June 2016

I am a big fan of traditions, and one of my favourite is the annual first-and-last day of school photo. Did Tristan even get a haircut during this school year? I’m honestly not sure!

First and last day of school 2015-2016

I’ve been making them for a while now!

First and last day of school!

first & last day of school

First and last day of school

First and last day of school 2011-2012

188:365 First and last day of school 2010 - 2011

Next year, all three boys will be in different schools – one in elementary, one in middle and one in (gasp!) high school. But first — bring on the summer of awesome!


You might remember back in October when I had the great honour of being the photographer for Mat and Jasmine’s wedding. It was a perfect autumn day, and their adorable toddler Jack stole the show. We’ve been trying for a few weeks now to get out to the park to celebrate their growing family (new and improved with a baby daughter!) for a few weeks now, but we’ve been foiled by cold, windy spring days.

We finally got a break with the weather, and we met on Father’s Day to make some beautiful family memories. Well, that was the grownups’ plan. Jack might have had other ideas. Oh toddlers, you are both the delight and the bane of my photography business! We tried a few posed portraits, but when you have one who doesn’t want his picture taken and one who doesn’t sit up on her own yet, you have to be creative. We ended up with this:

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

But first we had to get through this (I have to admit, I love this photo; I often love the outtakes as much as I love the successes):

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

I have to take a moment here to say how amazing it is to work with laid-back, easy going families. We’d had to cancel twice for poor weather, and we’d barely arrived when both parents had been well-christened with baby spit up. Jack had zero interest in actually sitting still to have his photo taken (hello! awesome park to explore!) and would pretty much run the other way when he noticed me and my camera nearby. Posed, perfect family portraits were not going to happen. When we decided to go for a little walkabout to visit the frog pond, things improved greatly. Posing for photos? Jack says no thanks. Going on an adventure? Jack was all over that!

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

And while we were on the move, I might have managed to sneak in a few portraits of a happy, beautiful (and busy!) family on the go.

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Candid, fun portraits of families and children by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

I loved taking these photos because I felt when I looked at them that I could really see the family’s personality in them – patient, funny, affectionate and kind. What a gorgeous family, right?

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One of my favourite features on Facebook is the “On This Day” app. There’s something wonderful about dipping into the minutiae of years gone by. It got me thinking that I now have enough years of content that I can look back and see in (occasionally painful and cringe-worthy) detail exactly what was happening in our lives ten years ago.

It was ten years ago this month, for example, that we were beginning the last of our infertility treatments, having “frostie”, our little frozen embryo left over from our IVF, thawed and inserted into my uterus. Also ten years ago this month, we had two-year-old Simon and four-year-old Tristan baptized: “Father John was kindly and patient didn’t seem to notice that Simon squirmed and wriggled incessantly and Tristan sang under his breath through most of the readings. Simon provided comic relief with his ongoing query of “We go now?” and by excitedly hopping up on the little stool in front of the baptismal font and declaring, “It’s my turn now!” after watching his brother being baptized.”

Ten years ago this month, also wrote this sweet tribute to Simon, my quirky two year old. I thought I’d share it in its entirety:

Simon is becoming more of a character every day. Inasmuch as ‘character’ means mostly adorable, occasionally insufferable, and often hilarious. He seems to develop a new peccadillo every week, and I’m writing this as much to capture them for posterity as for entertainment value.

For instance, he’s picked up a couple of phrases from the bigger kids at daycare, and I’m by turns mortified and amused every time they come out of his mouth.

The first is a very blasé ‘That’s BORing.’ Any time he doesn’t want to do something, wear something, eat something, it’s ‘BORing’. Imagine it uttered with all the disdain a teenage girl could muster, multiply it by three an infuse it with a world-weariness unprecendented in your average two-year-old.

The other is a very staccato ‘No way!’, as if whatever you’ve suggested is the most idiotic thing he’s ever heard.

“Simon, would you like a banana?”
“No way!”


“Simon, could you please let go of the dog’s lips?”
“No way!”

He’s also exhibiting vaguely alarming tendencies to hoard things, and to depend on rituals. Bedtime has become a complex series of arcane protocols – first books, then the story of his day, then soothers (three, always three, and he will cycle through them looking for just the right one. If one is not to his liking, he will pull it out with a very lispy “Too small,” and repeat until he finds just the right amount of suction and resistance. And yes, they are all the same size.) I’ll push play on the CD player to start the lullabies, place him into his crib, and start the blanket ritual. He must have at least three or four blankets. It can be February or July, but if he sees a blanket you haven’t put on him, he will hector you for it – he’s kind of like a reverse princess and the pea, except he’s the pea. And then there’s the de rigeur rounds of “Hey, you! Put your feet down” as you place the blankets. And he needs companionship as well. Just now, I put him to bed with three blankets (it’s 25C in his room), Gordon, Percy, Scoop, Wags the dog and Dorothy the dinosaur. There’s barely room for him in there.

I have this image of him, twenty years in the future, in a bingo hall somewhere. He’s about 6’5″, 300 lbs, and you’ll loose a finger if you touch the collection of treasures arrayed out in front of him with his bingo daubers. Either that, or he has to touch the doorknob five times before he leaves, tap the glass twice, turn around once, and walk to his car without touching any of the cracks in the sidewalk, with one eye closed and his finger resting against his right earlobe.

If only I could argue with any conviction whatsoever that he doesn’t get it from me.


That quirky little toddler still sleeps in a bed so full of stuffies that there’s barely room for him, and he graduates from grade school this week.

Who, me? No, um, it’s nothing, I just have something in my eye…

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Did you know the Giganotosaurus, a giant meat-eating dinosaur from the southern hemisphere, was even bigger (and probably meaner!) than the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the so-called “king of the dinosaurs”? The T. Rex lived in North America about 65 million years ago, but the 13m Giganotosaurus roamed near what is now Argentina 95 to 100 million years ago.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

That’s just one of the wicked cool things the boys and I learned at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s summer blockbuster exhibition called Ultimate Dinosaurs, featuring 16 fully articulated dinosaur skeletons. It’s a fascinating and must-see exhibit for even the most casual dinosaur fan.

Ultimate Dinosaurs at the Museum of Nature

Like most eight year old boys, Lucas is fascinated by dinosaurs, and never misses an episode of Dino Dan on TVO. We had just finished reading a detailed book about dinosaur facts when I came across an article in the Citizen a few weeks ago about Jordan Mallon, a palaeontologist with the Museum of Nature, who introduced a new species of horned dinosaur earlier this year. I was fascinated by the idea of a local scientist doing something so cool, and Lucas and I were engaged by the story of “Judith”, a horned ceratops dinosaur the size of a small elephant whose bones were discovered by an amateur fossil prospector in Montana.

You won’t see Judith’s skeleton in the Ultimate Dino exhibition, though you can find her a few floors down in the Museum’s Fossil Gallery. The Ultimate Dinosaur exhibition is all about dinosaurs from the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, the southern breakaway piece of Pangaea that eventually became South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. We learned that as Gondwana formed 145 million years ago, the dinosaur species that lived there evolved in isolation from their Laurasian (northern) counterparts. The exhibit is not just about dinosaur bones, but about evolution, biodiversity, climate change, and geology. The Gondwana dinos are bigger and more bizarre than their northern cousins. The teeth of Giganotosaurus, for example, had blade-like teeth well suited to slicing meet, whereas T. Rex’s teeth and jaws were designed to crush bones outright.

Not all of the dinosaurs were giant “titanosaurs”, though one sauropod was so huge that only its leg bones can fit into the exhibition. The Eoraptor was a relatively petite meter or so long, but is known as one of the earliest species of dinosaurs, having lived more than 200 million years ago. In all, there are 16 dinosaur skeletons you can see, but there is so much more to the exhibition. They have a very cool augmented reality feature where you can look through mounted, mobile screens to see the skeleton in front of you transformed into a fully fleshed (pardon the pun) dinosaur.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

There’s lots of hands-on things to do as well. You can make a replica of a fossil tooth or claw in the fossil lab, hold casts and actual fossilized dino bones and teeth (hint: the casts are lighter than the actual fossils), see fossil replicas made from a 3D printer, and use plasticine to build muscles and veins on a velociraptor skull. In the Dino Zone, the littlest dino fans can engage in dress-up and shadow theatre play, and have fun with the magnet board and giant building blocks. Lucas loved finding the stations to emboss his dinosaur fact sheet throughout the Ultimate Dino exhibition.

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

#UltimateDinos at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

The kids were definitely engaged by all aspects of the exhibit, but I learned a lot, too. For example, I knew that one doesn’t find giant dinosaur bones in this part of Canada, but why not? Well, for one thing, the rock here is generally so old that it pre-dates the dinosaur giants. You can find some really neat marine fossils that are local to the Ottawa area from a spectacular 450 or so million years ago and excavate them from limestone as part of the museum’s summer programming in the Nature Live gallery.

A trip to the amazing Museum of Nature is always at the top of my list of recommendations for awesome family fun in Ottawa, but the world-class Ultimate Dinosaur show will bring us back more than once before the exhibit ends in September 2016. Note that admission to the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit is in addition to regular Museum of Nature fees. See the Museum of Nature website for full details about rates and hours of admission. If you don’t want to pay the premium to visit the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition, you can still have an awesome dinosaur adventure in the Fossil Lab and Dino Zone, as well as seeing the local Ordovician fossils, and visit “Judith” in the Fossil Gallery, all as part of regular museum admission.

Disclosure: We were invited to the media preview of the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit. While I tried hard to fact-check my references, any errors in dino facts and figures are completely on my part!


You might remember that Tristan has turned out to be quite the track star. Out of the blue in Grade 6 he showed a previously unrevealed talent for sprints, and in Grade 7 was asked to compete in the track and field pentathlon: 100m and 800m races, shotput, long jump and high jump. He placed well in the running events in last year’s meet, but struggled with the field events.

As track season rolled around again, Tristan came in first in his grade in the tryouts for 100m and 200m, and other races. Through the year, he had said that he was not interested in doing the pentathlon again this year. “I don’t so much like to throw things. I like to go fast!” As they worked through the high jump tryouts, it took days of patience as the other kids were slowly eliminated and Tristan kept clearing the bar at 115cm, 125cm, 130cm. (For comparison sake, at 5’8″ I am just over 170cm tall.) Despite this, I was still surprised when he came home and said he agreed to compete in the pentathlon again. He’d only had one long jump practice, and hadn’t even touched a shotput during his school tryouts.

The track meet was blustery and cold for a June day, and Beloved and I huddled in layers of clothes and blankets to cheer him on. He warmed us to the core, though, when out of the gate he won his heat and came in second overall in the first event, the 100m race.

Tristan winning

See that face, on my boy in the outside lane? That face says, “Hell yes I just won this race!”

In the end, he didn’t place in the top three in the field of 16 or so competitors and didn’t get a medal. He did what he said he would do, though. He went fast. Really fast! If he can just show up with no practice and run like the wind, I can’t wait to see what will happen if he follows up on his idle idea of going out for track in high school next year and actually putting some training behind him. Stay tuned – I’m guessing though this is the last elementary track meet for Tristan, it might be only the beginning of his running career.


We were still in the clutches of winter’s miserable chill when we set up this photo session, and we simply could not have imagined a more perfectly sunshiny, warm early summer morning at the park. Blue skies, happy kids, warm sun… any time you come home from a photo session with sandy knees and grass in your hair and sore cheeks from smiling, you know the photos are going to be wonderful!

I’m sure the family thought I was a little odd when I asked them to go play with the dandelions on a little knoll immediately behind some port-a-potties. The light was amazing, though, and I love the wee girl’s expression on this!

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Her brother was a handsome fella, too!

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

We took some photos in colour, too. Again, a whole gorgeous park and I am practically standing on the port-a-potties here. But that light tho!

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Just a beautiful family on a walk in the park on a perfect early-summer morning:

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

There was something about this easy-going family that made me think they’d welcome some non-traditional story-telling photos. These are my hands-down favourite kind of photos. He’s too close to be in focus and he’s on the move, but I just love the affection on mom and dad’s faces, and the energy of the kids.

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

I laugh out loud every time I see this photo, I love it so much. I love the mischief from the boy, the laugh from the dad, the girl turning around to see what’s going on behind her, and oh how much do I love that exasperated, affectionate “are you kidding me?” expression on mom’s face? As mom to three boys, I think I wear that expression for a large part of every single day.

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

And this? Oh be still my heart, the cuteness! My one job for this session was to get a photo of this Little Miss without her thumb in her mouth or her blankie covering her face. I think we more than succeeded. She told me herself that’s she is a diva – you can totally see that here, can’t you?

Portraits at the Park by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

I think I had as much fun playing with these kids as I did taking photographs of them. Once you earn a kid’s trust, it’s easy to capture their personality in a photo. Kids are awesome that way!

These storytelling sessions are my absolute favourites. If you’d like to invite me along to document your family adventure (a day at the park, a picnic, a walk in the woods, or something else) please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d love to work with you and your family to make beautiful memories!


Photo(s) of the day: Family photos with big kids and a dog

2 June 2016 Mothership Photography

What’s that old saying about never working with kids and dogs? It’s no problem when the kids are good-natured and sweet and the family tells you that the secret keyword to get the dog to look at you is “walk”! Adorable, right? Worked like a charm! I know this fun family from the community, and […]

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