A family picnic. A long drink from a water fountain on a hot day. Backyard camping under the stars. These are just normal family activities and the stuff of summer, but like warm weather in Ottawa, they’ll be gone in a flash if you don’t take measures to preserve them. There is a way to make these moments last forever, and it starts with a click.
Through my documentary family photography, I aim to bring a deeper meaning to my clients’ lives by capturing meaningful moments and revealing life like they’ve never seen it – and you can do the same for your family.
Quantity means quality
Just as a painting is not made with a single brush stroke, the same can be said for any great image. It’s not a case of simply raising the camera to your face, pressing the shutter button once and being done with it. In fact, if you studied the work of famous photographers, you would see a progression of photos from a single event that led up to that “decisive moment” when composition and content married. Through close attention, anticipation, and while continually adjusting my composition, I take hundreds of photos by “working” towards moments that may at first seem trivial or mundane.
This is true even in the shortest family sessions. By shooting lots of pictures, you move beyond the snapshot and enter the realm of “making images.” Don’t be self-conscious of having your camera in hand or up to your face as you wait. Fall in love with the sound of the shutter. Or if your camera allows, take advantage of silent mode and be like a ninja. Your family will get used to it. Before long, they will stop being self-aware and start being themselves. In normality, there lies beauty.
We come into this world small and close to the ground. Often, I see parents standing while photographing their children. While this can offer a birds-eye view, a new perspective opens when you get down to your child’s level. Kneel down or lie on the ground. Watch how they play and mimic their movements and actions. You’ll have a record of how your child viewed the world through each stage of their life. Broadly speaking, when photographing your family, try to interpret their world through your lens. Get close to your child and watch the background melt into beautiful “bokeh.” Move back and photograph your child in relationship to their surroundings. As parents, we can forget how big, loud and fast this world can appear to small eyes and ears.
When we look back through family albums, most of the photos we see are from birthdays, family vacations, graduations or other major life events. Often, everyone is smiling and everyone is looking straight into the lens. But one of my favourite childhood photos is of me, sitting teary-eyed while my dad pulled out a sliver from my right hand, while my older sister held my left hand. The bandage on my left knee was a sign that I had just had a good wipe-out – the documented start to what would become an accident-prone life. If you want a truly three-dimensional, accurate record of your family’s life, don’t be afraid to photograph the not-so-happy parts of life. The arguments between siblings, the struggles over homework, the sadness of young love lost. Life isn’t always Facebook friendly. You don’t need to share every photo you take, but save them…like for the wedding reception 25 years later. I often find photographing older family members more difficult than photographing children. They came from a time when photography was costly and not nearly as prolific. So when a camera comes out now, they seem to sense it like blood to a shark and stare it down. The easy fix is to ask them to be themselves, or to lower the camera if they continue to look at you. After a while, they will forget you’re there and you can snag a photo.
The overused saying goes: The best camera is the one you have with you. And this is true. But while the cell phone is ubiquitous to the camera, I encourage you to invest in a “real” camera for when you want to dive into documenting your family life. Which camera you should buy is a different article altogether.
Get in the photo
As the photographer-in-residence for most of my family, extended or otherwise, I’m rarely in any photographs. To that end, there are a number of great documentary family photographers in the Ottawa area who can make sure the whole family is photographed. But if you want a true documentary approach, look for one with a photojournalism background or who has body of documentary family work to show.