I want to redefine what you think about when you hire a photographer. Paid photographers often come to mind when thinking of posed images for holiday cards, growth milestones, and birthdays, but there is so much more beyond this. Using a photographer for in-home unposed documentary photography can provide beautiful family heirlooms that capture your family’s story. Want to see my first unposed documentary video session? You won’t want to miss this post.
Let’s start with an exercise.
Look through your childhood photographs. While doing this:
1) Think of 3 people from your childhood that meant the most to you. What are your best memories with those people? What do you remember most about them? What will you never forget?
2) Pick a handful of your favorite images (less than 10). Think about why they are your favorites.
3) Answer this question: How well do your photographs from childhood connect you to your fondest memories? Do you have photos that reflect your memories? Is there anything you wish you had photographs of that you don’t?
(Really, I want you to do this or at least spend a moment thinking about it – write it down if you’d like.)
Here are my examples:
My Dad: My Dad is a tough guy who showed little emotion. He wasn’t much with words but he often rubbed my shoulders affectionately, which let me know how much he cared. He also taught me how to take care of myself. I knew how to change my oil and a flat tire before I had my license thanks to him. He painted my first car (a 1975 VW Bug) bright yellow in our garage.
My Mom: My Mom laughs and smiles a lot more than me. She would sing in the morning to wake my brother and I for school. While I endlessly complained about this when she did it, I rather enjoyed it. She always had me working right alongside her in the kitchen. I remember baking for others often. She always shows love with food.
My Brother: My brother tried to be a tough guy, but was a softie. Despite being his little sister, he always included me in games as young kids. We built snow forts and played video games (which I always won). He threw me high in our backyard pool. We enjoyed lazer-tag and s’mores in the summer. He taught me to ride a bike.
As I scan through my small photo album from childhood, a majority of the images are from birthdays, Christmas morning opening presents, and awards. The fondest memories I have with my family are not connected to the events that were captured with a camera. I have no photographs learning to ride my bike, baking with my Mom, or working in the garage with my Dad. My best memories were the everyday moments… moments that my parents never thought to document.
While the images taken for the sake of the camera – pause what you are doing, look at the camera, and then smile – were numerous, they are not my favorites. (Are they yours?) Most photographs include obligatory smiles as we face the camera and pause whatever we are doing. There are a handful of Olan Mills studio photographs as well. Those I could live without completely.
The photographs that made me smile most are the rare moments where the camera didn’t disrupt the action. Photographs that were taken in the course of a typical day. These images document real life and connect me most to the story of my family.
Here is a set of some of my favorite photographs from when I was a child. I wish I had similar unposed photographs in our home, yet, this small set of images below is a treasure to me because it is just my little family being silly, being us, and having fun. Take note that my Dad is not in these pictures because he is behind the camera.
Now, imagine yourself and your kids looking back at your family photos from today 20 years from now. How will the images in your current family albums measure up? Will your children see images of your family smiling at the camera or see photographs that tell a fuller, richer, and more complete story of your family? Will your children have photographs that capture the everyday? Will they see YOU (the picture taker) in the everyday moments with them?
I love taking photos of families in the beautiful outdoor light and changing leaves of fall. I can even get candid images in these types of sessions. Yet, taken outside your natural environment, even candid pictures tell us very little of your families story. Documentary in-home images connect us to our pasts much better and are often favorites from childhood.
Candid documentary photography captures personalities, is rich with detail, and evokes joyful real memories.
I want you to consider this when you hire a photographer or snap a picture yourself. What do you want from a photograph? Is your goal to record growth and events or do you want to capture memories?
What phases and habits have your children already grown out of? What do you miss about those earlier days? How did you feel and what were your days like? Do you have these moments captured? Do you remember all the details?
Your most valuable moments with your children are in the everyday insignificant events. Let me capture those everyday moments for you. Get in front of the camera with your family in the everyday. Let me come into your home and tell your story.
“My house is too messy, dark, small, undecorated, or under renovations.”
“We’re moving soon.”
Your home right now is a part of your family story. It’s life and it’s you. The toy explosion is the reality of having young kids. The messy kitchen is part of caring for your family. The apartment you stayed in for a few months while you were building your new home will one day be a fond memory. The fact that your “new to you” house is under renovations or not decorated is true of most young families who are making choices to put their money into raising kids.
Consider your favorite images from childhood again. Are there images that you feel would have been much better had your Mom “hidden the junk” in the corner before she snapped the shot or do those details tell you more of the story? Did you even notice the “junk” in the corner of that favorite picture? Isn’t it fun to see the details of what life was like when you were little and your parents were experiencing all the challenges you are today?
Don’t hide the details of your life. You won’t regret it.
“I want pictures to hang on the wall and send out in Christmas cards.”
Candid photos can be some of the most beautiful images to display in your home. Our dining room wall is an example of a large display of purely documentary images of my family. Documentary photos are a great discussion piece. Instead of hiding the images that evoke the best memories, display them! I guarantee that a Christmas card sent out with unposed images of your family would stand out from the stack of cards received every December. Send something memorable that lets friends and family know more about the personalities and joy shared within your growing family.
And yes, when our family hires a photographer we get unposed documentary images taken and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Colie James Photography