The story of 2009 begins with a moving truck. Well, many of them actually. After 20 years in my childhood home, my parents sold our teensy split-foyer home for the house of my mama's dreams. We were building a beautiful home about 20 minutes away and would need every extra cent to finish it. It would still be another few months before the house was livable so we settled on renting a home in the mean time. It was a hectic time to finish my last semester of community college.

On top of that I had two weddings right off the bat. I might have been able to catch my breath if it weren't for one very important wedding in California on March 14th. 

Andrew was a friend of mine from the East Coast. He worked frequently with my brother on film projects. Carissa lived in California with her family inside a home so peaceful and cozy I was tempted to lock myself in the closet with the growing Kombucha mother and stay forever. It was the wedding of my dreams. A young, beautiful couple with excellent style and close group of warm and charming family and friends. My beginners ignorance came in handy once again as I managed to brush over the fact that Carissa was a talented photographer. For those who know of them now, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of that. My first "destination" wedding was enough pressure for 20 year old to handle. If I knew just how talented these two were I would have stood in the middle of that field of wildflowers shaking in my sandals. Thankfully, I had no idea.

I was aware, however, that I'd just struck gold. After just one year of "professional" wedding photography, a wedding in California would make this East Coast college student look a lot more professional than I actually was. At least I hoped so.

Andrew and Carissa's wedding timed out perfectly with Spring Break and just like that I got my first taste of travel. I stayed with my friend and fellow photographer Chelsea (who took the photo in today's banner) and overall it was a wild rumpus of an adventure. After seeing Southern California for the first time I remember genuinely wondering why anyone would live anywhere else. It was perfect. I could wear my hoodie with flip-flops all day and not be too hot or too cold. I could take a photo in any direction at any time of day and the light would be perfect. I still think California photographers have it way easy. 

Immediately after California I flew to Gilbert, Arizona where I met up with my friend Andrea who introduced me to the state where your hair dries three seconds after you step out of the shower. You can also drive 30 minutes in any direction with only a handful of turns. My mind was blown. The city is a grid! Why weren't more cities like this!? Little did I know I would be back in six months time to photograph Andrea's wedding. In the meantime, I needed to I hop back on a place and get back to my Biology homework.

At long last I was finished with community college. Seeing how wedding jobs were picking up I decided I wanted to transfer to a local university. Everyone I knew was applying to University of Maryland College Park but they didn't have a good photography program. University of Maryland Baltimore County was about the same distance from my new house and had a great Visual Arts program. It was the only school I applied to and I got in. Sometimes you just know something when you see it. But more on that later. It's still summertime!

I returned to California in July to attend Amelia Lyon's Lyon Shop. It was eye opening and something I definitely recommend for any photographer looking to learn the ropes from someone still in the business.

I shot 7 or 8 more weddings that summer, all of them in Maryland or Pennsylvania and many of them friends of mine. Here's where I want to pause and say something to my fellow photographers just starting in this industry: You will eventually make it past the "family-friend photographer" stage. I promise you! If you work hard and give your clients a good experience they will refer you to their friends. Looking back at 2009 I can't help but be grateful for all the amazing opportunities I got. But I also vividly remember how gross it felt to compete with my best friend for jobs amongst our friends. I remember how frustrating it was to be told I was hired because I was cheaper than the other photographers they looked at. I wanted to be hired because they actually LIKED my photos. Was that too much to ask?

August came around and I was scheduled to shoot one wedding in Pennsylvania and another in Iowa. Huh, that's a random place for someone to see my work. Apparently the bride found me through a friend of a roommate or something. Whatever works! It certainly wasn't the most price efficient option. So they must've really liked my photos if they want to fly me out to Iowa...

With less than 6 months time between Christy's first email and the wedding I didn't have a whole lot of time to get to know her or her fiance Kyle. Upon landing in Waterloo Regional Airport with it's whopping two gates and one baggage claim I encountered a slightly tipsy friend of the bride who'd driven straight from the party to pick me up. We piled my luggage into her car and set off. The road was pitch black and flat as a baking sheet. "How can you see anything around here? And is it this flat everywhere? I blurted out. She giggled inside the dark cabin of the creaky car. "Oh, it's actually pretty hilly here. But, in central Iowa you could watch your dog run away for a week!"

And just like that I knew I this would be a wedding a wouldn't soon forget. In seven years of photographing friends, classmates, and near strangers, I have never bonded as fast as I did to Christy and Kyle. Maybe it was the dead bird we found wedged in the grill of the car after the first look, maybe it was Christy's laugh as we took pictures downtown in front of confused Iowan passersby, or maybe it was their "first siblings dance" at the reception. I don't know what it was but with Christy and Kyle I formed a genuine friendship that day. I shed a fair amount of happy tears before falling asleep that night. This was what I got to do as my job? How crazy lucky is that.

The next wedding I shot was down south in North Carolina. By now my first semester at UMBC had started and I was juggling drawing homework, photo editing, and flight schedules all at the same time. I remember sitting in the Charlotte airport with my sketchpad on my lap trying to draw other passengers waiting at my gate (without them noticing) for homework. I used my boarding passes as bookmarks in my text books. My life was certifiably insane. But nobody was going to tell me again that I couldn't do my dream job and attend school at the same time. I'd heard it enough! While I clearly didn't need a degree to do what I was already doing for work, getting a degree was so important to me. Looking back, I'm glad I was so stubborn. Attending UMBC was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Back in wedding world, things only seemed to be getting better and better. Again, I was shooting a young, beautiful couple with good taste and the nicest friends you could ask for. I think Mindy and Daniel's wedding is one of my recognizable weddings to date. I've heard people say "Oh, I love that VW bug wedding you did!" or "That beautiful bride with dark red hair! Is that natural?" (For the record, it is and, yes, I'm jealous.) The Knot North Carolina even published my photos! But, there are many not so ideal little known facts about this wedding. Fact: Their wedding is one I bless the Lord I ever survived. I was exhausted when I arrived and horizontal by the time it ended. I made clumsy mistakes like shooting all of their portraits on ISO 500. Fact: I had 15 minutes total to do all of their portraits and drive back to the reception. And after all of that I still had to fly home and go back to school on Monday.

But 2009 had anything else but quiet, sleepy afternoons in the library planned for me. One week later I was back in the sky headed back to Arizona for Andrea's wedding. In October I photographed Nate & Sara's wedding which is important to mention because they are responsible for nearly all of my Pennsylvania weddings since that day. And I shoot approximately 50% of my weddings in PA every year. Needless to say, they rock. And are the perfect example of word of mouth marketing and how amazing it can be for your business. I have spent next to nothing on marketing since starting my business in 2007. Word of mouth is everything. 

Later in October I photographed a rainy wedding in D.C. and got my first taste of "make it work" as a wedding photographer. 15 minutes before I was supposed to be inside shooting, my eyes left the road for two seconds and before I knew it I was plowing into the car in front of me. My reflexes steered me to the right which, upon impact, catapulted me into the other lane. I vividly remember staring oncoming traffic in the eye as I spun around and barely missed another collision. I was absolutely terrified. I dialed my second shooter and made her promise not to tell the bride. She was to cover the getting ready photos like I was running a little behind schedule. To my knowledge, the bride never found out. I had whiplash and I was still shaking when I got to the church. 

It was still raining after the ceremony. The bride and groom were up for the adventure so I grabbed us two umbrellas. As soon as we got to the capitol it started pouring. I don't think I've ever been outside of my car in such loud, furious, roaring rain. The couple couldn't hear my instructions so I just started shooting. It's one of my proudest Tim Gunn moments. ;) 

Surprise, surprise! November found me back on a plane yet again! I flew to San Diego to and back again just in time for exams before Thanksgiving.

This year had been busier than anything in my entire life. As crazy as it was I was still beyond relieved to be taking art classes again. After a few tedious semesters taking history, biology and spanish, I was finally studying the things I loved. 

On October 6th I turned 21. My brother and I were living alone in the only part of the new house that was done and suitable for life. My mom surprised me by coming over with a cupcake to wish my happy birthday. Since half of our things were still in boxes she grabbed the only candle she could find and smushed it on top of the cupcake. I felt like it represented my topsy turvy year so well that I drew it as an assignment for my drawing class.

Drawing class was the oasis I needed so desperately. I didn't have a car and I totaled the one I'd been borrowing, the house I was living in was only half done, and my schedule didn't allow me to sit still enough to even understand what was going on. In drawing class I could put in my headphones and just lose myself in art. My classmates would roll their eyes at me when I said it was my favorite class. To them, it was new, uncertain, and scary. But to me, that described just about ever other part of my life outside of that room. Inside that room? That was safe.

On New Year's Eve I photographed my final wedding of the year. Kate was one of my dear friends and it was a beautiful, snowy, December day. 

2009 had started with a wedding the first weekend of January and ended with a wedding the last day of December. A total of 20 in eight different states. It just wasn't possible to be any busier. Or so I thought.

Part V (and the announcement of the giveaway) tomorrow!