Photo of the Day

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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Back in 2014 when we visited PEI for the first time, one of our favourite stops was Chef Michael Smith’s Flavour Shack on Souris Beach. We met a passel of lovely women who all seemed to work for Chef Michael in some form or another, and one of them was a photographer named Loretta. She was kind enough to use my camera to take a family portrait of us at the Flavour Shack – and it was also them who encouraged us to visit Basin Head for the first time.

In 2015, of COURSE we stopped by the Flavour Shack again, and we happened to find our friend Loretta there and willing to take an updated family portrait for us. The only small disappointment was that in a few visits, we never managed to see Chef Michael himself.

This year, our cottage was just outside of Souris, so we passed by the Flavour Shack each time we set off on an adventure elsewhere on the Island, and each time we drove past, we craned our necks to see if anyone standing six inches taller than the rest of the crowd happened to be in the Flavour Shack. (The “world’s tallest freestanding chef” is rather easy to pick out of a crowd!) Alas, no luck. But we did, on the very last day of our PEI adventure, stop by for a visit to the Flavour Shack. And to our delight, Miss Loretta was there! And to our dismay, she told us that we had JUST MISSED Chef Michael, who had been in the Flavour Shack that very morning with his family.

We did, however, manage to caputre this terrific treasure: our third annual PEI Flavour Shack family portrait!

Flavour Shack family portrait 2016

It’s fun to see the changes. Here’s 2015:

Family portrait

And 2014:

Flavour Shack family portrait previous

I guess we’ll just have to keep going back to PEI to get our family photos updated every year!


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Only time for a quick photo today. This is from Basin Head – of course.

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.”  ~ Terry Pratchett

I love this quote and how well it goes with this photo. It’s from Hat Full of Sky, a wonderful Terry Pratchett novel featuring the debut of the Nac Mac Feegles. You should read it! And, you should dance joyfully in the sea, whenever you can.


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Basin Head beach was our first favourite place on Prince Edward Island. Clearly, lots of other people agree with us: Basin Head was recently named by Chatelaine as one of Canada’s Best Beaches. One of the main reasons I chose our current cottage is because it’s perfectly situated on the same coastal area as Basin Head, just outside of Souris.

Yesterday, we went on a free Eco-Tour (yes, FREE!) of Basin Head, courtesy of the PEI Wildlife Federation, and it made us fall in love with our old favourite all over again. If you get a chance to attend one of these tours, I highly recommend it!

We started off at the Basin Head Fisheries Museum and learned some local history about the Mi’kmaq who lived here for 2,000 years, then the French, British, Scottish and Irish settlers who came in the 1700s and 1800s. We learned a little bit about the history of the fishing industry, and then about some of the reasons why Basin Head is a provincially and federally protected area, including a strain of Irish Moss that doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world.

Then we moved to the beach. Oh how I love this beach!

Basin Head Eco Tour

But seriously, it’s 10 am on a perfect July day in mid-tourism season and there is NOBODY except us on the beach. How is that even possible? We had the crashing waves and the quirky singing sands (to me, they sound more like a seal bark than a song!) all to ourselves.

Basin Head Eco Tour

Have you been to Basin Head? Did you know that on the other side of the dunes is a stunning meadow full of moss and lichens that looks like an Alpine meadow and will take your breath away?

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

Basin Head Eco Tour

These pictures do not even come close to doing it justice. There are four kinds of moss growing, the only one of which I remember is Reindeer moss. (Ha, wonder why I remembered that one?) But you have to be careful where you step, because you will kill the moss if you walk on it, and you also need to step carefully around the tall fronds of Marram grass that help anchor the dunes and keep the sand from eroding away.

The boys may have found the first part of the tour a little heavy on the talking, even if they did seem to be mostly paying attention and engaged with the tour (they were the youngest participants by far in our group.) But Lucas especially loved the next part of the tour when we moved to the river and the tour guides dragged a net for a few meters to bring some of the sea life up close for us to interact with.

Basin Head Eco Tour

I was astonished by the sheer number of critters and creatures they caught in the net. Rock crabs, Green crabs, a hermit crab, sand shrimp, flounder, hake, and a whole bunch of others that I’ll never remember. Only the kids seemed to be particularly interested in getting up close and getting their hands wet!

Basin Head Eco Tour

One fish in particular they seemed pleased to have caught: a pipe fish is a relative of the seahorse (it looks like a straightened-out version) and like the seahorse, the male tends to the babies until they hatch. Lucas held the flounder and the pipe fish, as well as a few others, but declined the crab angrily waving his claws.

Basin Head Eco Tour

This is how you create a marine biologist or an environmental scientists, right here. What a great morning out!

Basin Head Eco Tour

This sealed the deal for me. Basin Head is my forever favourite beach!


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Did you know that if you visit both the East Point lighthouse and the North Cape lighthouse on Prince Edward Island, you earn a “tip to tip” certificate? I wasn’t entirely sure that a certificate alone would be enough to induce the boys into agreeing to the 2.5 hour drive across the province, but I was pretty sure that the water slides at Mill River, not too far from North Cape, would be enough to seal the deal. (How much do I love that you can drive across an ENTIRE PROVINCE in the time it takes to finish an extra large takeout coffee?)

The East Point lighthouse is not too far from where we are staying, so we popped over there a few days ago to get our East Point ribbons. We packed a picnic lunch, stopped for some Robin’s Eggs (our favourite Island road-trip treat) and headed out early.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive that will make your inner photographer weep with covetousness of the shots not taken because if you stopped the car its occupants would throw you off the nearest seaside cliff, you could do worse than the rolling, pastoral countryside around Kensington, PEI. Beautiful farmland bordered by careful lines of towering pines, rolling off into the distance. (The hills, not the pines.) As we drove, the morning fog burned off, rolled back in, burned off again. By the time we reached Mill River Park and its water slides, it was just before noon and fully fogged in again. We made the executive decision to push on through Tignish and to the North Cape in order to circle back to the water park after the day warmed up a bit.

The fog was breaking up again 25 or so minutes later when we pulled into the parking lot at the North Cape lighthouse, on the most north-western point of the Island.

Exploring North Cape PEI

Don’t they look full of the victory of having driven the full breadth of the Island? Trophy photo acquired, we were about to go into the gift shop and collect our certificates when Lucas saw something he wanted to explore.

Exploring North Cape PEI-2

That’s how we stumbled upon one of the most beautiful open secrets on PEI: dozens and dozens of Inuksuit built on the seaside.

Exploring North Cape PEI-6

It’s an enchanting sight that took our breath away. So! Many! Inuksuk! (Did you know the plural of Inuksuk is Inuksuit? Now you do!)

Exploring North Cape PEI-7

So of course, we were on a mission. I had to photograph them, and the boys had to make them. The fog burned off, the sun came out, and everyone was happy!

Exploring North Cape PEI-8

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Exploring North Cape PEI-3

Tristan is like a cat in more ways than one. He likes to find his way to the highest perch to survey the world.

Exploring North Cape PEI-9

And when I saw how amazing the light was with that red sand cliff against a bright blue sky, I needed to get everyone else in the photo, too.

Exploring North Cape PEI-11

And when I say everyone needed to be in the photo, I mean EVERYONE! Here’s to makeshift tripods made out of rocks and a purse, and a mad dash across the rocks while the self-timer counts down. My bum had barely landed on the rock when the shutter clicked on this one!

Exploring North Cape PEI-10

I was not expecting the cape itself to be such an interesting destination, and I could have spent another couple of hours there just playing among the rocks. Promises had been made, though, so we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the base of the lighthouse and headed back to the water park.

Pretty sure the boys thought it was worth the drive, too!

slide collage

It’s a crazy wooden water slide. You sit on a sled thingy and shoot down the ridiculously steep slope and pretty much skip across the pond at the bottom. Wicked fun for kids and moms alike! Also fun, not pictured – bumper boats!

So if you’re looking for an unexpectedly delightful adventure on PEI, I’d say the trek out to the North Cape is well worth the drive. And now we can say that we’ve seen the Island from tip to tip. We’ve even got the certificates to prove it!


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A perfectly unambitious day in PEI

17 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

I have a spreadsheet of things we can do while we’re on PEI, with events and ideas and links that I’ve collected over a couple of years of relentless PEI research. It’s a little bit hard to admit that I’m the sort of person who has a spreadsheet to plan her vacation, but then again, […]

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Photos of the day: Back to the Beach in Prince Edward Island

15 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

We’ve returned for our third annual trip to Prince Edward Island. This year, we’ve chosen a cottage with direct beach access and water views from almost every room in the cottage – quite an improvement from our cottage last year, where “water views” meant a postage-stamp-sized glimpse through some trees and a walk most of […]

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Photo(s) of the day: An overdue visit to Lansdowne Park

4 July 2016 Ottawa Family Fun

I‘m trying to remember when they opened the new and improved Landsdowne Park. Was it summer 2015? Maybe summer 2014? Regardless, we haven’t had the chance to make our way down there until this past weekend. I have to say, we were impressed. It’s a beautiful, bright and spacious area, and we felt like tourists […]

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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 […]

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