Meet a Mom: Capturing Tracy Bielenberg, Founder of Shay James Photography! | Chicago North Shore Moms

Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week! We’re back with a new Chicago North Shore Moms spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law.

This week’s Meet a Mom spotlight is a “snapshot” of Tracy Bielenberg, the dynamic and playful founder of Shay James Photography. The Highland Park mom of two took a leap of faith and started her photography business in February 2023 after a few friends took notice of her unique portrait style and creativity. Tracy’s journey from corporate America to capturing life’s most precious moments behind the lens truly captures the essence of this amazing human. Dive into her playful interview as she shares her guilty pleasures, favorite North Shore spots, and the heartfelt mission driving her photography business. Plus, learn why her unique style and dedication to community make her sessions more than just a photoshoot. Read on for a dose of creativity, authenticity, and a glimpse into Tracy’s vibrant world at Welcome, Tracy!


Hi Tracy! Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally? What city do you live in now? What brought you here?

Hi, I’m Tracy Bielenberg! I grew up in Highland Park (but went to DHS) and moved back here 5 years ago. I didn’t see myself returning, but there was something comfortable and compelling (Grandparents) about being here.

I have two kids ages six and four — love ’em more than life itself. Dawson is snuggly, sensitive, speedy, bright, and cautious. The best cuddle bug. Dezy is joyful, courageous, independent, spunky, and sweet. I’m obsessed with her voice.


What are one or two fun facts to know about you?

Guilty pleasure: The Snot Sucker. Sadly (but fortunately) my kids can now blow their own noses. One time I inhaled Dezy’s snot and nearly vomited, but otherwise I think it’s the most satisfying device.

My primary reason for turning down social events is because I don’t want to get dressed (i.e., wear something nicer than leggings/joggers/sweats, a tshirt, hoodie, and gym shoes). If you come to my house, that’s the dress code.


What are your favorite North Shore places, spaces and eats to frequent?

Life revolves around my kids so you’ll often spot me at drop-off and pick-up — and sometimes lingering — at FSA, Shine On Sports, Soul 2 Sole, Hi Five, various Park District of Highland Park activities, etc… and grocery stores. We’re regulars at Michaels and Cluckers with the kids too.

I’m not fancy. I’ll go anywhere with good pasta, salads, wraps, and guacamole, but pizza is my fave. My top 3 local pizza spots (for carry-out) are Lou Malnati’s, Barnaby’s and Pierro’s. A few years ago I decided to try all the pizza joints on GrubHub/DoorDash since I’d been ordering from those 3 places and wanted to see what I was missing out on. I tried at least 10 places and the only one I liked was Northshore Pizza Company — but not enough to knock out a top 3 spot.


Do you have a mantra? If so, what is it?

Say what you mean; mean what you say.

In other words, clear and sincere communication.


What gets you through a tough day (ie. lots of coffee, yoga, meditation, wine, a good book, etc)?

Sweatpants, lanyard and Prosecco.


You are a professional photographer. Tell us about your business, Shay James Photography. When did you launch it? What was the impetus behind going into photography?

I launched Shay James Photography in February 2023 after spending 15 years in media sales, business development, and recruiting. A dear friend encouraged me to buy a camera and inspired me to take the leap. She and others had been encouraging me to do photography for years based on the pictures I’d been taking with my phone and the fact that I’ve always been more artistic and creatively inclined. I agonized over this decision but ultimately decided that life was too short and if there was ever a right time, it might as well be now. Worst case, I would bomb and go back to corporate America. But fortunately, this amazing community has supported me and I am beyond grateful!!





What is your photography style and specialties?

I’m a lifestyle photographer specializing in family, newborn, event and business branding. “Lifestyle” essentially means candid with some direction. It’s about capturing moments, emotions, movement, connections, and stages of life.



My style is playful and interactive (especially with little kids, but even with adults in a business setting), natural and authentic. I always play music and love capturing “all the feels” and little things – the way your daughter’s eyebrows scrunch when she’s sad, the way your son’s nose wrinkles when he’s cracking up. I believe those are the things you’ll really want to treasure and look back on decades from now.


Tracy, why did you name your business Shay James Photography?

I’m a thief. I stole my kid’s middle names: Shay and James. I wanted there to be meaning behind the name of my business and Tracy Bielenberg Photography doesn’t have a great ring to it — although that certainly would’ve been more intuitive.

Don’t feel bad when you call me Shay by mistake – I take full responsibility!


What’s on the horizon for Shay James Photography?

SPRING PHOTOS! We’ve already gotten a taste thanks to those weird 70 degree days in February, but I’m excited for consistently better temps, colorful flowers to bloom, and trees to grow back. There is something so refreshing about Spring photos and the sun doesn’t set quite as late as it does in the summer, so it’s still realistic for families with little ones.

But, I will miss my hoodies and the allergy-free days of winter.



Is there anything else you’d like us to know about yourself or your business?

Yes, a few things come to mind:

I use my voice, time, energy, and a portion of my profits to support organizations and causes that are near and dear to my heart.

Infertility: When I struggled with fertility, it was painful to see family and newborn photos on social media — so I know the effect that my photos can have on people who are in that boat. That’s why I decided to be open about our experience and share stories from clients (with their permission) to make my pages a safe place for those who are struggling.



Banning Assault Weapons: I am so grateful for the relentless perseverance of March Fourth (and many other organizations) whose mission is to federally ban assault weapons. Last year I donated a portion of the proceeds from every session ($500 total) to March Fourth, and this year I’ll be donating to their sister organization, Aftermath, who provides support to communities in the aftermath of mass shootings. Learn more at:



Cancer: I provide pro-bono photography services to Dragonfly Chicago, which supports patients with pediatric cancer and their families. This horrific disease has impacted several of my family members and friends, which I think is something everyone can say, sadly. I’ve seen firsthand the smiles and joy that Dragonfly brings to families — their work is so incredibly meaningful. Learn more at:


Ok, give us your dets so we can book a sesh!

I’m currently booking spring sessions but it’s never too early to plan ahead for summer and fall! Fill out my contact form to get the ball rolling!

About our Meet of Mom Sponsor

A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here! Contact Mary directly here: [email protected].

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