Documentary Family Photography is Rad. Here’s Why.

boy jumping big wheel as parents and grandparents watch

Shredding that gnar.

Documentary family is my favorite kind of photography. I love it. Maybe you have heard the term “documentary family photography” or “family photojournalism” or maybe you have found a photographer you like that works in this style. But what is it exactly and is it right for your family? Let’s find out.

At it’s core, the goal of documentary family is to capture your family as they truly are. I think the easiest way to picture it is to imagine if National Geographic came to do a feature on your household. There would be very little in the way of direction or posing. You wouldn’t have to dress up or hang out in a location you wouldn’t normally hang out in. You would just have to be you.

Another thing to consider is that since documentary family is more of an approach or philosophy and less of a visual style, this means that the photos can look many different ways. Chances are if you like a photographer’s work, you will like how they capture your family.

Documentary Family vs. Family Photojournalism vs. Lifestyle

Let’s dig a little deeper.

While it seems not everyone can agree on this, here are some basic ideas that guide what I do. Documentary family and family photojournalism are closely related, with the documentary approach giving the photographer a little more freedom than the photojournalistic method. At least that is my interpretation.

Both seek to capture your family as it truly is: the ups, the downs, the love and the tears. But the photojournalist is completely beholden to the world around him. He can’t alter the environment, the light, the physical arena in any real way. Most do not even feel it ethical to crop a photo. They bring the rigorous standards of National Geographic to your living room. I personally find this a little crazy for how I work. I am trying to capture the absolute best, authentic images I can for you, not win a Pulitzer. And sometimes that might mean opening a blind to let in some light or moving a water bottle out of the shot.  I still identify this as the documentary approach, though plenty may disagree with me.

Lastly is lifestyle family photography. The goal of lifestyle is to show your absolute best life as opposed to your real one. The photographer will likely have some or all control over styling, posing, and location with the intent to show you at your most polished and happy. It’s a lot closer to a Free People catalog than Nat Geo. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I often mix in lifestyle with documentary on something like a beach shoot.

So Why Documentary?

That’s easy!

I have gravitated towards this style simply because as a photographer and a parent, these are the kinds of images that are most meaningful to me in my own life. I am so confident you will feel the same that I have become something of an evangelist for documentary family in my little corner of the world. I live on the Emerald Coast of Florida, one of the most beautiful places in the Southeastern U.S. There is a good chance that you are viewing my site because you want to memorialize your vacation to a beautiful destination like Destin, 30-A, or Panama City Beach with some beach photos. And I love that!

But what if in addition to styled pics on the beach, we got in the water with a SCUBA housing and shot your kids having a BLAST? Or maybe the snowcones they’re making an absolute mess with at the Seaside Airstreams? Or the quiet afternoon downtimes in your Rosemary Beach home?

Now imagine if we did this year after year after year with a custom album documenting each trip. A true living, breathing record of your families journey together. Today’s kids are the most photographed in history, but almost all of those photos are lost on a hard drive or cloud server somewhere. I am a firm believer that all kids should have the modern equivalent of grandma’s old photo albums to touch and hold, so much so that I include an album in all of my documentary packages.

My experience as a parent is that things that seem insignificant now become meaningful in hindsight. What your children are interested in, their favorite toys, their favorite dress or book or stuffed animal….these are fleeting steps on your child’s path. They vanish into thin air. But when they are recorded they become a touchpoint that you and your child can return to over an over again in the future.

Sounds Great, But I Have Questions

  • How long are the sessions?
    • 3 hours plus. It takes time for everyone to settle down and get comfortable. This is normal. Depending on the session you choose, we’ll be spending 3-12+ hours together, so we’ll have plenty of time for that to happen. The longer session also takes the pressure off everyone. Noone has to perform. Toddlers can have meltdowns. Babies can have naps. Bigger kids can go to their room to decompress. But the biggest reason is because we are not manufacturing fake moments, and it takes time for the natural ones to develop on their own. We are chasing the real stuff, and sometimes the real stuff is tough to catch.
  • We’re locals. Our home isn’t fancy. We just live a normal life. Will you be able to get good photos?
    • The same thing that applies to the kids toys applies to your home. It changes either in decoration or location over time. I guarantee that in 10 years, your children will scour the background of your photos for a way to connect the memories in their head to a physical world that has moved on. I feel that the cries of, “Oh, I remember that!”, are worth the price of admission. That being said, we can do the shoot anywhere your family enjoys spending time.
  • My kids are nuts. They’re unpredictable. They won’t sit still. Is that OK?
    • That’s….preferred??? That’s the whole point! Part of the reason I like this format is that children, particularly small ones, are the only people you encounter on a daily basis that are willing to show you their raw, unvarnished truth. I love it. Also, I am set up to shoot something closer to a sports event than a portrait session. Let them run around and be themselves.
  • We are private people. Will you share our images on social media?
    • I don’t have to. I would request that you allow me to share one or two of your choosing, as it is the main way that I promote my business. Or even better, please just tag me if you share something and I will pass it along.
  • Should we plan activities?
    • Opinions vary on this, but I am a big fan. I think it makes for great photos when you guys are doing something that you all enjoy and you are doing it together as a family. I have shot everything from water balloon fights to baking Christmas cookies to a fashion show on an impromptu runway made out of a gymnastics mat. It all turned out great.
  • Can you help us with physical products?
    • Absolutely. All my galleries have a store attached allowing you to purchase prints and albums directly. I am always happy to give recommendations for my favorites.
  • We are introverts and you may be weird.
    • Hey, me too! But that’s OK. We will both be a little nervous at first and then everything will work out great. And I am totally mostly normal.

I Like It. How Do We get Started?

I find the best way to get started is to schedule a phone meeting. It makes it so much easier to answer any questions and settle on the right kind of session for you. Click below to set one up.

If you just have a quick question you can message me on my Instagram or shoot me an email at elie@eliebreauxphotography.com.