a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Oct, 2009

Family photoshoot at Westboro Beach (and a bit about work flow)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Photography

I had a photoshoot with a mother and her son at Westboro Beach last week.

They brought their dog to the shoot. The mom apologized but I was really happy about it. Family portraits should definitely include the family pet!

The dog was terribly excited – so high energy – that he wasn’t able to sit still for one single second. He chased the ducks, dug in the sand, ran up and down and up and down the beach, jumped and splashed in the water … I laughed and laughed.  We were all covered in sand by the end of it. It was totally hilarious.

We couldn’t chase him down. It didn’t matter. My focus was on this little family.

Can I tell you again how much I enjoy taking photos of people in a meaningful, natural environment? It makes my heart sing:


This foray into family photography has been an amazing learning experience. I always walk away with something new.

I’ve learned a little secret. Can I share? Never ask a shy child to smile. Or even worse, say cheese.  It’s best to get them talking about stuff:


… or just thinking about something you said:


Although bathroom humour is almost always certain to work, even if they’re about to slide out of a tree:


I’ve really found my groove over these past few months.

Here’s how I work. After the shoot I review all of the photos (all 200-300 of them) and delete the closed eyes and the grimaces. That being said I make a point of leaving in some of the outtakes, even if they’re not likely to be printed. For example, like when the dog gets a little overexcited and starts knocking people over:

See what I mean? Too cute not to keep. So yes, I delete some, keep others. And then I’m faced with the issue of post-processing. The term “post-processing” refers to anything that is done in the “digital darkroom” a.k.a Photoshop or other photo software. You can do anything with Photoshop, like take off 20 lbs, change the colour of someone’s eyes, brighten teeth, make wrinkles disappear etc. On a more basic level you can also use Photoshop to change colour and tone and make a photo darker or lighter.

I use Photoshop to crop and tweak my photos (if required), but I don’t like going overboard. Everyone has their own point of view on this topic – some photographers are wildly against post-processing, some don’t care – but I have to admit I tend to shy away from it.

There is a certain look that I do like, and that’s strong contrast with punchy black levels and great colour. That’s what I’m trying to achieve when I’m processing 200 client photos. But some people overdo it, or don’t get it just right. The processing has to fit the photo. When I see an overprocessed photo I immediately wonder what the photographer was trying to fix. Exposure issues? Colour balance? I’m not a big fan of overprocessing because if it’s not a good photograph to begin with it will take away more than it gives … and it just ends up being distracting, you know what I mean?

I could talk more about this stuff but I also recognize it’s pretty dull. And I need to get some work done today. So how about I switch tracks to something a little more exciting? Drum roll please … I have another giveaway coming up. It’s for Ottawa peeps, so check back tomorrow for details!

9 Responses to "Family photoshoot at Westboro Beach (and a bit about work flow)"

1 | Jennifer

October 29th, 2009 at 8:50 pm


They’re all beautiful. But I have to say I especially like the one with the pooch knocking over the little boy. Well it’s a toss up between that one and the one with the water in the background.

2 | BeachMama

October 29th, 2009 at 9:09 pm


Lovely photos Andrea, and it would seem you got a pretty nice day, a rarity this year.

We have a similar work flow, I love keeping and sharing the fun outtakes and sometimes they are my faves.

3 | shannon

October 30th, 2009 at 8:58 am


Andrea, I’m pretty new to your site. The photos are great, I love their expressions. Do you do these family candid shots as a business? I’m interested, please email me.


4 | Faux toes

October 30th, 2009 at 10:34 am


I enjoyed this post. I’m an amateur photographer and am always interested in the experience of serious (like you) and not-so-serious photographers. You’re right about rescuing photos with post-shoot software. It’s usually obvious but in some cases where the photo is really precious, you just have to rescue it. When this happens, I usually experiment a bit and go overboard with super high contrast or some fun super-colourful effect.

I was recently going through old folders of some of my best family photos. My eldest is 7 which is now makes for quite a chunk of special images. Scrolling through these, I am reminded of the importance of taking the time to photograph your children, family, and friends.

Got a few quick shots of the girls heading off to school this morn. Anne of Green Gables and her younger sister the world-famous ballerina look sooo happy. Yet another great moment for the scrapbook. I wonder if I will ever stop reaching for the camera? I hope not.

5 | Sonya

October 30th, 2009 at 12:59 pm


I’m so pleased your photo business is going well, Andrea! It’s been great to watch you develop this project.

And I’m so glad you shy away from overzealous post-processing. People are so much better “au natural”. When I was shopping around for a wedding photographer a few years ago, I was shocked at a few who demonstrated the extent of their post-processing including one who actually altered what the bride and groom LOOKED LIKE (beyond small touch ups – we’re talking altering face/body shapes like making his chin stronger, etc). And I was supposed to be impressed? Not hardly! lol

6 | sherry

October 30th, 2009 at 7:05 pm


As someone who loves taking photos there is nothing about this that can be classified as “pretty dull”. I love these posts!

7 | andrea

October 31st, 2009 at 8:31 am


Thanks everyone!

(Sonya: That is shocking! Wow. Altered wedding photos!)

8 | Shannon

October 31st, 2009 at 1:17 pm


Can I ask how you crop the corners to be rounded? I love the look, I do it all the time when scrapbooking.

9 | Shan

October 31st, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Lovely pictures. We just had our family pictures done by my brother, who owns a design firm that does photo and video work amongst other things. My littlest one can be a bit crabby at times and I was stressing about trying to get her to smile. His advice to me, just relax, these are good. And he was right. There are some of her smiling, but the “out takes” the ones where she’s scowling and doing the exact opposite of what we needed her to be doing are just as wonderful. A completely honest representation of who she is. So yeah, outtakes are great.

As for post production – personally, I shy away. Just using it for cropping or perhaps some mild tweaking. It helps that I know very little about photoshop so there isn’t much I can do. Same thing with my brother. He feels the more time he spends working on photos after the shoot is over the less money he’s making, he’d rather spend time making sure he’s getting great shots during the actual shoot. Looks like it’s a good strategy, because our family pictures are incredible straight out of the camera.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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