Documentary Session – Top 10 Things to think about

documentary sessionDocumentary sessions are a fairly new area of photography.

It’s understandable to be hesitant about having one. You probably aren’t even sure what it means. There are concerns and questions, like “What do I do during a documentary session? You mean, I just be myself?”

Yes! You are yourself!

And no just. You are you and that is what makes a session like this fun. You and your family get to show your personality, quirks, and emotions through photography. You get a physical piece of memory. You can look back and laugh (or cry) over what happened during your session. How that day was similar to every day at that time.

  • What a documentary session is:
    A snapshot or day in the life session is about capturing the moments, big and small, of your everyday life. It’s meant to be a memory you can look back on when things get fuzzy. Or when your baby becomes a teenager and wants nothing to do with you. Your photographer is there to document what goes on, either a planned activity or you going through a normal day. By planned activity, it’s something you normally do, such as baking with your kids or sidewalk chalk drawing. It’s real moments of everyday life. 
  • What it is not:
    A posed session at the park/beach/mountaintop. The photographer directing you. Matching outfits. Perfectly done hair and makeup. 

10 Tips when thinking about a Documentary Session

  1. Activities versus a Day in the Life (DITL) session: If you think your everyday life might be a bit boring, try planning activities your family loves to do! Do you do a big Sunday family dinner? How about your Saturday morning kickball game? Or baking cookies and letting the kids decorate? A DITL session covers your daily life, waking up and a morning routine. Or dinner and reading Goodnight Moon 107 times until your child finally falls asleep. There can be planned activities as well. We would plan out your day based on the number of hours you want to be covered. 
  2. Time: Speaking of hours you want… Do you want to test the waters with 1-2 hours, do a half DITL session or go all out with a full day of coverage? Maybe you have a specific event in mind, like a birthday party or baking Christmas cookies. The memories you want to make will play into how much time you need a photographer for.
  3. If you are having the session in your home, do you want to declutter and clean beforehand? You don’t need to do a spring cleaning but tossing the junk mail and swiping the windows and mirrors would go a long way. You want your home to look how it usually does but too many toys laying around or papers covering the coffee table could be distracting. How much you clean is totally up to you though. You could always shove everything in a closet, that’s what I’d do. LOL
  4. Manage expectations: Let your kids know a photographer is coming to follow you around. Let them know they don’t have to look at the camera and say “cheeeeseeee” all the time and don’t tell them to look at the camera. And if they throw a fit? Let them! Those may end up being your favorites. Don’t feel the need to direct anyone. The photographer won’t be directing and neither should you. You will want your families personalities to pop when you look through the images. We want the good, the bad, and the ugly. *wink wink*
  5. Be You: Much like managing expectations, you want to just relax and enjoy the moment. You don’t have to get dressed up and do your hair unless that is what you usually do! As above, we want to capture each family member as they are. If your toddler loves running around in just their diaper, let them! If your tween would rather sit in the corner and read than participate? That’s OK! If you wear yoga pants and a sweatshirt on a Target run, let’s get that on film! 
  6. Where is your happy place? Think about what you love to do and where you love going. Homebodies? Let’s photograph you at home. Love going to the beach and building sandcastle? Perfect. Think about where you feel most comfortable and where you love to be.
  7. What do you want to say/What is your story? Do you want to tell the story of your love, your family? Do you want something to show your grandkids when they ask what it was like back in olden times? What would that look like? Do you want images you can show your daughter’s prom date or when your son gets married? Do you want to remember the way your daughter always helped daddy “fix” things or your son pulling out all his toy cars? Start thinking about the things you see every day but may soon go the way of the dinosaur.  Think big picture. 
  8. What details are important? Does your child have a favorite toy? Does your partner always drink their coffee from the same old mug? What little things do you want to cherish? Think of all those little things you want to remember in 20-30 years. A documentary session is perfect for recording all those little details that fade from memory over time. 
  9. Get to know your photographer: You want to feel relaxed and comfortable with your photographer. The best way to do that is to get to know them! Before your session, have a consultation. Ask them questions and tell them about yourself. I want my clients to feel like I am part of the family. I encourage them to email or call when they have questions before their session. I encourage them to ask me questions and find things we have in common to connect with. Connections will help you be comfortable and natural.
  10. Think about displaying your images: Do you have a wall in your house that needs a large canvas or a gallery of prints? Do you love having a book of images to flip through when you need to smile and remember? Choose something tangible to display your images. We all know what happens when you get that USB of images… you post a few to Facebook then it gets put in a drawer. You move then can’t find the USB. It happens, so start thinking about how you want to display your images from your documentary session. You should be proud to display these images on your walls or in an album rather than let them sit in a drawer to die. 

Do you think a documentary session is right for you? Complete my contact form for more information!

Tell me, what is your happy place?

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Jenna Volden studied photography in high school and college but ultimately ended up with a business degree. After spending 10-plus years in the rat race she returned to her first love, photography by starting her own photography company. She can be found either chasing sunsets around the globe or making women feel like rock stars in her home studio. She is currently based out of Phoenix, AZ.

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This entry was posted in Document Living, Portrait Photography.

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