As a father of two children, my approach to photographing them has grown along with them. But of all the approaches I’ve tried, none has been more rewarding or fulfilling as the documentary approach.
Taking a documentary approach, I photograph children as they are in their environment, not as I want them to be.
Much like photojournalism, my aim is to photograph my subjects with as little imposition or infringement as possible. That is I aim to shoot without artifice and without giving any direction that might otherwise ruin a perfectly candid moment.
Photographed in this way, children remind me continually that there is beauty and wonder in the everyday moments far greater than anything I can conjure.
Even the most ordinary of activities are ripe with opportunity -- a walk to the park or playtime at home, though routine, can provide me with wonderful unexpected images.
If I have been successful in this approach, it has largely been due to a keen sense of observation and timing developed over the years. It takes a practiced eye to be able to spot moments as they happen and to know precisely when to press the shutter release.
In this, I’d say I have also been aided by having a good understanding of my style and vision. It takes an honest and continual evaluation of your work to be able to understand your own likes and dislikes and to be able to funnel that into a personal approach or style that is consistent and second nature.
Getting Started With Documentary Family Photography
For those of you wishing to try your hand at documenting your family through photography, the best thing to do is to jump right in and get started. The great thing about photographing your family is that they are almost always available and willing.
Here are a few guidelines and tips to help you along:
Learn to allow things to just happen. In a documentary approach, a bit of planning may be beneficial but you shouldn’t overthink things -- let the moments happen and go with the flow. While it may seem stressful to some, I find the unexpected moments the most invigorating and rewarding.
Always have a camera on you or nearby. This one’s obvious but if your camera isn’t at hand’s reach, you’re going to miss photos. You never know when opportunity will strike so keep a camera around with a full battery and memory card. Your mobile phone is another great option as it’s usually on you. It’s like they say, “the best camera is the one you have with you” Also, the more your family sees you with a camera, the more they’ll get used to it. With enough time they may come to forget about it entirely.
Shoot at their level. When photographing children you want to get on their level. Get down low to see the world from their point of view. This can also mean taking on a childlike state of mind (act as they do and don’t be afraid to get dirty).
Any moment can be an opportunity. I’m a huge fan of photographing everyday moments, the small things in life are often the most rewarding photographically. Don’t feel like you need a big moment to take a picture. Cooking, playing, reading, etc., these are all opportunities. When it comes to documenting, just about anything is camera-worthy.
Try to tell a story with your photo. As much as possible your image should have a point of view. The best pictures have something to say, they make a connection with the viewer.
Don’t be afraid to capture a wide range of emotions. We tend to photograph children when they are at their happiest. But the sad or difficult moments are equally important. Remember, in capturing your child’s story, all parts of their personality and character are representative of who they are.
Fight the temptation to rapid-fire your way through a session. A careful, conscientious click of the shutter, in my opinion, will hone your skills and make you a better photographer over time.
And lastly, and perhaps, most importantly, step away from the camera sometimes and enjoy some dedicated time with your children instead.