Meet Rachael Balascak: Wissahickon Resident, Family Photographer, and Graphic Designer.
Rachael Balascak is the owner of Rae Hearts Design and a resident of the Wissahickon neighborhood. Rachael and I met up at Taylor’s on Ridge for some coffee and to talk about her work as a family photographer and graphic designer, how to get kids to cooperate at a photo shoot, and her favorite places & things to do in Roxborough & Manayunk.
What advice do you have for parents when doing a photoshoot?
Rachael’s recommends that parents “Don’t expect every picture to be 100% because your kids may not cooperate right away. The candid pictures are just as good as the posed pictures so let them run around, let them play a little bit.”
Rachael brings lollipops for the kids for the end of the session but she’ll sometimes bring them out mid-session if needed. “I’ve gotten very good at Photoshopping lollipops out of kids mouths,” she says.
Most importantly, Rachael says don’t get upset if your kids just don’t want to do it, it can always be tried again and some kids just don’t want to cooperate. Parents should stay calm and let the photographer handle them because when kids see their parents get upset the kids also get upset. “Don’t have grand expectations” and something great will happen.
How do you get kids to look at the camera?
Rachael’s secret to getting kids to look at the camera is her “camera buddies,” crocheted characters like Elmo, Minnie & Mickey Mouse, and a Minion that she can attach to her lens to draw attention (she’s currently getting a Phanatic made).”It gives them something bright and familiar to stare at.” Even if they’ll look for just a second she’s gotten quick with her reaction time and is able to get a great shot as soon as they smirk or smile when they see it.
What are your favorite photo locations in Roxborough & Manayunk?
Rachael shoots all over the area and will travel for sessions. “My favorite places to shoot in Roxborough & Manayunk are Gorgas Park, especially when the leaves start to change, and anywhere along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park because of the great variety of backdrops” which allows her to change things up so there are different backgrounds within the shoot.
Another favorite is the Manayunk Towpath with the Manayunk Bridge and the boardwalk feel of the path. “It’s great for the families that live here and love where they live.”
What are your favorite locations near Roxborough & Manayunk?
“I just did a cool shoot down at the skate park near the Art Museum” for a family who wanted something that captured their lifestyle. The Art Museum and gardens are great, especially in springtime when the flowers are blooming. She also likes to shoot in the many hidden gardens and cobblestone streets of Old City.
In November, Rachael does a weekend full of photo sessions at a tree farm in Barto, about an hour outside of Philadelphia near Bear Creek Ski Resort. For this shoot she borrows a friend’s vintage Ford truck which makes for a unique setting that everyone is excited about.
What’s the Superhero Project?
The Superhero Project is one of Rachael’s favorite organizations and one way that she gives back. The Superhero Project is a charity that raises money and awareness for NICU babies who were born premature. The main goal of the organization is to provide cameras that are placed in the NICU so parents can see their child while they’re at home and away from their new baby since it’s often not possible to be there with them 24/7.
Rachael’s work with the Superhero Project started because she started doing superhero photo sessions where kids would dress up in masks and capes. A friend introduced her to Kelly Gallagher, the founder of the Superhero Project, who was looking for someone to help spread the word about the organization and their mission.
“It just became a good fit,” she says. Rachael redesigned their website and joined The Superhero Project as a board member. One of her favorite projects with the organization is putting together their annual calendar from photography through design.
What kinds of graphic design work do you do?
Rachael splits her work time between family/group photography and graphic design. Her graphic design work includes logo design, postcards, and brochures. Rachael does a lot of wedding invitations, programs, and table cards. She also puts together custom cards for the holidays. “I’m the crafty Pinterest Mom and I love to help other Moms with their projects.”
Rachael does all of the graphic design work for KenCrest, a charitable organization that helps people with special needs. Her KenCrest work includes their external newsletters, event photography, creating stock photography that they can use in media and ads for years to come.
She also does social media ads for local companies including GOALS Fit and Rowzone in Manayunk.
What brought you to the Wissahickon neighborhood?
“My husband and I got married and we lived in South Philly for a year and a half and then we decided we wanted a little bit more. We wanted a driveway and some green grass. We wanted to get a dog and wanted to start our family. We have family outside of the city up the Northeast extension so we were looking for a middle ground between being in the city and them. I was working in Bala Cynwyd and my husband was working in Old City so we thought that the Roxborough Manayunk area was perfect with it’s proximity to the train but also access to the Wissahickon and Main Street in Manayunk. It kind of had the whole package, we loved it.”
What do you do for fun in the area?
Rachael says, “We love the neighborhood. Daisy Field is the best for little kids and families and it has access to the hiking trails and Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon. I’m there every day.
“I love the neighborhood and we seemed to grow with it. A lot of people who came in at the same time have families now so there are a lot of kids the same age as our daughter and it seems like everyone owns a dog.”
She also loves being near Cook-Wissahickon and C&C Creamery, “It’s good and bad to be that close to the Custard Stand,” she says.
For fun, they try to get to all of the festivals like the Manayunk Arts Fest and the food truck festivals. Rachael loves that there’s always something going on in the area. “We just did the Weiner Dog Race at Lucky’s Last Chance and that was beyond adorable.”
What Are Your Favorite Places & Things to Do in Roxborough & Manayunk?
Here’s a look at some of Rachael’s neighborhood favorites . . .
Favorite Family Dinner Restaurant
“Our favorite restaurant for kids with us is Lucky’s” for their burgers and fries.
Favorite Casual Night Out
“Dawson Street Pub where to watch a Flyers game or listen to live music.”
Favorite Date Night Restaurant
The Goat’s Beard on Main Street “It makes you feel like you’re an adult with good food and good drinks.”
Strawberry Milkshake from C&C Creamery
A Tutti. “I’m a bread and crust girl and they have the best you can get. They’re a great addition to the neighborhood.”
Best Small Park
“Daisy Field in Wissahickon, especially in springtime when softball season starts and I can hear the crack of the bat my back porch.”
“I’m a Wawa girl but I’ll go with Taylor’s.”
SOS or Creamed Chipped Beef at Gregg’s Kitchen “It’s absolutely amazing.”
“It’s a tie. I have two favorite places. Rowzone on Main Street – Anthony and Eric are the friendliest people in the world and it’s just a great 45 minute workout – and GOALS Fit. Kasey is awesome and she has indoor and outdoor classes. She also does Mommy and Me classes with is how I met her when my daughter was 18 months old.”
Best Place for Kids
The Spiral Bookcase. “They have a cute little kids section with a chair my daughter loved and they have a bookstore cat.”
Chubby’s. “I’ve been a Chubby’s girl since before I was born.” Her dad grew up in East Falls and that was their spot.
Manayunk Arts Festival “We make it a day and walk down so we don’t have to deal with parking.”
You can find out more about Rachael and Rae Hearts Design at the links below. Please follow her on Facebook and Instagram and reach out to her if you have photography or graphic design needs.