How to Prepare for a Documentary Session | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

Finding a photographer that's right for your family can be hard. Even when you've found a good fit, preparing for your session can be stressful. There are some factors that are just out of our control - weather, sickness, and sometimes our family members' moods.  The best thing to do to mitigate these factors and prepare for your session is to relax. If mom or dad, or whoever is organizing the session is stressed over it, chances are, everyone else in the family will be too. The last thing you want to remember when you see your pictures years from now is the stress you hid behind fake smiles.

Northern Virginia Family Documentary Photography

Thankfully, the nature of documentary-style takes much of the guesswork out of what makes for a great session.  Just being yourself will result in genuine pictures that capture your family's connection and personality.  Sometimes being yourself is easier said than done though. 

Your family may be great with going with the flow. Or perhaps you feel more comfortable having a bit of a plan to go by. Either approach is fine - the point is to do what's right for your family and what will create an environment that is relaxed and natural for you.

Here are a few typical questions that arise about documentary sessions with answers that can help you relax and enjoy the experience.

What do we do? We're boring!

This just isn't true. Whatever you do for entertainment in your family is fun for you, otherwise you'd be doing something else!  Don't worry about what you think other people will find interesting. The beauty of a documentary session is capturing what makes your family your family. Think about how your spend your time together. When/where are you most relaxed, having fun, and enjoying the moment?

Relaxed family moment, in-home documentary session

There are two approaches to take:

Schedule your session for a typical day. In your family, a typical day might involve activities such as making breakfast, reading books with your kids, folding laundry while they play, settling in for a nap, or just enjoying some downtime. Planning a session around a normal day is a good way to keep your kids feeling relaxed throughout the session.

Normal family day, reading with kids

Plan one or two activities that your family enjoys doing together. These can be low-key or high energy. Maybe you have a special family recipe for macadamia cookies or a friendly rivalry playing Monopoly. Or maybe you enjoy hiking in a nearby park or playing soccer in the backyard. The trick with this approach is doing something that comes natural to your family. Letting your kids (especially older ones) pick an activity is a great way to get them involved in the session rather than feeling forced.

Northern Virginia Family Photography Backyard Family Play

How do we act natural with a camera in our face? Won't it be weird with a stranger in our home?  Yes, it can be a little weird having someone with a camera documenting your day. My approach to a documentary session is to be somewhere between a fly-on-the-wall and an old family friend. I'll engage your family throughout the session, asking questions or playing with the kids.  And sometimes I'll step back to give you your space and document a moment quietly. Typically, after about half an hour, you'll forget about the camera or at least be much less aware of its presence. Follow the lead of your children - they're usually the first to forget.

Family Documentary Photography Northern Virginia 
Documenting a quiet family moment

My child/spouse/self isn't comfortable in front of the camera.  I'm not either. The trick is to plan your session around an environment or activity where you most feel yourself.  (Am I starting to sound like a broken record yet?) In home sessions and everyday activities are wonderful for capturing relaxed, natural moments where you look your best because you're in your element, present in the moment, and not worried about what to do next.

In home natural family documentary session

Find out more about family documentary sessions here. Or contact me here or in the comments below with your questions.

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