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Brooklyn Mom Becomes Photo Coach for Snap-Happy Parents

By Amy Zimmer | May 28, 2013 6:57am
 Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick helps parents "capture the moment" by acting as a photo coach.
Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick's Photosanity Coaching for Parents
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BROOKLYN — Rohi Mirza Pandya has two hobbies — running and photography.

The Park Slope mom uses a fitness coach, so why not someone to help her take better pictures of her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, she thought.

"I have a personal trainer at the gym. I should have a personal trainer for photography," said Pandya, 40, a media consultant for film and theater who signed up for one-on-one sessions in November with Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, a photo coach who specializes in teaching parents how to get the perfect shot of their kids.

"I consider it the same kind of thing — motivation, someone to help you out. Otherwise, I'm a total slacker," Pandya said.

A former architect and interior designer, Fitzpatrick initially started a family portrait photography business after she had her first son, Liam, four years ago. But after noticing how often her clients had questions about taking better pictures themselves and how she constantly wanted to correct friends' baby photos posted on Facebook, she saw an opportunity to carve out a new niche.

"There are a lot of photography courses, even quite a few catering to moms specifically," said Fitzpatrick, 40, a Clinton Hill resident.

"But my approach is completely different. I call myself a coach because it's not just about delivering content, it's about motivating and inspiring people."

Fitzpatrick conducted her first photo workshop in 2010 with 15 moms.  A year later, she launched her first online "Photosanity" workshop (cost: $397) with more than 100 parents signing up for the virtual course.

Since then she has worked with more than 500 families.

She adopted the "photo coach" title this summer before offering the one-on-one yearlong coaching program (cost: $3,000). The sessions are conducted virtually over the phone, Internet and email since, as a mother of two, she knows how tricky it is for parents to organize schedules and arrange sitters to attend classes.

"I work with a lot of Type A professional women, but they're surprisingly lacking in confidence about their photography," said Fitzpatrick, who is running a workshop at the June 2 Brooklyn Baby Expo presented by the popular A Child Grows in Brooklyn website.

"A lot of my clients say, 'I don't have an artistic eye.' You don't need that. I say, 'You have a mother's eye.'"

She gives tips on lighting and cameras (for tricked-out digital cameras as well as iPhones). She talks about framing, cropping and posing kids, advising parents not to ask their kids to smile or interrupt play.

"A lot of what I hear is, 'I'm always missing the moment. By the time I take out my camera they've moved onto something else or my picture is blurry or my kid makes cheesy poses,'" Fitzpatrick said. "For a lot of people the camera gets between them and their kids. So I really work with them to see how they can flip that around."

She also spends a lot of time discussing how to organize the countless photos parents take so they're not in a hard drive collecting "virtual dust" — the digital equivalent of sitting in a box under the bed.

She, for instance, uses an app called Shuttercal to upload pictures she takes of Liam and of her 1-year-old Jack every day, as she discusses in a free video lesson on her site.

Fitzpatrick's coaching helped Pandya finally stop using the auto-mode on the fancy DSLR she bought when her son was born five years ago.

"I really am busy so I don't have the time to look at my manuals," Pandya said. "Alethea can tell me, 'This is what to do.'"

Marcee Harris Schwartz, a Fort Greene mom of a 4-year-old and 1-year-old, took the online workshop because she thought, "I could get something concrete that was realistic."

"I wasn't going to sign up for a photography class at a community college," said Schwartz, 36, who works for an accounting firm where she helps advance women in business. "I don't have the time or equipment."

She not only takes better photos now but also has a system for uploading and organizing them. She completed two "photo-a-day" projects for a year and set up a big board at home with a collage of her 8-by-10 photos that she rotates every few months.

"She taught me things that are not technically difficult. They're just things I never knew," Schwartz said. "It's sort of astounding to me that I can take the sort of pictures that I can now. It's just blown my photography out of this world."