Real Smiles for your Sessions

Getting Real Smiles for Your Session

You worked so hard to get ready for your session. You planned the outfits, you mapped the route to our location, you’ve mentally prepared yourself and your family for the fun we’re about to have.  Then you’re on your way to meet me, and a feeling of dread comes over you. What If. What if the kids fight or cry or scream bloody murder? What if every time I take a picture, their normal, sweet smiles suddenly contort into a shower of fake cheeeeeeeeeese, they squint their eyes and wrinkle their noses until they’re unrecognizable? Fake is the opposite of what you want for your family photos.

So, think quick: how do you get your kids to give real smiles during our session? How do you keep them from going all “cheesy?”

The simple answer is, the same way you keep them from going all fussy. We stay relaxed and flexible, and keep the session real by everyone being themselves.

Family photos

The good news for you is that you don’t have to do it alone. I’ll be there! Before I start shooting, I’ll introduce myself, ask the kids some simple questions, get them talking or moving around, depending on the location, and help them relax in front of the stranger with the big camera.

Your job will be to not get frustrated if they aren’t exactly perfect right off the bat. Sessions are an hour and a half on purpose; it gives us time to take breaks for feeding, snack time, introverted kids who need a breather, etc. It won’t be a fun day if you’re angry and fussing at them for being fussy or cheesy.

Kids photography

I want you to have fun together. Fun translates to real smiles, which translates to great photos. If the fun I suggest isn’t working, I’m flexible and I won’t force it. If bubbles are the worst, maybe looking for different colored acorns is more their style. Maybe racing Dad down the dirt path gives them big natural smiles. Perhaps exploring around hidden corners and playing hide and seek is what makes them giggle. The point is that it’s fun, and your family enjoys your time together, while I follow you around and get it all on camera.

If having a “real” family session interests you, contact me and let’s set something up that would be fun for your family!

my brother's wedding

My Brother’s Wedding Keeper

If you’ve been following for a while, then you already know that I don’t do weddings. If you’re new here, I don’t do weddings. I enjoy attending weddings, I like the sentiment of weddings, I just don’t like to shoot weddings. They’re not my jam.

Couples photography

However, when my brother announced he was getting married, and asked if I’d shoot it, I agreed immediately and had fun putting together a shot list and finding inspiration for potential photos for my brother’s wedding.

Event photography

Guy photography

Family photos

Saturday dawned hot and beautiful, and we arrived at Selah Springs in Floyd, VA before everyone except the bride. I got the tour of the venue and started shooting, and didn’t stop shooting until after the bride and groom had left the party for the night.

couples photography

Event photography

I only have some highlights here; out of the 1100+ photos on my memory card, I chose 20-something that I thought embodied the day and its sentiments. Trust me when I say there’s plenty more where these came from.

lifestyle photography

Richmond photographer

my brother's wedding

The wedding was small, and simple, and had all of the elements that they wanted and none of the ones they didn’t. She didn’t carry a bouquet (she’s allergic). They wrote their own vows and washed each other’s feet, and then gave time for friends and family to bless them.

Family photography

Couples photos

Outside photos

Simple photography

Sweet couples pics

event photos

Family photos

my brother's wedding

They had a digital scavenger hunt for things like poop (the venue doubles as an active farm). At the reception, they toasted their parents, instead of the other way around. They let someone else cut their cake (and it was delicious). They left when they were ready, and didn’t stick around until dark just for the sparklers. It was a day that was completely and totally them, and I was just happy to be there.


love photography

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brother's wedding

Thanks for indulging me some personal photos of my brother’s wedding. Jamie and Kristen, I’m so excited and happy for you! Thank you for trusting me to capture your day. Leave a nice message for them in the “guest book” below!

Moving Day photos

Moving Out: West End Family Photos

Tarra and I had been talking about family photos since Rhett was born in October. It wasn’t until Tarra and Seth sold their house and were prepping for moving that we realized that time was growing short for us to do a lifestyle session in Rhett’s first home.

Richmond photographer

Family photography

Little boy photos

We chose the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend in their house, to get photos amongst the boxes and bubble wrap. The weather was uncooperative, and we were stuck indoors, but we made the most of our shoot and they enjoyed the break from packing. We played in the master bedroom, making faces in the mirror and lounging on the bed, before reading a book and playing in Rhett’s room.

Lifestyle photography

Baby photography

Father & Son pictures

Mother and son nursery pictures

baby pictures

family photos

Tarra and I talked on Tuesday, and were both rather bummed we didn’t get any photos outside. We decided to meet again, when the sun was shining and the stress of moving was gone.

Richmond baby pictures

West End pictures

Baby pics

Glen Allen family photos

We met Wednesday evening after work and got our much desired outside photos, and then went inside and played on the floor in the empty house. Being nearly eight months old, Rhett didn’t need a lot of entertaining or toys, but provided lots of entertainment for us as he blew raspberries and cackled with joy as Mama tickled him.

Happy baby pictures

Richmond family photos

Fun family photos

Moving Day photos

Moving Day photos

I’m so glad we decided to get together and get pictures in Rhett’s first home! I really enjoy sessions like these, where families can be themselves and be comfortable together, and we can capture important milestones and firsts, like moving out of the first house you bought in Richmond, where you raised your first baby for the first seven months of his life.

Lifestyle photography

Thank you, Seth and Tarra, for inviting me into your home (twice!) even during a super stressful time like moving.

Ya’ll give Seth & Tarra some love below in the comments!

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Change Your Perspective

Sometimes all you need to make a good picture great is to change your perspective.

I was in Charleston recently to celebrate a major milestone with my brother, and he took us on a tour of the place he’s called home for the last four years. We ended up at the Battery, on the tip of the peninsula, and strolled among the massive trees and monuments.

I wanted to get some photos of my brother and his fiance’ together; the light coming through the heavy canopy of leaves was soft and warm and perfect for some couple’s photos. I chose the tree for them to stand under, and took some shots of them making googly eyes at each other.

Change your Background

Change your perspective

I loved the light, and I loved their natural posing and closeness, but the background was distracting. The flood wall is a popular spot and there was a constant stream of people and vehicles directly behind the lovebirds that distracted from the feeling I was trying to convey in the photos. So, instead of pushing through and telling myself that I’d just Photoshop the people out later, I changed my perspective. I ran around them and shot into the park, instead of towards the water.

Couples photography

Couples photographer

Richmond photographer

Such a little thing, like a change in perspective, can be the difference between a snapshot and a frameable photograph.

Next time you’re taking pictures of your family, take note of the background and the things that are in your photo that might distract from your main focus. Change your perspective by moving to your right or left, kneeling, or even standing on a chair to get a picture that you really love.

A Lesson in Aspect Ratios

Family photos are intimidating for so many reasons. The research that goes into finding a photographer you like; the wrangling of the kids; the location choices and wardrobe selections, and of course, the dreaded “what do I do with my arms” question. You think that once the shoot happens, the hard part is over and you can just relax. And you do relax, until your photographer asks you to choose what size photos you want. Then your brain freezes and you can only think of the most popular sizes. “Uh, 8×10.” So you get the 8×10’s and hang them on your walls, but did you get the best bang for the buck? Would 8×12″ have been better? What’s the difference between those two print sizes and how do they convert to aspect ratios? What are aspect ratios? What is the benefit of choosing one size over the other?


Richmond family photographer

Aspect ratios can be confusing even for photographers, so I don’t expect clients to be able to differentiate between the values of 16×20″ vs. 16×24″ prints. Here’s the skinny:

Most SLR cameras (with interchangeable lenses) shoot in a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is a ratio based off of 35mm film, where each frame is 36 millimeters long x 24 millimeters wide. If you divide 36 (the long side) and 24 (the short side) both by 12, you get 3 and 2, or a 3:2 ratio. That 3:2 ratio translates to real life to mean that when you print a 4×6″ photo, you’re getting the whole image, as it was taken by the camera. It’s not cropped on one side or the other. In order to continue to print the whole image as we scale up to bigger sizes, we need to break out the multiplication tables.

maternity photographer

If you multiply 4 and 6 (the two sides of a 4×6″ image) by 2, you get 8 and 12, or an 8×12″ photo. Multiply 4×6″ by 3 and you have a 12×18″ photo, which isn’t considered a “standard” print size, but would follow the same ratio and get the full image on the paper. Continuing to multiply up gets you 16×24″, 20×30″, and 24×36″. It means that the long side of the photo is 1.5 times as long as the short side, and nothing gets cut off.

Lifestyle photography

Conversely, if you look at 5×7″, 8×10″ or 11×14″ photos, whose ratios are shorter and fatter than the above, you’ll have to cut off some of the image in order to fit it on the paper. If you’re trying to fit a particular frame, this might make sense, but if not, then cutting off the photo might mean losing something important to the image, so going with 8×12″ instead of 8×10″ might be the right way to go.

Another factor to consider is whether the image is vertical or horizontal. Horizontal photos look better in 2:3 ratio because your eyes naturally scan left to right. However, vertical photos tend to look better cropped, because your eyes don’t like to look up and down as much as like to look side to side. If your eyes can view the whole image without having to scan up and down, they’ll be happier for it. So if you’re definitely considering the cropped formats (5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20), you might look first at your vertical images to see which would look best.

A lesson in aspect ratios

Fun fact: most camera phones shoot 16:9 format, which is longer and thinner than 4×6″. If you’re printing phone pictures, you’ll have to decide between cutting off the short sides, or adding white bars to the long sides in order to get the whole picture on the paper.

If you don’t know about aspect ratios, now you know! I hope this will help with your planning as you prepare for your photo session.

Spring/Summer Mood board 2017

Mood Board 2017: Spring & Summer

I like to create mood boards every once in a while, to organize new trends and help me see what looks good together as I plan for a new season of sessions. This year’s inspiration, Mood Board 2017, uses the Pantone color of the year, “Greenery:”

PANTONE COLOR OF THE YEAR 2017 - Greenery 15-0343

Greenery is fresh, natural, and basically screams Spring and Summer, so my mood board reflects the same. Natural, fresh, and fun, which is what summer really is.

Family Photo Inspiration

I hope my mood board is inspiring and is as fun to look at as it was to make. If you like it, share it with someone!

Sources (top to bottom):

Straw hat: General Store

Geometric wallpaper: Zilverblauw

Canon AE-1

Limes Stock image

My own NYC image

Jungle Leaves: DLolley’s Help iphone 5 wallpaper

Adventure Onesie: Urban Baby Co.

Maternity open knit cardigan: Lauren McBride

Polyvore outfits curated by me


Hands in Milk: Elizaveta Dushechkina

Wall Art Gallery: The Vault Files

Bridal Bouquet:


Richmond maternity locations

My 5 Favorite Maternity Locations

In honor of Mother’s Day (it’s Sunday, btw), today’s blog is a short list of my favorite maternity shooting locations around Richmond. These are my favorites, each for their own reasons:

1) Belle Isle: I love Belle Isle, especially for maternity photos. There are plenty of nooks and crannies on both sides of the island to shoot around, with the river and pond as backdrops. I love how nature is slowly taking the island back and the rock, brick, and concrete structures are starting to crumble. I find those to be fun juxtapositions to the new life being celebrated in a maternity shoot.

2) Forest Hill Park: Forest Hill Park in Southside is also on my “nature and lots of photogenic spots” list. My favorite part of Forest Hill is the rock walls, both natural and man-made, and the lake at the bottom. Forest Hill is especially perfect in the fall, but it’s really great during all seasons.

Southside maternity photographer


3) Bryan Park: If you’re looking for big trees, open fields, and blooming bushes of azaleas, look no further than Northside’s Bryan Park. While the azaleas are really poppin’ in early to mid Spring, the lush fields and giant oaks are there year-round and provide lots of different options for backdrops for maternity sessions.

RVA maternity photography

4) Downtown/Canal Walk: When I want something more distinguishably “Richmond,” I like to shoot downtown. Shockoe Slip’s cobblestone streets have a romantic vibe, and the proximity to the Canal Walk gives lots of location options, including the mural wall across from Casa del Barco.

Urban maternity photos

5) Anywhere with a mural: Speaking of mural walls, I really love to take advantage of all of the art we have around the city, and utilize it in my photos when possible. You can even choose your style of mural, from abstract and funky to classic and floral. And there are PLENTY of different locations to pick from, too. Everywhere from Manchester (want a backdrop of the city skyline behind you?) to VCU (shoutout to my fellow alums), to Carytown (did your first date include a Byrd theater movie?) and everywhere in between, if you have a favorite location around town, we can find a mural to go with it.

Richmond photographer

There are tons of more maternity locations around Richmond, but these are just a few of my favorites. I hope they inspire you for your next maternity photo shoot! What are your favorite spots around the city? Tell me in the comments.

Hoarders: Photography Edition

Hoarders: Photography Edition

I’m in major declutter mode in my house right now. I’ve been “jokingly” accused of being my own episode of Hoarders, which I connect directly to my sentimentality and fear of forgetting important people and things in my life. I have baby announcements for far-away kids that are now in elementary school. I have holiday cards and letters from pen-pals from the early 90’s. It’s a problem.

Hoarders: Photography Edition

I also have pictures from high school and college of friends and family that were taken in quick succession, each one only slightly different from the one before. I keep them because I want to remember each moment, each movement, the feelings from that day. (Now that I say that, I kind of sound like I do belong on Hoarders.) Instead of a photo to capture the day, I have dozens of photos to capture the seconds. But then what happens to those photos? One of two things: either I choose the best one and frame it, or I have decision paralysis and can’t choose, and they all sit in the same place – in a box, or on my hard drive. The memories I was so afraid of losing, that I insisted on keeping so many photos of, sit hidden away where I never see them. I don’t get to enjoy them. They just take up space, and then later become victims of a hurried attempt to simplify my life down the road.

Richmond family photography

You might think the same way. That you need all of the memories from our photo session, and that one day you’ll do something with all 30 images from our hour and a half together. But if you listen to your brain, instead of your heart, what does it tell you? What are you really going to do with all of those pictures?

What if you knew ahead of time what you wanted to do with the pictures, and had help from a pro to figure out the best way to show off your very favorite shots? What if you could choose a few of your favorites, and then let someone else store the rest, at no charge to you, with no fear of losing them in the future?

Richmond kids photographer

As the pro in this situation, I can help you. I can provide the logical options, while your heart picks your favorites. I’ll store the extras until you need them. And in case you do want to look at them all every day, I’ll give you an app with all of the photos from our fun together, sized for your phone instead of for printing, that you can share with friends and family. You don’t have to worry about blowing up inboxes or waiting for people to come over to show them the huge files on your laptop.

Let me help you keep your life from becoming an episode of Hoarders, without the fear of forgetting.  Contact me for advice on the best ways to use your photos, and let’s set up a session.

How to avoid becoming an episode of Hoarders

Did you notice that the pictures in this post illustrate my point exactly? 


How to be Supportive

How to Be Supportive of IVF Families

I talk a lot about families around here, and the many different forms families take. Some families have lots of children; some families are two people who don’t care to have children. Other families are two people who want so very badly to have children, but can’t. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), we are spending today talking about the last type of families.

1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility (source). I didn’t have to look far to find people to interview for this article. I have family members who have struggled with it; I have friends, photographer colleagues, and clients who have experience with infertility. I reached out to some of them, and they graciously responded with tips on how family and friends can be supportive of those going through infertility struggles.

Family photographer

Overwhelmingly, everyone I talked to mentioned how isolating and lonely the infertility journey is. Because you see people all around you becoming and staying pregnant, birthing babies and growing their families, the tendency is to feel like you are the only one who can’t do those things. Feelings of failure, responsibility, and guilt are heavy and can make you withdraw even more, creating an isolation spiral, where your whole focus becomes about your perceived failures and inabilities.

Richmond photographer

If you know someone dealing with infertility, here are some ways you can help support them along the way:

  • If you are a close friend or family, reach out to the person going through it on a regular basis. You don’t have to remember exactly what stage the person might be in if they’re going through treatments, but just checking in to say hi, or even just to ask how their day was is helpful. A quick check-in doesn’t take a lot of time to make the person feel connected to the outside world and less alone.
  • If you are close enough to be receiving updates on their illness, ask questions when you know things are happening, but be prepared for the possibility to get short answers or vagueness in return. They may be tired of talking about it, or received bad news from the doctor, and might not be ready to process that with you.

How to be Supportive

  • Attempt to understand what they’re going through. Infertility is an illness, and like most illnesses, you can do a quick read-up on the internet to be more in tune with your loved one’s treatments or diagnoses. Bill Nye’s new series on Netflix actually has a full episode on In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), called Designer Babies. Not every couple uses IVF as a way to combat infertility, but it is a common treatment for many families.
  • If you’ve had kids through natural means, even if it took a few months to conceive, you should probably avoid complaining about your pregnancy or parenting experience with this person. If you birthed a healthy child, talking about how hard your pregnancy was is actually not encouraging for the person struggling with their inability to become pregnant. Consider listening instead of talking, if they choose to confide in you. Also, talking about something unrelated to children is also a welcome relief from the all-consuming world of this illness.

Children photographer

  • If you don’t know the person very well, or if they haven’t shared this part of their life with you and you learned of it third-person, it is most appropriate to not bring it up. Don’t send a card expressing your sorrow for their trouble if you haven’t spoken to them in a while, particularly if they haven’t told you about it. Don’t start a conversation expecting them to open up just because you’re interested. If you converse with them on a regular basis and they haven’t shared their illness with you, you can be supportive simply by talking about those other, non-fertility-related topics. Otherwise, praying or thinking happy thoughts for them works, and is plenty supportive.

Maternity photography

For more ideas on how to be supportive of people going through this and other types of bad things that happen to good people, this book is an excellent read.

Big thank yous to Mariam and Brannan for being so willing to help me with these tips and share your experiences.

If you know someone struggling with the illness of infertility, I hope this is helpful for you as you work to be supportive of them. If you have additional tips for others, please leave them in the comments! We all need tips on the best ways to help others.

Forest Hill photography

When Repeating Yourself Is Actually Worth It

What do you do when you have to take your kid to the dentist? Do you spring it on them as a surprise, or do you talk it up, repeating yourself in every way possible in order to play up the great aspects of the dentist? Do you talk about the toys, and the new toothbrush, and the flavored toothpaste in order to make them excited for something new and possibly scary? Or do you surprise them, worrying that they’ll hate it and blowing it all out of proportion in your head?

Not all kids are scared of the dentist. Not all kids are scared of haircuts, and not all kids are scared of having their picture taken. But some kids are, and one way to help diffuse that fear is to talk about all the fun, exciting benefits of the errand that must happen, instead of focusing on the parts that might scare them.

If you’re planning for a photo shoot with kids who are nervous in new situations or clam up around strangers, there are a few things you can do to help keep them comfortable and happy in front of the camera.

Helping kids be comfortable in front of the camera

  • Choose a familiar location. If your kids are extra shy in new places, there’s no reason why you can’t pick a place where they are comfortable for your family photos. It can be a spot that you like to visit around the city as a family, or you even a home-style session. If you have your heart set on a specific location, another way to approach it is to take your kids to that location a few times before our session, to scope it out and explore so that it’s familiar by the time we get together.
  • Talk it up. Talk about the fun things we’ll do during your session, how fun it is hanging out with “Ms. Allison,” and help them imagine it being a fun afternoon. If we’ll be at home, tell them about the pancakes you’ll make in your jammies, or the bubbles we’ll blow in the backyard. If we’ll be out and about, pick out their outfits days in advance, make sure they fit (multi-tasking) and tell them how you’re practicing for your big, fun day.
  • Practice. Practice smiling while saying “cheese,” practice smiling and laughing without saying cheese. Tell them what you’ll do if they don’t smile, and then attack them with tickles until they’re cry-laughing. Repeating this while preparing for your session will give them funny memories to lean on when I’ve got a camera in their face.

Repeating yourself to Kids for photos

I hope these tips are helpful! If all else fails, remember there’s always bribery. My photographer friend Kelly likes to tell her kids that she’ll take them to Target if they cooperate, and then will remind them during the session, “that’s not a Target smile” when they forget. If Target’s not your speed (what??), there’s always Sugar Shack, Sweet Frog, Jumpology… what’s your go-to line to help prevent a meltdown? Share it below!