Is Documentary Family Photography for You?

What comes to mind when you think of documentary photography? Some idea of hidden truth being revealed? An untold story? Well for me truth is a large part of documentary photography. Visual documentary stories have been around for decades and any form that calls itself documentary I believe should respect this time-honored genre. This includes not staging or manipulating any shot. No direction is given. Not even a chair is moved. It is the photographer’s job to adjust themselves only.

Beyond the technicalities, documentary family photography captures how our relationships really are, how your family interacts, how you live your everyday life. While the nice family photos of everyone looking at the camera and smiling are wonderful to have, documentary photography allows us to remember the real moments and genuine interactions for years to come.


Is it for you?

First of all, everyone has the right to prefer a style of photography over another. I don’t feel any need to coerce anyone to like this style of photography. That being said, if you find you value a few of these aspects in how you want to capture your memories, documentary style could be an excellent option.

  1. If you want to freeze a moment in time. Maybe it’s the eye roll from your teenager when they hear a “Dad joke”. Maybe it’s the look of surprise when your baby tries something sour for the first time. Maybe it’s the smirk he gives after stealing a kiss. Or your little one reaching up for you. Everyone once in awhile you pause and take it in because you know it goes by so fast. Photography can freeze those moments too.

  2. If you want your whole story told, the fun times and the mess. Life isn’t perfect smiles and perfect poses. While those pictures can be beautiful to have as well, when people look back on them in 50 years will they be able to tell any part of your story or who you were.

  3. You hate posing. Haha! I’ve heard from more than one client after a session, “That wasn’t bad at all. I’m usually so stressed trying to get the kids to pose and smile.” So if you get anxious in front of a camera and getting that “perfect shot,” documentary approach might be a welcomed relief. You only chase the children down if you want to.

  4. And finally, documentary portraiture is unique and has a subtleness about it. Maybe you’ve gone into a home and seen a picture of a beautiful smiling family blown up big on a canvas as a centerpiece of sorts in the home. But you can’t imagine having your face blown up that big and displayed. Documentary photography can be subtle and abstract. You can choose to display a photo that you connect with emotionally or have an entire album of your photo session made to tell a special story of a day in your life.