Laura J McDonald photography | Blog

Senior Season

November 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Contrary to the popular real estate adage, location ISN'T everything - at least not when it comes to portraiture. Lovely lighting and leading lines are key, but my goal with every portrait session is to highlight my subject's personality, be it spunky or subdued (or a combination of both). The person makes the portrait, not the place. That being said, clients frequently ask about where I prefer to shoot, and what those locations look like. So here is a sampling of a few recent sessions/favorite places, all in one blog post, for future client's easy perusal. 'Tis the season for streamlining! Enjoy.

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An Advent "Aha"

December 05, 2016  •  2 Comments

I've attended many a parish mission in my countless years as a "mature" Catholic - always in search of that extra inspiration leading into the Lenten or Advent season. I may have even taken notes on occasion, and seriously wish I had for this one impactful evening (so I could give the presenter his due). I don't remember if he was priest or author - whether or not he sang, or simply spoke. But his words were most definitely music to my ears and the message pierced my heart so deeply that I've recalled it (and tried to expound upon and practice it) every year since.

The message was this: live your Advent with expectant faith.

That word. "Expectant." It cauterized a seeping wound within me, leaving a memorably perfect scar. Most people associate expecting with the healthy glow of impending motherhood, and as someone who's never experienced the joy of pregnancy, that word initially kinda stung. Infertility branded me with a "scarlet I" across my heart - an internal message of unworthiness, a "you don't belong" to this blessed group of women who've pushed life into the world. But the message here was one of total inclusion - that we are all called to solidarity with Mary, especially during this holy season.

Expectant faith is being "pregnant with joy" as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas. I don't know about you, but I have spent many a December swollen with pride, burdened with stress, and laboring over gift lists and tangled tree lights - everything BUT joy filled.

Mary's yes to God resulted in her expecting the Savior of the world. She obeyed God's call and Christ literally grew within her. It is no different for us. Every time we serve others and sacrificially give, even in the smallest of ways, His light within us becomes a touch brighter. We grow Christ within when we say "thy will be done" to God. When we choose patience over pettiness, surrender over strife, and goodness over greed, we partner with Mary in bearing Christ's light to the world. 

Expectant faith requires preparation. My "What to Expect When You're Expecting" alternative is an Advent devotional - the spiritual equivalent of advice on healthy diet, stages of development, and encouragement to rest.

I've chosen different authors throughout the years, and am currently enjoying Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G.K Chesterton. The best (and most challenging) insight thus far refers to praise: "Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul." Yikes. Permanent equals perpetual - as in unending. As in always praising. Even through the trials and tangled tree lights. Even when what we hope for does not come to pass.

Expectant faith frequently includes unmet expectations. Life is often discouraging, sometimes downright depressing. Accidents happen. People get sick. Many have perfectly understandable reasons to dread the holidays.

I'd place a pretty heavy wager on Mary NOT expecting to give birth on the ground among the stench of cow dung and damp sheep's wool. Based on the annunciation alone (Luke 1:32 "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." 34) my expectation would have included heavenly lighting, an actual mattress, at-the-ready royal baby garments, and at least one doctor. But Mary was highly favored for a reason. Praise was most definitely her soul's permanent pulsation - inspiring me to pray for stronger faith amidst any and all expectations (including the unmet ones), and for a heart of endless praise, no matter the dung or disappointments. 

Expectant faith is my Advent anthem. May it be an "aha" for you as well. And may we all be obedient servants to the joyful news of the coming King.


Ode to Santorini

September 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Photographer's playground, shopper's Mecca, foodie's paradise, artist's muse - all equally describe one unique little island that sits about 125 miles off the mainland of Greece.

Santorini. Even the name is beautiful.

Visiting had been a bucket list dream of mine for years (yes, ever since "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Cliché. I know.) But it took my sister's tears to finally pave the way. "The only place I've ever cried when time to leave," was how she described it to me. "I'm going back, and you're coming with me!" Gladly.

Oia (pronounced EEYA - the smaller village we stayed in at one end of the 35-square-mile island) is a land of blue domes and white walls. Tiny trinket shops, elaborately gilded churches, luxury resort accommodations and simple "cave" homes all share the volcanic rock hillside, intricately and intimately connected via roughly cobbled sidewalks with switchback staircases. It is the most interesting maze I've ever wandered. Between the distinct architecture, the dreamy alleyways, the extraordinary light/pattern/texture, and the occasional Greek supermodel, there were countless subjects to photograph. And even more photographers. This is the first place I've ever vacationed where pricey DSLRs outnumbered selfie sticks, and various "quintessential views" caused literal foot-traffic jams. It does not pay to rush here. Santorini demands to be patiently explored and savored. 

Bougainvillea randomly speckles its bright pink blossoms among the characteristic blues and whites and gorgeous neutrals of the village. I found myself mesmerized much of the time (almost punch drunk with photo ops), stopping and staring, shooting and reshooting, hoping against hope that the camera might do the place justice (it rarely does). The crisp white and creamy beige spaces were my favorite. Honestly, even the decay was picturesque.

But enough about my obsession. Rest assured, there's plenty to do if photography's not your jam. There are shops galore, most open well past midnight, all curated by genuinely endearing locals who are eager to find out where you're from. Many had heard of Atlanta, Georgia, fewer Grand Rapids, Michigan (ya know, the mitten state? hand held high-five-like in demonstration - blank stare). Treasures run the gamut from authentically Greek handmade jewelry, art, and clothing to imported Hugo Boss and Jimmy Choo. There's definitely a "Buckhead" stretch of the main shopping strip, but plenty of tchotchkes, sunhats, and souvenir Ts for sale as well. 

If adventure is your thing, you can make the steep (300 stair) descent to Amoudi Bay, grab a bite to eat at one of the waterside restaurants, then take a short hike to cliff jump into the refreshingly sapphire water. Bonus adventure (and quad saver): donkey ride back up to Oia.

Perhaps you'd rather simply relax seaside. The beaches we visited were all backdropped by breathtaking rock formations (perfect shadow casters for us lily-whites who prefer to remain in the shade). The Aegean Sea is beautifully clear and delightfully refreshing in September, with the sand varying in color from black to red to gold (depending on the color of the rock surrounding the beach, obviously). Shoes are most definitely recommended. Black sand is wicked HOT, and some of the "sand" is more akin to river rock.

Of course, there's plenty to eat and drink in Oia as well - cappuccino and warm chocolate croissants were an almost-daily breakfast treat, with lunch and dinner cliffside (or water's edge) as the norm. We even visited a local winery for a traditional tasting. The stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki were heavenly! I highly recommend the feta appetizer at any restaurant - all uniquely prepared and incredibly delish wherever/whenever we ordered.

Oh, and the sunsets. Oia is famous for them, especially viewed from the castle atop the island, covered like ants on a mound by nightly cruise ship tourists. We opted for other (quieter) venues, each more breathtaking than the last, none as crowded as the castle. Our favorite spot was Katharos Lounge, mainly for the amazing apps and quirkily adorable waiter Georgios (whom we secretly renamed Gorgeous). Shoulda gotten a photo with that dreamy dude. 

One of my favorite evenings had to be the dinner at Armeni restaurant. Definitely a trek from where we were encamped, but well worth it. The walk down to Armeni Port mimicked that of Amoudi, but included longer straightaways and had you hugging the cliffside during descent. There was an "are we there yet" element to the journey, and an ominous "how are we going to get back UP this thing after dinner?" happening simultaneously. Watching the sunset cruise boats sail by over dinner provided a blissfully serene compliment to the delicious sea bass and calamari. But the highlight had to be the post-meal discovery of the water taxi hailed to take us round the corner back to Amoudi Bay (where the trek back up was significantly shorter, although still a haul). As we clambered into the boat in the pitch black night, leftover packets in tow, we gasped and giggled and star-gazed all the way "home." Seriously surreal.

If this were a book (wait . . . it isn't?), now would be the time for acknowledgments. HUGE thanks to my sister Karen (for those tears) and her hubby Mark for the invite, the research, the tour guiding, the deep questions and the LOVE. Ya'll are treasure and blessing to me. Thanks to sweet soul Marygrace, for joining us and gracing us with your genuinely artful spirit and your brave vulnerability (not to mention your dancer's feet and dreamy poses). You inspire me always. BIGGEST thanks to my husband Kevin for jumping right in when this opportunity came along and persevering when the timing started looking a little shaky. You are my knight in shining armor. What a joy and blessing to have fun with you. 

If you've made it this far into the post, I would dare to say Santorini might be calling your name. Book it. Make it happen somehow. Check it off that bucket list and go see for yourself how unique and magical this place really is. I will be returning (someday), with plans of checking out a few of the surrounding islands as well. Crete, I'm coming for you.

So long for now, Santorini. Thanks for the beauty, the warm hospitality, and the treasure trove of photos (my favorite souvenir).

Brown-Eyed Beauty

August 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Props to this naturally beautiful brown-eyed "flower girl." She braved the brutal Atlanta heat and some vicious mosquitos to get this session in. I couldn't be more grateful for her sweet spirit or impressed by her flawless beauty. I somehow managed to delete my original comments (when I went back in to add "tags"), but at least all the photos stayed in place! I am so very proud of you, Kendall, and excited to see what this year (and next!) holds in store. I am confident God has big plans for you. Thanks for being one of my Johns Creek "Senior Reps."

About a Boy (or a man, as it were)

August 04, 2016  •  4 Comments

What in the world? How do they go from boys to men in a heartbeat? It really wasn't that long ago that I had to convince him to let me take "milestone" birthday photos for his 16th (which now, in my opinion, make him look soooooo young - see "About a Boy" blogpost from 2014). And now here we are on the first day of his senior year! Sheeesh. I love this young man's heart for adventure and can't wait to see what this year holds for him. No doubt it will be eventful.

All you moms out there wanting to freeze time for your senior, send me a note via my contact page. Don't wait until the last minute! You'll need plenty of choices for the senior ads, graduation announcements and party invites that will be here before you realize. Happy back to school everyone!!!

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