How to document your family story

Family photography, documenting my children’s growing up is something I think about a lot. As a Mum, a photographer and an educator for Photography for Parents, this type of photography is very close to my heart and I’m very passionate about getting parents excited about it as much as I am. I feel that more so than many other types of photos  you’ll get to take through yours and your children’s lives, this one matters a bit more.

Photo by Andrea James

Going back in time

Cast your mind back to your own childhood. Chances are, you are reminiscing about it through imagery from your own family albums. The places, events, emotions – they’re all shaped in your mind by how you saw them on your family photographs. They are the keys to immortalising what life was for you as a child. They will be like that for your children – snippets of visual memories, building up to the picture of their childhoods. Things they did, loved, cherished, felt – forever captured through photographs.

Think of the pleasure you get from flicking through your childhood photos. Recognising yourself in familiar places which may no longer exist. Traveling back through time to emotions you felt at the time. Reminiscing about relationships with family members who may no longer be with you. How wonderful, to be able to give the same gift to your children?

Not posed, not forced – just life

Lifestyle family photography is about capturing what happens in front of your eyes, about noticing the big, little, bonkers, touching, quiet, joyful moments which make up our family lives and capturing just that. It’s not about stiff portraits with forced smiles ( although a great portrait or two should find a way into your photo gallery too), it’s not about ‘cutsey’ props which are disconnected from what your family actually do or are interested in, It’s about taking a back seat and noticing how your new baby finds their way into your family rhythm, the thoughtful look your older child has whenever they play with their legos, the joy of a sofa tickle fight on a rainy Saturday afternoon – it’s noticing what happens and not just when things are pretty, but when things are real.

Photo by Rebecca Walls

The story of growing up

As a family photographer, what you show through your pictures is essentially the many different ways of telling a story of love and the story of the inevitable change that comes with growing up. Many different emotions and moments big and small lead our children into adulthood and make them the people they are slowly becoming. How you might want to tell this story is up to you, but we hope you won’t be content with just recording the big, flagship moments like first steps, starting preschool or school, family holidays… As a family photographer – YOUR family photographer, you should notice and make space for the thousands of quiet moments that make up your daily life. Keep your camera close when your kids are having breakfast, and whip it up when they’re having a nap, record the smiles, the tears, the thinking moments and the unadulterated joy of being 2 and a half and finding a REAL SNAIL.

Those are the moments that – as a parent – I want to freeze in time, remember forever, never lose sight of.  Those are the moments that as a family photographer – I want to capture as beautifully and as faithfully as I can. They matter. There is no outside photographer who can come to your house and capture them – with all the talent in the world, if they’re not living with you, they just won’t know the key moments and the key places. This is something YOU yourself must capture.

Photo by Shannon Little

Blink and you miss it

The changes in our children often creep up on us – it takes turning away for a while to see quite what a growth they’ve experienced in a few weeks or months. Create little projects to really see the changes – measuring up against the same tree, start and end of the year portraits etc.

Some people embark on 365 days or 52 weeks personal or family projects which require from them to take a photo a day or a photo a week – this can be with a specific theme or simply whatever catches their fancy. These projects are great as a prompt for recording your family’s big and small moments but also great to help push you to keep shooting, keep observing, keep learning. Find people who are doing these on Instagram or Facebook – look for hashtags #project365 or #365days or variations thereof. In fact we run our very own weekly project with our students and alumni on Facebook – just a great way of motivating one another and making sure we keep using those cameras.

Life is messy. It’s OK to capture it that way

This is where I often get protests – usually a variation of “but with the kids around, my house is rarely tidy enough  to photograph it”. All I can say – childhood is chaos, embrace it. There are ways of minimising the ‘visual clutter’ in your photos if it bothers you and we do help you get a better handle on composition in our courses, but by and large – so what it’s a bit messy? It’s not the thing you’ll be looking out for when you look at them in years to come.

The key to it all is to go ahead and shoot. Observe your family, take pleasure in noticing the little details and idiosyncrasies of life with your loved ones. Think to the future and think of the moments you’d like to freeze in time and just pick up that camera and shoot.

We’ve had over 1000 students go through our courses. If for every one of them, learning those key photo skills means that those little but key family moments got captured – that makes me happy. Because they, truly matter..

If you’d like to join us and make those special family photographs better – true keepsakes instead of just snaps – check out our FREE Photo Course which will help you get started with photography even if you never used your camera on anything other than full auto.

Find out more

Ania Wilk-Lawton is founder of Photography for Parents – online and in-person Photo School teaching parents how to photograph their children beautifully. A photographer, educator and Mum of one little one and one not so little one, she understands the challenges of photographing children but also the value of those everyday photos. At Photography for Parents, professional children’s photographers share their knowledge and experience to show parents how to make the most of the cameras they have and capture all the big, little, funny, touching, bonkers moments on their family lives.

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