Cynthia Viola Photography

Helpful Wedding Tips

What is your Wedding Photography Style?

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

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

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

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

Coloring/Editing Styles

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

Light and Airy Wedding Photography

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

Dark and Moody Wedding Photography

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

Bright and Bold Wedding Photography

Personality/Documenting Style

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


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

Traditional Classic wedding photography


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

Photojournalistic Wedding Photography


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

Editorial Wedding Photography


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

Creative and artistic wedding photography

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

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

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

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

What about Grooms and their Party?

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
If you have crazy friends, you’ll have everything you’ll ever need
— Anonymous
Groomsmen Inspiration

Helping various family members plan their weddings this year has me answering questions I don't typically need to answer as a photographer, but as they've come up I figured it'd wouldn't hurt to share them here in case you find them helpful as well. 

Groomsmen Inspiration

I must implore you though from the very beginning: there is no correct answer. This is your day, make whatever choices make you happy, invite all your favorite people and just celebrate life and love. However, if you're interested in a few tips or just need a little inspiration, this is a good place to start. 

Groomsmen Inspiration

Suit, Tux or Jeans and a Button Up?

I generally lean toward the casual side of life and love the idea of just being yourself always. Therefore jeans and button up makes sense if that's what you love... however... no one has ever looked bad in a tuxedo. If you wear jeans and tee shirts every other day of your life, why not take one day just to go all out and knock the socks off your future spouse? People often focus on wow factor of brides and expect  to be blown away by them, when grooms put their best foot forward, I've seen several crowds stand with their jaws dropped at how outstanding a groom looked. 

Groomsmen Inspiration

Suspenders, Vest, bowtie or Tie?

If you go with the tux, you'll likely choose a bowtie, but with a suit, vest or button up, you have a few other options. Here's a few images to give you some ideas, but it'll just depend what look you're going for. 

Groomsmen Inspiration
Groomsmen Inspiration


I have seen them all, and my recommendation is to keep them small. Any different flower you like works well, pieces of wood, herbs, hops and berries tie in a nice masculine touch, or even specially designed pieces to add a little flare. They don't need to be huge though, especially if you're not wearing a jacket. Loose button ups and suspenders have their own classy look, but they cannot handle a rowdy bunch of guys for 8 hours. 

Groomsmen Inspiration

Cufflinks, Socks and Flasks

I am certainly no expert on men's accessories, but I've seen lots of great options. Many grooms love to give flasks and specific fun socks or cufflinks at the rehearsal to thank their friends for being such a big part of their big day. I am a huge fan of buying flasks along with your guys' favorite drink, it just shows you pay attention. A good toast right before you walk down the aisle is a great way to boost your confidence before stepping in front of a few hundred people. Figure out what is important to you and your tribe and just go with it. 

Groomsmen Inspiration

Ladies in the party

Tons of wedding parties these days have women, men and transgendered friends alike. Feel free to dress them all to match exactly, or switch it up by having one party in one color and the other in another, so ladies can wear a dress and still be connected to the groom

Groomsmen Inspiration

No matter what decisions you make or what details fall apart at the last second, at the end of the day, you're marrying the love of you life surrounded by all your favorite people and the rest will simply slip into one big happy memory. Hopefully these ideas give you something to work with, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy the process and savor these memories while they last! 

Groomsmen Inspiration
Groomsmen Inspiration

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 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. 


It's a Wedding, What Could Possibly go Wrong?

Wedding PhotographyCynthia 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
Wedding Magazine

One of my new favorite gifts to give our couples is this epic 85 page wedding magazine I created to help make the photography timeline a little smoother, explain why a first look is so super special, give tips on healthy skin and hair, and generally make the day as smooth as possible. You can't experience over 100 weddings and NOT come away with advice on how to make the day a little smoother.  

In writing it, though, I realized JUST how many situations I've experienced that *could* have ruined the day. 

I've seen the "getting into the dress" moment take an extra 30 minutes because a button popped off and had to be resown on the fly. (Thanks grandma!)

I've seen grooms and whole bridal parties thoroughly trashed before they even walked down the aisle. (The keg stands that followed at the reception didn't help the situation).

Bridesmaids who couldn't arrive at the last second because they went into LABOR. 

DJs who packed up their gear and left halfway through the reception because there was a miscommunication on how long they were to stay. (Luckily A.J. was still DJing at the time and he was able to grab his gear and finish the night for them).

Very close family members who died the week of the wedding. 

I've seen a ceremony start an HOUR late while half the guests sat quietly in the church and the other half in traffic as an unexpected PARADE started up through the neighborhood. Tip: You're going to want to make sure to check road closures/races/parades/construction in the area directly around your venue(s).

A flower girl bit by a very venomous snake at the rehearsal placing her in the ER and on crutches for the wedding.

Torrential downpours, flooding, a hurricane, a foot of snow and sweltering 100+ heat. 

The point of this post is not to scare you out of your big day or force an elopement but to remind you that no wedding is perfect. Things are going to go wrong and people are going to disappoint you. At the end of the day, every single wedding ended with an "I do" and a happy, albeit exhausted couple waving good bye to their friends as they set off on a new adventure...together. 

Bubble Exit

If I can leave you with just 3 tips, I would say:

1. Don't sweat the details. Noone but you knows what color the napkins were supposed to be, and everyone expects the ceremony to start a little late. Shake it off and remember this is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life!

2. Plan some downtime. It's not a matter of IF the timeline will get backed up, but by how MUCH. If you can plan an extra 15 minutes for hair or an extra 30 minutes to drive from venue to venue and especially an extra 15-30 minutes ALONE with your new spouse to take it all in, savor the moment and clear your head, I promise your day will be far less stressful. If you need help with this please just ask. I've become an expert at finding extra hours in the day. Failing to plan for something to go wrong means planing to fail when it does.

3. LOVE your people well. I've seen so many couples say hurtful things to the people they love the most. It's not worth hurting your relationship with your mother or best friend or future spouse because they dropped the ball on something. Do your best to remember that they've given you so much of their free time to help you plan and they only want what's best. Love them well with kind words and generous hugs. If you can throw in a gift or two, do. They will always remember how you treated them over how perfect the day was. 

Remember, you're getting MARRIED! This is supposed to be fun! Let the mistakes roll off your back and savor the sweet moments. 

How to Choose Bridesmaids Dresses

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
This above all; to thine own self be true.
— Shakespeare
Flower Girl Fall Wedding Mountains

One of our lovely brides recently asked if I had any tips on how to choose the colors and styles of her bridesmaids dresses. As I was about to send her an email with several images for inspiration, I thought others might have the same question so opted for a full post instead. :)

With over 100 weddings in our back up files I had plenty to choose from. However, I will be the first to say up front; I am no style expert. I've always been a 'jeans and a tee shirt' kinda girl and if I could re-do my own bridal party today it would actually include 5 guys and 2 girls, so there's that. 

I am a FIRM believer that there is no "correct" way to do anything. If you want one person on each side or twenty - do it. If you want a mixture of girls, guys and transgendered friends on both sides - do it. If you want the girls in the most exquisite gold sequin gowns and the guys in the most expensive fitted tuxedo - do it. If you want them all in hiking gear because you plan to hike up to the top of a mountain for the ceremony - do it. Don't ever let yourself feel pressured by ALLLL the opinions you will definitely receive from caring friends and family.  

Extra Large Wedding Party

That said, here are a few ideas.

Winter weddings tend to include reds, hunter green, and black. 

Spring weddings use lighter colors. Think pastels and neutrals like blush, green and gray. 

Summer weddings tend to have bold blues, pinks and violet. 

And autumn brings out the oranges, browns, yellow and plum. 

Again, there is no such thing a a correct way. A.J. and I chose black in the middle of summer and it worked out JUST fine. As far as style of dresses, if consistency and uniformity are important to you, then you should just choose the dress you like the best and go with it. If not, I recommend choosing the color and length you want then allowing your girls to choose the top style that fits their form the best. 

Classic mixes. 

If you've got guys and girls on both sides, a nice way to tie everything together is having all of one party in one color (green dress and ties) and all of the other in a different one (pink dresses and tie). Or have everyone completely mixed up so you can't tell who goes with who and it doesn't matter because everyone loves everyone :)

Mixed Wedding Party
Groomsmen party in gray


Cover ups, jewelry, shoes, getting ready robes...the sky is the limit. Again, feel free to make them unique to the girl or exactly the same. If keeping it uniform I find couples like to purchase the matching items and give as a gift. (this goes for the fellas with socks and ties and cufflinks as well). 

Little People. 

Don't feel like you have to have a flower girl or ring barer. (They are often hard to wrangle throughout the long day anyway). If you want to though, they can make for cute photos. Well trained dogs are fun too. 

At the end of the day, these are just details. Just remember to enjoy the process, choose those you love the most to celebrate this time and plan to have a blast, it's going to be one of the most memorable days of your life!

Bridesmaids Dresses

Community Series - Mortgage - Dan Stanton

PortraitsCynthia ViolaComment
Go as far as you can see. When you get there you’ll be able to see farther.
— J.P. Morgan

As a way to better serve our couples and families, over the next few months I will be highlighting and interviewing a few of our favorite people in the community who directly impact the new life of a young couple or family. I want to ask them why they love what they do, some tips for couples navigating this new territory and pitfalls that can be avoided. 

The next in the community series is Dan the Mortgage Man as he is so affectionally called by his friends and peers. Dan has been writing Mortgage loans for 14 years and is exceptionally great at helping people navigate the processes and paperwork involved in purchasing their first home. Originally in the real estate world, he hadn't planned to go down this road but after some crazy circumstances and a friend taking a chance on him, he accepted the role and hasn't turned back since. He's so passionate about it, he makes sure to handle every client himself and goes above and beyond to make sure his clients get exactly what they need. 

Two weeks ago we talked to Matt Polinchak with Live Raleigh Realty to see what was involved with choosing a home, but once a couple is ready to purchase, what do they need to do first?

The first thing they need to do is to get prequalified by a good reputable loan officer.

There are a lot of terms out there I don't quite understand, what's the difference between a mortgage broker, loan officer and mortgage lender? And which are you? 

I am a Correspondent Lender. This means we have many outlets of final investors including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sell our mortgages to but all of the underwriting, processing and closing is done with our team right here in the Lake Boone office. We close the loan in our name and sell the loans to final investor or directly to Fannie and Freddie.

A broker can broker loans out to different final investors but with each investor the loan has to be underwritten and closed by their team. So you are subjected to their rules and their team and do not develop a personal relationship with them because you can broker to a ton of lenders with tons of people to work on your loan.

With my company I actually meet with the underwriters face to face to solve problems and develop a relationship with them. I have the same underwriters and closers over and over again.

Do you think it's better for a newly wed couple to purchase a home in their first year or is it better to rent?

It definitely depends on each particular situation but the monthly payment is usually less than it would cost to rent and the interest paid over the year is tax deductible

What are you looking for when you decide whether or not you can write them a loan and for how much? 

Credit score, how much monthly income and debt they have and how much money they have saved up to put down. Now there are also 100% financing, low down payment and down payment assistance options available for qualified borrowers

Is there anything a couple should do to get their credit cleaned up before contacting you?

They should not open up any new accounts that report to the credit reporting agencies 120 days before applying. Any new accounts can hurt the credit score for 120 days after opening it because it is built into the scoring model to make sure they have a good payment history of the account. They should not be late on any payments and they should not cosign for anyone because they are ultimately responsible for the payment

After you've approved them, what do they need to do next? 

After the loan is submitted to processing the next item on their checklist for a purchase is to get an insurance quote and home inspection scheduled

Can you tell me more about refinancing a loan? At what point down the road is this recommended? 

You should refinance if you are saving enough money each month to justify the closing costs of having to do the refinance removing mortgage insurance or lowering the term which increase the amount of principle paid each month and lowers the total amount of interest paid over the life of the loan.

So what makes you come back to this work everyday? Why do you love helping people get loans for their homes?

I am a people person and enjoy working and getting to know my buyers. For most people a home is the most expensive thing they will ever buy so the whole process can be very stressful. I have been doing this long enough that I can effectively streamline the entire process from start to finish and eliminate most of the stress of the home buying process. I educate them up front of what to expect and communicate exactly what we will need during the process so there are very few surprises along the way. I enjoy delivering the folks to the finish line with an on time closing.  I also enjoy when folks get to the closing table and say  "I have to say I have heard nightmare stories about the home buying experience, this process was not bad at all and you guys made it easy from start to finish, THANKS!”

Dan the Mortgage Man

Love that. Dan is such a great guy. I promise he will take great care of you once you're ready to navigate this next big step in your life adventures! Contact him here even if you just have a few questions, he'll be glad to help. 

Vendor Series - The DJ & Videographer - Damien Maass

Wedding Photography, VendorsCynthia Viola2 Comments
What I love most about this crazy life is the adventure of it.
— Juliette Binoche

As a way to better serve our couples, over the next few months I will be highlighting and interviewing a few of our favorite wedding vendors as well as others in the community who directly impact the new life of the young couple. I want to ask them why they love what they do, some tips for couples navigating this new territory and pitfalls that can be avoided. 

Damien Maass Videographer

This week I want to highlight one of my favorite humans on the planet. Damien and I met at a Bat Mitzvah two years ago and it's been quite the adventure ever since. He is one of the most genuine, kind, and cheerful people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. He never has a harsh word for another vendor or a client, he's easy to work with; if I want to try something a little crazy he's totally down whether he's DJing or holding the camera. He has the same mission I work well together so we can serve the clients better. 

Patrick and Madi are part of his video team and are equally amazing to work with. Professional, lighthearted and so very talented. 

Damien Maass and Team

Once, we were doing a Bar Mitzvah together and one of my off camera flash batteries died right as Damien was getting ready to start the Hora dance... he and I locked eyes and he saw the panic in mine. Without a second's hesitation he backtracked and announced it would actually start in just a second then asked me what I needed. He gave me time to swap the batteries out and get back in place so they were able to get the best photos. Being a videographer too he is so knowledgable about everything the photographer needs and goes out of his way to accommodate, which only helps to serve our clients better. I would have him at every wedding I shoot if I could. 

Bar Mitzvah Hora

Here are just a few of the questions I asked about how he works and what couples need to know, he is always ready and willing to answer any and every question you may have though, just contact him on his website here. 

Q: How do you manage to DJ and Video at the same time at a wedding? What do you delegate to your team and what do you do yourself?

A: A lot of planning goes into a wedding as you know and when we are providing both DJ & Video services great teamwork is essential alongside all the planning. There are three main parts to the wedding day when we provide both services; Bridal Party prep, Ceremony and the Reception. I will shoot for the first part of the day before transitioning into a DJ and my two other videographers will take over full time from that point. It is very seamless and I am lucky to have an amazing team in place. Two of our team members are also FAA licensed drone pilots for our aerial videography. We work at our craft constantly to ensure things happen, as they should on the wedding day.

DJ Damien Maass

Q: Why is it important for a couple to have a cinematographer capture their wedding when they already have a photographer?

A: It’s funny but I hear it all the time from married couples who chose not to have one that they regret not having a wedding video. There is so much the couple will miss during the day. Photos & video tell the same story but in a different way and both if are done well, they are amazing keepsakes. A great video becomes something that you’ll watch over and over initially and then every anniversary you’ll get to revisit that incredible day in a special way. This isn’t your parent’s wedding video anymore either. We specialize in short-form wedding films, which means we focus on making amazing cinema style productions that you’ll want to watch over and over again. We use only the best possible cameras & lenses along with real storytelling techniques in our editing to make our films unique to whatever event we are filming.

Q: What do you think a couple will regret the most by not having a cinematographer?

A: So much of the wedding day will be a blur especially with everything that is going on so fast and a great wedding video can bring that amazing day back to life. To me there is nothing like capturing the emotion of day with not only video but with the actual audio. To hear the vows, people laughing, to see all the places you couldn’t be, it just brings the entire day to life in a fun, emotional and entertaining way.

Q: What are some of the biggest hurdles couples face when choosing a DJ that fits their unique style?

A: First and foremost: is this someone I want to work with on one of the most important days of my life! Will they listen to my detailed requests, can I choose my own music, do they work well with other vendors, are they professional sounding, do they use top sound equipment, etc. Every couple and wedding day is different and a big part of my job to be really good at listening to what couples want or don’t want. We take into account their venue, guest list, music tastes and what kind of party flow they want. We want to make sure that the reception is a blast with the music they want to hear and done in a style that fits in, without being over the top.

Damien Maass DJ

Q: What do you do to ensure that you play music the couple will love as well as the mixed crowd of guests attending?

A: One thing that experience does is give you the ability to read a crowd quickly, use the couple’s requests along with what you know will work to keep the dance floor popping! We have two very helpful online wedding planners that couples can use before the wedding to select music and plan the reception details. We try to stay as organized as we can so things come off as they should. These are things we go over with couple’s beforehand so they are comfortable and can look forward to having a great time. Guests requests are also important; and as long as those songs go with the energy on the floor I am all for it.

Q: What do you do if you get a crowd that just doesn't seem to want to dance? 

A: Great question and again this is an area where experience and honing your craft make a big difference. Whether it’s by playing a really familiar fun song, one of the many interactive fun dances, bridal party requests or even a great slow song to get the floor packed. Once you got people up build on it and keep it going!

The Oaks at Salem Wedding Reception

Q: What brings you the most joy at a wedding and brings you back for more week after week?

A: Its kind of cliché but this is a real passion for me. I hosted a morning show on radio for several years as well as acting, doing voiceovers but there nothing like a live event. And what’s better than being a part of a celebration? Seeing how happy these couples are and how much fun they are having during their wedding day is incredible and I feel so lucky to be doing this for a living. We started providing the wedding video part of the business about 5 years ago and that just opened up a whole new level of excitement and fun. I truly look at each event we do as unique and different. It’s a major reason why I decided to keep the business small so we can give each wedding the attention that it deserves. I love it!

I hope you find this helpful and you see why I give Damien all the stars! He, Madi and Patrick are so great to work with and I know they won't disappoint. I also wanted to include one of his highlights from the most recent wedding we all did together, enjoy!


The Best Decision You Can Make Before the Wedding Day

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.
— Tim Keller
The importance of pre-marital counseling

With such a popular response from the last week's post about healthy choices to make before the wedding, I decided to expand on the most important one. After all, your future spouse loves you just as you are and the people coming to celebrate your love do too. All the health conscious choices that give you clearer skin, a thinner waist or brighter smile won't guarantee that your marriage will stand the test of time and trials. 

A.J. and I have offered pre-marital counseling to several couples over the years, some while we were only a year into it ourselves, but it's something we knew we would do before we even walked down the aisle. I'm not sure how to explain it, we just get each other. We trust each other completely and have learned excellent communication skills over the years from our own marriage trials as well as owning different businesses together, attending 7 years of school (almost all the same classes) together, and leading a small church together.

Poor communication or lack of communication, we would insist, is the number one reason marriages (and really any relationships) fall apart. There may ultimately be financial issues, adultery, or abuse but it all stems from communication. We believe that communication needs to begin before you walk down the aisle and preferably even before your "just said yes" moment. 


There are several questions that should at least be discussed before you agree to give your lives to each other. Questions that are obvious and questions that are not so obvious that can be surprisingly detrimental. I'll expand on two I mentioned last week:


An example of a not-so obvious one is holidays. When you're dating and so in love you can't bare the thoughts of being separated for more than a minute, holidays are no problem. Both your families "understand" and are more than willing to accommodate the extra person, or allow their son or daughter to be with their love this year...after all, they'll probably be getting married. Even your first married holiday season together is understandable, everyone is willing to let you do your thing. But after that, lifelong expectations, traditions and rituals come into play and if your families are both unwilling to budge, the pull can be catastrophic. Add long distance and grandchildren to that mix and it's over.

UNLESS you've been communicating well all along the way. There is no right answer; you have to do what works for you, but you need to communicate with each other what you want individually and what you're willing to budge on, then communicate that clearly and sincerely to your families. Being able to do this before the big day makes the transition that much smoother. 

The importance of pre-marital counseling


Most couples broach the topic while they're still dating. One wants 3 kids, one thinks they want 1, but they assume they'll figure it out along the way. They say "I do." All of the sudden the one who wanted 3 realizes they're ready to begin trying right away, "why not?" they ask, "it'd be fun to still be young as the kids grow up." Panicked, the one who "thinks" they wanted 1 suddenly isn't so sure. "Right now? Like, now? I thought we'd wait at least 5 years before we got there...what about our jobs? What about money? What about living our lives while we're still young?" Reluctantly they agree to start trying. Five years, a surgery, ovulation regimens and fertility pills later, it's actually not possible. Now what? Devastated, do we foster? Adopt? Locally? Over seas? How will we pay for that? Four failed adoptions after that you find yourselves in the middle of mine and A.J.'s story. :)

If we had not discussed from the very beginning whether or not we'd be willing to adopt, he might have second guessed marrying me when we discovered we couldn't have our own. I was open from the beginning that my "system" was a little tricky, so we had discussed that it might be a possibility. He was open from the very beginning that he really wanted 3 kids. Had I not known that I would have been totally freaked out when he wanted to start trying right away, but I knew his heart and I knew he'd make a great dad. I was terrified, but I knew we'd figure it out together. Eleven years later we're still figuring it out. I've changed my mind a dozen times and he's been the most patient husband anyone could ever hope for; I don't deserve him. For now we have an awesome pup and more than a couple businesses to run so we're content, but it's important to keep the communication open.

The importance of pre-marital counseling

These are just two of the questions we go over when we're sitting in front of a couple and you can see how complicated they alone can be. There are dozens of things to consider. You owe yourselves and your marriage a fighting chance. Pre-marital counseling isn't going to solve all your problems, it doesn't make it divorce-proof, but it definitely shows you the value of communication and what you can accomplish together if you're willing to put in the work and stay humble. 

Many officiants require it as a part of their services, most at least offer it, you should definitely choose it if you get the chance. It's worth every penny. After all, you're spending thousands of dollars on this one day of your marriage, if it falls apart in 2 years those thousands were a total waste. If you're officiant doesn't offer it, talk to me, I'll be happy to make some recommendations.

7 Healthy Choices to Make Before the Big Day

Wedding PhotographyCynthia Viola2 Comments
Smile, breathe and go slowly
— Thich Nhat Hanh

I frequently get asked what can be done to cut off a few pounds, make teeth whiter or reduce darkness under the eyes when it comes to photos for the wedding day. Everyone hopes I have a magic photoshop tool, and the truth is, yes, for the most part I can "fix" all those things in post processing. However, I find people feel better when they know they didn't need to be photoshopped because they looked and felt great right out of camera. 

That said, as someone who is NOT a doctor, but IS fairly health conscious and has years of experience making people feel better about themselves, I have a few go to tips I like to offer my couples and families who are about to grace my lens. 

Drink ALL the Water.  I know, I know. If you're an avid hot beverage drinker like myself or just really enjoy a good fizziness in your cup, water can be a little difficult to stomach. BUT I am telling you, this is THE NUMBER ONE thing you can do to start feeling better and looking the way you want to. So throw some citrus or cucumber in it if you have to and just do it. The amount per day is different for everyone, you can measure the ounces if you like but I just try to drink at least one glass every hour. This one is so important I'm giving it sub points.

  • Water is the fastest way to get rid of dark circles under your eyes. (Without all the smoke and mirrors of make up and photoshop)
  • This much water through the day makes you feel fuller so you don't eat as much. If weight loss is on your agenda for the big day, this will be super helpful. (Anytime I start craving a snack I first drink a FULL glass of water. If I'm still hungry, I'll eat the snack, but most of the time I was just thirsty)
  • Water flushes toxins from your body making your skin clearer and acne-free on your big day. 
  • One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue. Drink more water and you'll be more alert through the day. This is especially important if you plan to drink a lot of alcohol in celebration the week leading up to and during the wedding day. Alcohol dehydrates you almost instantly causing blurriness and headaches etc... water before, during, and after alcohol helps immensely with hangover. 
  • Water flushes out "debris" from your meals throughout the day, making your teeth whiter and reducing bad breath, making you extremely kissable for that first official smooch.

There are apps you can get on your phone to remind you to drink once every hour if you find that helpful, I used Waterlogged until it became a habit and now I don't need it. 

Tips for clear skin

Citrus for Clear Skin. Tons of studies show that Vitamin C is essential for collagen in your body, this makes the skin more "elastic-y" and younger looking. (Skin bounces back when stretched to smile... your body naturally has plenty when your young but it depletes as your get older making the skin not bounce back...causing wrinkles) It's also highly recommended when you're sick and need an immune system boost. So either take a supplement or add an orange or two (not juice) to your breakfast. 

Coconut Oil for Skin, Hair and Teeth. Similarly coconut oil has tons of antioxidants that help heal the skin. It's great for sun burn, dry skin rashes from winter weather and even inflammation from foods that cause it. (Gluten causes my skin to flare, coconut oil calms it down)

I also put it directly on the tips of my hair at night to heal any damage on the ends. (I've been bleaching and dying my hair for 8 years and it is still super healthy) I only do it at night because it does make your hair oily.

Coconut oil is great for your teeth, I find THIS VIDEO on Oil Pulling to be better at explaining it than I can. 

Tips for healthy skin

Yoga. I'll be honest, I used to laugh at yoga. It didn't seem like a "real" exercise and was only for people who "couldn't handle" sports or weight lifting. I was terribly terribly wrong. Not only can yoga be extremely difficult, but it makes you feel amazing after. The intentional breathing calms the heart, the focus on stretching clears the mind, the poses flex and stretch muscles making you stronger and more flexible. It's a great way to get you moving in the morning or unwind at the end of a stressful day. This can be especially helpful in the month leading up to the wedding. 

You knew it would be here... Diet and Exercise. Yep. I'm not about to tell you what is best for you, I'm not your doctor or coach, but if your health allows, you should try different types of exercise to see what fits your schedule, your abilities and your enjoyment. You might enjoy lifting weights in a gym or running, but a lot of people don't. If you don't, then seek out something fun just to be moving. Bike riding, ultimate frisbee, hiking, even choosing to walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator everyday will make a difference. If you want specific coaching on what would be best for your lifestyle, I'd love to refer you to my favorite coaches at Iron Tribe. They'll be happy to whip you into shape before you have to fit into the dress.

As for diet, I personally choose Paleo about 75% of the time but I know that's not for everyone. Just focus on eating whole (real) foods and limiting junk that was made by a machine or processed to the point of no return. Look at the label, if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it. Just get 75% of your foods from the produce and/or refrigerated sections. I'm telling you, you will be astounded by your new energy levels, your clearer skin, your drop in weight and bloating, and how much fuller you feel - decreasing the need to snack. 

Pre-marital Counseling. I cannot stress this one enough. One of the healthiest things you can do for your marriage is seek a pre-marriage counselor who can meet with both of you a couple times to help you work through some pre-existing expectations of what marriage will be. This can be your officiant but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes close friends who have a healthy marriage can be great, just take them out to dinner and ask all the questions. Great things to think through include children (what if you can't have them?), finances (will you have a budget?), holidays (which family will you visit each holiday), gifts (how much money do you spend on each other, family and friends), date nights, pets, religion, you name it, there are so many things to think through and considering them before you ever walk down the aisle will make a huge impact on how you deal with them when they actually arise later.  

Don't Forget Your Smile! At the end of the day the little details of how you look are not that important. Marylin Monroe used to say "A smile is the best make up a girl can wear." I couldn't agree more. Capturing your joy and excitement on this day is the most important thing to me, but if helping you look your best gives you more joy, I'm happy to do so. You are there to celebrate your love and mark the beginning of your most epic adventure yet. Soak it all in, enjoy the process and smile! Let me worry about the rest.

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

Try Not to Get Lost in the Details

Wedding PhotographyCynthia ViolaComment
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do rather than the ones you did
— Mark Twain

I see it over and over again: the build up.

At the wedding rehearsal there's always something that starts the break down. Maybe a favorite out of town guest has phoned in to say they're not going to be able to make it or the flower girl gets a stomach bug. The first note of stress appears in the couple's voices as they try to tell each other it's going to be ok. 

Then at the dinner they get more bad news: the linens have arrived one size too large for their reception tables the next day and they won't be able to change them. Guests will now have to wear a blanket in their lap as they're seated. 

As they're unloading all their bridal party gifts, she remembers she left one of them sitting at home on the table... now they have to decide if they're going to leave someone out tonight or give all the gifts in the morning. They disagree. Their voices raise another degree. 

I arrive the next morning ready to greet the beautiful bride and I see dark circles under her eyes. Oh no. She didn't sleep well because the hotel neighbors threw a party into the wee hours of the morning. She's now stressed from the rehearsal and sleep deprived (not to mention worried those circles are going to show in photos for the rest of her life).

When her mom enters the room to tell her the rain forecast just got pushed to the exact time of the ceremony I see a tear well up in her eye as she looks out the window and tries to hold it together. She's not mad at her mom, it's obviously not her fault, but she fusses at her anyway then immediately regrets it - causing another tear to trickle down her face. 

Just when she thinks she's going to be able to hold it together, her wedding director phones to say the caterer misunderstood their order and brought cheap plastic plates instead of the beautiful crystal she'd paid for. Cue the downpour. 

When you spend countless hours planning the perfect day and have an extraordinary vision; it can be devastating to watch it all unravel.

The last thing you want to be is a bridezilla and you know that nothing in particular is anyone's fault but you're so overwhelmed with details and sick and tired of making decisions all you can do is cry it out - or take it out on someone else. 

I see you. I hear you. 

I am here to remind you that your love is the only thing that matters today. People might have to eat on plastic plates, but they'll be doing so in celebration of you. You might get a little wet, but only because you're dancing in the rain celebrating the grandness of it all.

I promise, no matter how perfectly your details fall into place, no one will remember them outside of photos. What they'll remember is how you looked at each other with that shy smile, how you took time to come hug them and introduce them to your love during the reception, how you got choked up (and so did they) as you stated your vows before God and everyone.

I know your details are important to you and you simply want the day to be perfect, but trust me - just focus on living in the present and loving the people around you and the details will take care of themselves. And don't worry about the memories, I'll take care of those.