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the family photography trend you don’t want to miss | Washington DC family photographer

About a year ago

I came across a photographer’s work that stopped me in my tracks. I loved everything I saw – it made me laugh, it brought tears to my eyes – all the things great photography is meant to do. I immediately bought access to a course she’d taught so I could listen to her talk about how she’d been able to make THIS kind of work her style, how she was shooting this for families. So what was it that caught my attention?

She was shooting real, documentary photography of families.



I don’t mean she’d go to their homes and tidy up, tell them what outfits to wear, and shoot them looking lovely and natural in their own home. I mean… I was doing that. And doing it well. No, she was hanging out with them like a babysitter who won’t leave, with her camera at the ready, creating images of their families full of life and truth and vitality and emotion.

I began following her work, and soon came across many other family photographers who’d found their gift in capturing real life images. And were working an amazing kind of alchemy – showing real life as beautiful and wonderful. And families are lining up to get this kind of photography. Because it goes deeper than an hour in a park.

Some photographers call it storytelling photography, or Day in the Life sessions.

Olivia Gatti, whose work is gorgeous, calls them True Home sessions. I love that.



Michigan Photographer Marie Masse calls them simply, her Signature Documentary sessions.



There are so many more photographers offering this style of photography (click their names to see their websites): Jenna Shouldice, Susan Ryan Kalina, Ang Waterton, Antonina Mamzenko are just a few of my favorites.


And what strikes me most about this “trend” of documentary photography is this: it isn’t actually a trend at all.

Families have been documenting their life, their kids, their pets, for decades. We all do it all the time with our phones (and sometimes more ambitiously with our big girl cameras). We shoot what we love because we don’t want to lose those memories. Having a documentary photographer come to your home is basically like having that, but with a level of skill and artistry  you might not be able to muster yourself. So instead of blurry pictures or bad light or the wrong angle, each image is shot with an artist’s eye for detail and a photojournalist’s knack for catching the best possible moment.

You might be thinking, I don’t think I want a photographer catching all the mess and chaos of my daily life. I do hear you… but I want you to think back to the family photos you have from when you were a kid, and if you have them, photos of your parents when they were kids. The board games and books on the shelves, the old toys, the 1970s plaid couch and shag carpet and crocheted afghans… those are all things that our Pinterest-driven mom-brains would cringe over, but in those old photos, they’re the stuff of life. They’re the texture and tone of the life we (or our parents or grandparents) lived. I’m sure at the time, someone worried about the mess, but years later, the “mess” is memory intertwined with the love and connection with the people you cherish. So I say to you, relax! let the “mess” be because down the road it’s just a backdrop for your fondest memories.

You  might be thinking: ugh, that would never work – we don’t really do anything. We’re kind of boring. Well, here’s a little test:

  1. What’s the first thing the kids want to do when they get out bed in the morning?
  2. What’s your favorite weekend breakfast?
  3. Do you tidy up after or do any weekend chores?
  4. What do your kids do in the morning after breakfast?
  5. Do they like reading stories/dress up/video games/playing outside/going to a playground/taking a walk?
  6. How do you like to relax?
  7. What do your kids do that makes you laugh?

Ok. If you answered anything to each of those questions, you’re not too boring for a documentary session! What I mean is, unless your kids stay in bed, you don’t eat breakfast, and no one moves from in front of the television until bedtime, you’ve got things happening. Don’t confuse calm with boring. Don’t confuse routine with boring. There are moments of love and connection and family life happening constantly. Plus, I am happy to plan with you so that you’ve got a fun and comfortable family activity to enjoy together.

But then there is the mom, I know you’re out there, who’s saying, OMG this is PERFECT for us! I love our Sunday morning pancakes routine with the kids in their cute jammies, and bath time and the goofiness getting dressed, and the ride to the farmer’s market and the park, and coming home to snack on fresh apples, play in the back yard, then read a story and have naps. I know you’re ready.  Your brain is already imagining the photos of you and your babies, hand-in-hand, laughing, or them resting their feet (when did their feet get this BIG?) in your lap while you read Elephant and Piggie books and they giggle… them running down the hall in their underpants the way they always do, and skating in their socks over the smooth wood floor…

You KNOW in your heart that your beautiful crazy family needs photos like this.

That this is a thousand times  better than dragging everyone to one more public garden in your best dressy casual to cajole smiles for 45 minutes before letting them loose to chase the photographer around for another 15 minutes, before she falls over exhausted, and you drag your hyped up little munchkins home to pay up on the candy bribes you’ve promised for the last two hours…

Here’s one last thing I discovered about this photography trend: it’s a joy to shoot.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the most fun I have as a photographer. It’s absorbing, challenging, and pushes me to be the very best artist and observer of life I can be. I love making images of families living their real lives. Here are a few of the documentary images I’ve made, since I began offering this type of session to my clients.

(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Documentary Photography(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Documentary Photography(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Documentary Photography(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Photographer(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Photographer(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Newborn Photography(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC family documentary photographer(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC family documentary photographer(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC maternity leave photographer(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC maternity leave photographerblog1blog8blog8(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC childrenblog7(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Documentary Photography(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC children(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC children(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC Family Photography


So what is involved in booking a documentary family session?

First use the Contact Me link up there at the top of the page to request my client guide – there’s a lot of information of you there including pricing for documentary sessions. I’d love to schedule a quick phone call with you too, and you can use that Contact Me link to let me know when is a good time to call you. We’ll talk about your family’s routines and personality, what you love, what drives you mad, what makes your heart happy. We’ll look at the calendar and pick a day.

When I come over, I’ll hang out,  be nice and funny with your kids, let them do their thing, I’ll be nice and funny with you and your spouse too. And I’ll shoot shoot shoot. When I leave, your kids might ask why I can’t stay longer, because I’m their new best friend. Your spouse might say “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be” (which is code for, “That was pretty cool and I actually had fun.”)

A couple of weeks later, I’ll have your images ready – a documentary project all about your family. You’ll want to have tissues nearby, because there’s a good chance you’ll cry a little when you see them. That’s how I know I’ve done well. My documentary sessions include our time together + the full set of digital files + $750 credit to spend on an album or prints.

So get in touch. Your memories are waiting.

xo, Katie

PS. Special thanks to Kirsten Lewis, Olivia Gatti and Marie Masse who gave me permission to use screen shots of their websites. I hope you take a minute to visit and admire their work. 

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  • September 21, 2016 - 8:56 am

    Ang Waterton - What an awesome surprise to find out I’d been mentioned in your post! I love this thoughtful, encompassing piece about a style of photography that is so dear to me. Thank you for a wonderful compliment and for including me here!ReplyCancel

    • September 23, 2016 - 4:18 pm - You’re so welcome! Thank you for sharing your talents with the world!ReplyCancel

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