Documentary Photography | Preparing for Your Session

Documentary photography is so special for so many reasons. For one, you get to be unashamedly you. It's preferred even! And two (and most especially), your kids get to be themselves. Documentary is the most freeing photo session you'll ever experience because of that reason alone. Most people have a lot of questions about documentary photography and I hope that this post answers some of those questions. The most important thing to remember is that "behaving" isn't a thing, dirty feet are expected, your house isn't as "messy" as you think it is, and imperfection is always better than perfect. And the photos? Well, the moments will create themselves. The photos are just a beautiful accident professionally captured so that the here and now does not simply fade into distant memory. 

Sometimes, it's not about the perfect moment captured, but about the simple moments you'll remember the most. When my son was tiny, he used to crawl into the kitchen, climb into, and sit in the kitchen drawers in our tiny 1 bedroom apartment. It was his favorite place to hang out. I have a million pictures of my son, but the photos I have of him sitting in the kitchen drawers mean so much more. It didn't matter that our apartment was tiny or that the floor wasn't mopped. It was bout the moments that I knew I'd want to remember.

Here are a handful of tips to keep in mind in preparation for your documentary session.


Planning the Day

You can plan activities for your family if you like or you can plan absolutely nothing at all but your normal routine. Either way, it should be what you normally do. Do you and your kids do crafts and baking sometimes? These could be great options for fun activities to capture. My biggest caution is to not OVER plan. Activity after activity gets exhausting. A short documentary session is 2 hours. Keep that in mind when planning activities for your kids. It can get overwhelming if you stimulate them with more activities than they are used to doing. You can even let your kids choose an activity they love to do. It'll mean that much more to them. 

The same goes for me! They may need a break. You may need a break. I'm not going to be offended or sad if you step away. I will simply find something else in your home to capture. It's truly no stress at all. Please, if your child is melting down, don't feel like you need to stay present. You do not have to be going the entire time. I would discouraged it, actually - especially in the case of full day documentary. Just chill. It's totally ok. 


Be Normal

I mean that in the exact opposite way you're probably thinking. In the past, I have poorly explained what it means when I come to share a day with a family, capturing their day-to-day lives. I've showed up to moms looking like they are going to a sunset session on the beach and kids dressed like they are going to a church wedding. The sessions were always beautiful, but that isn't really the point and I quickly learned that I wasn't portraying documentary photography for what it was. 

Your normal is different from my normal, your sister's normal, your mother's normal, her normal, his normal, and so on. Basically, "normal" is different for everybody and the term is heavily skewed in people's minds to be "perfect." Your normal may very well have you waking up to the day's pre-selected outfits for everybody, but for the majority it's PJ's and breakfast around the kitchen table (or in front of the morning's cartoons if you're my family!) Regardless, it's amazing! I promise!



No, you do not have to! Most people ignore my suggestions of not cleaning their homes to perfection, but you really don't have to! Your kid mess is really not a big deal and, even more than that, it's what's real and beautiful about your family's life right now.

If you open your shades in the day to let the light in, remember to do so for nice light and we'll be good to go! And if not, don't! It's really that simple.



I am going to be around, so you are likely questioning how you can be authentic while a lady with a camera buzzes around you for hours. Just like at a  wedding, after about 20 minutes or so, you will be able to ignore it. You will learn to just continue with your current activity. It's not like you can't talk to me. If you need input or you're worried about something, ask! I'll probably ask you lots of questions, too. My job is to make sure you're comfortable. And with comfort comes authenticity. 


Moments Over Poses

My reason for documenting families rather than posing them is truly because I have a passion for the moments that make up a family's real life. You do not have to be ashamed of absolutely anything when I'm around. Your mess is normal. Your tiny apartment is a beautiful memory you'll cherish one day. I have seen it all. And you know what? You'll appreciate those messy moments later on. So will your children. 

Cherish every moment. Every single one. Especially during our time together. These are the moments that you'll truly have documented for keeping. Just live right in the middle of them. Use our session together as an opportunity to put off work (for most of the day at least), put the phone down, plan fun activities you and your family will enjoy, and just be wholeheartedly present with your family for one full day. It will be like therapy!


A Few "Classic" Shots

Many documentary photographers refuse to do anything posed. I am a little less of a purist in that I will absolutely take a couple traditional photos of your family at the end of our time together (or at the ideal lighting time that day) if you choose to have a few taken. These will be quick and easy and beautiful and I am so happy to allow you to have a little time to prepare for them if you would prefer to match those few photos. I always do them at the end of the session if you'd like to have them done. This is because I don't want you to get super dolled up before our session if it's not what you'd normally do. 

To learn more about booking one of these life-changing sessions with me, please visit the contact page to send over a quick note!