Washington DC: Finding Independence

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I’ve been trying to schedule this weekend trip to DC for over 6 months now, but somehow it never seemed to work out until this past weekend. It seems because this weekend was the perfect time for me to go.

This year has been incredibly difficult in a lot of ways, but primarily because I’ve spent the majority of it mindfully working on letting go of a painful past and moving forward into a brighter, happier and more independent (also read: self loving) future. This trip came at the exact right time to give me a bigger taste of said independence.

Now, perhaps driving 7.5 hours somewhere by yourself doesn’t sound like an exciting adventure. And, truth be told, there wasn’t much exciting about that part - or any of the 20 something hours I spent driving this weekend between the road trip, the tours and the photoshoots. But that was exactly the point. To be able to get in my little car and drive off to another state where I know only a handful of people, to schedule networking meetings and photoshoots with strangers, to photograph for another business (i.e. to profit while traveling) and to do all of this on my own. This is what the new me looks like. I’ve been reaching for this person for a very long time (my social media presence often projected this “dream person”) and after enjoying every second of my solo journey this weekend, I think I’ve finally found her.

So, self-reflection aside, here’s what I did in DC this weekend:

Shot Film

My original plan for Saturday had been to go straight from Asheville to Alexandria to photograph for Maya, a woman I met through my often-cited Girls Love Travel Facebook group. As my ETA was 4:30, the sun set at 5 and it was freezing and windy, we decided at the last minute to push it to the next day. Because I was already en route to Old Town, I opted to keep my original plan of photographing there and just swapped my digital for my film camera. In the 45 minutes of light I had, I shot a roll of film focusing on the beautiful historic architecture of the town, also using this practice as an excuse to location scout for the next day. A gorgeous, golden evening spent wandering around a photographers’ paradise, filming my photo process for an up-and-coming project and listening to a friend’s playlist was the perfect way to kick off my time in Virginia.

Photographed for Grace Covenant

The next morning, I awoke early(ish) for what was slated to be a long but productive day. First on my list was photographing for Grace Covenant Church, this photoshoot being the primary reason for my travel. This was certainly a good reaffirmation that connections are everything: I’d met Churchill (Grace Covenant’s social media manager) while photographing my cousin’s wedding in Leesburg in January and apparently made a good enough impression that she hired me to update their branding photos! It did feel strange at first photographing a church service, a bit irreverent. But, everyone was incredibly nice and made me feel right at home.

Maya’s Portrait Session

Immediately after church I jumped in the car again and drove back to Old Town in Alexandria. Only two days before had I posted in GLT that I’d be in the area and would love to meet up with a few willing models for location scouting. The immediate use of these photos is to bolster my portfolio in each new city and make connections to further my business. But the lasting effect - the real reason I keep doing these free photoshoots - is an amazing sense of comradery with ladies from different backgrounds, locations, jobs and ages, all connecting over our desire to see the world and enjoy life to the fullest.

Maya was exemplary in that regard. I won’t much get into detail as I want to dedicate an entire post to our shoot, but suffice it to say that our hour ran out far too quickly. This was her first ever professional photoshoot and she worried beforehand that she would be feel too awkward to make any good photos. But as she grinned through our whole session, I’d say she was a natural.

Toured Great Marsh Estate

Last up for the day, I drove 1.5 hours in the other direction to tour Great Marsh Estate, a new venue in Bealton. When researching for my trip and trying to decide which venues to tour in my short amount of time, I chose architecture as my main focus. In my wedding work (really, in all of my work) I like to use the lines and patterns of the local architecture to frame my happy couples, so I was looking for venues with great lines and lots of natural light, a bonus if they were also in the Georgian style (in keeping with the geographical trend.) Great Marsh easily checked all the boxes, especially as I toured right at sunset so that the landscape seemed to show off for me. The portrait possibilities here really are endless and I’m already scheming to photograph here as soon as possible.

After I drove back to the house (my aunt and uncle graciously lent me their home for the weekend even though they were out of town visiting my family - weird timing!) I decided to go for a quick run. I’ve been very slowly easing into running again, doing only 7-8 miles a week for a couple months now. But once I got going crisp evening, breathing in the clean, cool air, with nothing else on the agenda for the day, I didn’t want to stop. This season has been all about finding joy in the little things to bring myself back to loving and enjoying my work, my art, my passions (like running.) And it seems that getting out of my routine and running just for the thrill of it really did the trick.

Toured Airlie

Sunday night after my run, I sat in the hot tub unwinding from the day, listening to my favorite contemporary violinist and looking up at the stars. I’ve only seen a shooting star at one other time in my life, but I saw one that night as well, a sure sign to me that I was on the right track.

The next morning, I hit the ground running, this time starting the day off with another venue tour. What immediately drew me to Airlie from their website was the butterfly garden, and the blue metal door leading into it. But I quickly fell in love with the so-called “Spanish steps” and the numerous treelined drives, too. The property is actually so large that we had to take a car tour around it, all the while I planned out the magic I could capture at each spot.

Shot more film

After the tour, I finally headed into the city for real. My cousin works in Georgetown, so we’d planned to meet up for lunch with his wife. To kill the couple hours I had before lunch, I explored - camera in hand as always - the cute area. I’m such a sucker for brick architecture, so I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet time to myself, focusing primarily on creating location scouting images rather than street portraits. Though I love creating portraits, one of my favorite 35mm photos I’ve made of late is of a combination of architecture and nature - the prism photo of the townhome blended into the leaf-bare tree. I haven’t photographed with my prism in a while but love the unpredictability of its creations, so I’d been walking around with it in my back pocket for an hour until I looked up and saw that tree against against a plain, gray sky. Whipping out the prism, I twisted it several times until the scene felt right and I clicked the shutter. It wasn’t a profound moment, I didn’t think twice about the photo and just moved on to the next one. But somehow the reflection fit just right, blending the two images together perfectly. And that, right there, is why I always shoot film wherever I go.

Zara’s portrait session

My last appointment of the trip, a photoshoot at the Jefferson Memorial, was not in the most pleasant of weather. In fact, the conditions were pretty nasty. Zara and I both remarked immediately upon meeting each other than our friends thought we were crazy for shooting in sub 40 weather while it rained, but we both just laughed. We agreed that this was a pretty GLT thing to do, to push through the madness to create something memorable. And that’s exactly what we did! As with Maya, I’ll save most of the details for Zara’s own blog post, but the highlight had to be trying out a new flash technique to both freeze and create movement. As Zara was a former dancer and gymnast, she was the perfect person to work with on this practice. Zero complains, several frozen extremities and two rain-soaked adventurers later, we walked back to our cars together talking about future travel plans (basically, what cuisine we were interested in next), now friends.

This trip was so good for my soul. It allowed me to be unabashedly creative, to meet other likeminded ladies, to spend time with family, to simultaneously relax and explore, and most of all to recognize how much I enjoy my own company. I leave for Portland next week and I’m already excited for what this next adventure will bring.