How I Fell in Love with Documentary Photography


How I Fell in Love with Documentary Photography

personal, documentary

How I Fell in Love with Documentary Photography

The Beginning

I was flipping through my daughter's 1 year photo album- filled to bursting with images from our first days together, monthly milestone images from the same angle of her laying on the same white bed to show her growth, stats of her height and weight and favorite foods, mini sessions with awkward props and outfits I've set up for specific holidays. 

Exhibit A: (this actually pains me to post now, but for the sake of demonstrating growth...)

Clearly, I was not rocking it. It was forced and strange - and how bout that editing?! -- but that's what "everyone else" seemed to like and/or be doing... so I thought I should, too. 

But as I looked back through the photos from that year, it's the picture of my daughter napping on my husband's chest that made my fingers pause. It's her tiny feet flung high in the air from the slots of a swing that I want to pull and frame because there's something about it that instantly makes me feel nostalgic, to recall the peace at the empty neighborhood park and the sound of her wild giggle filling the spring air.

There are so many pictures that show how she looked and not nearly as many that tell a story of that year and all the emotion it entailed.

I suddenly found myself grasping for those moments to not be memories; I wanted to see and feel them over and over. All the mess and fear and joy and discovery and coffee and everything in between.


(These were some of the first shots that really gripped me to start documenting life differently. Out of all the smiling, standard shots, for some reason, this is what made my heart beat faster.)

The Challenge:

It was at this point that I decided to give myself a challenge: one photo a day for 30 days that showcase real life.

I started January 1 - it was cold and there wasn't a whole lot going on, so I wondered what in the world I would even shoot that would be worthwhile. But suddenly, I began to see things differently. Technically, I was forced to get more creative in difficult lighting, to shoot from new angles, to tell a story instead of setting the scene.

But more importantly, rather than looking for pretty, I sought the feeling. I became present, ever seeking details, asking myself in the moment, "what will I miss about this in 20 years?"

And wow-- that perspective shifted my work into a new dimension. 

Instead of simply photographing what was plainly in front of me, I became hungry for the roots of love -- it wasn't my daughter taking a bath that I loved, it was how the bubbles make her hair so curly and how strong yet comforting my husband's hand looks as he washes them from her head.

It wasn't just what she was eating that was memorable (I mean really, who cares?!) -- it was how she flashed the widest, toothy grin of carefree enjoyment after drinking yogurt from a cup and getting it all over her face.

The chaos of getting both her and our anxiety-driven pup to the vet on a weekday morning.

How she almost always fell asleep in her car seat and I let her snooze while I unloaded groceries from out little blue hatchback.

That's the stuff that flies by without a second glance on most days, but it's what made up our life in that season and I wanted to savor it!

And then one night, my husband was sitting on the couch with our little girl in his lap - she was zipped up tightly in fuzzy, footie pajamas, the glow of lamps illuminated the living room on a cold, winter night, and they shared a bowl of ice cream before bed while our dog rested hopefully at their feet.

I grabbed my camera and took this shot.

It's nothing wonderful to the random viewer. It's technically pretty week, and not super exciting. But almost immediately, (and I'm really being open about how sentimental I am at heart, here) tears came to my eyes. 

As soon as I saw it flash to the back of my camera, I told him, "I can't wait to show her this someday."

Ever since then, I've been on a mission. A mission to educate myself, develop my skills in this genre, then share that love with my clients so we can work together to make real the new perfect. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm still in love with lifestyle shooting and will continue capturing honest expression and beautifully candid, natural-light sessions --

--but I'll also begin to share more about this alternate option of documentary style sessions as well and why it could be the next perfect thing for you. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to photograph your everyday life with more meaning and intention, check out the details for my online course “The In-Between.”