Mothership Photography

I had heard about Pianos in the Park, but didn’t realize until this week that they had installed a piano right around the corner from us at our favourite place. The Ottawa version of Pianos in the Park (apparently it’s an international movement) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing pianos to local parks. They’ve got them downtown, in Carp, Barrhaven, Riverside South, and about a dozen other location, including one right here in Manotick. This is in the gazebo at AY Jackson park.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

As soon as Tristan heard about it, he wanted to check it out. He’s been teaching himself to play piano from YouTube videos using Synthesia (not unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero) on our electronic keyboard, but he doesn’t get a chance to play on a real piano very often.

Safe to say, he quite enjoyed it!

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

And so did Lucas, though he was more inclined to discordant banging than any actual harmonies.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

I was intrigued, so I did a little digging to find out more about the project. Founder Nicholas Pope launched Ottawa’s Pianos in the Park in 2014, modeling it on Play Me, I’m Yours, a project started in Britain that now has more than 1,300 pianos in 45 cities around the world. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Pope said all the local pianos will be painted with Ottawa-specific themes, and that they take anywhere from 40 to 80 hours to finish. So the Manotick piano is in place but not yet painted – although I did notice it smells of fresh varnish.

Amazing, right? I love this so much that I joined the Pianos in the Park group on Facebook, and found out about THIS amazing project being cooked up as a tribute to Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, a traveling piano set to go on tour across Canada this October.

Piano in the Park at the Manotick Mill

Have you been to any of the other pianos in Ottawa parks? I’m thinking it would make a fun adventure to tour them all before they’re packed away until next spring.


I have a special affection for Everitt and Eileen and their parents. Not only was Everitt the subject of my first-ever family portrait session, but they are the stars of one of my favourite photos of all time.

When I met with Everitt and Eileen and their parents on a sunny Sunday morning at their favourite Centretown Park, however, Everitt wasn’t overly interested in our shared history. He was more interested in being a typical six year old boy, which means he was not particularly interested in sitting nicely for the camera. I’m pretty sure his mom had something a little bit like this in mind:

Family photography at the park with E and E

Everitt and Eileen were more on board for a little bit of chaos disguised as family playtime:

Family photos at the park with E and E

I don’t know about your family, but this second one looks a LOT more like our reality! 😉 In the end, I think I won him over.

Candid photos at the park with E and E

At the park with E and E

Remember this photo? It’s is from two-and-a-half years ago, and I still laugh when I look at it. So much story about being the big brother to a new baby sister here, isn’t there?

family photography at the park

To my delight, the family loves this photo as much as I do, so much so that we thought we might try to do a “then and now” version — and IMHO it turned out as unpredictably adorable as the first one.

Photos at the park with E and E

My marching orders with Everitt and Eileen are clear. Photos of climbing and cartwheeling and running and laughing? No problem! Photos while sitting still and posing pleasantly with your sibling? Not so much. Noted! 😉


Didn’t everyone learn to make dessert by starting with Rice Krispie squares? I tried to stay out of the way so they could do it themselves, but I did want a few photos of the action. Part of my new “day in the life” series.

Making squares (1 of 4)

Making squares (2 of 4)

Making squares (3 of 4)

Making squares (4 of 4)

(He’s not glaring at me, I swear!)

Looking at them again, I’m second guessing myself for not going with black and white. Hmmm. Still, I love having these simple stories to store away. They’ll definitely last longer than the Rice Krispie squares will. :)


What better way to save and remember a fleeting moment in time than photos? This family is leaving behind a home they loved for a new adventure, and wanted a custom photography session to document their affectionate memories of the home where they were married and started raising their young family.

The morning was grey and drizzling rain as I made my way to Hintonburg. It didn’t rain while we were shooting, but the humidity and slightly muddy ground did not do much for the look of the photographer – good thing I was behind the camera. However, the muted light from the morning overcast made for some lovely, contrasty portraits.

At home in Hintonburg

See that yellow dump truck? The mother laughingly mentioned that it was like a fifth member of the family. Watch how many times it appears in the photos.

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

Did I mention three-year-olds are AWESOME? (No irony or sarcasm intended – I seriously love the personality in this photo.)

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

Speaking of personality:

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

I have a soft spot for the in-between moments, too.

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

While this looks scripted, most of it came together organically. I was posing the grown-ups and the kids were just being kids in the foreground, so I stopped and grabbed my camera. The kiss was just a lucky capture. I think that’s where my favourite photos come from: a little bit of direction, a lot of personality, one eye on the composition and the other eye on the light, and a whacktonne of serendipity.

Photos of a family at their home in Ottawa

And just like that, a morning of memories of a favourite place, a moment in time, and a beautiful family full of love.


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


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


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.


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!


Photos of the day: Five little monkeys on the porch

2 July 2016 Mothership Photography

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Photos of the day: M&J at the park

26 June 2016 Mothership Photography

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 […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Photos of the day: Early summer sunshine at the park

5 June 2016 Mothership Photography

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →