How To Collect Your Best Family Memories Using Photography

If you pull out your old box of photos and look at your favourites, I’ll bet those particular photos vibrantly (with all 5 senses) allow you to revisit your BEST stories. They have recognizable pictures of the people you love. And when you think about how these pictures make you feel, it’s so wonderful. It can bring back laughter, tears, stories, happiness and a true feeling of nostalgia for that time and place with the people in those photographs. 

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This post is going to show you how to get more of these photos while preserving more of your best stories and memories as you live them.

Going deeper, if you’ve ever hired a family photographer around here in Dundas, Ontario, I’m sure you loved your portraits as the end result! We have a lot of talent around here. Now, take a moment to revisit what it looked like to make the photos happen. 

I hear people say things like:

  • We had to plan our wardrobe (buy some coordinating outfits)

  • It was a race to get the whole family ready and keep the kids clean + cooperative long enough to get a few good pictures!

  • We had to keep our child up late so the photographer could work during the best light of the ‘Golden Hour’

  • We were told where to stand, where to look, when to look at one another, when to look at the camera, how to turn our heads, and so on, which kept our focus on “am I doing this right?” and “I hope this is quick or my kid is gonna lose it.”

To sum it up, it felt a little more stressful than it needed to be. This post will show you how family photography can feel worked into your busy schedule, freeing, and yield stronger, heart-tugging photos than you may even think possible!

What can pictures do for you?

I have a photo of everyone smiling and looking at the camera on my wall, which I love and holds its own purpose. The thing is, there’s another side to the family photography story that most people don’t know about. Once I discovered this for myself, I couldn’t get enough. 

Here’s why: 

When I look at a picture of my family (my husband, my daughter, my parents), I want to see the honest personality. I want to see the little quirks or actions or expressions that helped make them who they are. 

I want pictures that encompass memories that bring a smile, a laugh or a tear to the eye. I want it to feel like the photo brings me right back to that moment in time, like I’m reliving the memory, with as many senses as possible (remembering what it was like to hear their laughter or voice, feel the texture of their skin, smell a favourite meal cooking in the kitchen, etc.). 

I want pictures that allow me to revisit the stories and people in my life when it’s no longer possible. 

And most people I come in contact with are like “YES!” They love the idea. But, they don’t know how to make it happen or that’s it’s possible to do this with a family photography session. 

Or, worse, they aren’t thinking about it at all. The best parts of right here and now are lost in the busyness of all the things we need to do for tomorrow. Time for reflection only comes when a childhood milestone has come or gone, big family events like weddings or celebrations, and toughest of all, when we’ve lost someone we love.  

Allow me to introduce you another way of looking at family photography photography and all the ways it helps preserve your best memories and stories. 

What is Documentary Family Photography?

Documentary Family Photography is how you can take control and preserve all the important things - the personality, the family history, everything.

Interestingly, when I tell people “I’m a Documentary Family Photographer” and then ask them what they think it means, I most often hear things like:

  • “Are you like the paparazzi, but for regular families? Getting all the dirt for everyone to see?” (this one always makes me laugh out loud, I’m definitely NOT hiding in bushes or climbing over walls to take these photos! haha!)

  • “Is it like, you set up some activity at the family’s house or a park and direct them to “look natural” while pretending to do real life stuff?”

  • “Sounds time consuming and studious, do you follow the same family for years taking photos of them as milestones or something? Kinda like when parents take photos of their babies in the same spot each month to show how they’ve grown?”

So as funny as these answers are, these are far from how it works. Please note, all forms of photography have a purpose. I’m going to break down what Family Documentary Photography looks like in contrast to other approaches to help you see the difference. I’m not saying one is better than the other, they are simply different and work to achieve different goals. 

Free from the Golden Hour restrictions

Some family photo sessions take place at a lovely location, like beaches, parks, or fields, and scheduled at very specific times. For example, if you’re going to a family session on the beach, your photographer will likely request that you meet them there soon after sunrise or shortly before sunset to shoot in the most beautiful light. This could mean as early as 6 am and as late at 8 pm. 

Depending on your family, this can also mean disrupting the family schedule. Do any of these sound familiar to your past sessions? 

  • An early rising time or going to bed late for the children.

  • Possible interruption of meal times, like breakfast and dinner.

  • Getting children ready and willing to participate when directed when they’re tired and hungry.

If some of these things are deal-breakers for you, here’s how Documentary Family Photography is free from the pressure of the clock and optimal light:

  1. Sessions can happen any time of day. The sessions don’t disrupt your family schedule, because you aren’t planning for an event here. My job is to be present when you are simply living out what it is you want your pictures to help you remember later.

  2. Sessions happen at a location where your family feels free and plays a role in what you want to remember through your photos. Ex: In your home, at the market, the library, an amusement park, the farm, etc.

  3. Documentary photographers shoot through any kind of light.

 Free from the race of the cooperation + clean clothes window

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Free from the button downs & coordinated outfits that need to stay clean

Choosing colours and coordinating outfits for the whole family for a photo session can be a daunting and time consuming process. You love the images of beautifully styled families you see on Pinterest boards but worry that you don’t have the pieces in your closet to recreate them for your own family. Some photo sessions have beautiful sets and props for your family to use, expertly styled by the photographer. But styling your own family to match those gorgeous set ups can be difficult.

Stressing about what to dress your family can really put a damper on your excitement about a photo session with your family. Have you ever done any of these things?

  • Spending hours pulling clothes out of the closet and laying them on the bed only to be frustrated that nothing matches or looks good together

  • Head to the mall searching for that perfect look and end up spending way more money than you had planned

  • Put your child in a new perfectly styled outfit only to have them fuss or pull pieces of it off right away

If this sounds familiar and keeps you from booking a session, Documentary Family Photography can free you from this struggle!

  1. Comfort is the only thing that matters. Let your family wear what they are comfortable in and makes them feel good. My job is to make photographs of who your family is together, not what they are wearing.

  2. The “set” is your home, or places where you enjoy spending time together. No need to coordinate with a particular colour scheme or theme.

  3. If your little one likes to run around the house in their diaper, underwear or their birthday suit (my daughter’s personal favourite), let them!

Permission to play and be totally free (tantrums welcome)

Traditional family photo sessions, whether in a studio or on location, are often directed by the photographer. The aim for these sessions is to ensure that the family are all together, looking at the camera, or one another, and smiling. It can lead to absolutely beautiful group shots of the family. 

However, particularly when you have young children, or an uncooperative spouse, it can be challenging! Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • One child see something interesting close by and refuses to stay still until they get their hands on it (for my daughter…its rocks if we’re outside, or chords in studio…yikes!) and a tantrum or epic proportion ensues!

  • Spouse despises posing for photos so always has a weird grimace instead of their usual winning and sexy smile

  • The directions given by the photographer don’t translate and end up feeling awkward or frustrated trying to understand what they are asking for

Direction can be counterproductive sometimes, especially when trying to encourage everyone to look natural and feel comfortable! With a documentary photography session, you can set these worries aside and know that

  1. Sessions are totally undirected. Your family can be free to do as they please. My job is to focus document your family as they naturally are and ensure you have photos to remember all of the little details, their personality, their gestures and quirks that make them special.

  2. Kids can play, and pick up that interesting rock or leaf or whatever it is they fancy. They are restricted only by the rules you set out for them on a daily basis. I will introduce myself to them and help them be comfortable with me, but other than that, the time is theirs. Which makes for much less instance of a melt down!

  3. Tantrums are welcome! Its a part of parenting little ones. And its part of the reason parenting is such a tough job, and worth reminding yourself and celebrating. I will shoot through them if you are comfortable with it, because lets face it, kids can make some pretty ridiculous and funny faces when they are upset because you gave them the wrong colour cup for their milk! Makes great material for a wedding speech in the future too!

So there you have it! This is just a glimpse into how you can use documentary family photography to make your next session get photos that help you remember all the things you’ll want to remember when your life looks different. 

The next step is to allow yourself to dream up what kind of memories of today you want your photos to represent. Start a journal or Note in your iPhone. When you’re feeling happiest in your day, jot down why. When you’re feeling mad or annoyed about something in this season, jot down why. One day, all the late nights of snuggles or toys that never get put away won’t be there. These notes will be gold for your first (or next) documentary family photography session!

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