Mothership Photography

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.

Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

With the Family Traditions package, you invite me to a location of your choosing for up to two hours. You’ll have a family activity planned, or maybe two, and I’ll be your personal “mamarazzi”, taking photos of your family at play. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll receive a set of fully culled and customed edited set of at least 25 – 40 high resolution photographs that document your day. If you like, we’ll even squeeze in just one or two “everybody say cheese and look at the camera” photos, because we know grandma loves those ones.

Intrigued? Here are some ideas I thought would make for a fun photo session:

· Apple picking
· Family picnic
· Visiting the pumpkin farm and/or carving the pumpkins
· Raking the leaves
· Doing holiday baking (maybe with the grandparents?)
· Decorating cookies
· Making ornaments or decorations or cards
· Visiting the Christmas tree farm
· Decorating the tree
· Wrapping gifts
· Writing letters to Santa (with hot chocolate, of course)
· Making latkas and lighting the menorah
· Building a snowman or skating on an outdoor rink

Or maybe you’d love to have a photographer come and capture Sunday breakfast at your place? Or bath time, stories and snuggles before bed? There are so many possibilities! Everyone has favourite activities and traditions – and now you can preserve those memories in a customizable photo session tailored specifically to your family’s personality.

Documentary day in the life photography by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

You might be wondering what the difference is between a documentary family photo session and a traditional photo session. The documentary style is a completely different approach. Rather than posing for the camera, you ignore the camera and let me capture the activities and interactions. Four key differences between documentary and posed photo sessions are:

  1. It’s less stressful. You’ll have an activity (or two) to keep busy so you won’t feel so self-conscious and awkward in front of the camera.
  2. It’s more natural – you don’t have the photographer dictating “sit here, touch this, move your arm here,” etc.
  3. It’s more authentic – you get to see everyone’s personality, instead of trying to force everyone to “behave” and pose nicely for the camera.
  4. It tells a story. In fact, it tells YOUR story, and far better than any “smile and pose for the camera” session could.
  5. Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

    You can see that my kids don’t exactly dress up for our annual decorating the tree photos, but I love that this shows them how they really are, how they look on an average Saturday, in all their casual, jammie-bottomed comfortable glory.

    Documentary family photography sessions by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

    Sessions booked for the rest of 2017 will benefit from an introductory price of just $325. That’s a considerable savings over my usual portrait package prices with more digital files included.

    There will be a limited number of these sessions available between now and the end of December, so if you’d like to know more or book your session, please get in touch soon!


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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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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?


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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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Autumn in review part one: A Manotick Family

27 November 2016 Mothership Photography

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 […]

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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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