Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

July 25, 2012

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.


  • 1.
    Alida said…

    Thanks Cathy! Great page, and wonderful that she sat for the photo:)

  • 2.
    telisj said…

    Love this idea!

  • 3.
    Jane Taylor said…

    Have one very similar to you, but the bed is the only clear space!

  • 4.
    Debbie said…

    Thanks Cathy, I know where I will be taking my photo!

  • 5.
    Kim S. (nerdgrl) said…

    Thanks, Cathy. It’s hard to believe how quickly your daughter’s grown up! And, might I say, quite lovely too.

  • 6.
    Mrs. V said…

    Thank you for the free digital package and the inspiration! It was fun to see your daughter’s different expressions as well as hear the background of the story.

  • 7.
    Lynn M said…

    Love this project! Ideas are running around in my head. Lots of choices. Thanks so much, Cathy Z.

  • 8.
    Tammy Davis said…

    Thanks so much, Cathy! I have avoided taking pictures in my scraproom. It is such a mess – thanks for giving me “permission” to record something that is definitely me!

  • 9.
    J3SS1C4 said…

    This is so something I need to do! I avoid taking photos of my less than perfect craft room because it’s often messy and piled up… But to be honest, it’s completely me too… Piles of started projects that keep getting shuffled around as I work on new things, and works of art and about a million and one supplies… I love being in there, so I should take more photos in there too! Thanks for the inspiration :-)

  • 10.
    Celeste said…

    Thank you Cathy! and what an awesome idea!

  • 11.
    Bec Kilgore said…

    You are the best, CZ!

  • 12.
    Toni From said…

    Thanks Cathy, I can’t wait to do this. Your daughter is such a beauty, like her mama. My 8-year old has a messy room too, funny because we are all so different. I need to get a great photo of that this week. I have been meaning to, but this is the perfect motivation.

    thanks again!

  • 13.
    Tara B said…

    Thank you so much for the idea and the digital package. I love it!

  • 14.
    Kristine S said…


  • 15.
    kelsey said…

    Thanks for the inspiration. I too have a daughter whose room is a disaster. It drives me crazy because I’m a neat freak. I will be taking a picture of her in her room thanks to you!

  • 16.
    Debbi G. said…

    Thanks so much Cathy! So generous fo you!

  • 17.
    Julie C said…

    Thanks Cathy! Love it! My pictures are usually in front of my completely full and trashed computer cabinet or piled counters…but that’s my life :)

  • 18.
    Krista said…

    I didn’t even notice her treasures until I started reading the post – such pretty photos! I hope this “reality” catches on!

  • 19.
    Cathy L. said…

    Love this! My daughter’s room is a disaster too, don’t think she’d pose for a portrait like this though!

  • 20.
    Jamie R. said…

    great idea. thanks for the free download, Cathy.

  • 21.
    Jennifer said…

    I try to keep this idea in mind, especially when the most charming pictures of my daughter always seem to have the toilet in the background.

    • ….
      ARC said…

      Hah, this is just like us. Our cluttered kitchen counter is *always* behind cute photos of my daughter painting, crafting, etc and it drives me nuts ;)

  • 22.
    Cynthia M. said…

    I’m not sure I could do it — I want to make order and beauty in my layouts, not think about my clutter. On the other hand, I can totally see my family looking at albums in 20 years and thinking “I don’t really remember it like this.” Ha! I feel like a character from Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984″ — wanting to make it just the way I’ve recorded it. You’ve certainly given me something to think about — showing life “warts and all” in my scrapbooking!

  • 23.
    Jess said…

    Thank you Cathy!! I love the inspiration and motivation that makes me run to my craft room and create a layout every time you post one you have done. Yay!!

  • 24.
    Linda said…

    Thank you, Cathy….for the layout and the words of wisdom! I am a recovering perfectionist, working on becoming a good enoughist!

  • 25.
    Michelle McKean said…

    Love your inspiration Cathy. Thank you for the digital

  • 26.
    Michelle McKean said…

    Love your inspiration Cathy. Thank you for the digital package.

  • 27.
    kimberly jones said…

    Oh Cathy – this couldn’t have come at a better time – not for the part about photography, not for the part about scrapbooking real life, which I already do- those baskets of laundry in the background on the couch is My life and it would be sooo deceiving to remove those from my pictures. But you reminded me that my daughters room, which sounds like yours is her life and it made me step back and really think about my complaints about her room. That wasn’t your intention I know, but thank you anyways!!

  • 28.
    madeline St onge said…

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

  • 29.
    heather said…

    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)!!

  • 30.
    Teri H. said…

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

  • 31.
    Mary in IL said…

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

  • 32.
    Kim said…

    Okay, that’s a cool idea.

  • 33.
    dawny dee said…

    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.

  • 34.
    Stephanie said…

    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!!

  • 35.
    Queen Mary said…

    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! :)

  • 36.
    Barb in AK said…

    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!

  • 37.
    Kelly said…

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

  • 38.
    Carolyn HP said…

    Great advice Cathy! Thanks for the freebie too :)

  • 39.
    laura g. said…

    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…

  • 40.
    April Irving said…

    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.

  • 41.
    Annette said…

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

  • 42.
    Lara said…

    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 :-)

  • 43.
    Toni said…

    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!!

  • 44.
    Chris-Ellyn said…

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

  • 45.
    Karen Clinkinbeard said…

    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!

  • 46.
    Kimberlee said…

    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

  • 47.
    Lorita said…

    Thank you so much, Cathy. Great idea!

  • 48.
    Kelly Griglione said…

    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).

  • 49.
    Kristin said…

    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!

  • 50.
    Karen Kellenberger said…

    Very good idea. Thank you for the download!

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