Leah O'Connell

families, Featured sessions, newborns

2021 Client Dundee Awards + Behind-the-Scenes

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

Education and articles for family photographers

TOp categories

FAQ's and guidance for stress-free family and newborn sessions 

Essays, letters, favorites

Highlighted family and newborn photography sessions

Instead of doing a roundup of my favorite photos like I do most years, this time, I’m going big and celebrating my families with some fake virtual awards.

As a family and newborn photographer, every single session is unique and there are so many little quirks that make each one special. If you didn’t get a superlative, it’s simply because I had to narrow down my list so as not to create the longest blog post ever. Still got carried away. Love you, mean it.

2021 Client Superlatives

Best Hair

Starting with a classic, this babe was my first of the year and he had a head full of thick, shiny locks could make anyone jealous.

Most rambuncious kids

I’m certain this mom will get a kick out of this award because she knows it’s totally true, but we had such a fun session because of it! Her go-with-the-flow attitude was so key in just embracing the chaos and letting me wrangle it into photos that feel both energetic and full of love.

Most unique pets

“Can take some with my pets?” My answer to this question is of course, always, a resounding yes. This senior did surprise me a bit though when he proceeded to introduce me to his pet donkey and steer. That was a first.

Coldest session

We’ve been lucky with a pretty mild winter so far, but the morning of this session was under 30 degrees with frost on the ground. The boys were all about it… for the first 15 minutes. Then it got rough. We did lots of running around and snuggling, but these parents were rockstars at keeping calm despite the boys’ resistance and shivers and we ended up with lots of really tender moments.

Most endearing siblings

Ugh. SO. MANY. This sweet pair stood out for sure though as big sis was just amazingly kind and gentle with her newborn baby brother – tbd how long it lasts, but they sure tugged my heart-strings for that one precious hour.

Runner-up: THIS CREW. So much tenderness, fun, silliness, and love that it was palpable. I just adore photographing them.

The grandparents everyone wants to have dinner with

At the beginning of this extended family shoot, they were uncomfortable. She told me they’d never had photos taken together outside of their church directories. By the end, they were laughing and hugging, rounding out our night with, “oh that was fun, we needed that.”

But I needed them, too, because they’re the kind of people you just feel warm around.

Strangest weather conditions

SWARMS OF KNATS. Yep, the entire time shooting, we were being swarmed, literally surrounded, by knats.

This extended family was made of groups from all around the world, coming back together for the first time in years at the grandparents’ Virginia country home. We opted for an outdoor session for safety and 9am on a hot, summer day was the only time that worked to make it happen in my schedule for the week they were here. So it was bright and about 90 degrees, but also, the knats were other-worldly.

I had to edit knats out of these photos for hours because there were so many, you could actually see them in the images. YEAH.

Most creative brand shoot

So. Much. Fun. This amazing artist will be launching her business Terra Ethos in 2022, but we met to create imagery for her website before the design stage. She wanted images that felt mysical and incorporated elements of nature, so when the sweeping mountain views we’d hope for in Shenandoah National Park were blocked by heavy fog, it actually was the best gift ever for thinking outside the box.

Over-it toddlers

Again, these amazing parents know this one is so accurate and I still love them so much.

My role for half the session became offering bunny grahams from my pocket at the the perfect moments and instigating games that made her feel like no one was telling her what to do. At least baby sister basically slept through the whole thing. Cheers to parents juggling 2 under 2 with lots of deep breaths, Coco-melon and snacks.

Most fun extended family

I had lots of extended family shoots this year that were full of love and laughter, but this one will always take the cake because I’ve known this family since I was about 7. All adults at home, making appetizers, drinking gin and tonics, playing croquet, and just loving each other through close posing on an 80 degree night. This simple, natural approach, part portraits and part just being you… that’s my vision for every extended family session whether it’s 6 people or 20.

Power-couple parents

This session was just fun from beginning to end – simple, love-spilling-over fun, and it was so apparent from even just one hour together that this is a family who loves hard and gets silly. These parents set the tone by keeping it simple, enjoying each other, holding hands as we walked around, and being engaged in the games we played. They were there to be all in on celebrating each other for who they are, and that’s something that resonates throughout a home, a session, and the images that we make.

Most Athletic

A family who bikes, scooters, and skateboards together as part of their home session? HERE FOR IT.

Laid-back bride

I only did 2 weddings this year, so I’m applauding both brides for master easy-going status. The first was an intimate ceremony and small gathering at Common House in downtown Charlottesville, complete with live jazz music, approximately zero fanfare around incorporating old traditions, and simply a celebration of two families coming together in love. BRAVO.

My second wedding was a fourth-of-July elopement in the Wintergreen mountains. They said their I do’s, signed their marriage license in the back of the pastor’s truck, then we roamed around the woods for an hour while they celebrated being giddy-in-love before brunch with a list of facetime calls to family. Laid-back to the max and still so so special.

Champion dad

Chilled fall air with the sun peaking over an early October morning, chubby cheeks on a sleepy babe, and a dad with sneaky food poisoning that really wanted to ruin his fun. He had to excuse himself twice to vomit in the woods. AND YET, he rallied each time, not even faking it but truly loving on his family as we roamed around our location.

Three cheers for dads like this who show up all in.

Best out-of-towner session

These New-Yorkers were camped out on a family farm through 2020 and half of 2021 before deciding to return to the city, but I’m SO GLAD I got to traipse around the fields with them first. It was giggly, sun-soaked summer love through and through.

Hungriest babe

Sometimes a newborn just wants eat… like the whole time. Between feedings, we worked quickly to get family shots and breakdowns, but then she was back to mama after about every 5-10 minute increment. This mom of three girls was a super good sport and just embraced the attachment for some really special images, along

Coolest house

This couple moved to the Charlottesville area in 2020 for a change from city-life and ended up basically in a treehouse/log cabin buried on top of a mountain.

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that even though I drove my Jeep to get there, I definitely got stuck on the narrow, steep incline up to it and had to call them, attempting not to freak out about rolling off a cliff, to come get me. Luckily, this dad is far more skilled at Jeep-driving/mountain-climbing than I, and I made it safely to their serene hideaway for this sweet newborn session.

I have about a million more stories to share and a gazillion more amazing people that go with them, but for now, I’ll wrap up this year’s 2021 Firefly Dundee Awards with a giant THANK YOU to all you families who said ‘YES, this is important’ this year and chose me to be a part of your memories.

I will pour my heart into telling the stories of people and families for as long as I possibly can because I love it that much.

With you and for you towards another year, Firefly tribe. Let’s do life together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.