Documentary Family Photography | A 'Day in the Life' - what does it mean?

When I first got into photography, I wasn't sure what kind of family photography I was going to offer. I was fairly daunted by the mental image of setting up a studio in my unsightly aged farmhouse, lugging in backdrops and spending time and money on setups that seemed out of my realm of desires. But wasn't studio family photography the way it was done? The only way?

No. Not at all.

In my search for a more intuitive solution, I came across other documentary family photographers, who were doing for clients exactly what I was doing for my own family: taking interesting photographs of the 'everyday'. I scratched my head and in about two seconds, my mind was made. I would continue to do things the way that felt right, which would entail a whole lot of on-location, and just about nothing else in the way of orchestration. No posing, no backdrops, no fuss.

When I send out client emails now, I have a standard intro paragraph on the nature of documentary photography. It alerts you to the fact that nothing is required of you on the day of you shoot. The only one who should be working at this shoot is me. 

With this preamble, let us now delve into the language documentary family photographers use. In particular, the 'Day in the Life' session.

A Day in the Life session is when a documentary photographer spends a day with your family. That's it, really. The day can start as early as your family starts - first thing in the morning. It can go as late as you and the photographer agree to go.

A Day in the Life session is meant to be a slice of time in your life. It is not meant to glorify your life, or alter it, or present untruths. It is not meant to embarrass you. It is meant to serve you, by providing photographic fodder for years' worth of rich memories. The photographs can be shared, but they are not meant to be judged against others. They are meant to highlight the beauty of your own life, rather than emphasize perceived deficiencies. They are meant to give you joy, even when they illustrate struggle or strife.

They can show you just how hard you work as a parent of your children. They can remind you to give yourself a break once in a while, when you’re piling up the expectations of yourself like impossible Jenga towers.

This is tricky to believe in, if you haven't seen this type of photography before. Maybe it sounds scary, or makes you feel vulnerable.

If it does, then maybe Day in the Life photography is not for you. Not just yet. Maybe you need time to process the idea and see the power in such imagery. Imagery depicting both chaos and quietude, raw family dynamics and a lot of the 'mundane'. 

My job as your photographer is to do justice to your family life in a way that is both true and aesthetically strong. It is my job to stay with the temper tantrums, or run in front of you as you move from mall to open road, from home to back yard, from pitch dark bathroom to brightly lit dining room. To be right on top of those big bright smiles, or catch a spilling cup of juice (ok, sometimes I fail at this), a tear, a poke.

My job is to calculate light and speed and all that technical stuff and to make you feel comfortable with me in your midst, and to engage with your kids just enough so that they trust me, and not so much that they change what they would be doing if I wasn't there (say wha?).

My job is to be a friendly fly on the wall. (but less yucky)

When you receive your Day in the Life gallery from me, you should experience the photographs. If I have done my job right, you should smile in wonder at how your life feels in visual form. 

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to photograph a Day in the Life session for a talented documentary family photographer, Ashley, of Ashley Eve Photography.

I have photographed photographers before, but never for this length of time, never at such an intimate level. Just as Ashley and her husband opened their home and family life to me, I opened myself to them. I knew my gallery to her would be critiqued by her careful and trained eye. Each mistake I made could be doubly impactful: on one hand, failing to capture the essence of Ashley's family life, and on the other, failing on a photographic level.

It turned out she fell in love with her gallery. I did my job right. She saw her authentic family life in the photographs. So I am passing them on to you, to view.

I have presented a sample of her gallery below. I hope you can experience their life just as I did. And if these images make you wonder about what your life might look like behind my lens, then get in touch