Preparing and planning for your documentary style photo session

I'm going to give some advice for how to prepare for your session with me. This is based entirely off of my own experience having photos taken, as well as observations on client's favorites. My style is candid, documentary in nature. People usually hire me because they want genuine moments and connection captured in the frame. So this advice is unique to my style and approach, which also is a product of who I am. So, a little of me and a little of that. I hope it helps!

I want to preface this by saying if you're a planner, or really love going all out for photo outfits, or in any way identify differently from any of these suggestions - that's 100% ok, and good, and wonderful! There's only one right way to be, and that's yourself <3

Direct your planning impulses towards connection

The single most important part of preparing for your documentary style session is to channel the energy into connection with yourself and your people. You want to go into the session having everyone, including yourself, with full buckets. And loving attention and genuine connection is one of the most effective ways to fill a bucket, especially our kids and partners.

It's easy to get swept away in channeling our nerves or excitement into "doing" and "making better", and sometimes that's at the expense of the time we're giving to each other. So leading up to your session, if there's ever a moment where you wonder 'what could I do to prepare?', remember this first and most important pointer :)

Have a good day!

Photographs are memories. They'll remind you of bits and pieces of what life was like surrounding your session. If you have a joyful, connected time leading up to your session, this feeling will be easily accessible when you look at your photos, both now and years to come.

Have your comforts

Have you ever done an exercise where you're encouraged to wear something comfy, like a cozy sweatshirt or having a blanket? Maybe you are encouraged to have a warm tea or something that makes you feel good? I encourage you to have these things for your session. It can be a little unfamiliar to have a camera pointed in your direction. So, give yourself lots of extra love and compassion as a way of acknowledging that you're stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

Don't prepare to much

My favorite photos have been from the time's I was not expecting to be on camera, or was too disorganized to be prepared for it. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think it allowed me to be present with my families, make real memories surrounding the session, so that the images are connected to a rich, authentic, and connected experience.

One of these times was a remote session with my family, which I'd originally planned to have at home. A long bumpy day-trip up to the coast to see the sea lions made it impossible for us to get home for our photos, so we needed to have them close to where we were. We hurriedly drove to our favorite Inverness beach on the way back, and we did the session off of the parking lot in the grass. At least one of my kiddos had a pee-stain, the other was cold so we wrapped her in my shirt, and the other fell and hurt her knee as we started the session.

Now, it's quite possible that the photos are special because the photographer is just THAT GOOD (and she is). But I also believe they're special because we were too unprepared to try. When I see the photos, I see real emotions. I see my family working together and making the best of things. I see us.

Another time was an in-home documentary session. I spend the whole day cleaning and cleaning, worrying and worrying, running around, disconnected from my family and myself. During the session we had a good time, and I love the photos the photographer took. But when I see the photos, I have those feelings of trying to make the house better and feeling a bit disconnected from my family. We were all kind of running around, distance between us, the flurry from the stress of last-minute preparation remaining in the air.

I get putting the laundry away (if there's time) or picking up a few things, but please don't worry too much. I want for you to feel calm, self-accepting, forgiving, and connected when you look at your photos. That's the most important thing.

Pro Tip: Do any preparation ahead of time that's possible. Especially picking up the house and deciding on outfits (if you want to).

Dress for the activity, not for the session

Over the years, the professional photos I love the most are those where I dressed for the activity, not for being on camera.

The first experience that comes to mind is the few weeks after my second was born. I scheduled an in-home posed newborn session, and I also had some lifestyle/documentary style photos taken. For the posed newborn session, we had some family portraits done as well. I squeezed into jeans with a rubber hair-tie holding the top together. I put on a formal shirt. I felt pretty uncomfortable and inauthentic, and that is what I see when I look at the photos. For the lifestyle/documentary photos. I had my nursing tank on and some leggings... and the way I feel when I look at those photos is nostalgic and comfortable. The attire was representative of my days, and so I'm given so much more long term value from these photos.

The other experience is the one where we had photos taken after a long day at the beach. I won't say what I was wearing was the most flattering or interesting, but it was very much ME :) Me, after a day at the beach, so yeah.. I like those photos a lot! I felt comfortable and happy in them.

I wonder if that's a self-compassion mindset that then comes through in the photos... somehow dressing for the activity, in a way we would otherwise, is a way of allowing and accepting, of being authentic. And I like that.

Embrace a Beginner's Mindset

When you're going into the session, and during your session, embrace a beginner's mindset. Be open to anything happening. It's a good idea to have some vibes in mind, or a story you're hoping to tell, but if we get too specific we might end up forcing something to happen rather than letting the magic unfold based on everyone's energy that day.

If you try anything, try to be kind to yourself and take care of yourself during the session. Put yourself in a position that feels good and open. Be open to whatever unfolds. Trust that there will be ebbs and flows and simply being together, however the ends up looking, will be enough.

Set The Tone For Your Family

Being the confident, super-wise and amazing adult that you are, your family will likely follow your lead for this session - especially your kids. If you'd like snuggly moments captured, just lay down on the floor for a few minutes and be patient as your kiddos decide to join you. If you'd like playful, giggle photos, jump in with your kids (meeting them where they're at) and connect with play. Where do you feel your best, most relaxed and happy self? Outside on the porch swing? Go there, we'll follow.

Think slow... now, slower.

I think most of us feel excited or nervous with a guest and camera around. So the energy of any moment can quickly become amplified. When you're connecting with your family, or doing anything really, be mindful of slowing down.

There can really not be too much slow... we have plenty of time, and a lot happens in the moments of stillness, or in between the action. Let's sink into those together.