If you are considering a documentary family photography session, this guide will help you decide whether this genre is right for your family or not. This genre is not for everyone. The same as formal studio portraits or on-location sunset family sessions are not either.
Your family is unique and what might work for your family might not necessarily work for another. So, if you are curious if this genre is right for you, or if you are considering hiring me for your next family photo session, I invite you to read this guide until the end before making your decision.
If you are new to my work, I invite you to visit my portfolio as it showcases what documentary family photography looks like. Well, at least my own unique style of documentary family photography, which I define as emotive & timeless storytelling.
Let’s get started!
What is documentary family photography?
Documentary family photography is a relatively new genre of family photography. The purpose is to document your life as it is. Zero interference.
This means that there is no direction on what to do, and where to stand. There is no posing or asking you to smile at the camera. There is no moving your furniture around or getting objects out of the day.
Also, there is no need to pretend to be what you are not, to worry about looking perfect, or to behave in a certain way.
Instead, as a documentary family photographer, I simply follow you and your family around documenting those real, everyday moments as they naturally occur. Those ordinary moments like cooking lunch, playing with your children, changing a diaper, breastfeeding, or having breakfast.
What are the advantages of a documentary family session?
An in-home documentary family session is stress-free. There is very little time investment on your side to get ready for your session.
Although I’ll guide you on what to wear to make the most of your session, you can opt out from following any advice. In fact, your children can spend the whole session on their favorite, colorful, mismatching pyjamas, dad in shorts, and you on that comfy pair of yoga pants. And your images will still look amazing! Because these images are really about feelings and stories and not about looking perfect and pretty.
Little children don’t usually like being posed, at least not for an entire portrait session. So, you don’t have to worry about your children’s behavior.
I’ll photograph them as they are. Their true personality. We will embrace the humor, quirkiness, chaos, playfulness, love, and joy that your children will likely show throughout the session. There is no pressure on them to perform for the camera. Documentary family photography follows a child-led approach that releases parents from any pressure of having to get their children at their very best behavior.
In fact, best behavior is optional!
Is an in-home documentary family session ideal for your family?
It depends. I’ll be very honest with you – this genre of photography is not for everyone.
It is RIGHT for your family if you:
- Often catch yourself looking at your children or those family-everyday moments wishing you could stop time to enjoy this stage of your life a little longer
- Would like to have a collection of images that tell the real story of your family life
- Want images that make you feel something
- Love your perfectly imperfect family just as they are
It is NOT right for your family if you:
- Dream of *the perfect* family photo to be of the whole family together, smiling, looking perfect and pretty and into the camera
- Would like to have elements from a photo removed or re-touched to make your images looking perfect
- Only want pretty, smiling photos of your children. You’d not like to have (and print!) photos of your children having a tantrum or being goofy
- Mom wants to look pretty in all of her photos
If that’s you. It is absolutely fine! In this case, I recommend an outdoor or studio family session. For these sessions, I typically offer more guidance and include a wider variety of candid portraits in the gallery.
What is an in-home documentary family session like?
When I arrive at your home, we will take the time to chat. The more you and your family, particularly your kids, know me, the more comfortable you will feel around my camera.
Family sessions typically last 2-3 hours and typically take place on a Saturday morning.
I am very flexible when it comes to the duration of your session. Because I want to have sufficient time to allow everyone to feel comfortable with my presence. And to trust me enough so you can all show your true personality and what your everyday life looks and feels like.
Once I start photographing, you’ll just go on with your morning while I document it. Sometimes I photograph from far. And other times I come really, really close. It depends on the moment.
How can everyday, mundane routines be turned into fine art photography?
There are SO many interesting moments during everyday life. We often don’t notice them because they are an intricate part of our lives.
But trust me on this – there is absolutely nothing better than everyday, real-life moments.
Especially when you have young children. Little kids are so full of emotions. They are discovering the world, and we are re-discovering it with them. They are learning new things and developing their little brains at an incredible speed. Alongside you, the parent, your children will give me more than enough photography-worthy moments to document and turn into beautiful works of art.
But differently from phone snapshots, I am intentional about the composition, the light, and the moment I choose to document. And I photograph with both a digital and a film camera. This combination allows me to capture skin tones and colors that look organic and timeless, giving that signature fine art aesthetic you see in my work.
If there is no direction from me, how you’ll feel prepared for your session?
Once you book your documentary family session with me, you will receive a Welcome Guide with detailed information on how to prepare for your session. While I don’t give direction during the session, I’ll offer you plenty of support before the session.
The guide will include tips on what to wear, what activities to plan in advance, and how to prepare your home and your children. We will also have a pre-session video call when we’ll go over all the details together.
What is a storytelling image, and how is it different from a portrait?
A storytelling image shows a story from a real-life moment that took place when I made the photograph. It could be a story about how your baby is learning to eat solids; one of those famous spontaneous ‘leg hugs’ that your toddler gives you to show how much he loves you; or your daughter’s love for Nutella.
When storytelling images are combined with all the other images from your session, you’ll see the complete story of what a morning feels like for you during the current stage of your life.
The best way to answer this question is to show you the difference. Here are some examples of storytelling (left) vs. portrait (right) images.
What about family portraits – do I include them in your documentary family photography session?
Yes, I do. But these are only *very informal portraits* of you being together. My goal with this portrait is not to make that formal family portrait of everyone looking straight into the camera and smiling.
Instead, through a gentle, almost inexistent directing approach, I’ll ask for you to just be together with your family. I might ask for some tickling, pillow fights. Or to have some quiet, tender moments. Regardless of what I ask you to do, my goal is to simply have you be together with your family while I capture images that show your family’s unique personality as a unity.
Because this is a documentary family session (and not a portrait session), I don’t do all the various portrait groupings, like siblings together, mom & children, dad & children, etc. The only one I offer is a portrait of the entire family.
What does my image editing look like?
I always include a mix of color and black and white images. The decision will be made based on my experience of what works best for each particular image in terms of lighting, color, emotion, etc.
My editing is very organic. This means that I keep it to a minimum to ensure a timeless aesthetic to your images. And to match the authenticity of the documentary approach. I typically do not do any beauty editing, such as removing blemishes and softening wrinkles.
I hope this guide has given you a clear picture of what to expect from a documentary family photography session. And to help you decide on whether it is a good fit for your family or not. If you are still unsure, please feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn how to apply documentary family photography when taking photos of your own children, I invite you to read this post on photographing your baby.