Bunnies, lambs, baby goats, sheep, and more! Outdoor Spring Mini Sessions!

Perfect for Easter photos or just to have, we are booking Mini Sessions with bunnies, a baby goat, sheep, lambs, and possibly another visitor or two. These sessions will be different from our regular mini sessions. We’ll have a couple of different setups but the goal is to create a beautiful fine art image for you to cherish. You’ll receive a handful of images to choose from and they will be magical.

What you need to know…

* The bunnies who will be posing in your photos come from a wonderful woman who owns a petting zoo, her name is Sandy. They’re very used to being handled, very calm around children, and Sandy is there the entire time helping pose the animals and insure that they, and your children, are safe at all times.

* She’s also providing us with several other animals. Some of the animals aren’t well suited for toddlers. If you have small children and would like photos with the sheep or other large animals we suggest you come prepared to be in the photos with them as they are larger animals and can be a little rambunctious.

*Providing you with gorgeous photos that are taken safely with animals used to being handled and professionally cared for is something we take very seriously. We will not ever purchase bunnies or other animals for sessions and return/rehome them, we take animal safety and welfare very seriously.

* The sessions will take place on a farm in Apison, TN.

* There are several package options available, packages start at $75

* Yes, boys are welcome too! We just didn’t have any available for photos this day.

* It’s going to be amazing and fun and chaotic and we are so very excited to be able to do these sessions!

* Just book already, I promise you won’t regret it 🙂

You can book your session by clicking on the link for the package you’d like below. We will assign you a time (you may request one by emailing info@innamorata.com) a week prior to the session and email you all of the necessary information.

 

Session Fee
$49.99

Book Saturday, April 1st
Sorry, we are FULLY BOOKED for this date.

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Bunnies & Baby Lambs! Spring Sessions are here!

chattanooga bunnies bunny easter rabbit session photo
It’s time for Spring Sessions! Coming to the studio we will have bunnies and at least one baby lamb. It’s going to be a wonderful experience and we’ll take some amazing portraits. The sample photos shown are from previous years, this year we’ll be changing it up some and making it even better!

What you should know:

* The session fee is $39.99 and includes a 15-ish minute session (we say -ish because most small children don’t last more than 15-20 minutes before they’re over it and some children need a little more time – we will great photos for you). Packages start at $75.

* The bunnies who will be posing in your photos come from a wonderful woman who owns a petting zoo, her name is Sandy. They’re very used to being handled, very calm around children, and Sandy is there the entire time helping pose the animals and insure that they, an your children, are safe at all times. She’s also providing us with a baby lamb for photos this year! We’re super excited about that. Providing you with gorgeous photos that are taken safely with animals used to being handled and professionally cared for is something we take very seriously. We will not ever purchase bunnies for sessions and return/rehome them, we take animal safety and welfare very seriously.

* It’s going to be FUN! You can have photos made with the bunnies or the lamb or with both! (See Rupert and Sandy below!)

Chattanooga Bunny Lamb Sessions Easter 2015 Mini Session

Right now we are opening up Saturday March 4th and Sunday March 5th for Bunny & Lamb Photos. You can book your session by clicking on the link for the date you’d like below. We will assign you a time (you may request one by emailing info@innamorata.com) a week prior to the session and email you all of the necessary information.

To book Saturday, March 4th click below!

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To book Sunday, March 5th click below!

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We can’t wait to see you!

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Lauren & Jeremiah’s Chattanooga Destination Wedding

Lauren and Jeremiah are from New Jersey and wanted a gorgeous southern wedding so they came to Chattanooga, Tennessee, after all, what’s more perfectly southern than Tennessee? Believe it or not, we’ve had a ton of clients decide to have big, amazing destination weddings here. We’re always thrilled when they choose us and choose our gorgeous city.

Lauren and Jeremiah chose lovely venues and assembled a dream team of wedding professionals for their wedding day. I have to give credit to all of them for their professionalism and genuinely making their wedding day perfect. As you’ll see in the photos, it was truly a perfect southern wedding!

Wedding Coordinator – Khloe Jackson Events
Ceremony Venue – 901 Lindsay (formerly Lindsay Street Hall)
Reception Venue – The Peyton
Catering, Linens, & Bartending – Events With Taste
Alcohol & Beverages – Riverside Wine & Spirits
Flowers & Decor – The Clay Pot
Music, Draping, & Photo Booth – Sound Force
Cakes & Desserts – Kimmie’s Cakes
Hair & Makeup – Bangs & Blush
Bus Transportation – Littmore Transportation
Hotel Accommodations (and getting ready) – The Historic Read House Hotel
Photography & Videography – Innamorata Photography with Kelcurt Media

It was a sweet, emotional, sentimental wedding day. Lauren, who’d lost her father, wore photos of him on clips on her shoes so that her Daddy could “walk her down the aisle”. Her bouquet was lovingly wrapped in one of her fathers shirts. Lauren’s son walked her down the aisle where Jeremiah awaited with teary eyes to greet his gorgeous bride at 901 Lindsay, he also served as Best Man. Following the ceremony friends and family who’d traveled near and far greeted each other for cocktail hour at The Peyton. After a grand entrance guests were greeted by Lauren & Jeremiah and sat down for a perfectly catered meal from Events with Taste. Lauren’s sweet son, Joey, gave what was perhaps the most moving and sentimental wedding toast I’ve heard, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The cake was cut, drinks were poured, and dancing commenced until it was time for Lauren and Jeremiah to leave with a perfect sparkler exit.

Thank you for having us share your special day with you, Lauren, Jeremiah, and Joey. We wish the three of of a lifetime of love, laughter, and happiness!

 

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Cyber Monday Sale – Portrait Sessions & Wedding Albums!

2016-11-28_0002 We’ve had such a great year photographing all of our wonderful wedding and portrait clients! We truly consider you all friends and hope you’ll come back to see us next year. And, for those of you who’ve never been in front of our camera we want to offer you a special deal as well!

For today only you may pre-pay for a one hour portrait session that includes 15 digital images for only $350. (sessions must happen on a weekday morning, afternoon, or evening – sessions must be used by May 1, 2017).

Click here to purchase:

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For our wedding clients who didn’t purchase an album (whether your wedding was 10 years ago or hasn’t happened yet), you can purchase a 30 page Fine Art Book for only $649 (plus tax). That’s a HUGE savings!

Click here to purchase:

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Madeline Duggar - Hello,
I am getting married on 11-25-17 and was hoping to get a quote from you.
Thanks,
Madeline

Melody Hood - Hi Madeline, our email address is info@innamorata.com – unfortunately there’s no way for us to send you the information here but we would love to chat with you about your wedding!

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Cyber Monday Deals – Mentoring for Photographers

2016-11-28_0009 Sometimes we simply get stuck or don’t have the skills or knowledge to accomplish what we are trying to do. It’s frustrating. We’ve all been there at one or 1,000 points in our journey. Being artists sometimes it’s difficult to find balance with work/life/career/art. I get it. After 20 years in this industry I’ve seen more people come and go than I’ve seen people stick around. I want to help you stick around. I want to help you achieve your goals. I want to put a smile back on your face, help you grow more confident, talk to you, learn your personal goals, and help you achieve them. I want to see your frustrations melt away and for you to walk away confident that you can achieve what you want to whether photography is a business or a hobby for you.

This is the only time of year that you can purchase a discounted one on one mentoring session. Our studio is so busy the rest of the year that I generally don’t have the time to do them. I love mentoring photographers, helping you succeed is something I’m very passionate about. A one on one mentoring session is completely customized to your needs and goals and based on what you want to learn and is good for photographers of any skill level.

 

A few of the things I can teach you:

Photographing (couples/seniors/weddings/children/families/commercial assignments)
Off Camera Lighting

Studio Lighting
Using on camera flash
Getting it right in camera
How to find natural light
Photographing people at night
Shooting in full sun
Choosing lenses
Wedding Workflow
How to Book Weddings
How to Photograph Weddings
The business of photography
Camera Basics
Posing
Portfolio/Image Critique
Pricing
Vendors/Equipment
Workflow
Lightroom
Photo Editing
Editing workflow
Running your business more efficiently
And so very much more!

 

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Please feel free to email info@innamorata.com with any questions about mentoring or you can click the link below to book yours!  Group mentoring sessions are available on a limited basis if you’d like to share a session with a friend or 5. In person mentoring is available in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Group mentoring is possible in other locations. Please email for more information.

Weekday mentoring session (you may book from 9am-2pm M-F): $495 (1 still available)

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Weekday evening mentoring session (you may book from 3:30pm-10pm M-Th): $549 (2 still available)

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Weekend mentoring session (Saturday & Sunday – flexible times): $649 (2 still available)

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Online mentoring session (via Go2Meeting): $299 (3 still available)

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*note that in-person mentoring sessions are 4 hours and must be completed before March 6, 2017, online mentoring sessions are 2 hours, are only available on weekdays or weekday evenings, and must be completed by April 30, 2017 – mentoring sessions are non-refundable*

 

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Melody Hood is an internationally award winning photographer whose images have appeared in magazines, print ads, and various national ad campaigns. She shoots for Aéropostale and for several magazines on a regular basis. She has photographed engagements, weddings, commercial jobs, births and family milestones all over the United States and Internationally. She’s photographed half a million dollar weddings and weddings in church gyms. Melody has taught and mentored hundreds of photographers worldwide. She has spoken at WPPI, the worlds largest photography convention. She has been sponsored by, has spoken and taught for companies such as Elinchrom, Pocket Wizard, ProFoto, Pixel2Canvas, Vision Art, MeFoto and more. She’s taught workshops with Meg Bitton, Marc Eric, and other well known wedding and portrait photographers. She has created educational materials and Breakout Sessions for ClickinMom’s and has taught photographic lighting for many companies across the world.

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It’s time for Fall Mini Sessions! Chattanooga & Cleveland, TN

2016-09-15_0001 You can now book your fall mini sessions in Chattanooga or Cleveland, TN!

In Chattanooga we’ll be using two gorgeous locations. One is filled with enchanted pathways and gorgeous light, the other is a beautiful mountain stream with large boulders and trees framing the most gorgeous creek you’ve ever seen. These are perfect for your fall family photos, Holiday Cards and gifts, a mini engagement session, a mini maternity session, or a milestone session. Both locations are in the Chattanooga area, you will receive directions prior to your session.

In Cleveland, TN sessions will be held at the beautiful Red Clay State Park where there are fields, historic cabins, water, and beautiful scenery.

 

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Session availability is very limited so please be sure to schedule yours before they fill up completely!

Sessions last 25 minutes and price includes your choice of 8 digital images from your online gallery for $249.

You can schedule your session using the buttons below, times will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. Slots are scheduled based on when the light is the best at the location you’ve chosen. If you need a specific time please email us and request it and we will do our best to accommodate you. We will have a backup rain date in case of inclement weather.

 

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Creek Sessions:

Thursday, October 13th (sessions available from 4:00-6:30pm) Creek Session

THREE SESSIONS REMAINING

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Saturday, October 22nd – Creek Session

TWO SESSIONS REMAINING

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Enchanted Forest Sessions:

Wednesday, October 12 (sessions available from 3:30-6:30pm) Enchanted Forest Session
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Sunday, October 23rd – Enchanted Forest Session

SOLD OUT

Red Clay State Park, Cleveland TN:

Saturday, October 15th – Red Clay State Park

THREE SESSIONS REMAINING

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Sunday, October 16th – Red Clay State Park

SOLD OUT

Please email info@innamorata.com with any questions!

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ONE DAY SALE! Fine Art Prints by Dennis Sprinkle – The Perfect Holiday Gift!

Dennis is an absolutely phenomenal landscape and astro photographer.  For this holiday season we have the exclusive rights to sell his incredible prints. You have ONE day, 24 Hours, to order these incredible prints for Christmas delivery.

What you need to know…

Prints will arrive December 23rd-24th as they are custom printed.

Prints are sized as Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. Print size will vary based on the aspect ratio of the image.

Small Prints are 8×8 to 8×12
Medium Sized Prints are 12×12 to 12×24
Large Sized Prints are 20×20 to 24×36
Extra Large Sized Prints are 30×30 to 30×34

All prints are printed on metal. They are GORGEOUS, they have a depth that is unparalleled.

To order, choose the size below and put the image name in the ordering notes (***note that the image title is UNDER the image). The product will be shipped directly to the address provided when ordering.

Trifid & Lagoon

Trifid & Lagoon

IC 410 - Tadpoles

IC 410 – Tadpoles

IC 443 - Jellyfish Nebula Mosaic

IC 443 – Jellyfish Nebula Mosaic

IC405 - Flaming Star Nebula

IC405 – Flaming Star Nebula

IC434 - Horsehead

IC434 – Horsehead

IC1396 - Elephant

IC1396 – Elephant’s Trunk

IC1848 - Soul Nebula

IC1848 – Soul Nebula

IC5070 - Pelican Nebula

IC5070 – Pelican Nebula

M20 Trifid Nebula

M20 Trifid Nebula

M31 - Andromeda

M31 – Andromeda

M42 - Orion Nebula

M42 – Orion Nebula

M45 - Pleiades

M45 – Pleiades

NGC 6914

NGC 6914

NGC2239 - Rosette Nebula

NGC2239 – Rosette Nebula

NGC6960 Western Veil Nebula

NGC6960 Western Veil Nebula

NGC6995 - Eastern Veil Nebula

NGC6995 – Eastern Veil Nebula

SH2-155 - Cave Nebula

SH2-155 – Cave Nebula

Yaquina Lighthouse in Oregon

Yaquina Lighthouse in Oregon

2012 Geminids Meteor Shower in Reliance, TN

2012 Geminids Meteor Shower in Reliance, TN

2015 Perseid Meteor Shower at Fall Creek Falls

2015 Perseid Meteor Shower at Fall Creek Falls

Bar Harbor Lighthouse in Maine

Bar Harbor Lighthouse in Maine

Black Balsam Knob on Blue Ridge Parkway

Black Balsam Knob on Blue Ridge Parkway

Double Rainbow and Lightning over Cleveland

Double Rainbow and Lightning over Cleveland

Elowah Falls in Oregon

Elowah Falls in Oregon

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN 2

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN 2

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN 3

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN 3

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN

Goforth Creek in Ocoee, TN

Haystack Rock in Oregon

Haystack Rock in Oregon

Haystack Rock Milky Way in Oregon

Haystack Rock Milky Way in Oregon

Hiwassee Dam Star Trails in Murphy, NC

Hiwassee Dam Star Trails in Murphy, NC

Hunting Island SC Lighthouse 2

Hunting Island SC Lighthouse 2

Hunting Island SC Lighthouse

Hunting Island SC Lighthouse

Little River in Tremont, TN 2

Little River in Tremont, TN 2

Little River in Tremont, TN

Little River in Tremont, TN

Machine Falls in Tullahoma, TN

Machine Falls in Tullahoma, TN

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor at Clingmans Dome

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor at Clingmans Dome

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

Pebble Beach in Maine

Pebble Beach in Maine

Pebble Beach Sunrise in Maine

Pebble Beach Sunrise in Maine

Piney Falls in Grandview, TN

Piney Falls in Grandview, TN

Ponytail Falls in Oregon

Ponytail Falls in Oregon

Puffin in Flight in Maine

Puffin in Flight in Maine

Punchbowl Falls in Oregon

Punchbowl Falls in Oregon

San Diego Skyline

San Diego Skyline

Thor

Thor’s Well in Oregon

Upper Turtletown Falls

Upper Turtletown Falls

Yaquina Lighthouse in Oregon 2

Yaquina Lighthouse in Oregon 2

Small Metal Art Print – $150

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Medium Metal Art Print – $250

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Large Metal Art Print – $550

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Extra Large Metal Art Print – $650

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Photos with Santa! A whole new Santa Portrait Experience!

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Where are the sessions held? At our Downtown Chattanooga Studio at 3077 Broad Street in the Southern Saddlery Building.

Who is photographing the Santa Sessions this year? In the past, Melody has had weddings scheduled on our Santa days but, this year, she doesn’t. So, Melody and Shannon will be working together to photograph your session with Santa and we have some incredibly fun ideas to make this year the best ever!

What’s different about it? It’s a VERY interactive experience. Your child has a reserved session time where they’re able to spend one on one time with Santa – no lines, no wait, no pressure. Your child can arm up naturally to Santa and get to know him a bit. They can look at books, have milk and cookies, your child can give Santa a letter or read him a list if you’d like.

What’s new this year? Gift drop off! You now have the option to bring a personalized gift (either on a previous day when we have gift drop-off scheduled, or by sneaking it in the day of your session) that Santa can give to your child. Many parents have done this over the years we’ve had Santa at our studio and the look on your child’s face when they open something that they asked for that Santa just handed them is priceless and adds to the magic so we decided to offer it as an option to all families.

What else is new this year? In addition to our gorgeous Santa set we are also offering a Winter Wonderland set for one family photo. So, parents come dressed if you’d like! This is perfect for families who just need that one photo for your holiday cards and there’s no additional session fee for your family photo and no having to dress your children up twice.

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What happened to the Santa you had last year? Sadly, earlier this year we had to say goodbye to Santa Robert (pictured above) as he earned his angel wings. Our new Santa, who we scoured high and low for to find the perfect Santa to provide the most wonderful experience for your children, is simply wonderful. He has 11 children of his own and is a warm, kind, and friendly man who will make this years Santa experience unforgettable.

What if my child is afraid of Santa? What if they cry the entire time? Honestly, it’s relatively rare with the way we do things that children are terrified of our Santa but it does happen occasionally. If your child doesn’t do well with Santa we can photograph them alone, or with you, either on the Santa or Winter Wonderland set. You’ll still get photos of your child.

How much is it? The session fee is $39, which covers your time with Santa, an optional family portrait, and an online gallery to order prints or digital images from. Prints start at $15, packages start at $50.

What does your new Santa look like? Below are some photos of our new Santa. **These were not taken at our studio and represent Santa only – that’s not our Santa set.** He’s quite handsome, very wonderful with children, we adore him and are excited he’s coming to our studio!

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Book here!

Session availability is very limited so please be sure to schedule yours before they fill up completely!

You can reserve your session using the buttons below, times will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. If you need a specific time please email us at info@innamorata.com and request it and we will do our best to accommodate you. Santa will be at the studio from 10am-5pm each day.

Sunday, November 29th with Santa:

SOLD OUT!!!

Sunday, December 6th with Santa:

SOLD OUT!!!

 

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Haleigh & Trey’s Stratton Hall & Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church Wedding

Haleigh and Trey’s wedding at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian and reception at Stratton Hall were simply epic… For the women, the day began at the Sherbak family home. The 17 beautiful bridesmaids and the gorgeous mother of the bride had their hair and makeup done by the fabulous artists from SpaGo and Hairbenders while they talked and laughed and caught up, most of them being high school and college friends. Haleigh took a quiet moment to write a letter to Trey on a card that she’d purchased years earlier for her “Someday Husband” and it was the sweetest thing ever.

The men began their day at Big River shooting pool and having a few beers. They took 5 minutes to get dressed and ready.  Guys are so easy. So. Easy.

Arriving at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian was almost a flashback to 10 years prior when we photographed Haleigh’s sister, Rachel’s, wedding there. This time Rachel & Crawford had two gorgeous daughters in tow. So many familiar faces in the wedding party and in the family seated in the pews and standing up for photos. Spending the day with this amazing family is always a privilege and a wonderful experience. They are all gracious, loving, and kind. The addition of Trey’s family to their family dynamic was a perfect fit.

Haleigh had three incredible first looks – first with her wedding party, then with her husband-to-be- then with her father. Each one beautiful and emotion filled. Every moment all day was just wonderful.

The wedding party of 35 total people was incredible to work with. They made my job easy as they posed beautifully outside the church. The girls, all stunningly gorgeous, and the guys all handsome and polite. We ran through some football plays then prepared for the ceremony 🙂

The ceremony itself was beautiful. Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church is one of the most gorgeous churches in town. They do have some pretty tight restrictions on photography in order to maintain the sanctity of the ceremony itself, we are always happy to follow them as being intrusive or distracting is never something we want to do during a wedding ceremony. Because we do stay in one spot there and aren’t able to move around I do actually get to listen more to the ceremony. Crawford, Rachel’s husband, Haleigh’s brother in law, performed part of the ceremony and made it so much more personal. My eyes teared up more than once during the service as I listened to them speak about Haleigh & Trey’s love story and how their marriage will be.

As the perfect flower girl, Ruthie, Haleigh’s neice, began to walk down the aisle I giggled a little when she dumped her entire basket of petals on the floor before she made it to the aisle. She, adorably, scooped some of them back up and put them back in her basket and continued down the aisle toward her father (Crawford) where she handed him a petal before continuing to her spot. As I turned back toward the door where Haleigh was entering I actually gasped. I’d spent the entire day with Haleigh, I’d seen her in her dress at her Bridal Session and for several hours before the ceremony, but she was absolutely radiant walking down the aisle with her father. The look of bliss and excitement on her face isn’t something I will soon forget. To know Haleigh is love her, she’s one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve ever known, and to see the look of such deserved happiness on her face was one of those moments that takes your breath away.

Trey stood handsomely at the end of the aisle staring adoringly at his beautiful bride as she walked down the aisle toward him. The ceremony that followed was filled with tears, laughter, beauty, grace, and God. The couple that stood at the end of the aisle that way committed their lives to God and to each other in front of so many family and friends.

Following the ceremony we took family photos, a few more photos of Haleigh and Trey, and headed to the reception at Stratton Hall. Stratton Hall is a gorgeous venue that exudes class. It’s one of the largest in town, which is good, because I’m not sure I’ve seen that many people come out to celebrate a wedding before. Also, Stratton Hall is owned and run by Haleigh and her mother, Jan. It’s actually named after Haleigh, making an even more perfect venue for her reception.

I cant compliment Soundforce and Luma Designs more on the absolutely fantastic job they did draping and lighting Stratton Hall for this reception. When I first laid eyes on it I stood there with my mouth open for several minutes marveling at their amazing ability to create an entirely different look at a venue every time they walk in to it. The White Table chose the perfect linens. Amanda, of Divine Designs and Impressions Catering, did a breathtaking job with the floral arrangements and centerpieces. Impressions Catering set up multiple food stations all over the venue creating the most perfect way to feel so many guests I’ve ever seen. And the food, as always, was incredible.

Haleigh and Trey entered for their first dance, surrounded by people who love them. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was celebrating. The night was beautifully perfect as guests ate incredible food, perused wines at the wine bar, had endless options at the bourbon bar, and danced to the incredible sounds of The Ascension Band out of Atlanta. Before Steve, the father of the bride, delivered his epic toast making everyone in the room laugh and smile and cry just enough, we grabbed Haleigh and Trey for a few of our signature sunset photos (and what an amazing sunset it was!) then we spent the rest of the evening photojournalistically capturing the incredible celebration.

As Trey works for the Atlanta Hawks they gave out some fun swag for the guests, Krystals were delivered, the last dance was accompanied by flutter confetti, and a sparkler exit ended the evening sending this most perfect couple away to begin their life together.

I can’t think of a better celebration, a more perfect couple, more amazing friends and family, or better people to spend the day with. The vendors did the most incredible job working together with the family and with each other to pull off something truly unique and amazing. I am blessed to have captured two weddings for this wonderful family and to get to work with them often at Stratton Hall.

To Haleigh & Trey – I’m typing this teary eyed… You are both incredible, incredible people. You each have a kind heart and a gentle soul. You are giving and bless other people daily with your friendship and your presence. I am so blessed to have you in my life and so thankful you chose me to photograph your wedding. I thank you for your friendship, as do so many other people and I am so overwhelmingly happy that you found each other and that you have the most perfect person to spend your lives with. I see the love and happiness in your eyes every time I’m around you and, looking at your photos, I see it again. I don’t have to wish you a lifetime of happiness because I know that you’ll have one together. Thank you for allowing me in to your lives and letting me capture your love story.

To Jan & Steve – I wish you had more daughters, hah! Getting to know your family over the past decade has been an enormous blessing to me. The relationship you have with your children and grandchildren is beautiful and has been both an inspiration and something I aspire to achieve with my own children. You are incredible as individuals, as parents, as grandparents, and as friends. Thank you for trusting me to capture so many special days in your lives and allowing me in to your home (which you’re still welcome to will to me someday, if you’d like to ;)) and for being who you are. You embody the kind of people we should all strive to be. You’re more special to me than I even know how to express.

To all of the vendors who helped make this day so perfect –

Impressions Catering
Divine Designs by Amanda
Luma Designs
Soundforce
Ascension Band
Sweet Angel Cakes
Chattanooga Valet
The White Table Linens
Shannon & Jason of Innamorata Photography – who were the best two photographers I ever could have worked with that day – you both rocked it!
I can’t think of better people to work with. Thanks to all of you for being who you are and doing an incredible job at what you do!

Much love,

Melody

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Covering the Shootings in Chattanooga – From a Media (My) Perspective

Day 1: 7/16/2015

Like most people probably did, I found out about the “active shooter” on Facebook. I was stunned, this doesn’t happen here. HERE? In Chattanooga? No. This simply does. Not. Happen. Here.

“There’s an officer down. An officer has been shot.” – before the casualties were reported word got out that an officer had been shot. Like anyone else with police officer friends I started sending a flurry of “I know you’re busy, let me know you’re okay when you can, please.” text messages. People that I love and care about were there and I knew it. Thankfully they were safe. (Backstory: I rode with the Sheriffs Department for 6 years and  went through much of my reserve training before being called to do something else, so I know what the law enforcement side of this is like and those are “my boys”.)

“Four casualties.” Four. Four brave, unarmed men. Massacred for no apparent reason.

I got a lot of the initial information from a Facebook group I’m in – one of the women in the group, her husband, is a Marine and was at the site on Amnicola when the shootings occurred. She updated us on what was happening and what had happened long before the media starts releasing any information.

Then the shooters name is released, reports that tie him to ISIS surfacing all over the internet (all of which proved to be false).

Not long after that there are helicopters circling my house. Literally. Hovering over and circling my house. The shooter, who is now dead, lived less than a mile from me and they are searching his house.

I get the call – a journalist friend (who I will refer to as “R”) that I haven’t heard from in what seems like forever calls me up, “We need a photographer in Chattanooga to cover this story with me, you in?”

Of course I was in. (Here’s my chance to win a Pulitzer, right? Riiiight…) Though we were some of the last to get the call and probably the only news outlet that only sent two people (the reporter and I) to cover this huge and multi-faceted story. But, whatever, we’re badasses, we can handle this, right? Riiiiight. The media outlet calls me, asks me to come on board, they send me an email with what they’ll pay me, all I have to do is respond and accept. I am on the job.

Assignment Day 1: Photograph the shooters house. Attend the 11pm press conference at the TVA building downtown.

Of course, by the time we were assigned the job it was dark. The house, and most of the street it was on, had long been secured by police. There was no way we were getting near it. Thankfully I didn’t have to drive far, really, who am I kidding? I could have walked to that house through the woods next to mine in under 8 minutes.  I snapped some photos of the police cars blocking the street (conveniently lit by news van headlights), R interviewed some neighbors who were, honestly, in shock that this kid could have done something like this, and we headed to the press conference.

At this point I can tell you, your mind shifts. You go from a teary-eyed, “How can this happen in my city?” to a “WE HAVE TO GET THE STORY!” journalist, at least somewhat. I am now on a job, on a mission. I must find the truth and tell it.

To enter the press conference we had to go through security – it was easy to tell why they chose the TVA building downtown – they were the only government building that was open 24 hours a day that had space and the ability to run us all through airport-security style. We waited in line, put all of our things through the x-ray machine, walked through the metal detector, proved who we were, were handed a press badge, and then escorted by a security guard to a theatre like room in the basement of the building. Maybe 20 people were in the room. Journalists typing warp speed on laptops, a few news cameras rolling, maybe three other photographers snapping away at the speakers. There we were briefed by Military, FBI, and local officials. Basically they didn’t know much more than we did at that point, nor would I expect them to – or expect them to admit it if they did.

After the press conference we headed to the Marriott – where R, and all of the reporters and other government officials from out of town, were staying, and sat in the lobby typing and uploading at warp speed. News happens fast, y’all. It’s not like what this perfectionist is used to. There’s no time to sit and tweak photos. You simply upload them (with metadata captions that take forever for a newbie) and go.

I spent a lot of time messaging people on Facebook who knew the shooter or the victims (friends, not strangers, Chattanooga is a big small town). We got a lot of inside information that first day.

One story down.

Day 2: 7/17/2015

Assignment 1: I wake up early, check in with the news desk, check in with R to see what we’re doing. I meet him at the site of the shootings on Amnicola Hwy. He interviews people at the site and local businesses surrounding it. I photograph the (small, at that point, just a few flags and some flowers) memorial site, the shooters rented convertible Mustang (from a distance) and the FBI processing evidence there. It’s an eerie feeling, knowing that five men died and an officer was wounded there, seeing the car that the attacker drove through the fence at the Navy Operational Support Center & Marine Corps Reserve Center before opening fire on a group of unarmed soldiers. A place, for those of you who don’t know, that’s inside a local park, mere feet from a playground and jogging/walking paths that people of Chattanooga visit every day. A place where my own children played when they were younger, a place where I’ve taken many early morning walks myself, where the very first sign you see when entering boldly states, “Firearms Prohibited in County Parks”. I’m still in shock that this happened in my city – that it’s a national headline.

Assignment 2: AKA – the “Are you (*#$#*(& kidding me?” assignment.

Being honest, I’ve photographed plenty fluff pieces for the media/magazines before. Feel good, inspirational, heart-warming stories of people overcoming obstacles and cancer and growing up in the worst ways and still managing to make something of themselves. This is the first time I’d ever covered a major story, a tragic story, for the news. I did not even think to expect or anticipate what an assignment like this would entail.

The names of the fallen had been released. Only one of them was a local resident. We were told to go to his house, knock on his door, and try to speak to his widow. I looked at R and said, “Are you ()#*$#$ serious? She lost her husband. Yesterday. HOW? No. Just no.” I felt my palms start to sweat. My heart was pounding. An enormous lump formed in my throat. Doing something like that violated every single thing in my nature, in my being. I am simply not intrusive like that and I could not fathom knocking on this womans door during the worst time in her life.

But it was our job. As R read off the address to me I realized I wouldn’t need to put it in my GPS. I knew that street by heart. I’d traveled up and down it in cars, on my bicycle, on a sled when it had snowed, on foot with childhood friends, and even on my roller skates. I grew up there. I’d been past that house thousands of times in the 11 years we’d lived there from the time I was in 3rd grade until I graduated from High School.

I drove there. Slowly. Which, if you’ve ever ridden in the car with me you’ll know is rare. I do not drive slowly. Ever. My heart pounded. I prayed that the police would be there or a family member or SOMEONE would be standing outside the house to tell us to go away. That we’d never made it to the front door. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see a Sheriff’s Department car parked in front of that house.

I parked a couple of houses away. I didn’t even want his widow to be able to look out the window and see vultures coming to prey on her at her weakest moment. R got out of the car and spoke with the officer, then with a couple of neighbors. I stayed in the car. I knew we’d have to have proof that we were there so I photographed R talking to the officer from the drivers seat. Other reporters started lining the street. Some stopped and talked to me. Not one of them wanted to knock on that door. They all seemed just as relieved as I was that the officer was stationed there. I’ve never been happier to leave a place in my entire life.

 

Assignment 3: We head over to Lee Hwy, to the recruiting office where the initial shots were fired. News trucks are everywhere with their giant satellites ready to upload and stream news feeds. R and I feel pretty small time – I am armed with my camera, he has a notepad – while most news outlets have teams of 8 or more people – we have each other. We talk to people. I stand in awe looking at the number of bullet holes in the glass, surprised but thankful that there were no casualties there. If you were there, at any point, before they boarded up the windows, you would see that only an act of God saved the people in that building. 59 shots fired through that glass. Only one made contact with a person and, thankfully, he survived. (I’ll tell you a little more about him later).

I photograph the memorial, the people in tears, hugging, praying, strangers comforting each other in ways you don’t normally get to witness. My eyes tear up. I feel like I am part of something of great importance, that I can tell a story, a difficult story, but I can do it well. I am surprised by the number of people there, the amount of flags already planted firmly in the ground. I am proud of my city.
Assignment 4: We head to the Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when we pulled in the parking lot. It’s half-full with a handful of vehicles that are clearly marked as news media. I didn’t know how we would be treated when we walked inside. Would we be turned away? Would I feel uncomfortable being there?

We were welcomed with open arms. R walked in ahead of me. The man at the door shook his hand, greeted him, welcomed him and showed him to a room where a church official was speaking about what they knew about the shooter and his family. The man shook my hand, welcomed me, and sent me in the same direction.

Let’s be honest, you can only take so many photos of a man talking. I took a few photos and left the room. I wandered around a bit. I read through some of their brochures and literature. I picked up a copy of the Quran and flipped through it. Another photographer, a man from New York, was over talking to a church official getting permission to photograph the prayer ceremony. I asked for the same. He was told he could go in to the room with the men (they later decided not to allow cameras in to that room). I was told that I could not go in to the room with the men, but that I could go in to the room with the women but that I would need to follow their guidelines and cover my head and my arms. They introduced me to a lovely woman (whose name I will not give) who seemed to be in charge of the womens group. I asked her if she had something I could use to cover my head and my arms. I was given a Hajib. The woman who placed the Hajib on my head smiled softly and said, “wow, you look like us”. She seemed surprised that a pale, redheaded woman looked like she belonged in the room with them.

In the Islamic Temple the rooms are divided. The mens room is enormous. The womens room is the size of an elementary school classroom. There’s a wooden wall dividing the two rooms, the top half of the wall is decorative and allows a little (not much) visibility in to the mens room. I assume it’s mostly so that the sound will carry as most of the women are seated in the floor and the bottom half of the wall is solid wood. For a while we sat silently. Women prayed. People looked sad, fearful, nervous. The sermon was peaceful, but sad, there were many tears being shed as the Imam spoke of how terrible the actions of the shooter were and prays for the families of the fallen. He spoke of peace, love, and focusing on picking up the pieces to move forward. He spoke about continuing to live without fear because of this incident. The women were visibly shaken, especially the younger ones. It hurt my heart that they would have to be fearful simply because of the color of their skin and their religious beliefs. The people there were kind. They were welcoming to me, one of only two press people (and the only one with a camera) allowed in to their prayer service.

Assignment 5: Another press conference. Minutes after we headed toward the press conference we were given a new assignment. Thankfully I was able to call Melissa, one of my most amazing photographers and have her video and photograph the press conference while we headed to the next assignment. She was amazing.

Assignment 6: We headed to the courthouse to pick up a copy of the shooters parents’ divorce papers. (note that I will likely forever call him “the shooter” not by his name, as I don’t feel like he should be immortalized by his horrific actions – he doesn’t deserve to be mentioned). R isn’t from Chattanooga so I was able to navigate a lot of things that, otherwise, likely would have taken him hours to do. I knew exactly where to go to get what was requested (by misfortune of having spent too much time in that courthouse getting divorced myself).

We picked up the papers and I immediately started reading. I’m fairly certain I sat there with my mouth hanging open the entire time. The shooters parents didn’t actually end up getting divorced. The papers were a bit confusing to me as it ended up being an agreement as to what would happen if they did, and a contract stating how their marriage was to be from that point forward. Thankfully I have several friends who are attorneys who were able to help me completely understand the situation as I’d never seen or heard of anything like it. I wanted to find his mother and hug her. The things she endured in that marriage were outrageously awful. I wanted to kick the shooters father in his (probably tiny) man-parts. A part of the story began to unfold, for me, at that moment that contradicted all of the initial reports about ISIS and jihad and extremism and portrayed one of the most troubled family situations I’ve ever heard of. There was no chance of someone growing up with any sort of balance or mental wellbeing in that household. And, no, it does not excuse his actions in any way, shape, or form. Not even a little bit. It simply painted a broader picture of how his life was and what his “normal” must have been like. It explained why he turned to drugs and alcohol. There’s absolutely no excuse for what he’d done. None. You won’t catch me defending his actions.

Day 4: 7/18/2015

Randall Smith, the Navy Corpsman who was wounded in the shootings, passed away.  We visited the memorial sites again. We talked to people. We investigated leads. I talked to people who knew the victims of the shootings. One of which sent me a statement from David Wyatt’s (one of the fallen marines) wife about her husband. It was heart wrenching. I cried.

Here’s what she sent:

“My husband, David Wyatt, was an honorable man. He loved his country, his family, his friends, and his brothers of the Marine Corp.
David knew how to take care of business he worked so hard at every aspect of his life.
I don’t think he truly knows how many lives he has touched. As I read through all the love, gratitude, and memories sent David and I you can feel the love he shared with others. There is a sense of him there in every word written. It gives me a little spec of peace, knowing so many knew the same incredible man I did.
David was truly the greatest man I have ever known, and I was blessed to know him and be his wife. Watching him father our children, was the greatest gift he could ever give me. David knew how to truly love, and when he loved you, it was undeniable.
Family was so important to him. We have the most incredible family, with our two children, our parents, our siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents… Then something happened over the years it kept growing. Every time we pcs’d, every time he deployed, every class he took.. We found new members that were added to our family, and they are forever a part of our family.
He loved his country, he fought for it every day. He had many deployments, unaccompanied tours, and other training exercises, where he was able to shine. He was incredible at his job, and we are blessed as a country that he was.
He died honorably, doing exactly what he was trained to do. I want everyone to know, he is gone, but never forgotten, always cherished, his legacy continues…”

I was sad. My heart hurt for the widows, their parents, and their children. While covering the story and talking to people who knew them I felt oddly connected to these women, I wanted to comfort them. I wanted to do something, anything, to make it better for them.

Assignment: Photograph the shooters house, as the scene had cleared. The shooter lived with his parents in a very nice, upscale, quiet community. It’s actually the neighborhood next to the one I live in. It’s one of those places where the yards are perfectly manicured, the neighbors all know each other, most of them have lived there for many years. It’s a swim/tennis community that’s generally very quiet. Other than the occasional teenager breaking in to cars, nothing bad happens up here.

Melissa photographed the house for me as I was a mile or so down river on a kayak when the call came in and couldn’t get there in the amount of time they wanted me to. The house didn’t fit with the rest. It was poorly maintained with dingy curtains and peeling paint. The yard a little overgrown, hedges untrimmed. It looked sad among all of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Day 5: 7/19/2015

I thought we were going to have an off-day. Nothing new was happening. No new information was coming to light. I was wrong.

Assignment 1: Another “Are you ()*$#$#() kidding me?” assignment.

The desk asked us to go to Randall Smiths house. I wasn’t as nervous this time. All of the Marines had both a soldier and a police officer stationed at their homes to deal with the flood of media. Surely his house would be the same way, right? We drove down to North Georgia to a home that once held a happy family. If you saw the video that circulated on Facebook of Randall Smith singing Frozen songs in the car with his three beautiful daughters you’ve seen what an awesome family they were and what a great father he clearly was. I snapped a few photos of the sign at the entrance to his neighborhood when we pulled in. An incredible tribute from his neighbors. I was certain we would pull up to the house, R would hop out and talk to the officer, and we would drive away.

No such luck. My heart sank when we pulled up to their house. Again, I parked a few houses away. R hopped out and knocked on the door (he didn’t want to, but it was his job to do so). I sat in the car and watched. Nauseous. I didn’t want to be there. I stared at the house. A cooler had been placed by the mailbox. Friends, family, neighbors were putting food and water in it for the family. An abandoned Little Tykes toddler car (the kind you propel with your feet) sat alone in the driveway next to their cars. Toys and bicycles sat in the garage. Every sign of a happy family was there. My heart sank. I could not fathom the hurt, the shock, the thought of her husband, their father, simply going to work one day and never coming home again.

Thankfully no one answered the door. We left.

Assignment 2: Back to the Lee Hwy memorial site. A memorial motorcycle ride was planned to leave from there. Word that We$tb*ro Baptist (I added some symbols to the name so that they don’t get credit for their craptastic actions either) was coming to town to protest the funerals and the memorial site was circulating. We headed down to capture more images of what was going on there and to talk to more people.

I spent the majority of the evening playing detective and finding out where the people from the church that shouldn’t even be referred to as a church were staying and finding out if they were actually in town or not. I found them. Hilariously enough you could see where they had video cameras in their rooms pointing at the parking lot to make sure nobody vandalized their transportation.

Day 6: 7/20/2015

Assignment 1: Because rumor had it (and twitter said it) that WB Baptist was coming to protest the memorial site at Lee Hwy several hundred people took off work and spent their day there. The Red Cross set up a tent handing out water and snacks. The Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains brought in restrooms. A tent company came and donated tents to shield the memorial site from the weather. Flags flew from trucks, motorcycles, cars, and a man even came with a bucket truck and flew a flag high over the memorial site. People held signs, flags, and crosses, handed out water, shared sunscreen, and paid tribute to the fallen soldiers. Disabled veterans wearing prosthetics or sitting in wheel chairs came out to show their support.  It was incredible to witness the outpouring of love and support there that day. I saw several people I knew who’d taken the day off work to show their support. There was a lot of love there, in that parking lot. A lot of love.

Assignment 2: We headed back to the site at Amnicola Hwy. The memorial there had grown. People poured in to place flowers and flags. Some people sat there all day to make sure the WB fools didn’t show up there instead. One girl I know sat there all day long in the blazing sun just to be sure. People signed banners and plaques. I even witnessed a cameraman from a local news station lay his camera on the ground to sign one of the memorial plaques.

Day 7: 7/21/2015

We followed up on some leads. The media was starting to thin out a bit at this point but the stream of people flowing through the memorial hadn’t slowed down. People still stood there with flags and children handed out water. The love and support was still overwhelming.

Day 8: 7/22/2015

Assignment: Another press conference. The Attorney general’s office sent me an email the night before stating there would be a press conference at the TVA building again. Security would be tighter. Credentials would be required.

The room was filled. Packed. A far cry from the first press conference. Cameras everywhere streaming live, reporters typing on laptops faster than I could even think. New information released about the shooter and the leads they were following up. But still no real answers as to why. R and I sat in a coffee shop and uploaded notes and photos while discussing our own theories as to the reasons why.

Day 9: 7/23/2015

We spoke to a man who had some inside information (who asked not to be named) who told us that the Marine wounded at the Recruitment center had actually been out walking around at the memorial the day before. Just days after being shot in the thigh and knee he was out shaking hands never revealing who he was. That’s a hero. An admirable man.

We were also given more details about how the shooting at that site occurred. Apparently the shooter pulled up, circled around in front of the building and fired in to the windows of one office. Then he backed up about 20 feet and started firing in to the other part of the building before taking off and driving 105mph to the site on Amnicola. He did everything with intention. He clearly had a plan.

Day 10: 7/24/2015

Assignment: David Wyatt’s funeral.

I’m not sure I can even accurately describe what this day was like.

We drove there early, around 10am, as I knew parking would be scarce and roads would be closed off for the procession. There were already people lining the streets. Men, women, children – all holding flags and signs and banners. It was a Friday morning, meaning the majority of people there likely took the day off work to be there. Bikers lines the street outside the church holding flags and creating a human wall. Dignitaries, politicians, local and national government officials, members of our military, and friends and family of David Wyatt poured in to the church. So many people that I don’t see how they even held them all in the sanctuary.

Press was relegated to a small roped off area near the parking lot. Understandably, as I’m sure it could have been chaotic otherwise. I spent much of the next couple of hours photographing people coming and going and chatting with the police officer assigned to keep us in line and a Getty photographer, who was likely the nicest media person I met in this entire experience.

I didn’t see the actual funeral service inside the church, but what I saw outside it was an incredible display of loyalty, patriotism, and kindness. The hearse and family were escorted by more motorcycle police than I knew we even had in this area. The Marine pallbearers removed the casket and carried it in to the church. The family poured out of the limousines, their expressions were pained, as you’d expect them to be. I did capture some rather emotional photos of David Wyatt’s wife and children during this time. You won’t see the the photos unless I manage to get them to her and she shares them. They’re too personal for me to share (apparently I am not cut out for this kind of journalism). After the crowd went inside I went to the car with my new friend from Getty where he let me use his wireless hotspot to upload my photos. That’s when I noticed the photos of his daughter, the look on her face, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to upload those, they were too personal. They’ve sat safely on my hard drive ever since. I’m the only person who has seen them.

A bit before the end of the service we drove to the National Cemetery where David Wyatt was to be buried for the service there. By now the streets were lined with people. I’m not talking a few people, I’m talking hundreds, possibly thousands of people lined the 13 mile stretch from the church to the cemetery. Flags, everywhere. At least a dozen people brought cranes, fire trucks, or bucket trucks from which they draped giant flags over the route.  People stood out there for hours that day to show their support and their love. It was one of the most beautiful and powerful things I’ve ever witnessed. Chattanooga came together that day for David Wyatt and his family.

We arrived at the National Cemetery. People were everywhere. Boy Scouts were lined all along the cemetery path as David Wyatt had been an Eagle Scout.

The press section may have been in one of the worst possible places to capture anything. We waited there for hours for the procession to come through. A long stream of bikers, hundreds of them, came ahead of the procession. All of the bikers left their motorcycles and joined in lining the path. We were allowed to photograph the processional coming through. As families pulled up we were told that the family did not wish to be photographed, which gave me a great deal of relief that I didn’t upload all of the photos I’d taken at the church service. We were asked to put down our cameras, the news stations were asked to turn their video cameras around. They all complied, except for the NBC cameraman who argued with them and refused and two rogue photographers. They had to place a Naval Officer in front of his camera to block his feed.

We couldn’t see the service from where we were. I imagine it was heartbreaking for the friends and family. I was glad that (most of) the press complied with the wishes of the family. The only story to be told that day was that a hero died too young and that a family, an entire city, was grieving.

 

In summary… Covering this story was an honor in many ways but was also stressful, heart wrenching,  and gave me a completely different perspective of the sacrifices some people make for our country and safety. I witnessed the best of humanity along with the worst. I saw both deep sadness and loss and the joining of a community in a way I never expected. I knew I lived in a great city, but I never imagined how great it was before this tragedy. I’ve never been so proud of our men in blue. Our police officers couldn’t have done a better job that day or the days that followed. The Corpsmen and Sailors who risked their lives to warn the people in the park, to get each other safely out of that building, our officers who ran in to that building to try to save the lives of the soldiers still inside… all of them risked their lives for us that day. Some of them didn’t make it out. The Chattanooga Five, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells and Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith will not be forgotten. Not ever, not by me, not by the people of this great city. Injured in the shootings, Officer Pedigo, and the unnamed soldier shot at the recruiting center are heroes who will stay in our hearts and in our prayers along with the families of the fallen. So many hearts were broken and lives shattered on July 16, 2015. Our sense of safety was diminished. But our sense of community couldn’t be stronger.

Below you can see many of the photos I captured during those 10 days. I did not include photos of the immediate families or any of the houses, otherwise a bit of each assignment is represented.

#noogastrong from Melody Hood on Vimeo.

Nicole Merriott - Amazing photography of the weeks events that took place. I wish I could have seen the whole video but it stopped short. You did a great job telling the story in pictures of how the community comes together and country

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