Mothership Photography

You know what’s really awesome about cold January days when the temperature is hovering near minus 40C? You look at your website and realize there are nearly half a dozen terrific photo sessions that you clean forgot to share on the blog!

Let’s go back to late October. The air had just started to turn chill – warm enough to be out without jackets if you threw on an extra layer or two. In the case of this fun family of five, it was layers of matching red plaid – soooooo cute! This was one of the “documentary” family traditions sessions that I offered at the end of 2017. I am so hooked! There is something wonderful about tagging along with a family having fun together, and sneaking in snapshots along the way.

A few of you have asked me how this is different from a regular family photo session. In many ways, it’s really not — I’ve always been drawn to the candid “in between” moments during a photo session that show the laughter and emotion and relationships between family members. The main difference is that the goal of a standard family portrait session is basically to arrange the family in pleasing static poses, usually with everyone facing the camera and smiling. The documentary sessions are more about telling the story of your family’s personality, and capturing that in candid storytelling photographs. In a standard portrait session, I’ll say “stand here, and do this with your hands – move a bit this way” and offer similar direction. In a documentary session, I’ll just come along, watch, and take photos based on what the family is doing.

The kids here were great. I could see that they’d been told not to “pose” for the camera, and could equally see that they couldn’t resist doing exactly that. Some documentary photographers are more strict about this than others, and won’t take a photo if the subject is actively engaging the camera. I’m not that strict. I just like to make pretty pictures!

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

We played a little catch – and a little fetch. :)

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

And then we just played.

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

After an afternoon of playing (with each other and with me!) it doesn’t seem quite so torturous to stand together for one quick posed portrait that grandma (and mom and dad) will love! Five happy, natural smiles and I even got the DOG to look at me. That’s a major photographer win!

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Y’all, I have to tell you – the more of “documentary” style shooting I do, the more it makes my heart soar. I LOVE these sessions! I love doing them, and I love how much the families love the photos. Here’s what they had to say:

Dani took amazing photos and was so fun to work with! She was very easy going and flexible going with the flow when our kids got too into it and decided to set up their own shots. She captured the unique personalities of all 5 of us plus our goofy dog! So much fun! Pictures we will cherish long-term and enjoy sharing this holiday season.

I’ve got one more Family Tradition documentary session to share with you from the end of 2017, and then I can tell you about the fun NEW project I’m planning for 2018. Stay tuned!


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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.

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A new approach to family photos: Documentary storytelling sessions!

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A free gift for you from Mothership Photography!

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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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