Emma + Tom | Steam Whistle Brewery Wedding

Occasionally, in life you meet couples who have a very quiet confidence about their relationship. They’re the couple who “just gets” one another without needing to put their love on display. That’s the type of romance I saw between Emma and Tom during their engagement session as well as their wedding day.
They’re the type of couple who challenges me to be more observant. Their moments of affection are very sincere and sweet but they also happen when no one else seems to be looking. They’re the couple who flirts with one another whilst everyone else is busy watching slides on the jumbo screen or giving a speech.
Emma and Tom are a very special couple who have clearly earned their place with their friends and family. It tales an exceptional couple to round up 20+ friends to join their immediate wedding party but they had a bus full of friends happy to celebrate their love.
Beyond their friendships and stolen moments with one another, Emma and Tom have a family who clearly loves them both very much. I can’t say I cry at weddings very often but I couldn’t help but choke back a few tears during the Mother-Son Dance. To date, the photo of Tom with his mother is one of my favourites. There’s no feeling quite like the bitter-sweetness of seeing a child you raised grow into an amazing adult…while also having to let them go and start their own family.


Mary + Alex | The Warehouse

From photographing their engagement last year to watching them get married this summer, I can truly see what Mary meant when she said, “Alex the yin to my yang”.
On the surface they seem to be opposites but you know what they say about opposites…
Mary is an attentive and deeply caring person who seems to thrive in Alex’s presence. He has an incredible way of making her feel calm when she’s nervous. Although they’ve been together for a very long time (starting with their days working retail together), they have a fresh and loving energy that’s typically seen in new romances.
Their wedding day was very sweet and made a point to celebrate the moments they had both looked forward to: Mary’s father seeing her in her gown for the first time, their beautiful letters to one another, the look of happiness as they both left the church and, of course, Alex’s approval of the delicious wedding cake (courtesy of Love in Bloom Cakes). The kids at the wedding were the life of the party and there’s nothing like having Vladimir Putin close out the night.
Mary and Alex, thank you for allowing me to document one of the most special days in your life! I wish you all the best in your decades ahead, together.


Ceremony Venue: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
Party Venue: The Warehouse Event Venue

Wedding Coordinator: Open Sky Weddings
Florist: Thorn Floral
Cake Artist: Love in Bloom Cakes
Hair and Makeup: Glam Galz Inc
Videographer: Twenty5Films
DJ: Music in Motion
Fiddle Player: Brigit O’Regan

Mary + Alex | North York Engagement

When Mary reached out to me about her engagement, I knew immediately she and her fiancee Alex were my kind of people. Not only are they neighbours, but they love The Keg steaks and hate fussy photos as much as I do.
There was a very natural flow between the two of them which I couldn’t help but admire. It was easy to see that Alex is absolutely smitten with Mary. The way he looks at her is exactly the way most girls dream of being looked at.
Although the morning of their engagement session started out cloudy, I’m convinced their love cleared the clouds away just in time for us to meet!


Announcement: Zoella Yoanna Blue

*clears out crickets* Ahem....

  For those of you wonderful enough to have been visiting my website regularly over the past year, you may have noticed things have been quiet.  I should clarify that I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth.  In fact, I love getting emails from you guys and keeping up with the exciting updates in your lives.  As such, I have a big update of my own...

Zoella Yoanna Blue April 30th, 2018 - 2:30pm 6lbs, 4oz

Zoella Yoanna Blue
April 30th, 2018 - 2:30pm
6lbs, 4oz

  The announcement is a long time coming.  Ben and I have waited for this little girl for a few years and we're overwhelmed with joy.  There's no feeling like laying in bed with your husband and fussing over how cute every little detail about your baby is.  Her fluffy hair, her gummi feet, the way her baby breath smells like yogurt...they're funny, little things that remind you why small moments matter just as much.


  Naturally, with pregnancy and a newborn, my time has been stretched pretty thin.  The pregnancy was not as easy as my first one and it's taken us some time to get Zoella on a sleeping schedule.  Although I've been keeping up and staying in touch with all the amazing people I work with, my website and social media presence has been on a hiatus.  


  Now that Zoella is 4 months old (and sleeping better), I'm excited to get back on track!  I'll be updating my blog to catch up with some of the excitement I've kept up with since last summer.  

I can't wait to share more with everyone!

All my love,

Toronto Osgoode Hall Elopement: Dione + John (Part I)

Tall, slender and impeccably dressed, Dione approached me in her favourite coffee shop downtown.  We agreed to meet on a chilly afternoon and talk about her wedding next year.  The more she told me, the bigger my smile grew!  I seem to be a magnet for long-distance romance stories and this one falls uniquely into place.  With a smile on her face, Dione told me all about John - an accomplished professional, living in New York, who has a weakness for PC gaming. I can see why they are a wonderful compliment to one another.  On first glance, Dione may seem shy and demure but she is playful, funny and very charming.  Making friends comes naturally to her which must be why she enjoys going out dancing so much!

Although Dione and John are having their big wedding in 2018, they decided that before the big party takes place, it would be nice to have a quiet ceremony.  They've chosen to begin married life by taking more than one leap as (later this year) they will be moving to England.  I felt very honored to be there to document their more intimate elopement in Toronto before we photograph the big bash next year!

Our first destination, on the beautiful April day, was the Toronto City Hall.  There I had the chance to meet some of the couple's closest friends and relatives as they said their "I do's":

Once I got Dione and John alone, it didn't take long for the shenanigans to begin.  It all started with a simple zipper check that left us in near-tears with laughter!

Once you have a few laughs about a fly being down, it really sets a nice and lighthearted tone for the session.  We got to do a bit of dancing and crack a few more jokes about who can headbutt whom the hardest.  Can you tell that silly people are my favourite? ;-)

Not only are Dione and John an absolute joy to have spent an hour with, they are also incredibly sweet to one another.  There was an air of genuine happiness in their presence.  The day (having started out cloudy) seemed to have warmed and brightened up just in time!  Dione looked perfectly in her spring element with her elegant lilac dress.

I cannot express enough gratitude that such a wonderful couple has found my photography service.  Their genuine personalities and good nature made my time with them feel like anything but work.  

John and Diane, I wish you all the best in your marriage and I can't wait to see you again in 2018!

All my Love,

First Venue: Toronto City Hall
Second Venue: Osgoode Hall

Hitched Wedding Magazine - May 2017 Feature!!!

The May 2017 issue of Hitched Wedding Magazine is bursting with gorgeous bridal inspiration!  I have had the utmost pleasure of working with an amazing team in bringing this inspirational photo shoot to life!

The concept was the brain-child of Toronto hair stylist, Samantha Wilson of Sam's Hair Band.  Samantha organized an amazing team for the photo shoot which includes:

Beautiful Model: Lada
Makeup: Erin Wheatley Makeup
Custom Designed Gowns: Maureen Patricia Bridal
Flower Crowns: Lady Hayes
Candles: Live and Lather

And, of course, yours truly behind the camera!

Cute as a Button: Zana's 2nd Birthday Party!

Somewhere between the time we anxiously prepare the rooms of our soon-to-be-born children and a moments blink, they grow up.  They go from being adorable, little people-blobs to personalities with interests and preferences.  

When Zana's beautiful mom reached out to me to document her daughter's 2nd birthday party, I was excited.  Two year olds are some of my favourite people in the world!  They have no filter and no sense of self consciousness.  From the moment they wake up, they just wanna party and that's the vibe I'm all about!

When I first met Zana, the first thing she showed me was her favourite place to take photos and her best dance moves:

Once we did a bit of dancing and Zana finished posing for some of the formal family portraits with her grandparents, we took a play break so she could show me her favourite toys:

The best part of the day was getting to see Zana's amazing personality!  She called me over to let me know that (now that she's a sophisticated 2 year old) she goes to the big potty...

...She's also really good at getting the party started!  I wish I knew how to get a room full of people to chant my name as I bust out some of my best moves...

...and she is SO funny, I spent most of the time snort-laughing behind my camera!

Once all was said and done, it was time to get Zana into her party outfit (which proved to be a job for 3 people and a lollipop)...

Zana finally got to blow out her candles but not before sneaking a swipe of the frosting! :-D

My dearest Zana, I hope you enjoy being a free spirited two year old!  Please, never change! :-)

A Boy and His Dogs

The arrival of a first child is monumental!  When a biological baby comes along, there's no doubt in anyone's mind that you're finally a mom or dad.  What some forget is that a lot of us have fur-babies before our own children are born.  They're sweet, little souls who are often practice babies as we settle into a life that's stable enough for the real deal.  

I first met Anastassia in my neighbourhood, years ago - back when (Dachshund) Angel was her only baby.  Seeing as how Angel and my Rottie took a real liking to one another, Anastassia and I chatted while the dogs played.  Over the years we'd run into each other at dog parks.  One day, Anastassia had a surprise with her: a brand new (Rottie-mix) puppy named Aurora and a pregnant belly!

When little Imari was finally born, I felt it was an honour to photograph him!  He is the absolute cutest puddin-pop I've seen in ages!

Being mindful of the baby and dog dynamic, I made sure to ask how the dogs are with Imari.  The bad news is the dogs are no longer the babies.  The good news is they don't seem to mind at all.  In fact, they love Imari and have settled into their nanny roles very comfortably!

All puppers aside, I spent most of my time fussing over how adorable Imari is.  His powdery baby smell and adorable coos were absolutely heart melting.  If he's this much of a lady-killer now, I can only imagine the trail of broken hearts he's sure to leave, some day...

Before You Give Up on Your Fashion Sense, Stop and Read This!

Let me tell you about Carling!  She is one of the coolest people I've had the pleasure of meeting in 2016.  The first thing I noticed when we met is how well dressed she is.  Rightfully so, as she is the mastermind behind Through Her Style, a lifestyle blog that heavily focuses on fashion!


I can hold my own in what I've affectionately nicknamed the Val Uniform; a Mark Zuckerberg-like attire consisting of 3-quarter Adidas tights and black turtlenecks.  I have a closet full of both.  

Beyond that, "getting dressed" becomes an anxiety-ridden episode of me running around the house, whirlwinding clothes everywhere and yelling at my skinny jeans for being...get this...too skinny.  

I'm very creative in many ways but putting together stylish outfits is not one of them.  That's where Carling comes in....


Her blog is a great place for the style-challenged (such as myself) to get some great ideas!  She has a way of putting together interesting pieces of clothing and making them look fun, fresh and city-chic.  

Perhaps, like myself, your passion for your work and family has taken up all of your attention and put you out of touch with fashion.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe you are that stylish city babe and you're just looking for some more ideas on what to wear to your engagement photoshoot.  


Whatever the case may be, don't miss out on Through Her Style!  It's a great source for lifestyle fashion, beauty and travel!

Featured on: Slip Into It and The Blanket Scarf

Toronto Distillery District Wedding: Danielle + Scott

Their lives started out on opposite sides of the globe but somehow, destiny brought them together.  After meeting one another, Danielle and Scott spent the next few years moving their relationship between his home in Australia and her home in Canada.   As a couple, they were so sweet I almost got a toothache.  It was clear why the distance, once separating them, was only meant to prepare them for the closeness they would create in the years to come.

On a Friday evening, an intimate group of friends and family gathered at the Toronto Christmas Market to watch this gorgeous couple take their vows of marriage.  The warmth of candlelight and feel-good holiday vibes made Cluny Bistro the perfect setting for a winter wedding.

Cluny Bistro, Toronto Christmas Market wedding "I do"

Cluny Bistro, Toronto Christmas Market wedding "I do"

Cluny Bistro, Distillery District wedding "you may now kiss"

Cluny Bistro, Distillery District wedding "you may now kiss"

Tears of joy were shed by many...

...and then those tears turned into complete and utter happiness! 

We made our way to the iconic Love sign where the couple braved below-freezing weather for their portraits.  Still floating on the adrenaline of the beautiful ceremony, their loving interactions and happy smiles kept the frostbite away.

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, "Love"

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, "Love"

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, "Love"

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, "Love"

On our portrait adventure, we walked through a cloud of compliments from visitors of the Distillery District.  Everyone had their eyes on the beautiful bride!

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, Distillery District

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, Distillery District

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, Distillery District

Toronto Christmas Market wedding, Distillery District

Getting to know the wedding party was a blast!  Danielle and Scott's friends were as charming and funny as one can only hope.  Scott's groomsmen flew all the way from Australia to razz him about being "good...but not great..." at a lot of things.  Danielle has an entourage of her own:  elegant girlfriends, ones who clearly adore her for how beautiful, encouraging, educated and nerdy she is.  She's their go-to girl for deep discussions about the String Theory.

Cluny Bistro wedding, "let the fun begin"

Cluny Bistro wedding, "let the fun begin"

There were many tender moments...

A beautiful moment between the bride and groom

A beautiful moment between the bride and groom

I found them sharing a laugh over what I can only assume is them re-reading speeches

I found them sharing a laugh over what I can only assume is them re-reading speeches

...and just as many silly and hilarious moments!

I couldn't help but snort-laugh photographing this moment.  I loved seeing such an elegant women act playful.

I couldn't help but snort-laugh photographing this moment.  I loved seeing such an elegant women act playful.

Nothing like reactions during speeches

Nothing like reactions during speeches

I would say the groomsmen thoroughly enjoyed the POM Wonderful speech

I would say the groomsmen thoroughly enjoyed the POM Wonderful speech

Equally as funny, the ladies at the wedding entertained everyone by serenading one another with Lana Del Rey songs. 

Equally as funny, the ladies at the wedding entertained everyone by serenading one another with Lana Del Rey songs. 

He caught me trying to sneak a photo but the payoff was amazing

He caught me trying to sneak a photo but the payoff was amazing

...but nothing beat Danielle's stories of how she knew she was in love and how she knew Scott was The One.  She knew she loved him when, several months into dating, she found his hilarious Facebook letter to POM Wonderful.  Through his deep love of their fruit juice, Scott couldn't look past their outrageous 25% price hike.  Only a world-wide pomegranate crisis would justify such a financial leap.

When Scott moved to Canada, their bond strengthened when taking walks home after work.  Having heard all the horror stories of Canadian winters, Scott bought himself a proper winter jacket.  Although Danielle made fun of Scott's huge jacket, she soon found herself at the mercy of karma.  Day after day, Danielle underdressed for the frigid weather and each time, Scott chivalrously offered his jacket, never complaining of having to walk home in a t-shirt.  If you were to see Scott's expression as Danielle retold the story of how she knew he was The One, you would see that each word accentuated how much she truly means to him.  

Danielle and Scott, thank you for the honour of welcoming me at such a special day in your lives.  I wish you nothing but the best as you begin your lives together!  May you never experience a pomegranate shortage. 

Much Love and Appreciation,

Venue: Cluny Bistro

Officiant: Kim Adeney

Heads Up: Warpaint in Toronto

  If you could do one thing [today] to be happy, what would you do?  That's an important question to ask yourself.  We usually know the answer to this question but we don't like answering it.  One reason may be that we think we won't be able to do what we want.  Another, more common reason, is that we're afraid of being uncomfortable.  Having said that, pushing ourselves is one of the best ways to grow.  That's why I frequently photograph personal projects that are outside of my photography genre.  

Warpaint is an L.A. based band that I won't even try to classify.  They're four, hyper-talented musicians who happen to know how to cross a multitude of genres and make it sound as cool as we wish our lives looked on Facebook.  If you've never heard of them before, you should visit their site and prepare to fall in love!   (from left: Jenny Lee Lindberg, Emily Kokal)

Warpaint is an L.A. based band that I won't even try to classify.  They're four, hyper-talented musicians who happen to know how to cross a multitude of genres and make it sound as cool as we wish our lives looked on Facebook.  If you've never heard of them before, you should visit their site and prepare to fall in love! 

(from left: Jenny Lee Lindberg, Emily Kokal)

  Concert photography is a great way to challenge yourself.  Photographing in a different genre forces you to think and approach your work very differently.  Recently, I took an amazing opportunity to photograph a band I've loved for a long time - I'm talkin Myspace days.  It's amazing to see Warpaint come so far over the past 9 years that I've been a fan.  I admit that the decision between getting the shot and dancing my butt off was tough.

Warpaint at Danforth Music Hall - Toronto, ON (from left: Theresa Wayman, Emily Kokal; back: Jenny Lee Lindberg)

Warpaint at Danforth Music Hall - Toronto, ON (from left: Theresa Wayman, Emily Kokal; back: Jenny Lee Lindberg)

  With concert photography, you're typically told: "No flash, first 3 songs only.  Go!"  It forces you to leave the training wheels at home.  The venues are typically dark and most bands take 3-5 songs to warm up before they start doing the really cool stuff so there are a lot of limitations.  That forces you to have to think quickly and see interesting moments.  You have to know your camera and you have to have to be sharp about rules that make for good photography.  

Warpaint at Danforth Music Hall (pictured: Stella Mozgawa)

Warpaint at Danforth Music Hall (pictured: Stella Mozgawa)

  This is one of my examples of being confident with uncertainty.  There was a part of me that felt comfortable staying home that evening.  There was a part of me that felt overwhelmed with all the other, unimportant things I convinced myself I had to do that day.  However, there was also a part of me that wanted to be better than I was the day before.  Making the commitment to push myself was a great decision.  One I'd encourage everyone to try.  

I would love to hear other people's stories of getting comfortable with discomfort!

Photography Heightens Self-Esteem in Children

If you ask the typical family "who cares most about family photos?" most will agree that it's mom.  It seems that mom is on to something that psychologists have been exploring in the recent past.  

David Walsh, founder and director of Mind Positive Parenting has given a very interesting interview with LifeTouch where he talks about why photographs of children help them to establish a sense of belonging.  He says, “One of the reasons that photography is so powerful is that we’re a very visual species. We have, of course, five senses but we have more brain cells dedicated to vision than all of the other senses combined.”  

We celebrate the birthdays. We memorialize the family holiday celebrations. We remember being on that softball team.”  Every time a child brings home their yearbook, Walsh says, “The first thing they look for is to see where they show up in that book.” This is why photographs become a point of reference in the child's relationships with others.  “When we see photographs of ourselves at celebrations or family events, they reinforce belonging, which is so critical to all of us, not just our children.”  

Photographs are helpful in that they allow for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit.  Most experts will agree that the value of printed photos far exceeds viewing them digitally.  Placing photos where a child can see them daily provides children with a sense of comfort and reassurance.  It's a wonderful reminder that you've taken the time to display their photographs because you love them, find them beautiful and want to see them every day.  

In "The Magic of Encouragement" (Morrow, 1990), child psychotherapist Stephanie Marston suggests placing two pictures of a child next to his or her bed. One should show the child happily engaged in an activity, such as riding a bike, playing softball, etc. The other should show family togetherness.

"Why put them next to their beds?" she asks. "Research has shown the 30-minute time period just before bed is when children are more receptive and listen and absorb more than any other time. Put photos of your kids being capable and loved next to their beds," she says, "and these positive images are likely to be the last thing they see before they sleep and the first thing they see when they awaken."

Professor Geoff Beattie, Head of School and Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester says, "We cannot underestimate the power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging. They cement us into our networks. It's very significant that the two reasons people give for loving a particular photograph is that it reminds them of a happy time taken with family. These things are so important to us."

"Until recently, people often thought of photographs as almost trivial, but actually they are an incredibly important way of connecting with our sense of self, with each other and with times gone by."


Medium Rare: Understanding the Photographer's Value

The painters have their paint.  The sculptors have their clay.  The carpenters have their wood.  That is their medium.  When we think about certain artists, we don’t question what their medium is because it’s fairly obvious.  That makes it a lot easier to appreciate their skill.  After all, we’re aware that we don’t have the skill or patience to replicate their work.  Most of us have no clue how to mix paints, chisel stone or cut wood.  We leave that to the professionals.  Likewise, one would never approach a painter to say, “That painting is beautiful!  You must have a really expensive paint brush.”

Anyone who has ever invested in a professional photographer will recall the price related sticker shock.  The prices leave many people wondering “Why am I paying thousands for something my nephew can do with his smartphone?” 

Some clients may be somewhat more agreeable.  They may reason that the price points are connected to the equipment a photographer has to purchase.  After all, photography equipment is incredibly expensive.  It stands to reason that the average photographer charges the kind of prices they do because they need to pay for that equipment.    For those prospective clients who have no interest in financing a photographer’s new toy collection, this concept can be very off putting.  Likewise, it creates the impression that a photographer’s value is directly linked with how expensive their equipment is. 

On the other side of the spectrum is the photographer.  I cannot tell you how many online platforms are dedicated to frustrated photographers.  As good quality digital photography products become increasingly accessible to the average consumer, many photographers are beginning to feel like their craft is dying.  No one appreciates good photography anymore.  No one wants to pay thousands for talent when they have a friend of a friend “with a nice camera”. 

Many photographers are desperately trying to find a solution to this problem.  There are many sources out there encouraging photographers to educate their clients.  After all, a photographer’s work doesn’t end once the shutter has released.  There are hours spent, after the day of the event, when the photographer painstakingly culls the images, edits them and orders products on your behalf.  And that’s giving you the condensed version of the reality.  However, this reality doesn’t address the problem.

As someone with years of corporate sales experience, I can spot the problem almost instantly.  Clients don’t want to hear sob stories.  Everyone has bills, everyone has responsibilities and everyone has road blocks on their personal road to having a comfortable lifestyle.  Throwing money into the wind is better left for celebrities in rap music videos.  This is why hearing your photographer cry about all the work they’ll have to do to finalize your product will never justify the cost to you, as the client.   As the one investing in the service, your question will always be, “What are you giving me in exchange for my money that someone else wouldn’t?” 

“A sad story,” is not the answer clients seek.  In my opinion, it’s better to educate the average non-photographer about the photographer’s medium.  If you don’t yet know, allow me to blow your mind: light!  The photographer’s medium is light.  Once you understand that, everything else falls into place.  Photographers understand, shape, control and sometimes even create light.  That is the key difference between a professional photographer and Uncle Bob with the nice camera. 

I won’t completely discredit technology.  There are multi-million dollar photography brands whose focus it is to create intelligent tools.  With today’s technology, anyone can create a nice enough photo, sometimes.  Heck - anyone can even (on rare occasions) fall ass-backwards into a great photo!  However, until one understands light, they will never be a consistent photographer who produces beautiful images, again and again.  One’s camera is simply a utensil they use to execute what they want to produce with their medium.  A nicer spoon won't make you a neater dinner guest.  For anyone who has ever used power tools, you know that handing an amateur contractor a set of brand new Makita products will not improve their skill.  Yes, the tools will be faster.  Yes, they will be smoother, more reliable and they will generally perform better.  But they will not change how good the contractor is or whether they’re so good that they deserve to be called an artist. 

Photography and its medium are no different.  In order to learn and grow, photographers spend years learning about light.  A great photographer will know how to shape the light they focus on their subject in such a way that highlights only the best.  They will know how to troubleshoot lighting imperfections, as well.  A thorough explanation of the Inverse Square Law is a topic for another day but that is one of the pieces of knowledge separating a professional photographer from Timmy with the T3i. 

Understanding what a photographer’s medium is, is a key factor in educating non-photographers.  Paying for an artist’s knowledge and expertise with their medium is the value point that makes sense.  You’re no longer investing in someone’s equipment and you’re not purchasing a service because you feel guilty about the photographer’s ability to feed their family.  You’re investing in your memories.  You’re giving yourself some security that the photographer will capture you and your loved ones in a way that will remain honest and beautiful even as life changes.   

5 Questions That Instantly Make You Think Like a Photographer

You're not a photographer!  Before that shocks or offends you, allow me to elaborate.  This post is not intended for those with photography knowledge.  Perhaps you're in the market to hire a photographer for a special event but you can't tell the difference between the $100 and $5000 photographer.  Maybe you're the kind of person who pours over the work of the greats but you're too shy to start your journey toward developing this craft.  Better yet, you may be an Instagramer who simply wants to take better photos with their smartphone.  Whatever your story may be, without formal education, you may be having a hard time telling a great photo apart from an average one.  After all, in your mind, the photo you took looks pretty much the same as someone who is getting a lot more recognition.  Why should they have all the attention?  Sure, some of that may (in part) be due to the fact that the person has already built up a reputation or a following.  But just to be sure, let's review some basic questions you can ask yourself before you post your image:

1. "How straight is my horizon?"

This is a common mistake for those who are just starting out.  You want to be creative so it becomes tempting to tilt your horizon.  Or worse, perhaps you were not aware of the horizon whatsoever.  Maybe you took a beautiful photo of a place but you're bothered looking at it, wondering why something feels "off".  It could be due to the fact that your horizon is uncomfortably tilted at a 10-20 degree angle.  Always check your horizon and ensure that the angle is even.

2. "Did I square up?"

Squaring up is a big part of composition and yet, it's commonly overlooked by beginner photographers.  You may already be aware of the Rule of Thirds - and if you are, that's great - but here's a great way to take things to the next level.  Pretend you're standing in front of a wall.  Squaring up means that regardless of how close/far you are from the wall, the view of your camera should be on a flat angle, parallel to the wall itself.  No part of the wall should be closer or farther from the vantage point - the entire wall is even in closeness to you.  This allows your audience to identify your subject faster.  Once you're squared up, other (more advanced) composition options can be exercised more effectively.

3. "How are my colours?"

Are colours something you think about when taking photos?  Because, if they're not, it's time to give them the respect they deserve.  It's relatively easy to take a photo, slap an Instagram filter on it (or Photoshop Action) and call it art.  More advanced colour theory is a topic that can be stretched over several posts outside of this one so I won't get too deep into it.  For now, remember a couple of key points:  Firstly, the brighter the colour, the more attention it will demand.  If you'd like to emphasize your subject, be mindful of objects you leave in the background that may be more saturated in colour.  Secondly, clashing colours will dull your image.  Familiarize yourself with the Colour Wheel and try to use colours that compliment your subject.  Lastly...for the love of all that is good...please don't spot-colour.  It's arguably the biggest eye sore in photography and even the best of photographers have a tough time executing it well.  

4. "What is the brightest point in my image"

This is an easy one.  Take an image - any image will do.  Place it in front of you and squint.  What is the lightest part of the image?  Is it the same as the first thing you noticed when you looked at the photo?  The answer will almost always be "yes".  Our sight responds to light and dark.  Therefore, if you have something in the image which is lighter than your intended subject, you may be drawing attention away from the subject itself.  

5. "How sharp is my subject?"

There are those images which may be so blurry, we immediately spot the problem.  However, often times the blur is subtle.  As a rule of thumb with photographing people, you want their eyes to be the sharpest part of the image.  Certainly if their gaze is directed at the camera.  This gives your human (or pet) subject a bit of life in an otherwise 2 dimensional situation.  A slight blur on the eyes can take away a bit of the magic and knock a great photo down into mediocrity.  

Keeping these tips and tricks in mind, your photos should improve immediately.  Yes, you can break these "rules".  But before you do, ask yourself why you're breaking them.  Is it because of artistic purposes or is it perhaps a bit of laziness?  I won't pretend to have the final word on what makes a perfect photograph.  All I know is what great photographers have learned to do effortlessly.  Scrolling through the pages of websites like 500px, you will see plenty of incredible photographers - and you will also see a lot of these very simple rules being used.  Whether you try these rules out using a smartphone camera or you're lucky enough to have a Hassie for a toy, the concepts are all the same.  I hope this was enjoyable and informative!