(Do be sure to click into full screen to enjoy these portraits in all their awesomeness!)

Wow.  What a crazy winter we’ve had this year.  Maybe I had a romanticised notion of what winter would be like in central Ontario, but I really expected it to be colder, with more snow, oh and how about some sunshine?  Not this winter.  The effects of La Niña have been pronounced, varied and highly bizarre.

Let’s take this week for example, shall we?  Monday was -17.  I can’t remember Tuesday, it was so unmemorable. Wednesday was +12 and sunny.  It stayed warm overnight and rain came in Thursday morning.  Naturally, we were trying to teach ski lessons in the rain.  Yuck!  So, the temperature falls through the day and by Friday it was -10 again but man was the wind blowing!  -13 again this morning and then tomorrow is supposed to be +14.  Talk about a roller coaster.  This whole winter has been like this.  Up and down and round about.  Granted, not THIS warm, but still.

With this crazy weather this week, I realised that it was going to be last chance to set up some cross-country skiing lifestyle portraits.  I’ve been thinking about doing this all winter.  Well, as long as there has been snow on the ground anyway, which has only been since early January.  Two months rips past pretty quick when you’re having fun.  And it has been a really fun winter, despite the crazy weather.  Just enough snow at just the right times to provide excellent skiing conditions for the past couple months.

Wednesday was it.  I packed up a bit of gear into my backpack and headed out to Hardwood Ski & Bike to teach some ski instruction to grade schoolers.  After the lessons were finished, I headed out onto the trails to patrol with a couple other instructors, found some interesting spots along the trail and created the portraits above.

My fellow ski instructors are a pretty fun bunch.  When we came up to The Posts, Sharon said “Can we create a portrait in outhouse?”  ummm, sure….  Later, as I was dialling in the lights I asked Arienne to stand in for a minute.  She proceeded to mug for the camera thinking “Ah, test shots, these aren’t going anywhere.”  When they came up in Lightroom, I was like, “OMG, these are awesome!  I’ve gotta do something fun with these.  Hence the photostrip of Arienne mugging for the camera.”

For sure, these images are stylised a bit more than I usually do, but the fun we had making these portraits just called out to me to continue having fun in post-production and give you guys something a bit different today.

If the weather forecast holds for the coming week, all the snow will be gone by the end of the week and maybe I can find a willing subject or two to create some muddy spring mountain bike portraits?  Who’s up for that?

Tell us what you think of these portraits?  Do you like them?  Can you see yourself going beyond the staid “smile-for-the-camera-standing-in-front-of-a-beige-backdrop-at-Zellers” for your next family portraits?  How about a paddling picnic with the kayaks or canoes?  A day with the dirt-bikes perhaps?  Or why don’t we start at the stables and go horseback riding?  Endless options for truly memorable portraits.


You know that awesome, excited feeling you get whenever the doorbell rings?  Or, at least, whenever the doorbell rings when you’re expecting a delivery? Er, um, when you know that delivery is by UPS and you have been expecting something really exciting to arrive?

Yeah.  That was me yesterday.  Big Time.

A couple weeks ago we decided to bring in some samples from a framing company that has had our eye for months now.  Wild Sorbet.  The gals at Wild Sorbet have been creating these incredibly unique, colourful and fun frames for a few years now and when we learned about them last year, we just knew we had to start offering them for our clients as a custom upgrade to our framing choices.

So, back to our delivery yesterday.  Woot.  When we opened up the box and saw the fun packaging they used, we were totally impressed.  It’s kinda funny what a packaging junky I’ve become this past year.  I love it when businesses go out of their way to package in interesting, attractive and exceptional ways.  It really says to me that they value everything about their product and they value it so much that they want their customers to know it with every touch point they have.

Does this mean the products cost a bit more?  Sure.  But it says sooo much about the quality of the company that it is so totally worth it.

Anyway, the slideshow above gives you an idea of what these frames look like and the awesome colours available.  Stay tuned to see some finished frames up on the wall when we get them in and in the meantime check out the sample gallery at Wild Sorbet’s right here.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a fun surprise involving our family portrait planned for Christmas Eve dinner.  As I had said, this is the first Christmas that Jen and I have been together with our family since 1998 (!!!!!). It’s also been forever since we had a family portrait – probably my sister’s wedding.  For Jen and I, forever since we had even had a nice photo of ourselves.  I’m sure it’s been a long time since my Uncle Perry has had a great portrait made of him, too.  In November, I wrote a Thanks, especially to my parents, and pledged to make a portrait of my mum to go with the portrait I made of my dad in the summer.  That’s a lot of un-portraits in our family and a state we decided to change.  I will share some more of the portraits we created in follow-up post soon, but for now, I just want to talk about about this full family portrait experience.

Over the last couple of months, I have been dying to experiment with a technique of creating a beautiful family portrait of large, extended families or groups.  One of the most challenging portraits to create is a great family portrait with many, many people.  Just think about the logistics of getting a large family together in one place at the same time – with everyone able to attend, in good health, well rested (think about those younger children and elder matriarchs and patriarchs). At my cousin’s wedding this past June, I had hoped that all of the Houlden family would be able to renew our family portrait, but not all of the family could attend for various reasons.  Now, if you’ve managed to get the family in one place, imagine the challenge of having everyone looking at the camera, with great expressions and eyes open – at the same moment.  Okay, and now, imagine the logistics involved in putting such a large group together in front of a great background, and lighting it evenly and pleasingly.

Phew.  I’m getting exhausted already!

So, to be able to say “Absolutely, Mrs Smith, we can do that!” with eagerness and enthusiasm, we’ve been working on a way to put a family portrait together that addresses all of these concerns.  The portrait of my family above is our small scale “proof of concept”.  (Click on the image to see it bigger – it looks awesome big!)  I’m very excited to report that this was a resounding success.  All of the groupings in this portrait were created at different times through our Christmas Eve dinner and put together after the fact.

Is this technique overkill for a family group this size?  Perhaps, however this technique can be used on families or groups of limitless size and location.  What if your family is scattered around the province (or country for that matter!)?  Or if Grandma or Grandpa are living in an assisted living home and can’t attend the family gathering?  How about if the cousins are off backpacking through Europe?  We can put together a fabulous portrait by creating individual portraits on different dates and even in different locations by taking the studio on the road.

As you head out for the weekend to celebrate New Year’s I would like to wish you all a very happy, prosperous and resourceful New Year from the Houldens, Corkings and Vurmas….



Ice Fishing with Friends In Yellowknife

This week was a real eye-opener for me as I was sifting through my archive of photos from the past 11 years looking for images to use in a special project I’m working on.  I noticed an interesting trend in my photography.  As my image making improved over the years, the types of images I created changed too.  When I bought my first digital camera at the turn of the century, sure I tried to create artistic images, but most of my pictures were more snap-shoty (is that a word?).  In a time when most people didn’t have digital cameras and camera phones hadn’t even been considered, I took my camera everywhere and took snapshots of everyone and everything that was going on.  It was great.

It was great, but my images were pretty ordinary.  Sure enough though, over time, the images I was crafting improved, became more artistic, interesting and worth talking about.  What I didn’t realise was happening at the same time, is that I wasn’t taking as many snapshots.  Now, when I think about it, I realise that as my image crafting improved, I started to get snobby about making them.  I’m only going to make an image here if I can make an interesting, great, or cool image.  At some point along the line I reached a point where I totally stopped taking snapshots.  And this is where things get a bit sad for me.  I have a whole block of my life where there aren’t any snapshots because I was “too cool” for that, or at least, I thought so anyway.  On top of that, we weren’t in the habit of visiting a portrait photographer, so really, there’s this block of time in my life where there really aren’t very many pictures of Jen and I at all.

What I want to leave you with is this idea.  Yes, professionally crafted images are important for marking the milestones of your life, but please, don’t stop taking snapshots either!  Snapshots are vitally important in remembering the things that happen through our lives.  Keep those snapshots, save them, back them up, treasure them like the gold they are.  On the very same hand though, make sure you build a relationship with an exceptional professional photographer who will craft remarkable images of you and your family at regular intervals in your life so you can display them in your home and craft beautiful albums to treasure forever.  Just remember that the snapshots fill in all the little gaps in your life in between those visits to your photographer.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!


And I don’t just mean your immediate family but your family in general?

With Christmas fast approaching us here in Sugarbush it struck me this week that this is the first time my family will be celebrating Christmas together in many years.  For the 5 years Jen and I were in Australia, we certainly weren’t here for Christmas.  Before that, we were living in Yellowknife and while I don’t remember the last time we were home at Christmas, I know it was several years before we left for Australia.  So, I suppose, this could be the first time in a DECADE!!!! that we’ve been together for Christmas.

Now, I’m sure my mum will correct me here and remind of the last time we were here for Christmas, but I have no recollection of it, so it must be a while back.  I’m kinda looking forward to it.

We had some great Christmases in Australia, for sure.  While we never experienced the quintessiatlly Australia Christmas scene lolling around on the beach, we certainly enjoyed some serious seafood Christmases.  Remembering the insane gastronomical delights of Griffo’s first Roxby Christmas, just now… So much seafood, I don’t think I’ve ever seen!

Anyway, what’s my point?  Well, this year is pretty special then isn’t it?  Oh, I haven’t mentioned the other bit.  I think my sister’s wedding is probably the last time we were all in a photo together, too, and that was more than just a few years ago – though, as a typical brother I don’t remember just how long ago!)  Right so, you can probably see where I’m headed with this.  My family doesn’t know it yet, so shhhhh… oh rats, mum follows me on twitter so she’ll see the tweet when this gets posted, so I guess the cat’s out of the bag anyway.

Oh right, sorry.  So, yeah.  Family portrait and Christmas together.  Momentous occasion!  This year as we celebrate Christmas we’ll also be celebrating that we are all together again and healthy.  And we will mark that celebration with a family portrait.

I have something pretty special up my sleeve for this portrait, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise but suffice it to say, I think it’s going to be pretty darn cool.

Now, back to my lead-off question.  How often is your family together?  How do you celebrate that?  How often do you mark the occasion with a fabulous portrait?  And here’s a thought, the portraits you have now, are they up-to-date?  Is it something that is always on your to-do list?  Why not make this year the year to get that item stroked off your list?

Oh, and just quietly, Jen and I are around all through Christmas and New Years, so if you’d like us to help you out with a family portrait, just give us a shout and I’m sure we’ll be able to squeeze you in!


The day started out as a straight forward family portrait of an extended family.  After an initial phone chat with Ginny about her family and her desire for a family portrait, Jen and I went to their house on Lake Simcoe for a pre-session consultation so that we could get to know our client and have a great understanding of their expectations.  The basic requirement for the day was a tasteful, traditional portrait in a casual setting on their lakefront property.  The family dogs being just as important as the people, the challenge was set to produce a fabulous portrait with two girls under 5, 3 dogs and 6 adults.  Bring it!

Yes, you read that right.  Many a photographer would run for the hills after hearing that specification!  Fact is, most photographers shy away from the traditional family photograph as it is, let alone mixing in the dogs.  With not one, but three dogs, it’s a recipe for a challenge.  Good thing we love working with kids, dogs and families.

Come the day, not only did we capture this terrific family, but we managed to create some fabulous pet portraits of the three dogs and the pooch being doggy-sat, a second family portrait, again with their two dogs, and we squeezed in a mini-couples session for the newly-wed son and daughter-in-law.

Definitely a big day, but we’ll let you be the judge.

Stayed tuned (or subscribe!) for coming posts about the pets and the newly-weds…

(Oh and be sure to hit the full-screen button on the slideshow – the images look WAY better super-sized!)