A Breathe of Fresh Air | Washington D.C. Family Photographer

A good photograph is like a crisp, fall breeze. It has the ability to invigorate the senses and inspire the spirit with a playful energy as whimsical as the autumn wind. And if captured correctly, it harnesses the same spirit of fun that compels us to pick-up games of football or a romp through a pile of newly raked leaves.

Whatever it was, something was in the air the day the Ellison family arrived for their family photo shoot in Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral. Fueled by the promise of adventure on a cool, clear day, the Ellison’s four children—Owen (7), Parker (5), Cooper (4), and Beckett (1)—were as dead-set on capturing an outdoor playdate as I was on capturing a truly memorable family portrait. They were quick find diversions in the simplest of pleasures—and I had to be quick on my feet to capture each moment.

I’ve found in my time as a family photographer that kids don’t like to sit still—and portraits depicting them as such are just as unnatural. So from behind the lens, I make each shoot a game in which my child subjects are intricately involved. The silliness and improvisations make for wonderfully natural shots—and absolutely priceless memories.

The seasons change and so will the Ellison children. But no matter what, they’ll always have this treasured image marking that special time of childhood, when siblings whirled around in carefree bliss, much like the leaves that fall in the background.


You Can't Shut Down a Photographer's Shutter | Bethesda Family Photographer

You can shut down the Smithsonian; you can shut down the monuments; and you can even shut down the national parks. But families never quit. Despite being prohibited by Uncle Sam from taking a walk in their favorite park, the Daggett family eschewed the idea of canceling their on-location family photo shoot. For them, it was business as usual, and (unlike our Congress) they were all about getting the job of capturing the perfect family shot done.

So in the early weekday morning hours, John and Elizabeth and their darling sons Charlie (4) and Henry (2) appeared on the boardwalk of the Georgetown waterfront, very much a alive and enthusiastic in a town that has virtually gone to sleep.

As a photographer, I find that unexpected location changes can be golden opportunities. They challenge me to be creative on my feet and remind me of the importance of being flexible. Luckily the Daggetts were more than willing to collaborate and make compromises--exchanging the idea of a park bench in Jones Point Park for a dormant fountain along the Potomac and the spectacular backdrop of Key Bridge. And though not part of our original plan, all parties were thrilled with the result--particularly Charlie and Henry, who skipped and fist-pumped their way through the shoot with adorable glee.

One thing is for certain: While the government shutdown has put freeze on a great many things, it can't put a stopper on the every-day beauty of a clear morning sunrise and a loving family assembled together. I'll vote for that.


Fall Mini-Sessions 2013 | Bethesda Arlington D.C. Family Photographer

It's that time of year again. The air is crisp, the pumpkin spice lattes are flowing, and it will be time for the holidays in the blink of an eye.  I can't wait to see all the returning smiles and meet many new shining faces. Happy Fall Everyone!

P.S. I will update this graphic as days sell out. Updated Sept 27 at 8:31pm.

There are no weekend slots available. Life happens and people have to cancel all the time so if you are interested in being on a waiting list, please let me know.

I do also offer weekday shoots at 8:30am and 4:30pm at the National Cathedral Bishop's Garden.


Tom and Lindsey | Engaged

Two years ago, Tom got a birthday present he never expected. As he celebrated with friends at a restaurant in downtown Bethesda, an unexpected guest, Lindsey, turned out to be the best birthday present he could have ever hoped for.

Two years later, Lindsey and Tom are engaged and I couldn't be more excited. Lindsey is one of my very best friends and I have been waiting for this day *almost* as long as she has. :-)

We took advantage of the early morning light this morning at Glen Echo Park and got some really special images. Glen Echo Park is not only one of my favorite locations to shoot, but it is also incredibly special to Lindsey and her family. She grew up just a few blocks away and spent her childhood celebrating her very own birthday there, riding the carousel, taking pottery and painting classes, and even attending ballroom dancing. The park has been an integral part of her life and it is seemed suiting to bring Tom there to mark another milestone- her impending marriage.

Tom and Lindsey,
I am so excited for the two of you and I wish you nothing but joy and laughter over the next few months while planning your wedding. I know it is going to be beautiful and full of love. It makes me very happy to know that in addition to the biggest party you will every have-- your wedding -- you will be celebrating many more birthdays together for years to come.

xoxo, Dottie


Who Says You Can’t Wear White After Labor Day? | Bethesda Family Photographer

Summer and childhood are all too fleeting. Bright and vibrant, they represent an unbridled joy and sense of wonder that’s difficult to hold onto as long days turn into long nights and flowers fade from sight. Yet the power of a summertime family photograph is in its ability to capture both the season and our childhoods indelibly. Seasons come and go, but a photograph is forever.

That’s why I love the plucky defiance of the Barber family, who milked this past Labor Day for all the bit of summer it had left, wearing their best seersucker—complete with summer hats and floral bows.

I love the symbolism of seasonal shoots because the environment lends a sense of delicacy and urgency that complements the subjects. Just look at the shot of 4-year-old Lucy: Her close-up skin is as soft and new as the wildflowers she is savoring, her baby blonde hair like wisps of summer grass. And what about the exuberant portrait of 2-year-old Andrew, his smile as bright as the blooms in Bishop’s Garden?

A snapshot in time. Like summer, those childish visages will grow and change and even harden like the seasons. But in the corner of a home—on a wall, a piano, or a desk while the clock ticks and the snow falls—a slice of childhood and piece of summer will shine on in the background waiting to be rediscovered.


The Color of Love | Arlington Family Photographer

It’s hard to pinpoint anything more colorful than the fall foliage in late October—that is, until you meet the Smith family.

I’ve been shooting Jessica and Chris Smith and their two daughters, Addison (5) and McKenzie (3), for three years now. I’ve seen them change like the DC seasons, and each stage I get to photograph is like celebrating a holiday.

Like the turning leaves, photographs are opportunities for us to mark the passage of time and discover how some things have changed and, at the same time, how some things—like the Smiths’ close bonds and sense of fun—never do.

Addison’s hauntingly beautiful sea-green eyes still stun me the same way they did when she was 2—but that toothless grin tells me she’s just that much wiser and sophisticated now that she has a few years under her belt.

And McKenzie, as shown by these adorable action shots, has literally leapt into her role as little sister, her thick flowing hair a sharp contrast to the wispy baby curls she sported a year ago.

This is a family that truly loves to play and grab life by… well, in these photographs, the leaves. So, it’s not surprising, then, that Chris can take a bunch of brown branches and make them light up a shot like a bouquet of roses.

I always like to stage my shoots in vibrant settings, but in the end, it really is the family dynamic that brings the color.


Every Happy Home is a Castle Unto Itself

Every man wants to be the king of the castle—his wife a queen and his children princes and princesses. That’s how home should feel behind the impenetrable walls of family, and that’s what comes through loud and clear in these regal-looking shots of the Winebrenner clan and their afternoon romp through the old-stone halls of Cathedral Gardens in Washington, DC. Sunny, lush with flowers, and blessed with even a rainbow, the day—like the Winebrenners—couldn’t have been more magical.

Some of my favorite shots are of the family peeping through the Cathedral-style windows, the legs of little Joey, 3, and Elliott, 21 months, dangling from the limestone sill. The backdrop of temple-style arches truly gives each frame a royal feel. And the portraits of each child against the garden walls are truly handsome.

But the greatest asset of these shots (aside from the incredible positive energy of Winebrenners—their joy and fun-loving attitude comes through in every single frame) was the light. Having arrived at 7:30 a.m. to beat the heat, the Winebrenner’s were able to take advantage of the early-morning sun, which adds a crisp freshness to their portraits that you simply cannot duplicate in a studio. They say that kings and queens receive their blessing from heaven. Given the soft glow that pervades each happy scene, I’d say there’s some truth to that. And if you don’t believe me, look for the rainbow.


Fourth of July Retrospective: A Hero’s Welcome

There’s nothing more patriotic than saluting a hero on Independence Day—especially when that hero gets to celebrate his greatest accomplishment: his family.

Garrett Harries missed the fireworks last year. His wife Melisa and his three kids, Sophia (8), Jack (5), and Dominic (1) had to celebrate without the USAID officer who stationed in Iraq. This year, it is fitting and poetic that as a DC family photographer, I can help preserve their precious moments together stateside in a setting that underscores their sacrifice and their significance as a family committed to national service: Washington, DC, and it’s scenic Independence Park along the Potomac River.

I love how these family photographs highlight the independent nature of this proud family. Whether the kids are off on their own gazing out at the horizon or playing in the background while their parents smile at the camera, they get to be their all-American selves—which is the innocence and beauty of America that we seek to protect.

But my favorite shot is a far cry from that independent theme. It’s the one with the Harrieses all linked hand-in-hand, traipsing across the river walk. They are a unit; they are a team; and most importantly, they are together.

As we bite into our watermelon and stare at the fireworks this Fourth, let’s remember that it’s beautiful families like the Harrieses that allow us that luxury—they supporting Dad, and Dad supporting us.


The Sun Never Sets on Family Memories | Washington D.C. Family Photographer

In a few months, the Ottenbreit’s time in the Nation’s Capital will end when they move west to Minnesota. But the sun never sets on fond family memories. To underscore that fact, the Ottenbreits decided to close their chapter in DC with a sunrise family portrait session at the Lincoln memorial.

Folks are always dedicated to producing a quality family photograph, but the Ottenbreits were particularly committed—waking up at 4:30 a.m. to take advantage of that all-too-fleeting pre-dawn light. The results were well worth the effort.

The rays of light and bursts of sunbeams are dramatic enough, but what I really love about taking advantage of these early morning hours is the quiet calm that permeates the National Mall. There’s not a tourist in sight, as if the reflecting pool and Lincoln Memorial’s marble columns were the Ottenbreits’s own private studio. The symbolism the backdrops provide is also special—the final photos seem to suggest that the Ottenbreit children are inheriting the country at the dawn of their journey into the world, their future bright and sunny.

I love on-location family photography shoots in DC because I can truly capture my clients in places that mean something to them. And when clients have a connection to their surroundings, the family photos always convey a naturalness that no studio can duplicate.

The Ottenbreits clearly shine in their favorite place. What’s yours? I’d love to hear from you.


Of Family Roots and Cherry Blossom Blooms | Bethesda Family Photographer

In 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda—the wife of the then-Japanese ambassador—planted two tiny Cherry Blossom trees along the edge of the Tidal Basin. Just over 100 years (and more than 100 trees) later, Laura and Charlie Novotny will be returning the favor—moving to Okinawa, Japan, to let their two little seedlings, Elias (age 6) and Keane (age 4), bloom in the Land of the Rising Sun.

More than flowers, family photographs are a cultural currency that holds tremendous value no matter the destination. Ask anyone who has traveled to a foreign land to be a guest in someone’s country, and they’ll tell you that in addition to your passport, two items are mandatory: a gift and a few family portraits.

Social customs and culinary traditions may vary to the point of sometimes being even a little bit scary, but the family bond is something that is globally understood—a universal experience that binds us to all 7 billion people on the planet regardless of race, creed, income, or language. And as a DC family photographer, knowing that these photos from my annual Cherry Blossom mini shoots will help ease the Novotnys' transition into their new community and give their new lodging a sense of ‘home’ is truly why I love what I do.

I’m genuinely excited for the Novotnys—and by the ecstatic looks on their faces, I think they are, too. And I know they’ll fit into their new country perfectly. In fact, unless, you were told otherwise, the Bishop's Garden at the National Cathedral might as well be the Japanese garden they’ve lived in all along.