One of my favorite things about documentary family photography is the challenge of telling a story through pictures. Ideally, the viewer should be able to look at the picture and understand what is taking place and/or be moved to some emotion. I love cute pictures of my kids (just check out my Instagram feed!), but my favorite images, and I feel my best images, are the ones I have to work hard for. A great picture is the result of multiple decisions made by the photographer about how to best show the scene they see and tell the story in a way that emotionally connects with the viewer. This challenge is what keeps me pulling out my camera on an almost daily basis.
This post is part of the Storytellers blog circle, a group of documentary family photographers from all over the world, who come together monthly to post one image and explain the choices they made that take it from a simple snapshot to more profound storytelling. Continue the circle by checking out Danielle Navratil's April image.
It can be pretty difficult these days to get all of our family in the frame. And while we're not quite all there (just missing another cat and me!), I really loved this image. Both my sons were interacting with the dog and cat and I love how the animals are watching my older son with a wary eye for what he'll do next.
When I'm considering making an image, I have three key elements in mind: light, composition, and moment.
Light - I love shooting in this room. The windows face west, so I'm able to get a range of light here throughout the day. In the morning, when this image was taken, the light is soft. By exposing for the highlights on my dog's face, I was able to get deep shadows under the couch and in the background, which helps to minimize distractions in what is a pretty busy image.
Composition - The first images I took of this scene were further away, squared up with the windows and showing the whole couch. After a few shots there, I realized I wasn't getting what I was going for, which was a composition that conveyed a little more intimacy and chaos. So I moved closer and focused on the relatively stationary subject of my dog and let the action happen around her.
Moment - Once I was positioned, I only had time for a few frames before both my sons lost patience and the moment was over. Of the few frames I got, this was my favorite. Both the dog and cat are looking at my older son and you can make out just enough of him to know he's energetic and on the move.
What would make this image more successful? Part of improving the skill of making storytelling images is noticing what could be better. In this case, I wish the moment were stronger. While my husband is engages with my younger son, he's a bit "in between." In earlier frames, he'd been trying to get the dog and cat's attention, but he was almost out of patience for this activity in this image.
I look forward to sharing more of my process behind making storytelling images next month!
Want to learn how to document your own family's day-to-day? Check out 4 Steps to Stop Time and Savor the Moment with Your Family. It's a simple and fun guide to documenting your family's life with beautiful photographs.