Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hulahoop Children's Photography: #Review

"There is nothing so beautiful as to see a picture of your child in an instant of wonder when they didn't even know anyone was looking. It's that moment that I strive to capture [...], ensuring that all of those little moments will never be forgotten." - Nicola

Hulahoop Children's Photography is owned and operated by natural light photographer Nicola Toon, who specializes in newborn, baby and child photography and serves the Region of Waterloo (Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge) and surrounding areas.

I met Nicola this past August at the Momstown KW birthday bash, as Hulahoop was one of the local brands featured at the event. Nicola had a photo booth set up and was snapping whimsical pics of wee ones in attendance, so we offered up our daughter S to take part in the action. Turns out the photobooth pics would be entered in a contest to win a free Christmas mini-session! All entries would be posted on Facebook, and the photo with the most "likes" would win the session.

S downright refused to smile during her li'l shoot. Yet, Nicola was able to work with this and captured another side of her - the soulful dreamer. Bathed in a bright, yet delicate natural light, the resulting photo had an almost ethereal quality to it.

Needless to say, I was impressed! If Nicola was able to produce a work of art like this from a 3-minute shoot and a few quick adjustments, imagine what she could do with a full-length session and more in-depth editing? A browse through her portfolio gave me a pretty good idea:

I was determined to win the mini-session for S, however we came up just short. (First place was unstoppable!) But I wasn't about to give up there, as I had an idea! I was eager to experience more of Nicola's work first hand (with S as her lovely subject), and exposure is always good for a business, so I contacted her to see if she would like to partner on a blog feature. I was delighted to hear that she was game!

From the moment we began to plan our session, Nicola was professional, enthusiastic and helpful. Chris and I were happy to lean on her expertise when it came to choosing time (evening), location (a favourite, light-friendly spot near her house), what to wear (light colours), etc. We set a date for the shoot and were all set to go!

Or so we thought.

A day before the meet-up, S had an "altercation" with a flimsy chair, and the result wasn't pretty.

The next day, our daughter's spirits were in better shape but her bruise wasn't, so I contacted Nicola to see if we should reschedule. She took a look at the battle scar and declared it wouldn't be a problem - removing it would be an easy edit.

So off we drove to Cambridge, shiner and all. The late Summer weather was perfect - warm, sunny and calm. We met Nicola at her house, drove for a few minutes and then enjoyed a lovely, conversation-filled stroll down a woodsy path toward our destination. Along the way, we learned the following facts about our photographer-to-be:
  • She's a go-getter - when she sets her heart and mind to do something, she succeeds! 
  • She has two little boys with a third child on the way (they're hush hush on the gender!)
  • She has a penchant for candid photos which capture those honest, genuine moments. Her home is adorned with these types of centerpieces of her family members.
  • She began dabbling in serious photography out of a desire to effectively capture her children in those tough "movement" shots. She began to learn the fundamentals and hasn't looked back!
  • And finally, guess how long she's been doing this gig for? Give up? Just ONE YEAR. I couldn't believe this given her current level and depth of talent. She has obviously found her natural calling!

Alright, back to the shoot! We emerged into a grassy plain (which I was pretty sure I recognized from some of Nicola's past photos) and got to work setting up the first scene. Chris got some nice photos and video footage of the setup and the first few shots.

Unlike the Momstown event, S was all smiles and chuckles that evening! She especially liked the soft basket prop, running her hands through the fluffy material and making absolutely no attempt to squirm away (which is certainly rare for her!)

Nicola had a number of techniques to command our li'l monkey's attention, from rattles to amusing vocalizations. She also provided guidance on how we could help "coach" S and keep things running smoothly. When one (or both) of us were in the scene as well, she gave us a few suggestions for positions/poses but otherwise encouraged us to do what came naturally in order to encourage those candid moments.

All in all, we tried a dozen or so different setups / backdrops. Most of them took place in the clearing, and a few happened on the woodsy path on our way out. The entire shoot lasted about an hour and a half.

On our way home, Chris and I chatted about the experience. We both agreed that the session had a good balance of structure and spontaneity (as Chris put it, there was "a plan with no plan" :), and we found Nicola to be refreshingly down-to-earth, honest and upfront.

Next step - edits!

Photo editing is a huuuuuge part of the process when it comes to professional photography (versus your run-of-the-mill portrait studio). It takes substantial time, effort and skill. Nicola mentioned that many photographers outsource their editing, but she does it herself out of a desire to retain creative control over the process. In the post processing stage, she does things like warm the colours, brighten skin tones, smooth skin, fix blemishes or bruises, boost colours and contrast and sharpen fine details like eyelashes. These adjustments, while perhaps subtle individually, can really make an image "pop"!

To illustrate, Nicola sent me a "SOOC" (straight out of the camera) image from our session to compare with the edited version. Wow - what a difference! And that ugly ol' bruise we were so concerned with? Gonzo!

Here are a few of our other favourite shots from the session. I was very pleased with the quality of the photos as well as the variety Nicola managed to capture - both in terms of backgrounds/themes and emotion.

I was impressed by the follow-up coverage Nicola provided on our session as well. She posted an edited "teaser" photo on the Hulahoop Children's Photography Facebook page within a few days and then published a lovely blog post including more photos within a week. Finally, our complete online viewing gallery (in the Client Proofing section of her website) was ready within two weeks. I've been following her updates since, and I can vouch for the fact that Nicola provides the same coverage and turnaround times for all clients - even when she's super-busy.

Once our gallery was ready, we had a tough decision on our hands - choose the digital negatives (allowing us to make printouts as we wished), take advantage of Nicola's own printing services (which ensure top quality prints) or a combination of the two? (Nicola offers a "best value" combo package consisting of both digital negatives AND a selection of larger prints.) We ended up opting for the digital negatives as we weren't sure exactly which large prints we wanted at the time, though Nicola ensured me that she keeps all clients photos for at least a year, so we can go back to her at a later date if we decide we want a gallery-wrapped canvas or another type of large print.

In terms of pricing, we found Nicola's rates extremely reasonable, especially considering the dedicated, personalized service she provides. You can view her session fees on her website, and contact her for her latest prices and options for portraiture.

Nicola also offers a referral program for her clients (including personalized business cards!) allowing substantial savings on future sessions and print orders. On this note, if anyone in Waterloo Region would like to take advantage of Hulahoop's services, feel free to give me a nudge! If we do end up having another wee one at some point, I would loooove to take advantage of Nicola's incredible newborn photography skills. Just take a look at this twin shot. Priceless!

All in all, I would highly recommend Hulahoop Children's Photography if you are looking to capture wonderful memories of your children, or other special moments of your life. (She also does maternity, engagement and other themes/events!) Nicola is extremely talented and dedicated - to both her clients and her craft. She regularly attends workshops to hone her skills, continuously seeks out new shooting locations and offers client casting calls to try out new ideas.

To close, I'd love to share one more quote from "the girl behind the lens":

"Hiring a professional photographer is an investment. It's an investment I've made myself in the past, but it's one that I will never regret. As your photographer [...] it's my job to capture those beautiful moments and get them off your computer and onto your wall - where they belong. I do look forward to getting that chance." - Nicola

** Update 13-Nov-2011: View our complete gallery from the photo session here! **

Disclosure:  I received no financial compensation for writing my review, although I did receive a free photo session with Hulahoop Children's Photography.  This is my completely honest opinion above and may be different from yours.


  1. Those are some AMAZING shots!!! Looks like you had a wonderful time.

  2. Yep, that's Nicola, Professional, understanding and amazing at what she does :) Love her.

  3. I'm sorry..but what's the point of getting photos taken if they're touched up to be perfect? We complain all the time about the air brushing that grace magazine covers, models celebrities etc. Yet now we do it with our very own family photos? Ridiculous.