Aldonza + Luke - Engagement Session, Bristol, VA.

As a professional photographer, I am on the constant lookout for optimal light. There are times when I am pleasantly surprised by the lighting scenarios in which I find myself shooting in - the prime example being this refreshing engagement session with Luke and Aldonza. 

Originally we planned on shooting during the evening; but, due to the predication of ominous weather, we decided to opt out for an early morning shoot - and I'm so glad we did! I met with Aldonza and Luke at Sugar Hollow Park bright and early on a misty May morning. We captured images in and around the Black Forest, a popular place to shoot, but somehow it never loses its wonder. I absolutely loved working with this couple - they brought so much fun and energy just by being themselves. Congratulations to Luke and Aldonza on their recent engagement! I wish you many blessings as you enter a new chapter in life together. It was an honor to capture your portraits.

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Amelia - Senior Session, Senoia, Georgia

As an up-and-coming professional, I am considerably honored when I receive the opportunity to photograph people I share a deep friendship with - and so, to capture Amelia's senior portraits was indeed one of those great opportunities! On a recent visit to Georgia, Amelia and I planned to capture some senior portraits in and around the small town charm of Senoia, Georgia. 

We started off at a scenic lake next to the local library outside of town to capture casual shots of Amelia in a green blousy top, blue jeans, and boots. Amelia brought along a few props that display her interests - for instance, books, to show her love of reading, as well as her Maasai blanket and her father's own denim jacket that holds significant meaning. Later on, we traversed to Main Street for a dress change and a quick coffee break. 

Amelia will be graduating from Konos Academy in May 2017. She has been accepted to Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, where she will be double majoring in Bible and Theology and Intercultural Studies beginning in fall 2018. In the meantime, she has recently been accepted to take part in an exciting opportunity this summer as a short-term missionary during an 8-week missions internship in Clarkston, Georgia. I could not be more thrilled for what the future holds for her! 

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Promoting Passion 2016 - Colorado Springs, CO

When I first arrived in Colorado Springs on the evening of September 26, 2016, I couldn't have possibly imagined that the next three days would be absolutely life-changing for me as a creative artist. This trip pushed me to branch out in a million ways from my first time flying on a plane by myself to my first trip out west to my first photo convention EVER. Self-reliance and a little bit of courage were my traveling companions. However, I realized how great an impact that a simple change of scenery has boosted my confidence, enriched my soul, and filled my heart with the creative rejuvenation that I was desperately in need of for quite some time - especially as a woman of faith. Not only has Promoting Passion revived my creative drive, it has awakened the very core of my spiritual being. The raw energy I gleaned on this trip has deeply reminded me of my life's purpose.

The conference presented a wide variety of creative artists, photographers, and writers hosted by fine art photographer, writer, and motivational speaker Brooke Shaden. Along with her were many other influential names - Lindsey Adler, fashion and portrait photographer from New York City; Joel Grimes, commercial portrait photographer with decades of immeasurable experience; Ksenia Anske, fantasy writer whose life story astounded me; and many, many others. 

Our schedule outlined an intensive, non-stop schedule of lectures and workshops designed to inspire (in my case reignite) passion in photography while also finding the necessary motivation to drive one's creative passion into a successful business career. 

A view of the Garden of the Gods - the mountainous, rugged, dusty red rock landscape inspired me at every turn. The desert entranced my senses.

By nature, I am introspective and soft-spoken - certainly among large gatherings of people. One of my greatest concerns on this trip was pulling myself out of my comfort zone to form relationships with people from all walks of life and different points of the globe. However, in a short time, I did indeed find friendship with a multitude of men and women with the same creative passion as I - and I discovered that, instead of burying my face behind the viewfinder for the entirety of the conference, I found myself in front of the camera eye, devoting my time and energy to collaborate with others. I cannot describe how fulfilling it was to help those around me. In the long run, it has helped me rediscover the passion I had when I picked up my first camera.

A reflective portrait of myself captured by David Perry while collaborating with Liz Ernest, who graciously gave me wise advice on modeling - simply put, she told me, " just relax."

Pictured left - a candid shot of Steph and Brooke behind the scenes from our first afternoon creative collaboration. Brooke (pictured right) provided us a variety of models in gorgeous gowns as well as props and smoke bombs for dramatic effect.

Initially, it was quite difficult for 50-75 people to photograph the same subject(s) at the same time and often from the same angle. Though everyone was anxious to capture images, there was a little give-and-take involved. However, everyone was given the chance to shoot; and, if desired, shout out directions to the models. Honestly, I still cannot believe that I was given the opportunity to photograph under Brooke's tutelage. It still seems so surreal and dreamlike. How often does one receive such a grand opportunity? 

Two images that I captured from the first afternoon creative collaboration. I was thrilled to have captured such contrasting moods from the same shoot. You can also accredit the mud-smearing to Brooke's endless imagination - the portrait on the right is more than just a pretty shot with good lighting and contrast. Model: Mikala Anaïs

The emotional energy from the first day was infectious. As a result, my motivation skyrocketed. And so, the next morning, I rose before dawn at 5:00 am to go chase the morning light and capture some images in the Garden of the Gods before the start of day two at Promoting Passion.

Below you will find snapshots of my early morning adventure. Often, solitude is my energy resource - and I could not have requested a better location to find wonder in God's creation.

The Garden of the Gods in the early morning light 

Balancing rock in the Garden of the Gods

The sun rising over the red rocks on a crisp, early autumn morning

While listening to Brooke's morning workshop, she said something that struck a chord in my mind and resonated within me. Near the end of her lecture, she advised that doing a lot of self-portraiture will greatly help in directing modelings and knowing what positions create impact. Though I was aware of this beforehand, my heart was not completely immersed in this fact. My mind was fixated on the desire to make good, perfect images. But where was my heart? Where was my theme? Where was my story? My mind and my heart were divided like oil and vinegar for years. I was a proficient technical photographer - I still am, but it was long overdue that I finally paired my technical skills with my own personal creative side in order to create impact.

The Castle at Glen Eyrie 

The view from the patio at Glen Eyrie

After another morning and afternoon of intense, eye-opening lectures, I hit the ground running again with my fellow conference-goers. I spent an evening with newfound friends collaborating and immersing myself in a combination of hands-on shooting and modeling.

Left: Shooting with Brooke - just one of the many "stations" she set up for us
Right: My capture of model Lisbeth Splawn

Before I realized it, Promoting Passion reached its third and final day. I spent the majority of the day participating in Lindsey Adler's hands-on lecture/workshop session. 

Lindsey Adler kindly modeling for a group of photographers out on the lawn at Glen Eyrie - what a larger-than-life inspirational educator!

Lindsey Adler's workshop demonstration in the Great Hall

In just few short hours after her lecture, Lindsey set up different locations for us to work hands-on, including indoor and outdoor spots. It really does take a village to create images with impact. 

Behind the scenes with model Lisbeth Splawn on one of Lindsey's sets. We also learned the term "floofing," which is a word used to describe adding "movement" to an image - just one of the many keywords Lindsey taught us! 

The day was long but an absolute thrill; however, all good things must come to an end, and I soon found myself sitting in the Great Hall at the closing ceremony. I intently listened to Brooke as she gave us a plentiful amount of thoughts, ideas, and dreams to take away and apply to our work and art. "Never believe anything easy or worthwhile will come easy or fall in your lap," she said. "Work hard for it." And suddenly, just like that, everything seemed to make sense.

Brooke (left) at the closing ceremony and Joel McKerrow (right) reciting one of his masterful poetry pieces.

In conclusion, Promoting Passion has rocked my whole universe and has greatly impacted each facet of my life and wellbeing. For years, I have been creatively asleep. My head and heart were in two separate places and something within me refused to budge. Call it a creative block or writer's block or whatever you will. I simply praise God above that whatever it was that held me back has finally been obliterated. At last I realize that my creative brain, my passionate heart, and my dreaming head are my strengths - by my faith I believe them to be my gifts from above, how God created me to be: to express myself through my art. My dear readers, I have never felt so empowered by these life-giving thoughts and wild dreams dancing around in my head. Though I have returned home to "normal" life, my eyes view everything through a different lens. I am confident now that what I learned at Promoting Passion will remain in me indefinitely; and, I smile to myself often that I am capable of creating impact not only in my work but in each area of my life.   

Hannah + Enrique - Engagement Session, Greeneville, TN

I met with Hannah and Enrique for a special engagement session on a warm August evening in downtown Greeneville, TN. Although I had never visited Greeneville in the past, I was blessed with exceptional results for Hannah and Enrique's engagement photos. Enrique gave us a brief tour of his hometown main street before we jumped into action, shooting until a few minutes before sunset, which provided optimal, romantic light. We started off at the garden where Enrique first proposed to Hannah and other favorite spots so I could capture their beautiful moments together. They are indeed a lovely couple and an absolute pleasure to work with. I cannot contain my excitement to photograph Hannah and Enrique's wedding coming up in October!

The Experience of a Lifetime - Study Abroad Italy 2016

As I sit to compose the words that encapsulate how it feels to be back at home in East Tennessee, I am at a loss of words. During the past month, I traveled with a stellar group from King University to study abroad in Italy. Needless to say, it was a grand experience that presented a lot of "firsts" in my life - my first time flying on an airplane, my first time walking on foreign soil, my first time speaking and applying a different language than I am accustomed to - and the list goes on. Not only did I travel and study in Italy, I became completely immersed and dwelled there for a few magical weeks. 

After graduating from King with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I traveled to Italy exactly one week after commencement ceremonies. We arrived in Rome International Airport on the bright, sunny morning of May 9th around 10:00 am after a grueling ten-hour flight across the Atlantic. After going through customs and grabbing our luggage, we hopped on a bus that took us from the airport in Rome to a picturesque, medieval town called Montepulciano, Toscana - our "home away from home" to study and live for the next two and a half weeks.

Flying into Rome International Airport on May 9, 201

Flying into Rome International Airport on May 9, 201

As a photographer, I have made leaps and bounds that have empowered and enriched me both artistically and spiritually. For one, I played it safe and left my best, award-winning equipment behind and took only the bare necessities to photograph - my novice Canon T5i camera body and a 24-70 mm general purpose lens with a polarizer filter. I also used my iPhone to snap candid moments on the fly since it was close at hand. 

I lived in a small flat with two girls who became close friends over the course of our trip. Luckily I had a small room to myself - simply furnished with a twin bed, one dresser, a wooden chair, and a small walk-in storage room adjacent to my bedroom. I unpacked my suitcase and put my clothes away before heading back out for a walking tour of Montepulciano and dinner at Trattoria di Cagnano, the restaurant where we dined most evenings after a full day of classes and other activities.  

The view of the surrounding hills of Tuscany from my room in our flat on via san pietro just outside of the walled city of Montepulciano. 

The view of the surrounding hills of Tuscany from my room in our flat on via san pietro just outside of the walled city of Montepulciano. 

After a few days, I slowly began to emerge from the heavy fog of jet lag. I was surprised at how long it took for me to realize the concrete truth of being over 4,800 miles away from home - six hours ahead of time. Each day became better and better - my eyes soaked in the new sights that Montepulciano had to offer. I quickly learned how not knowing a few Italian phrases was a great hinderance when ordering coffee at cafés or going to the market or asking for directions. However, I swiftly learned small, simple phrases to get me by. Sometimes it was painfully obvious that I was an American - a foreigner in a strange land far, far from home.

Il Sasso, Italian Language School - our meeting place for classes.

Il Sasso, Italian Language School - our meeting place for classes.

I took all four classes offered to us within the trip - my favorite courses being "American Writers At War and in Love" taught by Professor Brandon Story and "Travel Photography" by Professor Lee Jones. Surprisingly enough, I learned a great deal from returning to the bare basics of photography. I also summoned the courage to approach strangers and ask for their portrait. I leapt out of my comfort zone and was generously rewarded with fabulous results.

One day during our first week, Lee told us to go out and photograph a stranger. As we wandered about the piazza, a small, elderly man walked up to the café and sat down at a table, watching our group go about taking pictures as he quietly smoked a cigarette. You would have hardly noticed he was there at all. My attention was drawn toward him; it seemed obvious that he had had a long life filled with fascinating stories to tell. I debated on whether I should approach him and ask to take his picture. Finally, I settled on it and walked towards him and said softly, "per favore, fotografia?" He did not say a word, but his eyes visibly lit up, and he straightened his back and puffed out his chest, posing for his portrait with pride and joy. He only spoke Italian, so communicating with him was quite a hurdle. During my stay I did see him a time or two after I took his portrait. He was a kind, quiet, grandfatherly man. In spite of our language barriers, we were still able to make a connection and say "ciao" to each other in passing.

Portrait of an Italian Man

Portrait of an Italian Man

Within the first week or so I was able to fall into a routine. It was fairly easy to get up early and rises for classes with the prospects of excellent coffee made fresh daily by an Italian barista and a breath-taking view of the Tuscan landscape as we sat on the terrace discussing Hemingway, modernism, and A Farewell to Arms. 

The view of Montepulciano from the outside terrace at Il Sasso

The view of Montepulciano from the outside terrace at Il Sasso

My roommates Tori (left) and Bailey (right) as we sit at Piazza dell'Erbe café reading and enjoying a mild afternoon

My roommates Tori (left) and Bailey (right) as we sit at Piazza dell'Erbe café reading and enjoying a mild afternoon

A candid shot of myself taken by Bailey. It was a pleasure to teach her tips and tricks on photography to using her camera on the trip!

A candid shot of myself taken by Bailey. It was a pleasure to teach her tips and tricks on photography to using her camera on the trip!

On our first weekend in Italy, we traveled to Florence for a half day. During this time we toured the Galleria dell'Accademia where Michelangelo's David is housed as well as the Uffizi museum.

The Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral

Piazza della Signoria - ever bustling with constant traffic!

Piazza della Signoria - ever bustling with constant traffic!

The Uffizi

The Uffizi

During weekend traveling I found myself in Venice. We stayed in a three-star hostel in Marghera on the mainland and traveled to the island by taxi on Saturday. In spite of my exhausted state, I was amazed by the beauty of Venice, relaxed by the balmy breezes and vibrant colors of the canals. The highlight of our day was undoubtedly a river ride on a gondala just before sundown.

 A narrow canal in Venice

 A narrow canal in Venice

Floating down the canal in a gondala just before sunset

Floating down the canal in a gondala just before sunset

For the next two weeks, I fell into a comfortable routine in Montepulciano. After such a tiring, whirlwind adventure traveling to northern Italy the weekend before, I settled on staying in the little town for some much-needed rest and relaxation before traveling to Rome on the last leg of the trip. Montepulciano was my favorite place to be - though the hills and valleys possess an exotic, unique beauty all on its own, Montepulciano deeply reminded me of home. The shopkeepers and locals were kind and friendly and welcoming to tourists; the low, horizon-hugging mountains and lush greenery brought me comfort and peace. If I could choose a place to live abroad, Montepulciano remains high on my list - its charm, beauty, and deep history enchanted me.

The Bell Tower in Montepulciano - the view from the top was absolutely a dream straight out of fairy tale books

The Bell Tower in Montepulciano - the view from the top was absolutely a dream straight out of fairy tale books

The streets in Montepulciano

The streets in Montepulciano

Our front door to our flat

Our front door to our flat

The view of the surrounding hills and valleys from the top stairwell before entering the city walls

The view of the surrounding hills and valleys from the top stairwell before entering the city walls

Traveling to Europe was truly life-changing. Italy is no longer a "distant country my eyes have never beheld" - it is a real place with real, hardworking people who rise early and open their shops and run businesses each and every morning and greet American tourists with smiles and a friendly "ciao!"

On returning to Tennessee, I have a much deeper appreciation for my home and life here. I am blessed each and every day, surrounded by loving friends and family who I hold close to my heart. I treasure my memories of Italy greatly (and am already missing it a great deal), but I pray that one day I will return there and have the courage to visit new places and relish in more traveling experiences. I took over 3,000 images during my stay, so this post is just a drop in the bucket - a little sneak-peek for your enjoyment. In my free time I recorded in my journal and read novels and explored Montepulciano. I have learned more about myself as a Christian woman and as a professional in the field of photography through this journey. I wouldn't trade my time studying abroad in Italy - it has truly been an experience of a lifetime that I will remember forever from the tiny moments to the grand wonders that stole my breath away.

Abby - Senior Session, Bristol, TN

What a splendid senior session! My father and I went out on a gorgeous August day to photograph Abby for her senior portraits, accompanied by her mother Beth, and her younger sister, Anna. We started out at Bristol's iconic train station, which is becoming a popular locale. We were not the only ones out and about photoshooting as we ran into familiar faces and fellow photogs along the way. As the sun begin to sink below the horizon, we traversed to Cumberland Square Park to top off an easy, breezy photo shoot. Abby was the epitome of grace and beauty throughout the session. She is currently at her final year at my alma mater, Sullivan East High, and plans to attend ETSU to study ultrasound technology. Best of wishes to you, Abby, I know you will exceed!

Ally + Stephen - Claypool Hill, VA Wedding

Being an emerging professional photographer, I am incredibly blessed with the opportunities I have been presented this year alone - to grow and learn in more ways than I could possibly have imagined even a year or two ago. I was contacted by Ally in January 2015 to photograph her special day in Pounding Mill, Virginia. 

Ally and Stephen were fantastically blessed with a beautiful, warm July day to celebrate their love and unite in holy matrimony. The ceremony took place at Claypool Hill Church of Christ, situated on a hill with the mountainous landscape providing a lovely backdrop to the summer day. Ally and her bridesmaids prepped for the upcoming ceremony at her mother's house while Stephen and his groomsmen got ready at his parents' household, which were all within a stone's throw to the church, making traveling to and fro a breeze. 

After the ceremony, the wedding guests gathered at Belfast-Rosedale Volunteer Fire Department for the reception to celebrate Ally and Stephen's happy union. It was indeed a joyous day. Congratulations once more to Ally and Stephen Mitchell!