Photographer Judy Shanahan long pictured having her own studio. Her dream came into focus several months ago when she opened the quaint and charming shop at 82 Main St. in Chatham Borough.
Shanahan's lifelong love of photography began when she took a high school class taught by a "great photography teacher," she said.
After more than a decade honing her skills in a portrait studio and photo lab and working her way through Europe as a travel photographer, Shanahan spent the last seven years as a freelancer while raising her two daughters, Abby, 8, and Fiona, 6.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, the affable artist, who currently lives in Warren, looked around for the picture perfect spot for her business since 2008. When she had to turn away customers late last year, the sought-after shutterbug realized that she needed to increase her efforts. Her search paid off when she found her current location in Chatham.
"I just kind of stumbled upon the town and I love it," she said. "This is exactly what I had in mind. When I saw the space, I said, 'This is it.'"
The studio, with its gleaming hardwood floors and clean white walls, showcases some of Shanahan's favorite subjects: newborns and children.
Her posed potraits and whimsical wedding pictures illustrate her range of abilities. Albums are also on display for visitors to view. A basket of water, candy and animal crackers provides a sweet treat for those waiting for their close-up.
Shanahan said she is equally comfortable hosting a shoot in her studio as she is meeting a family at their home or at the beach. The photographer said she routinely travels to Sandy Hook and Long Beach Island and is willing to accomodate requests for a different venue.
Developing a quick rapport with kids by talking to them about sports or their favorite band, Shanahan said she is able to put them at ease. Recognizing that all children are different, she said some may take a while to warm up and that is just part of the job.
"The most it's ever taken me is half an hour to break a kid," the bubbly business owner said with a laugh.
She also encourages parents to consider photographs which truly capture a child's essence and personality at that particular time in their life.
"Children change so quickly," she said. "I love to see their personality through their eyes, rather than through their teeth."
As for those often-unwilling models, Shanahan said, "I tell parents, 'Stop apologizing. This is what I've chosen to do with my life.'"
Shanahan also has experience photographing special needs children. "I've worked with children with special needs, autism, ADD, ADHD," she said.
Blending her creativity and new work space, Shanahan also hosts children's birthday parties. "The first one we did was for my daughter Fiona, who is a real fashionista," she said.
Rolling out the red carpet, literally, Shanahan played the part of papparazzi, snapping photos of the guests.
"The kids loved it," she said. "I thought some of them might be shy but they ate it up."
Children then decorated their own picture frames and, while Shanahan developed their photos to take home, they played "Pass the Purse, which she said is a bit like Hot Potato.
When the music stopped, the child holding the bag could reach inside and choose a lip gloss, Shanahan explained.
The photographer said she was glad it was a hit and hopes to celebrate with more birthday boys and girls in the future.
Community-minded, Shanahan said she likes to get involved and looks forward to hosting events that not only capture special memories but also do some good. For Halloween, Shanahan is thinking of offering portraits of children in costume and asking the little ghosts and goblins to bring cans of pet food to donate to St. Hubert's.
She also hopes to partner with local parent-teacher associations as a way to help them fundraise.
Shanahan, who said she stills attends workshops and classes to keep up with constantly-changing technology, said she is also looking to work with preschools to create more "fun and funky" individual and class pictures, and already has plans to do so in Basking Ridge.
Speaking of school, the crafty camerawoman recommends sittings for moms and their children who head off to school for the first time this fall.
"That way they can put the picture in their lunch box and look at it and feel a little more comfortable," she said.
For those interested in having a picture perfect holiday card, Shanahan said she is typically booked through November by August, especially on weekends, so calling early is a good idea.
Consultations and sessions are appointment-only, but Shanahan said she is usually at her studio from Wednesday through Friday for those who want to stop by and view her work or talk about setting up a session.
Also, Shanahan is offering a $50 rebate to Patch readers who mention this article and book an August sitting.
For more information, visit: Judy Shanahan Photography Studio or call 646-807-8874.