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 retransfer.com, 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.

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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.

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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.

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Nichols Arboretum

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

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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

Learn more about portrait sessions

Learn more about wedding photography

The Allie & Co. Overstock Frame Sale is Coming

Allie and Co. Frame Sale

My new frames will have a few updates (largely the change from glass to acrylic, which makes the frames lighter and easier to ship, so frames will no longer be limited to East Lansing clients). With these updates, I’ll be sorting through the extra frames that I have in stock and setting up an overstock sale with huge discounts.

This sale will be available to anyone who can pick frames up in East Lansing, regardless of whether you’ve ever worked with me as a photography client. A lot of these will be large frames that would be perfect for displaying family photos from weddings or sessions.

Each frame will be fully prepped with your photo(s) and ready to hang on the wall. Sign up below to be the first to hear about the sale when it goes live. Supplies will be limited and sold on a “first come, first served” basis.

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Framed espresso wood

10 Gorgeous Michigan Winter Wedding Venues

Have you daydreamed about a snowy Michigan winter wedding with dinner near a cozy fireplace, followed by a warm weather honeymoon? Or maybe you’ve thought about getting your wedding photos outside with a glistening snowy scene as you invite your friends into a warm, lush greenhouse that brings everyone cheerful thoughts during the colder months.

Whatever your inspiration, you’re going to need the perfect Michigan winter wedding venue to fit your winter wedding needs, so let’s talk about a mix of different winter venues across a few different categories:

  • Barn or Lodge Michigan Winter Wedding Venues
  • Greenhouse Michigan Winter Wedding Venues
  • Loft Michigan Winter Wedding Venues
  • Classic Michigan Winter Wedding Venues

Let’s jump in.

Michigan Barn and Lodge Michigan Winter Wedding Venues

Brick Walker Tavern and Rustic Barn in Brooklyn, Michigan

Vibe: Relaxed, Vintage, Eclectic

If you have vintage or eclectic tastes, and you want to plan together a unique and cozy winter wedding, check out Brick Walker Tavern in Brooklyn, Michigan. There are two buildings—the brick building is like an inn that has rooms for your closest friends and family and a big room upstairs for your ceremony (although I’ll note that the upstairs room isn’t accessible, so keep this in mind if you have guests who require accessibility). And after the ceremony, your guests will down a short path to the heated two-story barn for the reception.

Brick Walker Tavern and Rustic Barn winter wedding photos showing Michigan winter wedding venues
Brick Walker Tavern Wedding Photo Credits:

Fox Hills Classic in Plymouth, Michigan

Vibe: “Up North Cabin,” Cozy

Although Chelsea and Jason’s February wedding day was 70+ degrees, Fox Hills Classic kept the cozy winter lodge feel alive with its fireplace, wood and stone.

Fox Hills Classic winter wedding photos, Plymouth, Michigan, showing Michigan winter wedding venuesFox Hills Wedding Photo Credits:

Black Barn Vineyard in Rives Junction, Michigan

Vibe: Modern Barn

I had the honor of being a part of a summer wedding at Black Barn Vineyard in Rives Junction before the barn was completed, but now that it’s done, it’s a gorgeous setting for a winter wedding. I’d love to see a classic black and white wedding with gold accents to play up the black barn and white snow.

Michigan Greenhouse Michigan Winter Wedding Venues

Michigan State Horticulture Gardens in East Lansing, Michigan

Vibe: Bright, Fun, Relaxed Elegance, Blank Canvas

The MSU Horticulture Gardens in East Lansing have a heated wide open greenhouse that’s perfect for a late fall or winter wedding. Guests sit at their tables as you walk down the aisle, which is becoming more and more common as a way to simplify the wedding day and avoid a setup change.

Michigan State Horticulture Gardens winter wedding photos and color ideas, showing Michigan winter wedding venuesMSU Horticulture Gardens Wedding Photo Credits:

  • Photos by Allie & Co. Associate photographer, Rachael
Plantera Conservatory in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Vibe: Bright, Sophisticated, Lush

Plantera Conservatory is on my dream list. This greenhouse wedding venue in West Bloomfield is absolutely filled with gorgeous green spaces to brighten up any winter wedding.

These holiday wedding floral ideas from Emily at All Grand Events would bring in the perfect combination of winter reds and lighter blushes to blend in with the backdrop of Plantera.

Plantera Conservatory winter or holiday wedding color ideas

Michigan Loft Michigan Winter Wedding Venue

Ford Piquette Plant

Vibe: Bright, Open, Great for the History Buff

The Ford Piquette Plant has a rich history in Detroit—it’s lined with vintage Ford automobiles, it’s the birthplace of the Model T, and it’s now a US National Historic Landmark. Your ceremony and reception can be set up on different floors for an easy flow for guests, and the bright loft provides the perfect backdrop for indoor photos.

Ford Piquette Plant as a Michigan winter wedding venueFord Piquette Plant Wedding Photo Credits:

Classic Michigan Winter Wedding Venues

Detroit Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan

Vibe: Classic, Timeless, Grand, Dark

The Detroit Masonic Temple is a huge classic building with endless photo opportunities, regardless of the weather outside. Invite your friends and family to come in and forget about the cold as they take in the amazing details around every corner of the Masonic Temple.

Detroit Masonic Temple wedding photos showing Michigan winter wedding venuesDetroit Masonic Temple Wedding Photo Credits:

The Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan

Vibe: Bright, Classic, Grand, Easy on Guests

The Inn at St. John’s has everything under one roof—a gorgeous chapel, a variety of reception rooms and a full hotel.

The Inn at St. John's atrium wedding photos showing Michigan winter wedding venuesThe Inn at St. John’s Wedding Photo Credits:

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

Vibe: Classic, Dark, Great for the History Buff

The massive Henry Ford Museum has a mix of classic indoor areas for photos, or you can pop outside for winter photos against the classic brick museum exterior.

The Henry Ford Museum Wedding photos showing Michigan winter wedding venuesThe Henry Ford Museum Wedding Photo Credits:

The MSU Alumni Chapel and Kellogg Center in East Lansing, Michigan

Vibe: Classic, Simple, Blank Canvas, Easy on Guests

The Kellogg Center itself is basically a blank slate—its rooms can be styled any way you want. But what makes the Kellogg Center special is its proximity to the rest of MSU, which has the charming Alumni Chapel, along with gorgeous backdrops for wedding photos (both inside and outside).

The Kellogg Center has the added bonus of being a full hotel, so your guests can simply take the elevator upstairs at the end of the night instead of traveling home in the snow.

Kellogg Center winter wedding photos on Michigan State's campus showing Michigan winter wedding venuesThe Kellogg Center Wedding Photo Credits:

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