How to take documentary family photographs

Here’s some ideas to help you to take your own family photographs in a documentary style, or help you to take documentary style family photographs in a more professional way.

1 - Sit and chat for 10 minutes before you bring out the camera. This allows the family to feel more comfortable with you and that they are ok to continue along with their day to day. It’s important that everyone is their natural selves so that you can capture those moments so be patient, you will be rewarded in time.

2- Suggest an activity, breakfast, cooking, bathtime, feeding the dog, reading. Whatever is normal for them at that time of the day, and watch carefully.

3- Look for pockets of light throughout the house and position yourself to make the most of that light. It may mean you need to gently direct your family into being in this space from time to time, but being aware of the light and how it falls on faces, will make a huge difference to the feeling of your images.

4- Use objects as borders or frames. Doorways, windows, walls, find anything that has automatic lines and use them to frame your subjects.

5 - Photograph the objects they are using. Hands, details, anything that tells a story of the moment.

6- Listen to conversations. Taking documentary photographs sometimes is not always about looking but listening and waiting too. Wait for something to happen, position yourself in the right place at the right time and allow things to unfold in front of you. Genuine emotions are often captured when you are on the outside looking in.

7- Taking photographs of children can be tricky if they don’t know you. To be honest, even with your own children it can be hard. So get down on their level, ask them about their day, their activity and be genuine. Once they know you are interested in them, it’s much easier to take a good portrait when the time arises.

8- Capture interaction. Either between siblings, parents, grandparents, notice the little ones hands on knees or certain looks or expressions. All of these are natural and real and will remind you or the family of a certain time in their life that is precious and always changing.

9- Notice their treasured belongings and photograph those too. A favourite mug, a well worn bunny. All of these tell their story and will matter so much in years to come.

10- If you can, find an open wall, somewhere less cluttered and free from furniture and other things, this can be a great place to take a simple portrait. It’s not always possible to do so, and sometimes it’s best to try and grab a moment of quiet to do it in, but a simple clear portrait can make a great addition to a collection of documentary photographs.

I hope that these tips we’ve picked up in our time photographing families at home help you to have the confidence to go and take your own.

Remember, look for the light, framing, be patient and wait for the moments to happen. Most of all enjoy the experience together.