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.

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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!

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Tips for An Eye-Catching Wall Gallery

I’ve talked about creating wall galleries before, a few times. I love galleries, and have ever since I was a teenager and covered my walls with the people, places, and things that made me happy. I’ve given some tips before on how to hang a gallery, but today I want to focus on what makes a really eye-catching gallery.

Be structured, or not. You can choose to be really symmetrical and grid-like with your gallery, having all pieces framed and matted the same, with the same color and type of frame and hung in a grid. (I tend to shy away from this method because I struggle with making straight lines on the wall and I worry about the store running out of the frames and mats I need.)

Or, you use all different types and sizes of frames, going for a more eclectic look, laid out in an organic jumble on the wall.

You can also do a mix of the two, going for different frames but a more structured pattern.

I personally like the super organic, collected look, with a mix of photos and other hangable brickabrack. (That’s right, I said hangable brickabrack.) In my kitchen, I have photos with word art and a beautiful carved wooden plate that someone brought back from Romania for me.

Lifestyle photographer

In my entry way, I have some photos with some art and embroidery I’ve done, a metal plate from India and our initial hanging above a collection of plants and candles and reminders of Hauser.

Chesterfield maternity photographer

I’m currently working on the den, where we went from not being able to hang something on the wall above the mantle, to “suddenly” being able to do so, and I’ve been staring at the area for about a month, deciding what pieces should come back and which ones should be new, and what could be scavenged from other areas around the house. I have a few pieces from Africa, as well as small photos, a big blow up photo of Alaska, and a print that I framed with an elaborate, recycled frame my mom found. I also know I want to use the corner of the room, not just the area above the bookshelves.

Excuse my “before” photo. I could have sworn I had one that didn’t have Christmas decorations all over the mantle…

Making your own wall gallery

Richmond family photographer

Thanks for all the work, Dad!

Wall Gallery tips

So, here are some tips as you create your own gallery:

1: You don’t have to only use photos. I am fortunate to have family and friends who love to travel and bring me stuff from their journeys. Try incorporating other pieces that you love, that can be framed or hung on their own. Have a love letter that your grandad wrote your grandmother? Consider framing it (or scanning a copy and framing one and keeping the other safe), and adding it to your collection. You could also add a small floating shelf for smaller items that can’t be framed, as long as it won’t hit someone in the head as they’re walking by.

2: I prefer the more organic displays particularly because they symmetrical ones are so difficult, but symmetrical galleries also come across as very formal, so consider the feel of the room. A formal display might look great in your dining room, but a casual display would look more welcoming in the den, where everyone puts their feet up.

3: In order to have cohesion in your gallery, stick to a similar color palette, or have at least a few frames that are the same color and/or size. You can use all different color frames if your items are similarly colored (black and white photos, for example), or you can use some gold, black, and white frames together for a classic and classy feel.

4: Make sure that your gallery is balanced. Don’t put all of your smaller frames on one side and all of the larger frames on the other. Make sure that the sizes are spread throughout the display, and that the few frames that are similar color/size are not grouped together by themselves.

5: If you’re going to wrap a corner, the way I plan to with my den gallery, put your largest piece(s) near the bottom of the display, to help anchor it. Large pieces near the ceiling can make a room feel smaller and like the walls are coming in on you.

I hope these tips are helpful! I love putting together galleries and answering the hard questions about how to design a display to enhance a space. If you need help, just contact me!

how you get to help others

You Get a Chance to Help

I mentioned back in November that I serve all families, no matter their size or shape. Families are special, regardless of their background, culture, and place of origin. They anchor you and give you a sense of place and purpose, they fill you with all of the emotions that are possible. You do whatever you possibly can to keep your family members safe, secure, healthy, and reasonably happy. No matter what part of the world you’re from, those values exist. Your connection to family means that even if you’re uprooted from your home by disaster, family takes you in, makes sacrifices, and makes room for you.

Richmond lifestyle photographer

It is because of my connection to my family, where I feel secure, safe, healthy, and cared for, that I am able to do what I do. Family encouraged me to follow my dream to be a photographer when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after high school, and family encourages me daily to keep on pursuing this small business dream, even though it takes away from our time together. I have a great family, and it’s because of them that I want to help other families.

Richmond family photographer

Now you get a chance to help, too. Beginning in 2017, part of every session fee is donated to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), right here in Richmond, which helps families, adults, and children root themselves in the community and find a new place to call home. You can read specifically about how they help Richmond refugees here.

how you get to help others

I shared on my IG feed a few weeks ago that I was seeing an advance screening of Cries from Syria, an HBO documentary about the war and how it became an international crisis (which I highly recommend, but only if you’re strong enough. Definitely not safe for kids). As this announcement from the IRC explains, in order to give the images on screen some context, a recently resettled refugee family from Syria was there to introduce themselves and talk about their journey from their homeland to ours. It was amazing and poignant to see such tragedy and heartbreak on screen but have a real-life, present example of a family that has escaped that and made it to our land of opportunity, with the help of the IRC.

As a client of mine, you’ll be able to be part of the effort to help other families in Richmond, and I can’t thank you enough. If you’d like to talk more about this, or have any questions, feel free to contact me through my new contact page.

Midlothian photographer

There Is No Good Card For This

Pick of the Month: There Is No Good Card

Each month, I review one thing in my Pick of the Month series. Whether it’s something neat or necessary, a treat or help with a problem, I think it’s worth sharing. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to find something new and interesting each month. Last time, I chose my favorite Jamaican restaurant. This month, I’m learning how to be a better empathizer.

I’ve made one of my 2017 goals to read more. It’s been tough; some books I’ve chosen are grueling, and I haven’t gotten around to a narrative yet, which is the type of book I really enjoy. But this month’s book is a real page turner, and I have to share it. It’s called There Is No Good Card For This: What To Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love. There’s nothing vague about this title. It says what it means and it means what it says. Easy to follow, easy to understand, the techniques are simple but definitely worth saying. There is no good card for some of the worst parts of life. Unless you count Emily’s Empathy™ cards.

Richmond maternity photographer

I first found Emily’s cards on Etsy back in 2011, and started following her on Instagram in 2012. I thought her humor and straightforward style was a breath of fresh air, and was excited when the rest of the country seemed to realize it too, in 2015, when the long-awaited Empathy™ cards came out.

Richmond photographer

The book was written by Kelsey Crowe, PhD, and Emily McDowell, of Kelsey did extensive research into the topic of empathy (something we could all use more of) and joined up with Emily to pump this book full of humor, helpful illustrations, and great information we can all use to be better to those who are hurting. Edit: Kelsey let me know that she wrote the book based on her work for a nonprofit that she founded with several other people called Help Each Other Out. The site is full of tools similar to the book, so if you want a warm-up before diving into a 7-chapter book (no judgement), I’d encourage you to check it out. You can go there and learn tips about things to say and not say for a variety of issues, disappointments, and losses that your friends, family, and colleagues might be going through.

The book is heavy in some parts; chapter 2 is called “Standing In Their Shoes” and makes you consider your own times of loss and difficulty, in order to better help you help others. And if you’re currently struggling with something, it will feel like Emily and Kelsey are the only ones who get you, as you read that chapter. There are some parts that hit you where it hurts, some parts that make you cringe and say “Oh, I do that..” and some parts that make you want to share the book with everyone you know so they can know what to do when you need support, too.

Kids photographer

You can find more info about There Is No Good Card For This on Emily’s website here, where there are also links to several online bookstores where you can purchase it. If you want to borrow it from me, you’ll have to get in line. There are a few people ahead of you.

Chesterfield photographer

Spring family photos

What To Wear for Spring Family Photos

Spring is here! Yesterday was the first official day, even though it’s felt like Spring off and on for almost two months now. Since the calendar has officially turned, I thought now would be a good time to share the 2017 What to Wear post. Let’s dive on in:

  • Start with Classic Neutrals. Not sure where to start? You can check this very scientific website to see if you’re more cool or warm toned, and what colors would look best on you (including neutrals). Personally, I’m cool-toned, and I look terrific in crisp whites and blues. But that’s not the same for everyone. Check yourself, and your family, and see what looks best. Remember that some family members could be warm-toned, while some are cooler. This is okay! You only need a base for the color you’re going to pick next, so consider black, white, gray, brown, navy blue, and all of the shades available therein. A pair of jeans for him and a pair of black pants for you, a gray jumper or shorts for the kids… the goal is to not be perfectly matched, but to complement each other.Kids photography
  • Add in Contemporary Colors. This site has another rundown of the types of colors you can aim for in your tonal group. Again, you don’t need everyone to be in the same color (you really don’t want that, actually), but choose a color family – green, for example – and find outfits that have some solid green, some patterned green, and some complements to green that have no green in them at all. Check out this Pantone link (scroll down a bit) and see how this year’s color (greenery) works well with others, for some inspiration.
  • Don’t Forget Layers and Textures. For an extra wrinkle (see what I did there?), don’t forget to add layers like cardigans, accessories like belts, scarves, and jewelry, and fun textures like lace, faux fur, or a down vest.

Spring family photos

  • Location Matters. Consider the spot where we’ll be meeting. Is it a field of bright green grass, or are we meeting in Shockoe Bottom? The greens I mentioned above would look great against the brick in Shockoe, but would clash next to fresh, green grass. Another thing to consider is the season – bright reds look really great in winter because most outdoor environments are dull gray and brown, but with spring comes all the color of nature, so you might want more fresh, muted tones so you aren’t competing with azaleas and lilies.
  • Where Will the Photos Go? This is #5 on the list, but it’s definitely not the least important. Just as you want to consider how you’ll use your photos as you budget, you want to consider the result when planning your outfits. Are you planning a big canvas over the couch? Will the colors you’ve chosen look good above that couch in every season? What about a different colored couch? If you decide to go with a hallway gallery, will the outfit colors clash with the wall paint? Consider how you intend to enjoy your images, so you aren’t asking yourself in 6 months why you chose that outfit.

Richmond family photography

Bonus no-brainers to remember:

Wear what makes you comfortable. Not a dress gal? Don’t wear a dress. Wear something that you feel confident in, because that will show through in the images.

Choose something that fits. Kind of goes without saying, but you don’t want to spend an hour and a half tugging on fabric on yourself or anyone else.

Wear something that makes you happy. If the kids don’t want to wear bowties, and can’t be bribed into it, don’t force it until they’re crying and miserable and refusing to cooperate for the session.

Feel free to send me your ideas ( and let me help you decide. I’m happy to be a resource!


What’s your favorite spring tone? Share it in the comments!


Saturday morning ritual

What’s Your Family Ritual?

What is your favorite family ritual? The “tradition” that gives you the warm and fuzzies when you think about it. Is it Saturday mornings, when everyone hangs out in their pajamas, breakfast is all smiley pancakes, and there’s nowhere to be in a hurry? Or is it simpler, like bath time, when everyone slows down and unwinds, everyone gets a little wet and nobody minds? I want to help you capture the little traditions and rituals that make your family unique. I want to help you remember those little things that you wouldn’t trade for the world. Whether that’s a pajama party, bubble bath time, or your weekly jaunts to the park, I’d love to help you make the memories last for generations.


If you don’t have a current ritual, but you have little things that you’d like to MAKE a tradition, like baking together, finger painting, or going for frozen yogurt as a family, I won’t tell anyone that you haven’t been doing this for years.
Morning rituals

If you have a ritual that you don’t consider a “tradition,” but just consider it to be”life,” like homeschool lessons at the dining room table, Lego minefields in the family room, or story time before bed, those still qualify as capture-worthy. “Lifestyle” sessions do that – they capture life as your life is, with the giggles and mess, and occasional peace and quiet of the everyday.

If this sounds intriguing to you, shoot me an email and let’s chat about the little things that make your family different and fun, that you want to remember for years to come.

family lifestyle photography


Budgeting for what you really want

Budgeting for the Things We Really Want

We’re all adults here. Adults have responsible spending habits, right? Budgeting for the things we really want is easy, right? Cough. I’m probably the only one who sees something sparkly in Target and comes home with something she never needed, she said sarcastically. And I know nobody else goes on an online-buying binge when she’s had a particularly hard week, she said equally sarcastically.

Budgeting for things is hard, especially when the thing you’re budgeting for is hard to imagine. If you’re having trouble picturing (pun intended) what you’re aiming for, it can be hard to motivate yourself to save for it. It’s equally difficult to budget if you don’t know how much you need to save. If you’ve never done the event you’re saving for, if costs can fluctuate, it’s tough to wrap your head around what is needed. If you’ve never gone to Disney before, you might not know that water costs $3 per bottle, and that you need to factor that into your vacation price.

Budgeting for what you really want

If you’ve never had family photos done professionally, or if your experience with professional photographers has always involved fake backdrops and 5 minutes in awkward poses, it might be hard for you to imagine how hiring a professional photographer is worth hundreds of dollars. It might be hard to budget for a want like family photos when you aren’t sure what you’re buying or what your options are.

So, let me help you. I’ve put together a quick questionnaire to help you figure those things out, so you can accurately imagine and budget for this thing you want (and I guarantee it won’t cost as much as a trip to Disney). Working through this will take 10-15 minutes, but can help you say no to that latte in lieu of something that lasts way longer than a cup of coffee.

Go here to download the worksheet:

Download the APP Budgeting Worksheet

Take 10 minutes to create a budget for something you really want, and learn how much you need to save to do it right. Don’t go to Disney and run out of money before you buy water.

Jamaican food pick of the month

Pick of the Month: Carena’s Jamaican Grille

Each month, I review one thing in my Pick of the Month series. Whether it’s something neat or necessary, a treat or help with a problem, I think it’s worth sharing. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to find something new and interesting each month. Last time, I chose a podcast. This month, I’m all about some Jamaican food.

Get me in a conversation about my very favorite restaurants around RVA, and Carena’s Jamaican Grille will be at or near the very top of the list. It’s located on my side of town (south SIDE!) and is super easily accessible off Chippenham on Midlo. I rave about this place to anyone willing to listen. I even gave the top of a receipt to a coworker with the name and address of the restaurant on it. She hadn’t asked about the place, or even about restaurants in general. I just pulled out the receipt, asked if she liked Jamaican food, and gave it to her. You’d think I own stock in this restaurant.

Chesterfield small business

We visited Carena’s for the first time about a year ago, and now I go through withdrawals if I don’t get it at least once every two weeks. I stop on my way home from work and get takeout as often as I can. The jerk is spicy, the curry is full-flavored, the oxtail is meaty and I even love the sides. The fries are perfectly crunchy on the outside. The Island Slaw is sweet and cool and refreshing; the cabbage full of Jamaican flavor.

You can get traditional Jamaican staples, like the curry goat with rice and peas (red beans) and cabbage platter, or the whole red snapper served up on a plate. Or you can order something that may feel more familiar, like a wrap, quesadilla, or burrito. Get it filled with your meat (or non-meat) choice, and it comes with the same flavors that make the platters so tasty. My favorite is the burrito, with its meat and cabbage and cheese and gravy, and with fries on the side. The burrito is the size of my forearm, so I usually get a couple of meals out of it. The jerk wings are his favorite. They come with a mango chutney for dipping, and we always order extra chutney. He orders them with extra jerk to match his preferred spice level.

If you’re looking to spice up your dinner plans this weekend, give Carena’s a go. You won’t regret it!

Richmond family photographer

Extended family photography

Three Christmases: Apex Extended Family Photos

Mary Anne and I have known each other for so long, we don’t know when our friendship started. I think she was around 5 when she wrecked her bike on the hill beside our house and had to get gravel removed from her chin, and we were friends way before that. So, when she texted me and asked me to help her create a surprise shoot for her mother in law for Christmas, I jumped at the chance to see her and her family. It’s a two and a half hour drive from Chesterfield to Apex, but it was a beautiful day for driving down I-85, and the sun escorted me through the trees as they transitioned from oaks and maples to pines.

Family photographer

Extended family photography

Chesterfield family photography

Richmond Photographer

Winter family photography

Family photographer

Mary Anne and the girls met me in the driveway when I pulled up, and we gathered the rest of the family from the warmth of inside. We bundled up and walked to the neighborhood pond, frolicking along the way. It was cold, but everyone was in high spirits, and the wind died down as we arrived.

Outdoor family photos

Playful family photography

Little girl photographer

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Toddler photography

Fun family pictures

Midlothian photographer

Family photography

Toddler pictures

Richmond lifestyle photography

North side photographer

Big family photography

Church Hill photographer

After a series of group shots, we headed into the house and spread out in front of the tree. The girls negotiated opening one gift each, and we watched as they tore into the wrapping paper and boxes. Afterwards, we huddled up in front of the fire for a few more family photos. Jon’s mom showed me the 8×10 frame that her sons and daughters-in-law had given her for Christmas, and how they had surprised her. It was simple and effective, and she was thrilled that I had been able to come down for her gift.

At home photography

Lifestyle children photography

comfortable family photos

Father Daughter picture

Christmas lifestyle photography

Apex family photography

Cousins photography

Couples photography

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Christmas pictures

We wrapped up with some couples photos in the backyard; the light was beautiful and filtered through the Apex pines. As I gathered my things to leave, I told the girls I was glad they got to have two Christmases. “THREE CHRISTMASES!!” Two of them exclaimed. Three Christmases. Who can beat that?

Couples photography

Richmond photographer

I’m so glad you contacted me, Mare! We need to get together again soon!


Did you know that I am willing to travel for family and maternity sessions? If you live outside of Richmond and can’t get to town for a photo shoot, contact me for a custom travel quote, and I’ll do the driving.