Ali Anderson

Launching Ali Anderson to SOAR!

ALI!!!  Her name makes me smile and want to shout because this crazy girl has a laugh and sense of humor that is contagious and makes your day–every time!

I know that many of you miss “Thursdays with Ali” on the SOAR! blog.  Her writing had us in tears and laughter every week.  Can you believe she didn’t see herself as a writer before SOAR!?  I remember asking her over lunch if she thought her writing would continue to go forward…I tossed out the idea of her maybe writing a novel about a woman and her comical, authentic journey in developing her photography passion.  I know I am one of many who would get in line to read that book!  I guess time will tell with Ali; she is FULL of surprises!

In fact, when Ali submitted her video to apply for SOAR!, I was like “Brian, is that the same Ali that was in the DC CONFIDENCE Workshop?…She was so QUIET all weekend!  Nahh, that can’t be the same gal.”

This was Ali’s video application;

Her video application touched all our hearts.  I told our panel of judges that this video was strong evidence of how hard Ali would work, and how “above and beyond the call” she would probably go.  In the end, the SOAR! Scholarship Program would richly benefit her because you get out of this program as much as you put in to it.  Ali was clearly going to put everything into it.

Below are a few thoughts Ali wanted to share with you…

Since writing my final post on Me Ra Koh’s SOAR! blog, I’ve often been asked, “What are you going to do now that SOAR! is over?”  In my head I respond with an enthusiastic, “I’m going to Disneyland!,” (just before Me Ra dumps one of those big orange coolers of Gatorade over my head and ruins a perfectly good hair day). In reality, the answer is less glamorous: We’ll see.

Normally, that kind of answer would sound weak, indecisive, and lazy to me. After all, as part of winning the SOAR! Scholarship, I’ve spent the past year developing relationships and learning from some of the most talented business coaches, photographers, vendors and colleagues in the field. I burned the candle at both ends all year long; putting every ounce of my vulnerability, insecurity and creative juice into each exercise, blog post and image I made. And I’d do it all over again.

I don’t feel the pressure to have it all figured out, which is why snuggling up with some warm and fuzzy ambiguity might just be the best gift I received this year.

SOAR! was never about getting a clear and predictable path laid out for a career in photography. For me, SOAR! was all about becoming confident with risk. I risked applying for SOAR and rediscovered a long lost artist. I risked my thoughts on the blog every week and rediscovered my love of writing. I risked starting a photography business. My biggest take away: Risk opens doors.

I have my goals, big and small, for sure. And I’ll share all that on my blog this year as I continue to grow my business. I will continue to write. I will continue to put beautiful images into the world. I will continue to risk. As I see myself now, I hope my path will continue to change, all the while inviting me into the ambiguously beautiful blur of the future.

Thanks to all of you who followed my journey. I am humbled by your supportive comments all year long and deeply grateful for your support.


Those two sentences; For me, SOAR! was all about becoming confident with risk. I risked applying for SOAR and rediscovered a long, lost artist.

Wow.  Powerful.

Whenever we go after building a dream, we must subscribe to the weekly, even daily, activity of taking risks.  Risk taking can be terrifying and often hold many of us back because there isn’t any guarantee of what waits on the other side.  Ali is a wonderful example of someone who risked over and over again to be pleasantly surprised by what she rediscovered.  And not only did Ali’s rediscovery of her long lost artist-writer-photographer–all the above–bless her, but it blessed all of us who followed her journey.  This rippling effect of risk taking is what moves me the most.  You think that you are setting out on a selfish journey to find yourself, your creative self, and the truth is that you end up not only giving to yourself but all those who follow along.

Ali, your SOAR! year will always be a testament to the beauty that is waiting to be discovered when we choose to risk.  You will continue to be a champion for so many women who followed you all year.  Thank you for putting everything you had into the SOAR! year.  I think we all feel like we soared a little higher in day-to-day dream building because of the journey shared every week.

On behalf of all the SOAR! Partners and this wonderful community, we proudly launch Ali Anderson to SOAR with her photography (AND writing) dreams!  I can’t wait to see how the future continues to unfold for you!  Check out her new website, and be sure to keep following her blog posts!

Ali, we love you.  I cherish you, your sense of humor and your wonderful husband and kids.

We celebrate you today!

Your Cheerleaders Forever!

Me Ra, Brian, Wendy and this awesome community!

*I invite all of you to leave a comment of encouragement, love, celebration, wisdom…or all the above, in celebration of Ali today!

American Bounty

Jefferson Memorial



Washington Memorial



The Breadline, FDR Memorial


Happy Thanksgiving,



I had been tossing and turning beneath the snuggly comfort of my toasty warm covers for two endless hours in the middle of a winter night trying to figure out why I was so uncharacteristically restless. It wasn’t because my beloved had been sawing logs beside me like a woolly mammoth with a head cold. It wasn’t because I was stressed over how I was probably setting my kids up for a lifetime of failure because I let them watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of Dora the Explorer and eat their dinner in front of the television twice that week (gasp!). Then, in one of those cheesy made-for-tv moments, I surprised even myself when I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed (who does that?!). A calmness I’ll never forget wrapped itself around my shoulders and I breathed a sigh of relief, then said out loud to Brian, “I have to do something tomorrow.” He didn’t hear me. It didn’t matter. I knew.

I submitted my SOAR! application video two weeks later.

Thirty-six blog posts, seven video blogs, one hundred twenty-six images, ninety-seven slices of cheese pizza, forty-five glasses of wine (not all in a row) and nearly 365 days later, I am utterly and blissfully exhausted (yep, a whole lot of pizza and a glass of wine gets many a blog post written, my friends).

I imagine it’s the mental version of exhausted that a marathoner feels as she approaches the finish line. We’ve established my three criteria for running, right? (If you need a refresher, click here). Even if Robert Downey, Jr. was waiting at the finish line for me with a plate of cupcakes and a foot rub, I still wouldn’t run 26.2 miles to get a long-lasting congratulatory smooch from the guy. Sorry, love.

All the hours spent training, the blisters, chafing and tendinitis aside though, I get it. I get why marathoners do it. They do it for the same reason I applied for SOAR: I knew I could do it. Thankfully I don’t have the black toenails to show for it, but I’ve been steadily logging mile after mile, week after week, heading in the direction of a start line disguised as a finish line.

I’ve seen so many of you along the side of the road, enthusiastically waving your signs and shouting words of much-needed encouragement in your blog comments to me. We’ve shared dinners and drinks, Skyped, Facebooked, messaged and even shot together along the way. I’ve even gotten the pleasure of meeting some of you in person (truly a highlight for me) in a few of Me Ra’s CONFIDENCE workshops this past year. You all can’t possibly know how much I treasure these unexpected gifts from my year as a SOAR Recipient.

No one has cheered more loudly, pushed me harder, or believed in me more than the voice you heard in the outtakes of all those video blogs. I can write volumes about this guy, but really, this just about says it all: Brian, my love, I will always pick up the cat puke spray on the way back home to you. photo of ali and brian courtesy of jenn johnston at the 2011 DC workshop

I didn’t buy a camera to take pictures of my kids. I bought a camera because I lacked a piano. Since entering Smotherhood, I desperately needed to reconnect with the creative person inside of me and it was easier to store a camera in my closet than a piano. Everyone has to start somewhere, but when I think about where I started, I get a little embarrassed of things like sun spots on people’s heads, shooting with the wrong white balance, and funky skin tones:

In reality though, failures like those gave birth to images like these over the past year:



I know (and even hope) I will continue to make mistakes, although less frequently. It’s probably the most effective way I know of to improve.

As I approach the start line disguised as a finish line, I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. Does anyone really? With my list of What Ifs in hand, I know that I will put beautiful images into the world. I know that I will continue to tell the stories that surround them. Most of all, I know that when you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear the voice that says, “take this risk,” you should always, always listen.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks for SOARing alongside me this year.


Wicked Business

Except for the cute little munchkins, the yellow brick road scares the ruby slippers off me. First, you’ve got the danger of flying monkeys and wild animals dressed up like lions and tigers and bears (go ahead and say it…oh my) lurking about. Then you have the whole problem of footwear-obsessed witches to deal with. Plus, the talking trees freak me out. No thanks. I’ll just hang out here with the munchkins and wait for that whole vindictive witch-problem to blow over.

Sounds a lot like starting a business right? Sure, your business might be trying to kill you (thank you, Jeff Jochum). You can bet you’ll run into a few hurdles along the way (not enough money, not enough time, not enough quality gear, etc.). And Oz-forbid, you might even run into a few colleagues…er, trees who chuck apples at your head. The yellow brick road, heck – every kind of road – is full of reasons to quit or not even try in the first place…especially when life is swirling around you.

That’s exactly where it’s wise to seek the counsel of people who know a lot more than you do; especially if you’ve got an inner voice chasing you on a broomstick and cackling about how you don’t have the brains, heart or courage to run a business.  Through my journey with SOAR! this year, I’ve been relying on my business coaches to help me navigate some twisty turns in the road.

Setting (and exceeding!) my income target was huge for me half-way through the year, although I had moments of wishing if I only had a brain.  Finding a visual way to depict where I am versus where I want to be required me to reconcile my head and my heart. More importantly, I have created action from that tool. And I didn’t blog about this, but another important realization for me came in a coaching session with Karen when she asked me to list my ten best strengths. I couldn’t get to three. My list has grown considerably since then and it’s something I refer to before every shoot. Just for some extra courage.

There is no great wizard to grant my wishes; no smoke and mirrors; no pink bubble with a ditzy witch inside who delivers cryptic messages for success. Here’s how I’m doing it:  I’m setting a few, small, achievable goals to keep me on track. When I meet those small goals, I set new ones. And when I stack up all those goals at the end of the year, I look down from the top of my goal heap to celebrate how far I’ve climbed…in my ruby slippers no less.


As it turns out, that ditzy witch in the floating bubble was right: I had the power to SOAR inside me all along.


Woof Woof

I’m no expert on the theory of natural selection, but I’m guessing even Charles Darwin would agree with me that somewhere along the line we humans got genetically mixed up with puppies. Anyone who has had small children knows exactly what I’m talking about here: cute and cuddly one minute, peeing all over the kitchen floor the next. Darwin himself was a prolific contributor to the gene pool having had ten puppies kids. You know it crossed his mind once or twice while he was watching his rugrats chase their tails, then collapse into a deep, paw-twitching, REM stage of sleep. Clearly, parenting exhausted him so much that he left out a few chapters in his On the Origin of Species.

Actually, it crosses my mind every time I do a shoot with wee ones.  They look at you with those big, puppy dog eyes; a little cautious at first, but willing to approach for a sniff.  It also helps when you dangle lollipops in their direction (or steak-flavored lollipops if they are really carnivorous kids).

Once they’ve sniffed you and assessed your suitability as a playmate, they dart off; running for the hills in an attempt to engage you in the time-honored canine game of chase. I love this part because it means I don’t have to go to the gym on days when I shoot. Just chase and shoot. High shutter speeds help here unless you’re going for that blurred motion look (which I happen to really like).

Eventually, their parents start barking calling them to come back, offering treats for an obedient return. This is very helpful because at this point I’m usually huffing and puffing like an overweight house cat choking up a fur ball. And most of the wee ones figure if I’m willing to chase them, I’m probably willing to make a fool of myself in other ways too, so they become intrigued enough to sit and stay. Staaaaaaay….good girl!

…but only until they see a squirrel run up a tree and they’re off again.  They always come back to the pack for a snuggle though. One thing puppies kids love is a hearty romp with their pack mates.


And look! This pack is about to get a lot more rambunctious in a few months!


I’m busy finishing up mini-sessions for the fall, but first I need to go make sure my kids haven’t bitten the mailman, chewed my shoes or run away.


Done is Beautiful

This one is for all you perfectionists out there because sometimes, done is beautiful.

And don’t miss the outtakes. Apparently, the camera operator (who I happen to be married to) thinks I carve pumpkins like I’m in a horror film.



Cheap Cheap

There are some things you don’t ever want to go cheap on. Getting a Groupon for cosmetic surgery or hair replacement probably falls in the “you get what you pay for” category.  Or imagine the buyer’s remorse you’d wake up with the morning after visiting a dyslexic tattoo artist who can’t draw anything more than stick figures and happy faces. And one thing I’ll never ever go cheap on is a mattress – I think a compelling sociological case study could made for the devastating impact of cheap mattresses on marital stability.

After speaking with Roxanne Benton of Pixel2Canvas last week, I’m adding one more thing to my list of Things to Never Cheap Out On: Canvas.

I know you’ve seen them – the Groupons that land in your inbox every few months for ridiculously discounted, decent-sized canvases. It’s tempting to want to jump at the bait, I know.


Here’s the thing: those offers are the equivalent of someone offering you a discounted 60 minute massage…with a spiked club. Allow me to explain:

  • Three letters you need to know: OBA (Optical Brightening Agents). Basically, OBAs are chemicals added to low-quality canvas materials to get a brighter surface upon which to print your image. If you start with high quality canvas material to begin with, you don’t need OBAs. Whiter whites are great when it comes to my honey’s pitted out t-shirts, but when it comes to bleaching out my clients’ memories, forget about it. Then again, if you like that vintage-y, cracked and yellowed look to your works of art after 5-7 years on your wall, knock yourself out with the cheap canvas. It’ll look great on the walls of your vintage Airstream.


  • Archival quality matters: If the Framers of the Constitution and Roxanne Benton had lived at the same time, I’m guessing the curators at the National Archives today would be sitting around smoking their pipes and doing Sudoku puzzles all day instead of painstaking document restoration and preservation. Archival-quality products do cost more, but if you value being able to pass your art down through the generations, then things like UV protectants, OBA-free materials, and Tyvek-backed moisture barriers matter. Even the tiniest details can make the difference for a client.


  • You have spinach in your teeth: Everybody has that one friend who will be the one to tell when you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe or lipstick on your teeth when everyone else acts like they can’t see it. When you have questions or doubts about the look, quality, color or feasibility of an image on any medium (canvas, metal, etc.), Roxanne is the one who tells you straight up the way it is. Try getting that kind of attention from a discounted canvas website. They will let you walk around with snot hanging out of your nose.  Bottom line here: in the canvas business, Roxanne is the girlfriend who’s got your back.

As I’ve journeyed on with SOAR! this past year, I’ve had to opportunity to learn from some of the best artists, coaches and vendors in the industry. And sharing all of those juicy details with you is the cornerstone of what SOAR! is all about. Add Pixel2Canvas and Roxanne’s expertise to your toolbox. As I refine what my product offerings will include in this next year of growth, you can bet I’ll be depending on Roxanne at Pixel2Canvas to help me give my clients the absolute best.

Now where did I put that Groupon for 51% off Root Canals?


Kissing Frogs

It’s been awhile since I kissed a frog, so my memory could be a little sketchy here. The last one I kissed turned out to be a 6’3” guy of Swedish decent wearing cargo pants and a Phillies hat. He was holding a sparkly ring, so I figured that must be a good sign. I’m fairly certain that most of us (except a lucky few), have to kiss a few frogs before we find the winning amphibian. When you lay a big smooch on the right one though, you can’t help but hop off into the sunset as quickly as possible…in search of a photographer.

After having gone through the effort of all that frog research, you want more than anything for your dearest friends and family to see how blissfully happy you feel. That used to mean you found the closest JC Penny and walked out with a cheesy shot for the local newspaper. Today, thankfully, it means so much more.

Let’s take a moment and really think about what this means. It means as a civilization we should collectively pat ourselves on the back for elevating engagement photography to the moments you proudly dedicate wall and shelf space to. It means that photographers and brides could potentially join forces to save the United States Post Office from demise with the demand for delivery of those artful “Save the Date” cards. It means you can actually tell a couple to “get a room!” during an engagement shoot and it just makes them snuggle and laugh even more.

Sometimes when you’re photographing a couple, it’s like you’re Martin Scorsese and you’ve just yelled, “Cut!” on the most passionate scene of the film…except the actors didn’t hear you.

Or maybe they ignored me and this is just what inseparable looks like.

So now that I’ve spilled the images, it’s time to confess: I flagrantly cheated on this week’s SOAR! photography assignment. And I couldn’t have been happier to do so. See, it’s not every day Me Ra Koh pops into town for a CONFIDENCE workshop and asks you to tag along on some mini-sessions. And it’s not every day a gorgeous, already-married couple shows up for their mini-session during the most glorious golden hour of a perfect October day in historic Georgetown. Cha-chiiiing.

I couldn’t help myself. With lens candy as yummy as these two lovebirds, how can you not max out your memory card?





The Play’s the Thing

This is an area I’m not great at, but getting better. Without further delay, I present to you – Winning Clients: a play in three parts.

~ Ali

I Get Knocked Down

I should have seen it coming. That was the first thought that went through my head as I was lying on the sparring mat. My second thought was that I should Google “cracked rib” if I made it home alive. And my third thought went something like, “I’m too old for this (insert expletive here),” which is laughable now considering I was only 27 years old.

I was a green belt (respectable mid-level) and my sparring partner in class that night was a second-degree brown belt (skilled enough to kill me with her big toe), which meant she was probably having mercy on me. (In my own defense, I was neck-deep in spreadsheets all day while she was probably picking out her prom dress). All it took was one well-placed kick on my unprotected side and I was on the losing end of a Bruce Lee movie. Sure it hurt physically, but that was nothing compared to how my pride was bleeding out right there on the mat for everyone to see.

Though it was on a smaller, less serious scale that night, I had experienced one of those common denominators of humanity: Loss. Fortunately for me, it was only loss of pride;  I had shown up, pushed myself hard and sweated it out. Even so, sometimes you just get knocked down. Maybe it’s a professional set-back, a relationship malfunction, or a diagnosis. No one lives life without getting the wind knocked out of them at least once.


Julia Cameron knows what I’m talking about. If you’ve been following along at home, you know we’re up to Chapter 8 in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way now. This chapter deals with strength, loss and survival as an artist – not exactly warm and fuzzy stuff.  I know with certainty that I will get the wind kicked out of me (photographically speaking) at some point in my career. It will happen and I will be crushed, angry, and maybe even embarrassed.  This isn’t pessimism, but rather it is me guarding against the tendency for perfectionism. I am not prepared for an “artistic loss” as Cameron phrases it, but I know that I will find a way to frame my loss as gain.

I know this because recovering from loss means you have to first get up off the mat. Then after your ribs stop hurting, you realize that you just learned to protect your open side a little better.  You just learned how to get up after failure, through pain and even embarrassment. And then you shake it off.