What is documentary photography?

I guess the first thing I need to say is what kind of led me to this point where this is mainly what I shoot and how I shoot. 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 the difference between documentary photography and 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.

toddler in winnie the pooh costume in mini van with red balloon in chesapeake, virginia

so...why documentary? why should you care about it?

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. 

  • Documentary photography celebrates who you are, because whoever you are, where ever you are in your life- it's worthy of being documented and acknowledged.
  • This is the real stuff, the good stuff. Even in the really hard moments, (the really, really hard moments) there's a lot of love and a lot to be grateful for. And in the years following those hard moments, you can look back and see what courage you had and everything you have gained just by coming out on the other side.
  • People react to honest and emotive images. Not saying that you have to share them everywhere and expect reactions, but think of this in terms of you personally. When you see an image of yourself in an emotional and authentic state (whatever that emotion may be) it's likely to illicit a reaction from you. I know on my hard days, I can look at a truly authentic picture of myself and my family and feel loved and worthy and accepted. I imagine the same would be true for you and your family. Think about your children seeing that on their walls? Think of how it makes them feel when they see a picture of a memory with a loved one? Printed pictures have magic, I'm telling you. They can transport you back to a place, a time, a smell, a person, an adventure, a feeling. Fill the walls of your homes with something that makes you feel.
  • Documentary photography captures the details of your life and your story. You know, in elementary school, I'll never forget how they explained the main idea vs. details of a story to us. They told us to envision a hamburger. The burger patty was the main idea. The condiments and extras were the details. You need those condiments to make your burger something awesome- the lettuce, the cheese, ketchup, mustard, tomatoes, onions, mayo...you get my point. Capturing the details of your story is going to support the main idea of your overall story. All of these details play into the bigger picture. The details are often forgotten over the years, but documentary photography ensures that you won't forget them. 
  • Documentary photography acknowledges how the environment you are in affects your life. Whether that's at home or out in about, documentary photography takes into account your environment. 
  • Documentary photography pays very special attention to real relationships. This is important in and of itself because we want to show that certain relationships are significant in our lives- parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, etc. but all too often, I have heard one of the biggest regrets a grieving family has is not having more pictures of a person before their passing- if I'm being honest, I have absolutely felt that way. Life is short, it's bittersweet, and all we leave behind is our legacy. 
  • Documentary photography captures your WHY. Simply put, it captures why you are the way you are and what makes up your day to day. It captures the beautiful, the messy, the real. 
  • I think it would be a shame to also not acknowledge that a documentary session is going to be the least stressful photoshoot you've ever had in your whole life! What other reason do you need other than that!? 

mom with baby doll talking to her toddler at a coffee shop in portsmouth, virginia
3 girls on the balcony of beach house in sandbridge beach, virginia

in conclusion...

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.