ALL PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT THE SAME.
Just like musical genres, there are photography genres too.
So, what exactly is documentary photography? How is it different from other types of photography?
To an outside observer, classic portraiture, lifestyle photography and documentary photography can look kinda similar – but there are a few key differences. Here’s my interpretation on what they are.
Documentary photography is completely unscripted. It’s visual storytelling – it’s documenting your real life, exactly as it happens with no involvement or direction from the photographer. It’s raw, emotive and honestly represents who you are – quirks and all.
While documentary photography is completely unscripted - classic portraiture is the exact opposite– the photographer has full creative control over every possible aspect of the photograph – light choice, background, face and body placement etc. They are typically more polished, more poised.
Lifestyle photography lies somewhere in the middle of classic portraiture and documentary photography. It’s a mix of authentic vs staged photography. It’s utilizing the best light, mild posing/direction from the photographer and shooting real life situation as it unfolds. Lifestyle images look more laid back compared to classic portraiture… but don’t necessarily reflect actuality. To me, they are a prettied up interpretation of real life - were as documentary photography focuses less on pretty, and more on real.
What will my session actually be like?
Every session is as unique as the family I’m shooting. We will communicate prior to your session so that I can get to know a little more about you and your family. I also want to know what really matters most to you in documenting your day. On the day of the session, I show up a little early just to get a feel for the home and to meet everyone. It takes a little while for everyone (myself included) to warm up, so I want ample time for everyone to get used to me being there.
These sessions are REALLY LONG. Why?
As a mom who has also done my own fair share of family photo sessions and minis, I can tell you that no amount of bribing could guarantee picture perfect smiles from my child in 20ish minutes. I remember the frustration, the tantrums and the whining from my husband alone – let alone my kid.
It takes time for anyone to warm up to someone. Ideally, I want you to forget why I’m there and not be camera aware - but it that takes time to gain that trust.
With documentary photography, the usual stresses that come with taking photos are gone. There is no rushing, no hunt for the perfect outfits, no time restrictions for the “perfect light”. The best though – no forced smiles, no forced anything. I show up and hang out with the family for a few hours as a patient observer, waiting for natural stories to unfold. My goal is to shoot life as it happens and capture the things that make your family unbelievably beautiful and uniquely yours.
I love the idea of family documentary sessions, but I still need a family photo to send to the grandparents….
I got you. While my sessions are very much unscripted, I have a mother in law that needs to have the photo of everyone smiling for the camera, otherwise there will be hell to pay. I’m happy to set aside time to shoot a few family portraits as well.
So, we don’t really do anything. Our session will be a whole bunch of us doing nothing.
I have a 6 year personal project in the works documenting my everyday. We don’t really do anything either, yet I have an entire portfolio of these nothing moments! While I can certainly give you ideas on activities to do as a family – there is something about shooting simple routines and the things you do everyday that make for some of the best photographs.
Preparing dinner, lazy days on the couch or washing dishes may seem like a silly thing to take photos of, but there can be magic in those mundane moments. Trust me!
My family is a hot mess. My house is even worse. I can’t have some stranger come in here and take photos of this. It’s embarrassing!
Let me fill you in on a secret…I have a family too, I also have two cats that are vindictive jerks that scratch up all my furniture and moldings. My house looks clean, but if you open some of my cabinets and closets - stuff will literally fall on top of you and bury you alive.
A house with kids will be messy - a house with teenagers is probably worse. It’s just how it is. I promise that one day when the kids are grown, you ARE going to miss this hot mess of a life. You’ll crave that chaos. That exhaustion of running after half naked dirty kiddos and finding half eaten fruit hidden in the couch (my daughter is FAMOUS for this) will be a distant memory - one that you may even forget all about, unless you document it!
Plus, clutter ads to the story. You are helping me take better photographs because of it, so you have the perfect excuse to NOT clean up.
Do you document the not so happy moments? The tantrums? The crazy stuff that maybe I don’t want documented?
I document life as it happens but there are boundaries for privacy, if you chose it. If there are certain situations that are off limits, communication is key! While I love images of my kid running around naked, I get that not everyone feels the same way. Just let me know in advance what, if anything is a no go. For moments of conflict and or discipline the same holds true – if you don’t want it documented, just say the word / but being a photographer - I also use my judgement and experience as well and back off if necessary.
Further, not all sessions and not all moments need to be shared online. If you don’t want images shared for all the world to see, don’t be shy about saying so. No hard feelings.
So what do I do with all these photos?
I’m in the business of telling stories, so ideally the best place for these images are in a beautiful photobook and on your walls! As a kid we had tons of photo albums and photos hanging everywhere. We had the photo studio images (the inside joke is that my little sister looked miserable in every single one) and then we had all the images that my dad took that were just of us doing whatever. Happy times around the kitchen table, photos of us kids dressed up in gigantic diaper boxes (remember those?) or of other random things. Those were always the images that stopped people. The ones that really showed what we were like and showcased our personalities. Whenever I visit my mother now , the first thing I do is go through all those old photos and relive those happy memories of days gone by - my daughter loves it too because she gets a glimpse of what I was like at her age and gets a general idea of the man my father was.
How do I talk my significant other into this? It’s a big investment!
I agree – it’s a huge investment, but one I’d like to think is worth it… but I may be a bit biased. The number one reason why these types of sessions are awesome though is that the camera shy significant other doesn’t have to be in EVERY photo.
I’m documenting how you normally spend a day, so you still get to do all the things you usually do anyway. Go to the supermarket, run your errands, drink your beer, give the kids a bath, watch tv, eat a meal together… the list goes on. I promise – its probably the easiest photography session ever, and I swear, I’m not intimidating – we’ll be old friends by the time I’m finishing up.
In terms of the actual investment, there is something about having tangible visual memories about a certain time in your life that are invaluable. Not just photos of smiling faces – but actual photos of what real life was actually like – photos that showcase real personalities, real bonds and familiar locations that actually mean something to you. I love a good photo of families frolicking in fields with glorious sunsets - but really… who does that kind of thing in real life?
Now that my own childhood is long over, and our old house is no more - only photos exist to remind me of the way things once were. In my own humble opinion, you can’t put a monetary value on those memories.