Documentary photography is all the rage right now - at least among the photography community – but if you haven't heard about it yet, you definitely will. Documentary family photography is about capturing organic moments of a family in their natural habitat (usually at home*), during their current stage of life. The family is completely spontaneous, there are no posing, props or manipulation of the settings. The session takes place in and around the family's home or at places with meaning to them. Your memorabilia on your shelves will trigger souvenirs for your grown-up kids.
It is based on reality hence no directions from the photographer to keep it as close to real life as possible. The interactions, the way you handle meltdowns, the eating habits, the clothes you wear, the cup you drink from... are what makes you unique. No two families are alike. The goal is to remember a piece of your life as it is, to spark conversations with the kids and, later, show grandkids! Think of it like a normal day spent with your family, doing the things you normally do except there is someone tagging along taking pictures. He/she won't stalk you but be part of your daily activities. You can even check your emails (hello dad!) and have a quiet time on your own. You wear the clothes you normally wear and go about your day as usual: driving to dance practice with the 5 year old, fixing lunch, putting baby down for his nap, breastfeeding, swinging at the park, having a snack with lemonade, kids running naked in the backyard...
A documentary photographer requires a keen eye and needs to be able to shoot in all types of light, to look for creative composition, to “work” a scene to get the best image, and to let it go (no prompts). The session is all about the family being photographed and captures all the feeling and emotions throughout a day (happy, sad, mad, angry, teary, tired, sleepy, joyful, creative, quiet, you name it). You don't need a particular milestone or special reason.
Sessions usually last half a day (at least 4 hours) and up to a full day. Or even several days if you are on vacation. It is a great opportunity to slow down, and be with your family. Time is the essence here so documentary sessions like minis cannot be done in 20-30 minutes (in my opinion!!).
What turns a documentary photographer on? Personal stories, tantrums, a family at home*, mess, life with kids, an ordinary day, beautiful mundane, pure emotions, the stories behind the image.
*Because a session happens at home it doesn't mean it is a documentary session.
Pros: No travels. The surroundings are meaningful. No posing. Don't have to fake anything. No extensive planning needed. Kids don't have to behave. You have time. You will get the whole gamut of emotions from bliss to tears and from sunrise to sunset (almost!).
Cons: Minimal emphasis on posed portraits, finding the “right” photographer and being comfortable, a session takes time.
For Who? For families who feel awkward when posing and cheese-smiling. It is perfect if you embrace the flaws and want an honest record of this stage in your life. After you have warmed up, you won't be self-conscious anymore. Daily life with kids will kick in anyway.
keywords: family photojournalism, documentary, environmental portraits, real moments, in-home photography.