Five Tips to Prep for a Documentary Style Portrait Session at Home

five tips to prepare for a documentary style photo session at home in Lansing, Michigan

When most people think about photo sessions, they think about a pretty field and glowing sun, but there’s a lot of beauty and joy to be found right inside your own home. In fact, we have a whole wall in our house dedicated to cozy black and white documentary-style photos that reflect special small moments in our daily lives.

living room wall with large black and white framed photographs

Now that it’s winter outside, you might feel like you’ve missed your weather window for family photos, but I promise there is still so much potential in your own home. Here’s what you need to do to prepare.

1. Think about what you like to do as a family or as a couple

Lansing indoor lifestyle photos at home

Make a list of the things that you like to do for fun. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a favorite book to kids
  • Have kids play with a favorite toy or game
  • Decorate cookies
  • Snuggle up in one big bed
  • Drink coffee or tea
  • Play a favorite game all together (board game or otherwise)
  • Include Grandparents in images, and have them play with the grandkids

Choose a few of your favorites to focus on for your session (and don’t worry—I always make a point to get a few smiling photos too so you have them).

2. Plan out where you want your final images to go

Wall Art at home

If you’re planning to put the photos on your living room wall, you probably don’t want to take photos in that same living room. Walk around your house, tape an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper on each wall that you’re thinking about adding artwork to, and snap a photo straight on to send to me.

Once you know where you want the final images to go, you’ll have a feel for which spaces will be final art spaces versus photography spaces, and you can start to plan out where you want to take the photos. It doesn’t hurt to take photos of the spaces you’re planning for your session as well so I can get a feel for both the final wall space and the room or rooms where photos will be.

I’ll use your wall photos for a few things:

    1. To get to know your style to prep for the session
    2. To design wall art to scale with your images after the session (never wonder what art will look like on the walls again – this tool does the hard work for you)
3. Choose your outfits

lifestyle photographer - documentary style sessions at home in Lansing, Michigan

Once you know the rooms where the photos will live and the room or rooms where you want to focus your photos and the activities you want to focus on, you can decide what outfits to wear. Planning on a snuggly session? You might choose pajamas or “home pants” (as I like to call them). For a session in the kitchen, you might incorporate aprons or other accessories.

If you’re lost on clothing, don’t worry. All of my clients get access to a styling app that guides outfit selection. Choose the genders, sizes, overall style and color palette you like, and it will return outfit ideas. You can even click to buy the exact outfit suggestions directly through the app.

4. Clean your home (but not too much)

Lansing Michigan documentary lifestyle photographer; taking photos at home

Most of the people I work with at home are worried that their homes aren’t clean enough. Don’t worry about making your house spotless. You might pick up the clutter in the space we’ll be taking photographs (just throw it in a bedroom or closet), but there’s absolutely no need to clean the whole house. Most of the time, I end up moving a few things around here and there to get the images I want anyway. And honestly, a little mess here and there is just real life.

5. Choose your session soundtrack

Lansing documentary style photographer at home
Every session is more fun with music. Set up your computer, Alexa, or whatever you use for music to bring a little extra cheer into your session and to help everyone relax.

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The Five Best Holiday Cards for 2018

The Best Holiday card designs for 2018Holiday cards have been a tradition in our family since we turned a late holiday card into a combination “Happy New Year” and birth announcement for our first daughter five years ago (I can’t believe she’ll be five this week!). Since then, I’ve partnered with Basic Invite to offer easy, beautiful and customizable cards for the holidays (and other occasions).

Use my partner code ASiarto to save 40% on your holiday card order this season and 20% off all non-holiday cards year round.

I look for a few things in a holiday card design. First, I’m a huge fan of turning holiday cards into “year in review” cards, which is one of the reasons I love Basic Invite. They have the option to add text, additional photos or both to the back of any card design, so it’s easy to share highlights from your year with friends and family (I LOVE getting cards with this personal touch—it’s so much fun to sit down and read holiday newsletters and highlights).

I also like designs that are clean with attractive fonts.

So let’s take a look at some of my favorite designs from Basic Invite this year—ranging from a single photo to a whole set of favorites.

All of the photos below are my own.

1. Modern Photo Collage Christmas Cards

Modern Photo Collage Christmas Cards

This holiday card keeps it simple and lets you show off a few favorite images. Get it here.

2. Yearbook Photos Holiday Cards

Yearbook photos holiday cards

This card design is a great choice if you’re having a hard time choosing a favorite image for your card, or if you want to share a set of photos from the full year to highlight your favorite moments. This one would also be great for newlyweds. Get it here.
3. Big Joy Foil Photo Holiday Cards

Big Joy Foil Holiday Card
Here’s another design that will give you a chance to show off a few favorite photos—whether it’s close ups of each kid or highlights from the year. Get it here.

4. Editorial Photo Holiday Cards

Editorial Photo Holiday Cards
I may be a bit biased toward “Joy” because it’s my daughter’s middle name, but I also like the simplicity of this card, along with the fact that it will work well with any horizontal image—you don’t have to worry about the text falling just right across the image. Get it here.

5. Sparkling Holiday Cards

Sparkling Holiday Cards

Although this card is technically listed as a “corporate holiday card,” you can personalize the text to make it your own. If you’re a fan of the handwritten look, this one is the perfect fit. Add text to the back to share your favorite moments from 2018. Get it here.
Manage Your Address Book

Basic Invite makes it easy to manage your address book—you can share a link with friends and family, and they can enter or update their own information for you, and it’s easy to import addresses that you already have. They offer automatic address printing from your address book, which is an amazing time saver during the busy holiday season.

If you create a link to collect addresses, be sure to let me know. I’d love to see how your cards turn out!

And don’t forget to use my partner code, ASiarto at checkout to save 40% on your holiday card order this season and 20% off all non-holiday cards year round.

Holiday Gift Guide – Five Personalized Gifts Your Family Will Love

I can hardly believe that we’re already talking about the holiday season. Wasn’t I just out paddle boarding on Lake Michigan and digging holes in the sand with my kids?

I love giving personalized gifts for the holidays, but the more personal it is, the more time it takes to prepare. Let’s look at five personalized gifts that your family will absolutely adore.

1. Memory Box

memory boxportrait memory box

This has been my go-to gift for my husband (and now my family) for the past seven years. It comes with a customized image on the front and text on the spine. The box comes with 50 proof print images (you can choose to print images from your session or wedding with me, or you can send me your images of choice through, even if you’re never worked with me as a client before). The box holds up to 200 prints. The thing I love most about the memory box is that you can leave room for little mementos from the year. I kept the hospital bracelets and knit hats from the years my daughters were born, and I’ve also kept little handprints and a few of my favorite little art pieces that they’ve created. Now the top shelf of our bookcase is like a little row of time capsules—we can pull each one down and dive right into our favorite memories from that year. Get in touch to learn more about having your own custom memory box designed.

2. Mounted Prints

styrene mounted prints
Have you ever framed a print only to find that it slowly started to dimple or warp in the frame over time? Styrene mounted prints are mounted on a durable material that keeps them perfectly flat without worrying about bending, dimpling or warping in the frame. If you’re thinking about a single frame for a family member, consider a frame size or frame set that will cover at least 50% of the width of the visual space (for example, if you have a couch that’s seven feet long, you’ll want your frames to take up at least 3.5 feet above the couch; e.g. two). I offer professionally mounted prints for any photos that you have the rights to print (even if you’ve never worked with me before), but you can also create a 60 minute combined family session to share a session across family members and their families.

3. Framed Prints

Storytelling Frames

The 20×20″ Storytelling frame with nine 5×5″ mounted prints is by far the most popular frame—it’s a great way to tell the story of the year (or display photos from a session or wedding) in one place. A large family print also makes a great gift. And again, consider sharing a session with adult siblings—it’s essentially like creating your own mini sessions for each family, and you’ll get the added bonus of getting a group family photo with everyone together. If your family won’t be together until cold weather sets in, I now have the option for indoor studio sessions. Get in touch to learn more.

4. Album

custom wedding album design by Allie Siarto, Lansing, Michigan wedding photographer

A copy of your wedding album makes a great gift, and many parents love to surprise their children with wedding albums at holiday time. Parents—if you want to leave the final design decisions to the happy couple, you can present them with the initial design and then give them 30 days to make photo swaps and choose their cover before the album goes to print.

But here’s something you may not have thought of—what about turning your parents’ loose wedding prints into a fully designed album? This holiday season, I’m offering photo scanning at no additional cost to give you the opportunity to save older photos and turn them into a brand new album.

Or here’s another fun idea—include scans of children’s artwork in your album to reflect your favorite memories from the year in one place. Get in touch to learn more about custom albums (these take a bit longer to produce and create through the lab, so you’ll want to order no later than November 15).

5. Folio Box

wedding folio box by Allie Siarto, Lansing, Michigan wedding photographerwedding folio boxes by Allie Siarto, Lansing, Michigan wedding photographer
folio box and silver frame by Allie Siarto, Lansing, Michigan wedding photographer
Folio boxes come in 8×10″ or 11×14″ with the option for shallow (10 matted prints) or deep (20 matted prints). Add cover imprinting to make it extra special. These boxes make a great base when you’re building out layers on your bookshelf. Add a small frame and/or a little succulent to add extra dimension (my succulents are all fake—I don’t want to get dirt on the fabric).

Get in touch to learn more about custom photo gifts.

Bonus: Record Your Favorite Stories

My daughter loves falling asleep to stories, but a lot of the story podcasts that she listens to are full of advertisements. This year, I’m recording short stories from her favorite books and asking family members to do the same. That way, she’ll have a variety of stories from people she loves. This would be a cute add-on gift for kids—record short stories and include them on a USB. Tuck the USB inside a memory box, or tuck it into a pretty print box with your mounted prints.

You could do the same with stories from your year. If you’re giving a memory box to a significant other, record audio of your favorite stories from the year, and include the USB with the audio in the box. The addition of audio makes your “time capsule” even more fun to look back at. I use the free app Audacity to record and export audio.

Ann Arbor Photo Location Ideas

Our team has made a good number of trips to Ann Arbor for photo sessions and weddings over the years, and it’s finally time to share our favorite places to set up photos in and around the city. Let’s take a look at some of the best photography locations in Ann Arbor:

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

The gardens do require a paid photo pass, but it’s worth it to get more exclusive access to their variety of gardens. Add in that golden sunset glow, and you’re set.


Downtown Ann Arbor

If you’re going for an urban look, check out Liberty Street by the Michigan Theater. You can also pop into a downtown coffee shop or sip some wine if you’re going for a lifestyle/date night session. Just be sure to arrive early to leave yourself time to find parking.


UofM Campus Buildings

The University of Michigan has a mix of classic and modern architecture just a short walk from Liberty Street.

best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations - UofM campus photography location ideas

The Law Quad

The Law Quad deserves a section of its own, because this location may be the single most popular destination in Ann Arbor (particularly for wedding photos). Its classic architecture has a romantic European feel, so if you have classic tastes, this may be the best photo location for you. Just be prepared to potentially wait your turn if you’re planning to to head there for wedding photos.

Ann Arbor photo location ideas - Law Quad wedding party photos
Ann Arbor photo location ideas - Law Quad wedding photos
Ann Arbor photo location ideas - Law Quad wedding photos
Ann Arbor photo location ideas - Law Quad wedding photos

The Go Blue Barn

The barn is on private property, so we made a point to seek permission, but for UofM fans, there’s a small space to stand at the edge of the road without disturbing the property (I ended up standing on the other side of the road—check out my Instagram Story Highlights to see a behind the scenes look at how we took this photo). Turn your angle to the side, and you have a whole new look.


Nichols Arboretum

Nichols Arboretum is huge, and you could easily spend a whole session or wedding day in just one small area.

best_ann_arbor_photo_locations- Nichols Arboretum wedding photos
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations- Nichols Arboretum family photos

Barton Pond

I wouldn’t necessarily do a full session at Barton Pond, but it’s a good add on at the end if you have time and want to add variety to balance out your downtown urban Ann Arbor photos.

best_ann_arbor_photo_locations- Barton Pond engagement photos
best_ann_arbor_photo_locations- Barton Pond engagement photos

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