7 tips for photographers to go deeper with documentary family photography

set your internal landscape

Use tools to calm your nerves, and to keep you in connection with your self and with your intention. Examples might be music, physical objects, breathing, stretching, affirmations and so on. You know yourself best. Staying calm and connected helps you to be less reactive to the actions around you, and more in tune with seeing the scene intentionally.

anticipate the moment

It's important to stay attuned to the moment. This means understanding the dynamic in the space, and having your finger on the pulse of the feelings of the people involved.

see and feel DEEPLY

See a story, capture it, but don't stop there. Look more closely. Documentary photography is about what you see. We all know our top-level scenes: we read books in bed, we garden together, siblings play together. Anyone can pick up a camera and capture these scenes as a whole. In fact, the subjects know these scenes well, as a whole. They can explain what happens, and they can tell you how it feels, but they themselves may not know all of the intricacies and everyday exchanges that comprise it. So natural, they're taken for granted.

trust your instinct

Documentary sessions are about feeling. Overthink, and you leave the moment. You might hear a little voice inside prompting you to do something. Don't think it, just do it. Trust that you've thought and practiced enough leading to this session, and now you can trust your instinct.

slow down. get curious.

So many stories lie in the details we overlook or take for granted. As you're seeing a scene, and seeing more deeply, pause to notice. If a detail stands out even for a split second, give it a moment in the spotlight.

be a part of the group

Let your clients forget you're a photographer by relaxing, connecting and giving lots of positive feedback, affirmations and kindness. Remind them of how amazing their kids are, and of how beautifully their family works together.

don't override the client

All of this tips come with one rule that rules them all. Don't override the client. I've had enough sessions where I've gotten fixated on a certain way of doing things (hello ego) that I've not listened to the preference or suggestion of the subject. In my experience, my subjects don't generally assert themselves unless they have a good point. Of course they have a good point, these photos are for them - their preference matters. If your subject offers an idea, take it, without a second thought. You may have a chance to try it your way afterwards, but if not, that's ok. You can trust that your client knows themselves, and trusting them is better than any technical or artistic optimization.