many pictures of my boys, just waiting to be printed! Thanks for the reminder & inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Brendle - Seriously couldn’t have said it better myself. And I can always use a reminder that it’s so important to print these puppies out! Even just the “for fun” snapshots of daily life.. not everything has to be a pro picture. One of my personal favorites is the last picture I have with my whole family, shot with my point and shoot camera by a stranger in a parking lot after we went out to dinner one night in 2010. I have it framed at my office!ReplyCancel

  • Kandi Hodges - Oh, what a great post! I have nearly gone bald learning about printing processes, but oh, it is so worth it to see beautiful images come to life as they roll off the printer. I love it!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Holbo - Right on, sister!ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa Marie - Totally pushed me to finally get those prints! Ordering!ReplyCancel

  • Jean - You are so right! I need to make an MPix order soon!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Field - I had never heard of MPix before. I’ll have to have a look at it. This was educational for me. We need to pick out a picture from Ethan’s wedding for our wall. Good blog! MomReplyCancel

  • Dad - Truth dat, I still have hundreds of positives of our trip to China 20 years ago and I want more pictures but who has the time????ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - It took me months to get around to printing the pictures you did for us, and I still haven’t done anything with them, but at least I can hold them. I’m going to go dig up a frame for one right now. Thanks for the kick in the pants :)ReplyCancel

  • David Abel - Great post Abby! Prints are important! Its why we created our Ikea wall (http://www.davidabelphotography.com/blog/2012/ikea-art-and-you-the-necessities-of-printed-photos/) seeing a photo on the computer or ipad is one thing but to see it printed and framed is a completely different experience!ReplyCancel

  • PASS » Modern Virginia + Destination Wedding Photographer - […] my couples the chance to relive their weddings while the memories are still fresh. Excited couples order prints of their wedding photos, which is what I want them to do! Non-excited couples let their images sit on the flash drive, […]ReplyCancel

  • Lessons Learned: how to photograph your next vacation » Modern International Wedding Photographer - […] and you’re so overwhelmed that you never even get around to choosing a batch of favorites to print and frame or immortalize in an album. Am I correct? You’ve done this? I thought so. Because […]ReplyCancel

I think, if I ever retire from wedding photography, I’m going to take up as job as a meteorologist. After watching our weathermen and women over the past few years, I’ve decided the only apparent requirements are a) the ability to gesture at a large map-aka-green-screen behind you, 2) a general idea of the approximate season you’re currently in, and 3) a complete lack of abashedness when you predict 5 inches of snow and the entire region prepares for the worst [snow trucks on the highway, school closings, the works], only to wake up in the morning and find the same bare ground that was there when you went to bed. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of making it! I just need to work on building my stash of cheesy precipitation-related jokes.

This weekend was one of the best Matt & I have ever had. It was one of those few, rare treats, two days where we had almost nothing urgent to do, so we spent a lot of time curled up on the couch watching old episodes of White Collar (my newest obsession- we watched all six seasons of LOST last year, one right after the other, and I shudder to think of how impatient I’d had been if we’d had to wait a week in between each episode like everyone else!). My thoughts lately have been strangely peppered with suspicions of bank heists and art thefts. Weird.

As always, things that happened over the weekend!

  • We’re trying this new thing of letting Lily sleep in our room instead on holed up in her crate. We don’t want her sleeping on our bed though, because Matt’s already pretty tall and I move around a lot, so we bought her this cute little puppy bed cushion thing. She still seems to prefer our Tempur-Pedic, which means surprise wake-ups due to Lily landing on my head in the middle of the night. We’re still working on it…
  • Last night I learned that we shouldn’t run the washing machine overnight, because it makes loud thumping noises every few minutes, leading my overly-paranoid self to believe we’re the target of an in-home invasion. Matt made a trip downstairs with a 9 iron to make sure everything was fine… and it was.
  • I’ve started doing all of my client meetings at our home, which is a huge stress-reliever in some respects (for example, I no longer have to worry about showing up to Starbucks an hour early to reserve a seat for the couple and myself), and then a stress multiplier in other respects (“Matt!! Why aren’t any of the Pinot glasses clean? I NEED THE PINOT GLASSES!”). All I know is that I have the best husband in the world to calm me down when I’m stressing over whether or not I have enough varieties of cheese to choose from.

Also, I’d like to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone that read, shared, and Pinned the “Mythbusters: Wedding Photographer Edition” post last week. I had a record high number of hits on my blog last Wednesday! You guys rock :).

Aaaand one more sneak peek of the styled shoot I previewed last week!

Happy Monday!

  • Alison Mish - Mike and I are obsessed with White Collar! We watched everything Netflix had to offer on White Collar in three weeks this past December! It’s so addicting! And we just recently started letting Elly sleep with us. She’s so little that she just kinda stays curled up in a little ball at the foot of our bed. And YAY for doing client meetings at home :) Can’t wait to see what your new office looks like!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Tyler and I watched all the White Collar on Netflix not too long ago and became addicted! We were impatiently waiting for the next season when I got an iTunes gift card for Christmas and we downloaded everything from the current season. New episodes just started and it’s a weekly battle waiting for a time when we can both watch it together. It is sooo good!!

    Good luck keeping Lily out of bed! I actually move so much in my sleep the our dogs don’t like the snuggle with us at night; once the lights go out they hop down and pick one of the 3 dog beds that we keep in our room for them.ReplyCancel

  • Jean - Glad you and Matt had a nice weekend. The photos look intriguing!ReplyCancel

  • Serena Severtson - We LOVE White Collar! Some of our close friends got us hooked a while back and it’s such an awesome show! Also, Chad loves the men’s attire in the show (Neal Caffrey has amazing fashion sense). :)ReplyCancel

  • Blythe K - love these sneak peeks! I cannot wait to see the entire shoot! :)ReplyCancel

  • Sarah B. - Awe – I wish I could have an in-home meeting with you – that sounds so fun!! :D You are so good to your clients!ReplyCancel

  • Rhiannon - This post is full of so much goodness, Abby! I’m now inspired to let Zoe sleep in our room overnight too because even though we snuggle with her at night on our bed we always have to remove her back down in her crate before we both drift off to sleep. Funny enough I mention this in tomorrow’s post! Also, I’m off to read your MythBusters post. I can’t wait to see what it says :)ReplyCancel

  • Dad - Meteorology, the only job where 30% = SuccessReplyCancel

  • Tina Raquel - Not to burst your bubble, but meteorology is actually a crazy hard job! lol ( I work for a news station) they are super smart, with degrees in science, math, technology and many of them have masters. They work harder than most people I know and they’re awesome at it! :) btw – I love to read your fun posts like this.ReplyCancel

I don’t know where I got it into my head that I’m not allowed to take time off, but somewhere along the way, this became my mantra. Going on vacation? I better take my laptop and edit while I’m there! Going to my Granny’s house for the weekend? Can’t forget my external hard drives so I can still be ready to work! Really, it’s absurd. It wasn’t until Matt sat me down and asked if we could talk about office hours that I realized something needed to change.

After that discussion, we came to the conclusion that work needs to have beginning and ending hours. This whole “work til it’s done” thing, while ok when used sparingly, isn’t a healthy way to live day to day. It’s not as though I didn’t have enough time to complete my edits and answer emails- it was just this “work work work WORK” cycle I’d dug myself into as a result of never having enough time when I was still at the desk job. Because when I WAS still with Northrop Grumman, the only time I had to edit sessions and respond to inquiries was after 5 pm and on weekends.

Black Horse Inn wedding Warrenton Virginia- Abby Grace Photography

I used to take a lot of pride in my email response time- if I got an email at 9:30 pm, I’d answer it right then and there. I actually used to check my emails before going to bed, just to make sure I didn’t leave anything unanswered. Now don’t get me wrong- my clients SHOULD expect prompt response times. My goal is to answer everything from my brides and groom within 24 hours (emails from non-clients can take longer, just because I need to give my couples priority). Sometimes I drop the ball on that, but it’s something I’m actively working to improve. But what I didn’t realize I was doing was teaching my clients to EXPECT responses at 11 pm on a Saturday night. I wasn’t allowing myself the freedom of enjoying my weekends with Matt, or to take guilt-free time off with an auto-responder at the ready. I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys answering email, but I was becoming a slave to my inbox.

These days, we’ve worked to create a few boundaries that I’m still learning to adjust to: work begins at 7 or 8 in the morning, depending on how long it takes me to roll out of bed. I have an option to take an hour away from desk for lunch, but I usually forget to do so :). And then works ENDS at 5:30-6:00. As in, I shut down the computer and close my office door. I check my email a couple of times throughout the evening, but unless it’s something urgent, it can wait until the following morning to answer. And then on weekends? I stay out of my office. It was the most freeing thing ever to realize I was allowed to do that! If I have a wedding on a Saturday, I do cull my images on Saturday night/Sunday, but I always make sure to do that on my laptop so I can still be downstairs hanging out with Matt.

Black Horse Inn wedding Warrenton Virginia- Abby Grace Photography

Being a small business owner means I’m in charge of every facet of my business, meaning I often work longer hours than an employee who works for someone else. I have to remind myself on occasion, though, that no matter how much I love my job and love my clients, that this career is not my entire life. I work so that I can support the lifestyle Matt & I want to live, not the other way around of living for the joy of working. I work to live, not live to work. When things like spending time with God, being a wife, and being with friends & family consistently start to take a backseat to my job, I know it’s time for something to change. Because as amazing as this career is, it isn’t what defines me, and it isn’t where my identity lies. Keeping that all perspective helps me unchain myself from my desk at the end of each workday.

Happy Friday!

  • Jean - Glad you have Matt to help keep you grounded. All work and no play will lead to burn-out! Love you!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Reagle - Glad to see you’re finding more balance! One of the things I started to do early on and make my staff do now is identify at least one day a month, a month out, that is saved for a day off. Only if it something ABSOLUTELY essential comes up are we allowed to bail on taking that day off!:)ReplyCancel

  • Marcella Treybig - OMG! I hate 9-5 working hours!! that’s why I work for myself and give myself the flexibility with ‘working hours’, but everyones wired differently and needs structure, mine lies in setting goals and deadlines to complete them in. I am so SO much happier that way :)ReplyCancel

  • heather - Oh how I can relate. Problem is that our work is never done – there is always something :) So I too join you on the journey of trying to be disciplined :)ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I can totally relate to this. In this world of instant gratification it can be hard to step away from it all. When you love what you do it’s hard to leave work at work. More so, I imagine, when your office is in your home!ReplyCancel

  • Alison Harper - This is such an important challenge for any small business owner. I struggle with this as well. I had to set myself similar boundaries. I still struggle with feeling bad about them though. :/ReplyCancel

  • Dad - Oh my you are so spot on and e- mail can be addictive!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - Such a good reminder.ReplyCancel

  • Suzanne - I struggle with this exact same thing! My husband and I both work from home, so we try to pepper in moments together during the day, but often I find a plate of dinner appearing over my shoulder while I’m working, and at 8 pm my kids are giving me hugs goodnight in my office. I bought a laptop to be upstairs during the day and it gets used for games more than work. It’s a struggle, b/c I feel guilty for letting an email go until morning. But I know I need to put the phone/laptop/iPad/computer away (yeah, wherever I go I have access to my email with me!) and live my LIFE.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah B. - Good job, Abby! :DReplyCancel

I got my first dose of destination wedding photography when MY wedding photographer Terra brought me to Aruba with her as a second shooter. Five days of shooting in one of the most gorgeous places in the world, with that crystal clear unreal blue water as our backdrop, and I was officially diagnosed with Destination Wedding Fever. Don’t get me wrong- I love Virginia, and I love exploring all that my gorgeous state has to offer. But there is something so exhilarating about the chance to shoot somewhere I’ve never photographed before, with completely different landscapes as my set. I love traveling for weddings! And it doesn’t have to be to somewhere tropical- this year I have weddings in Kansas City and England, and I’m just as stoked (actually, probably even moreso) for those as I was about Aruba! The change of scenery is like water to my soul- it pushes me and feeds my creativity. I LOVE IT.

Destination wedding photographer Riu Palace Aruba- Abby Grace Photography

Why plan a destination wedding? Part of it probably has to do with the stress- it’s likely a lot easier to plan for a small group of 20 close friends and family on a Caribbean island resort than it is to plan for 175 close to home. And I’m thinking the that the stunning backdrop of wherever said wedding is being planned probably has something to do with it, too. Virginia is beautiful, but there’s something so breathtakingly incredible about Tuscany, Italy. Something that may not occur to brides when planning their destination wedding is that bringing a photographer from home with them might actually help alleviate even more stress! Why is that? Let’s look into it:

#1. Connection! I’ve preached time and time again about how important it is for my couples and I to have a relationship, so that by the time I step into the bridal suite on the wedding day, I’m not just some hired vendor, I’m a friend. That relationship allows me to do my job BETTER than if my first introduction to the bride is on the biggest day of her life. Finding a photographer you love in the States means you have an opportunity to get to know them here during your engagement session and throughout the wedding planning process, so when you meet up overseas for the wedding, it’s just the continuation of a relationship the began months ago. One less this you have to stress over :).

#2. Language barriers! While it’s true that most resorts are staffed with employees fluent in English, if you’re going somewhere that isn’t an all-inclusive vacation, it may be a tad more difficult to find someone accustomed to working with destination, English-speaking couples. Bringing a photographer from home will ensure that you’re not struggling to communicate with elementary, improvised sign language.

Destination wedding photographer Riu Palace Aruba- Abby Grace Photography

#3. Quality photography! While Matt and I were honeymooning in St. Lucia, I watched the resort photographers at work around the grounds. We also went into the photo shop while we were there and looked through their samples of albums and such, being the nosy photographer that I am. Nothing against the photographers at the resort, I’m sure they’re very lovely people, but the photos I saw left me really disappointed. Much of it was typical, cheesy posing, too much flash in the faces of the couples, and a generic “one size fits all” approach- each wedding, each couple looked exactly the same. And for couples who don’t really care about their wedding images, that’s fine- that’s why those resort photographers are there. But in my opinion, every bride, every groom, every love story and every wedding is different, unique, incredibly special, which is why I never approach weddings with cookie cutter mindset. And if your wedding is taking place somewhere beautiful enough to warrant a wedding, I believe your images ought to do your wedding day justice.

*Side note- there are some seriously amazing wedding photographers who reside in destination wedding territory who don’t fall into the “resort photographer” category. #3 doesn’t apply to them at all!*

Destination wedding photographer Riu Palace Aruba- Abby Grace Photography

#4. More shooting opportunities! When you bring a photographer from home, you may be able to find time to fit in something like a love shoot before the wedding, or a trash the dress session afterwards. We actually shot TWO trash the dress sessions in Aruba- one beforehand (don’t worry, the bride brought an extra dress:)) and then one after the wedding in her actual wedding dress. When I shoot James & Deanna‘s wedding in England in June, we’re doing a “Part Deux” engagement session in London two days before they say “I do.” That way, when the wedding day is over, they also have more “every day” images to hang around the house in addition to their wedding photographs.

If there’s a photographer in the States that you really love but didn’t think about bringing with you for your destination wedding, at least talk about it with your betrothed! To me, there’s nothing more disappointing about a destination wedding than when the images are lackluster and poor in quality because they couple didn’t realize that bringing a photographer with them was a possibility. I LOVE to travel and positively jump at the chance to shoot outside my normal stomping ground, so… if any of y’all are thinking you may want to get married in Italy? You should definitely, DEFINITELY call me:)Also on my bucket list are England (soon to be crossed off!), Rome, Santorini [Greece], Shannon [Ireland], Paris, New York City, and the Caribbean again!

Destination wedding photographer Riu Palace Aruba- Abby Grace Photography

What about you all? If you could get married anywhere in the world, or shooting a wedding anywhere in the world, where would it be?

  • Matt - I think it makes complete sense to do this. It’s a great opportunity to get shots that you wouldn’t normally get from a resort photographer!ReplyCancel

  • Wendy - I just sent this post to my friend who’s possibly getting married in the Caribbean. I think it’s great, and have seen one too many destination pics that are just “meh” (AKA, we have our own photographers, you’re in good hands) <—- eww, don't do it!!ReplyCancel

  • Rebekah Hoyt - This is SUCH great advice!! It’s easy to want your Destination Wedding to be a one-stop shop, but in order to capture the amazing place you’ve picked, you need an amazing photographer!!

    My DREAM places to shoot a wedding would be Switzerland and Brazil :)ReplyCancel

  • Tracy - I’m the aforementioned friend of Wendy’s! I was one of her bridesmaids in beautiful wintergreen, VA! My fiancé and I are headed to Vieques, PR in February for vacation and scouting for a possible wedding destination. Wild horses, roosters and beautiful beaches have certainly peeked my interest! Not to mention the fact that he and I will have to pay for a wedding ourselves and destinations can be more affordable. I’ve certainly considered what to do about photos there, because I know the planner down there has a handful of go-to local photographers, as this is not a typical resort destination w/ a packaged photographer. No clue what their portfolios look like yet, but I do know that beautiful photographs are super important to me, so we may have to chat when I get back in early march!!! Very good, and timely, post! Cheers :)ReplyCancel

  • Destination engagement sessions! » Modern Virginia + Destination Wedding Photographer - […] we’ve all heard of destination weddings, yes? I wrote a few months ago about why bringing a photographer WITH you to a destination is a better option that going with a resort photographer, but today […]ReplyCancel