Teddy Bear Portraits Sales Team Profile: Don & Donna Austin

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Photography and Portrait Sales, Professional Photographers | No Comments


Don and Donna Austin have mastered quality school pictures for Teddy Bear Portraits for the past two decades. Don joined Teddy Bear Portraits back in 1997. He has worked most facets of the field, from scheduling Portrait Days as an account representative, capturing memories as a photographer, helping parents select portraits as a portrait consultant to managing them all as a territory sales manager. In December 2014, his wife Donna was recruited as an account representative for the Knoxville, Chattanooga, and surrounding areas in Tennessee. Since then, they have teamed up to create a very successful business.

Donna worked as a bookkeeper for most her career and was desiring something a little different. It just so happened the local rep retired after 15 years so she jumped on the opportunity. Donna shares, “We’ve been so blessed to work side-by-side for the past couple years.” Don adds “What a wonderful, thoughtful and ambitious professional she is, and I’m truly grateful to call her my wife and partner.”

Don and Donna love their roles with Teddy Bear Portraits. They enjoy traveling through the Tennessee Valley, visiting with their directors and servicing their centers. Don mentions “One thing that has been key for us, is the company’s commitment to long term customer satisfaction.”

He continues, “After hearing the negative comments aimed at our competitors for years, it has been refreshing to know that our customers are taken care of. Taking advantage of technology is one thing, for sure, that sets us apart, whether in the photography and editing department or in marketing.”

Donna continues, “But most gratifying is the thrill of contributing to creating memories that last for a lifetime for families. Witnessing the joy of countless parents is priceless.”

Both mentioned their goal, since the very beginning, was to give their best each and every day.

Don continues, “It’s amazing how going the extra mile has paid back in so many ways, and we’re not talking about just monetarily. Being invited back to each center time and time again, at a high percentage rate has been our greatest reward.” Here’s to Don and Donna Austin and another twenty years!

Earth Day Inspired Recycling Center to Educate Preschoolers

By | Activities for Preschoolers and Toddlers, Community | No Comments


Teaching kids to reuse, recycle, and conserve resources is as straightforward as turning it into a fun activity. Begin by explaining what Earth Day is and why it’s important. Teaching preschoolers about Earth Day can be as simple as setting up a recycling bin, planting a garden, making crafts from recycled materials or showing the movie, The Lorax.

What is Earth Day?

While it might be difficult to explain to preschoolers this year’s Earth Day theme is Environmental and Climate Literacy, it is possible to explain the different aspects of the earth. Start by talking about the land, water, animals, stars and people that make-up the earth.

How can we Contribute?

Develop a recycling center for your school. Start by creating a list of all the items that can and can’t be recycled. Start with the basics:

  • Paper
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Aluminum

Then set-up with two bins, one labeled “trash” and the other “recycle”. Bring the activity to life by decorating the signs with crayons and stickers. Next, include a variety of items that can be recycled, and a few that cannot. Mix them all into the trash bin for the children to sort. Ask them to move the recyclable items into the recycling bin. Keep the children engaged and create a goal chart above each bin to keep track of how much is being recycled each week!

Teddy Bear Portraits Photographer Profile: Samantha Merrill-Hicks

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Portrait Photography, Professional Photographers | No Comments


Photographer Samantha Merrill-Hicks has been entertaining kids and capturing smiles with Teddy Bear Portraits for the last three years. With a career background working with children and a passion for photography, becoming a preschool portrait photographer seemed like a natural career move for her.

Samantha’s favorite part about working as a preschool photographer is that she gets the opportunity to interact on a personal level with each child. She explains, “I really get to know them, even though they are only sitting with me for a few quick minutes, I can still make such an important connection with them.”

She continues, “It is just a great feeling when they know who I am. I love knowing that I have made their day… I laughed with them, I goofed around with them, I got to spend my day playing around with a bunch of adorable kids… you just can’t beat that.”

Another special part of her job is photographing the same centers each season and being able to watch the kids grow. As a stepmother and aunt, Samantha understands the importance of connecting with kids on their own, personal level.

“It is important to understand that each child is different, they are unique and the same thing doesn’t work for every child.” This is what Samantha feels differentiates the Teddy Bear Portraits staff from other child portrait photography companies. When she trains new photographers she stresses the importance of staying engaged with each child, at all times.

“Working with kids and getting their genuine personality to shine through in a portrait isn’t a teachable skill… it’s just who we are here at Teddy Bear Portraits and it’s just what we do.”

Samantha focus on balancing patience and high-energy when photographing at busy centers. “I am always talking to the kids. When I train our new photographers, I stress that you need to be constantly talking to them to keep their focus and to make them feel as comfortable as possible.”

At the end of the day, after all the portraits have been captured, it’s encouraging for Samantha to be able to see reactions from parents when they see their child’s school portrait. “Parents are amazed that I got their little kiddos to sit still, let alone was able to capture such a special moment in their lives that they can treasure forever.”

“I love my job, and that’s all I can ask for!”

Samantha proudly serves daycare and preschool centers in and around South Puget Sound, Washington. If you are interested in scheduling a Portrait Day with Samantha request more information at www.teddybearportraits.com.

Tips for Gardening with your Children

By | Activities for Preschoolers and Toddlers | No Comments


What better way to bond with your children then to garden with them? Gardening can be a fun, educational and sensory experience for you to spend time with your children. It affects their brain, body and soul. It’s also an opportunity to teach your children about taking responsibility, and teaching them the nutritional benefits of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Before you Get Started – Do your Homework

All plants require varying elements for survival. For example, some plants thrive in the shade while others need sunlight in order to thrive. Some plants require minimal watering while others require daily watering. It is important to do your research because it will be vital in helping you navigate through the process and make simple decisions such as the placement of the seeds and plants and creating a watering schedule.

It is time to get started on your gardening project and it should be quick and easy. Spend time as you are working to explain to your child the benefits of what he/she is doing in a way that is easy to understand.

Guidelines to Help your Children Get Involved

Engage them from the get go. Children learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening can be fun, but far more than idle play; they are contributing to the family well-being. Besides planting and nurturing their garden beds, be sure they alone do the harvesting and preparation of their crop for the table, no matter how modest the offering.

Start from seeds. It’s tempting to buy a starter kit, but children will learn more by seeing the growing process by getting their hand dirty and planting seeds. Don’t forget seeds need to be started indoors in a warm room and once sprouted they can be transplanted into pots until ready to set out.

Give them serious tools. Don’t be afraid to let them use your tools. Cheap plastic child’s gardening tools are worse than no tools at all!

Cheat a little. Not every garden task is pleasant, and the child may not be ready at all times for all chores. You may need to go out in the evening to pick a few slugs off the lettuce, or be the one to run out and move the sprinkler. They don’t have to know about every little help you offer – the child’s ‘ownership’ of the plot is the main thing.

Show off their work. When talking about your garden and the fruits of your labor, be sure to point out how your children helped the garden grow. Take photos, post them online and send them to the grandparents. The more attention you give them, the more involved they will continue to be.

The hope is that you have started a new tradition that your children will share with their children and be passed on for generations! The pictures you take can be shared with family and friends. They serve as a fun memory of this special garden experience together.

Teddy Bear Portraits Composite Profile: Ashley George

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Photography and Portrait Sales | No Comments

In 2009 Ashley George began her career at Teddy Bear Portraits as a Logistics Coordinator. Eight years and multiple departments later, Ashley is working with Teddy Bear Portraits as the Product Service Manager and overseeing composites, print production, shipping/receiving, and inventory regulation. From logistics to customer service- from training to marketing, Ashley has worked in nearly every department and left each one a little brighter.

Ashley is an employee who truly embodies our company’s core values. She has demonstrated her enthusiasm, effectiveness, forward thinking, loyalty and drive to grow in each department that she has worked in.

“My favorite part about working with Teddy Bear Portraits is they value someone who is not afraid to start working with a new department or any of the challenges that come along with it. I like working for a company that fosters career growth-whether it be position or knowledge based.” Ashley continues, “This is the longest tenure I have had with a company and this is one of the main reasons.”

Ashley is currently the Product Service Manager, managing printing, shipping and the composite department. Teddy Bear Portraits offers a complimentary framed composite to every center that photographs. This sets us apart from our competitors with regular group photography because this compilation portrait features 1 pose from everyone photographed on Portrait Day! Each school has the ability to offer individual class composites as a fundraiser if they wish. We produce an 8 x 10 composite print that can be sold for students and staff. Each center sets the price based on their needs. Our complimentary composite keepsakes can easily be turned into a fundraising event!

We are working very closely with the Marketing Department to not only give our composite design a fresh new look, but also our promotional materials that go along with it. We want the schools to be able to maximize on their fundraising profits from this wonderful opportunity. We are diligently striving to continue to improve our department’s communication with the schools, thus providing composite changes quickly for the approval to print process. Want to learn more about our composites and fundraising opportunities? Contact us directly at composites@teddybearportraits.com.

Valentine’s Day Card Crafts Made With Love

By | Activities for Preschoolers and Toddlers | No Comments

Now that the holiday decorations have finally made their way up to the attic or down to the basement, it’s time to think about those special Valentine’s Day gifts. No one’s going to argue that chocolates are nice, diamonds last forever, and flowers are absolutely lovely. Here’s the sad truth, though: chocolates are caloric, diamonds pricey, and flowers, well, let’s just say they don’t last forever.

Hand-crafted Valentine’s Day cards with your child’s school portrait sent with love from your little loved one to their loved ones? Priceless.

One of the many, many lovely things about parenting is crafting, and Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to break out the glue sticks, glitter and sequins. DIY cards are a quick, fun and satisfying way to spend an afternoon with your child. Taking it a step further, making Valentine’s Day cards with your child’s portrait is a great way to show close friends and family just how much you love them and how incredibly proud of your little one you are.

As with any good kid-centered craft, the materials for your card are easy to source and the project’s complexity and scope can be scaled to match your child’s unique attention span.


  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Heart-meltingly adorable school portrait of your child
  • Fun paper for the frame (Tip: put a green spin on your card and show your love for Mother Earth by digging through your recycle bin for brightly colored boxes to use as the foundation for your frame.)
  • Simple, unadorned paper for the card and backing
  • Glitter, sequins, stray buttons, stickers, and other assorted bling
  • Glue stick

How to Make a Valentine’s Day Card with Your Little One

  1. We recommend selecting a standard-sized envelope and using your envelope to determine the size and shape of your frame.
  2. Once you’ve decided on the overall dimensions of your frame, sketch the outer outline of your frame on your “fun” paper. To keep it simple, your outer edges should be straight lines.
  3. Next, carefully cut the internal opening that will frame and reveal your child’s portrait. A rectangular frame opening mirroring your outer edge is the most common configuration, but feel free to play around with ovals, wavy edges, circles, and jagged edges. Let your child’s personality shine through at every step of the process.  Important: Make sure that your portrait opening is slightly smaller than your actual portrait.
  4. Using your glue stick, affix your child’s school portrait to the back of your frame opening.
  5. Cut a sheet of your “simple” paper to match the outer dimensions of your frame.
  6. Glue the “simple” paper to the back of your frame, this will serve as reinforcement.
  7. After you’ve allowed your masterpiece to dry, write love letters to your loves.
  8. Decorate the frame with doodled hearts, glitter, sequins, stray buttons, stickers, and other assorted bling.

Show friends and family just how much they mean to you by sending them something made from the heart. Personalized photo frame cards with your child’s school portrait are sure to generate smiles and become much-loved keepsakes. Be sure to share your child’s Valentine’s Day card with their portrait with us on Facebook!

Dust Off your Camera and Capture Memories on Snow Day

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Family Portraits, Photography Tips, Portrait Photography | No Comments

Although the temptation to crank up the heat, light the fire, mix up a nice warm mug of hot cocoa and hide under a quilt may be overwhelming, snow days provide a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child and experiment with your camera.

The odds are you have dozens of snaps of your little one swimming around in the water or playing in the sand, but very few pictures of a snow angels or snowman. Winter presents some magical moments for both amateur and professional photographers.

Top Tips for Winter Photography

Here are a few tips for helping you climb snow mountains and capture adorable moments.

Comfort is King

Be careful out there when photographing in cold temperatures. Wear warm coats, silly hats, wool socks, and easy-on, easy-off gloves or mittens are a must.

Bright White, Bright Light

Snow can be a tricky subject, fooling your camera into thinking that it’s brighter out there in the world than it really is. For most hobbyist photographers, a modern digital SLR camera probably understands the scene better than you do; however, if your images read as gray rather than brilliant white, it’s time to tell your SLR a thing or two.

It’s totally counter intuitive and confusing to most photographers, amateur and professional alike, but your camera thinks that great white world is super bright. Too bright, if fact, so it’s trying to tone things down a bit by kicking down the aperture, letting in less light. That’s not good for taking the best photographs in the snow. So adjust your f-stop one- to two-stops to let in more light. Boom! Bright white!

Think Fast

To catch those gorgeous flakes as they’re falling, use a fast shutter speed. Again, you may be smarter than your SLR on a snowy day. Your camera will automatically capture motion, if it’s fast enough; however gently falling snow may pull the wool over your camera’s eye. If your flakes are blurs, increase your shutter speed to 250th or 500th of a second, depending on the size and speed of your snowfall.

It’s All About Contrast

While a white winter wonderland is a gorgeous place, rarely is the world entirely enshrouded. Look for contrast and capitalize on juxtapositions for the best pictures. Keep your eyes peeled for trees standing strong into the sun. Once you’ve found your strong shadow or your surprising splash of contrast, focus on that image and play around with your exposure. The contrast is striking in these photographs.

Black and White and Bright

Winter is full of color; you just have to look for it.  Or generate it! Get those brightly clad kids of yours outside. Start romping in the drifts, making tracks in the snow, building snowmen with bright orange carrot noses and rocketing down hills on neon-colored sleds. Keep your finger on the shutter while you play.

The Early Bird Gets the Photo

Keep in mind, the best winter light is morning light. If your kids are lucky enough to be enjoying a snow day, then they’re up with the dawn and you may as well take advantage of it. Get out there and chase those rays! Experiment with angles and figure out where the sun works best on your subjects. Traditionally, shooting with the sun to your back is best, but in the winter months, give sidelight a chance. You may find taking photographs of the sunrise or even a sunset become more stunning when the air is cold and clear.

Believe it or not, cold is good. When it’s below freezing teeny tiny ice crystals fill the air, causing light to diffract and generate brilliantly hued pictures. You can capture some remarkable images during this special season. Get started early in the day and enjoy every moment with your children. Your child’s portraits will be well worth the extra preparation and sticking to these simple cold weather photography tips.

Teddy Bear Portraits Sales Profile: Brandi Reed

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Photography and Portrait Sales, Portrait Photography, Professional Photographers | No Comments

When it comes to Brandi Reed and Teddy Bear Portraits, it’s a family affair. Eleven years ago Brandi left the corporate world to become a Teddy Bear Portraits photographer. That was after she shadowed her husband on the job, who has been with Teddy Bear Portraits for 27 years.

“At first, when my husband invited me to shadow him, I said ‘No way.’  But I took some time off from my corporate job, followed him around for 3 weeks and fell in love with it.

“I love children, but you have to have something in you more than loving children… Being able to make those kids smile and laugh—I dare you to try to find another job that lets you do that every day.”

When asked ‘what is your favorite part of working with Teddy Bear Portraits?’ Brandi replied, “It’s the joy of it. It’s being able to provide parents with memories of their children they’re still going to enjoy seeing 20 years from now. How awesome is that?”

steve_brandi_reed_2847Brandi continues to excel in a territory that she describes as ‘easier than others.’ With the same Teddy Bear employees in the area for over 30 years, who just so happened to be her in-laws, she admits that her initial entry in the job came equipped with schools and support.

She explains that creating meaningful relationships with her fellow employees and centers is one of the keys to success in the preschool and daycare portrait photography industry. “You have to foster meaningful relationships with everyone you work with.”

“The one thing that has really helped me in this journey is the group of people that I work with. I mean, it’s never just you. Ever. Teamwork is absolutely essential in our business.” Brandi’s enthusiasm for her job is contagious.

Brandi believes in being effective and uses the philosophy of ‘doing what you say you’re going to do.’ She emphasizes that “Our word is our bond; we need to do everything we can to keep our word.” With the combination of trust and deeply ingrained relationships Brandi and her team enjoy making memories for busy parents and serving the daycare centers in Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle.

Teddy Bear Portraits Photographer Profile: Jonathan Talley

By | Daycare and Preschool Photography, Portrait Photography, Professional Photographers | No Comments

photographer-profile-jonathan-talleyJonathan Talley, training and development specialist for Teddy Bear Portraits, helps professional photographers perfect their skills and unique abilities to photograph children under the age of 5.

Four years ago, he decided to shift from photographing children, to helping other photographers capture each child’s unique smile and personality. This career shift allowed him to discover the many rewards in developing a team of exceptional portrait photographers.

With 8 years in account and territory management, photography, portrait consulting and training and over 22 years of experience in the portrait industry, Johnathan Talley is exceptionally qualified to train Teddy Bear Portraits professional photographers in local communities across 46 states.

Jonathan explains why he enjoys teaching the special techniques needed to photograph children at their daycare center or preschool, “I am rewarded every time I see a photographer, child, parent, or director light up when they see the portraits we have created.”

He states, “We have the privilege and responsibility to our clients to preserve precious memories of their children. Who could ask for better work than perfecting the skill required to capture smiles? Teaching the steps involved, providing tools, and cultivating a person’s abilities to provide a quality product while attaining their personal goals makes my training classes especially rewarding.”

Teddy Bear Portraits photographers are specially trained to work with young children. Jonathan elaborates on the training process, “Our photographers are trained to capture real smiles with dynamic posing and prop usage. Through sharing our knowledge and learning from each other, we place each of our photographers on the fast track to success.” Jonathan emphasizes, “Our team works hard and utilizes their experience to provide unmatched quality portraits for our customers.”

By experiencing different positions within the company Jonathan has gained expertise to successfully train photographers not only to evoke smiles but also to recognize what sets Teddy Bear Portraits apart.

“I believe we are providing a service that no other company provides. We develop new backgrounds and constantly improve to meet the needs of our customers. We work very hard to create images with genuine expressions and structured posing. We hold ourselves to high standards.” Jonathan continues, “I am certain this practice of sharing experiences, talent building and enhancing quality sets us apart from the competition.”

Jonathan says it best, “Children are precious and childhood is fleeting. Nothing reaffirms your faith, brightens your day, and strengthens hope like the laughter of a child.”


Ashley’s Place 10th Annual Pictures with Santa Event

By | Community, Family Portraits, Portrait Photography | No Comments

photos-with-santa-at-ashleys-place‘Tis the season to be jolly and give back to the community. In that spirit Teddy Bear Portraits donated its services and photographed children with Santa at Ashley’s Place.

On Saturday, December 3, 2016 Ashley’s Place held its 10th Annual Pictures with Santa event. Year after year, Ashley’s Place has been bringing holiday cheer to children and families by partnering with Teddy Bear Portraits to offer free portraits with Santa. Each family receives a free portrait package that includes (2) 5×7, (4) 3×5, (8) wallets and a Holiday FunPack. Donations are accepted to help Ashley’s Place and their important mission to support children affected by abuse.

“We are so grateful for Teddy Bear Portraits,” said Amy Burke-Salyers, Executive Director of Ashley’s Place. “Families look forward to pictures with Santa every year. It is nice to be able to watch children grow as they come back each year. We appreciate our community for the opportunity to enjoy the many smiles we get to share.”

“Nothing is more rewarding than capturing smiles from children, especially during such a magical time of the year,” said Katie Tackett, photographer with Teddy Bear Portraits. “I have only had the opportunity to photograph at Ashley’s Place for the past 2 years; however, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time there. It isn’t often I receive the opportunity to help out in such a big way through photography. Knowing that we’re capturing a special moment in time for children that might not otherwise get a picture with Santa is the best feeling.”

Ashley’s Place provides a welcoming environment for both children and adults. The Center is specifically designed to provide comfort to children and families throughout the investigative and treatment process in abusive situations.

Ashley’s Place is a non-profit organization in Gallatin, Tennessee that provides services to children and families when there are allegations of sexual abuse, severe physical abuse and/or witness to violence. The Center has a unique partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, The Department of Children’s Services, Sumner County Law Enforcement jurisdictions and Juvenile Court. This Multidisciplinary team works together for the detection, investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse.

To learn more about Ashley’s Place visit ashleysplace.net, call (615) 451-2169 or email ashleysplace@bellsouth.net.