Niles photographer extends photo sessions for graduations, proms

NILES — While schools remain under state mandates until at least April 13, and are likely to remain closed through the rest of the scheduled school year, a Niles photographer felt the sting of missing important coming of age milestones.

On March 29, Peyton Photography posted a call out to area high school and college seniors offering a free photoshoot in their prom dresses and graduation caps and gowns. As the remainder of the school year, including events like proms and commencement, is still uncertain, students and families fear they will miss this year’s round of special events.

The post was shared nearly 700 times to Facebook groups and pages, giving Peyton Photography owner Shelby Fettinger an idea of just how much a sense of normalcy is being sought after.

“I can tell you, walking across the stage was the biggest moment,” Fettinger said of her graduation ceremony. “I looked up and saw my dad, and saw how proud of me he was. I can’t imagine my kids missing that. These parents [and the students] are missing it. It just broke my heart. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.

Fettinger runs Peyton Photography with her husband, Larry. They have five children and are tuned into the difficulties parents and their children are facing at the moment with their lives being disrupted. They have an 11-year-old that is set to enter middle school in the fall, and two younger children who are also getting ready to start going to school at that time. The milestones for them are on the younger side, though they are still important for the family to celebrate.

For Fettinger, giving back to a community in a time of need comes naturally.

“When I was younger, my mom had breast cancer,” she said. “She always wanted me to make people smile.”

After her mother passed, Fettinger created Cathy’s SMILE in her honor. This was an initiative that set up a photo center in the local cancer treatment center where patients could have their photos taken.

“We gave away free photos to anyone who was fighting cancer,” Fettinger said.

Cathy’s SMILE gained enough money that it was able to set up a photo room on its own to function, as the center did not need a full-time photographer any longer.

Taking photos for students missing milestones for their achievements and rites of passage feels similar to Fettinger.

“It’s just another way to make me feel like my mom is with me,” she said.  “She is definitely the one who was always like, ‘make sure you get those smiles out, make sure you spread it.’ That’s what we’re doing.”

The post on Facebook details that those interested should reach out directly to the Peyton Photography business page. With social distancing measures in place until at least the end of April, Fettinger is taking names right now to schedule as soon as it is safe to do so.

“I was hoping for the end of April,” she said. “We won’t be doing it until May. If not May, we will push it out. Regardless of whenever [social distancing measures] end, we will be taking these photos. I don’t care of it is eight months from now or two months from now. It definitely will happen.”

Giving a sense of normalcy back has become important in her own home as well.

With the stress of the current changes in place under the COVID-19 threat, Fettinger has realized her children are also feeling the uncertainty. Spreading smiles at home is just as important to her as spreading smiles to others.

“My daughter looked at me and asked ‘can I go outside and breathe the air without catching it?’” Fettinger said. “For them, we built a tent in their room to have a fun night. We definitely want to spread happiness to these kids.”