leigh ann burdett

Leigh Ann Burdett Blog

Timeless photography to capture your love story. Celebrating couples & marriages throughout Washington, DC & beyond.
 Based in Arlington, Virginia. Available for travel.

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Big News! Full Time Photographer

Friday November 15, 2019

Short Story:
If you’re reading this…the news is out! I am officially going full time with my photography business!! It’s been a crazy whirlwind over the last few months between coming to this decision and finally making it happen. This may come as a shock for some friends and family. For some that have known me more closely over the last couple of years, you may be wondering what took me so long to finally make the leap. To explain everything, I have to take you all the way back. It’s fitting that I am currently sitting in Blacksburg where the combination of my career interests started in the first place.

Long, very detailed story:
I’ve always said I wanted to be an interior designer since about fifth grade. I don’t know whether it was the creative spirit my mom instilled in me at an early age or all of the HGTV we watched together. When I was in elementary school, I used to rush off the bus so I could catch the latest Candice Olson episode with my mom. We were obsessed. 

HGTV aside, I always knew I wanted a creative profession. My cousin, Sophie, and I started a greeting card business called Spectacular Impressions when we were in fourth grade! We sold a pack of five greeting cards for $5. This “pack” included two thank you cards, two birthday cards, and what we called “one blank.” Our little business took off. We started selling cards to family, friends, teachers, our parent’s co-workers…you name it. Over the next couple of years, we expanded our business and made decorated clipboards, notebooks, more cards, and more cards! We started signing up for craft fairs and worked our little sixth grade butts off. We were actually pretty profitable and made a couple thousand dollars all before eighth grade! This might have been about the time my entrepreneurial spirit really kicked in. 

I felt lucky that I knew so clearly that I wanted to study interior design in college. I took every art class offered at my high school. I loved being creative, but I was also interested in business. I wanted a career that would include some structure, but also allow me to flex my right brain.  I ran track and cross country competitively throughout high school and wanted to keep running in college. The opportunity came up to run for Virginia Tech AND they had an amazing Interior Design program. That settled it. I applied, got in, and accepted! It was the best of both worlds and I was so ready.

College was such a great time and I could go down a massive rabbit trail about all of my experiences there! From design school, to the track team, to leaving the track team, to joining the triathlon club, to racing all over the state, to meeting Josh (my now husband) in the middle of my junior year, to getting engaged my senior year (WHAT), to my incredible internship experience after junior year, to getting a job senior year, to picking up a camera for the first time and photographing people…that’s what I’m really trying to talk about here. So maybe another time I’ll come back to how all of those million things played into shaping me. But for now I’ll probably lose you if I don’t start talking about what photography has to do with anything.

 I got my first Nikon D3200 camera around sophomore year. It was a beginners DSLR that I bought from Costco. It came with a kit lens and I loved the heck out of it. I’d always loved carrying around a little point and shoot camera as a kid, but I wanted to document travel and the projects I created in design school when I got to college. By chance, my family was visiting one weekend and my mom wanted me to take senior portraits of my sister. We hiked the Cascades and photographed Rebecca the whole way. It was pretty hilarious. She had two different outfits and changed right in the middle of the woods as we were hiking. I immediately uploaded the photos when we got back to my apartment and started messing around with Photoshop. Before I knew it, I started photographing all of my sister’s friends. They were all about to graduate high school and wanted“senior portraits”.  I charged like $50, drove them all over creation, and let them change their outfits as many times as they wanted. It was fun and a good way for me to get started. 

I had a friend reach out to me during junior year at VT and ask if I would be interested in photographing a small wedding celebration. She knew I had been taking more and more portraits and trusted me to handle a very small wedding ceremony in Blacksburg. Some of you may have heard me talk about the story of Jude and Mohammad. Their wedding was my very first!! And let me tell you, to this day it is probably still the most special wedding I have ever photographed. I get teary eyed thinking about it. Jude, if you’re reading this, I hope you know how special you and Mohammad are to me!! While their family was originally from Syria, Jude and some of her family lived in Blacksburg at the time. Jude’s mom was a Fulbright scholar at Virginia Tech earlier in her career. The professor that Jude’s mom worked for helped to get them asylum when they decided it was time to move to the US. Just before leaving Syria, Jude got engaged to Mohammad. Mohammad originally sought asylum somewhere else in the Middle East, but was not able to come to the US with Jude and her family. They were separated for nearly a year before Jude could travel to Mohammad and sign official marriage papers.. However, at this point they still couldn’t stay together and she had to return to Blacksburg, VA. I believe it was nearly another YEAR before they were reunited. 

After that year, Mohammad obtained a visiting visa to the US to come and see his bride! He traveled to Blacksburg and they planned a small wedding celebration. Jude bought a wedding dress, got her hair and makeup done and they wanted photos!! My friend and I drove them around to several locations to capture portraits! It was the most amazing experience to hear about their love story, watch them together, and capture something so special for them. I learned more about how they started dating and the struggles they had to endure just to see each other in Syria. This experience sealed the deal for me. I had to keep photographing weddings. I shared their story on my new blog and Instagram and something crazy happened: I shared photos of a bride in a white dress and almost immediately friends reached out to see if I could photograph their wedding!! 

The funny thing is when I photographed Jude and Mohammad I used what I knew about taking portraits, but I quickly learned this was a whole new ball game in posing a couple. You have to make sure they’re comfortable, they need direction, and at the same time you want to create a nice composition. My friend and I were looking at Pinterest poses in the middle of taking their photos!! I knew that could not continue…so I started to educate myself. Lucky for me at the time there were so many amazing wedding photographers who had been sharing their experiences and information on blogs. I poured into them and dove head first into learning more about my camera, posing people, wedding day timelines, client communication, marketing my new business, creating a website, oh my gosh the list goes on.

When I graduated from Virginia Tech I had booked 3 weddings for the coming year. I had also just accepted my first full time job as an interior designer at Gensler. To me, this was the best of both worlds. I was beginning to love photography and I was sooooo excited to be working for one of the best design firms in the world. I moved to Arlington after college and started my new job in DC. I lived in my own apartment for the first year in my new city as Josh and I planned our wedding on the side. It was a LOT and right away. Planning a wedding, starting a photography business, and starting a new job. I’ve always loved keeping myself super busy so in the beginning this did not phase me. I loved how much we had going on. In a lot of ways staying busy always makes me feel the most organized.

In this first year I focused on the basics in terms of photography. I continued to learn about the technical side of my camera, how to edit, how to pose people, handling a wedding day, coordinating with the couple, delivering their photos, managing my finances, maintaining a website, building a reputation….there were so many things! At the same time I was a baby in the interior design industry and had a TON to learn there as well. Gensler is the largest design firm in the world. They have offices in a variety of major cities and some of the biggest offices are in the US. This includes the DC office of 400+ people.

With such an amazing reputation in the industry came many amazing opportunities. The clients that I was working for right out of school were impressive. I was also immediately placed with fantastic mentors and made some really great friends. I was learning constantly and working hard. However, every night when I left work there was something else that had my attention at home (aside from Josh :). I commuted to and from work by bus and every night when I got home I was almost immediately on my laptop working on my business. My average bed time over the last 3 years has been 12:30. Most nights I was working up until that point. I’m not complaining here, I really really loved this. I loved that I had my “side” project that was completely my own and I could grow it on my own time.

As time moved on I continued to book weddings. I found that my sweet spot was about 12-15 weddings a year while I was still working my full time job. It was just about all I could handle. I took on weddings ALL OVER Virginia and began traveling a lot on the weekends to continue making this dream a reality. Soon enough I was asked to photograph a wedding in Denver, CO and then Chapel Hill, NC. My first two destination weddings! I still managed to work these out with my full time design job. They were a dream! New locations, fun people, it was all getting more and more exciting.

In the beginning of the business my dad and my sister often second shot the weddings with me. I have two of the same camera bodies and I trained them on handling the camera, the settings, and the second angles I wanted them to capture throughout the day. In the past year my sister moved to the DC area and she was my only second shooter throughout my wedding season. She has been amazing. It’s been nice to train someone so closely and show her exactly how I want to handle each wedding day. As this past wedding season continued Josh and I began to talk more seriously about what it would mean if I made my business a full time reality.

I began to hit a point where I felt like I could only maintain my business. My time was so precious. During the work week I would commute into the city, work a full day, commute home, have a quick dinner, and then spend the evening catching up on as many business items as I could fit in. I started bringing my laptop on my bus commutes just to fit in more work. Everything started to feel a little unhealthy. It was time to make a decision.

As I thought about what I’ve always wanted long term the answer became more and more clear. I’ve always wanted to own/run my own business. My fear was that I was going to completely lose design. I was starting to see that was not going to be the case. My husband Josh runs a roofing and exterior home remodeling business. He often has customers that ask, “do you know a designer that could work on our kitchen?”…or something along those lines. I always told him I was, “too busy.” But this past fall I wanted to give it a try.

I took on several consultations and started working on my first bathroom renovation for a sweet family in Northern Virginia. It was a taste into a new world of design. At my firm I was only working on commercial projects, but this was different. Almost a little more personal. This small renovation project is really what lead to the decision to finally make the leap.

I was seeing clearly now. I knew that long term Josh and I had the potential to work on design projects together and I knew that long term I could build and grow my photography business in a much more meaningful way.

Well…I did it! Just before Thanksgiving this year I left my full time job to pursue my own photography business! It was a hard goodbye because I left so many amazing mentors and friends. But I know long term this was the best decision for us. I have had so many projects I’ve been looking forward to starting and dreaming about for so long. I can’t wait to fully invest in my business and grow it over the next couple of years! I felt like it was important for me to document the history that got me to this place because I never want to forget why I am making this happen. 

If you are still reading this, THANK YOU. If you are family, friends, past couples, future couples, THANK YOU. I have had sooooo much support in making this decision and I am so grateful!! I can’t wait to see what the next year holds and I love you all for supporting me along the way!

comments +

  1. Caity

    December 16th, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    I finally got to read your entire post— So stinking proud of you and excited to see you rock this new chapter! All the hugs and congratulations!

  2. Leigh Ann

    December 17th, 2019 at 2:47 am

    Thank you sooo much Caity!!

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