Heirloom Photography

If you follow along with my photography journey via website or social media, you may have noticed me frequently posting a new style of portrait: Heirloom Photography. Therefore, in today’s blog post, I’ll explain what are southern “heirloom portraits”, why you should consider scheduling one, and how my process is slightly different from other photographers.

Composite by Chattanooga Heirloom photography Kelley Hoagland Photography

Children’s Heirloom Portraits

You may be thinking, what are you even talking about? Heirloom portrait is honestly a “fancy term” for a very simple picture. Traditionally, these are children’s headshots or full body portraits taken in front of a white backdrop. Sometimes client’s choose to incorporate a special chair or piece of antique furniture. Generally, very little appears in the shot other than the child. Classic children’s clothing usually comprises the wardrobe (think Peter Pan collars and beautifully smocked dresses). However, in recent years, it’s become more common for some families to pair modern, casual clothing with this portrait style.

As you can see, I offer these images in both color and black and white! The most traditional choice is black and white. However, I personally, really love the look of color too.

Why Schedule and Heirloom Portrait Session?

Personally, I love that the child is the sole focus of these portraits. While family portraits generally focus on family connection and relationship, these portraits capture the child’s personality. There’s nothing to distract from the sweet little expression on his or her face. Heirloom portraits are a way to celebrate and capture the beautiful individuality of each child.

While this type of portrait experienced a resurgence lately. However, its roots are classic. These portraits are timeless and won’t go out of style. In fact, at my house we have a 60+ year old heirloom portrait of my father-in-law displayed on our living room built-ins. When we recently visited my in-law’s house, I noticed several more heirloom portraits of him hanging on the walls there. (I shouldn’t be surprised, his mother was a classy southern lady.) If our family is any indicator, this type of portrait is literally an “heirloom” that will be passed down to future generations.

When Should I schedule an Heirloom Photography Session?

Traditionally, these portraits feature children in their early years, but I have photographed school aged children before in this style and it turned out beautifully! The most common age range for this portrait is 3-4 years old. At that age your child can likely sit still and take direction. The second most common age for heirloom portraits is in the 1st year. Some parents even opt to do a composite of major milestones including shots on the tummy, sitting, and standing. (More on composing heirloom photography in a section below.)

I was actually late to the game with my family’s personal heirloom portraits. I photographed my first daughter at the age of 5 1/2 years and will repeat this timing with my other two daughters. At this age, she had still not lost any baby teeth and her face had that sweet, round young child look. (Now at almost 8 she’s stretched out and practically looks like a pre-teen!)

With the classic simplicity of a white backdrop, honestly any age can be beautifully photographed. If you opt for the early toddler years, brace yourself for a busy session. But also don’t stress. I have many tricks up my sleeve and have learned to wait for perfect moments.

What’s Different About My Heirloom Portraits Process?

With the resurgence in popularity of this style of portrait, you may have noticed that more and more photographers are offering children’s portraits as mini-sessions. So you may be wondering, why should I make an investment with you when I can spend $100 to get similar portraits done elsewhere. I argue that my experience is different for 3 reasons.

1) I set up professional lighting for my session, ensuring consistent results. While the light may look natural (that’s my goal), I actually use flash to achieve my signature bright, even lighting. No need to worry about the weather outside. You’ll know exactly what to expect.

2) I will guide you through the process of what to wear to achieve the best portrait. We will talk on the hone before your session so that I can gather details about your exact vision. From there I will guide you through the planning to achieve just that!

3) These images are meant to be displayed. Certainly, I get it that we live in a digital age. Having portraits at your fingertips on your phone is an amazing thing! However, I am a strong believer in the timeless power of print and therefore offer full service photography. This type of portrait is meant to be displayed in your home! (In fact, did you know that studies have shown a correlation between homes with family portraits displayed and a children’s self-esteem?)

What are archival print products?

Indeed, I offer a wide range of archival print products for you to choose from after our session together. These pieces of wall art come with a lifetime guarantee from the framer. The prints use museum quality ink that is rated to last up to 200 years. The glass used in my wall art blocks 99% of UV rays to prevent fading. Learn more about the products I currently offer here.

Photographer Chattanooga TN, image of heirloom portrait wall art of little girl

These sessions have become a real favorite of mine, because they showcase little ones in such a timeless way. Posed against a white backdrop, these portraits capture the sweetness of early childhood, showcasing the twinkle in their eye and these children’s unique little personalities. The clean, visual simplicity of heirloom photography also makes these portraits perfect for integrating into home decor. Most of my clients choose from my collection of framed archival wall art in order to preserve these portraits for generations to come.

Composite Heirloom Photography Wall Art

I specifically want to highlight a heirloom portrait option that several of my clients have been taking advantage of: Composite Wall Art!

What is heirloom photography? Heirloom Photography of little boy in classic outfit
Heirloom portraits near me. Portrait of little girl in classic white dress in profile

What is Composite Heirloom Photography?

When creating a composite portrait, I combine and arrange multiple images to form one piece of artwork. Some mothers have chosen to use multiple images from one session. These composite images may include a combination of close up headshot, standing portraits, and sitting portraits in family antique chairs or benches.

Heirloom portraits near me. Chattanooga photography archival framed wall art, golden frame
Composite heirloom photography

My favorite composites are when a family schedules multiple sessions in order to document different milestones in one piece of art. With one little girl, I have already photographed her on her laying on her belly at 6 months and sitting in a chair at 12 months. This fall I will photograph her standing at 18 months.

portraits near me. Images of girl at 6 months and 12 months milestones for composite image.
Little Girl at 6 months and 12 months. A third image will be taken at 18 months and then a composite images will be created.

Spreading out milestones for composite heirloom art is another option! For another little girl, I have photographed her near 1 year of age. Just recently I photographed her at 2 years old. Her mother plans to schedule another session at 3 years old in order for us to compile a piece of art including a portrait from each year.

What is heirloom photography? Portraits of girl at 1 year and 2 years old for composite wall art.
Little girl photographed at 1 year and 2 years old. A third session will be completed at 3 years old.

The Design Process

These composites can be designed with “vignettes” and without “vignettes”. In heirloom photography, a vignette is the soft blurred shape around the subject. Traditionally, the vignette is an oval shape, but you can also opt for a more irregular outline that traces the silhouette of the subject. (See the 5-image composite of the little girl above.) I will also help you decide between vignettes with higher contrast that create a grey “bubble” around the subject or a vignette with less contrast that simple blurs the edges.

We will work together to create just the look you have envisioned! After the initial session, I will send you a proofing gallery of the best images with a light edit. We can also sit down together to go through the images. Once you pick your favorites, we design either a single image wall art or a composite. I take care of the ordering process for you and deliver the fully finished wall art once finished. Wall art usually arrives 5-6 weeks after the order is put in! You also receive a digital copy of the images you purchase. These include full print release, meaning you can make additional copies as desired.

Schedule an Heirloom Photography Session?

Now that you know the answer to “what is heirloom photography?” are you interested in scheduling an Heirloom Photography Session for a child in your life? I schedule these sessions throughout the year. My schedule typically fills up quickly and I only offer a limited number of spots per month in order to provide luxury level service. During the planning process, I will assist you in choosing appropriate wardrobe and preparing your child for their session. We will keep the session fun and upbeat in order to capture the best images of your child. To learn more about scheduling a session with me, click here.

Looking for wardrobe recommendations?

Check out:

Smock Candy

Elizabeth Layne Heirloom

Teddy & Beau Heirloom Clothier

Willow Kids


Are you thinking, “No one does Heirloom Portraits near me?”

My set up is actually rather portable. For enough scheduled clients in one location, I am willing to travel to you! For your assistance in coordinating an Heirloom Event, I will happily discount your creative fee. Contact me to discuss possibilities and details.

Are you a photographer interested in Heirloom Portraits?

All of these images were photographed using speed lights (flash). Are you interested in learning for process of setting up flash and dialing in settings for bright, clean images? Check out my In-Home Flash Photography Course that is now available for purchase!


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