Cynthia Viola Photography

Linville Land Harbor Wedding | Krista and Steve

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
To love is to be vulnerable
— C.S. Lewis
Linville North Carolina Wedding

As Krista made her way quietly toward Steve for their first look, you could feel their anticipation. They had gotten ready in the same house but were both so excited for this moment. The pressure of little details had been building all morning, as they tend to do on wedding days and all they both wanted was to finally spend some quiet time together. As Steve turned to look at his beautiful bride, he was all emotion and Krista’s eyes filled with tears as well. They were both right where they were supposed to be and the rest of the day flowed without a hitch.

Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding

Candis spoke during the ceremony of the many aspects of love and what binds couples together for the long haul. Her primary focus however, was on the the fact that they must each be vulnerable to each other with their love and vulnerable to receive it as well. It was evident from their tearful vows they had already opened up to each other over the past months and would continue to do so forever.

Their blending of families creates a vulnerability as well. Steve has 4 children Alexa, Brandon, Katelyn and Nicholas and Krista has two children Landon and Isabella. All must be willing to open up to each other and be willing to work together to make this beautiful relationship a success and everyone did so without reserve.

Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding

Their friend Aspen said during her reception speech that no matter how wonderful and happy a couple can be they still have to fight for each other and for their relationship daily. At that moment they looked at each other with such a fierce love, I believe that’s exactly what they intend to do. And I’m so happy I got to witness it. Thank you for letting me be a part of your day you guys! You are truly blessed to have each other!

Linville North Carolina Wedding
Linville North Carolina Wedding

The Vendors who made the day possible:

Photography: Cynthia Viola

Venue: Linville Land Harbor

Dress: Custom made by Alla Maksina

Bridesmaids Dresses: David’s Bridal

Flowers: DIY

Officiant: Candis Parker

Catering: The Pedalin’ Pig

Cake: Publix:

Linen/Chair/Tent Services: Parties Too

Favors: Krista hand made every guest an Ellie badge (grape soda pin) as they are part of their club now.

Downtown Raleigh Wedding | Vidrio | Kristen and Scott

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Just in case you ever foolishly forget; I’m never not thinking of you.
— Virginia Woolf
Vidrio Raleigh rooftop wedding

You could almost hear his tears hit the ground in the silent groom’s suite of Vidrio as Scott read his letter from his bride. I was a big ball of emotion as I wanted to get close to capture those precious moments, but also didn’t want to intrude on such a vulnerable moment. It’s like you could see his heart grow bigger as he fell deeper in love reading her words just before he walked into the ceremony.

Similarly, as Kristen opened Scott’s letter surrounded by her girls, her eyes filled with tears. As did everyone else’s in the room as we watched her experience his love through his words. I’m still not sure how she saved her make up, but it was clear from that moment on, all the nerves were gone and she was ready to walk down that aisle.

Vidrio Raleigh Wedding
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Bridal Suite
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Groom Suite

My relationship with these two started a couple years ago when Kristen asked me to do some headshots for her. Her new, adorable boyfriend at the time came along for moral support and we all just followed each other on insta after that. When I saw them post about their engagement, I was so excited, and sure enough, just a couple days later Scott messaged me!

Seeing how they interacted together a couple years after that very first shoot was endearing. The sweet little looks they gave each other when we were walking between shooting spots, the way he helped her whenever she had to walk in heels through a rough patch of grass, and they way her whispers made him grin so big.

This was, of course, amplified tenfold on the big day. Between their letters to each other, their whispered secrets during their first dance, their heartfelt vows and excitement as they ran into their new life together, you couldn’t find a better match for either of them in the whole of the world.

Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Bridal Suite

She carried a Six Pence coin in her 'something blue' shoes that his mother gave her, and he chose to wear, "I Do" cuff links along with his other classy details.

Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Groom's Suite
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Ceremony
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Ceremony
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Party
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Couple Photos
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Couple Photos
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Couple Photos
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Reception
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Sunset Portraits
Vidrio Raleigh Wedding Reception

Kristen and Scott you are perfect for each other in every way and I cannot thank you enough for letting me be a part of your big day!

The Vendors who made the day possible:

Photographer: Cynthia Viola

Venue and Catering: Vidrio

Dress: David’s Bridal

Suit: Indochino

Hair Stylist: Lillian Self

Make Up Artist: Krista Massey

Florist: Leigh Garmhausen

Officiant: Leah Reed

DJ: DJ Sandman -Sandy Sutton

Cake Baker: Lynn Loomis

Invitations: Zola

What is your Wedding Photography Style?

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
— Oscar Wilde

One of the most common questions I get asked from new couples when they’re first contacting me for their wedding is what my photography “style” is. I thought it might be a good idea, then, to create a post to help explain it for all future couples.

If you’ve found yourself scrolling through endless instagram hashtags trying to pinpoint what it is you like or dislike about certain wedding photos, this might help you put a language to it, so you might narrow it down easier.

First, I should mention that this question is really best broken into two parts: What is your coloring/editing style? And what is your personality/documenting style?

Coloring/Editing Styles

Over the past few years as digital photography and the powers of Lightroom and Photoshop have evolved, three different coloring/editing styles have emerged. One is often called “Light and Airy” or you might hear it called “Whimsical” or “Pastel.” In this style, you will find predominantly whites and other lighter colors, lower contrast and often desaturated colors. A quick Google search will show you plenty of examples.

Light and Airy Wedding Photography

The next, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is often called “dark and moody” or “romantic” or “film style.” In this, you will see predominantly blacks and darker colors, heavy contrast, and an effort to mimic the look of film. Similarly, a quick Google search will make the comparison between these two quite clear.

Dark and Moody Wedding Photography

The third, a category I would consider myself to fall into, is often harder to name, but I would say it falls in between the former two. You might hear it called “True to Life” or “Bright and Bold” or “Natural.” A google search here, brings up such a vast array of images, it’s not worth the screen shot, but you can see my own interpretation of the style here and decide for yourself your preferences between the three:

Bright and Bold Wedding Photography

Personality/Documenting Style

Next we have something a little harder to pinpoint as every photographer will interpret the style differently, and for the most part, I would say every photographer does a little bit of all four styles, as you’ll see with my own images below.

Classic/Traditional

These are going to be photos you would expect to see at every wedding. They are standard bridal portraits, the couple looking at the camera, formal wedding party, family formals, the bouquet, the cake, the exit etc. Most of these you will find in your grandparents and parents wedding albums as well.

Traditional Classic wedding photography

Photojournalistic

These are going to tell the story a bit more. The candids. These will be full of laughter and/or tears. All the emotions of the day, the moving parts. They may not be “perfect” images because a car drove through the background or the kiddo ran in and insisted on a photo with daddy while something “more important” was happening, but they are the moments you remember the most.

Photojournalistic Wedding Photography

Editorial/Fashion

These are probably what you’ll find the least across my site, not because I don’t take them, but because I don’t find them quite as valuable for telling the story. These are what you’re going to find in a magazine. They are often from “styled shoots” that have been set up in advance with all the details fashioned just right, and all the lighting perfect, and the couple are usually models. That said, some of these can and do get taken on the wedding day as details are shot and a few extra moments with the couple are taken after all the other more important shots that do tell the story have happened.

Editorial Wedding Photography

Creative/Artistic

This is completely open to interpretation, as is all art, of course. These are the shots often taken by the second shooter, from a different angle, or during a portion of the day that is not on a time crunch. You have more freedom to play and do things a little different.

Creative and artistic wedding photography

As you can see, I can do a little bit of everything. So I wouldn’t say I am strictly one style or another, but if I had to put them in order, I would say I lean Photojournalistic first, then Classic, then Creative, then Editorial.

At the end of the day, more important than price, style or other preferences, I would say your connection to your photographer’s personality will make or break your photography experience on the wedding day. If you’re looking for someone carefree and relaxed and they end up being strict to schedule and demanding of specific poses, it’s going to stress you out, no matter how beautiful the images are. Similarly, if you’re looking for someone to keep you on a tight schedule and pose your every move and they end up joking around with the wedding party and not telling you exactly what to do and when, you’re going to feel unprepared, again, no matter how beautiful the images turn out. (For the record, I definitely lean carefree/relaxed, but I can usually keep us on schedule or at least roll with it if it needs to change).

I’m not sure if this answers everything you might want to know about a photographer’s style, and mine in particular, but hopefully this will at least point you in the right direction and help you know what questions to ask. Happy planning!

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

Dorothea Dix Park Sunflower Field Engagement Session | Kristin and Matt

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Love is when they give you a piece of your soul, that you never knew was missing.
— Torquato Tasso
Sunflower Field at Dix Park Engagement Session

When I saw Kristin sitting in Matt’s lap, whispering something in his ear in a quiet corner of Alexa and Landon’s wedding I had a feeling they’d be up next. When I saw their engagement post about a year later all the little butterflies in my stomach just fluttered away.

No matter how many love stories I get to witness, I’ll never get over the grandness of it all. The little moments in the quiet corners, the epic life changing ones involving a ring, and the beautiful conversations about wonderful memories shared and futures to come.

Sunflower Field at Dix Park Engagement Session

I went out to Whiskey Kitchen with these last night to get to know them a little better before our big shoot this morning at the Dix Park Sunflower Field and heard all about their beautiful adventures all over the world and how they’d dreamed one day to have their honeymoon in Hawaii. While in Savannah, he took her on a walk to a beautiful park and told her their next trip would be Hawaii…then he got down on a knee.

I just get all the good feels every time I think of it. These two complete each other in every way. They’re pretty different as far as personalities go, but they way they move together and fill in the pieces that are missing is as beautiful as it gets, they’re perfect for each other.

Sunflower Field at Dix Park Engagement Session
Sunflower Field at Dix Park Engagement Session
Sunflower Field at Dix Park Engagement Session

Thank you so much for inviting me to capture your memories you guys! I cannot wait til the big day!!

Downtown Charlotte Engagement Session | Amy and Jeff

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.
— Wayne Dyer
Uptown Charlotte Engagement Photos

Charlotte gets extremely hot and humid in the summer months so I suggested Amy and Jeff do a sunrise session instead of sunset so that they weren’t completely melting in every photo, and boy am I glad they agreed. It was around 95-100 degrees every evening the past week but only 75-80 in the mornings! Still warm, but definitely manageable.

I remember asking them about their proposal story when we had our first conversation and they were a little shy about it, saying their proposal was not picture perfect. Apparently he was really nervous and she had had a bad day so it “just sort of happened” but it’s anti-climatic nature has given them something to laugh about for a long time, they said. I have to say that I just LOVE that they have such a great attitude about it. I knew right away we’d be a great fit because of it. The truth is, things simply don’t always go the way we plan and when we have unrealistic expectations, we are often greeted with disappointment.

We discussed this often as we had to keep adjusting the engagement session when weather and locations fell through but they maintained a great attitude the whole time. I know the big day will be a breeze. (Even though that too is up in the air, as their venue fell through recently and they’ve had to postpone!)

Uptown Charlotte Engagement Photos

They didn’t have any real specific plans for the photos, all she knew was that she wanted photos in front of this adorable confetti hearts wall downtown as well as the magic carpet mural. So of course we started there, then just explored the city. It was perfect.

Uptown Charlotte Engagement Photos

Right as we were about to move on to another location, a train passed by! I told them to jump together real quick and I’d try to catch it! They nailed it of course.

Uptown Charlotte Engagement Photos
Uptown Charlotte Engagement Photos

You guys I’m so excited I get to be a part of your big day (whenever that happens!) You are simply perfect for each other and I know we’re going to have so much fun!

Jetton Park Engagement Session | Rich and Sarah

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting
— Paulo Coelho
Engagement photos at Jetton Park

The Charlotte Summer heat was sweltering as I walked around Jetton Park with Sarah and Rich for their engagement session Wednesday, but they were rockstars anyway. Three outfits changes and circling the park a couple times to find the best light would be too much for most people, but they powered through and we were able to finish with a bourbon just up the street as a reward.

I knew these two were going to be fun because they wanted to wear their team jerseys for some of the photos, and their baseball teams are rivals. Rich explained that the family jokingly gave Sarah a hard time for agreeing to marry him because of it. They are a great fit regardless of team preferences though.

I asked them to share their favorite moment in their relationship so far and both of them had the same favorite, their proposal in Cancun! How could you choose anything different after something so epic though?!? They were so sweet as they reminisced about it and were even able to show me photos! I can’t wait to see how they form new favorites through the years.

Engagement photos at Jetton Park
Engagement photos at Jetton Park

Luckily their college teams are in different conferences so they’re able to happily support each others’ teams at games.

Engagement photos at Jetton Park

You guys thank you so much for letting me capture this special season! Cannot wait til May!

Jetton Park Engagement Session | Sarah and Davis

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Be foolishly in love, because love is all there is.
— Rumi
Engagement photos at Jetton Park

When Sarah told me she smiles like Chandler on Friends, I couldn’t help but laugh. This beauty couldn’t be awkward if she tried. With a big bright smile all morning she kept looking to Davis as if to ask if she was doing it right, and all he could do was give an even bigger smile in return.

These two met at UNC Charlotte and dated for a couple years before Davis surprised her with a proposal at one of her bucket list spots! Shenandoah National Park! How amazing is that?!? (If national parks are on your bucket list, we’re a perfect match by the way)

Engagement photos at Jetton Park
Engagement photos at Jetton Park

We had to reschedule a few times because the weather kept being uncooperative but it was totally worth it as yesterday morning was incredible! They rolled up bright and early and even brought me breakfast since we were getting such an early start, such a thoughtful couple!

As they were talking about their future plans I couldn’t help but smile since they’re similar to mine. Lots of dogs were involved and possibly a cat, they might have envisioned a farm, but no matter what was discussed, they were together. As they should be, a perfect match if I ever saw one.

Engagement photos at Jetton Park

You guys thank you so much for including me on this journey of yours! I cannot wait til the big day next April!!

GTM Research Reserve Wedding | Rebecca and Lara

Wedding PhotographyCynthia Viola5 Comments
Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom.
— Rabindranath Tagore
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding

The Florida heat was sweltering as Rebecca and Lara shared their vows on the patio of the GTM Research Reserve surrounded by their loved ones. No one seemed to care, however, because they were too busy crying over the beauty of all that was happening before them. As Rebecca spoke of the laws that once wouldn’t allow them a fundamental right, several couples in the crowd sat a little closer despite the heat. When she rejoiced over the new laws that celebrated their love, tears started to fall from several eyes (including my own). Many couples just looked into each other’s eyes at that moment and you could feel the love radiating out of that little circle of family and friends like an explosion. When they kissed everyone cheered and the celebration continued to the dance floor.

Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding

We were all in love with the fact that Lara’s dress had pockets!

Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding

 More tears erupted when they did the parent dances. There was so much love on the floor at one point both brides linked with both moms in an embrace that moved the whole room and Lara’s following speech reinforced how loved they felt and how grateful they were for a room full of people who supported them. It was such a beautiful moment.

Not every couple fits together as perfectly as these two. When one was stressed over a detail the other came to the rescue in a flash with just the right words or touch to let the other know it was ok and that they’d get through it together. I love so much being a witness week after week to people who were meant for each other in this way.

Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding
Jacksonville LGBTQ Wedding

Thank you guys for letting us be a part of your day! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything! Love you!

The Vendors who made the day possible:

Photographers: Cynthia Viola with Kalypso Burley

Coordinator: Brooke Ellis with Yay Day Events

Venue: GTM Research Reserve

Hair and Make Up: MyDry Blow Out Bar and Mantra Hair Salon

Wedding Attire: David’s Bridal

Wedding Ring: Helzberg Diamonds for the setting, Diamond from Lara's mother :)

Florist: Jacksonville Flower Market

Officiant: Rev. Brendan Boone of FirstCoast MCC

DJ: Complete Weddings and Events - Eddie Castro

Photobooth: Complete Weddings and Events

Catering: Karen Wilson with 4Rivers Smokehouse

Cake Baker: Sweet Shop at 4Rivers Smokehouse

Rental Services: All About Events - Heidi

Appalachian Trail Reflections

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Don’t waste a whole life on just a half try. It’s all or nothing.
— Mutemath
Appalachian Trail North Carolina

“Welcome to the A.T.” he said as he laughed, “where you pour your heart out to complete strangers.”

As I considered whether or not I had anything new to say about the trail this time, I skimmed through some of my previous posts about my trail name and what I eat. I almost decided one or two social media posts would cover it, and then I remembered the people I met.

Every different type of person imaginable can be found on the trail when it comes to profession, age, where we live, stage of life etc… But one thing we all seem to share is a genuine love for humanity, the environment and connection. I feel like there is a deep seed that longs to connect with others. Whether you hike with a group of friends, your love, alone, or with someone you’ve just met, you can hear in conversations around the fire or hostel table the moments when we reach out to bridge a gap between anything that makes us different.

Stories flourish about the similar trail struggles we share from aching knees to pesky mice stealing food and the gratitude shared for trail angels who leave bottles of Gatorade at road crossings. But at the end of the day when camp is set up and you’ve got another hour of daylight, the stories drift to another level.

When my new friend started sharing why he was on the trail (to determine if he should divorce at age 64) all the rest of us began to share both our good and bad experiences with it to offer perspective for his dilemma. Before we knew it 4 people who’d never met from NC, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Austin, with 4 very different jobs, in 4 different decades had found something in common and connected in a way that made us both care for each other and desire to look after each other as we hiked forward in the coming days.

I don’t know what my new friend will decide but I know for a moment he felt valued, encouraged and connected. We all have unique paths but they are far more similar than they seem at a glance. If we’re willing to open up for even a moment we might just find what we’re searching for.

Appalachian Trail Tennessee

On another note, nothing is more magical than dancing in a field of a thousand fairies at midnight.

OK so maybe they were lightning bugs but they felt like fairies. We had woken up in the middle of the night and when I stepped outside my hammock I was absolutely astounded. The forest was moving and it has never felt more alive than it did in that moment. If you turned on your headlamp for a second they all went away and it just looked like regular trees and bushes. As soon as you turned out the light, they all lit up and came to life - a thousand tiny eyes watching and being present with you; there was no other response than to dance along with them.

Our new friend Claude the baby bear also surprised us by wandering into camp the next morning just to say hello. His little nose was covered in pollen and we simply talked to him as we quickly packed up camp. We found two of his other larger friends as we hiked as well. Watching a giant bear charge through the forest at full speed is an incredibly sobering experience. Everything shakes. The trees, the ground, even the air. That’s the moment you realize you’d never be able to outrun them if the charge was in your direction instead. All you can do is thank the bear for letting you pass by, for giving you another day to adventure on. Gratitude fills the air and you somehow feel more alive. When you take a moment to step out of the routine, the world has a way of opening up a box of magic you never knew existed. As Mother Teresa says, “If only we have eyes to see.”

May we all open our eyes to the wonders and people around us.

Lifepointe Church Wedding | Molly and Nick

Wedding PhotographyCynthia Viola3 Comments
Once in awhile, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale
— Anonymous
Molly and Nick Perry's Wedding

Molly and Nick had just shared their incredibly heartfelt vows with each other, they had jumped with excitement for that first kiss and were ready to be announced to run down the aisle into their new life together and Donnie, the pastor, her father, said he had a surprise for them.

He shared a story of how Nick’s family, every year at Christmas held stockings for their children’s future spouses. They prayed over them and for the life that they would some day have with this person, knowing that these moments brought before God mattered and would make a difference in the people who would some day be a part of their family. Donnie then pulled the stocking from behind the arbor and handed it to Nick to give to Molly. You could hear the gasps across the room.

Next, he shared how they had also prayed as a family over their daughters’ future spouses and how Molly had made promises and vows from a very early age to her God and to her future spouse, to remain pure of body, heart and mind. She wore a promise ring to signify this huge commitment. Donnie, pulled the ring out of his pocket and handed it to Molly to give to Nick. All the handkerchiefs in the room gained a few tears in that moment. These two have been made for each other, prayed for, sought after and now finally joined for life.

Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding

In what was arguably the most anticipated wedding of the year for so many people, myself included, everyone got to experience a love like no other. These two families have such a deep and powerful love for each other, it radiates throughout the entire church. I have been mentored by all 4 of their parents in various capacities through the years and I mentored Molly through middle and high school. The deep well of connection and love we all have for each other is palpable.

One of my favorite parts of the day was, of course, their first look. It was brought up several times in toasts, their self written vows, the sermon, just what an adventurer Molly is and how Nick adores her for it so there was no question as to whether or not they’d be willing to go a bit off the beaten path in order to get the best photos. We had to drag some fallen trees out of the way and push through the brush a bit, but it was worth it for these magical moments. I love couples willing to do what it takes for the best light.

Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding

If there’s any moment in a wedding that is going to get me teary-eyed, it’s always the moments involving beautiful father-daughter relationships. I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with my dad and when someone else does too it brings on all the feels. This day was even more so because not only does Molly have a great relationship with her dad, but Donnie has been like a father and mentor to me in many ways through the years. We have similar back stories and as he was getting emotional during the sermon talking about his little girl growing up I couldn’t help but be proud of her and thankful for the huge circle that has tied us all together so tightly.

Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding
Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding

Every single detail from the welcome signs to the desserts were DIY projects completed by the whole family. It was even Nick’s idea to write thoughtful notes to every family in attendance. With much anticipation, so many wonderful people from the church family helped with set up and tear down. Having been a newly planted church just a few years back it is built into the DNA of the people to jump in and help wherever needed and that was realized in real life for this couple that has been so well loved by us all.

Molly and Nick Perry's Cary Wedding

Molly and Nick I cannot thank you enough for letting me be a part of your day and your lives. I love you both for exactly who you are as individuals and who I know you will become as a couple. So excited for this next chapter.

The Vendors and Friends who made the Day Possible:

Photographer: Cynthia Viola

Venue: Lifepointe Church

Coordinators: Cinda Williams and Leslie Arthur

Her Dress: Reagan Dress from BHLDN

His Suit: Reaction by Kenneth Cole

Bridesmaid Dresses: Pink Blush

Groomsmen Attire: H&M & Etsy

Engagement Ring: Minimal VS

Wedding Bands: Brummitt Studio

Florist: Dave Duty

Officiants: Rob Perry and Donnie Williams

Videographer: Grace Copeland

Catering: DIY, friends and family

Cake Baker: Cinda Williams





Paleo Powered Backpacking

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
A person does not simply exist but always decides what their existence will be, what they will become in the next moment.
— Viktor E. Frankl
Paleo Oatmeal for Backpacking

After my first Appalachian Trail adventure with a couple friends I fell in love with backpacking. I love meeting other travelers and hearing their stories. I love pushing my body to its limits just to see where the breaking points are. I love the challenge of figuring out just how little you can survive on so that you can cut weight and space in your pack.

I’m not exactly an ultralight hiker switching out my knife with a razor blade wrapped in tape, for example, but I get by with as little as I can manage. After my first two sections with my friends in North Carolina and Tennessee I learned what types of foods they, and most, backpackers carry: Dehydrated dinners, oatmeal, granola bars and trail mix. This was great and worked well for those two trips as well as my solo hike through Georgia. But I wanted to find some other options that fit my normal eating routines off trail, namely Paleo, for the next section I’ll be starting in 2 weeks.

The first switch was the dehydrated dinners. I met a couple guys on my solo hike who had found paleo dehydrated dinners and I knew I wanted to locate them for my next trip. There are a few different options out there but the cleanest seem to be Wild Zora. I won’t be trying them until I get on the trail in 2 weeks so you’ll have to wait for my final assessment. Other dehydrated meals like Mountain House are fine, but many of them are sickly sweet to me and I feel like I can taste all the preservatives.

Paleo backpacking Food

I was already using Paleoethics’ Recovery Matrix as my twice daily tea option. It’s loaded with amino acids, zinc and magnesium to help your body recover and sleep well, and it happens to be chai flavored so I love it. I’ll definitely use it again (although I’ll remove it from it’s pouch and put in a smaller, more flexible baggie).

I’ve recently discovered Paradigm protein powder and love it for my daily work out recovery. It’s as clean as it gets. While protein bars are tasty, they’re heavy and usually full of sugar. On a day-to-day basis I typically intake about 100 grams of protein so this will be vital to maintain that on the trail.

Karen’s Naturals have been a staple car snack for me for months now. It’s just dehydrated veggies and you eat them like you would popcorn or potato chips. Delicious. They’re also good to add to any other dehydrated meals to get a few extra veggies in. Similarly, dried seaweed is a delicious salty snack. I’ll remove it from it’s package as well though.

Tuna is a great source of fresh-ish protein on the trail, the little packs are essential though, as cans are heavy and you have to carry out all your trash. Bee pollen is good to add to tea or dehydrated meals to tame the allergies a bit being surrounded by blooming trees 24/7.

Paleo Appalachian Trail Foods

Next I wanted a more intentional oatmeal. There are a few pre-packaged dehydrated options out there, but I figured I could make it myself. Buckwheat is a naturally gluten free hot cereal and you can add any number of delicious and supportive ingredients. It’s not exactly “instant” in the way oatmeal can be ready in about 60 seconds, but it’s pretty close, about 8 minutes.

Homemade Paleo Instant Oatmeal for Backpacking

I made this at home first and also tried it out in my jet boil on the deck this morning to make sure it worked. At first I included coconut flour, but found it made it too thick and have since removed it.

For this Paleo “Instant Oatmeal” Recipe I used:

1/4 cup Buckwheat

2 TB Chia Seeds

1 TB shredded Coconut

1 TB Walnuts

1 TB Dehydrated Bananas

1 TB Dehydrated Blueberries

1 TB Brown Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

All mixed in a baggie at home and added to 1.5-2 cups of boiling water on the trail depending on your texture preference. Note, when not on the trail this is easily 2 servings. But on the trail I’ll force myself to eat it all before I take off in the mornings. It is an excellent source of carbs, protein, healthy fats, omega-3s, fiber and other vitamins.

You can easily add a number of other ingredients if you have preferences: different nuts, different fruits, powdered peanut butter, more or less sugar or stevia, these are just what I had on hand. I have just ordered some cricket powder to try as a healthy, sustainable, protein and B-12 source as well. TBD if it impacts the taste.

Backpacking on Appalachian Trail

When all is said and done, there is no “right” way to backpack. No perfect food arrangement. No correct gear. It’s just what works for you. If you’ve never backpacked before, I suggest a 3 day, 2 night outing to figure out if it’s something you enjoy and your body and mind can handle. You’ll figure out pretty quick if you’ve carried too much and you’ll find ways to minimize the next time. You’ll also figure out what foods make you feel good and which ones, while tasty, weigh you down or make you feel lethargic. I will always be a proponent of whole and sustainable food sources, but I’ll also always have M&Ms in my trail mix. Balance.

Good luck on your next adventure and feel free to ask any questions. I’m no expert but I’m happy to help in anyway I can.

Marywood Center Wedding | Beth and Sean

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams
— Dr. Seuss
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Rehearsal

I remember talking to Beth several months ago as it was raining on their second photoshoot with me and we decided that the chances of it raining a third time, on their wedding day, had to be very slim, so we accepted it and waited for the big day. The universe did not disappoint! They had the MOST beautiful day without a cloud in the sky and a perfect cool breeze coming in off the lake at Marywood Retreat. We were practically jumping with joy!

They had tons friends and family come in from out of state and it was wonderful to see them all able to celebrate together. A couple times while they were getting ready the girls talked about different people being there and Beth got a little choked up. I love it when couples have such wonderful relationships with their guests. They were laughing and dancing all night long, so grateful for the time together.

Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Details
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Bride
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Details
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Bride

Beth’s nieces are super important to her, and they loved seeing her all dressed up. Addy thought it would be cute during the photos to run off and hide at one point though. After every bridesmaid kicked into full momma-bear mode and scoured the grounds we found her hiding under one of the beds just giggling. She was happy to pose for the photos after that. Gotta love a little adventurer.

Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Bridesmaids
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Groomsmen
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Ceremony
2019-04-29_0009.jpg
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Reception
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Reception

Steve and Jessica gave heartfelt speeches about how kind Beth and Sean are, how they’re perfect for each other and committed to one another no matter the trials they’ve had or will have. With plenty of tears shared they gave out hugs then turned to the dance floor to dance the night away. It was such a beautiful evening.

Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Reception
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Reception
Marywood Retreat Center Wedding Sparkler Exit


We wish you guys all the happiness in the world! Thank you for letting us be a part of your big day!

The Vendors who made Today Possible:

Photographers: Cynthia Viola with Kalypso Burley

Venue and Catering: Marywood Retreat Center

Coordinator: Ansley Beaver and Matt Achorn at Marywood

Bride and Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Melissa Sweet from David’s Bridal

Groom and Groomsmens’ Suits: Men’s Warehouse

Hair Stylist: Lauren Burks with Braid Bar

Make Up Artist: Kelsey Sgroi

Florist: Flowers by Shirley

Officiants: Father Guy Noonan & Deacon Mark Sciullo

DJ: DJ Richard Levine

Cake Baker: Publix

Invitations: Vistaprint

Favors: WeddingsByChelsie (Etsy)


Backyard St. Augustine Wedding | Angelica and Billy

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own
— Robert A. Heinlein
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida

It was so much fun being back in St. Augustine this weekend! Especially for the wedding of two of my former neighbors! I literally walked right past my house with Letty Girl smiling through the fence to get to Angelica and Billy’s house for the festivities Sunday Morning. I knew from their Engagement shoot at Washington Oaks Garden State Park that we were all going to have a great time. They’re both so easy going and all their friends are same. The whole day was nothing but smiles and laughter (and a little bit of bug spray…backyards in Florida are notorious for mosquitos).

The guys started the morning fishing on the beach, while the ladies prepped for the party. With the help of some friends Angelica and Billy planned everything themselves. They even catered the event themselves with a DIY taco bar. It was flawless. Throughout the night they had a slideshow going in the living room of all their photos and I just loved that they had photos from their high school prom. They’ve loved each other for most of their lives. :)

Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida

They made sure to give a special gift to each of their parents throughout the day for being such a huge part of who they are and making the day happen. There were plenty of tears to go around :)

Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida

Their grandparents may not have been able to be there in person but they still got to have a front row view of the ceremony and first dance. So special.

Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida

They had a halfpipe in their backyard for Brayden to use and it doubled as a perfect dance floor!

Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida
Backyard Wedding in St. Augustine Florida

You guys I cannot thank you enough for letting me be a part of your day! Congratulations!!

The Vendors who Made the Day Possible

Photographer: Cynthia Viola

Venue: Their Backyard :)

Her Dress: David’s Bridal

His Attire: Men’s Wearhouse

Her ring: Tamara McFarland

His Ring: Resin and Wood World

Her Perfume: Heavenly by Victoria's Secret

Make Up and Hair Stylist: The Bardot

Officiant: Billy Knight

Catering: DIY Taco Bar

Rentals: Taylor's Rental

Invitations: Shutterfly

Rehearsal Dinner: Back 40

3 Steps to a More Adventurous Lifestyle

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later
— Randy Komisar
Hang Gliding Photographer

I use this quote often, and if I’m honest, I don’t know anything about the author, but it resonates so fiercely I continue to do so.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if I said I’m not cut out for the 9-5 lifestyle. Even when I’ve had other “regular” jobs they were never 9-5. Waiting tables and bartending often consisted of different shifts every week, with those changing 2-3 times mid week as others called out and I filled in. Working with teens more often than not involved late night phone calls (this was before texting was really a thing…I know, I’m aging), Friday night football games, Saturday shopping trips, week long camps and weekend retreats. Anything involving the church world was far more than Sunday mornings. It was taking a bag of groceries to families mid week when their food stamps ran out. It was late night texts talking people off the figurative ledge. It was frantic last minute schedule changes right before going on stage, a million emails, evening meetings and morning groups.

Somewhere in the midst of it all I picked up photography and just fit it in where I could. As the story goes, one day I realized the thing I loved most shouldn’t be the thing I push to the back of the calendar wherever it fits, but should actually dictate my calendar. Full time photographer and entrepreneur has been quite the dream job. I make my own schedule, travel extensively, meet tons of new people and live wherever I want.

Swimming with a Dolphin

Despite this perfect dream job, however, for a while there I was allowing the day-to-day of keeping up with the business side as well as family and house and garden and dog to overwhelm my deepest passion. And honestly, at the time I didn’t even realize it, I was so busy just doing stuff and keeping a full calendar that I didn’t give myself time to pause and reflect on what I wanted most. And what did I want most? As it turns out, adventure.

There is certainly no need for everyone out there wanting more adventure to leave their jobs, their families, their city or their dogs, and my decision to do so didn’t even involve adventure…I realized afterward that adventure was a driver. But here are a few little things EVERYONE can do to insure a little more excitement and exploration enter your calendar.

One: Decide

Take an uninterrupted hour or so to sit and decide if you even WANT more adventure in your life. Adventure has become such a buzz word lately, I’m finding that when people tell me they want more of it and I ask them what adventure would look like for them, they not only start off with the reasons why they could never do “something like that”, but they can’t even tell me what that “something” would even BE. So… WHAT DO YOU WANT? Do you even know? I have personally loved swimming with dolphins, hiking the Appalachian Trail and Hang Gliding the most. But with each of those, I DECIDED I wanted them first. If adventure is just this vague concept of something exciting, you’ll never do it.

Two: Plan

Figure out what said adventure INVOLVES. Do you have to travel? How far? How much does it cost? Do you have to take off work? Can you find a coupon? Do you know someone who might could hook you up with a friend’s discount or a place to stay while you travel to said location? If the cost seems insurmountable, what can you sell? Can you cut back on Starbucks and/or alcohol for 2 months to come up with an extra couple hundred? Is this something you do solo or does a friend join you? Maybe the whole family? Figure out what it involves and make a plan. Swimming with dolphins, for example, takes about 1 hour, costs about $250 with the photography package and a Florida resident discount, and, of course, requires that I be in Florida (or other similar beachy location). I found a time when I’d be in Florida anyway, found some friends I could stay with for one night, set aside the hour, saved the money and voila. Life long bucket list item: check.

Three: Do

Follow through. Once you’ve figured out the details, make a plan, tell the world (or a close friend) you’re going to do it for accountability. THEN. DO. IT. What began the catalyst of my adventures was a New Year’s Resolution to have 12 new adventures in 2018. That meant I had to make a list of about 20 potential indoor and outdoor things I might like to do, and then once/month figure out how to make one of them happen. Then, rain or shine, with friends or solo, I just did it. And I haven’t looked back since.

Appalachian Trail Section Hiking

Fulfilling your wildest dreams doesn’t have to be so hard. With a little planning and a resolve to make it happen you can have hundreds of little adventures across your lifetime. There is no reason AT ALL to wait until you’re retired and frankly too old to physically accomplish what you want. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. What if you wait to have fun until you’re 65 and you don’t make it to 66? All those years working to finally live… for what?

My life has left me uniquely unfit for constraint
— Jamie Lannister (I'm a tad excited for Game of Thrones to come back)

A Lifetime of Adventures

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you
— Tim Ferriss
Cross Country Road Trip

17states 

17 photoshoots

14 friends’ couches, air mattresses and guest bedrooms

9 weeks on the road

8000 miles 

7million squashed windshield bugs 

6 Airbnb homes 

5 new experiences

3 windshield cracks 

2 mentoring sessions

1 epic adventure 

Roughly $350

Big Bear Mountain

When telling people about my cross country trip this week I’ve noticed myself and others calling it the “adventure of a lifetime.” And while that is certainly true of my life up to this point, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do a similar trip in a couple years. I don’t want to limit myself by thinking that my encounter with the dolphins will be the only one I experience in a lifetime. I hope to have many opportunities to have epic road trips, camp in the desert, snowboard in the rockies over and over again, and to someday again call Los Angeles one of my homes.

Big Bear Ski Resort

I don’t know where I’ll be living next year, I barely know what the next two months hold other than weddings and my plan to jump back on the Appalachian Trail. I do know I want to walk forward with hands out and palms up ready to catch whatever joy or pain may come my way and I want to live a lifetime of adventure.

Joshua Tree
Swimming with Dolphins in Key West

For those interested in what a trip like this COST, I’ve broken it down my expenses below. (I did not factor into this expenses like monthly bills, savings etc, as I would have spent those regardless.)

  • Total of Gas/parking/tolls/food/housing and extra adventures like Big Bear, The Grand Canyon, Sedona, Joshua Tree, Mardi Gras & Dolphins: $4,515

  • Minus the amount I always budget for Gas, food and adventures for two months and would have spent anyway: -$1500

  • Minus the income I made BECAUSE of shoots on the trip: -$2,675

  • =$340

It’s easy to think that epic adventures like this are impossible, but really we’re only limited by our imagination. And seriously, this trip could have been done for a fraction of that cost. I spared no expenses on food or the adventures I wanted to take. I could have been much more frugal, experienced fewer side adventures and/or prepared more meals in advance, but I wanted to experience the local flavors of each city, and I knew I’d make up the difference in shoots or dog walking.

I realize not everyone can make $2500 on the road as a photographer…but you likely have other skills you can utilize BEFORE the trip to save up that money in advance. Selling stuff on Craigslist, seriously how many shoes or hats does one person need? Extra side hustle jobs like dog walking, Uber driving, babysitting (I walked for Rover while in LA and will continue in NC) or other freelance work, and networking with friends and family (and don’t forget extended friends of friends) for free places to stay while you travel. (My best tool for this was Facebook. In the search bar type “my friends who live in (insert city or sate).” There might only be one and there might be twelve, it’s worth checking, and it’s always a great excuse to catch up with old friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nine times out of ten people are MORE than happy to help you, they just don’t know how to unless you ask.

If there’s one book I could recommend to help someone take a risk and plan an adventure, it would be 4 Hour Work Week from Tim Ferriss. I listened to it twice while driving. I was already doing basically everything he talks about, but he puts it to words in a way that helps people who have traditional 9-5 jobs figure out a way to live their dreams and not give up their income.

Anyway if you need help brainstorming, don’t hesitate to ask!

If you want to read more about the trip itself you can check out either this post about the various landscapes I encountered or this one about life on the road.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves
— Thomas Edison

St Francis Barracks Wedding | Rochelle and A.J.

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage
— Lao Tzu
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding

Saint Augustine was picture perfect this weekend as we strolled down the cobblestone capturing Rochelle and A.J.’s big day. The morning started with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and a Celtic Festival, bringing thousands of people into the city! In the girls’ room we had a perfect view of everything and had fun seeing all the different costumes and characters walking by the window. While I was setting up a few photos of her details I managed to get my top knot deeply tangled into the room’s sprinkler system and all I could think of was that I was going to set it off completely soaking her beautiful dress! But Angela, her stylist, came to the rescue and got me loose!

Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding

Since these two were already technically married the stress was at a minimum as they were there to have a good time and celebrate their already flourishing family. They chose the Saint Francis Barracks as their venue because they really wanted the beauty and feel of Saint Augustine without the beach vibes.

The morning was going very smoothly considering all the people in town and then little Everly got hurt and poor Rochelle instantly had to switch into momma bear mode to make sure she was ok. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to pull off the first look (or even the wedding) as we were discussing the emergency room. But once she determined she was ok, she pulled it together and began walking toward the love of her life and as soon as she laid eyes on him I watched the stress fall from her face. With a great big smile she grabbed him and they were able to breathe and savor the moment.

Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding

They allowed us to steal them away from their guests right as the sun was setting in order grab a few more glowy portraits, and I’m so glad they did! A horse carriage walked by right as we got back capping off the day with quintessential Saint Augustine flair.

Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding
Downtown Saint Augustine Wedding


You guys thank you so much for trusting us with your day! We had the BEST time!

The Vendors who Made the Day Possible:

Photographers: Cynthia Viola with Kalypso Burley

Coordinator: Heidi Ford with Endless Possibilities

Venue: Saint Francis Barracks

Rochelle’s Dress: David’s Bridal

A.J.s Suit: Men’s Warehouse

Rochelle’s Ring Designer: James Allen

Hair and Make Up: Angela Byrd

Florist: Jade at Endless Possibilities

Officiant: Rev. Deborah Montana with Goddess Wedding Ceremonies

DJ: DJ Atlys

Catering: Peter Kenney with The Purple Olive

Cake Baker: Arlene Fores with Sweet Weddings

Lighting & chair rental: St. Johns Illuminations

Invitations: Shutterfly

Transportation: Red Roadster, Cornelius Redington

When Men and Mountains Meet

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver

It is decidedly sad that Mary Oliver passed this last week, but the event did present the inclination for many of her followers and those who had never heard her words before to dive into them. Her intentionality with seeing the world and life around her as well as her acceptance of death have inspired many to do the same. I have found myself returning to her words many times on this cross country excursion. And, as I’ve paid attention, and been quite astonished, it is now my duty to tell about it.

I truly cannot get over the variety of mountains I have come across these past few weeks. Beginning of course in my hometown, with the low rolling and misty blues of the Blue Ridge on the east coast. I have photographed them often, but usually only to adjust my lighting before asking a couple or family to step in front of the lens and allow me to capture the mountains merely as a nice backdrop. When they are allowed to be front and center, the varying shades and subtle shifts of light become far more evident.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone NC

Next the arid, multi-colored deserts of Arizona, surrounded by cylindrical spires that look built rather than evolved. I, of course, expected to see and experience the Grand Canyon, and it was, just as magical as everyone says. Vast as far, and farther, than the eye can see, and with edges that make you wish you were a bird so you could simply run and leap off the side!

The Grand Canyon

Perhaps the unexpected nature of stumbling across Sedona on several friends’ suggestions, I think, made it a bit more magical to me, however. The spontaneous schedule shift, extra driving to an unknown location and last second scheduled sunrise yoga session on the side of a cliff is simply something I won’t soon forget. I chose to hike alone first, early in the morning in order to get to the top of the mountain before the sunrise to capture a few shots and simply sit with the cacti as the light slowly and determinedly crept across the hills altering slightly everything it kissed. When I met up with the others for the yoga session, it was only 35 degrees as the wind whipped up the face of the cliff but the air was so crisp and the light so empowering you felt the temperature more as a welcomed tingling in your bones rather than something to shy away from.

Sedona Sunrise Yoga Session

Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains I’m quite accustomed to the deep deciduous and ever-greens of winter, summer and spring followed by the outrageously vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the fall. Something I’ve never experienced in nature before this trip, however, are the lush blue pastels painting Sierra Nevada alongside these lonely, dry, salty pink hills. An unexpected shift in the weather sent me driving north through the desert before crossing the rockies into San Francisco, and I could not be more grateful for the extended reroute. I spent hours just sitting and staring at these colors. There was something so tranquil about the undisturbed quiet reflection of the mountains. I wanted to stay all day but the pending snow storm was going to trap me if I didn’t move on.

Nevada Mountains

So move I did. By the time I got to the top of the mountain in Lake Tahoe, it was snowing and my little car was starting to give me questioning looks every time I stopped to capture a photo. The Rockies were not unlike the Blue Ridge in the color and selection of trees, they were simply immense. Snowcapped evergreens blanketed the mountains in every direction making me excited to come back in a few short weeks to snowboard at Big Bear.

Rocky Mountains

The cliffs of Big Sur surrounded by its icy turquoise surf was certainly the most unique bunch of mountains I came across. A place I’ve been dreaming about seeing for years, I was a little worried when signs mentioned several closed sections (due to landslides from the storm I’d avoided a couple days prior), but I was able to see everything I’d hoped to and more. The vineyard valleys that followed provided a startling spring green compared to the rest of the trip, but only emphasized the vast beauty across the country.

Big Sur California and Monterey California

Next, the fire scorched trails through Malibu, bursting not with pain, but new life from the ashes. A first glance at such scarring almost makes you want to look away, but further inspection shows the beauty breaking through because of the pain. Most forests do better after a fire, so while it’s hard to look at (and certainly not ideal for areas near homes and businesses), it’s all a part of a healthy process of growth.

Malibu Forest Fires

Finally as I flew into Seattle I was honored with the chance to see a blanketed Mount Rainier both from above and below the mist. It’s extraordinary to experience life from multiple perspectives. From above she looks alone and lonely, from below, however, you see the multitude of trees and the city to keep her company.

Each set of mountains has had it’s own beauty and it’s own story. This world is ever changing and brimming with diversity, much like us. May we be brave enough to keep it that way, both in the forests and our cities.

Mount Rainier

If you’d like to see the entirety of the images from the trip, feel free to leave a comment here or shoot me an email. (cynthia@cynthiaviola.com) I’ll be selling digital downloads and prints if you are so inclined. Thank you for supporting this grand adventure.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable
— Mary Oliver

Life on the Road

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
We swallowed the chaos because we knew we didn’t want to be ordinary
— Robert M. Drake
Cynthia Viola Cross Country Trip

I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately they are living vicariously through me, or that I am their spirit animal, or that I am living my best life, or that I have it made. Which, of course I love. I love to be in an inspirational role, and I do, in fact, love my life as well. It sometimes makes me sad though, because it’s usually said with a tinge of jealousy or regret of an unlived life.

I think so often, it’s easy to look at another’s lifestyle (or social media presence) and think they have it all, and wonder why our own life isn’t all that we thought it would be. (Looking at you Jasmine, Michael and Sasha!)

But if it’s my life you think you want, you can certainly make choices to follow in the same footsteps. Yes, even if you have kids, even if you have a full time job, even if you’re in school, even if you’re married. You’re never as stuck as you perceive yourself to be. We make decisions every single day that bring us one step closer or further away from the place we want to be.

Unless you’re imprisoned, in a coma, caught in trafficking, paralyzed, or a child, you can typically make your own choices. Do so.

I just wanted to share a few of the struggles for those considering a similar path to mine. While I love this life and wouldn’t choose anything different, it definitely comes with it’s own set of struggles that are not for the faint of heart.

Packing for two months at a time

I am a very light packer. If I think I can get by with one pair of shoes or one dress, I will. I will do anything it takes to not have to check baggage at the airport and I usually have my camera AND laptop with me. This means stuffing clothes and shoes in all the spare pockets of my equipment bags and/or wrapping my camera in clothes so I can put it in my duffle. That said, when I know I won’t be going back to my parents house (where most of my stuff is currently stored) for TWO months, I can’t pack quite so light. It takes a LOT of planning and preparation. And then there’s the challenge of the seasons changing while you’re gone; this requires yet another bag of warmer clothes to add in as needed. My little car only holds so much, and the trunk is already packed with all my light stands and other camera equipment. Then when you get where you’re going and realize you forgot an important piece; you have to decide if you’re going to drive the extra 6 hours out of the way to go back to get it, find a way to borrow, go without, or buy new.

Having gear in multiple locations

I have two cameras with all the trimmings, an iMac, a Macbook, a photo printer, a paper printer, light stands, external hard drives, and backup gear which at any different time might all be on me, or might be scattered in multiple locations. This was never more of a problem than when I dropped my external hard drive in LA, lost all the data, and only had the back ups back in Charlotte. All because I forgot to press start on the online back up on the Charlotte computer before I left. I simply had to tell my clients they would have to wait an extra four days to receive their images, but when my workflow usually has weddings delivered in seven days, four is a big deal.

Not having a “home”

I’m quite comfortable in my own skin, and as such, usually feel “at home” wherever my feet are planted, but there is definitely something to be said for having all your things in one location that you can return to in order to refresh, repack, organize your thoughts and feel safe. For me, that is currently spread across 4 cities. So while I feel partially at home in each of those locations, I’m never completely at ease. I am definitely looking forward to having something more structured when I return from my travels in the Spring.

Lonely

While I constantly surround myself with different clients and friends and family, there’s something about this lifestyle that feels very lonely. It's probably related to not having a home to return to, but big empty beds and tents, never ending roads and trails can be quite lonely. Especially for an extrovert. The path of least resistance does not interest me, however. Comfort can easily lead to complacency and that is not something I strive for. Each location grows me in a different way, and each moment spent alone in my head offers new insight. Figuring out who you are and what you want out of life, what you’re good at and what moves you to compassion, is the best thing you can do for yourself and others. If that requires a few lonely moments, I’ll take it without complaint.

Routine

If you’re a routine person, this is not the life for you. In most things I love the chaos of an ever-changing environment. However, when it comes to my diet and my workouts, I do best with a routine. I’m at my best with 5-6 days a week in a Crossfit box and 6 protein packed smaller meals per day. This is rarely possible. Crossfit works on a class basis and my schedule often doesn’t aline with their options. Not to mention that it is meant to be paid for on a monthly or yearly basis, keeping the cost down. When you have to pay a $20-25 drop in fee PER class, it becomes simply too much. I’ve worked deals with 4 boxes in the 4 cities I’m primarily in, but it’s still more expensive than a long term rate.

And meals are another challenge entirely. At each place I stay, I’m not sure how much access I’m going to have to a stove or refrigerator and my diet is almost entirely raw foods. (not to mention the super generous hosts who love to cook for me and offer snacks that just don’t align with my lifestyle). This however, leads me to my first of many blessings.

The Good Stuff

One of my greatest strengths has always been adaptability, but it has never been stronger than it is now. Whether I’m sleeping on the floor, sharing space with kiddos or multiple animals, whether or not I have access to a microwave, shower, washer and dryer, or whether I have to drive an hour or more between my host and my photo shoots, I can handle just about anything that presents itself.

I have been given 12 different keys to peoples’ homes to keep. I don’t anticipate needing to show up unexpectedly to anyone’s home (and definitely don’t remember whose is whose honestly), but the gesture is so kind. The idea that I’m always welcome, even if they’re not home gives me such a sense of love and adoration for the entire human race.

Speaking of the human race, no matter how much the news or movies try to scare us into thinking all people are naturally bent toward selfishness and evil, I simply cannot believe it. Every single day I witness people opening doors for each other, letting others go first in line, giving up preferred seats on planes so families can sit together, buying coffee for the person in line behind them, picking up trash on the sidewalk that’s not their own, and offering their home to someone they barely know. All without regard to color, gender, religion or age. If you choose to look at the world through a lens of hate, you will see hate everywhere you look. But if you choose to look at the world with love, well, that’s exactly what you’ll find. I’ll make that choice every time. Some will say that is naive, but I believe the alternative is a life of anxiety. I’d rather walk boldly in love, knowing I might get hurt, than cower under the weight of ignorance and fear, never truly seeing all the world has to offer.

The world is good my friends. People are good. So very good.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
— Roald Dahl

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my thoughts on living in NC, or life on the Appalachian Trail.

A Grand Year of Adventure

PersonalCynthia Viola2 Comments
Authenticity is more than speaking; Authenticity is also about doing. Every decision we make says something about who we are
— Simon Sinek

I decided at the beginning of 2018 I wanted to try to experience 12 new things. They didn’t need to be specific to any genre or meet any quotas for cost or time, they just had to be new to me. I wrote HERE about my midway point and I figured now would be a good time to follow up with the grand finale.

If you’re curious what, specifically I tried:

Indoor Rock Climbing

A Wedding Expo (I know, I know, it was actually very far out of my comfort zone: Sales)

Zip-lining over an Alligator Farm

Riding a dirt bike

Organized a Styled Wedding Shoot with a lot of other Vendors

Bought my dream car

Running 2 Spartan Races

A Midnight Bioluminescent Kayak Tour (With a bonus surprise: Meeting a Manatee!)

Hiking my first 2 sections of the Appalachian Trail totaling 170 miles, 100 of them solo.

An Aerial Cirque du Vol Class

Changed the Battery in a Car

Rode a scooter through downtown Raleigh

Began target practice with my new pistol, (previously only shotguns and arrows)

Posed for an artist

Took a class on Indian Weddings

Shared some life experiences with teens at Asheville Alternative High School

All in addition to regular intervals of my favorite adventures like a new tattoos, concerts, camping, paddle boarding, cycling, go karts, new foods and traveling.

Cynthia Viola Adventures

All this started when I really owned my personality type (ENFP) and what it means for me. The “driver of my car” so-to-speak is exploration, and my co-pilot is authenticity. I am happiest when I’m on an adventure and when I’m making choices that feel good and true to who I am. Apparently, when following this plan, this is when an ENFP is best able to inspire others, which in turn, makes me feel good and true to who I am which makes me want to go on more adventures. It’s a beautiful circle.

I feel immensely grateful for the never ending supply of new things to try. Adventures and exploration are definitely not for everyone. In fact, to get psychology technical on you, Extraverted Intuition (Exploration) isn’t even IN the cognitive stack of half the population. And only a quarter of people would have it as their driver or co-pilot. So I get it, a lot of people think I’m crazy or reckless or childish or unable to commit to anything, but for those of us who lead with this function and have ever had it stifled by school or family or religion or circumstance or inadvertent choice, you know that it’s the only thing that will ever make you feel alive. So to YOU I would recommend whole heartedly to set your own adventure goal this year and don’t settle for anything less. Life is too short to be stuck living someone else’s dream.

Cynthia Viola Adventures

What’s up for next year? I’ll be kicking the year off by driving across the country capturing memories for families across the way, hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon, experiencing Vegas and Mardi Gras and then who knows?!? I’d love to meet an elephant or dolphin; my all time bucket list item is the Aurora Borealis, I’d like to parasail or scuba dive. I’ll definitely hit the A.T. again but the sky is the limit! I’ll stick with #12newadventures because it’ll always be new and never boring.

The world’s a roller coaster and I am not strapped in.
Maybe I should hold with care, but my hands are busy in the air
— Incubus

Love for my LGBTQ Friends

Portraits, Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Creativity is born of risk and refined from failure... This is the courage of the artisan - to know ourselves and be true to that knowledge. The artisan rejects all that makes us false and takes the huge risk of being true... There is no riskier way of life than the artisan way. Anything less is just existing
— Erwin McManus
Lesbian Wedding with flower girl

At the beginning of the year, as I was moving to Florida, I posted a blog about things I'd learned living in North Carolina. One of those things was the beauty of the LGBTQ community.

They'd taught me so much through the years and I'd wanted to give back. I vowed to give away a portrait session, or $500 off a booked wedding to one couple every month in 2018. I've posted several of them here already and some I'm sorry to say I was unable to post due to job constraints and some still having to live in fear of persecution. That said, I thought it would be fun to recap as best I could in a final post, to show the love that flows through us all equally. I'm so incredibly grateful for so many new friends. 

And yes I realize there are more than 12 couples here, so sue me ;)

In January, I met up with Joshua and Daniel on a trip back to NC, they met me downtown in the brightest colors I've ever seen and we had an absolute blast. 

Gay Couple Shoot in Downtown Raleigh

In February I attended a Rainbow Wedding Expo in St. Augustine where I was able to meet several new couples, fueling the following months, but I headed back to NC again in the cold and rain to capture Becca and Katie at their home with little Vivi. They made me breakfast and we talked for hours. I adore them. 

Photo shoot with Lesbian couple and daughter

As a bonus, I got to spend some time with them again in the fall after they moved to their new home in Charlotte!

LGBTQ Family of 3

Two different March couples fell through multiple times, so I planned to catch back up with them later in the year. April involved a couple I love and have known for years, we'll call them Steve and Dave; they came to St. Augustine to visit and stayed with us for a night, taking us to dinner and everything, it was so great to catch up. Unfortunately, Steve's job is yet unaware of his orientation and he would likely be let go. Ergo I won't be posting them here. Suffice it to say, that they are both incredible human beings who have done immense good in the world. 

May's shoot actually fell through as well, as Florida went through several torrential downpours, one actually resulting in massive hail damage and a neighbor's house catching fire from a lightening strike! So the May one will show up shortly as well. May did consist of Tiffany and Carlie's 5 year anniversary, that was not actually a part of the giveaway, but you should definitely go see all their cuteness anyway.  

June introduced me to Sam and Jess, who met up with me at the St. Augustine Pier, then afterwards took me to breakfast where we discussed relationships and faith and change. It was beautiful. 

LGBTQ Engagement Session

In June I was also able to make up for one of the earlier reschedules in one of the most fun photo shoots of my life. I had shot Anse and Allie's proposal, engagement and wedding last year and for their anniversary they thought it would be fun to go camping and capture all the fun in that setting. I was SO excited! We met up at a Roan Mountain State Park campsite, and I just captured everything from building the fire to roasting s'mores to snuggling in a hammock. It was glorious. 

Camping photo shoot

In July I drove up to Myrtle Beach, SC to capture the birthday party of an old friend and while there had the pleasure of capturing Sherry and Becky again! I'd shot their courthouse wedding three years ago and it was just a couple weeks shy of their anniversary! 

As and added bonus at the birthday weekend, I got to meet so many new friends and capture their beautiful relationships as well. :) This is Lisa and Jeannie, Tomi and Angie, who were all about adventuring with me on the beach for some portraits.

In August, while I was in Asheville to race the Spartan Super, I met up with Cindy and Marianne, who run the Rainbow Wedding Expo. We were able to get some fun anniversary and family photos in the Botanical Gardens. 

Asheville Botanical Gardens LGBTQ photo shoot

Fun fact: they both planned a secret proposal to each other years earlier on the same day! They knew it was meant to be when they both showed up with a ring! They were on a bridge together and wanted to recreate the moment at the shoot. So fun!

 In September I was busy moving back to NC and Hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I more than made up for it in the fall.

October is wedding month and as such, I was able to shoot Christy and Tina's big day as well as Jeff and Jeff’s. They had a fun-filled days surrounded by so many of their beautiful friends (who I’ve also included, because I can) ;)

LGBTQ farm wedding
LGBTQ wedding
LGBTQ couples

Additionally, while shooting Jessica and Jeff’s wedding this summer, I met and fell in love with the adorable relationship between Ryan and Henry. I loved they way they danced and generally interacted with each other and everyone around them. We caught up on Facebook afterward and I asked if they’d be interested in a shoot. Their 5 year anniversary was coming up so they were all for it. They even took me out for tacos and tequila after! So much fun!

LGBTQ couple downtown raleigh

In November Sandra and Caitlin married in Saint Augustine and I was able to capture them afterwards at Washington Oaks Garden with their little Mari who stole my heart instantly. She loved them both so much and loved helping me find the best spots to pose them.

LGBTQ wedding at washington oaks garden

When April, one of my former students contacted me to say she was interested in a shoot, I was of course, all about it, but when she said she needed to clarify and make sure it was ok that it was an engagement shoot…with another woman, I was simply heartbroken. That she had to clarify with me tells me I have a lot of work to do still, and that she had to clarify at all means we all have a lot of work to do. If people are not free to be themselves 100% of the time the rest of us suffer because of it. The world needs people who think outside the box as well as those comfortable inside it. We need every race, every gender, every background, every experience, every story.

April and Reese were supposed to meet up with me in Asheville this weekend but it didn’t work out, so I’ll have to share their story next year, in the meantime, here’s a few other couples along the way at family gatherings and paid shoots and weddings who I can’t help but thrown into the mix, if for no other reason than to show just how many unique and beautiful people there are in the world and that love knows no bounds.

LGBTQ couple portraits

I received a bit of push back from my own family and former clients who did not approve of this endeavor in the beginning. I lost a few relationships, and a few clients but what I've gained is immeasurable love and acceptance from a community I adore with my whole heart. I wouldn't change the decision for anything in the world. I hope that this small offering can help others take off blinders and see only love.

I am grateful to everyone who has been patient with my own journey through the years and who has helped formed my current world view. May we all continue to grow in love and welcome people different from ourselves into our lives. Allowing our hearts to love bigger, deeper, stronger and wider will never shrink who we are or pull us into darkness. It will serve instead to propel us forward into the light where we all see our mutual flaws and idiosyncrasies and stand united on common ground.

To dare - is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare - is to lose oneself
— Soren Kierkegaard