The Mama Journal | Egg Hunt

It is a well known (and well documented) fact that I am a holiday nut. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Canada Day, you name it. I’ve always cherished the holiday traditions that my family has carried on, and I always looked forward to starting special festive traditions with my own children.  Easter means a lot of things for our family. We celebrate life, reflect on love, and thank God for a gift so wonderful and so undeserved. Easter is also a time to celebrate those we hold dear. We gather for meals with family and friends, we enjoy the sunshine together, and we indulge in special treats and activities.

This year, Neve was actually old enough to grasp the concept of an egg hunt (and old enough to have the occasional taste of chocolate), and I was all over it. After a lovely late afternoon playtime at the park, I scattered some chocolate filled plastic eggs in a nearby field and, in the glow of the setting sun, my girl grasped the handle of her plastic bucket and excitedly got to work. She squealed with joy and hopped from one egg to the other, and when she actually realized what was inside the eggs, well that just took it to a whole new level of best.game.ever. As I watched her, my mama heart nearly exploded with happiness. A memory was made, a tradition was started, and my girl – eyes shining, face grinning, feet hopping – was over-the-moon. I wish I could bottle her childhood innocence and wonder. Instead I snapped a few photographs to hold on to this moment forever. What a blessing and a joy she is.

However you celebrate, may this weekend be a time of joyful memories made for you and your family.

-xo

London Ontario Maternity Photographer | Cupcakes for Three – The Big Announcement

These two beautiful people up there shared some BIG news today on their wonderful little corner of the internet: There’s a little one on the way, and I think we can all agree this is going to be one cute baby.

I am so blessed to call Natalie a friend and to have gotten to know her and her husband Ron over the past few months. They now live right around the corner from me, which means lots of random afternoon tea dates and “business meetings” (that are more like tea dates). It also means their adorable baby will be right around the corner from me too…. which makes this baby loving girl very happy. I couldn’t be happier for these two. When Natalie and I started talking about ideas for a fun pregnancy announcement, I was so excited (and honoured!) to help her creative vision come to life. I can’t wait to watch that belly grow and meet that sweet bebe.

Natalie and Ron are officially enjoying “cupcakes for three”. Big congrats, my lovely friends!

-xo

 

Behind the Lens | Editing Without Actions and Before/After Comparisons

I’ve already explored the importance of finding a photographer whose editing style you love, and how vastly one photographer’s finished product can vary from another’s, even when the starting point is the exact same SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) photo. You can find that post here.

Today I wanted to share a few of my before and after comparisons with you and give you a glimpse into my editing style, and how it has evolved and come into its own recently.

If you’re into photography, you’ve likely heard of Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets being sold, individually or in sets, to facilitate post production. Essentially, a series of actions in an editing program is recorded to then be reused on multiple images. Some are basic and do simple things like boost exposure and sharpen up the image. Some are more creative and add colour casts, grain, haze, heavy contrast, etc. The really great thing about actions and presets is that they can be a quick and simple way to really transform an image. They’re also great for achieving a certain look that you may not know how to recreate on your own (Photoshop can be complicated, to say the least!). It’s also great to have consistency in your work, and if you find an action (or a series of actions) that you love, it can help you develop an editing style that is unique and recognizable.

I first discovered the world of actions for myself last Spring. I’ve always been really picky about the look I want my photos to have, so I set out to find a handful of simple actions that enhanced my images without totally transforming them. I eventually found an editing groove and applied the same editing technique to almost all of my images. I would use actions on low opacity so as to not create an over-processed look and make sure I stayed true to the essence of the photo when it was taken, which is important to me.

The thing with actions, at least for me, is that you grow tired of them. Lucky for all of us, photographers are always putting out new action sets to keep up with the demand and the newest editing trends. But in my case, I wanted more than just new actions. I wanted to know how to create the look I wanted myself. I longed for complete creative control over my images. Essentially, I wanted to make my own actions. So I used the slower season (January-March for me) to really explore what I want to achieve with my editing and how I could get there. I researched, found tutorials online, and did a lot of trial and error. Photoshop curves became my best friend. I figured out how to add just a touch of a hazy matte finish while still keeping the image fresh, clean and timeless.  In short, I figured out what I wanted to achieve with my images, and how to achieve it on my own. It’s been fun, liberating and so empowering to ditch my actions and just edit the way I want to edit. I still have so much to learn about Photoshop, but it’s been so exciting to have a few “Aha!” moments in the past few months. We truly are always learning.

I thought I’d share a few before and after comparisons for you. It’s important for me to try and nail the shot in-camera as much as possible, and to do as little “fixing” in post-processing as possible.  That said, sometimes I intentionally underexpose to hold on to details in the sky or light, and sometimes I just plain old forget to adjust my settings until I’m a couple of clicks into a new shooting situation. This is why I always shoot RAW.  The photos below are all hand-edits and have all undergone essentially the same action-free processing. I want my final image to stay true to the original colours and mood of the photograph. If it was a dark, gloomy, sunless day, then I’m going to embrace that… I won’t be adding a fake blue sky or throwing in some artificial sunflare. As much as I love me some golden sunlight, it’s gotta be real for this girl. That said, if there’s some dreamy, delicious sun, then I want to enhance it and allow it to set the tone for the image. I like my images to have a touch of matte haze to them, but just a touch. I also like to bring out the deeper tones, but I’m not about overly contrasted images. I like my photos soft but bright, fresh but hazy. Does that make any sense at all? I suppose the good thing about figuring out my own processing is that I can take all of my crazy non-coherent thoughts and work toward getting the result I want.

My style is certainly not for everyone, which is why, as I said at the beginning of this post, it’s important to find a photographer whose style is a good fit for you. And just in case anyone reading this has been lead to believe that I am anti-action, let me clarify. I loved actions while I used them, and some of my favourite photographers use actions and presets regularly. The important thing, I think, is to do what works for you. And because I am the kind of person who’d rather bake the bread than go to the finest bakery, this was the right path for me to take. And it’s a path that has made editing go from a tiresome task to an art form that fulfills my need to create – a MAJOR bonus, since editing is a HUGE part of my life!

-xo

The Mama Journal | Little Explorer

This week has been trying. At the beginning of the week, Neve was out with a fever. She needed her maman. There were lots of snuggles and kisses and sweet, sweet moments that made me catch my breath and thank God for my little girl. But, as any parent will tell you, caring for a feverish toddler also has its difficult moments. When Neve’s fever broke, she was back to her old self again. Which these days, involves a lot of power struggles and cries for independence balanced with wanting my attention every.single.second.of.every.single.day. I’m thankful that the little tantrums and fits of “NON MAMAN!” are short-lived and quickly followed with hugs, kisses and requests to read books in my lap. She’s still my sweet, affectionate, hilarious, adorable girl. But boy, is she ever spirited. Which is a nice way of saying she knows what she wants and when she wants it (hint: it’s usually NOW). Which is a nice way of saying she is stubborn. Which is a nice way of saying she can throw it down with the best of them. Which is, really, just another way of saying she is sort of like her maman. Lots of deep breathing, lots of hugs, lots of letting her try things on her own and giving her opportunities to make choices and practice independence, even if it means everything.takes.double.the.time.

Of course, part of Neve’s strong personality is her love of exploring and learning, which are qualities I am thankful she possesses. As soon as she was feeling up to it, I took her to the woods near our house and let her run, play, touch, pick up, feel and collect bits and pieces of nature all around her. She loved it, and I loved watching her. I actually brought my big girl camera along for the ride, and  I’ve shared some of our little moments below. Oh, how I long for the warm, golden Summer evenings when the sun comes out to play. But even despite the lack of a “golden hour” and the heavy grey skies, I kind of love these photos. To live in Canada is to embrace each season, so consider this my glass-half-full attempt at making a muddy, gloomy Spring day a little brighter.

-xo

 

Project Ten | March (Treasures)

My interpretation of this month’s theme came from picturing a cave of precious treasure (Aladdin, anyone?) and trying to imagine what my own cluster of treasure would look like. There are many things in this life that I love and enjoy, but my greatest earthly treasure is, without a doubt, my little family. I gathered items and photographs that represent my family and created my own little treasure trove out in a snowy field.

My maman’s pearls that I wore on my wedding day symbolize where I come from and my transition into marriage. My bible (given to me by my parents) represents the faith that my marriage and family is built on. My daughter’s first outfit reminds me of my first day of motherhood, the day my heart started aching with a love I didn’t know was possible. Photographs documenting our family’s journey so far, from marriage to puppy love to pregnancy to motherhood. Just a few odds and ends, collected from around our home. My treasures.

Now you can head on over to Jessica Downey Photo to see her beautiful take on treasures, and follow the links around the blog circle until you’ve visited all five photographers.

-xo

London Ontario Lifestyle Photography | Kiya

The first time I was invited into this lovely home, it was to take candid backyard portraits of the wonderful Albinger family 2 1/2 years ago. Back then, this little girl’s daddy hadn’t even married her mommy yet. I had the honour and pleasure of photographing Derek and Audrey’s wedding a few months later, and then got to meet their sweet little Kiya during the Mother’s Day Minis last year. They moved away shortly after our last shoot, and I was so glad that a session with me made it on the itinerary of their recent visit home. This time it was all about Kiya as I got to photograph her playing around her grandparents’ home. I followed her around every room of the house as she played and explored and got to capture her sweet little personality. What a special little girl! I am always so honoured and touched when a family allows me to capture memories for them over the years and document their milestones and new additions. I truly have an amazing “job”, though it feels more like a very special privilege! Here are some photos from our in-home lifestyle session! xo

London Ontario Photographer | Winter Wonderland Mini Sessions

I decided to do a little round of Winter Wonderland mini sessions to break up the cold and quiet month of February. Outdoor Winter photography can be a hard sell for many people, so I wanted to put together a something fun, unique and rustic that would make the idea of pictures in the snow more charming and less….cold. Becky from Found Decor Company came through yet again with an amazing setup of vintage sleds and skates, warm plaid blankets and furs, and a bin full of amazing furry hats and other accessories. We served some hot cocoa and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day with some adorable kiddos!

(psst… you’ll notice two slightly different setups/backgrounds… we moved everything to a different spot for the afternoon time slots so that both the morning and afternoon setups were backlit by the warm, golden sun!

Behind the Lens | FAQ

This post has been brewing for awhile now, ever since I started receiving “frequently asked questions” through the RFP Facebook page. The first time a message came in from an aspiring photographer loaded questions and requests for advice and critique, I was a little shocked and extremely flattered. And not in a fake-humility, “awww, shucks, stop it” kind of way. I was genuinely surprised, and even more so when they kept coming in. As I go into my fourth year of business, even with lots of learning experiences under my belt, I still feel like I have so much to learn. So it’s a very strange experience to be approached by a handful of people who apparently look up to me. I’m honoured, of course, but it all feels a little unbelievable. Just to clarify, I am definitely not an expert.  There were some key people who really helped me along in my photography journey, answered my countless questions, encouraged me and helped build my confidence, and I will be forever grateful to them. So consider this a combined effort to both pay it forward to those just starting out by answering some frequently asked questions, as well as a place for me to compile these answers for future use! I’m also using this as an excuse to share a bit more about myself by answering some not-so-frequently asked questions!

Not-So-Frequently Asked Questions:

Before jumping into the nitty gritty, I figured I’d tell you a bit more about myself with the help of this charming  list of 10 unsolicited random facts about me (you’re welcome).

  1. I love lists. Grocery lists. To-Do lists. Goal lists. And yes, self-indulgent personal lists like this little gem right here! You know those group ice breakers that most people hate where everyone gets handed a paper and is asked to write three random facts about themselves? Yeah, I love those.
  2. When I was little, I always wanted to teach young children (except for that brief period when I randomly wanted to be a figure skater). I studied Early Childhood Education at Canadore College and St-Lawrence College and studied Inclusive Education at McGill University before working as an ECE for 6 mostly-wonderful, occasionally-stressful, glitter-filled years. I loved it.
  3. When I was in grade 3, I inherited my first film camera. I  brought it to school and photographed my friends at recess. I was hooked. I still have those photos, and this was the start of a lifelong passion for photography and life documentation. In highschool, I was the annoying girl who made everyone stop and take a picture. I  remember agonizing during the 3-4 days it took for my film to get developed, and if my mom forgot to pick up my printed photos on her way home from work when they were finally ready, well… it basically felt like my life was over (hooray for teenage angst!). When I got my first digital point and shoot as a highschool graduation gift, I just about lost my mind with excitement. And the rest, as they say, is history.
  4. I got married at 19. I started my business at 23. I had my baby at 24. People have called me an old-soul, and I think they’re right. My biggest dream has always been to marry my best friend, start a family and live happily every after (my apologies to Feminists everywhere). At 26, I’m going on 7 years of marriage and spend my days with an adorable 19 month old that just happens to be all mine while running my own business, which I happen to be over-the-moon-passionate about.
  5. I am sometimes often almost always running a little late. It’s never my fault though. Promise. ;) (amazingly I somehow have the ability to show up on time for clients. phew.)
  6. I am addicted to delicious, freshly-ground, black coffee. If I’m treating myself to Starbucks, it’s an extra-hot cappucino for this girl. Enjoying coffee and conversation is probably one of my favourite things to do.
  7. I am not a big movie-goer. And if I do watch movies, it’s got to be romantic, hilarious, or both. No dying, no blood, no explosions, no stress - unless it’s the kind of stress where everything gets resolved and everyone lives happily ever after. I’m still not over Titanic. For real.
  8. I am French-Canadian. I grew up speaking French at home, married a French boy and now speak French to my daughter. I spent the first 10 years of my life in Northern Ontario and the following 10 in Montreal, Quebec before coming to settle here in London, Ontario.
  9. I love single-camera tv comedies and get weirdly attached to fictional characters. I collect all the seasons and can rewatch them anytime, like a 3-year-old who can watch the same movie over and over again. The Office, Parks and Rec and New Girl are up there at the top of my must watch (and re-watch, and re-watch) list. I realize this makes me sound like a dork- I kind of am.
  10. I have a serious muffin addiction. I love baking in general, but muffins are a passion…or a problem, depending on how you look at it!

Fascinating stuff, right? And now for….

The Actual Frequently Asked (photography-related) Questions

  1. How did you get started in photography? >> I always had a passion for photography. I always carried a camera with me everywhere I went. Around 2008 I started trying to get artsy with my Sony point-and-shoot and delighted bombarded friends and family on Facebook with album after album of artsy closeups of tree branches and flower petals. When my friend asked me to take some photos of her baby, I was terrified and excited. I showed up with my camera, a wicker laundry basket, some blankets and a makeshift backdrop and experimented. I will forever be grateful to this friend for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. I was officially hooked with photographing people and knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I invested in a second-hand entry-level DSLR and I started putting myself out there and offering to take photos for family and friends for free to gain experience. I second shot a wedding for free and loved it. I started reading everything photography-related I could get my hands on and scouring the internet for tutorials, detailed explanations and tips on mastering my camera. I contacted my own wedding photographer back in Montreal and asked for her advice (Thanks for believing in me and being so awesome, Sophie!). When I felt I had a nice little portfolio going, I started charging $50 for family sessions, and only progressively increased my pricing when I felt that my experience, talent and product justified it. Around that time, a good friend and business/web guru offered to put a website together for me and helped me with a business plan, branding, marketing ideas, business advice and spent hours helping me get started. If it wasn’t for his kindness and expertise, I honestly don’t know if I would be where I am today. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I had a lot of support getting started. I officially launched my business in January 2010 as an on-the-side venture as I continued my full-time job in early childhood education. After I had my baby, I chose to stay home and pursue photography full time. And now here we are!
  2. What do you use to edit your photos? Do you use actions? If so which ones?>> I use Aperture (for Mac) to edit my RAW files and then export them to Photoshop to polish em’ up. Aperture does what I need it to do, but I am actively looking into other more user-friendly, efficient programs in which to manipulate my RAW files. So at this point I wouldn’t specifically recommend Aperture as a program that I love, but it certainly does what it needs to do. I strive to take a good photo straight-out-of-camera (SOOC), so that all I have to do is sharpen it up and tweak exposure, levels, and white balance in Aperture before sending the image to Photoshop. The nice thing about shooting RAW (as opposed to JPEG) is that if your SOOC is less than perfect, you can usually save the image. For a long time I didn’t use actions in Photoshop. My editing style is clean and natural with a bit of haze, and my personal opinion on some actions out there (not all) is that they can leave images looking over-edited, especially when they aren’t used properly. That said, there are some amazing action sets put out there by some fabulous photographers and, when used well, they can beautifully transform your images. Many of my favourite photographers regularly use purchased actions, and their work is unbelievably amazing. Do whatever works for you! I experimented for about 6 months with a few free actions from The Coffee Shop Blog, My Four Hens, and some affordable and amazing actions from Jordan Voth. Some of my favourite images have been edited with these actions, and using them actually helped me learn what I could – and wanted to – achieve in Photoshop. That said, I have recently decided to stop using actions and develop my own editing process in Photoshop to truly reflect my style and to give me complete control over my finished product. I always start with some curve and level adjustments, and then add a few custom adjustment layers to achieve a consistent look with all my photos. It’s pretty minimal – clean, fresh and definitely my style.
  3. What types of lenses do you use?>> I favour prime lenses. When I first started using my (Canon) 50mm 1.8, it totally rocked my world, and really helped me come into my own photography style. I now exclusively shoot with prime lenses. Currently I almost always use my 50mm 1.4. I also have an 85mm 1.8 and a 35mm 2.0 in my bag that I use as needed. The 35 is great for lifestyle photography when you are in tight spaces, or when you want to tell the “whole story” of a scene. It’s also great for large group shots. The 85 produces some really delicious bokeh, and I really should use it more. My goal is to upgrade to L-series lenses soon.
  4. Canon or Nikon?>> Canon, but only because the first DSLR I purchased was a Canon. I’ve never used a Nikon. I know so many photographers who swear by one company or the other. I have no complaints with Canon and don’t foresee a switch in my future. But honestly, you’ll do just fine with either or!
  5. What camera do you use? /  What camera did you start out with? >> I started with a gently used Canon Rebel XT. And it served me really well. It was great for building my portfolio and learning everything I needed to know. When I got serious about turning my passion into a business, I upgraded to a Canon 50D, which is a cropped sensor, mid-range DSLR. It was an amazing camera, great for transitioning out of my beginner phase without having to spend the big bucks for a full frame camera just yet. I had some good times with the ol’ 50D, and still keep it as a backup. I now shoot with a Canon 5D Mark ii, and while I love love love it, I’ve heard wonderful things about the Mark iii (like the superior focusing system), and I am now itching to upgrade again soon!
  6. How do you get that golden light in your pictures?>> For me, it’s all about time of day. There are actions you can buy to add artificial sunflare to your images, but that’s just not my thing. I’m all about capturing real, natural light. 1-2 hours after sunrise and before sunset is my favourite time to shoot, and other than weddings, it’s now the only time I will shoot. That’s when the sun dips down and that warm, delicious, hazy, flattering “golden hour” light comes out to play (unless it’s really overcast, in which case you make the best of it without the magic light!). I prefer to shoot my subjects backlit, which gives them that haze and glow. I don’t shoot during midday, because the light is harsh and heavily contrasted, and not at all flattering. Clients might think a 2pm time slot is more convenient for them, but I always assure them that the light is infinitely more flattering during “golden hour”. There are certainly ways to make midday light work (open shade is your best friend at that time!), but I choose to schedule my shoots around the best light that produces the kind of results that I love.
  7. How do you get your pictures to look so sharp?>> This one always surprises me. I don’t know exactly… proper focus is important, and a stable stance. A good rule of thumb to avoid any camera shake or blur is not to lower your shutter speed below your focal length number (so when shooting at 50mm, try not to go slower than 1/50, and if you do, use a tripod or try and stabilize your body as much as possible). I also find prime lenses to be fast and sharp. When displaying my photos on the Web, I size them accordingly for either Facebook or my blog, and do a touch of sharpening in Photoshop.
  8. How do you manage to get work done and still care for a toddler everyday?>> Haha – that’s a good question! Some days I’d tell you that I simply don’t. Like every step of my photography journey, it’s been a learn-as-you-go trial and error sort of thing. Ultimately, I’ve learned three things. First of all, I am a maman before a photographer. I love my work as a photographer, but I am always a maman first. That means that if my girl is having a really hard day (I’m looking at you, molars), sometimes my to-do list is left untouched. The perfectionist in me has had to come to terms with that reality. Secondly, I’ve learned to design my living and working space to be functional for our lifestyle. That meant turning the spare bedroom into a main-floor office/play room, where I can do a bit of work at the computer while my girl plays/colours/looks at books/has a snack in the same room, with the option to close the door if needed. Finally, I’ve learned the importance of scheduling my work. I now know how much office work/playroom time I can realistically schedule per day before my daughter starts getting restless. I also choose to spend nap time getting work done and pay for a few hours per week (one morning) of childcare close to home. In an effort to spend as much evening/weekend time with my husband as possible, I’ve also had to schedule which evenings I am going to dedicate to work and which evenings are to be work-free. On weekends, in addition to shooting sessions, I usually schedule 2-5 hours at some point where I lock myself up in the office. These are also special papa/bebe fun time bonding hours, so it’s a win-win-win. :) I do what works for us, and what allows me to be present with my girl as much as possible. It’s not always easy (it’s never easy), and some days the editing piles up and the toddler is cranky and the maman in discouraged. But at the end of the day, I remind myself that I am fulfilling two of my greatest ambitions – to be a stay at home maman to a beautiful little girl and to be turning my passion into a career. So we do our best and tweak as we go!

Ok – that’s all I’ve got for now.

xo