Why Choose a Documentary Family Photography Session? | Long Island & New York City Family Photographer

I know, I know. It is difficult to make take that leap and try something new when you are used to family portraits looking a certain way (thanks a lot, Pinterest). But I want to share with you today some reasons why you will find a documentary family photography session infinitely more fulfilling in the long run. Yes those posed photographs in sunlit fields are beautiful, absolutely. And if you love those images, you should continue having them made, but perhaps also consider trying a documentary session as well. Here's why:


In a documentary session, I photograph you as you are. I come to your house, or another meaningful location, and I am basically the friend with the camera. I will not ask you to pose, sit still, look at the camera, stand over there, or pretend anything. There is no pretending. This is your life, documented. Let the kids be kids, let Dad relax and do his thing, and Mom can let out a big exhale and just enjoy the experience.


Matching outfits? Uncomfortable shoes? Dress shirts? Tights? What??? NO. Wear what you are comfortable in. Wear what is you. I have had kids strip down and wear nothing. The point is to capture the essence of you. Step away from the Pinterest boards.


There will be no "Say Cheese". There will not be any funny voices to get the kids to laugh. When you get your gallery of photographs, what you will see are real emotions. Real laughs. Real smiles. Real love. Maybe some real grump-faces and a few real tears, too. But all that expression will be real and authentically you and your family - nothing will be constructed or acted for the camera. You can be reassured that the smiles on faces are a reflection of true happiness. 


The photographs captured during your documentary session will reflect the unique connection and dynamic between each of your family members. There will be no requests to "hold brother's hand" or "hug Dad" or "smile at Mom". The connections documented between you will bring tears to your eyes because you will see, in all honesty, the love that everyone has for each other. You will also see who gives you the giggles, who makes you melt, and even perhaps who tests your patience - but rest assured, that dynamic is true and not manufactured by the photographer.


So often the other important character in your life is missing from a family photography session: your home. The heart of your family is in your home. It is the ultimate expression of who you are, the life you live. For a documentary family session, photographing in-home brings so much to your photographs. Don't you wish you had detailed photographs of your bedroom growing up? The growth chart penciled in on the garage wall? The wood paneling of your basement den? Some images of your favorite toys? The cookies you used to bake with grandma? In an in-home session, all those unique aspects of your life, your environment, will be captured. And if there is another location that is equally meaningful to you - a local playground, a park, your favorite restaurant - let's go there, too!


The last family photography session that our family had was a few years ago before Logan was born. The photographs are great, the photographer was wonderful, but what do I think about when I look at those photos? I think about how it was 1000 degrees outside, how we were all sweating our butts off, how I got sprayed by the sprinkler on our way to the location and my dress got all wet, how Lila would not cooperate for the camera at all. Do I remember anything about our family at that time besides those details? No. Do I remember what Lila's favorite toy at that time was? No. Do I remember any details about what Eric and I were doing, or interested in during that time in our life? No. 

In a documentary session, real family memories will be recorded. We will make a plan ahead of time for a few activities your family enjoys doing on a regular basis - whether its making pancakes for breakfast or playing frisbee in the backyard or walking over to the local playground - and those activities will be photographed. You will be able to look back and recall how much those activities meant to your family at that point in time.


What is the story of your family? Are you welcoming a new member to the fold? Are you about to move into a new home and you want some memories in your current home preserved? Are the grandparents visiting? Are your kids on the verge of starting school and you want some precious summer memories documented before they are over? Has your child just reached a milestone? Is nothing extra special going on, but you want your ordinary routine of the moment recorded, because it will change before you know it? Your family has a story to tell, and it can be preserved through a documentary session.


It is so easy to lose perspective in the chaos of everyday life. You are rushing to get the kids to school. You are trying to make dinner before everyone melts down. You are drowning in laundry. Something is always breaking. Someone is always crying. It's a lot. It is hard to step outside of yourself and look at your life with objective eyes. I can do that part for you. And then show you. You are doing such a good job. Your kids love you, and your life is beautiful. Let me show you that with photographs.


When you do a family documentary session, your digital gallery is often much larger than a traditional portrait session. My smallest gallery includes a minimum of sixty images. My photography sessions also include a 12 x 12 coffee table book with a minimum of sixty pages, telling your story. A short handcrafted family film is also included in my two longer "Day in the Life" sessions. Tangible keepsakes to be passed on.


It is fun to look back on posed portraits from the "olden days" - the hairstyles, the clothing. But the old photographs that I stare at, and explore from corner to corner, are the ones of real life - the candid snapshots taken at home, or outside in the yard, or on holiday. I see the characters, I see the places, I see the stories, and I want to know more. There is so much to learn, and so much to be told through documentary photographs. These are true treasures to be passed on to the next generation. These are the photographs that tell your history.

If we know where we came from, we may better know where to go. If we know who we came from, we may better understand who we are.
Dad changing baby's diaper.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein


If you want to give a family documentary session a try, or if you have any questions about these types of sessions, please drop me a note - I'd love to continue the conversation.

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family's story in photos or a film, please contact her for a session!