modern portraits in Chicago

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Inspiration and Hope | FREE PRINTABLES

We’ve had several deaths in our family this year. The losses hit us fresh each time and they linger in the background of our daily life. I lost my father 15 years ago and the tears still hover just beneath the surface. However, hope permeates each loss and gives peace for my own future. My mom asked me to make a few word art images of Bible verses that have comforted her and I am happy to share them with anyone needing encouragement. They are high-resolution and can be printed up to 8×10. Please enjoy and pass them along to anyone who might benefit.
love & peace,

1 Corinthians 15:26

1 Corinthians 15:22

Mill Creek Hunt Club


Spring Portraits | Millburn Photographer

Spring Portraits

The warmth arrived this week and I see the sprouts pushing their way up through the soil… After the winter we’ve had, SPRING has never looked better. On Saturday, May 10 we are holding our Premier Portrait Sessions at the historic Mill Creek Hunt Club in Millburn.  We are so, SO excited about this day and this venue!

Family Portraits

Mill Creek Hunt Club, established in 1897, features the iconic architecture of David Adler – a prominent name around Chicago and here in the northern suburbs. As a member of this club, he designed the stables, kennels & house. Our sessions will feature these rustic elements, as well as the woods surrounding the area.

High School Senior Portrait

Our full sessions are open to individuals and single families and include both a large print and digital negatives. We will not be offering another day of Premier Portrait Sessions until fall, and those sessions will include an increase from the current $525 starting price. If you are interested in these limited spring sessions, email us as soon as possible. We’d love to have you be part of this day!

Mothers Day Portrait
Here are the full details, we look forward to hearing from you! Contact heather@heatherhartstudio.com to book your session.

Spring Premier Portrait Sessions

  • Saturday, May 10 (rain date Sat 5/17 — you must be available for both)
  • includes pre-session style consultation
  • Mill Creek Hunt Club venue (we will sign a waiver for the club; no horses will be present)
  • all location fees & permits
  • full 60 minute individual or single family session
  • professional editing of 20-25 images
  • online gallery with password for viewing, sharing & downloading
  • digital negatives, with unlimited printing release, guaranteed up to 8×10
  • 16×24 mounted & lustre coated print
  • pricing starts at $525, payment is due upon booking

Session Upgrade

  • includes all items listed above
  • 16×24 mounted & lustre coated print is UPGRADED to a custom inspirational Word Art piece
  • Heather provides 3 different quote options & design work
  • 1 round of revisions included, additional revisions $25 each
  • digital negative, with unlimited printing release, guaranteed up to 8×10
  • see example below, water mark will be removed for final image
  • pricing starts at $600, payment is due upon booking

Mill Creek Hunt Club


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Modern Playroom Design | Lions and Trucks and Books

Lions and Trucks and Books… Oh my!

Here in Chicagoland winters belong to the brave, especially this one. You see, this year, Old Man Winter shook off the complacency of an occasional cold snap or snow day. THIS year, he rubbed his hands together menacingly and threw back his head back in maniacal laughter, “MINUS 50 degrees! Snow that NEVER stops! Schools closed & children kept INDOORS, HAHAHAHAHA!” Yes, that is a direct quote – I was there and it scared me.

Fortunately, we created a playroom for our 2 high-energy boys. However, I started to notice that these 2 boys seemed less and less inclined to play in said playroom. They drug toys all over the house. They whined about toys. They forgot how to play with toys. This called for drastic action as any parent of 2 cooped-up preschool children will understand. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE, I said to myself (without the maniacal laughter… for now).

Taking stock of the playroom, I realized the true Master of this Domain. The chaos would not ruin me, I would triumph.

I turned to my purging skills: The toys will be reduced by half.
I turned to my organizational skills: Everything will have a place.
I turned to my spacial skills: There will be room for movement.
I turned to my artistic skills: This room must inspire imagination.

So with the help of Pinterest, Etsy and Target (& a few others great stores) the Playroom came back to life. Look, enjoy and by all means support the artists & shops that helped my dream of winter sanity come true.

This is a mashup of boyhood adventure, childish whimsy and a mother’s modern minimalism. :) The animal prints are digital water colors I purchased from Three Spins Press and then framed to bring in a little nature. The large paper lanterns and stars are from Z Gallerie (I love that place!) and are meant to look like the sky with clouds and stars. The capes (what preschooler doesn’t adore capes?!) are handmade by my mom – a woman truly gifted with a sewing machine. My boys love to dress up and review their own heroic prowess so the large mirror fit perfectly, and truth be told, I love to catch them making faces at themselves in it. Adorable. I’m a big fan of texture so I also included the faux fur blanket by Restoration Hardware and the floor cushion by CB2. The lamp is from Target– I needed something sturdy & wanted a bit of an industrial look, this fit the bill well.

Modern Play Room Design

Back when it was warm, and we could feel things like fingers & toes, I took a photo of my boys lost in the world of sidewalk chalk. I printed it on a canvas with an excerpt from You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano. If you haven’t read it, you must… I don’t know if I’ve read a book that was a better description of how it feels to be a parent. You can see that I am a fan of large bins for toy organization – this makes clean up easy, especially since I downsized the amount of toys in the room. I put the other half of the toys in their respective bins and put them in an upstairs closest. I plan to rotate them periodically and keep the entertainment value fresh. My kids play  much better without having access to EVERY SINGLE TOY, ALL THE TIME. And now we can see the floor. Bonus. I am a book lover and have always wanted a tree bookcase, so I included one in this room to live vicariously through my children. It has that modern minimalism I love and made a perfect reading vignette with the Pascal chair and LIFE pillow.

Modern Play Room Chicago Design

My boys love dinosaurs and ‘Rawr-ing’ is one of our favorite pastimes. I wanted more emphasis on height in the room (in addition to the sky lantern sculpture) so I opted for a DIY hanging pendant that gave Rex the spotlight. He seems to flourish in it. I picked out a simple black linen shade and made the paper vine by punching circles out of construction paper and threading them together. I watched a lot of Downton Abbey while I did that. A lot. My boys also love big trucks and the folks at Bruder make such great looking toys I wanted them to sit out and entice little people to play with them. The Gunmetal Wall Shelves are perfect for displaying some artwork and a few of our favorite large picture books. They are very sturdy and went up in a jiffy.  Speaking of the artwork, the two you see below are pieces I’ve done and are available in my Etsy shop. I love CS Lewis and Star Wars and I want my boys to grow up inspired. The silver lion’s head mount is a nod to Aslan and the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books we read when I was a child and I hope to do the same for my boys. The Mesh Silver Bulletin Board lets them revel in the joy of magnets and the room didn’t seem complete without a Radio Flyer tricycle. Yes, I do let them ride it around the house :) We repurposed our old black coffee table for the playroom because the lip keeps Legos and train tracks perfectly contained… and we’ve had it for 8+ years, so it can handle the abuse. To add a little extra seating for the boys while they build their vast cities, I added a couple of Graphite Knitted Poufs. They also perform quite well when turned on their side and rolled around the house while racing your brother, FYI.

And just for kicks, you’ll see one of my super heroes taking his first flight around the room – we are indeed keeping Old Man Winter at bay. :)

Modern Play Room Chicago

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Ladies Who Lunch | Mundelein Style

We braved the snow, because this little place is so worth it. When you happen to be in Mundelein, you must stop in and visit Chef Claude’s Taste of Paris Restaurant & Bakery (161 North Seymour Ave 847-949-9991). The lovely Lynnette was a smidge intimidated by the idea of French cuisine, but I assured her this culinary adventure would be full of  delightful comfort food, and it did not disappoint.

The chalkboard Specials menu at the entrance announced $5 mimosas, so of course I decided to partake. My lunch date and driver opted for the blood orange soda, so basically both of us were being healthy and getting our vitamin C. (humor me, people!) We started off with the rich French onion soup. The croutons, the sweet onions, the melty cheese. This was a perfect beginning on such a wintery day. While waiting for our next course, we browsed the bakery shelves and chatted up the girls behind the counter. Seductive flavors wafted over us and I nearly broke down and bought a croissant right then and there. A blip of self control emerged to save the day and I promised myself I would leave with some of these baked goodies.

Lake County Restaurant

We wanted to try several different things from the menu, however neither one of us could pronounce most of them.  Thankfully the waitress rescued us. And before you comment, YES, I did take 2 years of French in high school. However, I also took 2 years of Spanish in college so my mind is one big jumble of romance languages. Que paso? Oui. EXACTLY.  OK, back to the food. Our greens, Salad  d’Epinard, was divine! I mean spinach, bacon, egg, red onions, goat cheese and house made vinaigrette; I love it all! In fact I bought fancy bacon and pricey goat cheese this week just so I could attempt to make something similar at home. By this time, I finished off that tasty mimosa an opted for a pomegranate soda, another refreshing concoction. Now, we needed a bit of comfort food and a bit of out-of-our-comfort-zone food to get the whole French experience. For comfort food, we tried the Croque Monsieur, a decadent take on a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Not for the faint of heart, or maybe even those with a pacemaker, but perfect for this crazy cold weather. For something out-of-our-comfort-zone, we tried a savory crepe: Poulet et Fromage. The crepes we’ve known were always sweet – full of berries and things like Nutella (oooohhhh, Nutella… what dreams are made of) but this was made with chicken, swiss cheese and Béchamel sauce- just a tad different. It was a creamy indulgence of different, to be exact. Similar to the decadence of the sandwich but with the class of a crepe that only the French can provide. Our own little taste of what it might be like living the cultured life of a Parisian. But without needing to actually travel there, or speak French. Because we all know how that would turn out for me.

Mundelein Restaurant

And then came our grand finale, our pièce de résistance, the Chocolate Mousse Dome. Enveloped in chocolate ganache and garnished with berries we savored EVERY. SINGLE. BITE. Let’s be honest, we nearly licked the plate. You can see for yourself in the photos. You must get one of these when you go there. Even if you’ve stuffed yourself silly on the other scrumptious food. Buy one and take it home or you will be sad, sad, sad. In fact, I am sad, sad, sad that I don’t have one right now. Maybe I will have to remedy that asap. hmmmm….  Well, after we finished our fantastic meal and lingered for a few moments to let it all settle, we each bought a box of French pastries at the bakery because this kind of sweet goodness was meant to be shared with loved ones. Trust me on that :)

Chocolate Mousse Dome


Ladies Who Lunch | Gurnee Edition

“I’m like you, I like to eat–  it’s ALL good!”

We knew we loved Tina’s Italian Cafe & Bake Shop right from the beginning. If Tina doesn’t like it, it doesn’t go on the menu– so we lunched and savored every tasty morsel brought out to us. And we heard a few stories along the way. Like how this started out like a little Italian grocery, but everyone wanted to sit down and eat so she kept adding tables. And how her mom, currently enjoying 70 degree weather in Italy, crochets all the table cloths. Twelve years of handcrafted Italian goodness so far; we wish her many, many more.

Gurnee Italian Restaurant


Everyone starts with the olive oil, cheese an bread– and an imported peach iced tea, of course.  This is what dreams are made of.
Lake County Restaurant

My date, the lovely Lynnette, insisted that I try the sausage and meatball platter with side salad – Oh. My. Word. It was so good I had to take a moment and recollect myself. And then the minestrone came, is it still considered bad manners to lick the bowl?
Gurnee Italian Restaurant

Then there was a creamy chicken salad sandwich with summer greens. How did I manage to keep eating you ask? Well, I’m no quitter when it comes to delicious food. I persevered.

Lake County Restaurant


Lastly came dessert. We lingered. We chatted. We brownie-d and tiramisu-ed and cappuccino-ed. And in the words of Lynnette, “This is better than wine. This is better than Therapy!” Indeed, Tina’s is good for the soul :)

Gurnee Restaurant

I’m all about sharing my food and sharing ideas… So share with me your favorite dish from Tina’s or suggest another Lake County lunch spot for me and the lovely Lynnette… because we’re ladies who lunch. Or maybe we’re out to lunch. Or something like that :)

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Senior Portrait | Libertyville Photographer

James is a high school senior and a basketball player. We knew we wanted some traditional head shots and a few Sports Illustrated-esque athlete shots – but the first one in the collage below really stole the show. It’s our statement piece – James, standing on a solid foundation and looking out to a future of limitless potential – the essence of his portrait.

Libertyville Senior Portrait

Stitch Fix


Camera Love: buying your first dSLR

You are in your family room, opening Christmas gifts, surrounded by family, with everyone laughing and enjoying the moment. You want to capture that feeling of togetherness, those emotions of joy and love and generosity. So you reach for your camera.

And you get it. You get The Shot. The Shot that shows togetherness and joy and love and generosity. It’s beautiful.

Or you don’t. You miss it because your camera can’t focus. Or the flash makes everything look like a mug shot and not all warm and fuzzy the way life actually felt in that moment.

You can choose which of those two outcomes you want. You can capture what you’re really feeling in the moment. You can do this.

Gurnee Photographer

This is not rocket science. Everyday hundreds of people figure out how to use their cameras and capture the feeling of life around them. Just look at the numbers of professional photographers popping up in your area. It does not take a 4 year degree to learn photography. It does take time and effort and practice and mistakes, but you will get the hang of it. You will.

Trust me. I did it. So I know first hand, it’s not rocket science.

It’s more like speaking a new language. You won’t be fluent overnight, but every time you pick up your camera, you will get better. And when you see your images change, when you start to see them capture what you feel, you will love it.

So if you want to give this a shot (haha, yes, I laugh at my own puns!) let’s talk about what you need…

A dSLR is a digital Single Lens Reflective camera. That means that when you look through the viewfinder there is a small mirror that shows you exactly what the lens is looking at. When you push the shutter the mirror flips up and the digital sensor underneath captures the image from the lens (and temporarily blocks the viewfinder).

Why a dSLR?
Control. If you want to take great pictures that capture life the way you see it, you need to control the way the camera sees things – you need to make those two visions match up. A dSLR lets you do that.

Camera technology is changing rapidly with point-and-shoot and mirrorless cameras improving every month. Someday, in the not so distant future, they may be comparable to dSLRs. Until then, the main reasons people choose a dSLR over them are control over settings, faster shutter & focusing speeds, and image quality. These are the building blocks that let you capture the image you want and set the stage for great prints.

Which dSLR?
The two major players for choosing the right dSLR for you are your budget and what feels good in your hands. Really, it’s that simple.

The amount of money you have to spend is the best place to start. Know how much money you have to spend. Cameras vary greatly in price but all of the brands have entry-level dSLRs and they all have similar benefits/drawbacks. Once you have an idea of what you want to spend (make sure you reserve at least 20% of your budget for a lens!), pull up a website like CNET and read reviews of the cameras in that price range. In the $500-$1200 price range, CNET has 166 options available. Some of them will be camera body only and some will be the body with a lens (often called a “kit”). Look at the body only options and then pinpoint the amount you want to spend (don’t forget your lens reserve!). Read those reviews, which ones sound good to you? Narrow it down to 3 or 4.

Once you have that narrowed down, go into a store and hold them in your hand. Which one feels the best? You will be spending a good amount of quality time with this camera so play around with it a bit and see which one begins to feel like an extension of you. All the major brands are fighting to outdo themselves with camera quality so you will be picking from excellent competitors.CNET has great in-depth reviews to give you the plusses and minuses. The more you spend, the more features and better quality sensor you will get. You want a camera you can grow into so don’t skimp on your budget. You get what you pay for.

Which lens?
When I purchased my first dSLR I bought a kit lens because I didn’t really know what I needed and it was less expensive to buy them together rather than separate. What I didn’t realize is that the kit lens really wasn’t capable of doing what I wanted it to do.

You see, lenses are like shoes – you buy them to fit your specific needs, there is not one lens that will do everything. I don’t wear heels to the gym and I don’t wear running shoes out to a nice dinner. To buy the right lens, you need to think about how you want to use it.

Most of the people who ask me about cameras, want to be able to take photos of their kids in low light settings, similar to the Christmas example I gave at the beginning. For those kinds of situations I recommend a 35mm 1.8 f-stop prime lens. This lens won’t to everything, but it will do Christmas very well.  Without going into too many technical details, the 35mm length will give you a view of both the person and a little bit of their surroundings. The 1.8 f-stop will let in large amounts of light, making it easier to take photos indoors without a flash. This is a PRIME lens, so it will not zoom… which takes getting used to. You’ll be moving around to get the shots more than you typically did with a point and shoot.  Since it doesn’t zoom, it is generally a budget friendly lens costing in the $150-$250 price range.

One little side note about lenses, they are not transferable between brands. So if you buy a Canon camera, make sure you buy a lens designed for a Canon. The lens doesn’t have to be a Canon brand- off-brands like Sigma make great lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc- it just has to be for the specific Canon mount.

I also shoot a lot of sports so sometimes people want advice for those situations too… it gets a little tricky because sports situations can vary greatly when it comes to lighting. But as a generally rule for my sports photography, I go for my longest zoom lens and I don’t worry about the f-stop because I’m outside in bright light. For me it is my 70-300mm lens. This is about a $1000 lens but for anyone wanting to take pictures of their kids at outdoor sporting functions, I would suggest picking the longest zoom (telephoto) lens your budget allows.

Where do I buy my dSLR and 35mm 1.8 f-stop lens?
My favorite places to shop for camera equipment are B & H Photo, Adorama & Calumet. For retail locations,  you can buy consumer dSLRs at just about anywhere… Target and Best Buy are great options.

For the price conscious, also check out craigslist and eBay. There are tons of cameras and lenses available second-hand if you don’t mind a previous owner. Be sure to ask for an accurate shutter count (also called “actuations”) so you know the previous use of the camera. Similar to cars & mileage, each camera make/model has an expected lifetime of use. It may last much longer than the standard, but an accurate count will give you an idea of how much longer you can realistically expect the camera to last. There are many free tools on the web for finding out shutter count (http://www.camerashuttercount.com) and to find the life expectancy for your model I would Google it or look it up on your brand specific website.

I’ve got the camera & lens, now what?
First, put your camera on Auto and take a photo.
Second: OPEN. YOUR. MANUAL. Find out how to put your camera on Aperture Priority mode. Change your aperture to 1.8 (the camera will do the rest). Now take a photo. Look at it. Evaluate the two images. What do you think? Likes/dislikes?
Third, PRACTICE. It’s not going to be easy- no one speaks French the first day of French 101- but you will get the hang of it. Promise.

And I’ll write more on that later. Now it’s time to get out there and shoot :)


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