Cynthia Viola Photography


Choose Your Life

PersonalCynthia Viola6 Comments
An ENFP is: Body of a woman, soul of a child, mind of the free and heart of the wild
— Ashley Lemaine

I don't know about you, but while I like myself as I am, I definitely don't want to stay the same forever. I thought I liked myself at 16, but looking at that arrogant know-it-all, I have to roll my eyes. She thought the world revolved around her and could not be told any differently. I thought I liked myself at 22, but looking at what a naive child I became, I cringe. She took everything given to her without question, without pause. She nearly lost herself entirely in an effort to please others. A worthy goal, perhaps, but not worth the cost.

My thirties have been full of adventure, exactly as I hope the rest of my life to be, but also a bit reckless at times, so at Thirty Four years young I want to see if I can become the best version of myself to date. I want to keep the confidence of my youth, without being callous. I want the childlike joy of my 20s without losing my intelligence. I never want to give up adventure, but also don't want to achieve it at the risk of losing people I love. There must be balance to everything.

I decided to experience twelve new things at the beginning of this year and I don't intend to stop there, for changing horizons somehow have a way of changing us.


I'm not sure at my half way point I've yet discovered any grand mystery of the universe, but I feel at peace with my life choices and grateful to be afforded the opportunity TO choose them. I am grateful that I've never lost a love of learning, and grateful the world is so big and grand and full of opportunity to always experience new things. 

For example, did you know that you can drink spring water right out of the ground without filtering it on the Appalachian Trail? (Not after it's flowed for a few feet, but as it's coming, unpolluted, out of the ground) Or if you use a long straw to blow on your campfire, instead of just your mouth, the concentrated air will help the flames really burst to life. Also, hang gliding is a much more relaxing and serene form of air adventure; I was surprised to find I liked it better than skydiving, which was actually a bit painful. Diving chest deep into water that's below freezing will force your body into defense mode to warm your core. (teeth chattering, shivering etc) It will also sacrifice your extremities for the sake of your core. This makes normal functions like climbing a rope or picking up an object infinitely more difficult. 

I wouldn't say any if these individual adventures have changed the course of my life, but I would say that choosing to have them regularly will indeed continue to change me forever. And that's all I ask out of life: adventure, growth and change. 

If you find yourself stuck in a rut, go do something new. Try some escargot or take a boxing class or volunteer at a refugee organization to meet people you could never possibly share the same story with and LEARN. You never know who you're going to meet or what you're going to gain, but the chances of meeting someone new or experiencing something new while stuck in the same routine day in and day out are slim. The people we have yet to meet are the ones who bring us new opportunities, and the things we've yet to do are the things that teach us something we don't know about ourselves. It's always worth the risk. 

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

Five Lessons from North Carolina

PersonalCynthia Viola8 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!

We're Moving to St. Augustine, FLORIDA!

PersonalCynthia Viola8 Comments
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing
— Helen Keller
Cynthia and A.J. Viola

If you've been hanging around us recently or following our stories on Instagram or Facebook, you might have noticed we've been a little cryptic about some big adventures and life changes in the not-too-distant future. I'm not sure how exactly to say this, but, we're moving! To Florida! 

Woah. I know. So many questions.

Why Florida?

If you followed our family through the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, you know that he dealt a devastating blow to the family restaurant, Viola's Pasta and Seafood in St. Augustine. In the months that followed the whole family and surrounding community came together to get her back on her feet, but that plus the 20 years of general restauranting took it's toll on A.J.'s parents. The restaurant is their baby and they're not ready to give it up, but they need to take a step back, and A.J. volunteered to help them run Viola's to make sure the family business stays afloat and his parents can get the rest they deserve after years of building. 

What does that mean for BREW Coffee Bar?

You probably already know that A.J. co-owns BREW with Mike. They built it from scratch 3 years ago and have seen it become a thriving space in our community. A.J. will be leaving BREW, Mike and his wife Cindy will take it over entirely and they will run BREW with the help of its capable and awesome managers and employees. We're super sad to let it go, but don't see how A.J. can continue to run it while in Florida. It's been a grand adventure, but we both thrive in newness and change so we're glad to leave her in good hands and excited for the next new thing. 

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
— Joseph Campbell
NC Wedding Photography

What does this mean for Art and Photography?

Well, lots of things! Because my entire family is in North Carolina, I will be flying back to NC once every six weeks to visit.

It means the schedule will be a little crazy and I'll have to keep my clients informed anytime I plan to be here, but I thrive in chaos and honestly don't think it'll be that much different from how often I travel now. If you'd like to keep up with when I'll be in the area, you can follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook and turn on your notifications. 

If you'd like an email or text notification as well, let me know and I'll add you to a list. When I fly in, it will be to Charlotte and from there I will either drive to Raleigh, Boone or Lumberton as needed to visit and accept photo shoots. 

Just like it works now, if you're able to book me while I'm already here, there will be no travel fee. If you need me to travel on a specific date when I'm not already planning to be here, I'm more than willing, the travel will just now include a plane ticket (or two, if it's a wedding).

What about already booked portrait sessions and weddings?

I will honor every session already booked for the rest of the year by staying in Raleigh through December. There are just too many already on the schedule for it to make sense for me to move before then. A.J. will move at the end of July but he will fly back for the weddings he is already booked to shoot with me. We will both also fly back for the weddings we already have scheduled for 2018. 

What about your paintings?

I will be trying to sell all of my current paintings before I leave. They will be half price as I'd like to not have to transport them. If you're interested just let me know and you can come see what's available.  And as always you can get prints of any of the pieces and some photography at Society 6. 

How long will we be in Florida?

That is yet to be determined. Life is ever changing and we're willing to go where the winds blow us. It may be five or twenty, either way we'll keep you updated along the way.

I suppose this will begin the next chapter of the Book. Can't wait to see what the next page's story has to say! 

Cynthia and A.J. Viola
To dare - is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare - is to lose oneself
— Soren Kierkegaard

Commitment & Responsibility

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Surrendering is the free-falling backwards into the unknown and trusting that the universe will catch you.
— Jen Sincero

Over the past few weeks I've made some posts more on the personal side. Sharing a bit of mine and A.J.'s infertility story as well as a portion of the book I'm writing about my childhood and meeting my brothers for the first time as an adult. (Caroline also - persevered through her story in this space).

I expected people to respond with surprise and encouragement; what I didn't expect was the outpouring of words like bravery and courage. 

I'm sure a bit of it extends from being an ENFP personality type, but sharing any and every part of my story has always been an essential part of who I am. You'd be hard pressed to know me for more than an hour before hearing some snippet about my brothers. A.J. likes to tease that I play poker with my cards faced outward and several friends insist that I'm approximately 100% of the time too trusting and a bit naive when I meet new people. I know they're just concerned I'm going to get hurt one day, and I'm sure I will...I have. 

From my point of view though, sharing our story is what helps us connect with other human beings. I don't do well when I keep information and secrets bottled up inside. They feel like a poison. Sharing them dilutes their power over me and opens others up to be healed from their own story. When we find commonality in our stories, we no longer have to feel alone. 

Solo Chair

Personally, my biggest fears stem from 2 little words: responsibility and commitment. If you can attach the word adventure to it; I'm fearless. (Bring on the parachutes, wet suits, open road and backpacks!!) If people are involved; I'm ecstatic. (Give me quiet one-on-one conversations, a stage to perform spoken word to an arena full of strangers or a brand new family I never knew existed!!) But responsibility and commitment? Makes my stomach flip over on top of itself. 

I was scared of getting married when I first met A.J. He actually broke up with me for a month when we first started dating because I wasn't ready for a "committed relationship." He wasn't interested in the dating game and I wasn't interested in marriage at 19 years old.

I'm scared of big purchases like a home. (What if we need a new roof or HVAC, what if a tree falls through it, what if the market collapses, what if we go bankrupt??)  

I was not excited about owning a dog. (Who's going to walk it, who's going to feed it, what if it gets loose, how will we travel, what if it doesn't get along well with others, how will we host guests, what if guests are allergic??)

Mention the word baby and I start to hyperventilate.

We all have stories that have led us to our current fears and insecurities, we also have stories that lead us to our greatest joys. I don't know what it is that makes you feel weak, insecure, shameful or unworthy, but I guarantee you there is another human being in the world who has experienced nearly the exact same trauma. That should not diminish your trauma but help you find commonality with another soul and find strength to move forward.

I always want to offer a space, both physically and online to share stories and do life together. If you need help just getting some thoughts out of your head, I'm always willing to be a listening ear. I love people and find so much joy and strength in their stories. Don't hesitate to call, write or drop in. Love you guys. 


Photo Session Fears

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When the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past two painful to remember learn to pay attention to right now
— Julia Cameron
Raleigh Portrait Photograhy

When thinking about a photo session, what is your biggest fear? 

I often have people say, "I'd love to update our family portraits but... 

Our smiles always seem fake...

I never know how to pose, my hands always fall weird or my shirt bulges and I look huge...

I'm afraid my kids will be crazy and we won't get any good photos making it a waste of money...

I don't want my spouse/kids to have a bad time and hate me for it...

What are we supposed to wear...

Is is really worth the cost? We take iPhone photos all the time..."

Believe me when I say I hear you. 

I'm more than a little ashamed to admit we haven't had a photo session that we didn't shoot ourselves (or with the help from a friend using our camera) since our WEDDING. That's ELEVEN YEARS without professional portraits! And I call myself a photographer. *rolls eyes*

I'm not sure what it is for me. Control maybe? I want to be able to control the outcome. I feel like my smile is weird due to a jaw surgery years ago and it makes me embarrassed to really be myself in front of the camera.

Raleigh Family Photography

I've got smiles for daaaaaays when I'm just living life and finding joy in all the moments...but if I see another camera in the room, I freeze. I become uber aware of how I'm standing, I can't take my eyes off the one with the camera, I'm constantly fidgeting trying to make sure all hairs are in place and I can't enjoy myself until I know they're done. What the heck? 

Given my profession, my fear seems totally irrational. How can I ask others to be themselves in front of my camera if I'm unwilling to do the same in front of someone else's? 

So, that's where I'm at. What about you? I'd love to help you overcome your fears and I promise I'll face my own as well. I'm hoping this year even?? A.J. and I have made it a goal to do just that. Now who to choose?? We know SOOO many great photographers! Wish me luck and feel free to send suggestions!

Let me know what holds you back and we'll see if I can help. 

 Trusty Tripod. (I know the neighbors must think we're crazy)

Trusty Tripod. (I know the neighbors must think we're crazy)

An Excerpt from the Book.

PersonalCynthia Viola20 Comments
Embrace the detours
— Kevin Charboneau

This post will be a bit more on the personal end. I've mentioned in a few previous posts that I've written a book about my journey thus far, particularly the part about discovering and meeting my brothers for the first time. Several friends have asked if I'm going to publish it or if they can read it, and I don't exactly know the answer.

If it were only my story I would have published it three years ago. I literally started and finished the whole thing about a month after meeting them and have just tweaked a few updates in the time since. Fortunately and unfortunately this story is not just my own and there are some less than pleasant pieces that involve other people's choices and I need them to be ready to share it with the world first. So that's where I'm at with that. 

That said, I thought it might be fun to put a few excerpts from it in this space. 

A Continental Shift: The Adventure of Writing a New Story

By: Cynthia Viola

An Excerpt from Chapter One

I grew up the beloved only child of Lynn and Larry Jackson in the small, mountain town of Boone, North Carolina. We moved around a lot, but my fondest memories come from the home I first knew. Complete with three 250 pound hogs, acres and acres of forests to draw out the adventurer, a swing made out of an old Jeep seat that would send me fifty feet in the air and a giant waterfall that never failed to produce the best salamanders.

Boone is growing now due to the popularity of Appalachian State University, but at the time, it was the quintessential small mountain town. Boone was like that little town you’d see on a postcard bought in a gas station of a picturesque little village covered in snow with happy people waving happily to their neighbor as they shovel snow and make gingerbread houses.  

It’s a town where people don’t necessarily know each other’s names...but they always offer a welcoming smile as if they do. Where people actually let you go first in the grocery line because you have fewer items than they do, where hospitality in any home is expected...not in a forced way, but as a simple fact of life, and where families set deep roots, rarely ever moving away.

I didn’t really notice it then, but I was primarily raised by my father.

My mom worked nights and weekends, so she was asleep when I woke up and went to school, and she was gone when my dad brought me home and put me to bed. She was also gone when my dad would wake me up at 2:30am to go “run the wrecker” for some poor soul who’d sent their car over one of the mountain edges. I didn’t notice it was late or that dad was tirelessly working two jobs to make ends meet. I just knew that it was a blast getting to ride in the Jeep in the middle of the night and watch all the bright lights as he pulled them out of the ditch.

Perhaps because I was an only child raised by a father who did the best he could, perhaps because some inner gene or strand of DNA gave me a rebellious scrappyness, but I was always a tomboy, and often alone. My weekends usually consisted of mountain bikes, four wheelers, salamanders and adventures. ...

When I was nine my mom gave birth to the most beloved baby brother anyone ever set eyes on. I finally had someone to play with. A boy who would understand that when you attach a parachute laden G.I. Joe to the ceiling fan and rocket launch him across the room at the highest speed the fan would send him, glorious things happen. A boy who would understand that only a tree house in the tallest tree in the forest would adequately satisfy our desire for adventure and bit of danger.

Apparently in that year certain pesticides were used on the Christmas tree farms that surrounded our little town. They also blanketed the acres of land surrounding our tiny single wide trailer on the side of the mountain. It was not uncommon for those pesticides to seep into the groundwater and into wells. As you can imagine, this is not a drink that is suggested for developing babies.

Cody was born with a hole in his heart the size of a golf ball. After much debate about the possibility of a baboon’s heart and years of complications, my parents finally decided to take him off life support. As the family passed him around the room in his final moments, it fell to me to be holding him as he breathed his last. I’m told that should have affected me more than it did at the time, but I think I was aware that it was best for his elder sister to take on that responsibility, my parents didn’t need the extra weight on them.

Dad was strong...he knew he needed to be for me. But then, that’s how he always was: strong for me. Strong when he swept hundreds of yellow jackets off of me and our dog, Sheba with his bare hands after we stepped on a hidden hive. Strong when he carried me in one arm and eight bags of groceries in the other up the side of our mountain in two feet of snow when our car got stuck at the bottom. Strong when Cody died. Strong when he discovered it wasn’t his DNA that produced the greatest joy of his life, this daddy’s girl, his ‘Bumble Bee,’ as he would affectionately call me later in life when I got too busy to spend time with him. He’s the strongest man I’ve ever known. 

10 Things You Might Not Know About Me

PersonalCynthia Viola2 Comments
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted.
One moment.
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
— Eminem

I will be the first to admit that one of the best ways to describe myself is just a hot mess. I definitely do not have it all together but I give each day my best effort. Here are a few details that make me who I am.

A.J. is actually my college sweetheart, we met on the first day of school and have been inseparable since. He is a constant source of encouragement and never ceases to make me stronger. (for real though...his wrestling moves keep me on my toes!) 

I am an open book. Seriously, ask me anything. A.J. likes to say I hold my poker cards facing out. There is not a topic under the sun or a hardship I've faced that I'm unwilling to talk about especially if I think it will help someone else brave through their own story.

Speaking of story, I'm a sucker for them. I love grand tales of epic proportion where the hero faces a dragon on the outside and demons within. I also love it when those same epic battles are realized in the lives of regular people, and we are drawn closer as the human race because of them. 

My favorite personal story is how I discovered I had 3 baby brothers and met them just a couple years ago. Being an only child for 29 years teaches you how to take care of yourself, how to be alone, how to have a conversation with adults, that you don't need anyone else, that it's you against the world... Being an eldest of 4 teaches you how to let go of yourself and anything you've ever wanted if it will help them in even the smallest way. It brings out a visceral need that cannot even be described, but being close to them is the only thing that satiates it. I *might* have even written a book about the experience. It'll be a while before the world's ready for it though :)

Sorry...had to share a bunch of photos. They're just so adorable. :)

I'll try anything once. I love mountain biking, ultimate frisbee, paddle boarding, new roller coasters, and open mic poetry nights. On any given day you might see me kayaking or shooting hoops with some neighborhood kids, baking cookies or painting. I want to do it all. 

My favorite food group is chocolate, but I'm otherwise quite healthy. (think Paleo) I'm also partial to bourbon and the occasional cigar. Calisthenics are my preferred workout style (muscle ups, I'm coming for ya!) but I've found great community and unique challenges in Iron Tribe recently and am committing to their routines for this season. 

My favorite movie is District 9 due to the fact that it wrecked me. (I was working with refugee families at my first viewing and the parallel blew me away). For fun, I also love anything by Baz Luhrmann for his artistic style and Quinten Tarantino  for his sheer audacity. Music is usually dependent on my mood but you'll find Incubus,  Eminem or Led Zeppelin in nearly every playlist. Though I'm recently digging Kaleo and for some reason. 

Letty girl is our newest addition. She goes zero to 100 in about three seconds when she gets excited (kinda like her momma) but is the BIGGEST snuggle bug the rest of the time. We adore her. She was a rescue from the pound and is a Blue Pit in case you were wondering. :)

I frequently have to remind myself to be a business professional. To get the work done first and play later. I do not love fancy clothes, struggle with details and technicalities, loathe to my very core the idea of being put in a figurative box, and want nothing more than to have my only concern be loving people well - to be amazed by the incredible stories others have to share. This probably has something to do with being an ENFP but also because I attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus (though I have a LOT of beef with religion).

In high school I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol. I passed my tests quickly, and became an officer taking me to Leadership Training School and eventually I became the Cadet Squadron Commander. I loved it so much. I loved drill and PT, I loved the aerospace education, I soaked in everything my mentors gave me. I was accepted to the Air Force Academy and started logging hours to get my pilot's license and everything. Alas, the journey from that path to the one I eventually found myself on was a long one that requires way more than a paragraph in a blog post, so I'll save it for when we have coffee. :)

I think this makes eleven things, but whatever...details...

In our eight years in Raleigh I've worked with dozens of organizations to see which ones serve the city best in their own unique way and to see which ones are in line with my personality and passions. I've been mentoring a little girl at Neighbor to Neighbor for 5 years now and gain new life from her each time she laughs or has a lightbulb moment.  They offer one-on-one reading and math mentoring with kids who are years behind in school and by the time they finish, they are at, or above, grade level. So good. If you're interested in mentoring, hit me up, I'd LOVE to connect you. (We're starting a new semester this week...just sayin...)  

Through it all I've learned to walk through life with my eyes wide open and hands held out - ready to catch whatever may fall out of the sky. Sometimes I end up catching bad things, but the vast amount of good that finds it way to me will forever surpass the bad. I'm extremely optimistic and can usually see the good in situations and in people. My littlest brother thinks I epitomize the character Joy in Inside Out and well, I think that's just perfect. :) I may be a little naive and some would say too trusting but I believe people hold this amazing ability to be extraordinary - to go above and beyond - to shine like a star - if only someone will believe in them and give them permission to do so. I will gladly be that person every time.



PersonalCynthia Viola6 Comments
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.
— Yogi Berra

My detox tea told me this morning that I am "unlimited."

My first thought was "psssht."

Rolling at max capacity for the past few weeks and traveling every other weekend has taken it's toll. I'm sitting here recovering from a cold right now actually; my body having begged me to stop for days. 

However, as the tea steeped and I stopped long enough to smell the dandelion root, I read the phrase again, "You are unlimited." 

Certainly my body is limited by how much it can lift, but with hard work I can become stronger. The mind only knows so much, but with study can know more. A skill, in say photography is only as great as the amount of time put in behind the lens, more hours equal greater skill. 

Time then is the greatest limiting factor.

A.J.'s beloved 93 year old grandmother passed this weekend leaving behind a huge family overflowing with love for her and each other. The love was so palpable you could argue it was quite unlimited. Aunts doing dishes and offering hugs as needed, uncles washing cars and running errands, funeral clothes being lended for out of town cousins, and food prepared by family friends. Christmas lights were hung, memories were shared, tears shed and love expanded and filled every broken heart. 

Unlimited love spanning across a very limited expanse of time.

It's heartbreaking that it often takes death to remind us to live fully, but may we not wait for the next loved one to pass before we begin living into the unlimited love available to us.

Let's strive for that in this next season of chaos and travel. Let's try to find at the end of our days, like Meema, that we've left a wake of unlimited love in the lives of everyone we touched. Whether that time be 93 years or 33. 


PersonalCynthia Viola2 Comments
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses
— Abraham Lincoln

In this hectic photography season I must admit a few things:

My yoga practice has become like a 24/7 chair pose...except it's not the muscle building kind. I can literally feel every muscle in my body getting tighter and tighter the longer I sit in front of this computer screen. 

Meal prep is non-existent. I've had to succumb to store bought granola, guacamole, protein bars, pre-sliced veggies, pre-cooked chicken...the list goes on. And let's not talk about the fact that the dust levels in the house are equivalent to a home abandoned for 17 years. 

I've had so much chocolate I actually have acne again lol. And my 5-6 days per week work out schedule has dropped to 1. Maybe. 

Because A.J. is also hustling hard right now, date nights seem to revolve around when we both happen to be passing through the kitchen at the same time and sleeping. Do date night dreams count? 

The few hours I do manage to find myself with my family I'm either scheduling them around other photo sessions or thinking about the sessions I need to edit as soon as I can get my hands on my laptop. I'm not exactly present. 

Poor Letty Girl keeps putting her head in my lap wanting some attention and all I can offer is an occasional hand mindlessly waving around in her general direction while my face is still glued to the screen. 

While a little overwhelmed, I am still grateful. 

For the physical ability TO work and for a skill in the arts that actually pays the bills so I can do it full time. I am thankful for my clients/families/couples who have believed in me through the years while I found my way. For my husband, full of grace for late nights and an equivocal work effort. For my family who understands that the 12 weeks between September 15 and December 15 are basically wife/daughter/sister-less so that I CAN be present the other 40ish weeks of the year. 

I am thankful that with each new couple or family I spend time with I hear new stories and gain new friendships. I feel like the more people we allow into our lives the more complicated it gets. But it's so worth it.

 It has been a whirlwind of busy but I am grateful to be alive and actually pursuing a dream with the full support of my husband and family; looking forward to what this next year holds. 



10 Reasons Why a Second Shooter is Priceless

Personal, Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
I’m so happy I could bounce!
— Tigger

You guys! A.J. is going to start shooting weddings with me again!! 

It's been a long journey figuring out what each of us want to do with our lives, our careers, and our hobbies. Our marriage began down a very different path...think large churches, rambunctious youth groups, tag team preaching and seminary. 

When photography first began as a fun hobby for us, we did it together. It didn't even occur to us to do it any other way, as we had always done every job up to that point together. As the path pulled A.J. toward the coffee world though, it pulled me deeper into art and photography. Helping each other was not feasible at the time because it was spreading us both too thin and hurting our marriage so we made the tough call that for the first time in 13 years we'd have different careers. That. That was difficult. Transitioning from seeing your love 24 hours a day to only a few exhausted hours in the evening took it's toll. 

Fortunately it was only for a season. I am happy to announce that all 2017 weddings will also include A.J.! *happy dance* (If any currently booked couples want to add him to their package just shoot me a message) :)

Let's use a few examples from Laura and Danny's Angus Barn Wedding a couple years ago to illustrate 10 reasons why a second shooter is priceless: 

1. While I am capable of capturing the vast majority of the people and details at a wedding when I shoot solo; things are missed. I always work my butt off and capture as much as humanly possible, but I am only one person and can only be in one room at a time capturing one angle at a time. 

2. When you choose to have a second shooter it allows them to capture the close up while I get the wide shot, or vice versa. 

3. With three locations to shoot, I didn't have to worry about what Danny was doing half way across the city, AJ took care of the guys while I took care of the ladies. 

4. A second shooter is able to get the expression on the groom's face while I capture the bride tearing up on her father's arm. 

5. When I'm directing the bridal party into their next pose he's able to notice that the bride's veil has gotten caught in her hair and can help her adjust it.

6. He gets the natural light while I get the silhouette or vice versa.

7. He can get the cute flower girl tickling the groom while I'm focused on the bride and her girls. Or the party from the inside while I'm outside.

 8. If one of the off camera flash batteries dies during the first dance, he can change them while I continue shooting and precious moments are not missed.

9. One of us can get the coming and other other going of the sparkler run! Since you can't easily repeat this moment, it's especially helpful to have two angles. 

10. Also...have you met this guy?? He is a total crack up. While I'm joyful and fun, if I try to crack a joke, the bridal party usually just looks confused. AJ can simply open his mouth and these witty and hilarious things just come out without ANY effort! I mean he can get the groomsmen rolling faster than the alcohol. That is priceless if you ask me. 

Finally, it's just better for my sanity. While I thrive under pressure making me perfect for weddings, it's just nice to know that your love has got your back. That after 13 years together I can give him a certain look and he knows that I mean to look over his left shoulder and grab the cute ring bearer trying to catch a frog. I think you'll agree...we make a good team. :)

How to care for your People before the Wedding

Wedding Photography, PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted
— Aesop

Entering into the busiest season of your life can be daunting.

It seems like all my wedding couples right now are not only planning their wedding, but they're working full time jobs, they've just started graduate school, they're caring for their small children, they've just moved into a new home, or they're serving in the military all on top of figuring out what this whole new marriage dynamic is going to look like when it comes to bills and having a puppy and in-laws and responsibilities. 

It can really be so much. I've been there as a bride, I've been there as a bridesmaid, as a sister, as a best friend, as a pre-marital counselor and a photographer. I have seen over and over how much the stress can build up for months and explode at the worst possible moment on the big day.

Fortunately most couples also have a team of people who stand beside them to help carry the weight. Parents and college roommates and siblings and coworkers who work long hours in the weeks leading up helping you address invites, finish DIY projects, tell you how fabulous you look in every dress your try on, throw you epic bachelor parties, trudge through the mud to keep your dress clean, pray fervently for your marriage and bring you orange juice and cough medicine when you find yourself sick in the midst of it all.

This post is to remind you to care for them in return. It's easy to get overwhelmed and take out your frustrations on the people you know will forgive you, but don't take the easy road. Take the extra 10 seconds to breathe deeply before you say a harsh word and don't let yourself have regrets for taking advantage of the people you care for most. At the end of the day no one will remember if all the chair bows were tied perfectly, they'll remember how you treated them when you were stressed. So take some time today to write them a note or give them a hug. They'll love you forever. 

Boone North Carolina Wedding
The Oaks at Salem Wedding

Wedding Day Moments

Wedding Photography, PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place.
— Barbara de Angelis

Formal portraits and semi-posed smiles are certainly a vital part of any wedding day, but some of my favorites moments are the ones that fall in between. There's life to be found there. 

It's easy to gauge each milestone marker in our lives with the big events: birthdays, weddings, new puppies, births, new jobs, new cities, even concerts and other bucket list items. I like to think of those as the formal portraits and semi-posed smiles that represent each step in our lives. 

But it's the in between moments that are pure gold. The small victories when we choose kindness over impatience. When we stay up late with our spouse because they need comfort more than we need sleep. When a knowing smile is all it takes for two souls to burst into laughter and a gentle touch to bring on the flood gates that wash away the pain. 

Sometimes the camera settings are not perfect and the composition not exactly artistic, but it's the captured moments that arrive for a second and are gone just as fast, the moments that cannot be re-posed that make the day real and move the story forward. 

From epic toasts to subtle adjustments to brothers in the military calling in because they couldn't be there, I live for these moments in my own life and yours.  

Spoken Word

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance
— Carl Sandburg

In honor of my mom's 60th birthday I wanted to post one of my all time favorite spoken word pieces. Sarah Kay spoke at TED a few years ago and blew everyone away with not one but two incredible pieces sandwiched around a beautiful talk explaining the need for poetry and her journey toward teaching students how to unlock it's potential. My mom has always been a creative and while she was unable to use her gifts the past few years, she's recently opened up to them again and it makes me very happy.  

"Because getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air"

If I Should Have a Daughter, by Sarah Kay

There's something about the power of spoken word to move even the hardest of hearts. More than poetic verse on paper, it jumps off the page and the rhythm actually moves something inside you. Below are more of my favorite pieces, just for fun. :)

Taylor Mali is the very best kind of teacher. He highlights the world of imagination to an open mind and teaches a closed mind how to embrace all things new. He challenges you in a way that makes you want to be better. If you haven't read his book, you should :)

"I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be"

What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

Shane Koyzan understands both sides of the bullying coin and reaches into the soul of any person who's ever known it's weight. 

"'Stand up for yourself' They said, but that's hard to do when you don't know who you are"

To This Day by Shane Koyzan

I suppose I've always resonated with the downtrodden, broken people in the world. I've always avoided clicks and found myself closest to those who walk alone and don't make friends easily. And I've certainly known far too many victims of violence. Steve Connell's piece speaks to that...

"This perpetuates a culture where it's easy to confuse the link between the jokes and the bruise."

We are the Lions by Steve Connell

Cameron caught be by surprise recently as I stumbled across his work. Immersing myself heavily into the LGBTQ community lately I have a new sense of appreciation, respect and awe for their daily challenges and ability to overcome relentless shaming. 

"What if you could choose the shape your shadow casts into light"

"Break Up Letters" By Cameron Awkward-Rich

Do you have any favorite spoken word pieces to share? I'd love to watch them, feel free to post a link in the comments. :) 

Being OK with Failure

PersonalCynthia Viola6 Comments
Success—in paddle boarding and in life—is simply the ability to stand after each fall, learn from mistakes, and willing yourself to get better.
— Jasmine Star

Failure is not a word many people like to talk about. Myself included. 

It screams broken dreams and skinned knees and last chances.

Failure is like the monster hiding at the bottom of the lake threatening to drag you down, but you hope if you just ignore him, maybe you'll never have to face him. The problem with that theory is you will definitely have to face him, and if you find yourself looking him right in the eye unprepared he will, in fact, pull you under. 

My dad always told me if I fell off the horse I had to get right back on, that same day, that same minute. We were never riding horses when he said this so I was a little confused at first but when I wrecked my first bike and scraped my elbows, he didn't even blink when I looked up at him with my big, green, pouty eyes begging to quit, "Nope," he said, "You get right back on there." 

When I stalled the car over and over learning my first manual transmission and in anger was ready to give up, "Nope," he grinned, "It's time to try hills next."

Owning your own business is no different. I didn't go to school for accounting or business or even photography so I have had my fair share of days staring down that monster. From not realizing I needed to keep a separate business account (until my second year), failing to have a back up SD card on a shoot when one corrupted forcing me to reschedule the shoot, to actually being fired from a wedding a few years back when a couple didn't just love their engagement photos. 

All of these moments and hundreds more I don't have space to write about, were enough to drag me down, but I feel like becoming friends with that lake monster almost 30 years ago prepared me to swim around comfortably with him today. He catches me off guard sometimes and it takes me longer to catch my breath but I've learned to watch for him and when I see him coming we begin a dance. With each routine my muscles grown stronger and my wit gets sharper. 

If I hadn't gotten back on the bike, I wouldn't know the joy of a 230 mile ride to the coast with my love last year, or the exhilaration of racing full speed over roots and rocks down a mountain bike trail. If I'd given up on the manual I wouldn't appreciate the power always at your fingertips or know the satisfaction of winning a drag race. If I had let the failure monster take me down without a fight I'd be miserable - working my way from one bartending job to the next.

Stephen McCranie once said, "The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried." If it requires thousands and thousands of failures to become a master, then bring on the thousands more yet to come.

I invite you to join me on the journey of failure. It will be hard fought with skinned knees and bruised egos, but well worth the mastery on the other side. 

The fam

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
I can’t believe I never noticed my heart before - until I noticed you
— Mute Math

If it weren't for A.J. this blog wouldn't be here. In fact, I wouldn't be here.

I've always fancied myself an adventurer who is willing to try anything new, show me the mountain and I'll climb it, the plane I'll jump out of it (or fly it), the road less traveled and I'm already half way down it. 

But apparently I have an irrational fear of all things new technology. (I still haven't tried the Pokemon Game or Instagram Videos...or whatever they're called). Raised by two people who swear the internet is evil, who don't own a computer or a mobile phone, who don't even like talking on a landline, I was a little behind the curve when I met A.J. I swear I'd still have a little flip Razr if A.J. hadn't forced it out of my hands years ago. He's constantly baffled at my ability to use "thingy" and "whatchamacallit" and "you know" to describe the really complicated things like the internet. :)

When it comes to the world of technology I am utterly dependent upon him. But I'm ok with that. I hear we're supposed to focus on our strengths and find other people to fill in our weaknesses anyway. 

That's just one of my witty husband's many talents. He also happens to be a phenomenal public speaker, entrepreneur, photographer, ultimate frisbee player, hilarious comeback wiz, wedding officiant, latte art master, life comedian, and of course dad to our pup Letty and the very best husband who ever lived. 

I figured today would be a good day to introduce him to you, as it is our 11 year anniversary. ELEVEN. It seems like we began one life in undergrad and found our way into a different one along the way. Every bump in the road has made us stronger and every detour given us a new skill set. He is far more than I could have ever hoped for and I think it's safe to say my love for him now is 11 times stronger than it was in 2005. He's just one of those people who make you want to be a better person.

Letty girl is pup number four for us. (had to leave the other three in the mountains) We've only had her for about a month but she's already family and matches our outgoing personalities perfectly. She's partial to coconut oil, belly rubs and wants to destroy every evil squirrel in existence. 

I couldn't do life without A.J. and wouldn't want to do it without Letty girl. They both make me stronger. Happy 11th babe. 


CAMstellation Raleigh 2016

Art, PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
The artist never entirely knows — We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark
— Agnes de Mille
 "Leap Into Fear" | 24"x36" | Mixed Media

"Leap Into Fear" | 24"x36" | Mixed Media

As an artist and a business owner, I've had to make some difficult decisions. Probably the least of which is forcing myself to dress like a "professional" when I'd rather wear jeans and a tee shirt every where I go. I tried to take the stance of #theartistwearswhatshewants (favorite hashtag ever, thank you Amaris) for years but I suppose being an adult is more important... Alas, bring on the heels, and feel free to tease me like my brother Daniel who says I look like a little kid playing dress up. #jerkface #notreallyloveyou ;)

More importantly, as much as I love being a creative, it can cause dilemmas when you enjoy creating in many different mediums. I've been painting for as long as I can remember, I enjoy writing poetry and performing spoken word, I've written a memoir that I'm scared to death to publish, I dabbled in all forms of music for years and of course there's photography - my ultimate love. 

  Taken via iPhone pano at the artist's reception for  CAMstellation . 

Taken via iPhone pano at the artist's reception for CAMstellation

So how do you choose? I'm not sure how it works for everyone else but I suppose ultimately my love of people has won out for me. All the forms I listed entail a bit of isolation during practice/building/editing/creating/considering/dreaming...even performing, but the only one that really allows consistent interaction with people, is photography. If I'm isolated for too long I get cray...just ask A.J. I need people and love being a part of their lives. 

ALLLL that to say, I still dabble in the other arts from time to time. Currently this piece is up at CAM Raleigh with their exhibit celebrating the creatives in the community. (come to either August's or September's First Friday to see it!) 

 Taken via iPhone pano at  Creative Mornings RDU ...amazing group, you should totally check it out. 

Taken via iPhone pano at Creative Mornings RDU...amazing group, you should totally check it out. 

It's titled "Leap Into Fear" because when I painted it, A.J. was talking about launching a second location of his coffee bar (among other crazy family things going on at the time). The first shop was probably the hardest thing we've ever survived as a couple, I wasn't sure we could survive a second. After a total breakdown I just threw all the emotions on the canvas and decided to let go. We love each other enough to believe in the other's dreams and we've built enough trust to know we'll both do our best to work through the muck. 

Six months after opening, we couldn't be better. In my experience, the wings don't form until after you jump. I suppose it's more exciting that way anyway. I believe this leap has prepared us for the next, whatever that may be. What's the scariest leap you've ever taken?

Dreamy, Adventurous, Joyful

Family Portraits, Wedding Photography, Personal, Bridal PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.
— Douglas Adams
  Moses Cone , Blowing Rock

Moses Cone, Blowing Rock

I have often been asked how I would describe my photography and honestly, in eight years it has probably evolved more than I have. From the type of sessions I choose to take, to the locations and time of day, to the types of filters (or lack thereof), from Photoshop to Lightroom and back again.

Taking a bird's eye view of my entire collection however, I have noticed a pattern and would like to move forward more intentionally in this way. I would love for all of my images to represent one or all of the following: dreamy, adventurous and joyful. 

 Durham, NC

Durham, NC

Dreamy says to me: "I've finally found the one my heart loves and I'm ready to embark on this journey."

Adventurous brings out my inner child. I grew up in the mountains exploring hidden creeks for crawdads, four wheeling as a teen, and mountain biking and snowboarding in college. I'm not sure I could name anything I won't try at least once so I love it when photo sessions take me into new territories. Many of those territories have taught me not to go back (architecture photography for example...see my friend Sterling for that) but failures only take you one step closer to success. Many new territories, like the forest above, are everything I hope for and more.

Joyful says "There is no where else I'd rather be than right here, in this moment, with these people." It says, "For just a moment I forgot about the paper due Monday, or the laundry piling up, or the cancer, and I remembered to live."

May my life's work tell a story that brings out the good in people. A story that reminds us we are all human - the same - living one moment at a time.

  Fearrington Inn , Pittsboro, NC

Fearrington Inn, Pittsboro, NC

What do you hope for in your life's work? I'd love to hear your story. 

There's A First Time for Everything!

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Those who don’t jump will never fly.
— Leena Ahmad Almashat

I began this year jumping out of a perfectly decent airplane with one of my little brothers and I haven't looked back since! I'm just getting started in this blogging world but it's following a season of new camera equipment, new business ventures with my love, a new pup, and a new healthy minded and active community

I'm a little scared, but I'm ready. New things are usually easy for me. I get really super excited, put a ton of work and passion into them then 4 weeks later the 'new' wears off and I'm ready to move to the next thing. I am committing to you here and now though to be a consistent and encouraging presence in this space. 

Most days I am a hot mess, but I surround myself with people who love me and they collectively hold me together. If I'm honest, my relationship with God is not what it once was, and I'm ok with that, but I'm slowly working to mend that as well, there has to be a happy balance in there somewhere. 

I want this to be a space to share the adventures of those I capture, to highlight favorite vendors I've worked with, and offer advice on how to make the wedding day a little less stressful. Because I'm an ENFP I'll very likely dive into personal struggles and triumphs as well. ;) 

To anyone who might subscribe, share, like, repost, comment or participate in this new blogging adventure in any way, THANK YOU in advance. Thank you for believing in me and for trusting me with your memories. You are the reason I am able to follow my dreams for a living and I do not take that for granted.