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2016A Year in Photos

Well, here we are again. Four days into the new year; a chance to wipe our slates clean and start fresh.I replaced the mindful living calendar in my workspace with a letterpress Holstee Manifesto; a beautiful reminder to live each and every day to its fullest potential.

2016 has often been turbulent and challenging, but so full of growth and opportunities for me. I’m incredibly grateful for the couples and friends who opened their hearts and arms to me this year. Thank you for your support and allowing me to pursue this crazy dream of mine for a living.

In no particular order, other than the season the images were taken, here is my year in photos.

WINTER // January 1 – March 20

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.”


It was a quiet month of business for me, but I wasn’t making any excuses to leave the camera at home. I made a resolution in 2015 to create more work for myself more often, so that’s exactly what I set out to do.  On New Year’s Day, I taught Andrew some new camera techniques. I sold three new book covers through Trevillion images.

We take a road trip up to Sacramento to visit my family. We weren’t able to make my grandmother’s art show back in November, but her paintings still adorn the walls of my aunt’s house. I make a point to photograph them so my family can create a book of her work. I finally have the chance to read her art thesis and realize we might just be kindred spirits. I miss her.

Self portrait by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

Being around my grandmother’s art inspires me to get back to my roots. I start a new photo project based around the elements. Water is first on my list. Katie voluntarily jumps into a lake for me to bring my vision to life. I also attempt a nature photo challenge on my iPhone to get me out of the house more often.


I complete my second concept for the Elemental series with Jasmine. I road trip with my good friend Haley to the Salton Sea where we explore Bombay Beach together. Andrew and I celebrate Valentine’s Day riding bikes in Coronado.

Sunrise portraits of Becka Palter at Black's Beach by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

I’m invited to participate in Adobe’s Creative Jam in San Diego. 15 of us are given a random theme that morning to create an image around. It was “boundaries.” I drive up to Mount Laguna by myself for some self-portrait work. I’m very rusty with the timer and nearly lose my camera over the cliff, but I walk away with an image I love. Later that evening, we present our finished work to a packed audience. I don’t win, but I’m damn proud of myself for public speaking that day.

I wake Becca up early to finally explore Black’s Beach for the first time ever. I’m determined to see desert wildflowers this year, so we venture out to Anza Borrego with Mike & Becca in search of the blooms.


Andrew and I hit the road to catch my second WPPI conference in Vegas. We make a fun trip out of it and disconnect from obligations for the weekend. We hike through a rainy Red Rock Canyon and make an impromptu trip to Fremont Street. To my utter disbelief, I win a 70-200mm lens in a raffle at the expo.

I wake up at sunrise on two separate occasions for part three and four of the Elemental series with Nicolle and Kristy. I’m not an early riser, but I never regret the days I can roll myself out of bed for the quiet morning hours.

Joshua Tree couple's portraits at sunset by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

News of a rare super bloom in Death Valley spreads like wildfire on Facebook. I ask my good friend and talented musician, Hayley (The Little Miss), to claim the passenger seat of my Corolla. We are blown away and awed by this highly underrated park.

It’s Haley and Jake’s last month in San Diego before moving to Pittsburgh. We take one last road trip together to Joshua Tree. I want them to take home some beautiful memories.

SPRING // March 20 – June 20

“If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over analyzing. Life is simple. When you eat, appreciate every last bite.”


I take a mini road trip up to Palmdale for some creative work with Marissa. Andrew and I race around San Diego for the Adventure Hunt. My 2015 sand dunes engagement session places in PDN’s Top Knots contest, earning a feature spot in the print magazine.

Wedding season is in full swing. My friend Jamie hosts her own wedding that Andrew and I attend. I fly solo to Arizona for my first out-of-state wedding. That trip taught me so much about what not to do as a solo traveler.

Prism portraits on road of Marissa Stokes by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


I wake up at the crack of dawn to meet Alix in the surreal Malibu Creek State Park and explore El Matador Beach. I organize my first styled bridal boudoir session with Becca. We celebrate Yager’s 8th birthday. I’m so grateful for this goober of a dog to keep me company while I work from home.

Andrew and I drive to Arizona to go camping. It’s our first time together. Neither of us had ever been to the Grand Canyon. We visit every view point around the rim, Sedona, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley. It is still one of my favorite trips of the year.

Last on the agenda this month is a trip out to the sand dunes for an epic engagement. The desert is slowly becoming a familiar place to me.

Portrait of Alix Schwartz in Malibu Creek State Park by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


Business has kicked up about 3 notches since winter. I am honored to document a magical, intimate wedding in Costa Rica that leaves me day dreaming for moths. It is also my first time traveling internationally for my business…and by myself. It is empowering.

This month I’m able to plan ahead for some 4th of July themed photos. I meet Janalyn in Del Mar to create some magic with a flag and sparklers at the San Diego County Fair. I have a few left over that we use for a romantic engagement at the scenic drop off in Mount Laguna.

Intimate Costa Rica wedding at La Paz by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

SUMMER // June 20 – September 22

“Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them.”


We road trip up to Big Sur for an elopement re-enactment with the sweetest couple. We extend our stay by a few days to celebrate our four year anniversary together. We coincidentally meet up with two of my friends, Dustin and Ana, to explore the woods of Julia Pfeiffer. On our last day, we have a breakfast picnic on the cliffs and set up the tripod for our traditional portrait.

On 4th of July, I trade in my nine-year-old car for a crossover. I go wine tasting in Temecula with my sister and best friend. Andrew wins tickets to a Gwen Stefani concert. I fly up to San Jose with Brogen for a wedding in the heart of Guerneville. We have the best time exploring the redwoods and northern coast together. I celebrate with Ricky & Nessie again at their post-wedding reception, as a guest this time.

Redwood wedding in Guerneville at Armstrong Woods by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


Andrew’s uncle ties the knot in Coronado. I embark on my second solo international business trip of the year, this time for a wedding in Jamaica. I’m surrounded by families vacationing at the all-inclusive resort. I treat myself to some quiet reflection time and relaxation. Traveling by yourself can teach you so much.

I’m in Joshua Tree twice this month. I meet Kylie to take photos for her new album. To my surprise and delight, Greer and Michelle of Rue de Seine reach out to me to photograph their new dress line, Love Spell. We spend the day with a bunch of Aussies road tripping through the Dr. Seuss park of their dreams.

Andrew takes me to the Guns n’ Roses concert at Qualcomm. I schedule a couple’s portrait session just for us with my friend Corinne. We spend the day running up and down the slot canyons of Anza Borrego. It feels nice to be on the other side of the camera for once.

Rue de Seine Love spell at Joshua tree by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


September is the month I find my groove. I’m off to Big Sur over Memorial Day weekend…this time with Jamie in tow. We explore Point Lobos and Garrapata State Park. Then it’s wedding time at Folktale winery in Carmel.

I document a surprise vow renewal for the sweetest family. I turn my 25th birthday into an even bigger party by photographing a wedding. Then I’m off to Big Sur again for the most romantic wedding of the year. Andrew and I drive to San Francisco the next day to catch a glorious sunset at Land’s End. We wrap up the month with one more trip out to the rolling dunes of Glamis.

Intimate Big Sur wedding at Limekiln by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

FALL // September 22 – December 21

Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them. So go out and start creating.”


My sister and I land in Sacramento at the beginning of October for my cousin’s intimate backyard wedding. The day before, we venture out to Steph and Kord’s favorite spot on the lake for family photos with their newest little one. We fly home the next morning for my only double header of the year (that was intentional).

We celebrate my dad’s 55th birthday and take him to a hockey game. I see Bon Iver perform live at the Copley Symphony hall. I meet Jillian and Tom for their family portraits. They introduce me to a new way of thinking about work/life balance. I don’t think we met by chance.

I receive my early print edition of The Knot, featuring Ricky & Nessie’s Costa Rica wedding. It is one of the business highlights of my year.

Bridal portraits in field roseville ca by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


Everything starts to settle. I have two more San Diego weddings before breaking for the holidays. I want to make an extra effort to be with my family this year. We introduce a new pup to the fur family: Beau the coonhound.

We take another trip up to Mount Laguna for an anniversary session. The following day, we explore some scenic spots in Anza Borrego with Brogen and David.

Desert engagement at Dry lake bed in Anza Borrego by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson


A trip to Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas with some old and new friends to help bring a long-time business vision of mine to life. It’s the culmination of months of hard work and planning. (I’m not going to reveal much more than that..stay tuned).

We have our first San Diego Wedding Photography meet up. It feels wonderful to be a part of such a supportive and talented community. I spend much of this month with family and friends. We sneak Andrew’s niece out to a Christmas Tree farm for photos while his sister is at the Nutcracker. My mom flies down from Sacramento to visit for Christmas.

We drive up to Palomar Mountain to catch the last of the snow for an engagement. My last wedding of the year falls on New Year’s Eve. It pours and pours all day, but Ashley & Erik embrace it. I’m grateful for couples like them who roll with the punches life throws.

Dry Lake Bed elopement in Boulder, Nevada by San Diego photographer Paige Nelson

WINTER // December 21…and onward.

“Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.”

So what are my resolutions this year? Strike a better work-life balance. Use my time more productively. Live smaller to live bigger. Be more Earth conscious with my purchases. Become an activist for causes I believe in. Learn calligraphy. Forgive more easily. Travel to a few places on my bucket list. Be kind to others more often.

Here’s to living life more fully. 2017…I’m ready.