There's truth in the adage, “practice what you preach.” Especially when you have kids, because they'll be the first to call you out. (Not that I would know from experience or anything.)
The saying applies to having your family photographed as well. While I love a great family portrait where everyone is looking and smiling at the camera, I love even more the pictures of real life. These are the ones I most enjoy taking for others and the ones I most appreciate of my own family.
When I look back on pictures from my childhood, I wish I had more photos of my parents and with my parents. Photos that show them being parents and that also offer glimpses into who they were besides Mom and Dad. That's what images of real life offer. An opportunity to see aspects of your life that you may not see when you're in the moment. These images offer an opportunity for your kids to look back and realize that their parents were regular humans too. Heroic and flawed all at once.
I've hired documentary photographers to document my family's daily life several times in the last few years and every time I've left the experience feeling so grateful to have those moments captured in a way that my children, husband, and I can look back on in years to come.
Having someone photograph my family is so different than doing it myself. And since I know how it feels to invite a near stranger with a camera into your home and into your life, I wanted to share insights from my experiences and address concerns that some families may have about hiring a photographer to come into your home to document your family life.
1. Don't worry about feeling awkward. It's normal. If you feel uneasy, just remember how important it is for your kids to see YOU in pictures of their childhood.
Often, one parent is the designated (officially or not) photographer in the family, leaving their presence in photos relegated to infrequent cell phone images by other family members, selfies, or the once yearly family portrait for holiday cards.
Of course, in reality you're an integral part of your family's daily life. Working hard to keep the ship running and providing love, support, and fun to your whole family. Having someone else there to photograph leaves you free, even for just a few hours, to just engage with your family. You may feel a bit awkward or a bit frazzled, but if you just remember your only job is to enjoy time with your family, that is what you and your family will remember and see in your pictures.
2. Kids will be kids. Especially in front of a camera.
Kids have a way of doing the exact opposite of what we want them to do when there's an audience, especially a camera. The best thing to do is to roll with it. Have a rough plan and if they have other ideas, adjust. They'll be more cooperative if they feel heard. And even if they put on a performance, you'll likely get some funny photos for the trouble.
Documentary style photographs capture both the endearing moments and the challenging ones. Parenting can be a roller coaster ride. In the span of just a few minutes, you might experience both a meltdown and a fit of giggles. You shouldn't be shy about preserving both.
3. Don't worry about the dull moments. Or the meltdown moments. Or even the frustrated-with-your-spouse moments.
Real life is funny. And frustrating. Fun. And just hard sometimes. Give your children the gift of reality. Life doesn't always happen in golden light and with pretty smiles. Life is also eating play-doh or playing in the toilet when mom's not watching. And making messes and avoiding getting your teeth brushed.
There will come a time when you no longer have to worry about keeping your kid out of the toilet or throwing a fit or no discernable reason (please tell me this is true??) and you're going to want to remember these hilarious and trying moments, even if it doesn't seem that way in the moment.
Seeing these images of just a couple of hours from a morning with my family in October makes me appreciate and love our chaos all the more. One day these guys will be grown and I'm sure my husband and I will be bored (after we catch up on years of sleep and television watching, that is). I'm so glad we'll have these images to look back on and see a glimpse of the little people they used to be and the (awesome) parents we once were.
These images were taken by my talented friend Whitney Rowland and edited by me. Check out Whitney's awesome post on documenting One Second Everyday with video on your phone.