The workshop: A photo-story collaboration

We have three players this week in our ongoing photo-story game. Each week, I toss out a photo to a group of players, and whomever has the time and/or inclination sends back a story inspired by the photo.

I find it interesting that these stories have varying vibes of darkness and melancholy, despite the bright sunshine streaming in the window. Is this a melancholy photo to you?

by Christine Hennebury

I have the feeling that I’m done here.

I’m not finished, it’s not complete, but I am done.

Sometimes you have to recognize that you aren’t the one who will finish it. You can do your part, take it so far, and then you leave the tools for someone else.

I thought about putting everything away, leaving it all very tidy, but that seemed a bit too cold, too distant. I wanted to leave somewhere for them to start.

Even if they are just tidying up. By touching the tools, the wood, the bits and pieces of a project in progress, they can feel their way toward the next step.

I wish I could see them learn but that’s not how this works.

We do what we can and then we leave enough for them to find their way, just as we found ours.

It’s not complete but, but somehow, it is whole.


Click through to read:
The Workshop
by Gal Podjarny


by Mimi Golding

She put the tools down, looking over her progress that she had made.

Time for that Gin and Tonic, she thought, as she picked up the glass of liquid pain relief. Care was needed to craft the intricate design. Thoughts kept drifting, “Would it be good enough?”

“Bah!”, she thought to herself. That self-criticism was Walter talking again. Walter, her so-called black dog of depression that followed her everywhere. Her loyal companion, always shadowing her actions, nipping at her self-confidence.

“Walter, I don’t have time for you today” she said, as she finished off her beverage, turned towards her work and picked up her tools. “Time to crank up the jam!”

Feel free to write your own piece of flash fiction and add it in the comments, or post it on your own site and link back to it in the comments. If you’d like to join our little cabal, leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list of players. There’s no obligation – drop in and out when you can. You can read previous stories here:

The gate: A photo-story collaboration
Perspective: A photo-story collaboration
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration

The gate: A photo-story collaboration (Now with more players!)

Well this is wickedly fun! If you’ve been following along, for the past month or two, Christine Hennebury and I have been playing a little collaborative photo-story game. I send her a random photo, and she riffs on it with a piece of flash fiction. Last time, we invited others to join us and LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED! We have a veritable treasure trove of flash fiction pieces. Some are here and some are hosted on the writer’s own sites – make sure you see all six of them!

Ready? Here we go!

Photo of a gate and concrete steps by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

by Christine Hennebury

“The story is that her whole family just vanished one day. She was reading in the living room, the sounds of the house just kind of floating around her. Next thing, total silence.”

“Seriously? Total silence?”

“Yep. Like a tomb.”

“What happened to them?”

“No one knows. And she had the house taken apart, brick by brick, trying to find out where they had gone. Never found a thing.”

“So, why’d she leave the gate there like that?”

“It’s a open door, so they always can get back home.”


“Yeah, I know.”


Click through to read:
by Lynn Jatania


by Mimi Golding

I used to live here, not so long ago…before we were evacuated.

They filed into the field of remains, looking in awe, exasperation, sadness and curiosity, but mostly nerves. Would they find it before the light faded? This was their last chance before the dam would be opened and all would be lost again … under all that water.


Click through to read:
Stairway to Heaven
by Gal Podjarny


by Julie

Every now and then the wind would catch the metal gate. And even though I’d heard that clang at least a dozen times while I laid stiff in bed, it still made me jump. I wanted to escape to sleep. But my mind was thinking thoughts that I could never even whisper out loud … what if I woke up and she was dead?

But it never failed; I would wake to the sound of the kettle boiling and then the clink of a china cup onto its saucer. Slipping out of bed, I was warm to about mid-calf. That’s where my Nana’s nightgown reached. Her slippers were so tiny that I couldn’t even stuff my 9-year-old feet in them.


It’s all tiny. So very tiny.

Yes, yes, I nodded.

And musty.

Yes, I agreed.

And isn’t it quaint … these old fashioned tea cups and saucers?

I led her outside of the house and down the front path. She took one last look around and handed me her business card. Sharon, real estate agent.

She turned quickly and walked away, pausing only briefly to check her cell phone.

The gate clanged.


And it makes me wonder
by Kev Needham

It was a fall holiday.

Nothing was open, and I had nothing to do.

I went for a walk.

The leaves were like gold upon the ground, birds were singing, and the odor of woodsmoke ringed heavy amongst the trees.

I ran into a lady who said I was familiar and, while certain we had met, she couldn’t place me.

We talked.

About double meanings, the wonder the world throws in front of us daily, and how the West was broken.

She was looking for something, but couldn’t find the word that described it.

We walked.

Along the brook back to the tree that was my plot.

Taking the fork from the path through the field to a place long forgotten.

The “For Sale by Owner” sign, while faded, still bore my name.

“This is it” she said.

I asked her if she was sure.

She was.

I sold.

I hope she gets to heaven.


So good, right? It’s so fun to see where everyone goes with their interpretation. And did you catch that two of the posts make completely random reference to Led Zepplin songs in the title? Feel free to give the writers a little love in the comment box.

Feeling inspired? Christine wrote this tip sheet on creating flash fiction. (In addition to playing along here, she’s writing a piece of flash fiction every single day for the month of May!)

Feel free to write your own piece of flash fiction and add it in the comments, or post it on your own site and link back to it in the comments. If you want to get on our email list, let me know in the comments and I’ll add you. No commitment required!

You can read previous stories here:
Perspective: A photo-story collaboration
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration

Photos of the day: Five things that make photographers happy

Dawna and I have worked together on and off for more than a decade. While I’ve bumped about here, there and everywhere, she’s worked in the same building most of that time. So when she accepted an offer for a new job recently, she asked if I would be interested in a little lunch-hour photo shoot to commemorate her time spent in the lovely Connaught Building in downtown Ottawa. How fun is that?

You know what’s really fun? She was the most wonderful subject. Not only is she seriously adorable and open to just about anything (perhaps it’s for the best that we were denied access some of the rather important places we tried to use as a backdrop on the inside of the building) but she inspired this blog post about five things that make photographers happy.

1. Fantastic locations

Some locations are just naturally gorgeous, and a gorgeous setting helps complement a gorgeous subject. The Connaught Building has lots of beautiful warm brickwork, interesting angles, massive wooden doors and interesting details.

Dawna at Connaught

2. Clients who bring their own ideas and listen to yours

This session was a lot of fun because Dawna had some ideas of her own, but because I worked in that building for years, I had my own ideas too. She shared a few, I had a few, and together they worked out great.

Dawna at Connaught-3

3. A lovely lack of self-consciousness

It was lunch hour on a work day with lots of people around, and Dawna didn’t flinch as I dragged her around the building and said, “Stand here, jump up there, what do you think about climbing on that?” I totally get that it’s the most uncomfortable thing in the world to have the lens staring at you in the first place, let alone with passersby around. Dawna handled it like a pro!

Dawna at Connaught-2

4. Outfits that coincidentally but perfectly complement the setting

I am in love with how her purple jacket pops against the warm tones in the brickwork and those massive doors.

Dawna at Connaught-4

5. A sense of humour

Really, this one should be first. Humour is my primary method of dealing with just about every situation in life, and it’s pure bliss when I can riff off someone else’s sense of humour, too. Photo shoots can be FUN – no, really! I particularly love this shot because this look is pure Dawna.

Dawna at Connaught-5

A sweet friend, a beautiful setting, a hint (okay, quite a bit more than a hint) of sass, and my camera — yup, that just about covers my definition of a perfect day out! Thanks Dawna! Next time we’ll book ahead for that boardroom. 🙂

Perspective: A photo-story collaboration

Are you ready for the latest installment of the ongoing photo-fiction game that Christine Hennebury and I have been playing? Each week, I take a photo and send it to her, and she uses it as inspiration for a piece of flash fiction. We’re enjoying it so much that we’re inviting others to play along too – see details below.

But first, this week’s story!

Photo of a chicken


I probably shouldn’t have agreed to read her book.

And I definitely shouldn’t have told her that the part I did read was awful.

Meeting her in that dark parking lot to return the manuscript was not my brightest moment, and turning my back on her was a monumental mistake.

As she hit me on the head with that shovel, I thought ‘This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.’

I woke in the barn, sneezing and sniffling, surrounded by hay, my shoulders aching from the way my hands were tied behind me, and I thought ‘No, THIS is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.’

Then, when she came in wearing that robe, carrying the book, it seemed she was going to read more of her so-called novel to me, and I thought,

‘Oh, no, THIS is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.’

I couldn’t even cover my ears.

When her gibberish turned out to be a spell, it was a kind of relief, really.


You can read previous stories here:
Patience: A photo-story collaboration
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration

I know I have tonnes of friends who like to write, and we’d love to have others join in and play along. Inspired by the photo in this post? Write your flash fiction in the comment section. Or, drop a comment to be included in the mailing list for next week’s photo. We’re big on fun but short on rules – help us make it up as we go along!

Patience: A photo-story collaboration

This week, I tried to throw Christine Hennebury a curve-ball in our ongoing game where I send her a photo and uses it for inspiration in a piece of flash fiction. Joke’s on me, as I think this is her best story yet. The last line totally left me wanting to know what happens next!

Christine and I are having so much fun with this, we want to invite you to play along too. Details below!

Photo by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders


At first, I used to pretend I was doing something else. Enjoying the night air or whatever. Anything to get out on to the patio.

He never goes out back so he didn’t catch on, didn’t insist that everything outside be as ‘spic and span’ as he wants the inside of the house kept. I could just leave everything in a pile, a secret protest.

These days, I find he pisses me off so often that I can’t go through the pretense of a breath of fresh air. There’d hardly be time to get back inside before I headed out again.

So, now, I just keep my cigarettes tucked into a pink, plastic soap case in the planter outside our bathroom window. After that last soothing draw, I toss the butt down on to the patio and close the window.

You’d think he’d smell the smoke on me but I guess his lousy cologne has dulled his senses because he has never mentioned it. And I know he would mention it.

Another 384 days and the terms of our pre-nup are fulfilled.

For that kind of cash, I can outlast him.

You can read previous stories here:
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration

So, would you like to play, too? Christine gets one new photo a week, but I can send it to you, too, if you’d like to play along. We’re making up the rules as we go along. Post it on your own site or social media channels, send it to me and I’ll post it here, or you can post it in the comments – however you’d like to play along, but please link back to the original post here and Christine’s site. I think it would be super fun to see everyone’s different takes on the photo of the week. If you’d like to be included, leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch!

Photos of the day: Bris for twins!

Taking photographs at family events is always a treat, but for once-in-a-lifetime events, it can be a little stressful, too. This week I was honoured to be asked to document the Brit Milah (Bris) of twin baby boys!

Brit Milah

I was a little nervous about making sure I got the key elements of the ceremony, but having photographed a baptism and a bat mitzvah as well as a few weddings now, I knew I’d be mostly good if I kept my head up and my hands steady. A story is a story, and I do love to tell a story in photographs. (A bit of research on Google ahead of time helped me know what to expect, as well.)

It was a warm, lovely ceremony – times two!

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

Two proud big brothers and a big sister helped to welcome these new babies into the world. This big brother is clearly taking his responsibilities with baby brother seriously!

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Mothership Photography

There were lots of friends and family nearby to help celebrate. Lots of amateur photographers, too! 😉

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Mothership Photography

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Mothership Photography

Even as an experienced mom of three, I was in awe of how easily this busy Mama tucked two babies into her wrap and got on with her business, arms free and a beautiful smile on her face.

Brit Milah by Ottawa family photographer Mothership Photography

I won’t pretend to know which baby is which, but hello Koby and Jonah!

Brit Milah by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Brit Milah by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Mazel tov, beautiful boys!

Family traditions documentary photos: Saturday afternoon at the park

You know what’s really awesome about cold January days when the temperature is hovering near minus 40C? You look at your website and realize there are nearly half a dozen terrific photo sessions that you clean forgot to share on the blog!

Let’s go back to late October. The air had just started to turn chill – warm enough to be out without jackets if you threw on an extra layer or two. In the case of this fun family of five, it was layers of matching red plaid – soooooo cute! This was one of the “documentary” family traditions sessions that I offered at the end of 2017. I am so hooked! There is something wonderful about tagging along with a family having fun together, and sneaking in snapshots along the way.

A few of you have asked me how this is different from a regular family photo session. In many ways, it’s really not — I’ve always been drawn to the candid “in between” moments during a photo session that show the laughter and emotion and relationships between family members. The main difference is that the goal of a standard family portrait session is basically to arrange the family in pleasing static poses, usually with everyone facing the camera and smiling. The documentary sessions are more about telling the story of your family’s personality, and capturing that in candid storytelling photographs. In a standard portrait session, I’ll say “stand here, and do this with your hands – move a bit this way” and offer similar direction. In a documentary session, I’ll just come along, watch, and take photos based on what the family is doing.

The kids here were great. I could see that they’d been told not to “pose” for the camera, and could equally see that they couldn’t resist doing exactly that. Some documentary photographers are more strict about this than others, and won’t take a photo if the subject is actively engaging the camera. I’m not that strict. I just like to make pretty pictures!

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

We played a little catch – and a little fetch. 🙂

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

And then we just played.

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

After an afternoon of playing (with each other and with me!) it doesn’t seem quite so torturous to stand together for one quick posed portrait that grandma (and mom and dad) will love! Five happy, natural smiles and I even got the DOG to look at me. That’s a major photographer win!

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Y’all, I have to tell you – the more of “documentary” style shooting I do, the more it makes my heart soar. I LOVE these sessions! I love doing them, and I love how much the families love the photos. Here’s what they had to say:

Dani took amazing photos and was so fun to work with! She was very easy going and flexible going with the flow when our kids got too into it and decided to set up their own shots. She captured the unique personalities of all 5 of us plus our goofy dog! So much fun! Pictures we will cherish long-term and enjoy sharing this holiday season.

I’ve got one more Family Tradition documentary session to share with you from the end of 2017, and then I can tell you about the fun NEW project I’m planning for 2018. Stay tuned!

Photos of the day: The end of porch season 2017

It has been a busy end-of-autumn run on the porch, so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about all the adorable kiddoes and their sweet families who came for portraits. Autumn is the craziest season for family portraits!

It was still quite summer-like for fall when this little fellow came to the porch for photos with his mom and dad. He really liked the apples I had picked up especially for the occasion!

Child portrait by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

By the time we were done, we had a whole basket full of apples with one bite taken out of each! Seriously, can you look at this without feeling the warmth and wonder of mom and dad with their first precious baby? (And how much do you love that dad and baby are wearing matching shirts?)

Candid family portrait

This family came to visit the porch a few years ago when they were a family of two, and came back with a new baby sister this year.

Autumn family photography on the porch

It’s possible that not everybody in the family was enthusiastic about the idea of posing for family portraits.

Not everyone loves picture day

That’s the beauty of working with families, right? Authentic family moments. It took a little bit of patience and a lot of laughs on the part of the grown ups, but I got him to come around.

Children's portraits in Ottawa

Mostly. It’s real, though, you gotta admit that! 😉

Autumn families on the porch

Older kids are often a little easier to work with. They’re more self-conscious, but they listen to direction. And they give me this really patient look when I tell them my best knock-knock jokes (often while the parents are killing themselves laughing off-camera!) This brother-sister duo was delightful.

Portrait of siblings

And then we introduced the family dog to the mix. That, as you can see, went flawlessly.

Funny candid collage of kids and dog

And with that, we wrap up another fun season of portraits on the porch. The more sessions with families I do, the more I love capturing those funny in-between moments that show a family’s true personality – the candid laughter, the outtakes, the sweet snuggles and the expressive looks.

If you love candid family photography, consider booking me for one of the new “Family Traditions” documentary sessions. I can come to your home, or a location of your choosing, and tell the story of YOUR family in action – making cookies, decorating the house, reading stories, or whatever it is your family loves to do together. Read more details about the documentary photo sessions in this blog post, but book soon! There are only a few sessions left in 2017, and this price goes up considerably in 2018.

Photos of the day: Autumn colours at Hogsback Falls

I think the paths along Hogsback Falls in Ottawa are truly one of the city’s overlooked treasures. I see photographers crawling all over the Arboretum but am surprised that I rarely see family photos being taken at Hogsback – there’s a stunning variety of backdrops and perfect places for posing and playing. It’s been a few too many years since we’ve been there, though I drive past it on my commute every single day and think about stopping. We took advantage of the incredible weekend weather to go out for a wander.

Taking photos of the boys is more of an adventure than it used to be. I told them to “go over there so I can take your picture.” The posing and art direction was left up to them.

fun family photos in Ottawa

I call it “Album Cover, Autumn 2017 edition.” 😉

I think this would be an acceptable alternate cover.

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

Some of them are more willing to pose for me than others. It depends on the day which kid is in which category!

Autumn at Hogsback Falls

(Oh my heart!)

fun family photos in Ottawa

autumn wander at hogsback simon

(Yes, that’s my camera. Good thing I carry a spare in my pocket!)

Did I mention it’s been a FEW years since we were up on the lookout?

fun family photos in Ottawa

We have a few favourite spots we go to year after year. I’m making sure that Hogsback Falls is put back into rotation from now on!

Photos of the day: Those curls, though!

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!