Make Yourself at Home: Benefits of an In-Home Family Lifestyle Session

Make Yourself at Home: Benefits of an In-Home Family Lifestyle Session

In Home Lifestyle

Staged family photo sessions help document meaningful moments in time, with everyone put together and looking their best. But there is also beauty in the more casual moments of a family’s day-to-day interaction in the home, and that is just as worthy of capturing on camera. An in-home, family lifestyle session consists of images capturing family connections through guided direction. Focusing on candid moments rather than posed, these types of sessions uniquely convey a family story through the authenticity of everyday life.

A few things to keep in mind when considering this type of session:

The Perks of a Lifestyle Shoot

  • You’re never late! Leaving the house with kids is not always quick and easy, let alone for a more formal photo shoot. Me coming to you means no packing makeup, diapers or back-up outfits.
  • No need to weather the weather: air conditioning prevents any hot summer discomfort or grumpiness, and taking a “raincheck” is no longer necessary.
  • When everyone is comfortable, people are usually in better moods, and necessities such as bathrooms or snacks/water are not a worry.
  • Natural, authentic moments can sometimes be easier to capture when children are at home doing normal activities. Without the pressure of smiling and looking to camera, kids and adults alike can relax and truly be themselves.
  • Children inevitably grow up, and things may change around your house. This type of session is a great way to look back and remember these simple, beautiful, memories.

Pre-Shoot Prep

Whether I am taking photos for families or senior high schoolers, I like to prepare for the session.  I will often go through some of my favorite poses, and even look for new poses that I want to try with my clients.  Basically I’m creating a shot list and I usually vary the list between clients.  I read through their online form to learn about the family or person, which may help when deciding which poses to implement.  I’m not always committed to every pose, but doing the research ahead is extremely helpful considering the variety of tasks involved during a session.  Aside from directing my subjects, I must also think about camera settings, composition, details on the person, as well as details in the background.

Organizing and Sorting Images

Before we even meet, it is important for me to understand more about your family and goals for the session. My pre-shoot questionnaire will help me better understand key factors including ideal lighting, where around the home you’d like to set up or activities that could make for a good shot. Still stumped? Not to worry! I am also happy to provide a long list of ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

After you fill out the form, I may ask you additional questions via email to determine the best time of day to photograph. Often mornings before 11am work well, but we can find a time and date that works for us both. Keep in mind I try to allocate an hour and a half for this style shoot, with breaks factored in. With the format being everyone in their natural habitat, the hope is children are able to last a bit longer than your more formal, staged sessions.

Tips for a Successful Session

  • Communication is key. If there are specific “must have” activities and shots, definitely let me know. If there are any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
  • Unsure of how to dress? Check out my post on what to wear…and what not to wear.
  • Ask yourself, “Which rooms work best?” We will not be shooting everywhere in the house, so take note of which rooms have the best natural lighting and can accommodate various activities. Tidying and organizing those rooms is certainly nice-to-have, but it by no means needs to be spotless. Dust thankfully doesn’t show up in photos!
  • Weather permitting, don’t feel limited to the indoors! Happy to take advantage of any yard space that makes for a good shoot location.

Think you and your family are ready to shake up your next photo session? Let’s talk! Check out my photo gallery for ideas, and take a look at my session info for pricing. Contact me here for booking or additional information on print and digital file pricing. Looking forward to working with you!

Behind the Shoot: My Photography Process

Behind the Shoot: My Photography Process

Austin Photographer Portraits

Most people know what occurs during a photography session, or at the very least it becomes clear once the session is complete.  But not everyone knows what a photographer does both before and after a session.  Recently I had a conversation with a friend about what my process looked like when people book a session with me.  She wanted to hear about all the details involved, and being on the consumer end, thought  it might be interesting for future clients to know what happens before and after the shoot.

Most photographers don’t just show up, take some photos, download the images, then send them out.  I may not be able to present every detail of the process for all photographers,  but what I can do is provide some information based on my experience as a lifestyle and portrait photographer.

Scouting for Photography Locations

If a client requests a specific photography location that is new to me,  I will usually travel to that place in advance so I can find the best possible spot to shoot at that time of day.  Lighting is an important factor in this process.  I find that scoping the scene out ahead of time is really key for being prepared, this way I can focus all of my energy into the shoot.  I also go out every so often just to find new places to shoot.  Being fairly new to Austin,  it’s been a fun way to explore and get to know the city. To learn more about locations in Austin, see my article about photo session spots.

Preparing for the Photoshoot

Whether I am taking photos for families or senior high schoolers, I like to prepare for the session.  I will often go through some of my favorite poses, and even look for new poses that I want to try with my clients.  Basically I’m creating a shot list and I usually vary the list between clients.  I read through their online form to learn about the family or person, which may help when deciding which poses to implement.  I’m not always committed to every pose, but doing the research ahead is extremely helpful considering the variety of tasks involved during a session.  Aside from directing my subjects, I must also think about camera settings, composition, details on the person, as well as details in the background.

Organizing and Sorting Images

The first step after downloading the images to my computer is called culling.  This is where I go through and narrow down which images to keep and which to get rid of.  This process can be time consuming for me because I try to narrow things down as much as possible to make things easier for the client.  I don’t want to overwhelm them with tons of images to look through when I post their gallery.  At the same time, I try to consider options the client might prefer, and not just what I like most.

Post Processing Images

The next step in my process is editing.  Back in the day, this was called “the dark room.”  When I worked in the darkroom, I had to expose light through the negative onto the print.  In doing so, I might expose more light to some areas of the image than others.  For example, a sky might need more light exposure in a sky to burn in the details of the clouds.  Or I may want less light exposed to darker parts of the image so shadowed areas still have detail, which is called dodging.  This process can be done from editing software in the modern world.   But that is not everything that can be done with editing software.  Aside from burning or dodging parts of the image, there are tools to adjust color, shadows, highlights, sharpness, saturation, etc.  Although there are some edits that can be done once the client has chosen their images, most of them need to be done just to present the gallery.  Because there are a significant amount of tools, I can spend quite some time on the images, especially since I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I can easily spend a few hours and even more if I don’t stop myself.  It’s a struggle because it’s somewhat addictive for me considering I really enjoy this part of the process.

Export and Publish

After all of this, I then export all images and upload it all to a webpage.  I then need to make adjustments to some of the thumbnails for presentation purposes.  This is when I send the gallery to the clients for review.

Post Editing Selects

Once the client has gone through their gallery and selected the final images, I will sometimes perform a few more edits, such as taking people/things out of the background, or touching up blemishes on the face.  I then make copies of everything in black and white and again, need to adjust contrast, highlights and shadows.  Then everything gets exported out and the client will receive a dropbox link to download the images.

The goal for this post is to provide the client with an understanding of what I do as a photographer. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what is included with your session fee!  And if you have any questions about my photography process, feel free to contact me.

Guide to Great Austin Photo Session Spots

Guide to Great Austin Photo Session Spots

 The Long Center for the Performing Arts

Finding the right location for photos can be tricky depending on the time of year.  The hardest time of year to find great backdrops for Austin are the winter months, when there are so many bare trees.

I took a little trip and went to visit some places that I thought still worked for winter.  Most of these were taken this February.  The are two exceptions.  The senior photos on South Congress were taken in September and because this is an urban location, it would also work well in the winter.  The other photos not taken in February are the family photos at Butler Park, which were taken in December.   Additionally, all of these locations would be great during spring, summer and fall months. See my photos and descriptions below for examples of what each location has to offer.


The Seaholm District was once an industrial section of downtown Austin.  This has gone under an extensive transformation, which is currently a mixed-use urban neighborhood.   This area includes the Library, the Butterfly Bridge, Shoal Creek and the Seaholm Power Plant. I captured photos at the Butterfly Bridge (by Shoal Creek) and down by the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail that is along Lady Bird Lake.


This is both a pedestrian and cyclist bridge which overlooks Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, connecting north and south sides.  It features a “double-curve” design. This connects Seaholm District to Butler Metro Park and can be a great place to stop and get a photo if you’re walking from one place to the other.


This park runs between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, and between South First and South Lamar.  This area has beautiful backdrops of the Austin skyline.


The Long Center is a venue located on Butler Park, which is along Lady Bird Lake.  This is a great place for photography not only for its great skyline views, but the design of the building is stunning with it’s glass structure, circular “ring-beam” and aluminum paneled roof.

The photo at the top of this article was also taken at the Long Center.

Fun fact: During the renovation, 95% of the material from the Palmer Auditorium was recycled and incorporated into the first phase of the Long Center.

These first four spots are technically close enough and within walking distance to include in an hour long session.  However, this all depends on how much time is spent at each location.


This district features hip boutiques, restaurants and trendy hotels.  There’s plenty of options that make for fun backdrops in a photo session.  When planning a shoot here, it’s probably best to avoid busy times, such as Friday/Saturday late afternoon to early evenings.  This is the only location where my photos were taken in the summer.


Located just 20 minutes Northwest of downtown Austin, Bull Creek offers a variety of backdrops, including a running creek, hiking trail, rock formations and lots of trees.

I am hoping that this article will be helpful when planning a photo session.  Contact me to book a session.

2021 Photography Bucket List

2021 Photography Bucket List

2021 Goals Family Photography

Cheers to 2021!  I think everyone agrees that last year was not as great as we hoped for.  Not that any of us could have foreseen what was coming.

Despite everything that happened in the past year, I did gain some new clients and am thankful for that.  I was limited to shooting outdoor only with smaller groups.  In the near future, I will still be shooting outdoors only.  No indoor Lifestyle sessions at this time.  However, I’m hoping that things will be different later in the year.  I have some new goals for this year that will hopefully inspire new and past clients.


Last year I started an email list.  The goal is to collect emails to send out a monthly newsletter.  The newsletter will cover my blog posts and upcoming deals or mini-sessions I may be offering throughout the year.  These things can also be found on my Facebook page.  However, to get first access to these offers, the newsletter is the way to go.  Anyone can sign up for my newsletter by adding their email here.

Another form of communication is through my blog and Instagram page.  I plan to update my Instagram page more often this year, which will include not only imagery but sometimes session information.  My instagram page offers images that you most likely won’t find on my website gallery.  Although there are a few of the same.


2020 was not the best year for getting out of the house.  While I did a bit of exploring, I plan to get out more once Covid cases begin to go down.  It’s important that I scout for new locations for photography sessions.   I did find a few new locations last year and plan to write a new blog post in the near future which will cover my new findings. Although it’s not just about location,  time of day means everything.  I’m hoping  to see locations at different times of the day to see how the lighting effects it.  In most cases the hour before sunset is the most ideal.  However, not everyone is available during that time, so it’s good to have other options.

Offer Mini Sessions

Last fall I offered School Portrait Mini-Sessions from my backyard and it worked out very well.  I plan to offer more this Spring for those who missed it.  I’m also planning to offer Spring and Fall mini-sessions this year for families, siblings, couples, etc.  I live in South Austin, so mini-sessions most likely will occur here for this year.  Sign up for my newsletter to find out first!

Create a Showcase

When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I had exhibits occasionally at an event called Last Thursday.  This event took place on a street called Alberta where people could walk and view art from street vendors or within places of business.  Mine was displayed in a wine shop.  This was a lot of fun for me, but takes money, time and work.  Since then I haven’t been shooting much aside from people.  That said, I would like to get back into landscapes and I know there is a lot to explore in and around Austin.  This was a goal for last year as well, but things were thrown off when the virus hit.   I’m hoping this year will be better, especially with the purchase of a new camera!


I really enjoy working with kids and considering the idea of offering some type of 1/2 day summer camp for those who are interested in photography.  It would be very basic, covering lighting and composition mostly, so any camera will do.  It will most likely be in my backyard.  If you have a child that you think would be interested in this, do let me know by sending me an email from my contact page.  Or sign up for my newsletter to find out my plans during the year.

That concludes my goals for 2021.  If you have any questions or would like to book an outdoor session, then send me an email.

Preparing for Senior Portraits

Preparing for Senior Portraits

Preparing for Senior Portraits

​Senior portraits should be interesting, fun and exciting.  There can be a range of styles depending on what you want to capture as you transition to a new phase of life.

Below I’ve created some tips to help you prepare and get the most out of your session.


Props can be fun to incorporate into the session, whether its sports equipment, instruments or hobby items.  However, this is not for everyone.  It can be fun if you’re into it, but it’s not necessary for a successful photo shoot.  Same goes for accessories.  Bring items that will compliment your personality and unique style.  Hats, sunglasses and scarves can often add character and personality.

Location is another way to personalize your photos.  Do you prefer more of an urban or natural setting?  If you have a perfect spot, then mention it.  I’d be happy to recommend some spots based on your preferences.

Don’t get a haircut the day before your session.  Give your hair at least a few days to learn how it will lay best and how you want it styled.  You might even wait about a week.

Keep it Simple

Bring at least one change of clothing.  If there’s not a place to change, I’ve got a pop-up tent I can bring.  This is probably most necessary in a natural setting.  Speaking of clothing, stay away from logos, crazy patterns, graphics or stripes.  It’s important to maintain focus on your face, not the graphics on your shirt. Jewelry and makeup are very similar.  I’m not saying, don’t do them, but make sure it’s not too distracting.  Also, both jewelry and graphics can date a photograph pretty quickly.

Bring Someone

If you bring a friend or family member, it may help you relax, which results in more natural photos.  They can actual be of assistance while they are there.  They can keep an eye on hair, help with clothing, make you laugh.  Sometimes someone close to you is better at making you laugh than I might be.  They know your sense of humor.


It’s important to let me know if you’re not comfortable with a setting or a specific pose.  It’s not a big deal for me.  I’m happy to move on to another idea.  Everyone has different taste and I just want you to be happy and completely satisfied with your photos.  So don’t be afraid to speak up!

Don’t Stress

Again, if you bring someone you feel comfortable with along,  it may help you feel at ease and relaxed.  Usually the first few poses are more of a practice session.  They are not always the chosen images of the bunch.  That said, use this knowledge to relax and not worry about how you look in the beginning.  As I continue to capture images, you will most likely get used to it and start to relax.  I will be taking a variety of shots, using a variety of different angles, compositions and poses.  I will be be letting you know if your hair gets in your face, clothing is sitting wrong, etc.

If you’re worried about blemishes, don’t!  Once you select the images you want from your online gallery, I will retouch the images and they will be removed.

Hopefully this post has helped.  I want this experience to be something you look back on fondly.  So, if you have any concerns, questions or ideas, please contact me.

For more information on what to wear, see my article.  To see examples of my work, view my gallery.

To book a session, contact me.

Learn Hidden iPhone Camera Features

Learn Hidden iPhone Camera Features

Did you know you can control focus, change exposure or capture action with your iPhone?

In my post I will share how to do all of these things, along with a few other creative tips I’ve come across over the past year.

Utilizing Camera Features

Many people don’t realize that you can control focus on an iPhone. Just compose your photo, then simply tap on whatever you want in focus and notice a square pops up. Now the focused is set. If you focus on the foreground, whatever is in the background may be out of focus depending on how close you are to your subject. Or visa versa. If you would like to lock these settings in for more images, just tap and hold until the square flickers. When releasing, you will notice the AE/AF Lock indicator appears on the screen.

To change the exposure while taking a photo, first tap on the image to focus, then notice an exposure slider appears with a sun. Using your fingertip, slide the sun up or down to change exposure. If you’d like to lock in the exposure, you can do this when you focus, as I mentioned above. This will lock both exposure and focus at the same time.

Burst mode is an iPhone camera feature.  While using burst, you can take more than ten photos per second.  In earlier iPhones, you can activate this by holding down the shutter button.  From the 11 series iPhones, swipe left on the shutter button and hold to shoot.

Getting Creative

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus or above, you should have portrait mode. The photo at the top of the page was taken using portrait mode. To access this mode, open your camera app.  Then under the image, you will see “PHOTO” is highlighted.  Place your finger there and drag to the left until “PORTRAIT” is highlighted.  Some of the newer iPhones will allow you to change the f-stop.  Look for the “f” icon in the upper right corner of your screen, then tap on it. Using the slider below the photo, click and drag to the right for more background blur.  If you do not have this feature, you can try to do it after the photo is taken, in editing mode.  Some of the earlier phones (such as iPhone 8) have this option. One other fun feature that’s new to portrait mode is High Key Mono, which is similar to Stage Light and Stage Light Mono. If you’re not familiar with Stage Light, it simulates a studio photo taken against a black background. Stage Light Mono is the same, but in black and white and the newest mode, High Key Mono is similar, but uses a white background instead.

There is also an option for slow shutter.  For example, have you seen the photos where the water looks really smooth?  This is accomplished using a slow shutter and a steady hand or tripod. To enable slow shutter on the iPhone 6X and above, open the camera app and select Live in the upper right corner (icon with concentric circles).  Then select the upward arrow in the center top of the screen and notice some icons now appear at the bottom of the screen.  Look for the timer icon and select it. Then press 3s and take your photo.  There is a choice for 10s, but I found that the 3s worked better for me.  If you happen to have a tripod for your iPhone, use it.  If not, hold your phone very still.  After the photo has been taken, open it in the photos app and swipe up on it to reveal effects.  Then swipe left until you see the Long Exposure effect.  Select it and you’re done. If you don’t like it, you can always revert back to the original.

For the iPhone 11 and above, there has been an improvement with the night mode feature. This mode improves brightness and reduces image noise. Night mode appears automatically activate when the lighting conditions call for it. Or you can enable it by tapping the moon icon at the top of the camera app.
To turn it off, slide the slider under the image all the way to the left.

I hope you learned something new about your iPhone camera. For more info about Melissa Hay Photography, see my about page.