I have always been kind of a sentimental girl. I've also always been kind of a grassroots kind of girl. I question things. I naturally am always looking deeper, beyond the surface. I've always found beauty in the ordinary and in the complexity of human emotions. Childhood curiosity and wonder absolutely amaze me (they are brilliant little creatures, aren't they?). Looking back, it only seems natural to me that I would make the shift from traditional family portraits to lifestyle portraits to now 75% of my business being of the documentary genre. Documentary photography excites me, yet brings me peace. It allows me to show you what I see.
What is documentary photography and how does it differ from lifestyle photography?
That's a fairly easy question for me to answer because I think they are hugely different. A lifestyle shoot may take place at home, but it's carefully curated. Only the best lighting is shot, outfits are chosen and coordinated, only your good side is showing, the room of the house you're shooting in is neat and completely tidy. Poses are loosely created appear emotive- and I'm certainly not saying they aren't loving- they totally are. But it might not be what you would naturally do to cuddle or show emotion. Lifestyle photography is really beautiful and visually appealing, no doubt about it. The photographer creates scenes of the subject s/he is shooting. And let me be clear, like, crystal clear: there is nothing wrong with lifestyle photography. And yes, I still shoot it. But documentary photography is a totally different ball game. It is natural and authentic, families and couples are free to go about their daily lives for the time I am with them. I capture what they show me- in the environment that they are in. I tell the story of what I see. There's no posing, there's no saying cheese. If there is a smile, it's organic. If there's a laugh, it's uninhibited. If there is a kiss, it's genuine. If there's a meltdown, it's gritty. And if there's baking, it's messy. It's real. And it's so, so good. There's so much more to life than perfect moments and that is what makes documentary photography so deliciously, soul fillingly good. Instead of artfully directing the scene in front of them, the photographer is artfully anticipating the scene. Observing and watching, carefully waiting for the moment to present itself.
To kind of drive the point home- in a lifestyle session, love is seen and felt with heartwarming smiles and connection with the camera. By contrast, in a documentary session, love is seen and felt when a toddler falls and scrapes his knee and the parent scoops them up (screaming and crying) to wipe away the tears and clean the wound while whispering reassurances in their ear.
So, why documentary then? Why should you care?
When you ask those questions, when you ask yourself why? That's when documentary photography really shines. Documentary photography is really gaining ground and becoming more and more mainstream.
There's as many reasons to choose documentary photography as there are stars in the sky, but what you have to decide is "Is this right for me?" "Is this what I want?" And if you're reading this, and you're here...I'd like to think that it's something you want to explore. I'd like to think that you can envision a session for your own family full of beautiful, yet ordinary memories.
If you would like to talk about scheduling a session, feel free to contact me here or on the Contact tab above and we will talk a little bit about what you want and how you want to approach your session. I'll also send you out a questionaire to help me see and understand what is important to you.
Here's a few more blogs exploring the documentary genre and what to expect on a session with me!
What to Expect on a Family Session
What to Expect on a Newborn Session
Authenticity in Documentary Photography
Rachel's story is one a lot of us can relate to, yet unique to their own family. She and her husband both work from home. They've settled into a comfortable routine, the kind that comes with doing life together for years...the kind that can be comfortable in silence and in chaos. Their life together has been built on triumph and tragedy, love and loss.
Though the home they are in is a temporary one, it's home for now. They have each other and that's home enough. The feeling of "home" is all encompassing the second you walk through their door.
Their beautiful, yet ordinary, mornings consist of Daddy getting up first and fixing breakfast for the children. Promptly at 7:30am, the girls are sent to wake up Mommy. I arrived just in time to see them jumping on the bed and snuggling in for morning cuddles. Then, the familiar routine of divide and conquer begins. Daddy brushing teeth assembly line style, while Mommy dresses and brushes hair. A quick goodbye as Daddy takes the girls to school.
And then, there were two.
Mommy and Little get quiet time together to snuggle, read, and fill up Little's heart with love and quality time before Mommy settles in for work.
I asked Rachel about her work and what it means to her to be able to work from home and share in these moments with her girls. She says, "I have shared my passion and educated my community on Young Living Essential Oils for the past 5 years and I've made a full time career out of it. We're [my husband and I] both extremely entrepreneurial minded and have been happiest working at home for ourselves! As far as motherhood, I've been super intentional with my time. I have set time blocks for work and set time blocks for family. Of course it can vary day to day which is the beauty of working from home."
Intentional. I like that a lot. Being intentional with our time, our relationships, and our commitments.
To say that I enjoyed photographing and working with their family would be an understatement. They welcomed me into their home as if I were an old family friend, greeted at the door on a cold, crisp fall morning with a warm hug and offers of hot coffee- by strangers no less. I was thrown directly into their morning routine and I was rewarded with real life goodness and given the freedom to document their truth...even down to brushing teeth and struggling to put tights on wiggly little girls. Being given that freedom and that trust is an honor.
I think being in front of the camera can do one of two things: it can make you self-conscious and "camera aware" (as we call it in the documentary community) or you can embrace it in an authentic and organic way. They embraced it and in turn, they truly have images that document this season of their life. They will be able to look back at this unscripted morning and see the real, honest love an ordinary morning brings.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.