Cynthia Viola Photography

Engagement Session at UNC Chapel Hiill | Annie and Stephen

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
If I had my life to live again, I’d find you sooner.
— Kobi Yamada
Engagement at the Well

Watching two people like Annie and Stephen commit to loving one another for the rest of their lives is such a beautiful thing. From the very first shot yesterday they were super comfortable with each other and with whatever crazy idea I threw their way. Their smiles spoke for themselves as they shared with each other their favorite things and laughed at each other's jokes. I cannot tell you how incredible it is to get a couple in front of the camera and know instantly they are your people. (You can guess at it at the initial consult based on their personalities, but it's hard to know for sure til they're actually in front of the camera). We had so much fun walking all over UNC Chapel Hill's campus where she graduated. 

Annie and I texted back and forth all week, prepared to move the session at a moment's notice if we needed to as the weather kept changing it's mind which day it wanted to be sunny and which a total wash out. We were all prepared to dance in the rain to make it happen but were SO grateful the sun came out and made the shoot a total dream. It was amazing seeing students out on every lawn across campus soaking in every ounce of sun they could before it could hide again behind a cloud. 

You guys I had a blast! Your love flows so freely with each other, I cannot wait to spend your wedding day with you! I hope you love your engagement photos!!

Engagement at the Well
Engagement at the Well
Engagement at the Well
Engagement at the Well
Engagement at the Well

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy: This Chapel Hill Wedding or  Gabrielle and Baron's Engagement

Engagement Session at Lake Norman | Susan and Ron

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade... And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.
— Ron White
Lake Norman Engagement

I cannot TELL you how excited I am to be capturing Susie and Ron's wedding in April. I was around when they first started dating a couple years ago and got to watch their love grow every month as I went to Charlotte to visit my brothers. Susie is their momma and basically mine. Together she and Ron are two of the most generous and welcoming people I've ever met. 

Susie is funny, affectionate, care free and full of life. She welcomed me into her life as a daughter from day one and I am blessed beyond measure to be able to call her anytime I need to chat about all of life's crazy moments. Ron is one of the hardest workers I've ever met, but he also loves to have a good time and be surrounded by his friends. In the few years I've known him he has opened his home to soooo many people who were in a tight spot and needed shelter for a season, he has the biggest heart their is, though he loves to mask it with his incredible sense of humor. Ron can take the worst of situations, turn it into a joke and make everyone more comfortable, it blows my mind. 

They are truly perfect for each other and I am SO honored that I get to participate in this next grand adventure! 

Lake Norman Engagement
Lake Norman Engagement
Lake Norman Engagement
Lake Norman Engagement

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Matthew and Hollie's Proposal or Rudi and Nick's Engagement.

Engagement Session at Ravine Gardens | Kristin and Emerson

Engagement PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
When you meet the one who changes the way your heart beats, dance with them to that rhythm for as long as the song lasts
— Kirk Dietrich
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens

So Kristin is basically my sister. We met a couple years ago when my brother and sister in law were getting married (her sister) and became fast friends as we helped set up the wedding. And Emerson too! He is a ninja with wood work and all things handy, the wedding just wouldn't have happened on time without him. I'm pretty sure Kristin and Emerson were the only ones on the dance floor more than AJ and I as well, and they were fantastic! I love watching people who love to dance. So obviously we had to incorporate that into today's session a bit. ;)

We had never been to Ravine Gardens State Park before but it looked so beautiful online it seemed like a great place to check out. We were not disappointed. Gorgeous Spanish moss, bamboo, bridges, rock walls, and we barely even got past the main entrance! Can't wait to explore the whole thing. 

The season of engagement is so so fast. You spend the whole thing planning the big day and it can be easy to forget to plan for your marriage and also to just step back and enjoy this sweet time. Engagement sessions are my favorite way to give couples the opportunity to love on each other, laugh, play and tell each other what they are most looking forward to in marriage and what they love most about each other.

Watching Emerson and Kristin share their whispers and giggles made me smile every time. I SO loved exploring this new park with you both! Congratulations on your engagement! 

Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens
Engagement Photos at Ravine Gardens

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Beth and Sean's couple session or Anna and Anthony's engagement. 

Ideal Wedding Planning Timeline

Wedding Photography, VendorsCynthia ViolaComment
“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
What to do before the wedding day

I will be shooting the weddings of five close friends and family members this year and as such, I've been a bit more involved in the planning of their big days. Along with that, I've found the same question keeps presenting itself in different ways:

"If I send my save the dates now, how long do I wait to send my official invites?"

"When should I expect people to RSVP by?"

"How early do I need to order..."

"When is the best time to..."

"At what point do I need to...."

"Is it too late to...."

Now, I'm certainly no expert here, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND hiring a wedding coordinator to help you with these questions, but hopefully this will give you some ideas for what might work for you. Particularly as it relates to your photography. :)

Please do not feel like you need to follow this exaclty...or at all, but if you're just looking for a place to start, hopefully you'll find this helpful. I am basing it off of a 12 month timeline. If your big day is in 6 months, cut the times in half, 18 months, you have a little leeway etc...

what to do 12 months before wedding

12-18 Months:

  • Start a binder to keep everything together (vendor info, price comparisons, receipts)  
  • Sit down with with your future spouse and any parents who might be helping with the cost and determine not only an overall budget but how much of it you'd like to designate to each area. 
  • Start a guest list, it will need to be adjusted as you go along (most likely cut due to costs) but go ahead and get a ballpark idea of how many you'd have there if everyone you loved came, this will help you choose your venue as some only hold a certain amount. 
  • Hire a planner.  (In St. Augustine, I love Heidi) This will save you SOOOO much stress. They are naturally good at details (that's why they're planners) and they know a ton about the industry and what vendors and details will suit you best.
  • Choose a season you'd like to be married in, and even a month, just don't set your heart on a specific date until you know your venue and other main vendors are available. 
  • Choose your Venue(s). Popular ceremony and reception venues book up sometimes two years in advance. Once you know your venue is available for the date you want, you'll be able to choose your other vendors accordingly and send out save the dates. Check to make sure they don't host multiple weddings in one day, that can make it stressful if you're trying to get in and out at very specific times.
  • If you like, Throw an Engagement Party! We will always take ANY reason to celebrate with the people we love. Just don't feel like you have to... especially if you'd rather save your budget for better options on the wedding day.
what to do 9 months before your wedding

9-11 Months:

  • Determine which vendors are most important to you and secure them for the date asap in order of importance. This will also deplete the budget the fastest, so if you know you can't live without a specific DJ, book them first and you can get a second choice caterer if the budget gets tight.  I personally think photography is most important because it's the only thing you get to keep after the big day besides your spouse, but definitely figure out what is most important to you and your future spouse.  
  • Register for gifts at various stores, most you can do online these days, Wedding Wire also helps streamline this process.  
  • Say yes to a dress. (or two for two brides both wearing dresses, double the fun!) It's fine if you're borrowing it, just know where it's coming from and whether or not it will need to be altered. This tends to take a couple months. 
  • Reserve a block of hotel rooms for out of town guests at 2-3 different hotels at different price points near the venue. 
  • Schedule your engagement session with your photographer. If you plan to use these photos for save the dates, you'll need to be closer to 11 months out, if not, I've shot them as late as the day before the wedding. :)
  • Launch a wedding website if you'd like, through a free service such as Weddingwire.com. This will be helpful for guests needing info leading up to the big day. (It's also fun to put it together, and you can show off photos from your engagement session if you choose to have one) 
what to do 7 months before wedding

7-8 Months:

  • Choose your wedding party. If you know for sure that, say, siblings will be in the party, feel free to let them know asap. But we chose ours while still in college a year and a half before the big day with friends changing constantly and by the time our day rolled around we weren't even sure a couple of them would show up! ALSO, don't feel like it has to be all women or all men based on your gender. If you want your brother AND sister standing by your side, do it. 
  • If you're choosing specific dresses for any ladies in your party to wear, get them ordered now, it often takes as much as six months for them to arrive, then you need to consider alterations. It's also common practice today to just choose a color and length and allow the girls to choose their dress, this way price point and body type for each one can be considered. 
  • Start planning your honeymoon. Do you need passports or shots?
  • Choose wedding shoes and begin your alterations, make sure to bring the shoes with you to each fitting. (It usually takes about 3 fittings) 
what to do 6 months before wedding

5-6 Months:

  • Meet with your officiant and decide if you'll want to do pre-marital counseling. I HIGHLY recommend this, regardless of your religious affiliation. Having a couple sessions to talk through some of the big things you can expect in your marriage will help you get through those tuff times so much better. 
  • Reserve your structural necessities. If an outdoor wedding, you might need a tent, portable toilets, extra chairs etc, it will depend on your venue, just make sure you check in with them. 
  • Florists can come a little later due to the fact that they can usually book multiple weddings in one day, but if you have your heart set on one, make sure you lean closer to 6 months. 
  • Arrange any transportation you might need for yourselves, your wedding party or the entire guest list if there will be heavy drinking at the reception. Consider trolleys, limos, busses and pre-paid uber passes. 
  • Finalize your menu with the caterer. 
  • Choose your cake or other desserts if your caterer does not provide them. Doughnuts, cupcakes, truffles and ice cream bars are all popular options as well. 
what to do 3 months before wedding

3-4 Months:

  • Schedule hair and/or make up artists and decide if you'll also be providing them for your girls/moms/sisters etc... It's a great idea to have them do your trial run the day of your engagement or bridal session so you'll know what to expect on the big day and whether or not you like the way you look in photos. 
  • Order favors for guests if you so desire, or welcome baskets for out of town guests. You can also plan gifts for those who helped out, like parents and wedding party etc. 
  • Purchase the wedding bands now in case you need any resizing.  
  • Nail down your guest list and send invitations. Feel free to get fancy with a calligrapher or keep it super simple with social media, either way, make sure everyone you want to be there has it in their calendar. RSVP cutoff is usually about 2-3 weeks prior to the wedding so you can inform your caterer of exact food amounts. 
  • If you're choosing to have a bridal session, now is the time to get it done if you'd like to have any images printed to canvas and displayed at the reception. Keep in mind you will also need to bump up the time your wedding gown is completed. (If you don't plan to have prints at the reception you can just make sure to set aside enough time for your photographer to take bridal portraits on the morning of the big day)
  • Rent or buy the attire for the groom (or grooms) as well as any men in the wedding party (or ladies wearing suits).
what to do 2 months before wedding

 1-2 Months:

  • Create a day-of timeline. This is best done WITH your coordinator and photographer to make sure you're on the same page with how long certain pieces take. They have experienced hundreds of weddings and can guide you. It is also good to send this to your other vendors to make sure they don't see any red flags. (If you accidentally only planned 5 minutes to hand deliver 300 plated meals, your caterer will catch that)
  • Book rehearsal dinner, day after brunch and any other venues for special meals before and after the big day for out of town and special guests. 
  • Make sure your DJ or band know what music you want played and more importantly, what you don't. Guests will inevitably make requests, if there's something specific you don't want to hear on your happy day, make sure they know to kindly tell your guests, "no."
  • Make sure you inform those you'd like to make a toast well in advance so they have time to prepare. Some will still "shoot from the hip" on the day of, but others appreciate having lots of time to write the perfect speech. 
  • Sometimes it's easier on planning to hold bachelor and bachelorette parties a month or two in advance, especially if you plan to travel somewhere like Vegas, but if all your friends are from out of town, it can be easiest to schedule it the night BEFORE the rehearsal so you have time to recover. :)
what to do 1 month before wedding

Month of:

  • Finalize the ceremony timeline as well as any readings, songs, or special moments. Make sure you are on the same page with the officiant and anyone else you'd like to participate.  Marriage licenses take about a week, so give yourselves some leeway. 
  • Confirm arrival times for all vendors and make sure you've exchanged answers to any final questions. 
  • Send out as many final vendor payments as you can so you do not have to worry about it at the reception while you're trying to dance. 
  • If any guests have not RSVPd by the cut off, it's a good idea to call them or check in via social media one last time to make sure. 
  • If you will be assigning seating for the reception, do this after your final RSVP date so you know exactly what you're working with. It can also be a good idea to plan a "did not rsvp" table if your caterer allows the flexibility. It's also wise to consider your vendors here, do you want your photographer,  officiant or band sitting with the guests and a plated meal, or will you ask the caterer to provide a vendor meal in the back. 
  • Write your vows if necessary, or letters to exchange with each other on the morning of. 
what to do 1 week before wedding

Week of:

  • Delegate small tasks like bustling the dress, paying and tipping vendors, giving out party gifts, bringing snacks to the getting ready suites, creating a getting ready playlist or anything else you don't want to have to fret about on the morning of. 
  • Send a timeline to the wedding party and answer any questions. 
  • Pick up your dress(es) and tux(es)
  • If you're doing a mani or pedi make sure it's booked for the morning of the rehearsal, or even the day before. A stress-relieving couple's massage is always a good idea as well. It will help you both destress. 
  • Pack for the honeymoon. 

Night Before:

  • At rehearsal confirm any readings, answer any questions for the family and wedding party and make sure everyone know where they need to be and when. (It's a good idea to tell them 30-60 minutes earlier than necessary if they tend to run late)
  • Pass out any gifts for the party or parents (especially if you expect them to wear them the next day). 
  • Bring anything to the ceremony site that you're allowed to leave (candles, programs etc)
  • Give marriage license to the officiant
what to do the day of your wedding

Day of:

  • Have all items you want photographed delivered to one of your getting ready suites so that your photographer can capture it all together (before you give the rings to the best man etc...)
  • Just take it all in. It will go by SO fast. Things are not going to go quite as planned and that is JUST FINE. As long as you both say, "I do" all the other details will work themselves out. Relax and enjoy watching all your hard work play out before your eyes. You're almost MARRIED!

Please do NOT feel like this is comprehensive or that you need to follow all or any of it. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to not stress about the big day but enjoy the process and love each other through all the decisions. 

No matter what decisions you make, who's opinions you heed to or kindly turn down - the way you treat your future spouse and all those trying to help you make good decisions will FAR outweigh what final decisions were actually made. No one will care that you had the most beautiful flowers if you yelled at them for not holding them the right way, they won't care how good you looked in your gown if you yelled at them for stepping on the train, they won't remember that your food was amazing if you told them their ideas for food were terrible.

Treat your people with kindness above all and everyone will remember what an incredible couple you both are and how you had the most beautiful wedding they've ever seen. 

 

Joshuah + Daniel in Downtown Raleigh

Anniversary PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Love in such a way that the person you love feels free
— Thich Nhat Hanh
two grooms

Joshuah and Daniel are the first winners of our 2018 monthly photo session giveaways! And I must say I was the winner here, these two are such incredible guys! I absolutely loved getting to know them and hear their stories; they had so much to share about their time together so far and all they ways that they are grateful for and proud of each other. 

Daniel serves in the USAF so naturally I had a ton of questions for him, I'll never get over my love of flying. Annnnnd since he also happens to love adventure epics and dragons we were able to excitedly talk about our favorites while Joshuah rolled his eyes. When they first started dating Daniel asked him what his favorite type of movies were and he said anything that doesn't involve magic or dragons lol. Opposites attract I guess! :) 

Joshuah had Daniel blushing though before the day was over and I was so excited to have met them both, I hope you love these images as much as I do!

two grooms
two grooms
Two Grooms
Two Grooms
Two Grooms

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy Jen & Erin or Safy & Randy

Anna's Bat Mitzvah at 1705 East

Bar/Bat MitzvahCynthia ViolaComment
If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough
— Ellen Johnson
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah

What an incredible first event of the year! My heart has always been with weddings but mitzvah celebrations have never ever disappointed. These incredible teens work so hard to prepare for their ceremony and their friends and families reward with so much love and happiness as they dance the night away. The first time I met Anna was actually just after her ceremony which is usually not how I work, but it was necessary due to traveling arrangements and whatnot so as soon as I met her I asked her like a million questions and absolutely loved her right away!

She is THE CUTEST! When I asked her what she was most looking forward to with the party she said the food! With good reason too! 1705 East is amazing; she had a Banana's Foster Bar and everything! Of course Lyn at Fresh Affairs worked with Alisha to make the whole event a night to remember! Anna chose a fire and ice theme and they went all out with the decorations; every guest also participated by wearing red and white and the DJs joined in on the fun with a fog machine! I don't think anyone will soon forget this night!

I'm so happy for you and proud of you Anna!! Thank you for letting me participate in your most epic day!

Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah
Fire and Ice Bat Mitzvah

 

The Vendors who made the Day Possible

Photographer: Cynthia Viola

Synagogue: Beth Meyer

Rabbi: Eric Solomon

Reception Venue & Catering: 1705 East

Event Designer: Lyn Graves with Fresh Affairs

Photobooth: Shutterbooth

DJ: Spin

Ice Sculpture: Ice Occasions of NC

Favors: Oo Shirts

Invitations: Event Prints


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy: Other Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

Baby Dylan | Home Session

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Some people are worth melting for
— Olaf
Newborn home photography

If getting to spend time with these two at their engagement session and Downtown Raleigh Wedding, and then their Anniversary session just a couple months ago wasn't enough fun, getting to see them interacting with little Gabe and of course their new bundle of joy, Dylan, was incredible. 

Caity and Al are simply naturals at this parenting thing. I love how they both reasoned with Gabe throughout the session, teaching him how to make good choices and how to be an amazing big brother! He kept coming into the room while I was shooting her solo and he would sneak a little toy or stuffed animal into her crib so she would have company. SO precious!

Then with all the uplifting and empowering phrases on the walls (and of course Caity and Al's incredible commitment to the community and the world at large) Dylan is sure to grow to be capable, adaptable and brave just like her parents. 

Congratulations again you guys! (on the new home as well!!)

Newborn home photography
Newborn home photography
Newborn home photography
Newborn home photography
Newborn home photography

If you like this you might also like Baby Luca's session

Guest Post! A History of the Wedding Dress by Heidi Stouder

Vendors, Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Heidi Stouder at Endless Possibilities

You guys! I have been having TOO much fun these past couple weeks getting acquainted with St. Augustine and all it's beautiful people. I've been meeting lots of kind people, like sweet Mrs. Smith at the coffee shop who let me go first in line because she could tell I was there for a meeting and she "didn't have anywhere important to be." How sweet is that?!? I feel like I'm back in Boone all over again!

Well, one of my favorite new people, Heidi, was gracious enough to give me the run down of the wedding industry down here and we had a blast this afternoon as I took a few quick head shots for her in the parking lot of her new office space at Endless Possibilities!

When I was checking out her website the other day I discovered this blog she wrote recently and knew immediately I HAD to have it! I realized immediately I didn't know the answer to the question of why we wear white wedding dresses and her discovery fascinated me. It's not been around for thousands of years like I'd supposed, the answer might surprise you too! Check it out below!

History of the white wedding dress

I just had the opportunity to experience the grand adventure of trying on wedding gowns.

It sparked my curiosity on "when did the wedding dress fad even start?" "Have brides always wanted to wear white, or was that even an option for most?"

So I brewed some coffee and stat down to read any information I could find on the subject.

I wasn't surprised to read that there is little to no information on the subject. What you can find out, is wedding dress colors and styles pertaining to what culture you were raised in.

Like how most Eastern cultures wore red, a symbol of favored fortune.

Wedding dresses have changed drastically throughout history, but the earliest information on Western culture, dates back to the Middle ages. Brides were expected to dress in the manner that befitted their social status.

Wealthy families wore rich colors, exclusive fabrics, furs, velvet and silks. The poorest brides wore their best church dress they had.  But when did the white wedding dress become the fashion?

The first documented white wedding gown was worn by Philippa of England, in 1406.  She sported a white silk tunic with a cloak trimmed in grey squirrel fur.  Defiantly not PETA approved.

History of the white wedding dress

Then the next bride we find out about is Mary Queen of Scots.  She wore white in 1559, at the time the French style, was to wear white if you were in mourning. It just so happened that Mary Queen of Scots was marrying Francis II of France.  Kinda makes you think is was a subtle way of stating how she felt about the union.

The white wedding gown didn't come into fashion till the Victorian era when Queen Victoria wore white in 1840.   Wearing white had a rough start.  White was a very hard color to come by and to keep clean.  White was a sign of social status and still only used by the wealthy from 1840's through the 1920's.  Due to the depression, WWI and WWII, wedding dresses again became what the bride had on hand, such as church clothes or borrowed dresses from a family member or friend.  After WWII the white wedding gown's, like we see today, made its smashing hit and come back with Grace Kelly in 1956.

History of the white wedding dress

Wedding dresses truly reflect a bride's personality as well as the theme of the wedding.  More and more you will see brides are incorporating color back into the wedding dress. However, I feel that the white/Ivory gown will stand the test of time and remain the most sought after gown color for years to come.

History of the white wedding dress
History of the white wedding dress

Thank you so much Heidi for sharing your findings!! Cannot wait to work with you on our first wedding this spring!! 


If you liked this post, you will probably also like: The Vendor Series or How to Choose Bridesmaids Dresses

Five Lessons from North Carolina

PersonalCynthia Viola6 Comments
Nobody who ever accomplished anything big or new or worth raising a celebratory fist in the air did it from their comfort zone. They risked ridicule and failure and sometimes even death.
— Jen Sincero
Blue Ridge Mountains

Wow. It would seem that today is my last official day in this great state. It has been quite the journey. Raised in Boone, College in Banner Elk, and the past 10 years living and learning in Raleigh with a great deal of impressionable time spent in Charlotte. 

Childhood planted in me deep roots of loving people well and working hard while my time in Raleigh and Charlotte made me more knowledgeable, aware, free and untamable. I'm grateful for the powerhouse women, men and transgendered folks who have helped form my perception of the world, and grateful for the series of mistakes, triumphs, blunders and outright failures that shaped my grit, persistence and courage. 

1: In the words of the Genie from Aladdin, "Just beeeee yourself"

I would have to say my greatest life lesson in these 33 years has been first: to be myself and NEVER apologize for being such. We are all unique individuals who often start off with big dreams and huge hearts ready to take on the world and give everything we are to her. Though, somehow it's easy to lose track of that in the busyness and people-pleasing and we can lose our way. I lost and found myself multiple times over the years between college, marriage, art, forgiveness and discovering my other family as an adult. I'm sure I will continue to do so in the years to come as A.J. and I  learn to love our new St. Augustine home and family. 

Learning to fully embrace my inner ENFP and all of the beauty and complications that come with it has made a huge difference.  Apparently freedom is the most important thing in the world to me. I don’t like being confined by stereotypes or holidays or gender roles or even one job. I usually rail against anything I am "supposed to" or "expected to" do, but when you know who you are, then you know who you don't have to be. 

An ENFP is: the body of a woman, soul of a child, mind of the free and heart of the wild
— Ashley Lemaine

2: Kindness wins every time

To this day I still get notes and comments from people that I knew only once or for a season in high school who say that my kindness helped them through a tough time. In most cases I don't even remember what they're talking about. This has to come from my father. Always a servant, never asking for anything, always going above and beyond to make sure people are taken care of. He provided the best possible example.

There's no need to get heated at someone who cuts you off in traffic, it'll only ruin your day, not theirs. Allowing someone to go first in the grocery line will only hold you back by 1-2 minutes but it will drastically improve the rest of their day. Holding open doors, putting karts back in the parking lot, picking up trash that isn't yours, and just offering a smile to a stranger are all acts that have a ripple effect. Occasionally people at A.J.'s coffee bar would pre-purchase coffee for the next person, and it never ended there; five to ten customers later people would still be buying for the next person. Kindness always ripples, use it well and often. 

3: Adaptability is the best stress-relief

I have never met a group of people more chaotic than my new Charlotte family. There is literally no point whatsoever in having a plan for your day if it involves them, because it will absolutely change at least 17 times, and always at the last second. I've always been naturally adaptable (that's the P in ENFP), but never so much as I am now. They have taught me that as long as we are together and no one is getting hurt, the other details are irrelevant. Stressing out over a change in dinner plans will only ruin your night, it's much easier to just go with it and enjoy the ride. 

4: Love every single person you meet

This began with growing up an only child, alone and lonely, desperate for friends or neighbors or even adults to keep me company. In school I was always drawn to outcasts, and in the years I directed and organized community service projects for a church, I met an endless supply of folks who were without a home, refugees unable to speak english, children who couldn't read, mothers who didn't know what to do with unwanted children, convicted pedophiles who couldn't get a job, and my best friend: a man wrongly convicted of a crime (I believe due to his sexual orientation) with an unspeakable life sentence. 

The stories of heartbreak and love, failure and triumph, racism and violence followed by heart change and forgiveness have opened me up to an understanding that we are all the same. We are all messy and beautiful. All capable of inconceivable hate AND fierce love simultaneously. At different times we all make mistakes, say things we regret, take the easy way out, look the other way and judge someone based on their appearance. Just because we're not doing those things right now, doesn't mean that we haven't before or won't tomorrow and it definitely doesn't mean we have a right to judge someone else's story. 

5: The LGBTQia+ community has become my greatest passion and ally.

I must apologize here first. For over 20 years I allowed the village of well intended teachers, family, books, friends, co-workers and preachers to form my beliefs completely about this community without question. I've always been one to easily believe anything I hear until an opposing viewpoint is introduced. I didn't hear an opposing viewpoint about this beautiful community from someone I respect until a few years into Raleigh. This is quite possibly the greatest community of individuals I have ever known. Brave, kind, patient, forgiving, resilient...everything I want to be and more.

I am humiliated when I look back at the feelings I had toward this community early on, the things I would say "on God's behalf" regarding their eternity. To go through life without questioning anything you are taught is a very dangerous road, and it's a mistake I don't intend to make again. With grace and patience they have loved me anyway and I couldn't be more grateful for my own heart change.  

It is in honor of all these beautiful human beings, especially Christopher, who have reshaped me in the past few years that I am happy to announce, I will be giving away one free couple or family session to the LGBTQia+ comunity every month in 2018. This can also include $500 off of any wedding package. I know $6,000 is not much in the grand scheme of things, but I want the world to begin seeing this community for who they really are: fiercely loving, loyal, generous and compassionate. You can find the details and technicalities of the giveaways at the bottom of the post. 

Raleigh, North Carolina

I have written and rewritten this blog wondering who I am going to offend and how it’s going to affect different relationships... then I realized that goes against lesson number one: just be yourself and don’t apologize. Thank you North Carolina friends and family for shaping me into who I am today. Thank you for enduring my growing pains and for loving me as I am. You will be my home forever. 

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
— Ernest Hemingway

Giveaway Details:

One free couple or family session per month in 2018 for the LGBTQia+ Community. This can include $500 off of a wedding. 

To enter, tag your partner on this blog or on my original Facebook/Instagram/Twitter Post. (not a shared version, because I might not see it) 

I will draw the first 3 couples/families Jan 1st, and again quarterly throughout the year.

You will need to be able to come to St. Augustine, FL or Raleigh, NC at the same time I am.

Good luck!

Alaria + Drew | 1st Anniversary

Anniversary PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen!
— Winnie the Pooh
Downtown Raleigh Anniversary

After my very first meeting with Alaria and Drew before their wedding she said I was like her spirit animal...and I'd have to say that definitely works both ways! She is so fun to be around and Drew definitely completes her! I absolutely love working with adventurous couples, willing to try new things and who are free to be themselves while we wander around. 

These high school sweethearts had no problem sharing with each other their favorite memories and talking about the struggle of living as a military family constantly separated. Drew will be heading to Korea early next year and they both felt the weight of that. We were so glad to get in these photos before hand so they can still have the memories while they're apart. 

Downtown Raleigh Anniversary
Downtown Raleigh Anniversary
Downtown Raleigh Anniversary
Downtown Raleigh Anniversary
Downtown Raleigh Anniversary

I was so excited to get some extra time with you guys before we're all worlds apart! Thanks for spending the afternoon with me!

The Wilson Family at Home

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment
— Carlos Santana
Cary, NC family photography

I'm pretty sure you've never met someone with a bigger smile than George... aka Mike. I remember doing box jumps at Iron Tribe a couple months ago and he tripped, somehow gashing his arm open (to the point of stitches) and he just kept on smiling and tried to keep jumping (though the coaches promptly stopped him to prevent further injury). 

Then after he got the stitches, he still kept smiling, and kept coming back to the gym as if nothing had ever happened. I was so impressed. It was no surprise to me that photographing his family was a breeze. The whole family was just so happy and willing to do any of the crazy things I suggested, sure to include little Max along the way. 

Of course Blake and Austin were all too willing to pick on each other and their home and neighborhood served as a perfect backdrop for their portraits. Hope you enjoy a few of these favorites from the day!

Cary, NC family portraits
Cary, NC family portraits
Cary, NC family portraits
Cary, NC family portraits
Cary, NC family portraits

Anthony's First Birthday!

Family PortraitsCynthia Viola2 Comments
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
— Omar Khayyam
one year old

This week our nephew turns one! Oh my goodness! I cannot believe an entire year has gone by nor that we live down here now and get to participate in these (almost weekly) family parties and gatherings. It seems like just yesterday we were at the hospital welcoming him into this big world.

Amber and Tony decided to do a Lumberjack themed birthday party for the little guy so everyone wore flannel to participate. They had fun themed food, cornhole and of course a bonfire with s'mores! (My favorite). 

Family of 3
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party
Lumberjack Themed Party

Anthony wasn't so sure about the cake at first. Not having tried anything so sweet prior, he probably thought it was a dream. He also wasn't sure about eating with his hands, preferring his utensils, but he was more than willing to share with anyone who wanted a bite. :)

Lumberjack Themed Cake Smash

We had so much fun celebrating with everyone. We're so excited to watch you grow up little guy! Can't wait to take you on some serious adventures in the coming years!

Lumberjack Themed Cake Smash

Stoner Family Session at Lake Norman

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future
— Earl Nightingale
Lake Norman Family Photographer

These cutie pies always know how to have a good time! From roaring like a lion, pretending to be superman, and showering mommy in kisses to seeing how many times they can roll down the hill before they get sick; I always love hanging out with Charlie and Finn! As soon as I got to their house Charlie immediately grabbed my hand and started walking me toward his art gallery so he could tell me about every single one, and Finn talked about all the things he loves in the color red. (especially my car...2 points) :)

Chrissy always manages to find a new location for us to shoot and this time we were both blown away with the gorgeous grasses surrounding the lake at their golf club. That mixed with the gorgeous golden sunset made last night a dream. 

Forever grateful for my ever expanding family so many opportunities to spend time with them. 

Lake Norman Family Photographer
Lake Norman Family Photographer
Lake Norman Family Photographer
Lake Norman Family Photographer
Lake Norman Family Photographer
Lake Norman Family Photographer

Yates Mill Family Session with Jenn, Nick and Roman

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.
— L. Drachman
Yates mill park family photos

The moment I met Roman, I knew today's session was going to be an adventure! I asked him what his favorite thing about being six was and he said "wearing bigger shoes." Watch out world, this little man is looking to fill some shoes, and I've no doubt he'll accomplish all his dreams. 

Yates mill park family photos

I had him climb the fence for this photo and figured he'd enjoy jumping off so I encouraged him too. Without hesitation he climbed even higher to the very top THEN jumped! When I had him jump for the family walk he did a backflip, surprising all of us! He hurt himself a little on that one but his sweet momma knew exactly what he needed at every turn. I was blown away when she had him raise his arms a few times to make sure he wasn't injured then when he had his hands up started singing "YMCA" causing immediate giggles, and of course, then he was fine. It's so much fun watching families interact and be themselves. 

I had so much fun with you guys today Jenn and Nick! Thanks for being adventurous and willing to climb rocks and steep banks and just let loose! Hope you enjoy these images!

Yates mill park family photos
Yates mill park family photos
Yates mill park family photos
Yates mill park family photos

Jenelle and Billy Trash the Dress at Vilano Beach

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
You don’t have time to be timid. You must be bold and daring!
— Lumière, Beauty and the Beast
Beach Trash the dress

Oh my goodness! Where in the world do I begin! There simply was not a better way for Jenelle and Billy to top off their fairy tale wedding than a trip to Disney and an EPIC trash the dress session on their way home!  

I seriously cannot express how much I adore these sessions. I wish I was clever enough to come up with a different title for it because it frequently scares people away, but they are THE MOST FUN SESSIONS EVER! Maybe that's what I'll call it from now on. :)

Beach Trash the dress

You cannot look at the smiles on their faces and think it was boring in any way. We all were laughing til our sides were hurting! One of my favorite moments was when I was taking a shot of Jenelle with my back to the ocean and apparently a giant wave was about to take out all our stuff and Billy dived to "save the photographer's stuff" and neglected his own shoes (which were holding his phone). We had to give him a hard time because I had all the important stuff in my backpack, he just saved my step stool and towel. Totally heroic effort though Billy! Love you!

Beach Trash the dress

The schnanigans were in full swing as we didn't have to worry about their clothes (or mine), we basically just had to keep the camera out of the water. These two ran, danced, jumped and played their way down the coast line as we chased the sunset.

This might be my favorite set of outtakes ever... I'll let you decide who started it and who won ;) 

Beach Trash the dress

(The answer is BOTH of them. Both started it, and both won. They are the perfect match through and through). 

Now for the romance...

Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress
Beach Trash the dress

Jenelle and Billy you two are ROCKSTARS! Thank you so much for coming to Viola's for lunch with us and just being SO freaking fun! If California keeps acquiring our favorite people, a move may be in store...just sayin... Congratulations on the rest of forever! 

The Farr Family in Banner Elk

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Where there is love there is life
— Ghandi
Extended family photos in the mountains

I must say I am loving this new family tradition. Last year Stephanie told me her side of the family was renting a cabin in the mountains for the holidays and wanted some extended family photos. We all had so much fun on top of Beech Mountain as we adventured through the woods around the cabin, they decided they wanted to do it again this year. Except this time, with Matt's side of the family!

Leslie managed to find the cabin at the very top of the tallest peak in Banner Elk; the road to get there was an adventure in itself! It's crazy to me that I grew up and lived in the mountains for 23 years and never discovered either of the hidden roads they found for these adventures. The mountains are just full of surprises!

Little Milo was *slightly attached to mom and dad all morning, but everyone jumped in and did their best to bring distractions and treats and snuggles. That's what family is all about after all, helping each other out when we're struggling. I had so much fun with you guys! I hope you enjoy these memories from the day!

Extended family photos in the mountains
Extended family photos in the mountains
Extended family photos in the mountains

I'm pretty sure Captain wins the "best dog of the year" award, so well behaved and not to mention extra soft and fluffy! 

Extended family photos in the mountains
Extended family photos in the mountains

Goldsboro Homestead Family Session

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.
— Mark twain
LGBTQ family session

Oh my goodness, I can not tell you how much fun I had with these two and their little Cruz this week! They are here from California visiting family and we just had to squeeze in a family session while they were. Jen wanted to use her childhood home in Goldsboro as the backdrop and capture a few memories with Cruz and her beautiful momma. 

I absolutely love it when families are willing to be adventurous with me. We were climbing through thorn bushes and laying down 2x6s to cross creeks and learning about soybean crops all along the shoot. Jen and Erin were all smiles and giggles the whole time and we absolutely had a blast!

We could not get over how gorgeous it was in Goldsboro this time of year. The November air was cool and crisp yet the sun provided that incredible glow through the changing trees. I hope you enjoy a few of these images from our session! 

LGBTQ family session
LGBTQ family session
LGBTQ family session
LGBTQ family session
LGBTQ family session
LGBTQ family session

Treyburn Country Club Family Session | The Goodwins

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
— Lao Tzu
Extended Family Photos

Seeing the transformation of this bunch from last years' Christmas Portraits to this year was amazing. Taylor and Jake had their new little baby Desmond and he is absolutely perfect! Harlan and Miles have joined the rowing team and are doing awesome, and Dennis walked across Spain on the Camino! I loved so much following his trip online and then hearing about it more in person. I love his thoughts on the trip:

"My suggestion after this experience, no matter what you do, do something in your life you don't think you can do. Push yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, live life to the fullest. Don't be afraid to live. You will not be sorry. It will not be easy, but it will be something that you will treasure, and something that you will be incredibly proud of yourself for doing."

Love that so much, and I couldn't agree more! When A.J. and I biked to the coast and back we were exhausted but exhilarated. Can't wait to have another adventure asap and hope with everything I am that we will always have epic adventures just like Dennis! Love you guys! Hope you enjoy a few of these images from the shoot! 

Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos
Extended Family Photos

The Painter Family - Home Session

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.
— Audrey Hepburn
Charlotte Lifestyle Session

These beautiful ones have been dancing in front of my lens for several years now, it's been so amazing watching their little family grow. If Dylan is not just the cutest little thing with her bright smile and bouncy ponytail, I don't know who is. 

Courtney wanted to do a home session this round and I thought that was an awesome idea as they have just moved to Charlotte and bought such a beautiful and well lit home new home! Just like their home in Raleigh, it felt so comfortable when I walked in and it was the perfect setting for a morning filled with giggles.

Backyard Family Photos
Backyard Family Photos

Even though the whole neighborhood is under construction right now, we were able to sneak in some backyard and streetside photos as well. Little Dylan loves to ride her scooter up and down the street. 

Backyard Family Photos
Backyard Family Photos
Backyard Family Photos
Backyard Family Photos

Grandma was visiting, so of course we couldn't resist a few snuggles. 

Home session

Dylan absolutely looooooves her piano and insisted on showing me what she's learned so far! We had so much fun!

Rose Garden Family Portraits | Rafidi Family

Family PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
We do not remember days, we remember moments
— Cesare Pavese
family of 4 at the raleigh rose garden

Engagement, wedding, maternity, and now two kiddos and 5 years later these two are still deeply in love and crazy about their incredible girls. We had plenty of time to catch up as little Grace led us around The Raleigh Rose Garden seeking the best rose and the coolest hiding places.

Johnny said his favorite thing about two girls is that they really love each other. Next, Hannah asked Grace who her best friend was and without hesitation she said Zoe. Apparently they love to fall asleep next to each other and wake up giggling. I love that SO much! Siblings are the very best!

The garden was of course, still beautiful, with or without the fall sunshine, still vibrant and filled with flowers! I hope you guys enjoy a few of these images from this afternoon!

1 year old
3 year old exploring
family of 4 at the raleigh rose garden