Your very own guide to making your documentary session awesome
I'm with you every step of the way!
I am so excited to make fun and meaningful images for you of your family. As a documentary family photographer, my intention for your session is to create a story with beautiful imagery that is authentic to your family and to give your kids photos of you in their childhood. I do this by taking a step back and letting everyone go about their life while I act like a fly on the wall in a way. No cheesy poses in these sessions and definitely nothing asked of you that will make you feel uncomfortable to get the shot.
I want your session to be fun and stress-free, so I've put together some some tips for making your session just that.
If you find you have questions after reading this, you can send me an email or we can hop on the phone!
How the session will work
A documentary session is designed to tell your family story with as little direction from me as possible. I'll show up about 5 minutes before the start-time, we'll say hi and meet if we haven't before, I'll put my cameras on and that's it. We get right into it by your family carrying on with whatever you were doing before I arrived.
These sessions usually flow super easily from one activity to the next. I am always mindful of the time and how long I'm with your family, so sometimes I might make a suggestion to do something new if I feel like we need to move onto the next thing.
1. LET THE MOMENTS UNFOLD NATURALLY
The goal of a documentary session is to create truly authentic images and the way for this to happen is by allowing the moments to unfold naturally. What does this mean? It means you don't have to tell your kids to do anything specific.
Does your son always come up to you and give you a squeeze around your neck and kiss on your cheek without you asking? Or does your daughter do a silly little dance when she's in a good mood? Or do your kids have a funny sibling handshake they do together? By letting the kids be, the chances of them doing these things on their own during the session are super high especially because of the amount of time I am with you. BUT if you tell them to do these things they rarely happen the way you want them to.
When you let kids do things on their own time, they do it. If you want a photo of them doing the little quirks they do day to day, just let them be and trust that I am going to capture that moment when it happens naturally.
2. ENJOY YOURSELF
A documentary session takes anywhere between 2-8 hours, and you may feel like you need to be “on” the whole time. You don’t. I promise. At some point most of my clients forget that I’m there, but if you feel like you need to retreat to a quiet room and take some time for yourself during the shoot, I’ll focus on something else. While it can sometimes feel like the session is perhaps boring or a total gong show, I am creating beautiful and memorable images. My biggest piece of advice to make your documentary session as amazing as possible is to enjoy yourself. Be in the moment with your family, with your kids and with your pet. Be there, go about your day, let the moments happen and TRUST in me and my ability that I am doing what you hired me to do.
Because this is a documentary session and I am documenting natural moments as they unfold, there is no need to remind your kids over and over to, 'look at the camera.' Just let them be. Reminding them of the camera will change the energy of the session. They will look at the camera on their own.
3. PLAN SIMPLE, UNPLUGGED ACTIVITIES... OR NOTHING AT ALL.
My goal is to capture whatever is normally going on at your house and in your family life. It may be as simple as eating lunch or something like a craft project, basketball or an errand (yes, I can follow you to the grocery store). It might be ballet practice or homework. It might be you on your computer while your partner picks up toys and your kids argue over the last apple juice. The idea is that it’s what you normally do. If you have something to do, you are more likely to act more naturally in front of the camera, and so are your kids. Some parents like to play the day by ear while others like to plan each day’s activities in advance. During your session, either approach is 100% okay. When in doubt, let your kids choose at least one activity.
4. LOCATION, LOCATION
I shoot both in-home and on-location, but regardless of the “where”, the more important question is – will this place be meaningful to your family? Think of places that your family visits as part of your normal routine. The connection between people is important, but if the environment can add to the story, it will be even more meaningful!
5. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CLEAN!
But if you really must, think of it as friends are visiting – tidy up like you would for them. Please don’t
stress about cleaning every baseboard or shelf, and staging it like it one of your Pinterest boards.
Sometimes a little mess tells a good story too! To me, it means a room well lived in and a home well loved. Since the goal of documentary sessions is to document life as it is, please keep your home looking like how it does on a regular basis. There should be evidence of children in your home and your home should look lived in in your photos.
Often have books on your stairs?
Is there always a pile of shoes by your front door?
Do the kids have lego pieces scattered on the floor?
Does your dog leave their bones out?
Are there finger prints on your doors and mirrors?
Great. Keep em all there!
Looking back on images from my own childhood, I find myself often looking in the background and noticing the furniture, toys and stuff that was laying around and it brings the memory of what is happening in the image to life.
Please do open the curtains and blinds, natural window light is my best friend.
6. DON'T BE AFRAID OF BAD BEHAVIOUR
If your child is being who they are with me, as they would with you, then I cannot ask for more. Children are often the most authentic of the bunch, their actions and expressions are pure and unfiltered and that, to me, is gold. Please don’t feel the need to bribe or discipline, unless of course it is a situation that requires your attention at that moment. Please do not be alarmed if I document those tender or challenging moments as well, because family life is a full spectrum of joy and tears.
To help prepare kids age 3+, tell them your friend Alex is coming over and she's going to spend some time with you guys, just hanging out. Oh and she might bring her camera with her and take some photos of you guys, but don't worry, you don't have to do anything....And leave it at that.
Some things to keep in mind:
If your kid reacts negatively to sugar, avoid giving them any during the session.
If a mealtime isn't going to be part of the session, ensuring your kid has a fully belly before I arrive is a good idea.
7. DRESS NORMALLY
My biggest tip when it comes to outfits is to wear what you're comfortable in and what you already own. Since this is a documentary session, the goal is to look how you do in your day to day life. This means no matching outfits and no need to wear your Sunday best. The goal of these photos is to tell a story and accurately portray your family life and one way of helping this is by wearing clothes that everyone loves. Choose that outfit you wear all the time that your kids will remember you wearing. Do your hair and makeup how you always do.
For kids, I think it's best if they can choose their own outfits. They will be so much happier when they love what they're wearing!
Select yours and your partners (and kids if they can't choose themselves) outfits a few days before the session so everyone is on the same page of what they'll be wearing.
8. CONSIDER THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
Think about what you want to do with your photos. Are they for sharing online with family? Printing in a book or album? A set of framed prints? I bring this up because with documentary sessions, you will probably not get the traditional everyone-smiling-at-the-camera portrait your relatives expect on a Christmas card. You will have a set of images that works together as a fluid collection, but it may be difficult to pick out one to hang on the wall as representative of your whole family. As a special gift, if you’d like, we can do a quick 5-10 minute mini-mini session to close out your documentary session, probably just in front of your home. It allows to get some more classic photos of you all smiling and facing the camera before we finish. And you can even change into coordinating clothes. Just let me know at the start of the session if this is something you'd like.
At the end of the day, the goal and point of this documentary session is to create a sequence of images that come together and tell your family story.
I will bring my cameras and my talent to you and if you meet me halfway by trusting me and just being with your family and letting everything unfold the way it does, your documentary session will be incredible.
If you have any questions about your upcoming session that you don't think I answered here, please let me know! I'm happy to answer anything :)