How To Approach Documentary Family Portraits

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Today’s feature is from .

Kirsten says:

“Kari contacted me about doing a Day in the Life session with her girls in Maine this past winter and I couldn’t have been more excited. For one, Kari is a photographer herself and I really admire her work.

Secondly, Maine is one of my favorite states in the US and I was really looking forward to photographing a session there.

Our day began around 6:30am and the girls did not end up going to be until around 7:30, so it was a long day to say the least.

That being said, there wasn’t a dull moment the entire day. From making breakfast to visiting the dairy farm, arts and crafts to bath time it was a full day with countless moments, laughs, and tears alike.”

Kirsten’s Photography Tip:

Day in the Life sessions can be extremely rewarding – but at the same time challenging and exhausting and sometimes even frustrating. To do a good job, you have to constantly be making decisions visually, socially and physically.

You have to find a balance between being a photographer and being a part of the family. You have to hold a camera up to your face as long as 14 hours a day and get up and down and up and down more times than you could ever keep track of.

Here are a few tips for Day in the Life sessions:

1. Be Present At All Times.
It is your job to document the entire day, which means if the family goes to the grocery store, you go to the grocery store. Family goes swimming in the pool? Get your suit on!

The idea is to be brave and remember that you need to photograph everything.

2. Integrate Yourself.
A documentary photographer develops a strong relationship with their subjects with honesty, empathy, and humility.

This requires you to balance your socialization with your photography and know when it’s appropriate to talk and when to shoot. The most important thing is that your desire to connect with your families is genuine.

Building trust and gaining access is the foundation to photojournalism. You must approach these types of sessions as that of a photojournalist and completely immerse yourself into the family.

This means engaging in meaningful conversation with your subjects, relating to their life, and basically becoming a member of their family for a day.

3. Go In Without Expectation.
I tell each of my students not to expect anything the day of the shoot other than there will probably be some sort of melt down throughout the day, most likely in the later afternoon before dinner.

Other than that, go in embracing the unexpected. Because of this, you have to be constantly thinking, watching, anticipating and reacting.

I don’t even like to know anything about schedules or family plans ahead of time because I really enjoy just moving through the day naturally.

This being said, I do ask a lot of questions during the shoot so that I can try to stay 3 steps ahead and prepare for activities as well as transitional moments throughout the day.

The more information you have, the higher your chances are to succeed in regards to being in the right place at the right time. i.e., “What time does the bus pick up the kids for school?”

4. Remember That These Shoots Are Visual Documentaries.
A Day in the Life session is totally different than a portrait shoot. It should be completely organic, not directed, and the environment should not be changed in any way.

This means you do not move or touch anything during the shoot, including turning lights on or off, opening or closing shades or blinds or using a flash.

While it is necessary to communicate with the family throughout the day, it is not your job to influence the moments or actives. Let them happen totally on their own.

By remembering the following tips, you will find Day in the Life session to be the most honest reflection of the family you are photographing. You will walk away with pictures you would never be able to capture in a one- or even two-hour session with them.

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Kirsten used a Nikon D3 and Nikon D3s with a Nikkor 85mm 1.8 lens and a Nikkor 35mm 2.0 lens to capture these images.

Kirsten Lewis is a Denver, Colorado Documentary Wedding, Family, and Business photographer, but also photographs families all over the U.S. and internationally.

Click here to see more tips on In-Home Sessions.


Need help composing the perfect image on-the-go? Let’s face it, these kinds of sessions are pretty face-paced.

You won’t have an opportunity to pose your subjects as you want, so you’ll have to be picking up on the natural composition of your surroundings pretty quick. To help better train your eye to see the perfectly-composed piece, check out this awesome guide all about photography composition!

 

 

*Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and don’t affect you as the buyer but do help support us and keep this site free for everyone.

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