A Documentary Family Photographer’s Six Dream Clients




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You know you’ve thought it: is my family even right for a documentary session?

In a nutshell, below is a list of THIS photographer’s six dream clients. Where do YOU fall?

1. The one whose family traditions are prized above all else.

In case of flood or fire, the one thing you’d grab from your house is your photographs, because they hold the key to all that’s sacred in life. Sure, you may really love that baby blue vintage truck, your custom-built pool, or your collection of great dresses from Anthropologie. But when you think back across the years, the thoughts that get you all weepy are the traditions you’ve established with your loved ones. You know these are the memories that will grow up with your children and be fondly recalled, even decades down the road.

When I was a kid, making traditional Polish pierogi for Christmas with my mom and grandmas was one of my most beloved annual tasks. Summer car trips to Michigan where we kids would turn positively feral, running the streets barefoot and bare chested, dirt smeared on our faces and embedded deep under our fingernails.

Visiting the donut shop after church. Exploring the secret network of creeks in the neighborhood. Inventing elaborate dance routines to songs from the movie Beaches, then forcing our snickering, slightly-sauced parents to sit through the performances, cocktails in hand. Even long, quiet nights sitting up with my dad finishing pre-calculus homework or college essays. Me, frustrated. Him, frustrated. But together, getting it all done.

You have your own versions of these stories. Ones that tell your family history and reveal how you became the person that you are.

And you would give anything for an honest, skilled, visual record of these traditions.

These are the important stories from your childhood. The ones that help you remember where you came from. Who you are. For while they live in your head, the memories are foggy at best.

2. The one who finds traditional photos “cheesy”

We’ve all been handed an info sheet (or emailed a pdf) by a photographer with tips and tricks on “how to look your best” before a photo session. It may have included tips on make up. Complimentary colors. Maybe even a “style board” with fashion choices that would look hippest this season. We’ve done our best to adhere to the rules, then – many shoe changes and a lot of hair product later, marched our families out to a beautiful pre-determined field, cityscape, or waterfront oasis, and spent an hour trying not to sweat while we pray our children behave and our faces don’t reveal how nervous we really are.

And the photos resulting? They’re probably beautiful. Flattering. Harmonious. You post them on Facebook, and your classmates from college make enthusiastic proclamations about how adorable and well-behaved your children are. How stylish and beautiful you look. How you haven’t changed a bit.

It feels great! But also . . . a little off? Time goes by, and as you look at the photos, you realize something: they contain little about YOU. Sure, you appreciate the value of a photo where everyone’s smiling, but the matching outfits, context-free setting, and slightly coerced hugging just doesn’t feel like YOU.

Who are these people, sitting on a blanket in dress clothes? Where IS this rustic setting, anyway? 

Discouraged, you tell yourself that hiring a photographer is just not for you. You’ll just have to live with iPhone captures, you sulk, or pick up that dusty Canon Rebel you got when the baby was born, and figure out how to finally use it. 

Then it clicks. You want something more -- something more authentic and meaningful.

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3. The one who hates having her photo taken

Yes, I’m looking at you, constipated-looking-fake-smiler, unfortunate-always-blinker, and not-knowing-how-to-hold-your-arm-so-it-looks-natural-er. I’m one of you, too.

But I I know the real problem.

The problem is actually NOT the constipated look, the poorly-timed blink, or the awkwardly held arm.

The problem, friend, is the feeling like you have to pretend in front of a camera. Because let’s face it: you have a hard time feeling good in your own skin when you feel the heat of the spotlight and you’re not really being yourself.

Plus, there’s something about the presence of a photographer that loads your mind with expectations and ideas about how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to do with your chin, and how to pivot your body to optimize your appearance. The truth is, there’s nothing natural about it. So is it any surprise that it feels awkward, and you then think you look awkward?

But what if it needn’t be so? What if you could drop the pretending and just go on with your life, never having to freeze and stare, bewildered and slightly terrified, into a lens?

 4. The one with the wild-ass kids

Raise your hand if getting your children to sit still for a photo makes you break into a stone cold sweat. They’re loud, frenetic, pretty much ALWAYS coated in peanut butter, and they’ve been wearing that same shirt for three weeks straight (when they finally crash at the end of the day, you have to quietly steal it and launder it in the dead of night so they don’t notice). Or on their sweeter days, they’re boisterous, creative, and can’t be put in a box (or made to sit on a blanket in a field at sunset). Either way. I feel ya.

On the one hand, your children cannot – will not – be contained, and that’s stressful. If you bribe them to “behave” for photos, they might embarrass you and waste everyone’s time.

You’ll end up in a power struggle in front of a stranger, resulting in some tense smiles in a photo that – even if it looks good – will always remind you of the stress of that day.

On the other hand, your children are free spirits! They’re fun! Silly! Unique! They’re growing up into real human beings with their own habits and quirks, skills and cutenesses. When you stand them in a pose and demand that they turn their heads just so, you feel like you’re stifling their individuality. Not to mention, this thought has crossed your mind: what does it do to their ego, seeing only “posed” and “perfect” photos on the walls, rather than the ones that reflect their true selves?

5. The one afraid of forgetting

Did you ever lay awake with a dozing baby on your chest when the rest of the world was still, breathing in the smell of the top of his head, playing with that squishy little hand wrapped around your single finger, hoping more than anything that you’ll always remember this exhausting little cocoon of sweetness?

Or maybe you walked in to your daughter’s room one morning to find her already dressed and sitting at her little table, gripping a pencil just like an adult does, drawing surprisingly realistic pictures of dragons. You panic, thinking: when did this happen? How did I miss these milestones?

So you make a pledge to simplify. Get off Facebook. Be truly present for your family so life doesn’t fly by while you’re blinking. Take a day off to have some quality time. Take more deep breaths and practice more patience. But it still kinda feels futile.

So you panic, and think “OH MY GOD, WE NEED TO GET PICTURES DONE,” but that too seems hopeless, because – let’s be honest – what will a posed smiling photo ever tell you about what it feels like to be your family right at this moment?

There’s so much more to it than how everyone looks. It’s how you interact, the state of chaos in your home, the fast-paced hustle of your days and the never-ending duration of bedtime routines. How can a posed photo reflect all of that?

6. The one who tried on “perfect” and decided that it just doesn’t fit.

Pinterest is full of sage advice on how to custom-craft your own organic, gluten-free, mess-free, cruelty-free sensory dough; cook nutritious, kid-approved dinners in only 15 minutes; live harmoniously with your ragey toddler; style your home so it looks like a luxurious zen retreat; have smooth, silky hair on a rainy day in 5 minutes flat; and dress like a celebrity while breastfeeding a newborn.

But. Come on.

All of that isn’t even possible. And if it were, would your life be scrubbed of all the quirks and nuances that make you . . . YOU? At some point, you gathered up the courage to shed always-chasing-perfection-and-putting-up-facades-for-others skin and grew a tougher new this-is-my-life-take-it-or-leave-it skin. And damn, it feels SO good, right?

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So go ahead and tell me: are you any of these people? All of them?

If these feelings resonate with you, go ahead and shoot me a note. Not to book something, necessarily, but just to chat. Although I love nothing more than preserving a family’s stories for them, I also love helping them find ways to do it themselves.