What's in a Name

I wrote a version of this explanation a few years ago, and after some thoughts, revelations, and a few people asking me, "what does Nicoleinbold mean," I have decided to update and rewrite my answer. If you have followed me for any length of time I am sure you have noticed a change in my work. If you are more perceptive, I am sure you have noticed a change in what I share and what I say. With these changes, I have noticed an evolution in who I believe I am. I have grown, matured, softened, and been through many life changes since the beginning of Nicoleinbold, but I'll start at the beginning.

Coming up with a business name is not always easy. Just like naming a child, you go through many options before you decide and then change it again one more time…and again. Trying not to ask for too many opinions because that can always through a wrench into the mix.

Nicoleinbold came about when I was soul searching . "Who am I?" "What do I want to be remembered for?" "How do I want to help and serve others?" I started with the idea that I am me. Profound, I know. Many photographers use their own name as their business name, and I wanted to take that a step further. 

Sure this business is mine, but I serve others. What I create, produce, and share is ultimately not about me. Then I moved to the belief that I am the artist. While I depict others, it is my past, present, and future, my perspective that drives me to press my shutter button. I am showing how I see and feel about other peoples' lives. You can see it in how I compose my work and how I process and stylize my final images.

Your life - my perspective.

In explaining this recently to a friend, she pushed me further, "yeah, but why bold? I know you are creative, spontaneous, and silly - is that what you mean?" This is a great question, and one that embodies my life more than I ever realized when I chose my name almost 5 years ago.

The bold-ness, if you will, come from a few things which all boils down to my hopes, dreams, and even fears I feel for you, me, and our families. There is a bold-ness in saying I will take a piece of equipment and make a picture. There is more bold-ness involved when I feel strongly that when I make a picture I am sharing your love for life and your love for your family with you. The bold-ness continues to grow when I state that I highlight your love, connection, curiosity, and fears with every frame I capture.

I understand this can sound pretentious. Believe me when I say I feel a bit of shame for feeling so passionately about other's lives. This shame comes from feeling like I shouldn't care. From being told I shouldn't care most of my life. My current transformation is leaning into these "shoulds" and fully accepting my role as someone who loves my own family and wanting to preserve the love in others' families.

I have never considered myself an empath or highly sensitive person, until recently. It actually took a therapist to break this news, and then me telling a couple of my closest friends, who wholeheartedly agreed, to even accept this fact about myself. I feel emotions deeply. I perceive other's emotions very well and feel them deeply on top of my own. I share this because it is the most recent "ah-ha" moment about the name I have chosen for my business.

As I journey through life I have questioned my purpose. Most recently I have been unsure if I wanted to continue to pursue being a photographer. It wasn't until I was asked what my name means, what I hope to provide the people and families I work with that I became confident in my own legacy. After everything you have read it might not be a surprise to you, but it was to me. When I was asked this question these words tumbled from my mouth, "I want to transform vulnerability into confidence." Phew! That is bold.

So now what does that mean?

The goal I work to achieve with each shutter release is to highlight your humanity, your love, and your connection to those around you. It is vulnerable to ask someone into your life and to take your picture. Many people don't see it this way anymore because so many people own some type of camera, but it is scary. All of our insecurities can creep in. I hope that when I am asked into your life, into your home, that I can transform those insecurities into confidence. No matter if you are insecure in your body image, how you parent, what it looks like inside your home, I want to document your life right now. Show you it's beauty. Give you permission to be yourself. SEE yourself how others see you. How your children see you, and will remember you when they are older.

In owning this name I have created for my business, to include all the revelations there after, and having been present for many families, I can tell you with confidence that you are AMAZING. You are doing way better than you think you are. Your presence in this world is a gift. You are more than a mom, a dad, a wife or a husband. You are you, and your story matters.

It is simple. A clean statement. A concise and profound core value.

I am Nicoleinbold.

Nicoleinbold is documentary family photography with a promise to give you confidence serving Richmond, Virginia and available for travel.

Birth Photographer Mindfulness

"Three rules of work:
out of clutter find simplicity.
From discord find harmony.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Albert Einstein


The world is filled with dialectics. If this is a new word, as it was to me this year, it simply means that there are often two or more ways to view things in life. This Albert Einstein quote displays this flawlessly. What is doesn’t display is how hard it can be to be aware of more than one side when we are in the midst of high emotions, opinionated thinking, or kind of stuck in our ways. Some call this black and white thinking. Where we a doggedly determined to see and believe only one right and one wrong. I don’t know about you but I have learned that life just plain isn’t this way, especially in the realm of birth. Sure, more often than not there is labor and there is delivery. However, the methods, means, locations, providers and ultimately the stories are all different.

Being open to these differences is the beginning of mindfulness. I’ll get into this more through this article. Now that I explained briefly what dialectics are, and before I go further, I want to bring to light a dialect that motives our thoughts and actions. We each possess a reasonable mind and an emotional mind, the center being wise mind. This is something I am learning from Marsha Linehan’s teaching in dialectic behavior. I promise this is not “woo-woo.” Well it might be a little bit, but for good reason. Wise mind is ultimately where we must stand as professional birth photographers, more so than any other genre.

 Excerpt from  Marsha Linehan’s workbook,  DBT Skills Training

Excerpt from Marsha Linehan’s workbook, DBT Skills Training

If you’re a birth photographer, please keep reading.

Most birth photographers, myself included, are in this profession because we believe in birth. We are an advocate of the process, of the people, and want everyone to have options and education. Which means most of us are also educated in the process of birth. This is great. This shows passion for our work. Knowledge and advocacy is often an integral part in our why behind our business. It’s why and how we can leave our families any time of night or in the middle of that birthday-dance recital-graduation event.

Motivation and passion aside, I am a staunch believer in we must drop the advocacy lens (no pun intended) when we walk into the birth space. We are not an advocate while we are present for our clients, as a photographer. This can be insanely hard! Not only do we have to halt advocacy externally, but it is necessary to halt advocacy internally as well.  If we don’t separate ourselves from the events we are documenting, our perspective (we’re the one with the camera) will be radically colored by how ever life unfolds. Let me explain.

Very simply, our brains, thoughts, and actions (past and present) affect our perspective, how we document, and even what we document. This can be both good and bad. Remember that chart from above. If we live in an emotional state, where are feeling of events become fact, can you imagine how your creativity may change? You may not get as close to your clients. You may create obstacles like keeping things in between you and your clients. You may also get stuck in one area of a room as your curiosity shuts down. Has this ever happened to you? For a few minutes? Maybe an entire birth session? Maybe you didn’t notice until you got home and began looking through your images. I have been here! I have also seen this in other’s portfolios.

On the opposite side if we live in a rational state, where logic and rules run our mind we may lose the story line or miss a shot. I have been here as well. Where I get stuck in my head about the rules of photography, and anticipating the physiological process of birth I miss emotional elements. Again, this might happen for a few minutes, the entire birth, and we might not ever notice it.

Now I want to point out a very important point. There is nothing wrong with being overly rational or overly emotional at any given moment. There are very real scenarios where one side must be dominant for our survival. However, I truly believe that when we are documenting or telling someone else’s story, our goal would be best lived in the center, wise mind.  I’m not going to lie, “wise mind” sounds pretentious. It doesn’t have to be! This is simply a place of awareness. This is where we are open to feeling our feelings and those around us (empathy), as well a being mindful of rules, processes, and all the technicalities that we must be aware of while in any given birth space. This centered place, the balance, is where we accomplish life and work.

Want real life scenarios of this in action?

Into the birth space, with camera in hand: I walk in with all of my knowledge and specific viewpoints on people and potential interventions. I’m an empath as most of us photographers are, so I can very easily get caught in my emotions AND the emotions of everyone in the room. I am finding it incredibly easy to get worried about how everything is progressing (or not). Keep in mind this can start before we even enter the room. Maybe our kid was sick at home, or the dog pooped on the floor just as you were leaving, or you had trouble finding parking after sitting in unexpected traffic. Now I’m listening to how a nurse says something or what options were given (or not). I’m somehow getting more upset than my client that the birth plan isn’t going according to plan, so I begin to miss shots. Perfection sets in. Perfection for  the birth plan, perfection for capturing the moment just so, where to stand, over anticipating, and just plain over thinking and emotionally involved in every detail.

Remember, none of this is because I’m a bad photographer or because I don’t understand the physiological process of birth. Rather it is because I have my beliefs and views on how birth should go, my preconceived advocacy and researched knowledge, and I’m letting those thoughts fill me with emotion that is distracting me from doing my job. Which is to document my client’s birth story.

Further the more we get into this emotional state, without pulling ourselves back we can very much create an unsafe environment. We may stop being aware of our surrounds, stop anticipating movement in the room. All of which may lead to poor etiquette in front of providers and our clients. Being unaware of your surroundings means you might bump the sterile field, not anticipate your environment, etc. It can even be a bad decision like grabbing a chair to stand on or getting in the way of the medical staff.

Have you been in the head space? I know I have! Did you notice it as it was happening? After you got home? Are you just now thinking of your body of work and how this may have an effect?

I hope I can help you in this article just as much as I have brought this concept to your attention. I’m doing my best to be transparent with you. It is not easy to be in wise mind, or pull yourself out of a spiral of thoughts in the moment. My goal is to have you reflect and grow. I can look back at my work and see it very clearly where my judgements, perfectionism, and “shoulds” got in the way of me getting closer, stepping back, and capturing the in between moments because I was so stuck on what was happening to someone else. Events that I in all reality, I can’t control. Wise mind tells me that I can’t control my client’s situation. Wise mind also tells me that I was paid to do a job and do it well. To be present and aware, but to focus on the connection through each decision and moment within the birth space.

How do you do this? How do you create white space, openness, mindfulness to help center yourself during times of stress?

I’ve recently begun employing mindfulness tools in my everyday life and found it extremely helpful at my last couple of births. The first and best option, if your situation will allow it, is to give yourself a break outside of the room. If the pace of the birth allows, it is more than okay to spend a few minutes in the waiting room. Go to the bathroom. Fill up your water bottle. Giving yourself physical distance can be enough to bring you to center.

The next best technique is learning to control my breathing. The in and the out breaths, when under pressure we typically breath fast and our thoughts move through our consciousness fast as well. When we can control our breath and even recall a few mantras, we can center our being and get back to our art. The best part is know one has to know what you are doing! After all, we all breathe, right?! Here are some of the things I have told myself in the birth space:

Inhale: You are here to observe. Exhale: Relax/You got this
Inhale: You were paid for a service. Exhale: Shoot with intention
Inhale: This is not my story. Exhale: I am the storyteller
Inhale: Their emotions  Exhale: are not my emotions

Do you have any mantras or sayings when emotions get high while you work? Do you find you revisit the emotions again while you edit? Use the same mantras, talk a walk. If you continue to have trouble, struggle to center yourself before, during or after a birth, I encourage you to find a trusted peer to discuss your experiences with. Everything I have said is great to practice and do, but at times we need additional help. So while you practice mantras and breathing in your everyday life also create a list of people you can reach out to when you need additional assistance (fellow birth photographer, doula, best friend, etc.).

Last, but not least.

I want to be very clear. You are allowed to have your values. You are allowed to have opinions. You are allowed to feel and have emotions. I am not telling anyone to stop any of this! I’m simply pointing out that if we let our mind take over, if we get stuck in advocacy, we will get lost, forget, or poorly document all the life happening in front of  us. I promise you, having been there, you are not serving from a balanced place. There are times I want to hold hands, dole out hugs, and even feel like I’m intruding with each shutter release, this is normal and at times expected. I am asking you to be aware of all of this and how it changes your perspective in your storytelling of another families life. Above all else, don’t let your judgement or emotions rob you of the artistry you are known for.

Closing "With Grit and Grace"

I received a question recently inside of a client questionnaire. A mom had asked me why I close my emails, “with grit and grace.” It wasn’t until this email that I realized my words may not make sense to people. It's one of those "you don’t know what people don’t know" scenarios. Sure, we know what the words are and their respective definitions, but strung together, the intent and deeper meaning can be lost.

Grit and grace is how I view life. A mantra of my human-ness. I tumble, fall, and cry, but I overcome, get back up - I live. I find the good to keep going. While I'm not overly positive, I strive to be real with myself and others. "Grit and grace" is a reminder of the delicate balance of sanity as a parent, professional, and woman. I'll be honest, I never put much thought into the resilience of life and the patterns we live day in and day out until I had my daughter. Until I became a mom, my grit for life was like fine sand. My gears could pretty easily turn, and when I got stuck it was relatively easy to ask for help.

Now though, between the calm and chaos of everyday life with a little human, my grit is a bit larger and definitely more messy. It takes quite a bit more energy and focus to get through tasks. At the end of the day, I don't have all the answers! Heck, on some days you will find us crying together on the kitchen floor - seriously! (I hope I'm not the only one!)

This new and different grit, while challenging, also helps me slow down. This slow down is a dream I have for all parents. I hope we can all find a stillness in this 18 year season, even if in brief chunks of seconds and minutes. This new grit has pushed me to desire and learn mindfulness - the art of being present. I no longer feel like I need to have all the right answers right away, if ever. The fortitude to see and feel this, to set a good example is all great, but it's a mental gymnasium I'm not fully equipped to traverse. And you know what, showing my weakness and frustration to my daughter and partner helps us all stay connected. This is my grace. Especially, when all I want is a nap and eat all the ice cream in the world. (Again, I hope I'm not alone!)

This motif, "with grit and grace," is also what I strive to  document within the families I work with. We as parents are leaders, teachers, and friends. Our children are teachers and leaders in their own way as well! We each balance boundaries with love - words with action. Life is a trapeze between emotions and reason within ourselves. Not to mention coexisting with our partners and children. I don’t think it is ground breaking to say no one gets along 100% of the time. I don’t even get along with myself 100% of the time. Between the self talk, talking with others, trying to accomplish life (grocery shopping anyone?), and all the connection that happens in between. This is art, this is life - this is grit and grace. Beautiful, maybe a little painful, but gorgeous in it’s dance to keep us together.

I sign my emails “with grit and grace” to honor the notion that I am not perfect (far from it), but I try. I try gracefully to answer your questions and communicate information accurately. I try to be aware of your perspective, my child's perspective, and my perspective in any given situation. In the end, it is a salutation and a promise of respect, imperfections and all, for both you and me.

Richmond family photographer capture joy and environmental portraits of kids being kids.

Mental Health and My Current State

Life scares the crap out of me most days. The shear potential of each day overwhelms me. As most of you know I self identify as a deep thinker. I have also told you that I struggle with anxiety and depression. This may come as a shock to some of you but I have also recently learned that I am an empath, a super feeler of my own emotions and others. (I honestly had no idea) Mental health and our each individual nature can look incredibly different for each person. Real talk time, for me, all of this presents as avoidance, rumination, and a lot of the time complete isolation where I feel shame, guilt, and envy. This comes from comparison, but it also come from within. Not knowing myself, not listening to myself, and running toward what I THINK I SHOULD be doing with my life. Can you relate? Recently I have promised myself to work on all of the above.

With photography, especially birth photography, I have seen many people burn out. This looks insanely different, just like anxiety and depression, for each individual. I have written a version of this post a few times now and noticed I kept pushing myself down to provide a lesson to you, the reader. This. Thinking I have to provide a scripted lesson over just sharing my own story is where I am burnt out and honestly a bit lost. I’ve started my business and fueled my passion out of a desire to do more, offer more, and provide what I did not have at any given point in my life. While noble, this "why" is incredibly unhealthy. I did not see what I was doing to myself or who I had become. A giver without regard for myself or even my family. This year I plan to simplify and figure out who Nicole is so I can better serve myself and others.

A powerful part of everything above is the lack of validation and the source of the validation. This is a hot topic word for me right now. The concept and definition I want to make clear, because for all intent and purposes I had it wrong. Validation is the "recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile." (dictionary.com) I’m just starting this journey and I do not have all the answers, but growing up the way I did, I did not get validation from my parents, was constantly questioned my friends, and therefore learned to question myself in everything. This lead to chasing likes, making excuses, pursuing leadership, typing lessons, and honestly doing and giving others what I desperately needed to do and give myself.

Recently, I met with a local friend and told her some of my troubles and she simply told me that I had given everyone else everything but have lost myself. The shirt off my back is gone, so to speak. I say a lot, too much probably, at every turn. I give, take on, and learn so that I can teach others, help, and support others. I got stuck. I’m still stuck. Worrying about everyone else’s business and families, everyone else’s reaction - this is something I thought didn’t affect me. I'm a doer, a change maker - I might be those things but I lost all grace and empathy for myself. I have recently learned this exact thing has held me back. Somewhere along my journey I have stopped creating for myself, for my local community, for my own family. Geez, this is all crazy hard to admit to you and to myself. I don’t have answers as to my next move - what is coming next - other than I need to be doing something different and more simple.

Knowing that ‘you can do more’ can become an excuse, a burden of sorts. Doing more is a big reason I stopped celebrating the tiny victories and chased the next thing I could show, share, and tell each of you who follow me. As much I as I believe in "shedding the should," I have should myself into a hole. The funny thing is I don't do this to others. I have spoken to many people over the course of the past couple of years. Helped many get started, been there for others, all while not really accepting myself. This has to change. I’m scared. I don’t know what this looks like. Asking for help doesn’t come easy. Admitting that I’m struggling is even harder. I’m not even sure what or where I need help most days. I’ve always considered myself the strong one, an island if you will, but as much as I have talked about not feeling lonely, I realize I may have been the most lonely.  

You heard that right. I am guilty. I don't reach out or ask for help often because I'm too afraid to do so and my anxiety about life leads me to avoiding everything and everyone. I also don't really know what I need help with other than to say I'm lost. I’m unsure of the questions to ask and conversations to have. Most days I want to sit still wrapped tightly in a heavy blanket. I have no clue if this is a common occurrence for others, so of course this creates doubt, which means I probably again won't reach out for help. Do you see a theme in this entire post. As I have read, reread, tried to rewrite this piece many different times I see how flippantly unsure I am of my own calling. This mental health thing is no joke. I want to talk about it though. 

Are you scared of sharing yourself? Do you have anxiety or depression? How does it present itself to you? Do you validate yourself or wait and hope for others to take up the slack? How are you feeling - really feeling? 

Birth + Photography Are Not A Competition

Birth is no place for competition. The the advocacy of birth by birth photographers is misplaced under the guise of an image competition. Are we not sharing our work and stories of birth in our everyday marketing strategy? Connect to your mission, your community, and seek guidance if you need it outside of competition.