Mothership Photography

It has been a busy end-of-autumn run on the porch, so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about all the adorable kiddoes and their sweet families who came for portraits. Autumn is the craziest season for family portraits!

It was still quite summer-like for fall when this little fellow came to the porch for photos with his mom and dad. He really liked the apples I had picked up especially for the occasion!

Child portrait by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

By the time we were done, we had a whole basket full of apples with one bite taken out of each! Seriously, can you look at this without feeling the warmth and wonder of mom and dad with their first precious baby? (And how much do you love that dad and baby are wearing matching shirts?)

Candid family portrait

This family came to visit the porch a few years ago when they were a family of two, and came back with a new baby sister this year.

Autumn family photography on the porch

It’s possible that not everybody in the family was enthusiastic about the idea of posing for family portraits.

Not everyone loves picture day

That’s the beauty of working with families, right? Authentic family moments. It took a little bit of patience and a lot of laughs on the part of the grown ups, but I got him to come around.

Children's portraits in Ottawa

Mostly. It’s real, though, you gotta admit that! 😉

Autumn families on the porch

Older kids are often a little easier to work with. They’re more self-conscious, but they listen to direction. And they give me this really patient look when I tell them my best knock-knock jokes (often while the parents are killing themselves laughing off-camera!) This brother-sister duo was delightful.

Portrait of siblings

And then we introduced the family dog to the mix. That, as you can see, went flawlessly.

Funny candid collage of kids and dog

And with that, we wrap up another fun season of portraits on the porch. The more sessions with families I do, the more I love capturing those funny in-between moments that show a family’s true personality – the candid laughter, the outtakes, the sweet snuggles and the expressive looks.

If you love candid family photography, consider booking me for one of the new “Family Traditions” documentary sessions. I can come to your home, or a location of your choosing, and tell the story of YOUR family in action – making cookies, decorating the house, reading stories, or whatever it is your family loves to do together. Read more details about the documentary photo sessions in this blog post, but book soon! There are only a few sessions left in 2017, and this price goes up considerably in 2018.


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I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” 😉

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!


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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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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.

[click to continue…]


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If you’ve worked with me for family portraits, you know my sessions are always a mix of some shots that are more candid and some that are more posed. My favourites are ALWAYS the candid ones. To me, they’re the ones that tell the true story of your family in this moment in time. It’s how I document my own family: rather than posing the kids, which always looks a little stiff, I just give them something to do and step back, taking photos of them being themselves.

About this time last year, I had a super fun morning with this sweet family out playing in a local park. When they got back in touch this year, I was thrilled that they were looking for a session in their home. I suggested the idea of a ‘day in the life’ storytelling approach, and they loved the idea. Mom and Dad planned a bit of science fun with some corn starch (and maybe some flour?) and some food colouring, and I was ready with my camera.

Here’s a few of they key shots (there were so! many! more!) that do a good job of telling the story of the day.

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Of course, there’s always a few minutes for some more traditional posed shots, too.

Candid family photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

A day in the life - fun with science!

Candid family photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

There are a lot of reasons why this sort of session is better than lining everybody up and asking them to say cheese. It was raining while we did this session, so we did not have to worry about the weather. I was a little worried about the light, but with those big windows, even the diffuse light of a dark day was plenty – and lovely, in fact. And really, what’s a better backdrop for your family than your home? If your home is not perfectly tidy, that’s okay, too. It’s just more authentic *you* for the photos. :) (Trust me, I am never one to judge the mess level in someone else’s home. Glass houses, y’all!) Your family will be more at ease in front of the camera when they’re in a comfortable environment and have something fun to do. And there’s no shortage of things to do during a storytelling session: do a craft, bake some cookies, play in the yard, have brunch, plant some flowers — anything you’d do with your family anyway, just with your own personal mamarattzi sticking her lens into the middle of it.

If you’d like me to help document the story of a day in the life of your family, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


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A new project: Story of the Day

2 April 2017 Lucas

Back in 2008, I heard a story on the CBC radio program Spark about Jamie Livingston, who took over 6,000 Polaroid photos – one each day for 18 years. That story inspired me to start my own “photo a day” project in 2009, which lead in time to my photography business and so much more. […]

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Before and after: A fun maternity and newborn photo shoot

4 February 2017 Mothership Photography

Last autumn, one of the final photo shoots I did before the wind turned bitter and the snow started to fall was a maternity session with a friend and former colleague at the Lime Kiln Trail. It turned out to be one of my favourite sessions of the year, and not just because of my […]

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A free gift for you from Mothership Photography!

18 December 2016 Mothership Photography

I have just finished my fifth (!) year in business as a photographer, and if you’ve been around for a while, you know that the origins of the photography business are right here on the blog. Those of you who have followed along through the years have seen me go from a photo-a-day project to […]

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Autumn in review part two: Families come in all shapes and sizes

3 December 2016 Mothership Photography

I‘d mentioned in an earlier post that I’d fallen behind on sharing some of the photo sessions from this crazy busy autumn. When I looked at these together, I couldn’t help but notice that it illustrates the wide variety of family shapes and sizes that come to me seeking family photographs. When Maureen called me […]

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