A Session at the Beach in Toronto's West End

Life really does come full circle. I grew up in the west end of Toronto and one of our family’s favourite spots was a park on the edge of Lake Ontario. Now thirty years later, this Etobicoke park is one of my favourite outdoor locations for a photo shoot. The park has it all - a lovely little beach, grassy open fields and a hidden trail in the trees. It was the perfect spot to meet and photograph this sweet little family of three. Their little boy loved exploring but there was one small problem: he was so excited by the water he wanted to head right in (even though it was a still a chilly temperature in May)! Good thing the beach is shallow so he didn’t get more than his toes wet. You can see another of my favourite Toronto locations here.

How to Find the Best Family Photographer for You

If you google “Toronto family photographer” you’ll get more than 43,500,000 results! So how do you find the best Toronto family photographer? Since I’m a photographer, you might think I would say “choose me”. But truth be told, best is a relative term. What is the ideal for you might not the best for your friend or neighbour. Here are 5 things to think about before hiring a family photographer:

1) Style

You want to look for someone who has a cohesive style that appeals to your aesthetic. Photography is an art form and the way I view a scene (and edit the photographs) can be very different from other photographers. My style is bright and airy, with a natural, modern aesthetic. I try to produce images that are full of emotion, joy and connection. While my pictures may appear more candid, they aren’t completely documentary (e.g. I will guide and suggest poses and activities for my clients).

Other family photographers have a more moody, artsy style, whereas still others have a more classic approach with everyone smiling at the camera. Before booking a photographer, make sure you take a look at their portfolio (on their website, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) to make sure their style is what you’re looking for and ensure that this style is consistent across many images.

Toronto Best Family Photographer Girl Smiling with Father

2) Skill

I’ve included skill after style because they are closely interlinked (but not the same). You might adore someone’s style but you also want to make sure they have the skill and experience to produce this style during your shoot. The subject matter (e.g. newborns vs. teens), lighting conditions (e.g. is the shoot at sunset vs. full sun vs. another time of day), location (indoors vs. outdoors) all require different photographic skills. One way to assess if the photographer will be the right photographer for you is to look for images that they’ve taken under similar conditions to your shoot. So for example, if you’re having a birthday party at an indoor location lacking natural light - but the only pictures you see in someone’s portfolio are outdoors - ask them if they have experience photographing in a similar setting and to see sample images.

It can also be helpful to look at a gallery of images from a single session (such as this) vs. single images. You can often find these on a photographer’s blog. Remember, it’s much easier to produce one, amazing “instagram-worthy” photograph than for a photographer to produce a single gallery full of strong images.

Top family photographer toronto newborn and mom kissing toes

3) Professionalism

You’ll also wants to make sure that that the photographer is professional and someone you like! You’ll be in front of the camera (which is often a pretty awkward place to be), so you’ll want to work with someone who makes you feel comfortable. It can be hard to assess from email but check to see if they respond in a timely fashion and are friendly.

Referrals from friends and family can go a long way here or look for positive reviews on Google and Facebook.

Toronto's best family photographer natural candid black and white photograph

4) Location

You’ll want to have an idea where your want the shoot to take place: some photographers work out of a studio space, whereas others work on-location (e.g. in a local park or in your home). Many photographers who shoot outdoors have their favourite spots in Toronto, so check their portfolio to see if these locations appeal to you.

best family photographer Toronto outdoor picture of mom and baby

5) Price

Family photography is often an investment but pricing can vary greatly. Is more expensive better? Not always but like any product, price can be an indicator of quality.

There are many different pricing models so make sure you understand the total price before booking. Some photographers charge a session fee (which covers the photographer’s time and talent only) and charge a separate price for images or products. Others have one all-inclusive price. Still others (like me) charge one price for a set number of images and a higher price for additional images. There isn’t a right or wrong way of pricing; it’s just critical that you understand the price before booking so there aren’t any surprises after the shoot.

Mini session pricing also differs from regular family photography pricing. Mini sessions are often priced lower because these sessions are shorter and you receive fewer photos, but also because the photographer is able to book many sessions back-to-back (making it a more efficient use of their time).

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Feel free to reach out to me with any questions about hiring the right photographer for you.

Life at the Lake

Cottage life is pretty special. Endless hours spent lazing on the dock, boat riding, playing card games and BBQing (plus of course the prerequisite mosquito swatting and obsessively checking the weather forecast). The lake can also be a family gathering place - and a place where so many memories are made so it makes the perfect place for an extended family photoshoot.  

At this spot on Lake Muskoka near Gravenhurst, we captured so many different looks: the water, trees, dock, pathway and boathouse. Plus tonnes of laughter and candid moments. Take a look at some pictures from the session.

Best things to do in Prince Edward County with Kids

At the end of August we went away for a couple day with my extended family. We were looking for a place that was an easy drive from Toronto and had great activities to keep both the kids and adults entertained. Prince Edward County checked all the boxes and here are a couple of recommendations of the best things to there with kids!

Do

Our main reason for choosing Prince Edward County was the beaches and they didn't disappoint. There are a couple different options at Sandbanks Provincial Park but the Dunes Beach was our favourite. It has a shallow, calm area that was great for swimming with little kids and gorgeous high dunes that were a dream for kids to run up and down.  

After a day at the beach, we walked around the cute town of Picton to check out the shops, visited the local library for a break from the heat and enjoyed an ice cream at Slickers.  

And we also managed to sneak in a visit to a couple wineries. The two we visited were surprisingly kid friendly: Hinterland's patio opens up onto a nice field for the kids to run around and the Grange had a couple board games and decks of cards in a cozy corner. 

Eat

We looked for restaurants with great food and a great atmosphere, but also places that wouldn't mind the four (sometimes lively) little people we brought along. Thankfully the County is pretty laid back when it comes to that kind of thing. We had a tasty brunch at the gorgeous  Drake Devonshire, which has a kid's menu and rocky beach (perfect place for the kids to blow off steam after breakfast).  We also filled up on Mexican food at Chilango's on our way into Prince Edward County.

For lunch we picked up picnic baskets at the Agrarian Market, which the kids (and adults) happily devoured. 

Stay

We found our Instagram-worthy hotel on Instagram (surprise, surprise). The June Motel had rooms large enough for our families and included small kitchenettes. I'm not sure what my daughter loved more: the bunk beds in her grandparent's room or the smores  at the nightly bonfire. 

First Day of Kindergarten Sign with Self Portrait

This year I wanted to do something a little different for my daughter's back-to-school photo. Her handwriting and drawing skills evolved so much during her first year of kindergarten and I'm sure she'll grow in leaps and bounds this year. To document this in her back-to-school photo, I asked my super talented friend Nat for help. Nat runs @littlechestnuts and makes the most amazing, hand-lettered signs (and at the same time raises money for charity). She made the cutest sign with space for your child's favourite activity, dream of what they want to be when they grow up and a self portrait. 

You can download a copy of the back-to-school sign here.

My daughter loved the chance to colour and I got a cute keepsake. Win-win!

If your son or daughter isn't quite at the writing stage, feel free to fill in the written sections yourself and have them draw a self portrait (or scribble a picture!)

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Getting a natural smile

How do you get a child to smile for a photograph? Probably the first thing that pops into your mind is "Say cheese!". The trouble is that while this works, more often than not it results in a forced smile (either "I'm-only-smiling-because-you-told-me-to-are-we-done-???" or "I-am-smiling-super-super-super-wide)?". It can be tricky to catch a candid smile the very moment that you've decided to grab your camera (or phone). So what's the alternative to "Say cheese?"

I've found a couple different tricks that work with kids but mostly they boil down to encouraging the child to play a game, tell a little story, or do something that really engages them...and then catch a real, true candid smile right after the activity. That's why I often use little prompts during my family photography sessions to encourage laughter and natural expressions. 

Here are a couple of activities I used at a recent lifestyle session - give them a try with your own kids! 

1) Play broken telephone

2) Look at the person who is THE craziest (or funniest...)?

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3) What is the silliest thing about your brother?

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4) Give your mom a nice gentle kiss (then a Wet kiss)

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But truthfully there wasn't really any work involved with getting this family to smile naturally since they were so fun loving. Here are a couple more of my favourites from the session.

Motherhood Portraits

Being a mom (or dad) of a little one can be tough. Really tough.  But in between the frantic moments of frustration/tears/exhaustion, there's also so much laughter, joy and adorable silliness. Kids grow up in a flash and your time as a mom of a little one is short (although somedays I admit the days feel very, very long!).  A motherhood portrait session is the perfect way to capture the connection, love and candid moment between your and her minis. 

Here are a couple of my favourite images from a recent mom and me photography session at the gorgeous Mint Room Studios in the west end of Toronto.

The Best Gift for a Grandma

Grandparents have a special bond with their grandchildren. After so many years (and hard work) spent raising their own children, they've earned the right to be called the "fun" grownups. They're the ones who'll let the kids have an extra treat or watch another cartoon. They're always up for a snuggle or silly game. Yet grandparents aren't often the focus of photographs, even though these pictures are so priceless. So when a client mentioned she wanted to give her mother-in-law a photography session for her birthday, my immediate thought was that it would be perfect gift.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from this recent extended family session:

Why I'm in love with twilight at the beach

A couple of nights ago, the kids and I headed down to the beach for an impromptu visit. We live less than 10 minutes from Lake Ontario, but we don’t go there nearly enough. Plus, my absolute favourite place to take pictures is at the beach, at twilight (so of course, I brought my camera).  Why do I love it so much? 

  1. Light, light, light – During the hour before sunset, the light is a photographer’s dream and has almost magical qualities. It is soft and super flattering.

  2. Beach tones – I am a sucker for the muted colours (blues, greys, tan, pastels) of the beach at dusk.

  3. It’s quieter – On this beautiful weekday night, there were just a handful of other people there.

  4. The kids love it (the most important reason!) – At the beach, there are so many things to do. Throw rocks, splash in the water, play in the sand. My kids are far happier playing while I snap a couple pictures, instead of posing for portraits.

Reach out to me if you're interested in booking a twilight beach session!

5 Back-to-School Photo Ideas

My daughter will be starting kindergarten in just a couple days. She is super excited and the feeling is infectious. I want to capture this feeling so that I can remember it when the newness of school has worn off and it just becomes a typical part of her routine. Photography is a great way to do this. Here are five back-to-school photo ideas (I took the pictures below of my niece just before she started JK):

1) Include favourite back-to-school items – Take close up shots of any special things that help to tell the story of back-to-school, whether it be your child's very first “big kid” backpack, a new special outfit or their current favourite book.

First day of kindergarten photo

2) Hold a cute sign – There are lots of free back-to-school templates online (like this one) for you print. This can also be a great idea for creating an annual series of photos where you update the sign's contents each year.

Toronto Child Photographer Back to School Sign

3) At the school yard – Take a look around the school yard for interesting backgrounds. The colourful mural below added a splash of colour to the picture, but simple brick walls are also great option. Or have your child play in the jungle gym to take some fun action shots!

Back-to-school Photo ideas

4) First day and last day of school portrait – Take a classic portrait at the beginning of the year, then repeat the same pose at the end of the year to see what a difference a year makes (I'll do that with my daughter, I didn't get a chance to with my niece below)

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5) Ask your child for ideas - Kids can sometimes be reluctant to pose for photos, so it's a great idea to include them in the process. My niece wanted a silly photo wearing her mom's glasses to complete the "school teacher" look.

Girl holding apple photo toronto

Final tip! Don’t stress about taking photos on the actual first day of school if you find it’s too hectic. The idea is to capture the beginning of the school year (not necessarily the actual day itself), so taking photos just before or after the first day is totally fine.  

Beach Family Photography Session

Surf, sand, sun. Anna Maria Island had it all.  Plus, the beaches are pretty much a photographer's dream, so I was lucky to get to sneak in a photo shoot while on vacation. This family was one of the first families that I photographed a couple years back. It was great to recapture them again now that they have grown by one with the addition of a little girl. And it's pretty evident that she's a lucky lady, given how sweet her brothers were with her during the shoot!

How to store your child's art

My daughter’s first year of kindergarten is flying by. She’s grown in leaps and bounds in terms of her writing, numbers and drawing. One thing that’s a constant reminder of everything she is learning is the pile of school projects that keeps growing, and growing…and growing. While I love the idea of keeping these adorable mementos, I am a bit of a clutter-phobe. So this weekend I start looking into how to archive my daughter's art. First, I sorted through the art to find the best pieces. Next I took pictures of my favourite art (I used my digital SLR camera but you can easily use your smartphone instead). It is helpful to take the pictures on a surface with even lighting for best results (i.e. you do not want to take them in a spot that is half sun/half shade).

Toronto Documentary Photographer Child  Home

After I had took the photos, I looked into a couple options:

1) Make a photo book

This is my favourite solution: it allows you to have a physical memento of your kid's art, while keeping it an organized. If you are taking photos on your smart phone Chatbooks is a basic and inexpensive option that  you literally can do in minutes. But of course there are so, so, so many photo book options if you want something fancier or more customized.

Chatbooks Child Art Storage Reduce Clutter

2) Make a collage and frame it 

Another option is to create a collage and frame it - this is great as it allows you to display many images all at once without it taking up your whole wall!  You can switch it up with new versions each year.  I made the collage below using befunky and I'll print it to frame in my daughter's room.

Archive Children's Art Ideas

3) ORGANIZE IT DIGITALLY

There are lots of art apps available like Artkive, Cansvly and Keepy. They allow you to organize your kid's art in an easy, user friendly manner and share with family and friends. While I love the user interfaces of these and how convenient they are, there is one important caveat to remember here. Some have a subsription fee once you save above a certain number of images (which may increase over time) and/or there is a risk that the digital provider may not be around 10 or 20 years from now. So if you like this solution it's probably also best to have a plan b.

After doing this, I feel a little less guilty discarding most of the pieces but I'm still going to keep a  a couple pieces around in a shoe box to show her when she grows up. 

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