What is Documentary Family Photography & What Does That Mean For You? (~5 min read)
I work in a really new field of photography. And when I say new, I mean new. As in, it was only created within the last 15 years. And for a field that’s been around for nearly 200, that qualifies as brand, spanking new.
Because of this, when I tell people that I’m a documentary family photographer, one of two reactions follows. A few people (normally other photographers) get really curious and want to know more. But more often, people go silent.
And that second reaction can be discouraging. I don’t know if the silence hits because my title is really long and seems overly complicated (clocking in at around 12 syllables, that would make sense), or if people feel they don’t understand it and therefore just don’t know what to say. I mean, you can’t ask questions if you have no frame of reference, right?
But I LOVE what I do. I am unbelievably passionate about it and I could talk about it all. day. long. And it’s tough when you’re that passionate about something and others completely lose interest after the first sentence.
So I decided I would try to tackle this conundrum in my first blog post of 2019. I hope to answer two questions:
What is Documentary Family Photography? & What does that mean for photography clients (you)?
What is Documentary Family Photography?
DFP (the abbreviation that all the cool kids use) is a brand new style of family photography. The godmother of our genre is Kirsten Lewis, who first started providing DFP sessions for clients in North Carolina in the mid 2000’s. Since then, she’s started teaching classes on the subject, other photographers have come in, and the field has really started to take off.
DFP has it’s roots in documentary photography, i.e.: photos like what’s in National Geographic or long term news stories. Documentary photography is deeply connected to fine art and is staunchly committed to the idea of unbiased journalism. Documentary photographers adhere to a whole code of ethics, which I won’t get into here, but among the bulletpoints are things like “Do not intentionally alter or influence events”, “Resist staged photo opportunities”, and “Be accurate, comprehensive, and respectful in the representation of your subjects” (I paraphrased the points in the interest of time, but I think you get the idea).
DFP’s take all of these principles and methods and apply them to family photography. Which brings us nicely to our next question:
What does all that mean for someone looking for a family photographer?
I have three main answers to this.
1) We DFP’s document your family’s real-life, every day, perfectly imperfect story.
Because we’re committed to truthful yet respectful story-telling, we capture all the moments of the day (or session) that make your family something wonderful to be a part of. We look for the best moments where you’re naturally showing how much you love one another: when hugs are given because someone just came home, when a touch on the shoulder from a spouse communicates more than words can, when messes are made along with memories, when someone has been hurt and comfort is given, when struggles give way to achievements and the family celebrates. It’s moments like these that make up the story of a family, and it’s these moments that us DFPs are passionate about capturing.
2) We photograph what it feels like to be in your story.
If you’ve ever looked at a piece of art and felt an emotion because of it, that was completely intentional on the part of the artist. Artists throughout history have utilized certain methods in order to communicate an idea or emotion in their work. So if art caused you to feel something, it was definitely by design. DFPs are constantly studying the work of these artists to find what tools it was that they used to create such emotion in their work. We then apply those methods to our photography. So if your family is experiencing a joyful moment, we use the right artistic methods to communicate that in the images we make. If you’re experiencing a messy/chaotic/hilarious moment, we use different methods to convey that. We know how to utilize these artistic methods in our photos to make it feel like you’re there, in the moment, experiencing the same thing as the people in the shot. Therefore, when you look back on your family moments weeks, months, years from now, the photos will match the feeling you had in the moment and will make you feel like you are right back there in the middle of it, all over again.
3) Because we’re committed to getting the entire story of you and your family, we are committed to getting to know you!
We love getting to know our clients. That probably sounds cheesy and trite, but it’s completely true. We DFPs got into this business because we passionately believe that every person has value and that everyone’s story deserves to be told. We know that there is deep love among the messiness of our lives, and a DFP’s life calling is to find those beautiful moments in the chaos. Every family is different and every family looks at life through a different lens, and we are so grateful when we have the opportunity to experience how others live.
So when you hire one of us DFP’s, you know that we’re committed to getting to know you. We care about you and your story, and not just because you’re another photography client, but because the story of your life is immensely valuable and deserves to be told. And we consider it the highest honor to be able to tell it.