Why I Love Documentary Photos (and Why You Will Too!)

After my last blog post I realize that a lot of you might be scratching your heads and wondering “Okay, but what exactly is a documentary session?”  Maybe you’re thinking it sounds like photos you’d see in a nature magazine or like a movie on Netflix (think Planet Earth, which, btw, is amazing and something you should definitely watch).  Allow me to clear it up for you:  simply put, a documentary session is a set of photos documenting a real event in your life.

There are opportunities EVERYWHERE for documentary photos.  Spring is just around the corner (I don’t want to say here yet, as it won’t stop snowing lately!) we could come up with a session centered around some puddle jumping.  Have a green thumb?  I think a gardening and spring planting session could be so much fun.  Maybe you and your partner enjoy cooking; we could document a favourite meal that you love to cook together.  When it comes to families, think a game night, a picnic in the backyard, or even a dress-up session and tea party involving daddy and his girls (I may be speaking from personal experience here).   Like I said, the opportunities really are everywhere.

There is even variety when it comes to the same type of session.  This past fall I shot three in-home documentary newborn sessions.  One included a day on the ranch taking the family horses out for a quick ride, another showed off dad’s cooking skills while mom played with the brand new baby, and in the third we ended up with some great shots of big brothers listening to their dad play the guitar and make “train noises” with a harmonica (I will blog all of these in the near future and include photos of the actual newborns, I promise).

The reason I love documentary sessions is the real, raw emotion that comes through.  And bonus:  they require very little effort from you during the session!  Let’s face it, unless you’re a professional model, everybody feels a bit (or a lot) uncomfortable in front of the camera.  Trust me, I feel the same way when I have my own photos taken.  And when we’re talking family sessions, children don’t always WANT to sit still and smile at the camera for every shot.  They want to run and play and goof around and giggle.  Or do their favourite activities, be it building with lego, colouring, or blowing bubbles.  The nice part about a family documentary session is that that’s EXACTLY what we want them to do!  Couldn’t be easier, right?

And as far as feeling uncomfortable during photos, true it might feel a bit weird at first to have someone just snapping photos of a regular activity that your family likes to do, but after a little while I promise the weirdness will lessen.  And you don’t have to be all “what do I do with my hands?” because you’re just hanging out with your family.  If it does happen to start off feeling super-awkward, I can gently guide you into loose poses and then ask you to interact with each other (rather than stiffly stay in that pose and stare at the camera).  Trust me, 99% of the time it leads to natural, relaxed photos.

That being said, a documentary session also involves a bit more planning beforehand.  The basic process would be you and I figuring out exactly what it is that you’d like to document.  We will determine together which moment or activity is special to your family and deserves the documentary treatment.  It doesn’t need to be monumental or something super-rare or special to be documented (it certainly can be, but it doesn’t HAVE to be).  The main idea of these sessions is to choose something meaningful in your life at this point in time.

I also want to put a disclaimer out there for anyone worried about this: we can absolutely still do a couple group shots of everyone smiling at the camera.  I know there are plenty of grandmas out there who would be upset with me if we didn’t!  Trust me, I don’t have a rule saying you’re not allowed to look at the camera during these sessions.

There will also be individual shots of people in the family.  They just may not be the typical “okay, smile and look at the camera” shots…besides, that’s what school photos are for, right?  We will capture candid and genuine moments and expressions of each person in the session.  And on top of that, there will be details of little things that matter, pictures of movement and/or calm moments, and an overall story told after the photos are all taken.

Coming up in the next few days:  actual photos from some previous documentary sessions.  This is, after all, a photography blog.

Family Session, Lifestyle Session




Why I Love Documentary Photos (and Why You Will Too!)

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