It’s a Tuesday afternoon on the Upper West Side, and Kimberly Brooks, co-owner of Portrait Bug: Snap n’ Scrap studio, is squealing to one of her young clients, who guffaws with delight as one of the photographers clicks away. Brooks, who founded the portrait studio, scrapbook store and party room in November 2008, has developed a knack for giving kids the giggles—and making them feel comfortable in front of the camera.
It all began after the birth of her daughter Asher, now 4. Brooks found herself driving to a mall in Paramus, New Jersey, to find a children’s photography studio within her budget. “I thought, ‘Why is it that everybody in the suburbs has access to affordable pictures, but at city studios I have to pay $300 before I even know what I get?’” says Brooks, a native New Yorker who worked as a software engineer before opening Portrait Bug.
And so Portrait Bug, an affordable, boutique photography studio, opened just over two years ago, and has been winning over families ever since. Upon entering the studio, the first thing children will notice is the wooden floor, which is designed to look like a giant puzzle. The brightly colored walls are decorated with photos of grinning patrons and craft projects, and a chandelier hangs from the ceiling, imbuing the space with a cozy vibe.
The shop is also a family affair; Brooks co-owns the studio with her father Bob Goldenberg (known around the neighborhood as “Grandpa Bob”), her mother helps organize birthday parties, her husband wires all the equipment and four-year-old Asher, the store’s mascot, is often on hand to evoke a few extra smiles.
One thing that keeps the experience at Portrait Bug affordable and stress-free is that the studio doesn’t charge sitting fees. “Kids are so sensitive to different environments,” says Goldenberg. “If you bring your baby and she isn’t feeling it, just bring her back the next day.”
When the time is right to snap some photos, parents can rest assured that they won’t go home with overly posed pictures, as Portrait Bug doesn’t use school-picture-day backdrops, and photographers never ask children to “say cheese” for the camera. “We don’t care if your kid is in the pose. We care if they’re giving us an expression that looks like them,” says Brooks.
Shortly after the photo session is complete, parents can view their photos as a slideshow and make their selections. Portrait packages start at $99.99, but the studio also offers deals for family portraits, headshots, social networking and corporate photos.
And yet, part of what makes Portrait Bug so special is what happens after the photos have been taken. Knowing that many families take a large number of pictures only to store them on their computers, Brooks wanted to offer her a clients creative way to display their memories, and thus added a scrapbooking component to the shop. Portrait Bug photographers are all trained in scrapbooking, and a few teach the shop’s adult scrapbooking classes. Collage and card-making classes are available, and parents can sign up for craft-making sessions with a private tutor.
Portait Bug also offers in-store children’s birthday parties where kids can dress up for funky photo shoots, partake in themed craft projects and indulge in tasty cupcakes; at-home crafting parties and bridal and baby showers; and the studio also lends its space to other art, music and language programs.
And even though Portrait Bug is still relatively new to the city, the father-daughter duo is confident that it will be a permanent fixture in the New York community. “We’re really starting to hit our stride, because we give families something they’ll cherish for years to come,” says Brooks. “Good photography is something that stays with you forever.”
Portrait Bug, 2466 Broadway (between 91st and 92nd streets) 212-600-4457, portraitbug.com
Photo: Portrait Bug co-owners Kim Brooks and Bob Goldenberg (who are also father and daughter) pose with Brooks’ daughter Asher at the studio. Photo by Andrew Schwartz