When Jennifer Hartshorn, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, had her first child, she quickly realized that the high-travel fashion photography careers she and her husband had were less than ideal with kids in tow. But it would be family that would propel them into their next career move, as they traded fashion photojournalism for elegant family portraiture. A month after their second daughter’s birth, Hartshorn Portraiture opened, combining Jennifer’s eye for style and keen management skills with her husband, Mac’s, impeccable photography skills. For 20 years, they’ve been photographing family milestones resulting in fine art portraits that embody everything you’d see in a beautiful fashion magazine spread. We sat down with the Hoboken mom and British ex-pat to talk about motherhood as an empty nester, facing COVID-19 as a small business, and of course, her favorite places to grab a bite in the Mile Square City.
featured photo via Hartshorn Portraiture
How did you make the transition from fashion photography to owning a portrait studio in New Jersey?
After the birth of our first child, we quickly realized that traveling all over the country, shooting fashion was not conducive to family life. We had recently moved from Miami to family-friendly Hoboken, and I suggested that we consider family portraiture together. After shooting a few families, we decided to make a go of it. While pregnant with our second child and working as a photographer’s representative in NYC, I worked on our portrait studio’s launch. Mac would shoot the images, and I would handle pretty much everything else, from the booking to helping clients find a perfect placement for the images in their homes. We opened the studio one month after the birth of our second daughter.
Since pivoting from fashion to family portraiture, how has having your own family influenced your studio?
Having my own family has meant that I understand the value of capturing memories. I have enjoyed creating beautiful experiences for our children over the years, which has carried over into my work life and our brand. We strive to create a white-glove, boutique studio experience from beginning to end for each client. The result is very personal photographic portraits of families, infants, children, and expectant parents—those memories and the emotions attached to them are priceless.
What is the best part of working with families?
It’s an honor to work with so many families over the last 20 years—we have 18-year relationships with some of the same families, made beautiful friendships, and have seen infants turn into young adults. There’s nothing better than watching these families grow and to see the joy in their eyes as they look at the images of their children.
Both of your daughters are now abroad at school. What is it like being an empty nester?
With our girls gone, I can focus on work without the guilt of spending more time with them. It’s one less pressure in my life, even though I miss them terribly. The change has been gradual over the last few years—as my girls became teenagers and needed me less, I started to get out more, having dinner with girlfriends, doing yoga, and signing up for art classes. I tried to prepare for the inevitable—to have my own life—so when they left for University, it would not be so painful.
What do you think your children have learned from watching you pursue your professional goals?
I hope that they have seen that you can achieve and create a life for yourself with hard work. We were able to make our business work with our family life. They have seen from our business that it’s up to you to make it happen, and with hard work, dreams can come true.
How has the pandemic affected Hartshorn Portraiture?
Like most small businesses, COVID-19 has been extremely hard for us. We have laid off staff and weathering the storm, though it’s getting better. When the quarantine lifted, it was tough because we had very little business, and we found the summer to be challenging as people were still very fearful. With the holiday season coming up, we’re doing well, and we hope that will continue. This virus has made us appreciate our families, and our clients have expressed to us that they want to celebrate, send out their holiday cards, and connect with others through their family photos, which helps us rebuild our business and our brand.
Can you share some of your favorite spots around New Jersey to take your family and local businesses that you love?
We do a lot of beach sessions during the summer, and because of that, we spend at least 6 weeks each summer in Bay Head. The girls have many magical memories of this time in this idyllic town with the freedom to roam. It is their happy place. We love Hoboken, of course, and our favorite restaurants are Anthony David’s for brunch and dinner and Bin 14, a trattoria and wine bar — both owned by close friends of ours.
Any tips for mompreneurs who have their own business?
Having a balance is essential—you cannot get this time back, and before you know it, your children will be gone. Try to switch off work and be present when you are with them. I always made sure that I cooked a meal, and we ate together as much as possible. I also like to say “oxygen mask on first”—take care of yourself, because if you don’t, it can affect your kids and everything you do.