Capturing Outdoor Niagara with g3 Designs

By: Lauren Charley

“Passion” and “determination” are the words most frequently used by Mike Farkas when he describes his love for photography and how his business, g3 Designs, has come to be so successful since its establishment in 2009. He started the business on a dream, and refused to fail. Mike’s devotion to the art began seven years ago. After starting photography as a hobby, Mike’s dedication, eagerness to learn, and what he discovered was his natural talent, enabled him to quickly turn this activity from a favourite pastime into the career of his dreams. “I was so passionate about it, and then it became an obsession,” says Mike. Today, g3 Designs is a thriving photography company in the Niagara region, owned by Mike Farkas and assisted by Matt MacPherson, with a special emphasis on outdoor photos.

Farkas is a devoted husband and a father to a beautiful baby girl who was born in September 2013. Since becoming a father, Mike says he strives to turn g3 Designs into a legacy his daughter can grow up with and be proud of. He was born in Wainfleet, Ontario, but moved to St. Catharines in his early adult years, where he continues to reside today. After experimenting with different career paths as a carpenter and in sales, Mike decided to try photography, which he learned by practice and self-teaching, and it became his vocation. His experience with the camera began by taking pictures of family and friends, discovering that his favourite format was portraiture. “Portraiture is my favourite because I like to interact with people. I’ve always been a people person,” admits the artist.

The work at g3 Designs is done with the help of Mike’s assistant, Matt MacPherson. Matt moved to Beamsville from the Greater Toronto Area with his family in 1997. He was introduced to the art of photography and began working with g3 Designs 2 ½ years ago, where Mike introduced and taught him everything he needed to know about taking professional pictures. In addition to photography, Matt is an accomplished music producer and composer, and has won awards such as the 2013 Niagara Music Awards Song Writer of the Year. For g3 Designs, Matt accompanies Mike on the shoots, often capturing the candid moments between the photos taken by Mike, which often make beautiful and natural images.

Mike and Matt dedicate a lot of their time to outdoor photography. The appeal of the outdoors for Mike is that shoots are not so confined, and he says “it gives an opportunity to expand our backdrop.” In the outdoors where there is open space and nature to interact with, it is easier to capture the natural laughs and smiles of the subjects, especially children. Although Mike loves taking pictures outside, he admits it can be challenging when weather becomes an issue; but he always makes sure to have a backup plan such as an indoor shooting location, especially when working at one of the 25+ weddings he and Matt shoot each year. Outdoor photography does not need to be done only when it’s warm and sunny, however. “All four seasons provide different looks, opportunities, and scenery,” says Mike: g3 Designs maintains a consistently high level of business, even in the coldest months. Snow shots around Christmas time are extremely popular, especially with families, as they provide a special, unique beauty.

The Niagara region is a spectacular area for photographers to capture some amazing shots with a variety of unique and beautiful backdrops. Both of the great lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, are surrounded by colourful and picturesque landscapes perfect for portraits and family photos. Mike likes to use the shores of our lakes for beach shots, such as the Charles Daley Park Beach in Lincoln. Other beautiful outdoor areas for capturing memories are the Botanical Gardens, The Welland Canal Parkway, downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queenston Heights and other places with unique landmarks. All tourists and locals know that the Horseshoe Falls make a magnificent and elegant setting for any photo shoot; but the best place to capture them in your pictures is from Oaks Garden Theatre, off Clifton Hill. For weddings, the wineries are a very popular choice, as they provide peaceful and colourful settings of the wine country Niagara is famous for.

The secret to Mike’s polished final photos is not a fancy editing program; in fact he uses minimal editing when putting the finishing touches to his work. Although sometimes software is used to touch up blemishes and fix minor flaws, g3 Designs use lighting and simple camera tricks when shooting on location. “I focus on achieving the best shots directly from the camera,” reveals Mike, who advises that aspiring photographers get to know their camera’s specific features and capabilities to achieve the best results. When directing his shoots, Mike instructs his customers where to stand and how to pose to make best use of the prevailing lighting and weather conditions. For example, certain spots he originally intended to use may have higher winds, or be covered by shadows at the particular time of day. Instead he uses the conditions existing at the time of the shoot to his advantage by incorporating the natural shadows and breezes to create unique effects in the pictures.

Farkas believes that the talent for photography is developed naturally. He taught himself the foundations of the art by reading books and articles online, followed by a lot of “trial and error” through practice. Ultimately, a photographer must love the work they do in order to succeed in it as a business. One of Mike’s favourite quotes is, “We’re good at what we do because we do it a lot. We do it a lot because we love it.” He recommends that aspiring photographers take pictures of what they like to shoot, and scenery that is beautiful to them.

On location with Mike, he sees the beauty in nature that many of us overlook. For example, a patch of bulrushes in the middle of winter appear sad and lifeless, but Mike uses the mid-afternoon sun and the art of photography to highlight the beautiful golden yellow colours and make his subject “pop” to the foreground of the picture. Mike likes to experiment with lighting and shooting in various lighting conditions, adding or deducting illumination when necessary. By experimenting with different techniques, the results can lead to an “unexpected beauty.” His colleague Matt believes it is important to use the environment around you as a tool to help create a ‘mood’. The most important advice when taking pictures that the g3 Designs photographers both emphasize is to find what works for you, and to always try and push yourself and your skills to the next level.

Mike highlights the importance of making customers feel relaxed and comfortable through each step of the photo shoot. He and Matt like to make their subjects feel as welcome as possible, from the moment they meet until they part. It is important for a photographer to enjoy the shoot, as it puts the customer at ease and makes them happier. “The happier the customer is, the better the photos turn out by capturing their true smiles,” says Mike. In an industry like photography, a photographer’s personality is 90% of the business, because customers come to them expecting the best pictures, which are achieved by having comfortable and relaxed subjects.

Whether it is working 16 hour days at weddings, from the bridal party getting dolled up, to the DJ playing the last song, or a simple family photo shoot in winter, by a frozen pond, g3 Designs love every moment of their work, and especially the positive feedback they receive when customers view the final pictures. Mike strives for his business to be affordable to everyone, where all customers have the opportunity to obtain top quality, professional photographs for a reasonable dollar. With packages starting as low as $149.99 for a 1-2 hour shoot and 10 professionally edited pictures, Mike admits that he is “more happy making customers happy than making money.” For a beautiful experience to share with your loved ones while embracing the peaceful, outdoor beauty of the Niagara region this summer, g3 Designs will be sure to provide results you and your family will treasure for a lifetime.

Tips for taking beautiful outdoor pictures in Niagara:

1. Take advantage of the variety of locations the Niagara region has to offer: Charles Daley Park Beach and other lake shore spots, Botanical Gardens, Queenston Heights, Oakes Garden Theatre, Balls Falls, downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.
2. Shoot outdoors in all four seasons, as each provides different sceneries, lighting and looks.
3. If taking photos of a special event, always have a backup plan, such as an indoor shooting location, in case weather interferes with your original ideas.
4. Know your camera’s features; you may be able to use different lighting or weather conditions to your advantage using certain tools.
5. Don’t rely on editing in the post-production stages; strive to achieve the best results directly from the camera.
6. Try shooting during “the Golden Hour”: one half hour before, and one half hour after sunset is the ideal time to capture gorgeous backdrops.
7. Find your passion within photography, learn what you love to do, and use it.

“We’re good at what we do because we do it a lot. We do it a lot because we love it.”
“I run the business on sheer determination and ambition. It started as a dream, and I refused to fail.” (this is not a direct quote in the article, it is paraphrased in the intro)

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