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Posed, lifestyle or documentary photography for your family shoot?

It's taken me some time to find my groove within my photography journey. First I began shooting landscapes and then I was semi posing people and trying to force "beauty" into my shots. I always sort of felt like that's what I should be doing because I felt like that was what people/ future clients wanted. I even put ads on gumtree and facebook so I could practise poses or set ups for newborn shoots. I bought props and was so excited before every shoot but every shoot felt awkward and forced.... I kept trying, thinking I'll get it right one day. It will feel normal. But it never really did. It was when I stopped posing them and shot the in between bits before and after the shoot that I felt so much more comfortable and even my clients relaxed.

I have every respect for posed images and the patience and expertise that it takes for these beautiful set ups to be created but it just felt unnatural to me. This image below is probably the most "posed" I got. I do love this image but I now know in my heart that's not how I want to shoot.

Why is documentary photography right for your family??

In documentary family photography there is a snippet of your life not just a backdrop with a pretty blanket (that is actually the photographers) it's YOUR rug or blankie on the bed or couch. It's a memory of how the afternoon sun came into your lounge room and the necklace that you used to wear when the kids were little but can't for the life of you find! That amazing time in your life that was probably such a blur in the early months of newborn hood and being a mother for the first time ( and second time), with documentary photography it is captured authentically without all the matchy matchy clothes and awkward poses.

Meanwhile, back at my house I was shooting my kids in our home just doing their day to day thang and really loved that I got more than just the "subject" in my image. I've always loved images that tell a story, not just an image of a person. I've dabbled in landscape, still life, food photography and posed but I guess I have finally figured that I am not good at directing people or at setting/ making the scene and I've certainly learned to be ok with that.

I found some likeminded photographers in facebook groups, groups that were only about documentary photography, I thought YES I've finally found my people!! Even though I thought my images were ok beforehand I still felt there was something missing from them. Once I started chatting to the people in these groups it was like the penny dropped. I had to stop forcing my photography to what I thought it should look like and start shooting what I was passionate about.

Real Life.

Events as they organically happen.

People's genuine expressions and interaction (and the occasional landscape ;) ). And it was then that I moved from semi posed lifestyle photography to documentary family and events photography.

We know that posed photography is constructed but what's the difference between lifestyle and documentary you ask?

Lifestyle photography is organised.

It is about taking pictures of your family but in a structured way, you do get to do the things you love to do BUT it is all kinda scripted and directed.

Yes it does capture activities that you like doing together as a family, but mostly the photographer will prompt you, "ok so lets move into the bedroom for a book" or "I'll just move this bottle out of the way so it's not in the shot" or "how about you come into this light over here as it sits better on your face" etc, etc.

Documentary on the other hand is completely unscripted. The photographer will never interrupt the scene or interject so that their clients can be 100% immersed in what they are doing, rather than getting any direction from the photographer. You just go about your day as you would normally.

Settling in for a documentary shoot

It usually takes about an hour for everyone to settle in. Usually the kids are a little weirded out by a strange person coming into their home and space. But once they know I am there to hang out and have some fun, dad might pop the kettle on and mum will go and grab the bubs or family dog and introduce me, they will then just let their usual inner personality rip. I can't help but interact with kids that are willing and I'm quite a chatty person so I love to have a good chinwag with the adults too. This is all ok as I think it makes everyone comfortable to carry on as they would on a normal day to day basis. It's sort of just like having a friend come over for the whole day (or morning or arvo) to have some lunch or a cuppa, play some games, chat to the kids whilst having a bath, play with blocks..... whatever... I could follow the family around on a day out to the city or come for a day on your next getaway. You're probably thinking "oh we could just snap our own photos with our phone", well yes you could of course, but how can you capture all the family in one pic without doing the obligatory selfie?? Just get a friend to come along??? They have a fancy camera right! WRONG!

Pro photographers know how read light, they know how to use their camera to best utilise that light and make your shots artistically beautiful.

Documentary photographers in particular are passionate about capturing legitimate and honest pieces of your lives without having to position or move you, they know exactly where to be at the right time with the right camera settings!

This is why is so important to have a trained eye behind that lens.

I think as humans we are so concerned about how we look and so we try to always look Ah-mazing when we are in photos. For me though that's not how I want to remember my life. I wasn't (if ever-haha ) perfect nor was the state of my house. When I and my kids look back at the images that I have taken of them I want them to reminisce of good old times. The times they played together in that cardboard car that Nana and Poppy gave them that fell apart because they played with it so much. The hot days in the middle of summer colouring in and watching t.v because it was too hot to go outside. Those memories are the ones that will take you back.


So lets create some authentic memories like this for your family.

What childhood memory do you wish you had documented so that you could hang on the wall?

Spread the word about documentary family photography and share this post with your friends or leave a comment below

Cybelle x

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