Documentary style family photography, what is it and why is it good for you?

You might have heard me talk about “documentary style” family or wedding photos. Maybe you have seen some of my work and noticed it is different than most other family photos you are used to. But what does that mean exactly, ‘documentary style’, or ‘photojournalistic’ family photos? And why is it so good for you?

embracing the mess

I am very passionate about how this particular style of photography brings an added value to a family and each member of the family for years to come. So you can imagine I could fill hours talking about how to achieve these images. That could get pretty technical, and is better left for another post. But let me tell you a little bit about the WHY.

Of course we took photos of Olivia in her pretty, pristine purple dress. But this one shows so much about how carelessly she went on to explore the world around her. Fern leaves and everything.

Of course we took photos of Olivia in her pretty, pristine purple dress. But this one shows so much about how carelessly she went on to explore the world around her. Fern leaves and everything.

Family portraits are great. We all love a beautiful photos, and taking a moment to stop the rat race and appreciate your partner, your children, parents, siblings. In family portrait, we do both at the same time. Looking at that photo reminds us of why. All the hard work, the bumps in the ride, the selfless caring acts of every day.

You might all look perfect in that family photo, perfect smiles, amazing hair, matching outfits and of course, a clean background.

Life is so much more than that though. It comes with messy bed hair, smudged faces, a screaming baby, last night’s dishes. And you know what, all of those things (and so much more) are what makes your life full, and real, and beautiful, and a challenge, and exciting. And they make your family unique.

In documentary family photos, we are not afraid of the mess. In fact we embrace it. When hands get dirty, baby starts fussing, boxes are still unpacked after moving into your new home, that is exactly when memories are made. When stories are being told. Think about it. When you look at old photos, how often do you point out something in the background because it reminds you of how things really were.

 
building a cookie house with your aunt is fun, messy and worth remembering.

building a cookie house with your aunt is fun, messy and worth remembering.

Documentary family photos show more.

Documentary style family photos show stories and capture the beauty of imperfection. But there is more. These images are always created unposed. Without interference from the photographer. That is also why you might hear about ‘photojournalism in the home’. If a I as a photographer don’t tell you what to do during a photo session, how to stand, pose, smile or interact, you will go back to being yourself.
Which is exactly what I am trying to document for you. Your true self. And, as a family, your connection and dynamics. I have no way of predicting or guiding that, but I can be perceptive and document it for you.

These connections are what makes your family unique. And these images are fun to see now, and will increase in value over time. Children change and grow so fast, so capturing those stories for you, and for them, is priceless.

Note. Lifestyle photography sometimes looks similar to documentary style photos. In lifestyle photography the photographer will create images in real life scenarios, but there is guidance, suggestions for posing, repeating a gesture, changing location for better light, etc. While some photos might look very similar to documentary style photos, you will rarely see photos of things going ‘wrong’. In a documentary style session, we keep documenting when things fall, babies cry, kids fight, mom shakes her head, etc. because we believe those moments are beautiful (and sometimes very funny) and worth capturing.

GETTING UP CLOSE

As you can imagine, when nothing is posed or really planned, and your photographer doesn’t stop shooting when things look less than perfect, your family photo session quickly turns to a pretty personal affair. I can see how that can feel a little intimidating, or might have you hesitate to organize a photo session like this.

Unscripted moments like these allows me to capture their curiosity.

Unscripted moments like these allows me to capture their curiosity.

So let me reassure you. There are a couple of rules in how I work as a family documentary photographyer, to always make sure you as a client feel comfortable.

  1. you decide how close I get. I might approach this session as a photojournalist in your home, but I am no paparazzo :) One mom might feel comfortable and even happy to have photos of the precious moment of breastfeeding her baby, but if that just feels too private, it goes without saying that I respect that choice. Children tend to instinctively indicate very well how comfortable they are with that lady photographer around for bathroom, potty time, etc. My goal is to document, not to intrude.

  2. more intimate photos, especially of children don’t go on social media. Without going too deep into a sometimes sensitive subject, I don’t share photos of children running around the house naked, on social media. But I do photograph them, because I strongly believe there is nothing shameful about being comfortable in your body and children should feel comfortable in their own home. I also see moments as bath time, playing naked in the sprinkler in the back yard, etc as important family moments. These photos are for you, and for them.

  3. you are beautiful. If there is one thing I would love you to feel and see when you look at your family photos, it is how beautiful you are. Also with a stain on your shirt, messy hair, and a house that hasn’t seen Marie Kondo in a while. I am a real, flawed person, my laundry is not always folded (in fact, it rarely is), my hair has a mind of its own most mornings, so trust me when I say I walk in with love, understanding, appreciation and no judgement whatsoever (which should always be a journalistic approach in the first place).


READY?

Did this article make you curious about what your family looks like if you could see it through my eyes? Embracing the beauty of the imperfection, knowing now is soon enough to look great, and that this chapter of your life as a family deserves to be documented.

I would love to discuss your family session, or answer any additional questions you might have about this photography style. You can also check out the different packages I offer HERE.

And of course, if you have a friend or family member that is doing great and might need to see it, feel free to share this information with them!