Storytellers' Circle - May | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

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 Rebecca Hunnicut Farren’s May image.

There's a short period in babyhood (aren't they all short periods?), where you can plop a baby down with minimal interference (and a few toys or pots and pans) and he'll entertain himself for some time. This times comes when he's safely sitting up on his own but hasn't quite learned that he can go places with those little legs and arms. This picture is that time. In pretty light. 😁

When I'm considering making an image, I have three key elements in mind: light, composition, and moment.

Light - I love the afternoon light that comes through our front windows. It casts beautiful shapes on the floor that stretch and very in intensity as the sun sets. I exposed for those highlights here, resulting in deep shadows around the rest of the frame. This technique is useful to minimize any clutter that's lying around your subject. Always a hazard with kids in the house.

Composition - I stood on my tippy toes to shoot from this perspective. I knew I was shooting for deep contrast and I wanted to incorporate the patterns on the rug to add visual interest. I also used the lines of the light/shadow to lead to my subject.

Moment - Once I was positioned, I only had time for a few frames before my son crawled away. This one was my favorite because it shows movement and I love how his hand and legs are touched by the light.

What would make this image more successful? Part of improving the skill of making storytelling images is noticing what could be better and factoring that into future situations.  In this case, I would have liked to bring in a chair so I could get higher and shoot directly down. Or alternately, I would have liked to see more of his face as part of this moment.

I look forward to sharing more of my process behind making storytelling images next month!

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.


Around Our Clocks: 9AM | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

Sometimes I have the luxury of an extended moment to shoot a scene. While telling a story in a single image is wonderful in its own way, I also love the variety that comes with a series. I can find different angles/perspectives and choose different elements of the story to focus on.

Here is a typical morning at 9am in our house (no surprise, we're still in our pajamas). My son enjoys feeding our hamster by hand (despite being bitten a couple of times!) And I wanted to capture this part of our routine.

This post is part of a collaborative documentary photography blog circle called Around Our Clocks. We're documenting a day in our life over the course of one year.  Continue the circle by visiting Fort Collins Family Photographer Betty Berg.

Boy waiting to feed pet hamster by Northern Virginia Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Boy feeding pet hamster by hand in Alexandria, VA by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez
Boy feeding pet hamster in Northern Virginia by Family Photographer Nicole Sanchez

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 plan for documenting your family's life with beautiful photographs.

Three Reasons to Try an Outdoor Documentary Session with Your Family in the City | Washington, DC Lifestyle Family Photographer

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how awesome in-home documentary sessions are. Now I'm here to tell you how awesome outdoor sessions are.  This may seem incongruous, but one of the best things about documentary photography sessions is that they're adaptable and unique to each family.

One of my favorite things about being a photographer is working with each client to create a session that reflects their family, whether that's chilling at home, exploring the outdoors, or a combination of the two. I love documentary photography because it reflects a family's lifestyle and interests at any given moment. We all know life changes quickly, and having beautiful images tell us the story of a particular time in our lives.   

Family in window of coffee shop in Georgetown, D.C. | Washington, D.C. Family Photographer

Here are three reasons outdoor documentary sessions are a wonderful way to preserve your family's memories.

1. Location, location, location.  I mentioned that lifestyle documentary sessions are adaptable. With outdoor sessions, the sky is the limit.  (Okay, perhaps not literally. I might actually draw the line and say you may not see me documenting a family's skydiving adventure, but never say never. :-D ).  You choose a location that is meaningful to your family. For this session in Washington, DC, it made perfect sense to photograph their family in Georgetown.  They're always on the go and taking advantage of all the family-friendly things to do in the D.C. and Northern Virginia area.  Grabbing a coffee and walking around the city is what they'd normally be doing on a warm, fall weekend. Documenting candid moments like these, highlight the beauty in the everyday, because the everyday is what makes up our lives.  So whether it's a stroll through the city, a visit to a museum, or checking out the many outdoor activities that the D.C. region has to offer, all that matters is that it's a place that your family enjoys and connects over.

Family in window of coffee shop in Georgetown, D.C. | Washington, D.C. Family Photographer

2. Variety and spontaneity. A city setting like Georgetown has endless variety and room for spontaneity. This is especially beneficial for kids who are active or like to change things up. For this session we started at a coffee shop, walked along the C&O Canal, and then ended at a park with some restful green space.   It could just as easily have been a walk by the waterfront and a stop to get ice cream.  There's no limit to the variations and the city offers so much to do within short distance, so it's easy to make up a plan as you go.  The most important part of family photos is capturing emotion and connection between each of you.  Having a variety of options and allowing for spontaneity can take away the stress of trying to orchestrate that "perfect" shot and makes the whole experience more enjoyable.  When you focus on having fun and enjoying an experience with your family, photography magic happens. :-)

Family walking along C&O Canal in Georgetown, D.C. | Nicole Sanchez Family Photographer

3. Seasonal bounty. An outdoor session, whether in an urban setting like this one in D.C. or in a rural area like a park or even your backyard, can be a beautiful way to capture seasonal family fun. Cozy fall weather and foliage, holiday traditions and snowy days, spring blossoms and energy, or long summer evenings and lingering light are wonderful settings to document your family adventures.  I love the variety that changing seasons brings so much that I'm offering a new multi-session package for 2017.  Details will be posted on my Session Information page soon. :-)

Mom snuggling baby with Dad watching | Nicole Sanchez Family Documentary Photographer

What fun urban settings do you have in mind for family photos?  One goal I have in 2017 is to document a family vacationing in DC and Virginia. It's such a wonderful area to visit and I love seeing it through a visitor's eyes.

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A Fun Day with Mama | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

One of my favorite things about shooting family sessions is getting to connect with other parents, especially mothers. When I became a mom, I was pleasantly surprised to learn I'd unknowingly joined a special community of women that had always existed, but was invisible to me before I became a mother.  A community that brings an abundance of support, advice, and humor to one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs there is.  It was such a pleasure to get to know Sy and watch and learn from her with her two little ones, especially since I was due with my second soon after our session. :-)

In home documentary family session | Northern Virginia Photographer

There was also the added bonus that Sy is a small business owner herself, based in Northern Virginia. Like many parents, she finds inspiration in her children and family and channels that into koko's nest, which features beautiful blankets and accessories for nesting families. (You'll find one of her adorable blankets featured in my Instagram feed from time to time. :-) 

Old Town Alexandria Playground | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I hope you enjoy these photos from our session.  We spent a fun morning in home (with muffins!) and a trip to a neighborhood park in Old Town Alexandria. I have a special love for photographing moms with their children. So often, we're behind the camera making sure family adventures get documented and we often miss out on being in the picture.  It's so special to be able to provide moms with sweet moments like these that demonstrate their love and dedication and how important they are to their family.

Check out more from Sy and koko's nest on Facebook and Instagram.

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Preserving Memories in a Series | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I was inspired recently by fellow photographer Camille Arner's post about photographing a series.  Camille's words about recognizing a theme in her personal work really resonated with me and also spurred me to begin posting some of my work undertaken as a participant in the creativity exercises led by Sarah Wilkerson over at Clickin Moms.  It was an honor to be featured on the CM blog as part of the 'series' exercise and even more meaningful to reflect on the value that I found in recognizing themes in my own work.  I also realized how my personal themes translate into the work I do for other families.    

Being a photographer involves a lot of observation - of light, of lines, shapes and composition, and of moments.  Being a mother is especially helpful for this last piece.  Parenting brings a wealth of opportunities for observing some wonderful aspects of humanity - the growth of your child, the love of family, and the humor and exhaustion in it all.  Being in the thick of it myself makes those meaningful moments more recognizable to me while shooting for others.  And documenting these moments, both for my family and others', is what makes my heart happy both as a photographer and a mother.  

I love looking back on these images of my son and seeing his growth - our family's growth - and our love for each other (even when exhausted :-)). I especially love sharing this facet of photography and life with other families.

Here are the images I submitted as part of the CM 'series' exercise.  I love shooting at windows, but I love even more the way these images evoke my own sense of childlike imagination and wonder - something all parents relish (and reminisce) in observing their children.  Check out Sarah's article for some the beautiful ways that an image series can be a powerful means of telling a story or conveying meaning.

Visit my website to learn more about a documentary session for your family and sign up below for my email list to receive tips for photographing your own family. 

Puppy Love Adoption Story | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I recently spent a (hot!) summer evening in Alexandria, Virginia with this busy family and their two dogs, Chex and Champ.  It was a special session with the kids to mark the adoption of their new puppy, Champ, to the family. The family recently lost their precious older dog, Chili, and Chex took the loss of his companion pretty hard.  So it was especially sweet to see the immediate bond not only between both dogs and the kids, but also between new friends, Chex and Champ.

Puppies grow so fast, so this family wanted their session to document this fleeting time with their newest addition.  After lots of play in the back yard, these guys needed a break!  It turns out puppies are like babies in other ways too.  Great daytime nappers, but not a lot of uninterrupted sleep happening at night, especially for a hound dog puppy. ;-) 

Sweet dreams, Champ!  And I hope you guys are getting some rest, Catherine!  

And if you'd like to support a budding young author and animal welfare advocate, check out Lindsay's story of Chex and Chili! Lindsay will donate 50% of profits from her book to charities benefit animal welfare.  I hope to see a sequel featuring Champ, Lindsay!

Learn more about a documentary session for your family here.  And stay in touch!  Sign up below for my newsletter to receive tips for documenting your family's story.

Photographing Summer at the Playground | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

Even though my son isn't in school (and doesn't have a summer break) and my husband's and my work schedules haven't changed, there's still something magical about summer.  Maybe it's carryover from my own childhood - a sense that when the weather is hot and the days are long, life is just different.  A little more carefree and spontaneous.  A little less scheduled and serious.

Summer brings an abundance of life.  In Northern Virginia, we're graced with green and growth everywhere. Towering trees, vibrant wildflowers.  Even the thunderstorms that roll through are welcome, bringing restorative rain and a bit of respite from the heat.  Summer just seems to ooze childhood and fun and evoke calls for dripping watermelon and melting ice cream. Sprinklers in the backyard and walks to the playground.

The playground is one of my favorite places to document family life.  Play is such a vital part of childhood and the playground is a perfect place for imagination, social interaction, and physical exertion.  From new games to new friends, it's been fun to track my son's growth as he masters more complex equipment like going down the "big" slide for the first time or graduating to successfully climbing up the big slide using well-practiced muscles and sheer will after weeks of trying.  These are things I want to look back and remember.  Things I want my son to look back on and be able to see glimpses of himself at such a young age.

This summer I've made an effort to document more time at the playground.  Here are a few of my favorites so far with some tips I've found useful for making images that unique to your family.  In each case, it's all about perspective and choosing an angle that best frames the story you want to tell.

1. Get far.  Often the neighborhood playground is a special place for families.  In our case, it's within walking distance from our house and a place where we can make impromptu visits and catch up with neighbors and friends.  Showing that context can be a powerful way to tell the story of your family's playground.  

In this image, we were visiting family who've lived next to this playground since their teenage kids were very small.  The playground is on the school property where they've attended all their lives.  So I knew I wanted to capture part of the environment as a reminder that this wasn't just any playground, but their playground.  

Capturing Summer | Family Photographer

It can be a challenge to incorporate all the equipment and activity in a way that isn't cluttered and chaotic.  Using lines to frame your subjects or draw the eye into the image can be a good way to minimize the distractions.

2. Get low.  With the variety of platforms and places to climb, it can be fun to play with perspectives at the playground.  One easy way to do this is to get low to the ground and shoot up.  This can minimize distractions like playground equipment or random people in the frame.  

Summer sun can be bright, especially mid-day, but it can also be fun to play with sun flare at this angle.  To combat the harsh light and shadow during the middle of the day, I exposed for the sky here and brought up the shadows in post processing.

Photographing Summer | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

3. Get high.  Similar to getting low, climbing up to look down is an easy way to show a unique perspective and minimize distractions.  With all the angles and lines at a playground, it can be fun to use them to frame your subject.

Documenting Summer | Northern Virginia Family Photographer
Family Fun Playground | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

What are your tips for capturing summer?

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