I have often joked that I’m going to ban kids aged 18 month to about three years old from family photography sessions on the porch. Toddlers are willful and opinionated and challenging to reason with, they don’t generally laugh my knock-knock jokes, and they rarely want to pose nicely and smile for the camera. That’s also the reason they’re so great to work with – they make you earn your good photos!

Family photos in Ottawa 1

(I love the expression on her face as she gazes up at her daddy!)

This lovely little moppet was a lot of fun to work with, even though she was pretty much interested in doing only what she was interested in doing. I have photos of her enjoying her yogurt, watching a passing car, and walking away from me. When she ambled away with her hands behind her back like this, my heart melted a bit. And those curls!!

Family photos in Ottawa

But when she did sit still for a minute and gaze at me with those brilliant blue eyes, I was ready. Oh, the cuteness!

Family photos in Ottawa

Isn’t she adorable?

The season for family portraits on the porch is nearly done, but I’m offering a great new type of family traditions documentary photography sessions that can take place in your home or on location anywhere your family likes to hang out. And toddlers are more than welcome, especially the ones with just a hint of spunk and sass and sparkle like this one!


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When K and her family dropped by the porch for family portraits last year, it was so unseasonably cold that we wrapped the girls in my blankets originally intended for sitting on and then we couldn’t convince them to put the blankets down. When they came back this year, it was strangely summer-like for an autumn afternoon. Lucky for me, they were adorable either way!

Two sisters, just a hint of sass. And those matching boots – be still my heart!

Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders takes fun family portraits

I probably should have forecasted that the apples would be all over the porch by the end of the portrait session. Maximum cuteness though!

Fun Ottawa family photography

I often get families asking for advice on how to dress for family portraits. I think this family nailed it. Three of four of them are in solid colours, and each of those colours picks up on a tone in the pattern in the littlest girl’s dress. The colours harmonize beautifully without being matchy-matchy, and the styles are complementary. The outfits were selected with everyone’s style in mind, and the family is dressed cohesively. Everyone looks relaxed and comfortable.

Beautiful family portraits by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

It’s possible that there was some tickle action going on.

Laughing children during a family photography session in Ottawa

The key to a successful family photography session is knowing when to quit. It’s possible that I might have gone one shot too far here!

Apple girls on the porch-6

But those faces! That’s a real moment, right there. That’s four people occupying different places on the “are we done yet?” spectrum.

Family photography doesn’t have to be stiff and torturous. Get in touch and let’s have some fun!


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I was wandering around Centretown looking at fall colours when I was enchanted by this bright blue morning glory, conveniently positioned with those crazy pink flowers in the background.

How could I resist?

What's the story, morning glory?

There’s something about morning glories and four o’clocks that make me thing they’re listening. I’d love some in my garden. Are they easy to grow?


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There are so many great family traditions that we enjoy in the autumn and early winter: apple picking and pumpkin carving, forest hikes to enjoy the changing leaves and then raking up the leaves at home. And then as we inch forward to the holiday season, there’s cookie baking and present wrapping and tree decorating. Chances are you’ve got your phone out taking pictures of the kids during a lot of these activities, right? (I know because I’ve seen them on Facebook!)

Wouldn’t it be great, though, to have a professional photographer come in and take those photos for you? A documentary photo session, also known as a “day in the life” session, is the opposite of everybody standing in a row looking at the camera and saying “cheese.” A documentary session is like having a friend with a camera in the room, taking care of documenting everything so you can have fun enjoying the activities. The photos you get will tell the perfectly imperfect story of your family at this moment in time. And when you hire me to take the photos, EVERYONE gets to be in the photos. There’s nobody hiding behind the lens except me – get the entire family in the photos. In fact, these sessions are great with extended families – bring the grandparents and get them in the photos, too!

Documentary photography sessions with Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

The idea behind the family tradition sessions is perfectly summed up by one of my favourite literary characters, Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables:

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

I’ve been documenting my family at play for years, and it’s the sort of photography that makes my heart sing. Since this is a relatively new offering for me, for the rest of 2017 I’m offering an introductory special: the Family Traditions package.

Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

With the Family Traditions package, you invite me to a location of your choosing for up to two hours. You’ll have a family activity planned, or maybe two, and I’ll be your personal “mamarazzi”, taking photos of your family at play. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll receive a set of fully culled and customed edited set of at least 25 – 40 high resolution photographs that document your day. If you like, we’ll even squeeze in just one or two “everybody say cheese and look at the camera” photos, because we know grandma loves those ones.

Intrigued? Here are some ideas I thought would make for a fun photo session:

· Apple picking
· Family picnic
· Visiting the pumpkin farm and/or carving the pumpkins
· Raking the leaves
· Doing holiday baking (maybe with the grandparents?)
· Decorating cookies
· Making ornaments or decorations or cards
· Visiting the Christmas tree farm
· Decorating the tree
· Wrapping gifts
· Writing letters to Santa (with hot chocolate, of course)
· Making latkas and lighting the menorah
· Building a snowman or skating on an outdoor rink

Or maybe you’d love to have a photographer come and capture Sunday breakfast at your place? Or bath time, stories and snuggles before bed? There are so many possibilities! Everyone has favourite activities and traditions – and now you can preserve those memories in a customizable photo session tailored specifically to your family’s personality.

Documentary day in the life photography by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

You might be wondering what the difference is between a documentary family photo session and a traditional photo session. The documentary style is a completely different approach. Rather than posing for the camera, you ignore the camera and let me capture the activities and interactions. Four key differences between documentary and posed photo sessions are:

  1. It’s less stressful. You’ll have an activity (or two) to keep busy so you won’t feel so self-conscious and awkward in front of the camera.
  2. It’s more natural – you don’t have the photographer dictating “sit here, touch this, move your arm here,” etc.
  3. It’s more authentic – you get to see everyone’s personality, instead of trying to force everyone to “behave” and pose nicely for the camera.
  4. It tells a story. In fact, it tells YOUR story, and far better than any “smile and pose for the camera” session could.
  5. Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

    You can see that my kids don’t exactly dress up for our annual decorating the tree photos, but I love that this shows them how they really are, how they look on an average Saturday, in all their casual, jammie-bottomed comfortable glory.

    Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

    Sessions booked for the rest of 2017 will benefit from an introductory price of just $325. That’s a considerable savings over my usual portrait package prices with more digital files included.

    There will be a limited number of these sessions available between now and the end of December, so if you’d like to know more or book your session, please get in touch soon!


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Now that it is October, the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of autumn are almost upon us! I think the fall colours are a little late this year, compared to other years. (One of many benefits of having an archive of thousands of photos taken in every season!)

Parliament Hill in Ottawa on an autumn morning

Whether you’re looking for a colourful foliage backdrop for family portraits, the best time for breathtaking landscape photographs, or just planning a peaceful wander at a local hiking trail, you’ll find these tools helpful in tracking when the autumn leaves will be at their most colourful in Ottawa, eastern Ontario and western Quebec, and even the United States. (If you’re not in these areas and have a local guide to fall colour, please share it in the comments!)

Autumn on the Rideau Canal

This fall colour report for Ontario Parks provides detailed descriptions of the percentage of colour change, dominant leaf colour, and percentage of fallen leaves for each of Ontario’s provincial parks. It also provides a recommendation of the best viewing location in each park. Be sure to take a glance at the date in each location’s report – some seem to be updated more regularly than others.

Quebec’s tourism office also provides an interactive map of fall colours in key locations across the province. It’s not as detailed as the Ontario Parks map, though, showing only an icon of the dominant colour and indicators like “early” and “mid” and “near peak.” It’s updated every Thursday.

Morning on the Rideau River in autumn

For those of you in the USA, there’s a comprehensive map showing the fall colour progression right across the country. It even predicts when the colour will be at its peak and beyond, through the middle of November.

If you’re planning a family excursion to enjoy the fall colours, consider hiring me as your own personal photographer to document the morning or afternoon. Autumn is a wonderful time for family photography, and I know a few great places off the beaten path that are especially beautiful this time of year. If you’d like to know more about my photography packages, visit my Ottawa family photography website. I have a few weekend openings available between now and the end of October, but they’ll book up quickly!


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I have been on a Fredrick Backman kick this year, reading A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here and Beartown more or less in succession. Have you read any of his books? They’re quirky and warm and poignant and thoughtful – and did I mention quirky? Not to mention occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and frequently delightful.

This summer, I started reading another book by Bachman out loud to Tristan and Simon. My Grandmother Sends Her Regrets and Apologizes is a quirky and whimsical book that features a mythical beast called a wurse that has a love for a Swedish chocolate bar called Daim. So when I happened to be in IKEA the other day (seriously, when am I not in IKEA?) and saw bags of mini-Daim bars for sale, I picked one up to entertain the boys.

DaniGirl is addicted to Daim bars Oh my goodness. Seriously? No wonder the wurse loves them. Best! Bar! Ever!

They’re a little bit like Skor bars, but there’s something about the bite-size format that makes them so much better. I watched Simon’s eyes bug out in appreciation when he first tried one. They’re so addictive that I might have gone back and bought a second one-pound bag to hide in the back of the cupboard. And, erm, maybe a third for my office.

Seriously, I don’t even like sweets that much. I’m a salty chips sort of girl!

Have you tried Daim bars? If so, what do you think? (And if not, get yourself to IKEA, stat!) And if you haven’t read any of Fredrick Backman’s books, you’d better get on that, too. They’d be perfect to read with a cup of coffee and a big bag of Daim bars.


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Photo of the day: Sunrise on the Rideau Canal

26 September 2017 Life in Ottawa

Sometimes, when you’re on your way to work and you see an amazing photograph in the making, ya just gotta stop the car and grab it. Like this sunrise over the Rideau Canal. In just a few days, the sun will be rising later, and a little bit more to the south. Today, though, it […]

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Saying goodbye to Papa Lou

19 September 2017 Life, the Universe and Everything

Once upon a time, whenever something of significance happened in my life, I made sense of it by blogging about it. Though I don’t blog as regularly or as intimately as I used to, I still feel the need to share a seismic shift in our lives, but each time I start to write, I […]

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A taste of summer all year long: Baked s’mores dip recipe

31 August 2017 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

I didn’t learn about s’mores until I was an adult. We weren’t a camping family, though toasting marshmallows was an occasional but revered treat growing up. How I survived into adulthood without the melty, sticky joy of toasted marshmallows and chocolate smushed between graham crackers in my life is a mystery. I saw a variation […]

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Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures: Secret suburban sand dunes

29 August 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

Did you know that there’s a 10,000 year old sand dune hiding in a pine forest in suburban Ottawa? Neat, right? The sand dune in the Pinhey Forest is an ancient remnant of the last ice age, when what we now know as Ottawa was submerged under the great Champlain Sea. Even 100 years ago, […]

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