Balancing a private life and public persona on Instagram

Post by
Marisa Young
Balancing a private life and public persona on Instagram

The light filled images by Patti Schmidt images capture the essence of her family life in a beautiful and authentic way. You will be surprised to learn she is quite a private person but is open about her journey as a mother which adds another layer of authenticity and love to her images. Plus, she has three grown boys that are actually willing to dress up for her in photos (often in public!) and a beautiful little girl that they are absolutely besotted with.

Meet Patti!

Hi! I’m Patti Schmidt, and I live in New Jersey with my husband of 27 years. We have four children - three grown boys (26, 24 and 20) and our little rainbow girl (age 3). I’ve always loved photography, and I got my first real camera at age 10. In high school and college I was the person who lugged a big camera to parties and ordered “doubles” of prints so I could give photos as gifts.

Like many mothers, my love of photography grew with the birth of my kids. As my boys got older I started photographing other people’s children, which turned into a portrait photography business that had a successful ten year run. With the birth of my daughter three and a half years ago, I stepped back from client work and started focusing on personal photography again as well as creating content for social media, including occasional work with brands.

photo of baby girl on the bed with ballerina doll

Creating images for Instagram inspired by things that bring joy

To be honest, I would enjoy my Instagram more if I didn’t overthink it so much. Putting a lot of weight on what others might think can cause such a creative block, at least for me. That said, I try to stick with consistent themes that bring me the most joy to create and look at - simplicity, sunshine, the beach, colors that are peaceful to me, and most of all my family.

When my daughter was a baby I loved photographing little details, like her feet or the side of her face when she was sleeping. I also love photographing our big boys with their tiny sister, especially in ways that show their size difference. I never would have consciously planned for such a big space between them, but now that she’s here I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s been such a gift.

photo of big brother having a tea party in bed with baby sister and teddy

The balance between private life and public persona

It’s funny, I’m actually a very private, introverted person despite having a public Instagram account, and I struggle with this sometimes. There are some things I’m comfortable sharing openly about and other things not, and I honor that instinct without questioning it too much!

Most of the photos I share publicly are planned and staged in some way, yet they still tell our “story” albeit in a different way from documentary style photography. As far as sharing my journey… there are ups and downs to doing this on a public platform. A thick skin is necessary, but I’ve had so many more positive and kind messages than anything else.

Sometimes I’ll wonder why I’m doing this, and then I’ll hear from someone about how something I shared inspired them in photography or gave them hope in the face of infertility, and I’m reminded that human connection via social media is a beautiful thing way more often than not! I think it’s that connection that inspires me to create and share as well as enjoying what others create and share.

Patti's top tips for others wanting to be more present in their images

  1. I’m way more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it! When I do appear on my feed I’m usually either far away or hiding my face in some way. If you’re reluctant to be present in your images try being only partially there, or challenge yourself to photograph loved ones in a way that shows connection and/or emotion without showing faces.
  2. I also like having a prompt to work with, such as a hashtag challenge. I tend to feel more creative and adventurous and less self-conscious when I have a starting point! If you don’t want to show your face, or that of your little one’s, books are a handy prop!
  3. Learn to use a tripod and your camera’s timer! I recently started playing with this, and it helps to see it as an experiment instead of having an end goal in mind. That way there’s no pressure at all, and if you end up with something you love it’s a bonus!

Tools of the trade

My camera is a Canon 5D Mark IV, and my favorite lens is 50mm 1.2L. I edit each image individually in Photoshop, but I’m slowly working on presets because I’ve been asked about them so many times and because having them will speed up my own workflow!

With the exception of a few posts when my daughter was a newborn, everything you see on my feed was shot in natural light. There are also a few iPhone selfies in there, but I edited them the same way as the rest.


Sharing a favourite image

I have many special images, including some that I’ve never shared publicly, but I’ll go with Wizard of Oz. It was my favorite movie as a child. I love that my sons were willing to put on those costumes in public, in the heat, for my crazy photo idea. I love how the characters match up. I love that Avery is suspended mid-air because my mother always says she came from heaven. It just gives me all the feels!

brothers dressed as wizard of oz characters and their sister dressed as dorothy

The evolution and experience of Instagram

My account was originally just for my portrait photography, and I had a separate personal account that was private. After I became pregnant with my daughter I shared a little of that journey on my photography account, and I began to appreciate social media connections and photography inspiration more than ever.

For the first few months after she was born I was still posting clients along with some personal photos. This was pre-algorithm, so reach was across the board, but it was still obvious both what my followers (very few at the time) wanted to see and what I wanted to photograph.

I gradually phased out client posts, eventually archiving what was already there, and I planned to delete my private account and stick to just one. But as my following started to grow I realized that when you tag or follow private friends and family they get a lot of follow requests from people they don’t know and obviously aren’t inviting. I ended up keeping both so I could follow private friends and family from my own private account.

Falling in and out of love with Instagram is definitely something I can relate to! But I’ve stretched myself creatively, found a way to monetize my photography that doesn’t require me to be away from my baby nearly as much, and made new real life friends I’m so happy to have.

I think we can get so caught up in the negatives (the frustrating algorithm that hides things we want to see and shows us things we don’t, the numbers, the comparison games, etc) that we forget this is a free app that gives a ton of opportunity and connection that we are free to walk away from forever or even just for a little while. Taking a break can do so much for perspective!

photo of little girl playing in toy kitchen with copper handles and flowers

All images featured in this blog are by Patti Schmidt. You can follow her journey on Instagram at @pattischmidt

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