For the last 5 years we’ve been doing documentary family photo sessions and I’ve learned a lot about what I can do to make sure I am happy with the results of our session. It doesn’t matter how amazing your photographer is if you’re not representing your family in an honest way you’ll look at your images and see FAKE. I’m speaking from personal experience here!
The picture below gives me that feeling. I went out and bought that outfit and guess what? I’ve never worn it again. It’s just not me and I never sat and played on the floor in my boys room dressed like that, I look like I’m off to a brunch or a baby shower. And to be really honest, we never sat on their floor and played trucks together either, except this one time. Now that is literally all I see when I look at this entire session. This is not what my life looked like with a 3 month old and a toddler! I also remember being really stressed out because in the beginning Owen was shy and hiding behind the couch. I was so embarrassed and mad because I just wanted it all to be perfect. IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PERFECT! Documentary sessions are meant to capture your family as you are at this moment in time! If you want to get dressed up looking your best and have everyone looking and acting “perfect” then you need a portrait session. There is a time and place for that but it’s not in documentary photography. So to ensure you have a great session I have some tips for you! See Below!
• Don’t get a new cut and color right before the session (yes I know, if you follow me in instagram you know I am not obeying this rule leading up to my own session, lets hope I don’t regret it!) All I’m saying is that you want to look and feel like yourself. You want to be able to style your hair to the best of your ability and if you get a new cut right before you might not have it down by picture time. If you’re due for a new do get it a few weeks before so you have time to practice! And don’t do your hair and makeup all fancy if that’s not how you wear it on a regular basis. Save that for a portrait session or a head shot.
• Wear an outfit you wear all the time and love. We sort of just talked about this but it’s worth saying again, don’t go out and buy something new. It’s better to wear that old faithful outfit even if it’s a t-shirt and yoga pants or your go to distressed jeans. For a documentary session you want to look like you look all the time, or maybe your best self most days. Otherwise you’ll see FAKE in your pictures. You won’t see your life in the pictures, you’ll just see fake. Since that session when I made the mistake of going out and buying a nice new outfit I have worn my “Mom uniform”. Everything from my pajamas, to sweatpants to jeans and a sweatshirt. I see my life in those sessions and I love it. It’s amazing how one outfit can change all of that. That goes for your family too! Don’t make them wear something that’s not “them”.
• Don’t stray too much from your normal routine. Again you want to see what your life was like, so if you set up this fancy tea party in your daughters perfectly clean room you won’t see your life in those pictures, you’ll see FAKE. It’s also nice to stick to your routine because that will help your kids be their best selves. Kids like routine and when things change too much that’s when issues happen. Kids like to know what to expect. For the last few sessions we did Sunday morning breakfast. Every Sunday we make a big breakfast together, sometimes the kids help and sometimes they’re just around playing. When I see these pictures I see us and thankfully so far we’ve had pretty well behaved kids because for them it was just like any other day but this time with Mommy’s friend over taking pictures!
• Lastly, be a laid back parent on photo day. I know what you’re thinking, yah right, but seriously. If I’m your photographer I’ve seen it all, and probably with my own kids! Kids are going to act weird, be rude, shy, etc. just let it go and try to redirect the best you can. A photo session is not the time to be disciplining your kids over nit picky things. I like to only react on photo day if it’s dangerous or destructive. I find that as parents we tend to be more strict when other people are around because we fear we’re being judged. Let it go! Let it goooo! Don’t hold it back anymore… just kidding, but really these are YOUR PICTURES so if your kids are standing on the counter for the 1 millionth time and you want them to get down, maybe just ask them nicely and wait a second while the photographer gets a picture, because you know that will end up being the one you’re laughing about and showing your grand kids someday! Not so much if you get all mad and put them in time out!
That photo session where I went and bought that new outfit I also got mad at Owen because he was being shy and hiding behind the couch. I was embarrassed at the way he was acting and instead of just letting it go I was trying to discipline him because someone was watching me. Now that’s what I remember about the session. This session was supposed to be about us as a family of 4 and I was all worried because Owen was running from the camera. I likely made the situation worse by not just ignoring it.
Tomorrow will be our 7th family photo session, 6th at our home (since the first one was in the hospital when Bentley was born). I am letting the boys pick out their clothes just like any other day. Bentley will likely be in feety pajamas with holes in the toes because that’s what he insists on wearing anytime he’s at home. Owen will be in his athletic pants because he has yet to wear jeans all year. These are the things that will make our session more authentic so that we can all look back and really see what our life was like. The one thing I try to do is make sure our colors don’t clash, that way if we’re all in a picture together I won’t cringe. Bentley has so many pares of feety pajamas that he loves so I will try to persuade him to wear the gray and white stripped ones rather than his bright red Lighting McQueen ones. But if he puts up a fuss I’m not going to worry about it.
This year we have decided to pop popcorn and play Foosball. This is not something we do weekly but something we do often enough and love. I secretly hope Owen looses so he cries like he always does and Beth Ann can get a picture! I know I’m crazy but I can’t wait to show him someday how he constantly cried over loosing games! Then I’ll let the kids decide what we do next. Most likely it will be coloring or LEGOs because that’s what they do all the time and that’s what represents 2019 for us so far!
I hope that was helpful. I know it’s not your typical “how to prepare for a session” post but from my experience the most laid back you are about a documentary session, the better!