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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What makes a great black and white photograph?

There are many factors that come into play when deciding if a picture will be a strong black and white image. Photos with strong contrast - the difference in brightness between the darkest darks and lightest whites and all the shades in between - can make compelling black and white pictures. Also converting an image with shadows or texture to black and white can add dramatic and moody effect. Also taking away the colour from a photograph can sometimes help to simply the image and minimize distractions (I've used this trick many times when my house is a bit of mess!).

But it's not always so black and white. Sometimes a photograph looks amazing in both colour and black and white, so it can be hard to decide which one is best. And "best" is often subjective anyways. The good news is that with all my photography sessions you don't have to decide. I provide my clients both the colour and a black and white versions of each image. I love the diversity that this provides. My photography style is generally bright and airy but by converting to black and white, I'm able to give a totally different feel to the exact same photo. Often a black and white photo conveys more of a moody, emotional and raw feel to the photograph.

Here are some favourites from an in-home newborn portait session in the east end of Toronto. So you can decide which do you prefer: Colour or black & white?

Getting a natural smile - Toronto Child Photographer

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 in Toronto - 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.

Why I'm in love with twilight at the beach - Toronto Child Photographer

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.  

How to store your child's art - Toronto Family Photographer

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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