Last weekend was the 2012 IMBA Ontario Trailblazing Festival at Hardwood Ski & Bike.

It’s funny how things come together now and then.  About a month ago I started seeing notices about the Trailblazing Festival and started checking it out.  I discovered that the IMBA Trail Care Crew was going to be putting on a Trail Building and Care workshop the day before the festival.  Oh, I’m so all over that.  Signed up straight away.  Shortly afterwards, the guys at Hardwood contacted me to see if I would be available to teach rider clinics on the Saturday of the Festival.  Heck ya!  What’s not to love about riding and helping others skill-up and overcome at the same time?!  Then (yes there’s more!) I had a couple Facebook messages from an old friend from Yellowknife, Steve Hahn.  Turns out he’s in Guelph (geographically next door compared the distance between us over the last 10 years) for a couple months.  We start talking about getting together for a weekend to ride.  Then I remember the Trailblazing Festival, flick him over the details.  Bam, he’s signed up, gone out and snagged a used bike and things are in motion.

Let’s step back a bit.  Last time I saw Steve was over 10 years ago this summer.  We were both living in Yellowknife at the time and we had come together through work and bikes.  Steve was a med-evac nurse working with Jen.  We were both cutting our teeth on the incredibly technical, unforgiving trails of Yellowknife.  Almost literally cutting teeth, too.  After a couple awesome summers of riding, Steve announced plans to move to Whitehorse.  Then we moved to Australia.  blah blah blah. 10 years has passed.  Then, both us picked up mountain biking again this year in a big way and, well, Trailblazing Festival brought about a reunion.  Woot!

After an awesome (and LONG!) day of riding at the Festival on Saturday, neither one of us felt like putting down the miles of either the 30 or 50k epic rides being hosted by IMBA, so we decided to do our own thing.

Chucked a few flashes, stands, a camera and some basic provisions into a rucksack and off we went into the local trails.  I have had a mountain bike photograph burned into my mind all summer and finally had the talent lined up.  “Game for launching a ramp, Steve?”  “heck ya!”  “over and over again?” “Bring it on.”  Well, something like that anyway.

Hooked up the lights and stands, framed up the image and the rest is magic.  Created these two images.  (As always, click for bigger, more awesome goodness!)

We moved on to an elevated skinny I wanted to work up into another epic image but a combination of raspberries from hell, rain and an impending lunch date sent us packing before we could execute that vision.  Well, as Wade Simmons would say “Gotta leave something for another ride!”


Picking up where we left off with our family portraits that I created back at Christmas my sister was really keen for us to create family portraits for her in the forests surrounding our Sugarbush homes.

We actually went out twice to really capture the images she was looking for.  Both walks in the forest yielded some absolutely magical images of her family and both were incredibly different in the feeling and atmosphere created.  In the first case, we focused on capturing images of them as a family.  In the second, the focus was squarely on Erik and Anna and their relationship with each other.

Not to say that I didn’t capture some beautiful images of each of them alone, but this image above just rocks my world.  My nephew, Erik, is at that awkward age when being photographed means making funny faces and clowning around.  Jen and I are quite used this behaviour in kids and just rolled with the punches.  Eventually, Erik found this fallen tree to climb on.  After a couple of minutes, Anna wanted to try too, but she didn’t have the confidence to climb the log on her own.  Big brother to the rescue!  I just love how Erik is taking care of his little sister and helping her get her balance sorted.  After a couple of tries she was on her own, mastering that log!

While Erik was having some fun on the log and had his attention focused on his balance, guess what?  Guard was down, and check out this truly magical portrait of a boy at play.

Anna, at nearly 3.5 is very much into running and loves an opportunity to show off how good she is at it.  (Crocs, not withstanding!!!)

Portraits of children are always fun, however what I get a huge amount of pleasure from is capturing the relationships between children and their parents.  After all, it’s the relationship between parents and their children that is most precious in our memories and creating images that capture this is, in my opinion, the highest goal of a family photographer.

This series of Erik and his dad, speaks an entire story of their relationship.  I won’t go into all the details, but my sister told me a story about Erik the day before I started processing these images.  I knew I was capturing gold during the moment, but the meaning didn’t burn through until I put Sarah’s story together with the power coming through these images.  Meaning so deep that these images reduced me to tears and I had to take a day off from processing them to get my head around it.  Not sure if I was just making it all up on account of my sister’s story, I forwarded these images to my good friend, Pamela Joye, whom I’ve featured here in the past, and asked her to tell me what she saw in the series without knowing any of the background of the relationship.  Darned if she didn’t write back and sum up Erik and Jason’s relationship to an absolute tee.  Magic.  Here it is. (Hit play and the full-screen button to get the full impact of this series.)

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A family interaction story isn’t complete with just half the family, though, is it?  My niece Anna, loves to laugh and play and giggle.  She loves attention like only a 3 year old can. And, like most children, and especially little girls, she loves her mommy…. Oh and wearing crocs in the forest gives her very dirty feet….

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This final image requires some introduction.  My sister’s family isn’t about frilly goodness and make-up and dressing up in the latest styles.  Jason runs a triathlon business and my sister, while a teacher, is just as deeply committed to physical fitness with a goal of completing a half-Ironman triathlon by her 40th birthday.  Their lifestyle is all about getting outdoors and enjoying nature.  Thus, we decided that their family portrait should reflect this outdoor focus to their lives and feature them hiking the trails in our local county forests.  I love this image of them hiking hand in hand, complete with day packs for everyone….

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Hey there everyone,

There’s been heaps going on around Houlden Studios lately and I have many blog posts waiting in the wings to be written and published.  Stay tuned around here over the next couple of weeks as I fill you all in on all the goodness of the past couple of months.

I wanted to very quickly share with you the results and photographs from our most recent charitable event.

Back in late winter we met with the Orillia SPCA to find out how we might work with them to help with their fundraising.  They told us about their Friends for Life walk-a-thon, one of two of their major, annual fund raisers.  After learning a bit more about the walk-a-thon, we put plans in motion to set up our charitable photo booth and create Facebook Profile photos of the participants’ dogs.

I’ve gotta say, we had an absolute blast creating these pet portraits.  It was definitely hard work though, lemme tell you!  Some of the fabulous furry buddies were very well behaved and posed magnificently.  Others, though, well, required a bit of patience, a whole lot of time and a sprinkling of luck.  You know, I wasn’t 100% convinced that we nailed it for every dog when we were packing up, but by the time I had the images downloaded and started looking at them on the big screen… wow!  Once again, we created some terrific pet portraits.

While I loved shooting these dogs, I loved even more getting out and around meeting all the dogs and owners that had come out to help support the SPCA with the walk-a-thon.  I met some pretty cool people and some really awesome dogs, even if I didn’t get to photograph them all.

As for the set up for these, I decided to try something a bit different from our previous photo booth set ups.  Instead of setting up a backdrop or using a wall as a background I decided to shoot into the light with Orillia’s Lake Couchiching as the background.  With the sun coming in from rear camera left, I set up a strobe rear camera right and a key light at camera left.  This created a lot more definition in my photo booth lighting than previous set ups.  I am really thrilled with how this turned out.  Yay!

Okay, without further ado, here’s a very short, very fun video slideshow of the pets and some of the people, too, who we photographed during the walk-a-thon.  I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave us a note in the comments below.

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Oh my, I appear to be repeating myself.  But seriously… wow!  Drat, did it again.  Unusual for me, but I’m actually at a loss for superlatives to describe just how awesome my weekend with Jules Bianchi and Joy BianchiBrown was.

First, perhaps a bit of back story, eh?

After I got back from a fantastic Master Class with David Ziser in Cincinatti (yeah, I still owe you a blog post about that experience!) I saw an email in my inbox from CreativeLive reminding me that there was still time to submit a promo video for Jules’ and Joy’s Marketing to Moms workshop in Seattle.  “Ah, I’ll never win that!” I thought.

A couple days later though, I noticed it was the last day to submit a video so I clicked on my iSight camera, blah blah blah-ed for 60s about why Jules and Joy should pick me to attend their workshop, saved and uploaded it before I had a chance to think twice about it.  (And, just for the record, NO – I’m not going to link to that video!  Far too much of my inner-dork shows through on that one. haha!)

Anyway, short story shorter – they picked me along with 5 other sensational photographers from the US to attend their workshop as it was being recorded and broadcast live on the Internet.

So, to Seattle I went.  There I met some fabulous photographers (Julie Pergitone Croff, Joni James, Dan Troutman, Kristin Tetuán and Christiana Sloop Childers) with whom I would be sharing the workshop experience.

It’s interesting you know.  Words like marketing and sales so often strike fear into the hearts of artists such as ourselves while at the same time they leave a sense of distrust in the minds of our clients.  So, I sort of feel almost dirty telling people that I was at a workshop on marketing and sales.  Here’s the thing though – marketing is simply the process of letting people know that we exist and what our service is – and done well the message reaches people that are interested in and value our service.  And sales (almost a four letter word for some people) is simply the process of determining what our clients desire and then delivering it to them.  Pure and simple.  No ugly monsters.  No scary ghosts.

Phew, well I’m glad that I got that off my chest.  LOL.  Yeah, so, that’s what we spent 3 days learning – how to find and engage people that will be interested in and value our services and then how to determine just what it is they want and delivering it to them.

Okay, yeah, I’m simplifying things a bit, but I totally learned a heap from this workshop and we’ve already started changing how we approach things at Houlden Studios.

So stay tuned for some pretty cool stuff coming up in the next little while!

Oh, and I can barely wait to tell you about how we met Riley and Abby and ended up photographing their engagement in real-time…. but that’s another story and you’ll be reading about that soon enough.

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Hey there everyone,

I’m pretty excited to be showing you these images today.  Earlier this week I had organised to get together with a couple of mountain bike instructors at Hardwood Ski & Bike to have a bit of fun creating some awesome sports lifestyle portraits.  Yes, you’re quite right, these are the same two instructors who helped me out with some cross country skiing portraits at the end of the winter this year.

When I was down in Cincinatti a couple of weeks ago with LaDawn and David Ziser honing my portrait and wedding portrait skills I had the chance to chat with David about niching down our family portrait studio into sports lifestyle portraits.  Everyone I bounced my ideas off thought this was an awesome way to create a real niche for our business.  Getting that niche right is really hard work.  I distinctly recall how tough Dane Sanders was on us at the Fasttrack Workshop last August. He was adamant that we could not be truly successful until we identified what it was that each of us was uniquely intended to do.  Identifying this niche has taken a lot of time and consideration and it really wasn’t until late in the winter and early this spring that I started getting a feel for what I really wanted to pursue with my photography.

I knew it had to involve families and children.  Anyone who has worked with us will attest to how alive I become when I’m interacting with and photographing children.  I also love the opportunity to create meaningful portraits for families.  There are precious few family portraits in my family history and most of them are big wedding family pictures.  I don’t really have a sense of what my parents were like at my age and younger with their young family, so it is really important to me to create these images for our clients.

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Thing is, family portraits isn’t a particularly unique niche.  As I was reminded at Ziser’s workshop – its the differences that make the difference in this business.

Enter Family Sports Lifestyle Portraits.  Whether it’s horseback riding, mountain biking, golf, disc golf, camping, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, whatever your family is passionate about, that’s what we are all about.  Jen and I are passionate about active lifestyles.  We bike, ski, paddle, run, camp, hike.  So we’ve put these two passions – family photography and sports – together.

Mountain Bike Sports Portrait Photographer

Back to these images.  I can’t show you what we can do without showing what we can do, can I?  Sounds like a bit of a circle there, eh?  Right, so, I need volunteers to help create some examples to show people. This is what Arienne and Sharon from Hardwood were helping out with this week.

Like I said, I’m pretty excited to be showing you these images and I would love to hear what you think.  Let me know in the comments!

Mountain Bike Sports Portrait Photographer

Also, for a very limited time and for a very limited number of people we are offering some pretty awesome incentives for helping us build out this portfolio.  If you, or someone you know, would be interested in modelling for us – kids, teens, couples, families – drop us an email or a phone call.  Did I say awesome incentives?  I’m talking like over 75% our regular studio prices.  So yeah, really awesome, but once we have a handful of these sessions booked, the incentives go away, so first come – first served!

Mountain Bike Sports Portrait Photographer



Seize the day.  Life is a fast paced affair and it has never been faster than it is now.  Social commitments, kid’s soccer and hockey games, gymnastics, Scouts, Cadets, your own physical fitness, yard work, keeping up with Facebook goings-on, getting the cottage ready for the season, going to the cottage as much as possible even….

Sounds pretty busy, doesn’t it?  And I haven’t even mentioned getting the kids out of the house for school, going to work and helping with homework, school fundraising activities and parent-teacher night.  Oh wait, I guess I just did.  I’m already exhausted just thinking about getting all of this done!

It’s no wonder then that when family members are no longer present whether it be by natural happenstance, relocation or sudden tragedy that we are suddenly left wondering where all the time has gone.  When we start looking through our belongings trying to find a picture of our loved one, we discover that the last portrait is a decade or more old and the last full family portrait was 20 years ago at the last wedding.

As I was just mentioning, life’s busy.  Way busy.  Now multiply that over a couple of different families and generations and it’s no wonder we struggle to put a multi generational portrait together.  How on earth do you get all the stars aligned so that everyone is in one place at the same time, looking great AND you have a skilled portrait photographer around?

At our portrait studio we employ a number of techniques to help our clients create great looking family portraits.  We can work around all sorts of scheduling challenges to put together a beautiful multi-generational family portrait.  Even if it means creating portraits of various family groupings on different days, even months apart, or photographing a couple of university students on their school break and adding them to the portrait later, we can do this with ease.

In fact, this portrait which we created and reviewed here on the blog around Christmas was created from several separate groupings to illustrate just this capability.  Comes together pretty awesome doesn’t it?

For this next family, Bruce and Ginny pull their family together for a portrait about once every 5 years.  When we went to their beautiful home on the shore of Lake Simcoe to discuss their portrait needs with them, they quickly walked us through their family history by discussing what was going on in each photograph over the last 25 years.  Pretty cool.  As I discussed in this post back in October, we really had a fabulous day creating their family portraits.

Just before we left Australia, a good friend of mine asked us to create their family portrait for them as they were about to leave the community they had been living in for years and years and they had their mother visiting at the time.  The outback is a place of very special meaning for these folks so we went out into the bush and found this beautiful setting for their family portrait.

I just want to leave you with these last couple of words.  There’s an old proverb that says the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago and the second best time to plant a tree is today.  Don’t let time pass you by.  Give us a call and let’s talk about creating a beautiful family portrait, whether it is just your immediate family or your entire extended family.