Mothership Photography

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!


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. I recently stumbled across the retelling of Jamie’s photo project in this video, and thought it worthy of sharing here. It’s really amazing to think of him taking these photos in the days before digital!

If you can’t view the video, you can see the original on Mental Floss.

If you’ve been reading along lately, you know I’ve been inspired to incorporate more storytelling into my photography. Over the years I’ve worked on my technical skills (exposure, focus, light, etc) and then my compositional skills. I’ve refined my digital post-processing skills, played with black and white, and worked on how to pose people.

Now it’s time to level-up once more and hone my storytelling skills. I’ve always valued a photograph with a “moment” more than a technically perfect photo, and lately I’ve started to move my photography business in the direction of less posed portraits and more documentary photography. And so, the very same story that inspired my Project 365 has motivated me to start a new project: the Story of the Day. I don’t think I have the stamina to do one every single day, but that’s what I’ll be looking for in my personal photography this year: photos that tell a story.

Here’s a great example! This is breakfast at our house. Lucas has made some freezer waffles for himself and instead of syrup has coated them in peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. As he eats, he’s watching YouTube videos and Bella is watching expectantly for a stray morsel to drop. The light behind him is what brings it all together, I think.

"Are you going to finish that?"

I love this picture, and I’m excited about the idea of telling more stories through photography this year. I know from looking back on my archives, the photos that document the minutiae of every day life are the ones that resonate with me. And, I’m just a sucker for a new project. I think I’ll aim for one Story of the Day photo each week. One down, 51 to go!

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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 deep affection for the subjects. It was a beautiful afternoon out with a gorgeous couple, and we had a lot of fun together.

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

(Yes, they really are as sweet as they look. Seriously.)

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Autumn maternity photos by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Their beautiful baby girl arrived over the holidays, and last weekend I was able to pay a visit with my camera and tell the story of a quiet Saturday afternoon at home with a new baby.

Portrait of a sleeping baby by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Portrait of a young family by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Daddy kissing baby by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

I’ll let you pause to catch your breath after all that adorableness. I mean seriously!

Family portrait with pet cat by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Family portrait with pet cat by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Those last two are definitely my favourites of the day, but I honestly can’t decide between the black and white yawn, or that compelling green stare of derision. What do you think?


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 tentatively selling prints to stock photography and finally finding my true love in taking candid, playful portraits of people and families.

If you know me, you also know that I love free, and I love Ottawa, and I love PEI, and I love the bloggy peeps who make this blog such a fun place to come and play. So this year, I’ve wrapped all of those things up and put a 2017 bow on them to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you with a small token of my appreciation. I’ve created five downloadable 8×10 calendars that you can print out at home or through your favourite print lab. I tried to choose photos that were iconic for Ottawa folks, but also some that would be appealing to those of you coming from a little further away.


You can download them from my client galleries on Pixieset. Scroll down and click on the version you like, then click the download icon. It will ask you for your email address but I promise that I’ll never use the info to spam you. If you’re so inclined, you can also share the calendars on various channels with the share icon.

If you’re printing at home, they should fit nicely on a regular 8.5 x 11 page, or choose 8×10 photo paper.

Thank you for your attention, your insight, your participation and your affection through the years. Here’s to a blissful, bountiful 2017 for all of us!


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 (on the telephone!) to book a session with her family, I imagined grandchildren. Silly me, I should have been more open-minded. Families come in a delightful range of shapes and sizes. She wanted pictures with her adult children and their partners, and I have to tell you that it was a refreshing change of pace to have no toddlers to manage!

Ottawa family photography

Of course, sometimes you want a traditional family portrait: just mom and dad and the kids with a warm backdrop of autumn leaves. The leaves were warm, but the wind was cool and gusty on this late October afternoon – we had a pile of coats that kept coming off for photos and then back on in between shots!

Family photography in Ottawa

Sometimes, you want photos with the extended family: in this case, grandparents, adult siblings and their partners, and a couple of sweet kiddies to amp up the adorableness. We had so much fun at the Lime Kiln Trail on a lovely autumn Sunday. Although I love this extended family portrait, some of my favourites from this session were more candid moments we captured later when everyone relaxed and just played together.

Ottawa family photographer

And speaking of extended families, how’s this for a big group? I’m fascinated by large families because growing up I had only one brother, one cousin, one aunt and uncle and two sets of grandparents. I love the affectionate chaos of a big group like this one!

Extended family portraits in ottawa outdoors

Sharing this big extended family photo reminded me that there’s one other session I forgot to share, this one going waaaay back to July, just before we left for PEI. There were lots of planning hurdles to overcome here, not least of which were out of town guests and location challenges and then a rainy forecast. Sometimes it seems like the more challenges we face in setting up a photo session, the better the final photos seem to turn out. Big groups can be tough, but I loved working with this fun, funny gang.

Family portrait photography in Ottawa

On one hand, sharing only the posed family portraits doesn’t do these photo sessions justice, as it’s often the in-between moments that end up being my favourites. I think that’s why I find myself favouring a more documentary style instead of posed formal photos. I like to think that even these more posed photos can still tell you a little bit about the each family’s unique character and dynamics, though. I love that “family” is such a big word, subject to so many different definitions!


Oh hey bloggy friends – long time, no see! Sorry I’ve been a little lazy with the blog updates this season. I’m just coming to the end of the most amazingly fun and busy photo season ever: I’ve had bookings, sometimes double and triple, almost every weekend since Labour Day. I’ve been so busy trying to keep things moving that I just didn’t have time to keep up my “photos of the day” habit. There have been lots of fun families and great stories, though, so as we settle in to the relatively calmer holiday insanity season (!) I thought I’d do some catching up.

I really enjoyed working with this fun local family, and we’ve since become friends. They moved just this year to Manotick, returning to Canada after a stint in Los Angeles, so we based our photos around Watson’s Mill.

Family photos at the Mill-6

Beautiful family, right? The light was soft and delicious on this day as late summer gave way to autumn’s colour, but it was the black and white that carried the moment here.

Family photos at the Mill

I like how the colours and style of their clothes are complemented by the industrial feel of the Mill and the weir.

Family photos at the Mill-5

This was my favourite shot of the day, and I have to admit, it wasn’t even my idea! She was actually taking a photo of the dad and kids and I was trying to catch it, and the dad was encouraging her to turn on the selfie camera as a joke. It didn’t quite work, but with a little photoshop magic I was able to make the shot.

Family photos at the Mill-2

Fun, right? If I haven’t made the families I work with laugh at some point during our photo sessions, I haven’t done my job right. I love this sort of playfulness! Add “sense of humour” and “court jester” to the ever-lengthening set of skills required to run a family photography business. Lucky for me, both of those come pretty easily to me. Now asking me to be serious for a minute – that one’s a bit more of a challenge. šŸ˜‰


Photos of the day: Chilly portraits on the porch

13 November 2016 Mothership Photography

October was a rough month for outdoor portrait photographers. At least one day of every weekend in October was rainy and cold, and I had to reschedule more sessions this year than ever before due to poor weather conditions. In fact, this lovely family and I had to reschedule not once, not twice, but three […]

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Photos of the day: Piano in the Park at Watson’s Mill

25 September 2016 Lucas

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 […]

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Photos of the day: Sunday fun at a Centretown park

11 September 2016 Mothership Photography

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 […]

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Photos of the day: Making squares

31 August 2016 Mothership Photography

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. (He’s not glaring at me, I swear!) Looking at them […]

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