Tips for celebrating the holidays in a new home - Northern Virginia Family Photographer

Our family moved to a new home in Alexandria in December. We've settled in nicely despite having a laundry list of things to be done. The move, especially coupled with the holidays, got me thinking a lot about family traditions and what makes a house home. It was clear amid the chaos and stress that what mattered most to the kids wasn't our things, but us. Making time to put the list aside and enjoy spending time together with no other agenda was sometimes hard, but it was all we really needed to feel at home. The holidays have passed and the list remains a mile long, but we have a ton of new memories and maybe a few new traditions as well.

I had a holiday session with this favorite family in Northern Virginia who were also celebrating their first holidays in a new home. I've documented pregnancy, newborn, and one year milestones with them and it was so nice to share in their latest, creating new traditions and celebrating old ones to mark their first holiday in their new home. That their extended family was there to share in the love was icing on the cake. Families come to life when little ones are involved and these little guys were the life of the party.

So, in honor of new homes and new traditions, here are a few tips for celebrating and documenting your family's holidays at home:

Let the kids take the lead.

Planning for a specific activity can be helpful, but being flexible about specific moments is key. As soon as your kids know you have something particular you want them to do, that's the very last thing they'll wasn't to do. The best images come from spontaneous interactions and activities they choose themselves. Like impromptu dance parties.


Invite their favorite people.

Intimate family sessions are amazing. But if you have the opportunity to involve extended family, like grandparents and aunts or uncles. Kids will be most likely to act like themselves around adults that they're comfortable with and it's a wonderful way to highlight those special relationships that will be meaningful to them throughout their lives.


Savor the small moments.

With a documentary session, there's no need to rush from one activity to another. Those in between moments when your little one comes in for a hug and a bit of rest are truly the sweetest.


Nicole Sanchez Photography works with busy parents in Northern Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland to create stress-free photo sessions that take all the loving, fun, and chaotic moments of family life to make beautiful photos and films that families will love looking at year after year.  Contact me today to start planning a custom photography experience that's perfect for your family.

A casual birthday celebration | Washington, DC Family Photographer

Photographing a quiet morning with your family may seem like an unusual was to celebrate your child's first birthday. Birthday parties are awesome, but if you're looking to highlight what's unique about this special time in your family life, a casual day at home is the secret to success. That exactly what this Washington, DC family chose to do to mark their sweet son's first birthday.

Parents putting pants on toddler boy in Washington, DC by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Mom and Dad playing with Baby in Washington, DC kitchen by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

Birthday parties can be stressful for parents and children alike. Extra people, missed naps, and mixed up routines can be a challenge no matter how carefully you plan. Parties are full of fun moments that make for great photos, but a normal day at home means sharing and capturing what you love best about your family in this fleeting time, from morning naps and breakfast together, to Skyping with Grandma and tickle attacks.

Mom playing on bed with baby in Washington, DC by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Parents playing with baby and smart phone by Washington, DC Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

I loved this sweet family's routine of brushing their teeth together. This little guy may not always love brushing his teeth so much.  It's fun to see the things parents do (often over and over again) to entertain little ones and make life happen (like how it sometimes takes two people to put on a toddler's pants). It's those little things that are so easy to look past in the moment and forget as children move on to the next milestone or crazy behavior.

Baby brushing teeth with mom and dad by Washington, DC Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Family brushing teeth in Washington, DC by Nicole Sanchez Photography

I love photographing the chaos that big family celebrations bring, but there is something equally special about simply showing parents and children with each other. The love they share and the home they create together is what makes childhood memories and celebrating each year so sweet.

Contact me today to learn about planning a session that's perfect for the milestone you're celebrating.

How to Decide Where to Have Your Family Photo Session | Alexandria, Virginia Family Photographer

A lot of thought can be given to details when you're planning a photography session for your family. Where should you have your session? When should you schedule it? What should you wear? Will the weather be nice? Will your children be cooperative? Will your spouse/significant other/pet be cooperative? ;-) In many ways, choosing to do a documentary session can ease these typical concerns.  So over the next few months, I'll be answering some common questions about session planning and sharing how awesome (and easy!) a documentary session can be for celebrating and preserving a part of your family's story.  First up - where should you have your session?

Dog outside staring in window in Alexandria, VA by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

What's the best location for a family documentary session?

The simplest answer is wherever your family feels most at home.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, this may indeed be in your home.  Or it may be out and about adventuring, where you find yourselves in your element.  The most important thing is that everyone is comfortable, having fun, and engaging with each other.  Does that mean there won't be toddler meltdowns or teenage attitude? No, probably not.  But that's okay.  And I'll photograph it happily, because that's the season of life you're in and it's worth remembering (and showing your kids!). 

You might worry when choosing an in-home session, that you'll miss out on beautiful, seasonal outdoor images.  But documentary family photography can really be the best of both worlds.  And in Northern Virginia, where the weather can be mild even in the winter, taking photographs in both your home and outdoors can be a great way to keep kids engaged for the entire session. 

Documentary sessions are typically longer than a traditional portrait session, so there's no pressure to fit everything in.  The session just naturally flows at whatever speed your family goes at.  Even my shortest session, at two hours, allows for plenty of time to capture a range of activities at a leisurely pace.  

Blue-eyed boy sitting in mom's lap at backyard session in Northern Virginia by Lifestyle Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

In home documentary sessions are unposed and unscripted, but that doesn't mean you can't plan ahead a little too. Some families plan for certain activities, like making breakfast or playing a game. Others let the kids take the lead and just go with the flow of the day. Flexibility is key to making the session fun and allowing for real moments and connection. 

Working in an outdoor activity can be a natural part of a documentary family session, especially if it's your own backyard or a nearby park. For this session in Alexandria, VA, mom is a yoga teacher, so it was only natural that she and her sons worked in some yoga while they played in the backyard. I loved that their family dog was always nearby and a part of so many of the images.

Mom and son holding butterfly at outdoor family session in Northern Virginia by Documentary Photographer Nicole Sanchez

You may worry that your home is messy or your kids won't cooperate. And why would you want to remember that? I say, because that's life lived.  I try to embrace the mess, unpredictability, and the chaos in my photographs because that's real and real is beautiful. Life changes and kids grow so quickly and I want my photographs to put you right back there in that moment years from now when this time is a distant memory.  And what's more, I want your children to be able to see this part of you and themselves that they may be too young to remember.  Those parts of early life later become an important piece of figuring out who we are and where we belong.  

Toddler waiting for mom to give him juice in kitchen at in-home photography session by Documentary Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

Learn more about documentary family sessions here.  Do you have questions about documentary photography?  Let me know in the comments or send me an email.  I'd love to answer them!  Next month, I'll provide some answers about when to schedule your family session (Spoiler Alert: there's never a bad time. :-) ) and more ways to keep kids engaged.

Thanks for stopping by!  If you'd like to learn more about documentary photography and how to take better pictures of your family, sign up for my newsletter below.

Three Reasons to Love In-Home Photography Sessions | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

One of the best parts of family documentary photography is getting a glimpse into what makes a family unique.  One aspect that brings this out is location. In documentary sessions, a family chooses a location that's meaningful to them. That may be their home or a nearby park where their kids play. Or both. Or it could be somewhere else entirely. A family adventure somewhere new, exploring an area together.  Both choices are awesome for their own reasons. I'll be sharing an adventuresome session in a few weeks, but today I'm excited to share this sweet in-home family session in Reston, Virginia and a few reasons I love photographing families in their home.

In home family photography session | Reston, Virginia
Mother holding baby girl | Northern Virginia Documentary Family Photographer
  1. It's more relaxed. When a family is in their own home, they're in their element. For younger children especially, when routines are so important, it's easy to keep everyone stress-free, because you have everything you need.
  2. Activities, and special moments, come naturally. Because you're in your home, it's easy to go with the flow of the day.  Preserving memories of the every day is why I love documentary photography. What may be routine today will change weeks or months from now. So having pictures that document how tiny your baby was in her car seat or how soundly she slept in her "milk coma" after nursing will be especially meaningful when she's in a booster seat (or driving her own car!) and has declared nap time unnecessary (it happens :-/). 
  3. Life changes fast.  And with it, our surroundings.  The nursery you spent months lovingly preparing for your baby will someday be filled with her own decor of choice, replacing those carefully chosen mementos of baby and childhood.  The house where you first brought her home may even be a distant memory years from now when you've moved miles away for a new job or to make room for another baby.
Dad holding baby daughter in nursery | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

These are just a few reasons I love in-home documentary sessions.  Check out this previous post for more in-home family session love and this post to learn more about preparing for a documentary photography session.

Baby smiling at mom | Northern Virginia Lifestyle Family Photographer
Family mementos in nursery | Reston, Virginia Family Photographer

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July 365 Project Faves | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I made a lot of pictures in July.  And even though I missed shooting a couple of days, I made up for it on others.  With baby number two almost here, it suddenly became really important to me to document these last days of our being a family of three.  It's such an exciting time, if still a bit nerve-wracking even though we've been through it once. :-)  Here are a few of my favorites from this month.

Despite the heat (and pregnancy!), I love summer in Northern Virginia.  There are so many things to do outside and plenty of respite from the heat inside or in the long evenings as well.  

We love our local parks and access to the Potomac River.  The variety at Jones Point Park in Old Town Alexandria (first three images) is fantastic, as is the family-friendly hiking at Mason Neck State Park in Lorton (last image).

Other than these mini adventures, it's just been nice to enjoy some leisure time at home and in our own neighborhood park.

Interesting in starting your own 365 project?  Check out my tips or see previous 365 shares here and here.  And please keep in touch!  Sign up below for my newsletter to receive more tips on documenting your family!

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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Capturing Time with Grandparents | Northern Virginia & DC Documentary and Lifestyle Family Photographer

"Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes." -  Henry David Thoreau

We live further away from our family than we'd like and cherish the time we get to spend with them during visits home.  On Easter, we were lucky to have grandparents from both sides come to stay with us.  One of my favorite things about visiting with family is watching my son play with them.  It's so rewarding to see the love between them and to appreciate how all our lives are enriched with their presence.

Northern Virginia in home family documentary photography
Northern Virginia in home family documentary photography
Northern Virginia in home family documentary photography
Northern Virginia in home family documentary photography

One of the hardest things about family visits is trying not to document every single minute of it.  Even I don't want to wade through that many photos.  But just as importantly, I want to be a part of the memories, not just capture them.  And that can be hard to do when I'm fighting the urge to capture every moment. :-)  Oh, and I'd also like to be in the pictures occasionally too!  But more on that next week...  

Northern Virginia family documentary and lifestyle photography
Northern Virginia family documentary and lfestyle photography

We were lucky enough (after several years of trying!) to time the visit with peak bloom of the Cherry Blossoms in DC.  And it turns out the Jefferson Memorial makes for great toddler climbing (as long as you can catch them before they go for a swim in the Tidal Basin!).

DC family documentary and lifestyle photography, Cherry Blossoms, Tidal Basin
DC family documentary and lifestyle photography, Jefferson Memorial
DC family documentary and lifestyle photography, Jefferson Memorial
DC family documentary and lifestyle photography, Jefferson Memorial

Whatever pressure I feel as the family photographer is worth it when my son climbs into my lap and asks to see these pictures again and again.  It's hard to say goodbye, but the distance is made a little easier with moments like these captured to remember for a lifetime.  

Northern Virginia in home family documentary and lifestyle photography