What is Documentary Family Photography?

Documentary family photography is a heavily used term, but few photographers seem to have a concrete definition for it. Some use it interchangeably with family photojournalism, lifestyle photography or candid reportage but this often gets others in the industry a bit brassed off! For me, documentary photography is an umbrella term covering a range of approaches which I personally refer to as capturing real life moments. I really don’t want to enter a debate on definitions, but what I do know is that when I channel the documentary vibe through my lens, I can tell a STORY.

Amazing images, without stress or the need to pose & say “cheese”……

Documentary family photography is not just about clicking the shutter button. It’s about making a photograph with a real representation of the people and places involved. Put simply…everyday life. If you can relate to this, then you’re in the right place. 

Family photos with your kids are meant to awaken memories and spark happiness aren’t they? Ask yourself what you want your children to remember? Is it the stress of being told they have to cooperate throughout a traditional studio session or is it a collection of the same photo every year, where everyone is just a little bit older or an archive of smartphone images? Your everyday life really is beautiful and every moment is worthy of an amazing photograph.

So what does this look like in practice for families – what should you expect on a documentary family photoshoot with me?

1. A visually curated story 

When I enter a client’s home we’ve often already spoken about the family e.g. what everyone enjoys doing, what does the ‘everyday’ look like and how we can emulate some of that in the photographs. “What does [Lily] do in her spare time?” “How does [Alex] unwind” “What do you do as a family together?”

The pre-consultation (nearly always via phone) is useful because it reveals just what you want to remember about this season of your life and WHY you want to remember it. We will capture the true stories that make up your life; what everyone looks like right now, your quirks, what you do, how you connect and the way life feels.

My style of family photography is best suited to natural indoor light at home and outdoor spaces – regardless of season, but we’ll chose the right location together – ideally one with a personal meaning to you all.

2. Candid action

We’ll often start the session by setting in motion the range of activities discussed on the phone, whether that’s reading, building lego, walking, climbing trees, making slime, pillow fighting, playing instruments or baking….the list goes on. Some kids just need to be tickled and already we’ve got an amazing photo! But overall it’s good to remember that some of the best moments don’t happen straight away or by force. You’ve just got to let your family be themselves and let the session flow.

3. Creative natural portraits with emotion & expression

You won’t be posing or following fussy instructions. I won’t be asking the children to constantly smile for the camera, nor sit/stand still awkwardly.

As a mum, I want the same thing for my family photos. I have never been into traditional studio portraits as I’ve always preferred a sense of action and emotion to a still photograph. I find that when someone overly directs me I feel uneasy and become stiff. ​ So the photo shoot is designed be to be a comfortable experience, where for the best part you don’t feel like you’ve been in front of the camera. You don’t have to sit proudly to get an attractive portrait, quite often The big bonus is that by doing activities you all love. You’ll find many of the images are taken discreetly and because ou are busily engaged in an activity the creative I also discreetly capture some creative portraits all captured naturally with minimal intervention – without you even realising it – after all we all want those killer shots to show off don’t we!

4. Attention to detail

We take so much of the everyday for granted that we often miss the little things – the spaces we live in, small toes and hands as well as quirky expressions or stances. The favourite books you read every day/night, or the toys the kids play with until one day you just don’t anymore. I always look out for and capture details like these during my shoots – a collection just wouldn’t be complete without them.

So there it is! I simply come to you, wherever that is, hang out, join in (without taking over), prompt subtly, anticipate what might happen and capture NATURAL photos.

Just think of it as family time instead of an appointment!

If you think documentary family photography is up your street and you’d like a shoot like I’ve described here for your own roost, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

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