Mothership Photography

When Liz got in touch to book for family portraits, I knew we’d have fun working together. She had been looking at her backyard to see which time of day had the best light. Yay! The only thing photographers love more than fun, friendly subjects is fun, friendly subjects in awesome light. There may have been mention of a three-year-old (I think I’ve been clear on my feelings about three year old, yes?) but I glossed it over in my mind. A fun family at play in their own back yard in the late afternoon summer sun? What could possibly go wrong?

A willful three-year-old and her brother. That’s what could go wrong. Maybe it was a full moon, maybe the kids were tired after a long, fun summer day. Whatever it was, the kids were bananas. They weren’t interested in sitting still. AT ALL. They were pinging off the furniture, each other and the fence in a euphoria of energy expenditure. It was all we grown-ups could do but laugh, and laugh we did. We tried bribes, games, threats and cajoling, but there did come a point where we began to wonder how we’d ever get a couple of decent family pictures.

In situations like this, I’ve learned a couple of tricks. One is keep shooting. Watch for the moments in between the frenzy, and you can often get a great portrait of a kid with their personality shining through. Another is to stay cool and roll with it. Lucky for me, Liz and Ed have a great sense of humour and were good-natured in their exasperation. When I suggested we get down on the grass, they got down on the grass. Sit over here, try this, what about this? They were game. And I just kept shooting with one eye on the light, one eye on the composition, and one speedy trigger finger.

In the end, what we ended up with was not a perfectly posed family sitting placidly on a blanket and gazing at the camera. We ended up with a gallery that still makes me giggle when I look at the proofs. This family is REAL, y’all.

Informal fun photo portraits of a family in Ottawa by Danielle Donders

Through the course of the evening, we had photos with Minecraft, Star Wars, winter mitts and a toque, a purple sparkly bow (like, bow and arrow bow, not like hair bow) and a lion’s tail. With a little patience and a couple of popsicles, we ended up with a fun and funny proof gallery full of personality. These are the sort of family stories I truly love to capture!

shenanigans collage 2

Informal fun photo portraits of a family in Ottawa by Danielle Donders

Shenanigans-5

Informal fun photo portraits of a family in Ottawa by Danielle Donders

Shenanigans-6

photograph of a happy smiling family

So! Much! Laughter! This really was a fun story to tell. I knew by the end of the evening that Liz was a little unsure about how the photos were going to turn out, but as I laughed my way through editing the gallery, I knew there were photos that would forever remind the family of the beautiful chaos that is the gift of life with silly, energetic and playful kids.


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When people ask me if I photograph weddings, the answer is usually a tentative “sort of.” I love love love the idea of weddings, but I find them a dizzying mixture of touching, terrifying, inspiring, exhausting and amazing. It’s such a huge honour to be invited to document such an important day, but I fret so much leading up to the wedding that I’ve often worked myself into a froth by the time the actual wedding begins.

I have a special love for small, intimate weddings infused with a sense of playfulness, so when Ben and Melanie contacted me earlier this summer I was immediately intrigued. A small wedding at the park? Sounds delightful! No reception coverage needed? Love that! And Ben’s email was full of charm and fun. I knew they’d be a great couple to work with, and I couldn’t resist accepting the job.

On the weekend, we met at Ottawa’s lovely Andrew Haydon Park to walk through the wedding site and talk about ideas. I brought my camera along – of course I did, when do I ever leave it at home?! – both to make a mental notebook for myself, and with the idea that I’d give Melanie and Ben a few snapshots of them together as a sort of complimentary engagement shoot.

Then they were so adorable I couldn’t stop taking pictures. They quickly learned what most of my photo clients and especially my kids know all too well: when I say “just one more” I am usually lying through my teeth. “Just one [dozen] more” is much more like it! But seriously, how could I resist?

ride and groom to be in photographs at the park

Bride and groom to be in photographs at the park

ride and groom to be in photographs at the park

B and M at the park-6

They chose to get married in this park because Melanie calls it one of her favourite places in Ottawa. I have to agree, it’s a beautiful place and it’s long been one of my favourites, too. This is her favourite spot in her favourite park, a little hidden gem of riverside solitude just a few steps away from the grassy plain where the ceremony will take place.

B and M at the park

And on a gorgeous summer evening when the sun begins to set and the skies are ablaze with colour, you just know that Mother Nature feels the same way about Ben and Melanie.

B and M at the park-2

B and M at the park-7

Fun, right? It was a beautiful evening to be wandering the park. One interesting challenge we’ll face on the day of the wedding is that Andrew Haydon Park is a hotbed for Pokemon Go players, so on a sunny summer afternoon, we’ll be sharing the park (and, eep, parking lots!) with the usual folks who enjoy the park on the weekend, plus an influx of people chasing Charmander, Pikachu and Squirtle. It would probably be unprofessional of me to be leveling up in between shots, right?

Of course I am kidding. But I am also really, really excited to be a part of the fun wedding of these two adorable people. Let the fretting begin!


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I‘ve joked before that I will yet ban three year olds from my photography practice. They are, in my experience, equal parts willful and wonderful, and of all the ages for family portraits, I find three to be the most challenging. Imagine my delight, then, to have not one, not two, but THREE little three year old cousins from three different families, plus a pair of seven year olds to round out the mix.

We were doing portraits with the cousins and their grandparents, who were visiting from out of town. The morning went something like this.

Much coercing, wrangling, giggling and herding of kids, and grab a semi-serious shot:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Then, an interval of siliness:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

(That last one is my favourite. If that were my kids and my parents, I’d hang a giant canvas of it over the fireplace. Way too much personality for one family, don’t you think?)

And then, lovely sweetness:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Followed by shenanigans:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

A soulful moment:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Interrupted by an outbreak of chaos:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

And rounded out by outright and abject adorableness:

Candid, playful portraits of kids and families by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Oh, three year olds! You are definitely a challenge in my porch portrait studio – but when we can make it work, it’s pure magic!


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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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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!


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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”!

Family pictures by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Adorable, right? Worked like a charm! I know this fun family from the community, and when they booked me for family portraits on their porch, which I have to admit is even MORE lovely and large than mine(!), I knew it would be a blast.

It was even more fun because we were able to include their visiting grandmother, so there’s three generation of sweet, funny people in this one. Don’t you love how strong the family resemblances are?

Family pictures by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

I have to tell you, though, as a mom of boys, this one was my favourite.

LFamily pictures by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

We’re so lucky to live in a community with great families and great friends like this!

And with that, our spring and summer portrait season is officially underway!


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Photo of the day: Barefoot on the beach

20 May 2016 Lucas

Nothing says summer like road trip, family, nine hour car ride, and then watching the sun set into the Great Lakes on a warm evening. Hello, summer, how I have missed you!

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Photos of the day: Newborn puppies!

9 April 2016 Mothership Photography

When I heard that a neighbour had a mama dog that was about to give birth to a litter of puppies, I reached out and said I’d love to trade my mad portrait photographer skillz for the opportunity to take photos of the newborn pups. On Easter weekend, we watched with awe and delight as […]

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Photos of the day: Ausome Ottawa yoga photoshoot

7 April 2016 Mothership Photography

You might remember just about a year ago, I was commissioned to work with Ottawa Corporate Yoga on a really neat project. Glenda Rodriguez was inspired to create a set of cards to help families incorporate yoga into bedtime routines, to help kids get to sleep and stay asleep. I took the photos that were […]

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Photos of the day: Family portraits in the snow!

28 February 2016 Mothership Photography

I have always wanted to offer more family portrait sessions in the winter. The snow makes a lovely natural reflector, bouncing flattering light up and all around, and winter outfits are often brightly coloured and pop against a snowy background. Some of my favourite pictures of my own kids are from our wintertime adventures, and […]

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