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.

Learn more about documentary family photography and get tips for documenting your family by signing up for my newsletter below.