Blog : Personal

Leaving Space for Magic

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I spent last week swinging in my hammock chair ruminating on the year that ended and dreaming all the things for the one that just began.

It was the first time in over four years that I’ve had an open space in my schedule for just thinking, hoping, and dreaming – no shoots, no weddings, no work really at all.

It was completely and utterly magical. Maybe simply because it involved a hammock chair. 

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A Scandinavian Palm Springs Home Office

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A year changes everything.

Around this time last year, we were dreaming of a new space to call ours. It wasn’t to be.

I love re-reading that post because I remember the heartbreak of it all and feeling like everything I was looking for was an impossibility. That we’d have to give up one thing (being close to family) to have another (a dreamy + bright modern house). I don’t know how to emphasize how much of my energy went into the wanting of just the right house, but I can say this: I have only two loves in my life, weddings and home design, and one is already checked off the list and it’s the one that you don’t really do-over.

The universe is a funny place friends. One month after writing that blog post, we found our own little modern house (albeit more 80s modern than mid century modern, but I’ll take what I can get), with everything we were looking for (so. much. natural. light), right in our own backyard. Literally, our backyard. We can spy on our sweet little condo from our new bedroom window.

It took three months of breath-holding before we finally made everything official, but we moved right at the end of October. In the middle of the busiest time of the year. It was insane. I’m still recovering by sleeping ten hours a night, to make up for all of it that I missed at the end of last year.

And now, we are finally, finally, starting to make it ours. No one tells you that moving takes a year, not a day.


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One of the top boxes on our house checklist was space for not one, but two, offices. After spending three years living and working together in 800 square feet, Ben and I were desperate to have separate offices. You know, so I wouldn’t have to sit in on every one of his work video chats and conference calls (I am now almost fluent in programmer), and so he could have the quiet work time he so desperately craved between calls and my near-constant stream of conversation.

But it has also been a dream of mine to have a space to spread out projects + do photo shoots, to meet with new people, and invite friends over to co-work. I love Starbucks and hotel lobby meetings, but sometimes you just need a place where you know you can always pull up a cozy chair, have reliable wifi, and spin Taylor Swift albums softly on a record player in the background.


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So here’s a little sneak peek of all of the fun plans we have for my self-described Scandinavian Palm Springs home office – a little bit minimalist, a lot of color, and definitely bright + modern. Although I love home design and can spend hours scouring pinterest for drool-worthy spaces, I know when I’m in over my head and when to call the professionals. My wonderful friend Caitlin Timson, who works with Homepolish, created these beautiful designs and she absolutely designed a space that meets right in the middle of form and function.

There are three “spaces” within this giant room – a cozy meeting/working nook on the far left, a working table in the middle, and empty space for shooting in natural light on the far right.


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I have a bit of a DIY streak in my DNA, so in addition to painting the walls, there are a few other projects up my sleeves for this space! While I’m not one for coming up with great project ideas, I’m pretty crafty when it comes to customizing someone else’s DIY tutorial, and I can gladly point you in the direction of their amazing instructions.

This is the office as it was shortly after we moved in, full of boxes and office supplies and I have no idea how we fit all of that in our tiny little apartment…


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Future home of the meeting/office nook, full of nice pink light reflecting off the red siding of our next door neighbor’s house. In the photo above, you may notice that there isn’t a closable door to this room, and as much as I love our furry children and their desire to be in all photos, I will need a way to keep them out occasionally. I found an awesome tutorial for a DIY sliding door that I can’t wait to try here.

The right wall in the photo below has been a point of serious discussion and debate over when I will be allowed to install a window to add more light into the one room that is slightly lacking on the natural variety (and obviously the room that needs it most). Spoiler alert: adding a window into a poured concrete wall is definitely outside of the realm of DIY and in the realm of I should probably get a professional and an excavator for that, neither of which I currently have, so it’s going to have to wait.


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Future home of the working table, where the fireplace is quaint, but currently the most simple/boring fireplace on the planet (don’t worry, I have plans for that too, and it will put my new-found tiling skills to good use!)


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Future home of the photo shoot area, where the natural light is lovely. There are currently no planned architectural changes to this space other than wall color and junk removal.


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So there’s your first peek into our house, and I can’t wait to show you what it looks like when it’s all done! We’ve also simultaneously been  s  l  o  w  l  y  working on our master bathroom, which was a nice little surprise renovation that we didn’t exactly plan on, and I’ve been sharing some sporadic behind the scenes snaps of that over on Snapchat if you want to follow along (I’m @annareynal on pretty much everything).

Please feel free to ask anything about plans or designs or sources and I’ll try to either answer in the comments or touch on it when it’s time to share the big reveal!


Modern Houses in Palm Springs

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Back in February, we almost bought a house.

It was a charming retro split-level fixer-upper, with so much potential. But it wasn’t to be.

And then, a week later, I went to Palm Springs and spent a morning biking around some of the neighborhoods, where every house was my dream house. Modern houses in Palm Springs are abundant.

In Annapolis, not so much.

For years, we’ve talked about whether we want to stay where we are, close to family, or start a new adventure somewhere else. Because sometimes, we feel like this place isn’t our perfect fit – not that we don’t love it, but that the things we desire require more work to find or create in the place that we currently live.

And while it takes more energy to make our own way, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

It just means that being different and finding the easiest path don’t usually (or hardly ever) go hand-in-hand. But we hold on to our value that being true to ourselves and our desires is always worth it in the end, even if the wait seems to take forever in the meantime. Whether we make a way to have our perfect home here, or happen to find it already exists in another place, there’s a part of me that loves to dream of the possibilities. So for now, I relish the anticipation of finding the perfect way to celebrate the things that make us unique.

And until then…I’ll just come right back here to look and dream and remind myself of exactly what it is I’m waiting for.



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28 Before 29

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At some point in my early 20’s, I probably imagined I’d have it all figured out by the time I reached the end of them.

And as it gets down to the wire on crossing into another decade, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. But I’m also pretty sure I don’t want it to.

I love this age of freedom, of figuring out adulthood, life, love, making and fixing mistakes, of learning about myself. And I want to keep learning…about everything…for so many years to come.

But if there’s one thing I learned over the past year, it’s that I want to live a life of radical giving. Of saying yes…to giving of myself, of my resources, of my talents, of my joy, beyond what I think I am capable of. I hold on to things, to feelings, to safety, out of fear. Fear of losing, fear of failing, fear of being seen and being vulnerable. I want to see what it feels like to pour it all out into the world with no strings attached…and find out what is left, and what comes back.

This year’s list of things to do is about creating joy, both for myself and for others…because I can only give away what I have to give in the first place. And it starts with giving myself room to create, to breathe, to imagine…so that I can give gifts of love and hope and happiness to others.


28 Things to Do Before Turning 29


  1. Paint a piece of art. And hang it up. And paint another, and give it to a friend.
  2. Pick a cause and volunteer.
  3. Bring two personal projects to life – one has to do with home, and the other has to do with body image + holi powder.
  4. Get back to Europe.
  5. See Taylor Swift in concert. Share a ticket with a friend.
  6. Use up two packs of Instax film.
  7. Take a trip to the Pacific Northwest.
  8. Go on a weekend hike and camp for one night.
  9. Make a hair donation to Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love. 12.5 inches donated to Beautiful Lengths!
  10. Plan a trip for/with friends.
  11. Take one bike ride per week during spring, summer, and fall.
  12. Do yoga once a week.
  13. Book a destination wedding.
  14. Read 14 books.
  15. Give a dollar and a smile to a stranger. To a lady in a wheelchair outside the post office.
  16. Buy a modern house.
  17. Get pots and make new succulent gardens. So many pots and so many succulents!
  18. Restore an Eames lounge chair.
  19. Paint (at least) one wall in our house.
  20. Renovate the bathroom.
  21. Try to get rid of 100 things.
  22. Donate to a friend’s project.
  23. Take on a commercial or editorial project.
  24. Take 10 days (not necessarily consecutive) away from phones/computers/social media.
  25. Spend an evening looking at the stars. Share it with Ben.
  26. Make a book of personal photos from a trip. Make a copy for a grandparent.
  27. Send a postcard to an out of state friend once a month.
  28. Start each day with gratitude (with help from the Five Minute Journal).


Want to see last year’s list of 27 before 28? 11 of 27 completed!


Photo Field Trip // Workshop and Travel Diary

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There’s a Field Trip tradition (that I was lame and did not participate in), of doing a polar bear plunge into the cold Pacific waters every morning at the start of the day, that seems like a good metaphor for what Field Trip is all about.

Having the courage to jump in.

In a nutshell, Photo Field Trip is camping and photography, a workshop in the woods/canyon/desert that feels like summer camp…exploring and adventuring, encouragement and learning. There are classes and campfire chats and photo walks and dance parties and so many ways to create your own experience and find or refine your inspiration.

I don’t know that I walked into Field Trip with a ton of expectations. I was excited, but unsure of what I was hoping to find. There were a few people I wanted to meet (and am so grateful that I did!), and I hoped to walk away inspired with new things to try during weddings and portrait sessions.

I didn’t expect to walk away with a greater sense of where I wanted to go/grow and who I am as a creator and artist, but somehow, in the midst of classes and walks and watching sunsets and napping in tents, I found something I’ve been searching two years for. I discovered my desires, my loves, my heart. And it has a lot to do with color and joy and warmth and hugs and stories.

There’s so much talk in the photography and creative world of discovering your “why,” of following that above all else to find your way. And while maybe I couldn’t put it into words when I left Field Trip, my heart was touched shortly after returning by this instagram post and the caption beneath:


Our “why” is not hard to find. In fact, it is the same for all of us:
To serve others in the present moment.


Although our “why” may all be the same, we are each unique in the knowledge and skills and talents and gifts that we have in our serving toolbox. And this was one of the most amazing things about Field Trip: although I was there to learn how some incredible and amazing human beings serve others with their talents and gifts, they taught me how to find it, and embrace it, within myself.

Now it’s up to me to find the courage to jump in and follow my bliss. And I have never wanted to do anything more.


(I didn’t take a lot of photos during Field Trip – not that there weren’t opportunities to do so. You can see some additional photos over on instagram. But sometimes living life is like trying to photograph a sunset…no matter how beautiful it is, it never looks the same in all it’s vibrancy and gorgeous hue in a photograph as it does in real life. Sometimes, it’s better to sit back and enjoy the view and take it all in instead of trying to capture it, because there will be another one tomorrow…just like there will be so many more times to take beautiful and amazing photos, but this was a time to just experience it all. I did, however, borrow a tilt shift from B&H, who were so kind to provide us with an opportunity to try new things during our time there, and had fun playing near the ocean at sunset making the photos that accompany this post.)


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I am so grateful to the team at Field Trip and the partners and sponsors for making it possible for all of us to come out and camp and find ways to follow our bliss. It was truly life-changing.

Cheerful Life // Banishing Burnout

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My husband will tell you that I have only two operating modes. They are all and nothing.

For the past month, I have been in “all” mode, planning and constructing and imagining and making everything for a super amazing styled wedding inspiration photo shoot (there is a sneak peek above and some behind the scenes action below…and I cannot wait to share more of it all soon!)…and loved every second of it. Making pretty things is so. much. freaking. fun. I got to get to know and hang out with some pretty amazing new creative people too…collaborating is one of the best parts of working in the creative community!

I couldn’t do my job without having an “all” mode. It allows me to focus completely on wedding days and jump head first into gigantic projects. Being consumed by ideas and possibilities or wrapped up in the moment helps me produce my best work…and feel like I accomplished something at the end of the day.

It’s exhilarating.

But then it ends once the project is over, the moments of frenzied activity, passed. And I’m left with nothing. No energy, no ideas, no motivation.  I know I lack balance. This does not feel so good. Maybe you’ve been here too…when you wonder whether you’ll ever have the drive to do anything resembling work ever again.

I’m starting to figure out the pattern. When this feeling comes on, it usually means I have burned myself out. It is time to take a step back for a day or two and give my Self the care and attention I have denied it for weeks, sometimes months, on end. If I don’t listen and keep trying to plow through, it takes so much longer to bounce back. Kind of like having a cold gets better so much faster if you just take two days to sleep it off (I’ve learned this the hard way too).

So here’s what I do when I need to rejuvenate my creativity and work my way back to wanting to create:

* Ignore social media. All of it.
* Read a book. Anything but a business book. (This time I read this one, and loved it.)
* Go for walks.
* Plant succulents.
* Listen to podcasts. (I find these always encourage me.)
* Take a yoga class.
* Plan a trip – to take later.
* Go on a field trip. I love museums.
* Make dates with friends.
* Go shopping. Especially grocery shopping.
* Bake cookies. (Like a batch of these.)

There’s always some voice inside that tells me what I want to do. I just have to listen to it. And once my Self feels acknowledged and nourished, jumping right back into planning and dreaming and doing non-stop feels exciting again, and perfectly right.


Pinata Inspiration Collage


Are you an all-or-nothing person, or do you work daily to maintain balance? What do you do when you’re feeling mentally worn? Any tips to share? Leave them in the comments!




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This past weekend we finally got to visit our niece. And I fell in love.

We took care of her for two days while we were there, taking walks, babbling nonsense, and singing silly songs in between a schedule full of naps and feedings. Who knew you could get nothing done but do so much in day?

It’s hard with an infant to make time to remember the small things. Everything changes so fast, you marvel at the new skills they acquire every day and the ways you fall more in love with them each passing second, but it all passes in a blur of trying to regain balance (or sleep) and make sense of a new reality. It’s a beautiful time, but one that passes so very quickly.

I’m learning that the value of the past is in the future, and we don’t fully appreciate the past until it is gone. It’s the little things that seem insignificant and mundane that are the building blocks of our life, the way it is now. And those little things are the ones that will make us feel the most when we look back at how things once were and bring the most joy in someday remembering.

Like how it felt when she fell asleep in your arms, or the struggle of convincing her to take a whole bottle. Earning one of her first smiles and the peacefulness of holding her to your chest.

Those are the sweet moments to savor and remember.


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The Secret to Beautiful Portraits


It started a year ago, when I bought myself balloons for my birthday and did a photo shoot with them. It was really fun. The balloons brought me a lot of joy because they were something I would never usually do for myself. It turned out I also really liked the photos. So I figured I could do it again this year…but with something other than balloons.

I also really like cupcakes. So I used that for this year’s inspiration.

I visualized what I wanted the photos with cupcakes to look like. Set up the cupcake with candles and a shiny gold backdrop. Made the photo that was living in my head (yes, my brain is filled with photos. I’m pretty sure I think in photos these days, kind of like a new language). That part was a success, but didn’t leave me feeling especially excited. In fact, I was starting to feel nervous and uneasy because my next idea would be much harder to execute.

Then I tried to turn the camera on myself, with the cupcake. The results…got deleted before they ever made it out of the camera and on to a hard drive.

I changed outfits. I changed lenses. I changed the angle I was facing to try to find better light. I changed everything I could think of to try to make this photoshoot work. Nothing did.

Maybe I’m the only one, but when I see bad photos of myself, I get depressed. I allow it to consume me, define me, become all that I can think about until I can prove to myself (with a thousand other really good photos) that it is possible that I am not fat/ugly/unloveable or whatever other negative things I swear I saw in that terrible photo. And then I feel guilty for being so vain.

It took some self-reflection not to give up on this photo, because, although seeing the bad photos on the back of my camera was disheartening, I didn’t want to let myself believe that the bad photos would be the only possible outcome…and a very small part of me wanted to keep going because at this point I had put in a lot of effort (effort = showering, and doing hair and makeup, and giving more than five seconds of thought to my outfit, plus setting everything up) to make it happen. Finally I gave up on using my “real” camera and just got out my iPhone.

That was the right change. I could feel myself relaxing and having fun with the photoshoot again. It worked. I got one photo, the first one I took, and moved on to other things.

I’ve read probably every single one of the articles and blog posts about why we hate photos of ourselves and why nobody else thinks you look as bad as you think you do. But none of that matters or helps me rationalize a bad photo of myself when I see one. Maybe because I am a photographer, I have this crazy idea that the camera is incapable of lying. If I see an ugly photo, I have to believe it because I saw it. The only thing that helps is seeing a (whole lot) of good photos that tell me otherwise. Most of which were taken in high school.

And then I started thinking about why my favorite photos are from high school.

Those were the days before Facebook, before Instagram, before social media. We took pictures of ourselves without really worrying about who else was going to see them, judge them, because most likely they’d end up living only on our bedroom wall or maybe in a photo album on a bookshelf that we’d take out to reminisce about the good times. They were taken with disposable cameras and rudimentary digital point-and-shoots, and yet they are still some of my favorite photos. Those were the days when I loved having my picture taken…and I was happy and looked happy in almost every photo.

I think that matters…happiness matters. I can actually see how much fun we were having in those photos. In fact, none of the photos that I like of myself were taken when I wasn’t having a good time. My favorite photos from our wedding are the ones where I can see that the nerves had fallen away and we were enjoying the moment, laughing with each other. In those sweet seconds, I wasn’t worried about the size of my nose or what my hair looked like. I wasn’t contorting my face into a pretend emotion, fake-giggling, or pretending to be a model. I was comfortable, confident, and content.

I still think the camera doesn’t lie. But I think it does pick up our emotions, the ones hiding behind our smiles, and it does pick up our insecurities. Especially when we’re thinking about them or worrying about how we look when we see a camera.

The secret to making photos that you absolutely love isn’t about making yourself look perfect. Perfection means nothing if it keeps you from being yourself. It is far better to make photos in places and with people that will bring you joy and make you feel excited, beautiful, confident, completely carefree, and at ease. Those are the feelings that will shine through.

The best portraits, the ones where you look the most like the person you want to be, are made when you feel like that person…having a good time, surrounded by people or places who bring out the best in you…perfectly happy.


Secret to Beautiful portraits


I’m a photographer who hates photos of herself. But I’m using the bad photos to accept who I am, find joy in the good ones and bring cheerfulness into everything I create.



Tomorrow, I’m photographing a wedding. And also turning 27.

For the first time in my life, I’m not stressing about getting a year older. Maybe it’s because I’ve mentally been 27 since sometime last year, when I told an insurance adjuster that I was 27 and she tried to convince me that I was actually 26 and I wouldn’t believe her (until I realized she was right and then felt kinda silly). Or maybe it’s because I don’t feel closer to 30 than 20 yet and I can’t get Taylor Swift’s 22 out of my head, which I think just proves that when you’re in your twenties, the only age you really ever feel is in-your-twenties; the actual number doesn’t matter.

Because the years from 22 to 27 are all about finding your way. I’m pretty sure I still have a whole lot of lessons to learn…and life still feels like an adventure. I sorta hope that doesn’t end when I turn 28.


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And because I had so much fun with last year’s list (12 of 26 completed!), I can’t help but make a new one for this year!

27 Things to do before turning 28


1. Visit at least one foreign country. Mexico!

2. Find a dentist. For real this time.

3. Go to three museums (aquariums count). National Gallery of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, and the Country Music Hall of Fame (when in Nashville…)

4. Invest in some real clothes – ones that will make me want to wear something other than yoga pants every day.

5. Paint a piece of art.

6. Sew something fun. Tulle skirt…as a gift, but it counts!

7. Do yoga once a week. So I made an effort on this one, and I probably only missed about 10 weeks, which is way better than I expected!

8. Go for a weekend hike.

9. Try stand-up paddle boarding.

10. Go to at least one concert.

11. Find one new musician to listen to on repeat.

12. Read 12 books (upping the ante this year).

13. Send one postcard a month to a friend in another state.

14. Go skiing.

15. Sing in front of an audience. And I even had an opportunity to do this too, but chickened out.

16. Shoot 3 rolls of film and get them developed. Two of three came back blank…heartbreaking!

17. Buy a polaroid. Technically, I didn’t buy it, and it’s not officially a Polaroid, but I got a Fuji Instax for Christmas that fulfills this wish!

18. Make girls weekend happen.

19. Take a flower arranging class.

20. Try a recipe with tofu.

21. Go on a picnic.

22. Location scouting once a week.

23. Visit my sister.

24. Practice gratitude.

25. Pick a cause and volunteer.

26. Pay off a college loan. Even better…paid them all off!! This was a huge accomplishment this year!

27. Create for the joy of creating and do a substantial personal project. Finally found the ideas…now to pursue them in the year ahead!


Enjoy the weekend…and have a cupcake!