Relaxed Summer Session | Washington, DC Family Photographer

It's been a baby bonanza this summer. Besides my own littlest (who's going to be a year old this week!), I've gotten to photograph several other babes in their first year this summer in Washington DC and Northern Virginia. The first year is such a fun time as a parent, getting to watch baby's personality develop (and take guesses at which parent is responsible for specific character traits ;-) ).  It's also a time of learning to adjust to a new family dynamic - a whole new person with new and different needs and wants. Oh, and who happens not to communicate in easy to understand words yet.

Relaxed summer family session by Washington, DC Photographer Nicole Sanchez

One of the things I always marvel about over parenthood is our seemingly never-ending capacity to adapt. Less sleep. Less time. But we make room in our lives to love and nurture these little ones. Adaptability is just what we need. Especially as we learn that just when we think we have things figured out, our little one changes.

One of my favorite things about documentary family sessions with babies is embracing that adaptability and going with the flow. Maybe baby’s schedule is completely off track. Maybe you skipped a nap or are still finishing breakfast at noon.  Taking in the chaos in the context of this tiny human who's changing so fast you want to capture every minute of it is one of the best parts about documenting family life.

It may be hard to see it now, but what you're doing is meaningful and important. And hard work. Your kids may not remember this time. And considering your lack of sleep, you may not either. But these pictures of everyday life tell your family's stories. Of tender care and coming up with endless ways to entertain. Of elation and exhaustion.  It may seem like chaos.  Or maybe you're lucky and it seems just as smooth as you're planning it to be (If so, what is your secret??).  Either way, it's beautiful and it's love.  And you'll want to remember that.

Parents relaxing together after baby is asleep by Washington, DC Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

Stay tuned later this week, I have a family film to share from this sweet session in Washington, DC.

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.


Print Your Photos - Mini Photo Magnets | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

Every year I come across wonderful, crafty, personal gift ideas for those I love.  And every year, I wait until the last minute and end up ordering from Amazon or going to Target. :-/ I have been successful for some holidays, such as these wood block vacation photo displays last Christmas. (Yeah!) But more often than not, procrastination gets me or I just forget the wonderful ideas I had in mind because I think, "This is so wonderful - of course, I won't forget it!"  And then I do.

It's July and months from Christmas or any family birthdays, but since we just got back from vacation (and I'm trying to beat the heat in Northern Virginia), I've been searching for fun ways to display our vacation photos and especially for ways I can share them with family.  I have a perfect project idea for this year's vacation family photo, but I'm going to save it until I can share my version, so stay tuned. :-)

For now I want to share a couple of projects that I'm adding to my to-do list in hopes that by sharing, I'll sear it into my memory and just maybe start working on these projects sooner rather than later, so that when the next birthday or holiday rolls around, I'll have these ready for gifting.  

Bottle Cap Magnets and Thumbtacks

Bottle Cap Magnet Tutorial from Martha Stewart | Photo by James Merrell

I'm really excited about these photo magnets. I display many of my prints with magnets in my cube at work, so I love the idea of adding some personalization to my magnets.  You'll need to use the twist-off bottle caps, rather than the pop-off ones which get bent when removing.  If you're like me, you may not have these lying around, so you can order them online.  A quick internet search found a bag of 100 for a reasonable price on Amazon and the same company makes caps with a ring attached, so you could make jewelry out of them too.

Mini Photo Magnets

Mini Photo Magnets Tutorial

You can never have enough magnets.  At least in our house, we're forever adding cards, photos, art projects and the like to our magnet board.  Sometimes it takes multiple magnets for something to hold securely, so I love the idea of making lots of these mini photo magnets from Sundae Sins. The Polaroid look is cute, but I think I'll try to go with my squared Instagram images with white borders. 

I found both of these ideas from this inspirational list over at For Creative Juice. I'll post updates when I follow through on these projects. Hopefully sometime before December! :-)  In the meantime, if you have tips for beating procrastination when it comes to gift-giving, lay them on me in the comments!

Want to learn how to document your family's everyday?  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.

How to Make a Wood Block Photo Display | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I've had these blocks planned for months and thought I'd give some to family with prints as Christmas gifts, but I didn't get around to making them in time.  It turns out, they didn't take much time at all. And now, I have them ready in time for Mother's Day gifts (if I remember to mail them). :-)

Here's what you need:

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  • square wood blocks cut to size for your print (see note below)
  • wood conditioner
  • wood stain in your color of choice
  • paint brushes
  • rubber gloves
  • old rags/cloths
  • sand paper
  • clips
  • hot glue or super glue
  • saw tooth picture hangers
  • mineral spirits (or paint thinner for cleanup)

A note on the wood blocks. We had them cut at Home Depot.  I knew I wanted to use them for my 5x5 prints, so I asked (actually my husband was the one who went on the Home Depot run, so I had him ask!) for 6x6 blocks cut to be cut from a plank.  We ended up with 12 and a few of those were a bit oddly sized. 

Here's what to do:

1. First sand any rough edges on the wood and wipe away any dust. I went over all edges and corners with a sanding pad.  This isn't entirely necessary depending on how smooth the edges are on your blocks and whether you want a bit of an "aged" look.  I did, so I sanded all around.

2. Put on your rubber gloves to protect your hands and make sure you're in a well-ventilated area or outside (I wouldn't do the staining process inside because of the fumes.)

Use a paint brush to apply wood conditioner to the plaque. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess with a clean, dry cloth. In my case, I took the dog for a walk and by the time I got back there was no need for wiping.

3. Next, the staining. But first a note: It's useful to do a bit of testing on an extra piece of wood to determine how long to leave the stain on and how many coats you need to apply to get your desired color.  It lengthens the process, especially if you wait for the test piece to dry, but it's worth it to ensure your end result has the color you want.  I went with only one coat on these blocks, but any imperfections in the wood are fairly apparent, so if that's a concern for you, you might choose to go with a darker stain or more coats.

Apply a coat of stain with paint brush. I used one coat of Minwax Ebony and let rest for about 15-20 minutes.  Then, wipe away excess with cloth and let dry. (Mine rested for several days before I was able to get back to them.)

4. Apply wax coat. I wanted something a bit different than the sheen of varnish to finish the wood (see my vacation photo display tutorial). I loved the idea of a matte finish to work with the matte square prints, so I went with a finishing wax.

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I scooped some of the wax into a double-folded cheesecloth and went over the blocks until they were coated.  After a couple of hours (though I think they were probably dry in about half an hour), I wiped down the wood with a clean cloth (okay, it was an old sock).  

5.  Next, attach the saw tooth picture hangers.

6.  Measure and attach the picture clips to the other side of the board.  I tried hot glue first, but the clips popped off too easily when I inserted the print, possibly from the wax finish, so super glue ended up a better option for me.

7.  Add your prints and display happily!  I'm looking forward to sharing these for gifts!

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Did you enjoy this tutorial?  Check out my free guide 4 Steps to Stop Time and Savor the Moment with Your Family.  It's a simple and fun plan for documenting your family's life with beautiful photographs.

What is Documentary Family Photography? | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

There's a lot of jargon to sort through when it comes to finding the right photographer for your family. Studio. Portraits. Posed. Unposed. Lifestyle. Candid. Natural. Authentic. Documentary. What does it all even mean? And does it matter? Not really, in my opinion. At least the words don't matter much. What really matters is that you find a photographer whose images make you think, "I want to see my family in those photographs." 

Mom cooking pancakes with children by Alexandria, VA Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

For me, this happens when I see real moments captured in a beautiful way. I want to experience an emotional connection with the pictures. Whether that's the unbridled joy of childhood or the all-encompassing love of motherhood, I want to feel something when I see an image.  I get this emotional connection and experience from documentary style photography.

Candid family moment by Northern Virginia Lifestyle Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Father and daughter making pancakes by Northern Virginia Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

I first experienced documentary style photography when searching for our wedding photographer in New Mexico. As soon as I saw the images from Kitty and Craig Fritz of Twin Lens Images, I knew I'd found something timeless and evocative. I knew I would look back on their photographs years from now and see not just the smiling faces of my husband and myself and our family, but a glimpse of who we were in that moment in time. These were photos I'd want my children and grandchildren to see decades from now and feel they could relate to.  These images hang in my hallway and living room and are in a digital frame in our kitchen that my son loves to watch. I often glance at an image and catch myself right back there on our wedding day, joyous in the love and support of family and friends, laughing at my husband having a blast dancing with the kids, or smiling to myself remembering the quiet moments waiting with my dad before the ceremony. 

These were unscripted, beautiful, and real moments and are so very treasured.  And when I later started taking pictures of our family for myself, this is the ideal I strove to achieve. Because memories of our days, even big ones like wedding days, are eventually paved over with new memories. And that's the beauty of photography, especially documentary photography.  We can preserve those moments and memories in time. 

Candid unposed family photo by Northern Virginia Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Candid moment of Dad comforting son by Northern Virginia Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

I believe that every day matters. Not just wedding days, birth days, and birthdays. And not just every day, but the everyday. Our everyday matters. All the little things we do that make up our lives. To invoke the oft quoted Annie Dillard, "How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." 

It's easy to get caught up in the monotony of parenthood, which makes documenting it all the more important. Kids change so quickly. And so do we as adults and parents (though not so quickly ;-) ). What we're doing in the day to day is part of who we are and who we'll become. Documenting these moments in photographs is like journaling with images instead of words.

Kids playing on trampoline by Northern Virginia Family Photographer

So while the jargon isn't necessarily important, celebrating what really matters is. I see value in honoring the love and connection of family.  This is what I look for in making pictures and what brings the greatest joy when I share images like these with the families I work with.

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