Naralakattu Family Portrait Session (Ellicott City, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

There’s no better way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday than with family pictures.  A couple weeks before Jaiden’s first birthday, I met the Naralakattu family at their gorgeous home in Ellicott City, Maryland.  Jaiden was a bit camera shy at first.  However, with a quick voice prompt to Google Home, Lion King’s Circle of Life song echoed throughout the house making Jaiden light up with a huge smile as he danced!  

The windows in their house were amazing!  Jaiden enjoyed a little story time with mom and dad on a gorgeous bench that was recently built in their kitchen, which shows off some of their beautiful windows.  My favorite pictures were definitely when Jaiden took a little snack break and I squeezed in some photos of just Roshni and Sundaram, relaxing on their gorgeous window bench.  

I had the pleasure of photographing Jaiden’s cousins last fall, you can see those pictures here. I think it’s safe to say that those big gorgeous eyes and photogenic genes run in their family!

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Portrait Session with Brant (Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

It was such a pleasure photographing Brant to document his recent milestone of turning 2. You might remember this adorable smile from his family photo session I did last fall.  If you missed that one, you can check it out here.  

Last fall Brant was quiet, cute and very cooperative with the camera. It was easy because Brant would light up smiling at his big sister.  This time, it was just Brant and his dad.  We met at a local park and it turned out to be a gorgeous morning.  Brant has grown so much in the last few months since I last saw him.  He was just as cooperative and he was quick to smile for my camera.  However, this time around Brant was no longer the quiet little boy he once was.  He was very chatty and it was adorable!  Brant was so inquisitive and I had a blast chasing him around watching him enjoy the outdoors. Cylburn is a goldmine for little kids -- they always have so much fun collecting sticks, finding monkey balls and smelling the array of flowers.

My favorite part about photographing Brant was when I would ask him to smile big for the camera. He would take a huge breath, throw his arms up and his head back, then hold his breath -- it was like he was turning into the Hulk or something!  

I can’t wait until next time!

Portrait Session with Model, Ashna (Graffiti Alley - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Ashna and I have been trying to schedule a portrait session for months now but our schedules were just too busy.  Finally, we both had a free weekend and the the weather was unseasonably warm.  It had been gray and dreary in Baltimore for about a week.  I was starting to feel a bit depressed having forgotten what the sun felt like!  Luckily, this photo shoot with Ashna brightened my January.  Not only is Ashna a gorgeous actress and model but we did our photo session at Graffiti Alley in Baltimore, which added a wonderful pop of color to the pictures.  Thank you Ashna for being amazing and making my job easy!   Check out some of these awesome picture from our shoot.

Craig Family Portrait Session (Cylburn Arboretum - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Sansanee and Ethan are the best kind of parents.  Sweet and loving with the perfect amount of fun while having an amazing sense of humor.  We all need a good sense of humor to survive life and parenthood!  We met one cold afternoon at the lovely Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Eli had a blast playing with his mom and dad as I snapped away capturing some candid moments.  The good news is that Eli was laughing and having a great time.  The bad news, however, no matter how great of a parent you are, accidents happen.  Poor Eli suffered from his very first bloody nose!  The good news, I captured the entire thing and gave Sansanee and Ethan pretty funny action shots and a hell of a story to share.  Luckily, Sansanee is a pediatrician and knew exactly how to help Eli quickly bounce back from the mishap.  Sorry guys, I’m not going to share the mishap photos in this blog post -- I’ll leave that story for Eli’s mom and dad to tell.  However, I’m very pleased to share some of these gorgeous pictures!  

A Photographer's Guide to a Quick & Easy Setup for Amazing School Portraits by Erika Sneeringer

A couple times a year I’m honored with the job of photographing spring and fall portraits for a couple of local preschools in the Baltimore and Towson areas.  I'm going to share my process with you on how you too can achieve these amazing results with limited gear and an easy portable set up. 

I love my job!  Seriously, what’s not to love when you get to photograph these adorable little smiling faces?  

Price it Right

My favorite part about doing this, is that I mark my prices down from what the big companies charge, making it much more affordable to the families.  Not only do I offer better prices, but I also provide a sibling discount of buy one package and get one half off!  I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but as as a parent, I’ve been through the process of paying too much money for school pictures.  I’m proud to be offering more reasonable prices while providing professional quality images.  

These little kids are so stinking adorable that I just love the entire process.  Packaging the prints and delivering to the daycare is the best part, especially when the teachers get to "ooo" and "ahhh" at all the cute faces!  

Behind the Scenes Setup

Now, I’m going to show you some behind the scenes shots of how I setup my lighting and backdrop for the portraits.

There are many different options for backdrops.  For school portraits, I personally use a blue and white multicolored mulsin backdrop.  It is impossible to iron out all of the wrinkles. Most certainly impossible for me since I honestly don’t know where my iron is and don’t even own an ironing board.  I don’t even bother.  The backdrop stays balled up in a corner in my at-home studio (aka a small corner in my basement).  Here’s why…. with the right lighting and setup, you don’t need to do anything to get the wrinkles out of the background.

Setup option 1 (no fill light)

Setup option 1 (no fill light)

lighting the backdrop

lighting the backdrop

setup option 2 (with fill light)

setup option 2 (with fill light)

This is a behind the scene of my go-to set up.  The backdrop is clipped to a backdrop stand and lit with one speedlight.  Now you may be wondering why my backdrop is a wrinkled mess.  With this set up, the subjects are going to be positioned far enough away from the background that with a wide aperture the background becomes nice and blurry.  I like to use the 85 f1.8 lens, which compresses the image and really helps the subject pop off that background.  The idea of ironing wrinkles out of a backdrop, really - who has time for that?  Certainly not me!

The diagram to the right shows another setup that I use.  It is virtually the same setup, however, this one adds a fill light camera left with a reflective umbrella.

As you can see in both of the setup options, the subjects are lit with an off camera flash with a shoot through umbrella.  Setup option 2, I add a fill flash camera left with a reflective umbrella. I position the light on a stand fairly low to the ground to be on the children's level and then the reflective umbrella pointing slighting upward.  That way, the fill flash fills in the shadows under the eyes.  If you don't have a 3rd flash, you could always use the white side of your reflector or even a white poster board. That will use bounce flash for fill light and work just as well.

The above picture was taken with the same setup as the behind the scene example, however, I added an additional light (camera left) as the fill light.  

Take a look at the two images above and compare the shadows on the face.  The left picture had no fill light and the shadows are darker on the left side of the face.  Whereas, the picture on the right that used a fill light has no shadows on the face.  For a setup including a fill light:  the fill light was off camera with a reflective umbrella. The fill light was low to the ground and pointed upward, to fill the shadows of the preschooler’s face.  The fill light was on lowest power setting so that it was just enough to kiss away some of the shadows without overpowering the main light source.

Camera & Flash Settings

My go to camera settings for this is shutter speed 1/200, ISO 400 and f/4.  Since I like to use speedlights, I prefer to bump my ISO when possible for a faster recycle time with my flashes.  I like to use between f/2.8-f/4 to make sure the entire face is in focus but still a wide enough aperture that the background is blurred out.  Typically, with this setting without flash everything is going to be dark, which is perfect because I want to cancel out all of the ambient light and have full control of light with my flashes.  

The background speedlight is usually around 1/32 power.  The fill flash is at its lowers power setting, 1/128 and the main light source is usually 1/16 or 1/8.  Of course, these are starting points and you will need to adjust to fit your scene as necessary. 

Working with Young Children

Now that you have the technical stuff nailed, let’s talk about posing and getting the children to cooperate. Keep teachers in the room to help you so that you never have to touch the children (for some reason touching the children in anyway is an unspoken rule -- just a big no no). Preschool age children have a hard time following instructions on posing so keep it simple.  Hands at their side, hands in pockets, cross arms, hold cheeks.  Keep it simple and if it doesn't work that’s ok, try something different.  I think as long as you get them looking at the camera and smiling then the parents will be thrilled!

Some tricks that I use to get a nice reaction out of little ones is to be crazy silly and have fun! I like to grab a puppet or toy that I find at the preschool and tell the kids that the puppet is my helper.  With some kids, I tell them that their smile is magical and when they smile it makes the flashes go off!  Most important thing to remember is to be patient.  Don’t let any kid leave until your camera captures a smile.  Now that doesn’t mean hold them hostage.  For example, my last preschool session there was one little boy was so scared and teary eyed that anything I did made him upset.  I put my camera down, squatted to his level and just talked to him.  I had the little boy take a break and told the teachers to bring him back at the end of the shoot to try again.  Sure enough, trying again later I got an adorable smile from him that his parents loved.  

Breakdown of Gear & Supplies

Now for those gear nuts that want to know exactly what brand of everything that I used, here is the breakdown.  I like to keep things really simple, portable, easy and affordable!

Canon 7d mark ii
Canon 85mm f/1.8

2-3 YN560 III Speedlights
Flash trigger
Shoot through Umbrella
Silver Reflective Umbrella
2 Lightstands
Backdrop stand
Lightroom (for editing)

PASS (for digital photo delivery)

Picture Day Reminder Stickers
Pixma Pro 100
Canon Photo Paper
Bags & Boards
Batteries (for speedlights)


Shanklin Family Portrait Session (Cylburn Arboretum - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

We had such gorgeous weather for this family portrait session at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland.  We really lucked out because the very next day the temperatures dropped and we had crazy wind, stripping the trees of all of their colorful foliage.  I grabbed a few of just Courtney and Paul in front of this gorgeous ivy colored wall and I’m loving how they pop off of the vibrant yellow ivy!  

Courtney’s dad, Tom, also tagged along to get some pictures of him and his grandson.  Tom was a hoot and came up with some pretty fun ideas… most of them involving climbing in trees and you can tell from the pictures that Reed was having fun with his grandfather.

Sometimes, the best part about being a photographer is getting to do photo sessions with young children.  You get to act crazy and just have fun.  Playing games like hide n’ seek was my favorite part of this photo shoot.  Especially when Reed would hide in clear sight but found it hilarious when his mom and dad found him -- I can still hear his giggles!  Don’t the boys look so handsome in their sweaters?

Naralakatuu Family Portrait Session (Cylburn Arboretum - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

I spoke to Vilas a couple of times about the possibility of scheduling their family portraits.  Vilas told me that his wife, Naja, was on the fence about booking an outdoor session with little ones and was leaning towards booking a session at Sears.  I died a little bit inside at the thought of getting portraits done at Sears.  Luckily, they took the plunge and hired me as their family photographer!

Their timing could not have been more perfect.  It was a warm and gorgeous fall day, perfect for outdoor portraits.  We met at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland and this was the perfect family to wrap up the last of my fall mini sessions.  

Naja did an amazing job coordinating the colors -- the vivid blue just pops in every picture, I love it.  Ajay was so adorable with his little sister.  It was really funny when he was sitting behind Ariya, holding her up and smiling for pictures.  As soon as I lowered the camera, he jumped up and ran off, leaving Ariya rolling around wondering what happened!  Such a funny moment.  Ariya is a show stopper, just like her mom!  I am amazed at how gorgeous she is and only at 6 months old.  Can you believe she is 6 months old with that head of amazing hair?  Gorgeous hair and those eyes….. anyone can get lost in those captivating eyes.  And boy does this little girl make you work hard to crack a smile!  Check out some of my favorite pictures from this family session.   




Gordon Family Portrait Session (Patterson Park - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Jake, 3 years old, was not exactly excited about the idea of posing for family pictures.  Lucky for him, I have a few tricks up my sleeve and we made taking pictures a fun game.  Jake thought he was so sneaky, sneaking up on mom and dad ninja style surprising them with huge bursts of laughter.  

At one point, we realized that Jake left his coloring book somewhere else in the park.  When Matt ran to find it, Jake tagged along to keep dad company.  It was the cutest watching them together and Jake giving his dad kisses (without prompting).  Capturing those candid family moments are the best!

Can you believe Jenny had a baby 3 months ago?  She looks fabulous!  I loved watching Wes just light up when he was laughing at his big brother. Thank you Jake for keeping me on my toes and reminding me why I love being a photographer!

Bryant Family Photo Session (Stoneleigh - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

The Bryant family is awesome.  My 5 year old son goes to school with and is best friends with their 5 year old son, Keller.  Keller’s mom, Margo, asked me to do their family portraits and invited my son over to play as well.  We did the pictures at their new house in the lovely Stoneleigh neighborhood in the Baltimore/Towson area.  Their house is gorgeous…. really, even my 5 year old son talked about how amazing the house was all night long!

About an hour before our scheduled photo session, a storm started to roll in.  What had been a gorgeous sunny day, was quickly turning into a gloomy, chilly and very windy evening.  I arrived a bit early to capture some shots of everyone outside before the freezing rain rolled in.  Then we headed indoors for a few more before we let the boys run off and play.

It was so much fun turning a photo shoot into a play date and getting to know Margo and Jeremy a bit more.  I think Keller’s brother, Holden, was a little sad and felt left out because he loves being the one playing with Keller, how cute!  

Heflin Family Portrait Session (Patterson Park - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Holly contacted me to book family portraits after she saw the pictures I did for her friend, Rosa (you can view those pictures here).  The Heflins drove all the way from Laurel, Maryland for these fall pictures at Patterson Park, in Baltimore, Maryland.... and I'm so glad they did!  

This family was great and we had a blast together.  It’s always fun photographing families just being crazy silly together!  Trying not to play favorites here, but I have to admit that photographing Ellie was the best!!  Ellie is 5 years old and a complete joy to be around. She is the kind of person that lights up a room with her smile and gorgeous big eyes.  Plus that perfectly fluffed bow -- she stole the show away. I could photograph this girl all day!  On top of being amazingly photogenic, she was a great big sister to her little brother Jack.  Clearly the apple doesn't fall far because Holly and Ellie are two gorgeous ladies!   

Check out some of my favorite pictures from this photo shoot.

Cataldo Family Portrait Session (Patterson Park - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

I was very honored when Naomi with Urban Row Photography contacted me to capture her family portraits this fall.  She is also a Baltimore area photographer.  I have been following her work for awhile and her photos are stunning-- seriously, go check out her gorgeous pictures.  I was a bit intimidated at the idea of shooting another photographer’s family.  However, once I met Naomi, I was instantly at ease.  She is down to earth, fun and energetic. I just loved watching her play with her kids in the leaves - her laughter is contagious!  

I love photo sessions that include the family dog.  The Cataldo family brought their dog, a cute boxer named Reece.  Reece tried to make a break for it right at the beginning of our photo shoot, chasing after a dog who was off their leash - knocking over the kids and literally dragging Anthony until he realized what was happening.  One of those moments when respectful dog owners who appreciate leash laws get really angry…. and rightfully so!  I definitely wanted to go punch the other guy for having his dog off a leash at a public park.  However, Anthony handled it with grace and after brushing off a few knees, we got right back to shooting.

You can tell that Naomi is a photographer and put a lot of thought into coordinating perfect outfits for everyone.  I love Gabby’s stunning blue shoes and Sawyer’s adorable sweater.  With all of the pops of colors in their outfits, together with the fall leaves, I even created a new Preset in Lightroom that I call “Naomi Bold”.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from this fall mini session at Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland.

Phillips Family Portrait Session (Sherwood Gardens - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Meeting this lovely family during the perfect golden hour was the perfect way to kick off another busy weekend filled with family portrait sessions.  We met at one of my favorite gardens in Baltimore, Sherwood Gardens.  In the spring when the tulips are in full bloom, this garden is packed morning, noon and into the evenings.  However, not many people realize just how beautiful this garden is all year long.  What’s not to love when the fall trees are at their peak foliage colors?  Between the gorgeous colors of the garden and Stacey’s amazing red hair, I’m in love with the pop of color in these photos!  Mark is a lucky man to have these ladies in his life.  And, I’m not sure what’s more adorable, Piper’s giggling, the sparkle in her eyes or her name!

Dayton Family Portrait Session (Cylburn Arboretum - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share this wonderful family’s photo session.  This family has so much to be thankful for!  Our session was shot at the wonderful Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland.  The perfect setting for family portraits any time of the year!  

Suzanne and Fred are just as adorable as little Olivia and her perfect camera smile!  Olivia is a strong independent woman already.  She brought along a little car that she rode all over those gardens.  She didn’t care how far it was or how difficult it was going uphill, she just kept on pushing - even off roading it -- nothing would (or ever will) stand in Olivia’s way.    

Bringing along their boxer, Stella, made the session so much fun.  Stella is so patient, cooperative and clearly the perfect family dog.   I for one, am thankful that the Dayton family chose me as their photographer for their family photos and am so excited to share their special announcement!

Emery Portrait Session (Patterson Park - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Every family portrait session should include a dog!  Bentley is such a gorgeous golden retriever that I seriously wanted to bring her home and keep her.  My dog, Obi, would love a girlfriend, especially one this pretty!  Liz and Chris are expecting a baby of their own in February.  Not that you could tell, Liz looks amazing and you can barely see her belly bump.  I love that they took the time for family photos for holiday cards of just Liz, Chris and Bentley.  I can’t wait to see their little one in a couple of months!

Cayce and Bill's Wedding (Joppa, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

You might remember Cayce and Bill’s unforgettable engagement session from earlier in the year.  If not, be sure to check out those photos here.   Since our initial consultation, I have been looking forward to Cayce and Bill's wedding day.  I'm so happy to tell you that this wedding exceeded all of my expectations! 

On top of Cayce and Bill being the sweetest people you could meet, they were giddy with excitement and so much fun to party with!  Their wedding day was spectacular from start to finish.  I could not have envisioned a more gorgeous fall day.  The fall foliage was at its peak in central Maryland and the colors were bursting as the sky was the perfect shade of blue.

The day started off photographing everyone getting ready at Bill and Cayce’s gorgeous amish built house in Plyesville, Maryland.  Their house is incredible!  Most impressively, most of what you see in Cayce and Bill’s house has been fixed up or added on by the bride and groom themselves.  From the ivy covered stone wall & hand built porch overlooking gorgeous fall colored trees to the newly finished stairs, their house invites you into the warmth of the home they have built together.  

Their ceremony at Mountain Christian Church was laid back, fun and the perfect ceremony to unite their lives and families in marriage.  

After the ceremony, the celebration moved to Mountain Branch Golf Club, where every corner included personalized decorations!  

It was awesome being Cayce and Bill's wedding photographer and squeezing in some intimate portraits with them before heading over to the reception.  

The party didn’t start until Cayce and Bill arrived.  Once those two hit that dance floor, it remained hopping all night long.  Cayce danced her ass off at her wedding… and it was AWESOME!

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Congratulations Cayce and Bill! I love you guys and had a blast photographing your unforgettable wedding.  Wishing you both a lifetime of giddiness, Red Bull and awesome dancing.  Cheers (with a shot of fireball) to your happily ever after.

A shout out to all of the people who helped make Cayce and Bill’s day fantastic:

Church Venue: Mountain Christian Church
Reception Venue: Mountain Branch Golf Club
2nd Shooter: Samuel Guillermo
DJ: AJ Productions  
Makeup: Beauty by Anna
Cake: Yia Yia Bakery 

Schaefer Family Portrait Session (Cylburn Arboretum - Baltimore, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Lisa and Matt clearly adore Eli, their 18 month old son, and rightfully so.  What a cutie.  Between the his stare with those popping blue eyes and his little giggles, Eli is quite the show stopper!   I met the Schaefer family at Cylburn Arboretum on a chilly fall morning for our photo session.  I’ve been so lucky this year to have photographed so many red heads this fall!  Seriously, how cute is little Eli with his vivid hair and pop of blue eyes?  We struck gold with an amazing spot in the gardens, a gorgeous tree with branches hanging low covering a bed of pine needles that matched Eli’s hair perfectly.  Thank you Lisa and Matt for choosing me as your family photographer!

Eimer Family Portrait Session (Baltimore County, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

Posting about a session like this is the reason why I truly enjoy being a photographer.  It was another fall mini session at the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park in Baltimore County, Maryland.  This was the perfect setting for this gorgeous family.  I loved everything about this portrait session with the Eimers.  Kelli and Joe are two brainiacs who happen to be such a sweet and loving couple.  I loved their pictures together, it felt like we squeezed in a private engagement shoot in the middle of the family mini session.  

Kelli and Joe have done an awesome job raising their 14 year old daughter, Trinity.  Not only is she tall and beautiful but she is smart and there was not one hint of teenager attitude!  They must be so proud watching how loving and nurturing Trinity is with her 15 month old baby brother, Brant.  Seriously, I could have photographed those two kids together all day.  Not only are they just adorable together but that orange hair with the orange leaves - so perfect!

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Hulbert Family Portrait Session (Hunt Valley, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

After this portrait session I feel like I can retire a happy photographer.  Getting that awesome one of a kind (and seemingly impossible) shot of a two year old and dog smiling at the camera…. It seriously doesn’t get any cuter than this!

The Hulbert family won my fall mini session at our neighborhood annual picnic silent auction.  Lindsay went into a bit of a bidding war and I am so happy that the Hulbert family won.  It was awesome being a photographer for this family!  

We met at the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park in Hunt Valley, Maryland on a gorgeous (and windy) fall morning.  Lindsay and Dan have an adorable 2 year old son named Benjamin and a yellow lab named Harper.  Lindsay's mom was kind enough to tag along as a dog wrangler.  I’ll admit, I was surprised at how well behaved Harper is.  The perfect family dog!

All of Ben’s posing was his own idea.  A very strong willed and independent 2 year old, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.  When Ben squirmed out of his mom’s arms so that he could get down on one knee in front of mom and dad and then smiled big, it was just adorable. I loved it!  Such a cutie and so much fun to photograph.  My favorite pictures are of the Hulbert family playing in the leaves and capturing that genuine laughter.  

Doxtater Family Portrait Session (Hunt Valley, Maryland) by Erika Sneeringer

The Doxtater family woke up crazy early and drove all the way from Laurel, Maryland to Hunt Valley to have their family pictures taken.  We met at the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, which is right across the street from Oregon Ridge Park in the Cockeysville, Hunt Valley area.  The lines of trees along a walking path are the perfect shades of fall colors by late October.  Rosa and Brent are awesome parents and were great sports rolling around in the leaves and having fun during our photo session.

Kaylee is five years old and is a complete natural in front of the camera.  Her little brother, Elijah, is 2 and had so much fun throwing leaves with his family.  The cutest pictures are the ones of Kaylee and Elijah together.  I’m a sucker for adorable sibling pictures!  This is such a fun family and I'm very grateful they hired me as their family photographer because I loved taking their pictures!

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Allyn and Michael - Woodhall Wine Cellars Wedding in Parkton, Maryland (Baltimore Wedding Photographer) by Erika Sneeringer

Congratulations to Michael and Allyn!  After 4 years together, they finally tied the knot on October 29, 2016 at Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, Maryland.  Allyn and Michael said their vows to each other at an intimate wedding, in front of their closest friends and family as the sun was setting on a lovely fall evening.  Mike and Allyn are expecting a daughter in January and I’m sure Tucker is going to be a wonderful big brother!  I'm so grateful that Mike and Allyn hired me as their wedding photographer!