Posts in FAMILIES
Anniversary Session at PPG Place, Pittsburgh
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)

You spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on your wedding gown, and hopefully that cash means you feel like a million bucks on your big day, so why should the fate of your gown be a dark and lonely one in a garment bag in the back of your closet? It's becoming more and more popular for couple to schedule anniversary sessions where the gown gets to come out of retirement, and a bride gets to feel just as special as she did on her favorite day.

A few of my friends have done this, and if I still had my gown I totally would (more on that HERE), so when Kelly approached me about doing an anniversary session (I was a bridesmaid for her wedding), I was SUPER excited. We had such fun planning a mini wedding day, Kelly calling on some of the best local vendors in the industry to get her ready for her re-debut as a bride! Her gorgeous, soft up-do was done by Hannah at Cameron's Salon, the stunning makeup was courtesy of BethyMae, and of course, a girl's gotta accessorize! Kelly got a custom necklace made by Rosie at Miss Pie Jewelry!

Kelly and I have been close friends for quite some time, and there's not much she loves more than catching up with friends over a cup of coffee from the Commonplace (except shopping, of course. And LuLaRoe). Luckily her hubby also likes coffee, so it was natural that she and Jamison started off the anniversary session with a waltz into this super cool coffeehouse to share a cup in their Mr. and Mrs. mugs!

We intended to cut into their cake from yester-year, but none of us realized that it was akin to a delicious frosted glacier and would take several days to thaw out. There's your pro-tip: a week before your anniversary, set a reminder on your phone to move your cake from the freezer to the fridge. After the frozen cake and the hot coffee (and a few shocked stares from college students cramming for finals), we headed to Pittsburgh to get some magical photos in front of the Christmas tree at PPG Place.

As you can imagine, we got some crazy looks as we ran around both Indiana and Pittsburgh in the 17 degree weather in full wedding regalia, but I think you'll agree the end results are worth it! My awesome friend Jackie from J.jae Photography let me try out her super cool Mag Mod flash modifier, and when you throw in the gentle snowfall with this dreamy backlight, well, you just gotta see for yourself!

 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
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 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
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Autumn Family Session at Blue Spruce Park, Indiana PA
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com

Blue Spruce park is one of a few hidden gems in the Indiana County region that is perfect for family photos. Because of the beautiful (but not too big) lake, mossy areas under beautiful trees, footbridges and creeks, and amazing golden sunlight in the evenings, it’s definitely a favorite! It’s also easy to find and offers a great playground for the kiddos after a successful session!

I have had the pleasure of photographing Kristen and Shane for years now, starting with their amazing wedding in 2012! Now two more sweet faces are a part of the gang! Here’s some of my favorite shots from their family session at Blue Spruce last weekend!

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How to Get (almost) Effortless Pictures of Your Toddler | Indiana, PA Family Photographer at Yellowcreek
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com

Throughout the years, I've worked in both photography studios and on-location, and I assure you there IS a way to get (almost) effortless photos of your toddler. It doesn't involve bribing, yelling, or giving up either. Developmentally, toddlers, or kids ages 1 to 3, love to explore their environment and play. They simply just don't understand us when we want them to stand still and smile at a stranger with really interesting looking cameras and lights all around them! They aren't being bad - they are just being themselves! As a mommy, you'll want to do everything you can before your session to make things go as smoothly as possible, meaning if your kid is sick, reschedule; if your kid is hungry, give them a snack; if your kid usually naps during your session, bump it back. The mom of the sweetie featured in this post had some extra time in the car to drive around while the baby napped, making for a VERY pleasant little girl in front of the camera! Here's two things that this mom totally "got", and that I want to tell every mom that feels stressed out, panicked, or defeated when their three-nager is due for a photoshoot:

Change Your Mindset

You have to know your kid, and what they usually behave like, BEFORE you set your photo expectations. If your little one loves to run around and explore and touch everything, chances are they will NOT sit/stand/pose for a photoshoot. If you absolutely have your heart set on a studio style session with a perfect little outfit, let me know your vision before the shoot. I like to plan props to bring along that they can play and interact with that will still fit your vision. For example, oversized shiny Christmas tree balls work wonders for kiddos in the studio at Christmas time!

Let Them Play

The most successful shoots, in my opinion, are the ones where the parents understand that kids just want to play and trust that I'm up for the task of outrunning them! A great family photographer will choose a location that's beautiful, safe, and interesting for the child. This way, he or she can explore the environment and I can stay a few steps ahead of them, documenting their child-like wonder and effortless cuteness! For this session, we literally took a family walk around the lake, and Eliana was happy to look up at the goofy lady making funny noises! This method doesn't mean that you never pose them, but posing is more of a "check out what over there" and guide them to stand at the place of your choosing - the rest is up to their curiosity and how much you can make them laugh! One of the most crucial things about photographic toddlers, though, is that you have to be fast. You camera has to be fast, your legs have to be fast, and the experience has to be fast. Toddlers get bored in literally 2 seconds, so shooting in a location where you can walk and constantly change your surroundings makes it (almost) effortless! 

 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com
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 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com
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How to Get Your House Ready for a Photo Session | Johnstown PA Family Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com

If you have a photographer coming over to do a session in your home, don't panic - here's some great tips and things to prepare to get your house ready for a photo session with amazing results. Maybe you have a brand new bundle and your photographer is hauling their gear to come to your place, or maybe you have all the relatives in for the holidays and would love a session around the fireplace where you all grew up. There's definitely amazing benefits to having a shoot done in your home, even if you don't feel like your place is quite up to par with Martha Stewart's. Here are some great things to zero in on to help your photographer out a bit before she gets there, and some things to not worry about at all (you'll be surprised!)

LIGHTING

Because I adore natural light, when I travel to people's homes for sessions, the first thing I look for is a window with some great light coming in, or light colored walls. If you are doing a newborn session, head shots during a family session, or a lifestyle session with only two people, natural lighting can most likely be used for your session. Don't be afraid to think outside of the box!  You can get some amazing close up shots with gorgeous light even if we are all standing by your bathroom sink! Some things you can do to prep: clear furniture or other items away from windows that have great light coming in! But what if I don't have great light anywhere?! Don't panic! Good photographers (ahem!) will always bring lighting equipment with them that can light the whole room softly, regardless of the lighting options you have.

CLUTTER

Don't feel like you have to clean and clear away every last shred of proof that people live in your house. Zero in on one or two spots (and your photographer can help you identify these) that you will be using, and pay no mind to the rest of the house. The places I usually shoot are living rooms, nurseries, and bedrooms! For living rooms, clear away anything stored on the floor or coffee table like magazines, blankets, and remotes. For nurseries, focus on the crib and a nearby chair. Choose sheets that have a simple or understated pattern, and let your photographer know if you're up for rearranging the placement of furniture for the best lighting and backgrounds! If there are certain decor pieces that you just love and speak to your style, or sentimental things you want represented in your photos, absolutely let your photographer know! Otherwise, it's usually a good idea to clear away any holiday decor, floor lamps, framed photos, etc. The more simple the background and surrounding area, the better!

FURNITURE

Regarding furniture, I tend to find that when I do a session in your home, unless you can sit on it, I usually won't include it in the frame. Meaning, sofas, beds, chairs, and ottomans are all great props to use! If you are able, push any small tables (if there's room!) away from anything you can sit on to create not only a place to sit, but simplicity around it! Sometimes, furniture or design features of the home make a great statement in the photo, such as arch-shaped doorways or fireplaces. Let your photographer know what you love, and they will figure out the lighting and posing to pull it all together!

Recently, I had the privilege to photograph sweet new parents Alicia and Brian with their baby girl and their amazingly cute pup, Throcken. Not only were they all amazing to work with (even the doggo!), their house had a ton of cool design features, great natural lighting, and simple but seriously cute decor. It made for the perfect in-home session - even if the Corgi did steal the show!

 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com
 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com
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 @Jill Gearhart Photography | www.jillgearhartphotography.com
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The Advice You Wanted Most and All Of Your Favorites | Indiana PA Wedding, Family, and Senior Photographer
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2017 was such a great year of learning, both for me and for you! This year was the launch of some big things around here, my favorite being this blog! For the past 40 weeks, we have spent a few minutes together every week, sometimes featuring guest writers, but always showing off the vibrant and genuine heart and soul of my favorite people - YOU! Your love and support is literally everything to me and to the success of this fun little venture. It is my hope that through this special platform, we were able to connect in a way that goes way beyond showcasing my work, but that it was literally time spent creating value for YOU. Whether that be through advice for brides, answers to frequently asked questions, tips, tricks, and ideas, or just through the honest, thoughtful, genuine, voice-filled writing that shows you more of me, my family, and my heart. It is my hope that hanging out here every week has helped you learn, prepare, relax, and trust anything and everything about having photos taken and most of all, memories made.

Mushy stuff aside - remember those superlatives in your high school yearbook? Most likely to succeed? Biggest class clown? Prettiest eyes? Nicest smile? As a year end treat, I've wrapped up all of your favorite blog posts, shoots, and moments of 2017 to romp through all over again, as shown by page views analytics data! This year alone brought almost 10,000 views to my website since May, and I am so looking forward to an even bigger and more vibrant 2018!

 MOST VIEWED BLOG - What to do with your wedding dress after your wedding

MOST VIEWED BLOG - What to do with your wedding dress after your wedding

 MOST HELPFUL BLOG POST - Make your handwriting a font

MOST HELPFUL BLOG POST - Make your handwriting a font

 BEST BLOG FOR SENIORS - Who to bring along on your senior session

BEST BLOG FOR SENIORS - Who to bring along on your senior session

 BEST BLOG FOR FAMILIES - Are Your Kids Old Enough For Family Photos?

BEST BLOG FOR FAMILIES - Are Your Kids Old Enough For Family Photos?

 BEST BLOG FOR BRIDES - Not Your Average Wedding Tips

BEST BLOG FOR BRIDES - Not Your Average Wedding Tips

 BEST BLOG FOR BRIDESMAIDS - 10 Lessons for Bridesmaids

BEST BLOG FOR BRIDESMAIDS - 10 Lessons for Bridesmaids

 MOST PUBLISHED WEDDING - Dan + Danielle | Car Themed Wedding at Farm on the Ridge

MOST PUBLISHED WEDDING - Dan + Danielle | Car Themed Wedding at Farm on the Ridge

 MOST LIKED WEDDING ON SOCIAL MEDIA - Wayne + Cortney | Gatsby Themed Wedding at People's Natural Gas Park

MOST LIKED WEDDING ON SOCIAL MEDIA - Wayne + Cortney | Gatsby Themed Wedding at People's Natural Gas Park

 MOST READ PERSONAL BLOG - Why You Need Marriage Counseling

MOST READ PERSONAL BLOG - Why You Need Marriage Counseling

 MOST INFLUENTIAL EXPERIENCE OF 2017 - Winter Wedding in the Poconos

MOST INFLUENTIAL EXPERIENCE OF 2017 - Winter Wedding in the Poconos

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The Light That Shines Brightest This Season | Indiana PA Lifestlye Family Photographer
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So many friends and loved ones we know struggle though the holidays. Whether it's keeping the stress at bay, or trying to fill emptiness left by a loved one passed, the "happiest time of year" sometimes just, isn't. The season of lights may just leave us feeling the darkness more than ever, and as my dear friend and guest blog writer Will reminds us, there is a light available for all of us that can permeate any darkness.

I hope you enjoy this very special guest post edition of the blog written Will and he and his wife's adorable lifestyle photos to follow!


Christmas Season is often filled with parties and time with friends and family.  Bells are heard from Salvation Army volunteers, gift-giving (and friendly smiles) are at their yearly all-time highs, and towns just like our Indiana, PA, have festive "light-up nights" across the US.  And then there's the food.  Lots and lots of good food.  For these reasons, and others, most would say that Christmas is their favorite time of year.  

With all of these highlights, though - life is REAL - and trials and hardships don't take a break during the Holidays.  For some, the Christmas-time joy of others becomes salt in the wound to the burdens that they alone bear.  No holiday cheer or gift given can fill the void of a loss or a circumstantial sorrow that many endure.  

That is the unfamiliar territory where my wife Joelle and I have found ourselves this December 2017.  Life's circumstances have left us hurting, and questioning our laid out plans.  Usually being ones to host Christmas parties and to "fa-la-la-la-la" our way through the end of the year, the unexpected suffering had us cancel the planning of the party, and left us looking forward to a hope of a better 2018.

When Joelle and I asked Jill to take a Christmas photo for us this year, we had intentionally planned to have only one or two shots - and that would be it.  As the single photo turned into a full session (you can't keep a good photographer like Jill down...and we didn't mind!), we were then asked by Jill to write this blog post.

As I considered a topic for the post, I reflected on the photos, and what has become a resounding and reoccurring theme for this season of our lives as a newly married couple.   It is often whispered to each other in dark moments where not much makes sense.  A weighty yet tender spoken phrase that is told to remind a spouse's hurting heart of what is true, even in the darkness:

"We're in this together."

Simply that.  We're in this journey, come what may, together.  For I've found, now more than ever, that the best gift that can be given is not wrapped underneath a tree.  And the most pertinent gesture of purpose and hope comes not in "Holiday Hoopla".  It's not found in circumstances.  It's only found in the personal reminder that you are not alone in the dark. The greatest gift that can be given is yourself.

As Joelle and I are Christians, our gift of our selves to each other is an echo of the great Giver - God - giving Himself to a hurting humanity, over 2000 years ago.  Jesus.  The person of God who came to give hope to those who saw none. That message has really helped us.  Life is REAL - and we need hope that is real.  Be it in marriage, or in life, I'm convinced that the gift of a person is what the world needs.  That's why God gave Himself, and why husbands, wives and friends do best to give of their selves to others. It took a photo session with Jill to remind Joelle and I that we are in this together, and so for that we thank you, Jill.

And for others reading this, I hope this post encourages you in this season, if you too are suffering.  

Joelle and I humbly say Merry Christmas, and may God be with you all of you.

"Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King."

Will and Joelle Rush

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 Pastries by  Six Hand Bakery , Indiana, PA

Pastries by Six Hand Bakery, Indiana, PA

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Winter Princess Inspired Maternity and Family Session | Indiana, PA Family Photographer
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Anyone ever see the movie Brave? Princess Merida is a smart, strong, and amazingly inspiring Disney princess, her head emblazoned with an impossible and majestic red curly puff of hair. One of my dear friends, Jackie from j.jae photography, is the closest thing to a real life Merida we will ever find. She is obviously heart-breakingly gorgeous (and that HAIR!), but she is every bit as smart, strong, and inspiring. I've had the blessing of working with her several times this year as her second shooter, and it makes my heart so happy that even though we both have photography businesses and literally live about 3 blocks apart, we can still be great friends and embrace the community over competition mindset.

Jackie is super talented, and has taught me a lot about lighting and gear, but the most valuable part of knowing this Indiana PA photographer is the friendship that has grown out of the collaborations. I am super excited to be working with her in late January on a very special project that we can't wait to share!

 For this fun family/maternity session, we had fun traveling down to Lake Rowena in Ebensburg, searching out a setting that was foresty and magical. Jackie looked incredible in her gown from Kartay Photography (shop the look here on Etsy!) and flower crown from The Flower Gallery. Her husband was such a great sport, driving us to and from the lake (and treating my husband and I to Chinese after the shoot!), and looked super sharp in his suit from the 700 shop. Soon to be big sister Penny was a trooper, taking a nasty bump on the head and cut on her eye like a champ just hours before that day. I don't know many two year olds that would still stand in the snow with a pretty bad boo boo and still smile! I hope you enjoy the photos from our super sweet afternoon spent together and with her adorable little (growing!) family!

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What To Do With Your Wedding Dress After Your Wedding | Anniversary Session at PPG Place, Pittsburgh PA Family Photographer
 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)

You spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on your wedding gown, and hopefully that cash means you feel like a million bucks on your big day, so why should the fate of your gown be a dark and lonely one in a garment bag in the back of your closet? It's becoming more and more popular for couple to schedule anniversary sessions where the gown gets to come out of retirement, and a bride gets to feel just as special as she did on her favorite day.

A few of my friends have done this, and if I still had my gown I totally would (more on that HERE), so when Kelly approached me about doing an anniversary session (I was a bridesmaid for her wedding), I was SUPER excited. We had such fun planning a mini wedding day, Kelly calling on some of the best local vendors in the industry to get her ready for her re-debut as a bride! Her gorgeous, soft up-do was done by Hannah at Cameron's Salon, the stunning makeup was courtesy of BethyMae, and of course, a girl's gotta accessorize! Kelly got a custom necklace made by Rosie at Miss Pie Jewelry!

Kelly and I have been close friends for quite some time, and there's not much she loves more than catching up with friends over a cup of coffee from the Commonplace (except shopping, of course. And LuLaRoe). Luckily her hubby also likes coffee, so it was natural that she and Jamison started off the anniversary session with a waltz into this super cool coffeehouse to share a cup in their Mr. and Mrs. mugs!

We intended to cut into their cake from yester-year, but none of us realized that it was akin to a delicious frosted glacier and would take several days to thaw out. There's your pro-tip: a week before your anniversary, set a reminder on your phone to move your cake from the freezer to the fridge. After the frozen cake and the hot coffee (and a few shocked stares from college students cramming for finals), we headed to Pittsburgh to get some magical photos in front of the Christmas tree at PPG Place.

As you can imagine, we got some crazy looks as we ran around both Indiana and Pittsburgh in the 17 degree weather in full wedding regalia, but I think you'll agree the end results are worth it! My awesome friend Jackie from J.jae Photography let me try out her super cool Mag Mod flash modifier, and when you throw in the gentle snowfall with this dreamy backlight, well, you just gotta see for yourself!

 @Jill Gearhart Photography (www.jillgearhartphotography.com)
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Family of Six - balancing fun, love, and parenting | Blue Spruce Park, Indiana PA Family Photographer
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Are you a mother (or father!) of a big crowd of spunky, unique, and larger-than-life kiddos? Do you feel overwhelmed at times, wonder how other parents out there do it? Do you wonder how to you keep things fun at home, while still maintaining the devotion your spouse needs to keep your marriage strong? Then this is the post for you! 

I met the McMasters family a few years ago as the fun-loving bunch where mom was a bridesmaid, the boys were ring bearers, and the girls were flower girls. A week ago, I caught up again with the super cute crew for some amazing family photos at the beautiful Blue Spruce Park in Indiana, PA. Angela, the lovely mom, had some awesome style, (everyone in Chuck Taylors!) and I was delighted that besides cute chucks and super-hero outfits, I also had the family's toy t-rex Greeny and their chocolate lab Blue to work with!! Ang was also sweet enough to take the time to answer some parenting questions that I hope will inspire and bless you!

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HOW DO YOU KEEP THINGS FUN AT HOME?

This is a juggling act for sure!  We are pretty routine throughout the week with school and evening activities, but we still find time for fun.  It’s important to us for the kids to use their imaginations, so we limit screen-time and gaming consoles to short windows over the weekends.  We build forts, have Nerf gun battles, rock out to our favorite songs in the living room, read stories, and the list goes on.  We also have some not-so-fun evenings depending on how everyone cooperates with each other, which is okay, too.  We certainly aren’t perfect!

Friday and Saturday evenings we usually try to add in something extra fun, like family game or movie night.  We’ve set up camp in the living room and slept on the floor.  It’s enjoyable for all of us to unwind as a family.

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HOW DO YOU BALANCE PARENTING AND MARRIAGE?

This has been a HUGE challenge for us.  Jeremy and I have been married for 11 years.  Our oldest is 10, so we weren’t a family of two for long.  Both of us have demanding jobs (Jeremy is a director of network engineering for a cable company and I’m a part-time school psychologist) and four beautiful, busy children.  It doesn’t leave much time for us to spend together.  For many years, we were often two ships passing in the night, dividing and conquering kids’ needs only to crash in bed day after exhausting day.  

There came a time when we both realized that we needed to rebuild the foundation of our family.  If we weren’t strong together and in our faith, we were all going to fall apart.  So...we started scheduling time together (as if we needed one more schedule to follow...lol).  It has been the BEST investment ever.  Three nights a week we start bedtime a little bit earlier so we can have a couple of hours to ourselves catching up on the day-to-day, binge-watching our favorite Netflix shows, or playing a few hands of cards.  I thank God everyday for this discovery.  For a while, I thought I was losing my best friend, but he was there all along.

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WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR KIDS?

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FINLEY

I love the magic in Finley’s eyes when she discovers something new.  We watch bumble bees on flowers, caterpillars on leaves, and butterflies bouncing through the air.  She also has the most contagious laugh.

DECLAN 

I love Declan’s zest for life.  He lives everything in a big and loud way.  For a little guy, he’s quite the comedian.  I also melt when he tells me he “just needs mommy loves.”  I’ll take those little chubby arms wrapped around my neck any day.  

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BRENNAN

I love how Brennan catches me off-guard with his sweet and loving nature.  He always asks for “up hugs.”  I will miss the day I can no longer lift him into my arms.  I pray I am strong enough to give “up hugs” for at least a few more years...

MAKENNA

I love that Makenna lives with such a huge heart.  She is the epitome of kindness and wise beyond her years.  I find her caring for me when I am struggling to care for myself.  Four kids, a dog, and let’s be honest, a husband, can do that do you :)

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BEST ADVICE FOR OTHER PARENTS?

The best piece of advice I have for parents of large families, or any family for that matter, is to love, love, love, each and every precious moment...the joy, the laughter, the tears, the tantrums.  I’ve learned to be thankful for messes and spills and meltdowns just as much as I am for the happy times.  Be present.  Offer and accept grace.  Ask for forgiveness when needed.  These are some of the best gifts you can give your children.

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Are your kids old enough for family photos?

So you're a new mom, or a seasoned one, about to book a family photo session. You may wonder if your kiddos are old enough to handle a shoot, and what kind of chaos is about to ensue with coaxing them to smile and interact with a stranger with a really alluring and expensive toy that they can't touch. Don't be afraid. When you do your homework and book with a photographer that is experienced with family portraits, they will be able to handle any tantrum, snotty nose, or case of the zoomies your little darlings bring to the party. But, there are different types of photographers you want to contact based on the age of your youngest.

NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHY

If those squishy, dreamy, gauze-wrapped and basket-y photos are what you're after, hire a photographer that markets his or herself as a newborn photographer. There are many special elements that go into newborn photography that are different from regular family photography. Newborn photographers tend to have a studio, lots of props to get those Anne-Geddes like shots, ways to keep the baby warm, ways to prop them up safely, and hours of time blocked off to go at baby's pace between diapers and milk. I have been blessed to do some newborn sessions over the years, and I still love to offer them to friends and family as a special gift, but newborns are definitely not my specialty. I would be happy to point you to some amazing newborn photographers if you want to message me!

ONE YEAR OLDS

This is where I greet you with arms wide open. Got a 1 year old? Call me! I love little kids. If your kiddo is standing with support, most photographers that advertise as "family photographers" will be just fine with a tiny human of this age. I offer some cool kiddo-sized chairs and even a fabulous gold sparkly "1", and if you say the words "smash cake" I will undoubtedly squeal with delight. If you're booking a shoot, most of the times photographers will have these props, posing ideas, and a plethora of tricks to make your littles smile. Just bring some snacks, maybe an extra outfit (but I'm good at Photoshopping out drool so whatev!), and a whole lotta patience!

START A TRADITION

The best part of my job, hands down, is the friendships I get to make with my clients. I've had over a half a dozen couples that trusted me with every shoot from engagement to wedding to maternity to newborn to family photos every year. This is it. This is the big why. I hope that I can be your photographer that grows with your family, and helps you create heirlooms and memories that are more precious than you may realize until those little ones aren't so little anymore.

I hope you enjoy my latest family session with two of those long-time friends and their little boys that are just too adorable for words!

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