Summer Voices | Cathy Zielske | The Real Life Portrait Page Project

I'm on vacation this week and have invited some friends to share their voice here during my time away. Say hello to Cathy Zielske:

I'm going to tell you something today that I try to convey to just about anyone who'll listen: my house and my life are not perfect.

Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely grateful for the home in which I dwell and the life that I'm fortunate enough to lead, but you're not going to find perfection in either one.

This lack of perfection gave me an idea for a new way of taking portraits and it began with my 16-year-old daughter's perfectly trashed room. Her idea of cleaning is to take every item in her room and pile it up on her bed. Sounds like a great start, right? The problem is that many times the pile gets made and stays for days at a time, forcing her to carve out a tiny sliver of the bed on which to sleep while she procrastinates tackling the inevitable.

Because this is just so her, I was struck with the idea to prop her right in front of said bed, and shoot a portrait that truly captures an authentic slice of her real life.

And the results made me giddy.

I'm tired of the idea that a portrait should be perfection. Yes, I have some nice spots in my home in which to shoot, but this shot? This shot shows me a real slice of my daughter's life; something messy; something imperfect; something quintessentially her.

I want to challenge anyone out there to take up the Real Life Portrait Challenge. How can you photograph the people you love using a less than perfect background? I can only imagine the number of women out there with a perfectly trashed [insert the room here!] Have you ever thought how that just might be the ideal spot for a portrait?

What about in the room you've been trying to paint for the last year? Or the garden project that's hit a wall? Or the mismatched furniture in your family room that you keep thinking will look so much better once it's all replaced?

How can you look at your perfectly non-glamorous life for a slice of portrait perfection?


Today I have a digital package download for you to create your own page built around a perfectly imperfect portrait. Here is the project you'll be making:

The digital package includes everything you need to create a hybrid page as I've done, or a fully digital layout. Also included are a set of printable PDF instructions that will walk you through the steps using Photoshop Elements to create this scrapbook page.

Click on this link below to download the digital package:

Download the CZ Digital Package

Here's to seeing real life in creative and authentic ways. And heck, if it takes the pressure off of shooting for perfection, I say all the better.

ABOUT CATHY ZIELSKE | Cathy Zielske is a graphic designer, blogger, author, scrapbooker and online instructor who has recently become a big fan of reality. Just ask her therapist. You can find her online at or on Facebook or on Twitter. Author of the best selling Clean&Simple Scrapbooking and Clean&Simple Scrapbooking: the Sequel, one of her life’s missions is to take the crap out of scrapbooking, one awesome layout at a time.

52 thoughts

  1. madeline St onge

    2012-07-25 13:50:18 -0400

    Thanks Cathy, love this idea
    She is gorgeous so the pile of clothes look better LOL

  2. heather

    2012-07-25 14:11:46 -0400

    thanks Cathy--i feel like my lungs finally just filled with the air they were gasping for! so many of the photos i take i then compare with others' perfection, while mine are just filled with the plain. i try not to shy away from unsightly backgrounds, but i LOVE the idea of being purposeful to share them! INSPIRED (your words, i mean)!!

  3. Teri H.

    2012-07-25 14:33:20 -0400

    What a great idea! Oh, how many imperfect backgrounds I could pose in front of!

  4. Mary in IL

    2012-07-25 14:56:28 -0400

    My Project Life is full of hideous backgrounds (okay, imperfect) like this.

  5. Kim

    2012-07-25 15:34:35 -0400

    Okay, that's a cool idea.

  6. dawny dee

    2012-07-25 16:33:43 -0400

    cz, you blow me away. so "on spot". the perfect way to look at our authentic life. look at what is true and real. and learn to love it. and so generous of you to share this. you are awesome. may you receive this blessed back times 100.

  7. Stephanie

    2012-07-25 20:08:36 -0400

    Love it, love it, love it! All of Ali's guest's posts have been inspiring and generous. Thank you SO MUCH for the download today. I can't wait to use it!!

  8. Queen Mary

    2012-07-25 21:27:40 -0400

    Wow Cathy! If you don't watch out, people are going to ASK Ali to go on vacation -- very generous download! And boy am I glad more and more people are scrapping imperfect pictures and imperfect lives! It makes me feel almost normal! :)

  9. Barb in AK

    2012-07-25 21:31:41 -0400

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much for the free kit! I'll be sure to use it :-)
    Now, I want you to give us a tutorial on how to make your subject sharp and the background fuzzy :-D I only have a point and shoot.
    Thanks again, Cathy!

  10. Kelly

    2012-07-25 23:22:56 -0400

    Thanks to Cathy for this great FREE template! AND... a great idea for documenting REAL life!

  11. Carolyn HP

    2012-07-25 23:49:59 -0400

    Great advice Cathy! Thanks for the freebie too :)

  12. laura g.

    2012-07-25 23:52:52 -0400

    my house and my life aren't perfect either! we are 2 of a kind!! LOL! many of my backgrounds show my messy house... i have long since quit feeling guilty about it! it's MY life...and it's REAL...not PERFECT...

  13. April Irving

    2012-07-26 00:09:07 -0400

    Thanks Cathy, its nice to know not everyone's house is in order all the time. I need to remember that I'm living in the day to day life and nothing is perfect or in order at all times.

  14. Annette

    2012-07-26 00:45:41 -0400

    Thank you Cathy!! Love it! Real life rocks!

  15. Lara

    2012-07-26 02:14:19 -0400

    OMG, Cathy I am the one who does what your Aiden does....... but I'm more than twice her age! lol Not so good when trying to teach my own kids to keep their rooms clean right?! Thanks for another inspiring idea :-)

  16. Toni

    2012-07-26 03:23:26 -0400

    Awesome - thanks Cathy for the inspiration and the freebie which makes it quick and easy to do something with the inspiration. Love embracing not perfect. I had got frustrated with 'stuff' behind photos because I felt like it detracted from what I was trying to take, but sometimes we can make it part of - or the - story and embrace it. And agree with above comments - Aidan is gorgeous - go both of you for making a story of real life!!

  17. Chris-Ellyn

    2012-07-26 09:19:27 -0400

    oh, room of shame might be too shameful for this, but I love the idea and the freebie. You rock!

  18. Karen Clinkinbeard

    2012-07-27 14:19:52 -0400

    Thanks for your comments Cathy. I really appreciate your insight. I get so frustrated trying to take photos of my grand-kids and have them be blurry, or horrible background or catch them mid blink etc. Now I want to try to just enjoy the moment and capture them in real life!

  19. Kimberlee

    2012-07-27 15:30:13 -0400

    This is fabulous. You just gave me a brilliant idea for a photo in our upstairs bathroom, which I am embarrassed to admit, has been torn apart for a year and a half (and it is driving me crazy). :D

  20. Lorita

    2012-07-27 18:17:52 -0400

    Thank you so much, Cathy. Great idea!

  21. Kelly Griglione

    2012-07-27 23:55:39 -0400

    Love Cathy, thanks so much for inviting her to guest post! (PS, Cathy, great reminder to not sweat the mess behind the portraits, and just embrace it).

  22. Kristin

    2012-07-28 09:00:58 -0400

    what a great idea Cathy, to capture family and include slices of real life. thanks for the download, I'll be making a page soon!

  23. Karen Kellenberger

    2012-07-28 12:52:23 -0400

    Very good idea. Thank you for the download!

  24. Teal

    2012-07-30 13:10:17 -0400

    Love this idea Cathy! Thank you for always being so generous with your freebies!

  25. less than perfect is alright | Pour Cette Temps

    2012-08-12 12:31:07 -0400

    [...] The Real Life portrait project, Cathy Zielske [...]

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