What is Documentary Family Photography?

It’s a regular morning. Harriet sits in her highchair, half of her Cheerios on the floor–the other half spilled in her seat. Remnants of yogurt and oatmeal stick to her hair, rubbed into her tresses by slimy little fingers. It’s almost time for me to wash her up–an activity she now greets with screams and loud protestations, squirming and wiggling to avoid the wet cloth on her face. But I wait a moment–I hear Jay’s shoes coming down the steps. It’s time for him to head out. “Say goodbye to Dadda, Harriet!” “Daddy’s going to work.”

And then without prompting, she waves. It’s more a flapping of her whole arm…but it’s a wave. Her first wave. “Yes!! Good girl! That’s right, Harriet! Wave goodbye to Dadda!” She looks at me, surprised at the reaction her hand flapping has garnered but obviously very pleased with herself.

I guess it’s not a regular morning after all. It’s the morning when Harriet first waved.

If only I could pause that moment, soak it up, see the delight in her face, and remember our morning routine together. I know I’m going to forget it. I know we’re going to have new routines and new firsts…but oh to hold onto those little moments just for a bit!

documentary family photography

What are the things that makes your family special? What memories do you hold most dear? Of course we all love to look back on highlights–family trips, vacations, new places we discovered together. But what about the day-to-day? The ups and downs…the laughs…yes even the tears…of every-day-crazy-life together? Those are precious memories too.

That’s why I love to shoot documentary photo sessions for families. It means capturing those little moments, those daily routines that so quickly fade. Documentary family photography goes beyond cute pictures of everyone looking at the camera to meaningful, story-telling moments. It’s more than “here’s what we look like all dressed up for pictures.” It’s “here’s what we look like when we’re laughing at our corny jokes and juggling our one-year old.”

Don’t get me wrong–having great portraits of your family is also meaningful, and it’s something I often take during a documentary photo session. But having pictures that in some small way “pause” those sweet memories and passing moments is a wonderful gift to your family for many generations.

So what is documentary family photography? It’s your family: unscripted, beautiful, real, incredible.

Natalie - Mary! I love this. Harriet’s first wave story brought a tear to my eye :)

Rosaura - Oh you said it just so perfectly it made my heart ache and smile at the same time. Thank you Mary! :)

Milla - This is SO PRECIOUS. I love this post, Mary, and I can’t wait to be part of your every day routine next week! :)

Crystalyn - And that’s what I cherish so much about the photos you took of our family. They were our chaotic, messy every day. Something we don’t capture enough (at least with me in the photos!) Unscripted. Perfect. and photos I’ll cherish forever.

Ashley - I wish I had you to document our dinner last night…Keegan was manipulating Matt into feeding her dinner and dropped her fork with a face and screech that said “I am the master of Chaos! Bend to my will!!!” I would pay good money to go back in time to capture that face!!!

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