February 2016

I have always wanted to offer more family portrait sessions in the winter. The snow makes a lovely natural reflector, bouncing flattering light up and all around, and winter outfits are often brightly coloured and pop against a snowy background. Some of my favourite pictures of my own kids are from our wintertime adventures, and I’m certainly not averse to taking my camera out into the cold. Ottawa has no shortage of beautiful backdrops in any season of the year!

I learned this weekend that professional portrait sessions outdoors in the winter pose their own set of logistical challenges, though. The client and I exchanged a few worried emails in the week before the session with our eyes on a changing forecast, and I had to pay a quick advance visit a location I’ve used many times to make sure we would be able to access it with the half meter of snow that’s fallen in the past month. While cold temperatures make for lovely rosy cheeks, wind chills in the range of minus 20 make for watery eyes and runny noses. Moving around to get the best composition often meant I would step off the packed-snow trail and find myself lurching about in a sort of half crawl up to my knees in crusty snow. And while the family was numbed by the raw wintry wind, I was sweating in my layers. Family photography can be a great workout!

Of course, all of that is more than worth it when you get to work with a sweet, fun family who just happen to be amazingly photogenic.

Family snow portraits

It is possible that not every family member was completely enthralled with the idea of portraits, snow or otherwise. Those curls, though!

Family snow portraits

So the raw wintry wind was a challenge but with good humour and patience, some trees to block the wind and some cuddles, we had a bit of an adventure and got a great mix of posed and unposed family portraits in the snow.

Candid, fun family snow portraits by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Note to self: consider adding snowshoes to your gear list for the next outdoor family portrait session!


It’s been nearly two years since I first wrote about stalking my culinary hero, Chef Michael Smith. Since then we’ve been to his Flavour Shack in Souris several times, and for my birthday dinner last year we splurged on an incredible family dinner at his new FireWorks restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune. And yet, despite our best efforts to meet him in person, Chef Michael himself has managed to evade us.

Until Tuesday, that is! In a delightful and completely unexpected convergence of my day job, my love of photography and my celebrity crush, I had the amazing opportunity to take and tweet photos of Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley (how much do I love that my “boss” is from PEI?!) making soup with Chef Michael Smith at an industry reception hosted by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. They’re the folks behind the #HalfYourPlate campaign.

I was more than a little anxious the day of the event. I alternated between worrying that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet Chef Michael and worrying that I would in fact get to meet him — but would babble like an idiot. There may be some precedence for the latter. I also worried about forgetting an important piece of gear at home; whether I’d be able to get a clean photo worthy of the subject matter; whether my equipment would fail; whether I could get it right in camera well enough to avoid the need for post-processing; whether there would be too many people in the room and where I should position myself for the best shot; which lens I should use; how I’d be able to get the photo from my camera to my phone to tweet the photo; whether I should use my flash on-camera, off-camera or not at all; whether I would get stuck in traffic on my way to the event and be late or miss it entirely; whether the egg salad I had for lunch would give me food poisoning and render me unable to attend; and, whether Beloved would ever forgive me for meeting Chef Michael without him.

By the time I actually got to the Chateau I was so frazzled that I was relieved to have simply made it to the site intact. I walked into the ballroom and nearly dropped my equipment – he was RIGHT THERE! Surprisingly, there were no heavenly beams shining on him, no chorus of foodies with harps and whisks around him. And after nearly hyperventilating, I was actually able to walk right up and talk to him and say hello, just like a normal human being. And then this happened:

Me and my bestie Chef Michael Smith

He was sweet enough to both indulge my request for a photo and to listen to me babble about our various trips to stalk him visit PEI, my love for the Island and how I credited him almost entirely for me learning to cook in my 40s. To my delight, he said that he took issue with me giving him credit, and that people have been figuring out how to cook food for generations. He said that all he did was give me the confidence to give myself permission to learn, which was a lovely way of framing it. He asked me about the boys and their ages, and told me about his three kids,and we chatted a bit about the Inn at Bay Fortune as well. By that point, I felt like I’d taken more than my share of his time and retreated to a corner of the ballroom to have a wee moment and get my wits about me while preparations for the reception went on around me. Luckily, I had more than an hour before I needed to take my one tweetable photo and my colleagues and I chatted amiably while we waited for the cooking demo with our Minister to begin.

To my immense relief, I was able to nail a couple of great shots and managed to get them out on the corporate Twitter account without incident.


By the time the reception wrapped up, it had been a couple of hours of being in the room with Chef Michael and I really thought I’d shown tremendous restraint at not following him around like a puppy dog but kept a respectful and respectable demeanor – and distance. I was packing up my (largely unused) gear when I noticed him chatting with a few people nearby. I had an idea, shrugged it off as ridiculous and insane, and then decided to carpe my diem. When would I ever have an opportunity like this again?

I used my iPhone make a FaceTime connection to Beloved at home and told him to gather up the kids and stand by. Then I took a deep breath and I think I was already blushing when I approached Chef Michael, brandishing my iPhone. The emcee for the evening smiled and me and gestured at my phone, asking “Would you like me to take a picture?”

“Um, no,” I blushed, looking at Chef Michael. “I was wondering if I could trouble you to say hi to my boys?” and I held up the live FaceTime connection. I now know that Chef Michael is not only a passionate advocate for family cooking and a world class chef, but a genuinely lovely person, because he did not miss a beat and immediately leaned in to the screen to say hello to the boys.

“You know,” Chef Michael said to them, “your mom is pretty cool! Now EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!” He went on to say hi to everyone, and to smile and wave as everyone said hello back.

I couldn’t have asked for a better finish for a fun evening. Now not only have I met our culinary hero, but the whole family has as well. And it was one of those rare and delightful situations where someone you’ve been admiring for years turns out to be an even more lovely person than you’d imagined.

And also? Chef Michael told my kids that their mom is cool. I’ll be milking that one for YEARS!



It’s the off-season for my photography business, which means two things. First, I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, so I’m teaching myself new tricks and being inspired by seeking out photography tutorials and workshops. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about creativity and storytelling in my photography. Second, I’m positively twitchy to take photos and create things.

I came up with this idea not too long ago, and the idea got firmly stuck in my head. I’ve taken zillions of snowman-building photos over the years, but what if I used composites to show the boys building an epic-sized snow man? This is the final result:

Creative photography composites of children at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

I have to admit, it’s not quite where I wanted to end up. I have the skills now to composite the various pieces together pretty well. This image was about 15 layers in Photoshop, by the time I got through adding the bits together and correcting the light and shadows. Here’s the original four photos I used:

Creative photography composites of children at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

The background is actually a photo I shot with my iPhone on the way home from church, when I realized that the first background I’d been using wasn’t going to tell the story properly.

While I am pleased with the final result, I’m also frustrated. There’s a big gap at the end of what I was able to execute and where I was originally trying to go. I was going for a whimsical, magical feel, almost like an illustration, and couldn’t get it to that level. It may be that the components I was building on are just not right for what I was imagining, or that I just have more learning to do. Even so, I learned a LOT in the process of pulling this together, not least of which is that some tutorials on the Internet are full of crap. The good news is that I have about 50 more ideas I want to execute in this vein, and for the first time in my photographic career, I can conceptualize a theme that I’d like to build into a coherent body of work. That’s pretty exciting, to me at least.

I also learned that spending six hours in Photoshop on a Sunday leaves you with the same sort of “wow, did I ever overindulge myself” feeling that eating nothing but chips and cookies all day does! I’d probably feel a little less guilty about it if I’d been able to hit the mark I was going for, but I’m still pretty pleased with where I ended up.

What do you think?


As it goes, 1966 was a pretty interesting year. The first episodes of Star Trek and Batman aired on TV, and the Oscar for Best Picture went to The Sound of Music. Truman Capote published In Cold Blood, the US Food and Drug Administration declared “the Pill” safe for contraceptive use, NASA launched Lunar Orbiter 1, Pampers released the first disposable diaper, and Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas appeared for the first time on television.

All of that pales in comparison, of course, to the most wondrous event of the year, which took place on February 19, 1966 at St Michael’s Church in London, ON: the wedding of my parents.

Wedding photo

According to the 50 year old newspaper clipping, “the bride chose a sheath gown of peau de soie with a scoop neckline and lilypoint sleeves. Lace trimmed the cathedral train. A flowered pillbox held her shoulder-length scalloped veil and she carried a bouquet of pink roses and white carnations.” I’m pretty sure my Dad was dressed, too, though the announcement makes no substantive mention of him or his attire.

On their foundation of love, a small but mighty empire was built. Both my brother and I were smart enough to follow our parents’ example, and to create happy families to carry on the traditions of unconditional love, quirky humour and family loyalty with which we were raised.

I wanted to illustrate the tsunami of love and happiness that resulted from the ripple of their union, and what better medium than stringing boxes upon boxes (and an external hard drive or two) of old family photos together into one slideshow? I knew I was on the right track when I made myself cry not once but twice while I was putting it together. It does run a little long, at just shy of seven and a half minutes, but it’s hard culling 50 years of love down to just a few highlights!

Sorting through 50 years of photos was a powerful reminder of the way photos mold and shape our memories, and I think in the end this is as much a gift to myself as it is to my parents. It was, however, pretty clear my Dad enjoyed watching the video as much as I did when he asked me to replay it not once, not twice, but three times in a row.

Papa Lou watching the anniversary photo slideshow

My parents have walked a long road together. They have lived the definition of love in good times and in bad, and my memories of childhood are framed by their constant and unshakable love for each other. From my parents I learned that the cornerstones of a good marriage are respect, patience, kindness, open affection, and humour, and that it’s quite possible to love someone even when you want to throttle them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Thanks for getting hitched all those years ago, and making all of this possible. We love you!

50th anniversary


Photo of the day: Snow day!

by DaniGirl on February 18, 2016 · 0 comments

in Life in Ottawa, Photo of the Day

After breaking cold temperature records on the weekend, on Tuesday over half a meter (nearly two feet) of snow fell in about 18 hours, smashing the one-day snowfall record by more than 10 cm. The school boards called not one but two snow days. Not everybody was unhappy with all the snow, though!

Snow day!

Is it spring yet? πŸ˜‰


We had family in town this weekend and it was just too cold to convince everyone outside for a Winterlude adventure, so we opted for one of Ottawa’s quirkiest family adventures: a visit to the Diefenbunker in Carp.

We first visited the Diefenbunker almost exactly two years ago; I remember it was another bitterly cold day as well and joked to the girl at the admissions desk that the next trip would definitely be in the sweltering heat of July. Not much had changed since our last visit, except for the fact that on a cold January morning we had the place almost entirely to ourselves, and on this visit the place was lousy with people seeking Winterlude alternatives to freezing on the Canal. While the kids followed clues on a Winterlude scavenger hunt and my brother and sister-in-law took in the exhibits, I entertained myself looking for fun photo opportunities.

Like this one! Tristan is generally resistant to anyone foisting their rules, world-view or peccadilloes on him, and he knew where I was going with this one the moment I pointed the sign out to him.

Diefenbunker 2016

The kids could not walk past a rotary dial phone without stopping to pick one up and play with the dials. My niece was equally fascinated with every keyboard she encountered. I’m going to start calling her “Miss Moneypenny.”

Diefenbunker 2016

My brother gets that I like to play and is patient enough to play along when I notice the really interesting shapes and shadows that appeared when he was framed in the door of the giant bank vault in the basement of the Diefenbunker.

Diefenbunker 2016

Some stuff is just cool. I had a turntable in a box like a suitcase, but mine wasn’t as old as this one. What year do you figure this is from? Maybe mid-1950s?

Diefenbunker 2016

And finally, you know you’re with your tribe when you say, “Pop a Charlie’s Angel’s back to back pose!” and your brother and sister-in-law instantly do this:

Diefenbunker 2016

Even though nothing has changed since our last visit, and we had the disadvantage of no tours AND visiting on a very busy day, we still really enjoyed this excursion. And did you hear that the Diefenbunker is partering with Escape Manor to turn the Diefenbunker into the world’s largest escape room adventure? From the website:

You are on the final guided tour of the day, when you and your friends duck into a room and hide so that you can spend a night at the museum. You soon discover that it is not a museum at all. It is actually a cover for an enemy spy organization. You overhear some people talking behind closed doors of an imminent attack scheduled for tonight! You must escape! But first, you must find the communications room, stop the launch sequence and phone-in the Red Alert transmission to the outside world before it is too late! 12 people, 60 minutes. Do you have what it takes to save the world?

I can tell you that we’ll be going back for another visit to check THAT out! It sounds awesome! Even without the Escape Manor adventure, though, the Diefenbunker remains one of my favourite Ottawa family adventures.


Flashback Faves: This is how they grow up, quietly and quickly and right under your watchful eye

11 February 2016 Flashback faves

Thanks to Facebook, I know that five years ago today I wrote this post. Tristan is now in middle school and safely walks to and from the bus stop without incident. What I find charming is that he was in Grade 3 when I wrestled with the idea of the risk of letting him walk […]

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Photos of the day: An amazing birthday party at the Ottawa Humane Society

8 February 2016 Lucas

We’ve had a LOT of birthday party experience over the years, from bowling to trampolines to movies to art to Lego. Our new favourite party by far, though, is one hosted at the Ottawa Humane Society. We all love animals, but Lucas has shown a real affinity for them. When he did a school project […]

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A love letter to Lucas, Age 8

7 February 2016 Lucas

My sweet funny Lucas, you are eight years old today! Lucas, you are kind, thoughtful, clever and silly. You are warm and affectionate and love to laugh. And you are charmingly oblivious to the sort of social conventions that require you to actually say hello back when somebody speaks to you, although I’m no longer […]

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Photo of the day: Contentment

4 February 2016 Lucas

It was early in the morning. I was reading my newspaper and drinking coffee, and I looked up and found them like this: She’s happy to cuddle, he’s happy to play, I’m happy to get an adorable photo. Everybody wins.

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