why documentary: your looks vs. your legacy

there are a lot of different names for the type of photography i do- family photojournalism, documentary photography, storytelling sessions, etc- but when you boil it down, they are all rooted in the same basic principle: to photograph your life as you live it. no posing, no direction, no special outfits or locations, just you and your people being who you are.

because the concept of this type of photography is still so new and generally unknown and misunderstood, it’s been my intention for awhile now to start a blog series on why documentary sessions are so valuable and meaningful. like many other things, however, it has continually gotten pushed to the bottom of the pile as other things popped up and took priority. i was frustrated with myself for not getting it done, but when i came home from a recent trip to visit my grandparents, i was thankful i’d put it off for so long. this set of photos was meant for this series, and it’s the perfect way to kick it off.

my grandfather turned 90 a few weeks ago, and so the day after thanksgiving, we all loaded up and made the 6 hour car trip to celebrate with him. it ended up being an 8.5 hour drive, so when we finally arrived, we all felt like this:

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And even though it poured the entire next day, we managed to have some fun in the condo my grandmother booked for us.

it was fun to capture these moments of my kiddos enjoying our trip, but what i was really looking forward to was creating photos of my grandparents. i don’t get to see them nearly as often as i would like, especially now that i have three little ones and road trips are a bit more challenging, and even though this was a solidly joyful visit, in the back of my mind, i was acutely aware that this could very well be the last time i get to see my grandfather.

i have many deeply fond memories of my grandparents from my childhood that reach far beyond the way they looked. i remember how their house smelled. i remember my grandmother’s meticulous decorating and her treasured possessions. i remember the way my grandfather would point when he was talking (see above!) or telling a joke. his laugh is still the same now, although perhaps a little bit slower and quieter than it once was. i remember the way my grandmother would tilt her chin up to look down through her glasses at the right angle as she focused on a task. i remember how she would always find a way to let me help, the way she let my boys help get some decorations ready for the evening’s party, and the way she always had something small but special on hand for me to keep as a reminder of our trip to see her (i don’t think she really bought these harry potter glasses for herself like she said she did!).


when we walked into their apartment a few weeks ago, all of those memories came flooding back, the way they always do whenever we manage a trip down to see them. i was determined to create photos that held evidence of who my grandparents are- the things they value, the way they care for and live in their space, the way they love us, and the way they love each other.

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if i had asked them to stand next to each other and smile, they would have done that for me. they would have put their arms around each other and stood close and beamed because their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were surrounding them. but this- this is so much more. i waited and i watched and i was rewarded with this brief but deeply real and pure exchange of smiles and touch and love that has lasted through time and through life.

the rest of our trip was full of moments, large and small, that held significant meaning for me, each in their own way- people, gestures, expressions, interactions, connections. each was a part of something larger than itself; these moments were and are the building blocks that when put together, create who we are as a family, with my grandparents at the foundation. they have spent their lives pouring themselves into us so that when the time comes, we can continue their legacy for them.

here’s what we need to keep in mind when we choose to have photos of our family taken- we are so much more than the outfits we put together or the way we do our hair or the way that we smile. well coordinated and posed family pictures in a stunning location are a beautiful keepsake to have (i have dragged my own family out for quite a few, believe me), but there is so much missing from them. they can showcase how our faces change throughout the years, but they can’t document how we grow in our hearts and in our souls and in our lives. they are an accurate and lovely representation of our physical beauty, but they simply cannot show the depth of our personalities or the way that we interact with the world. i am so thankful for the last photo shown above because it will help me always remember how my beautiful grandparents looked in that moment, but i’m even more thankful for the other photos in this post because they show me the legacy that they lived and will leave for us; they will forever make me feel the way i felt when i was with my grandparents then and now, and that is a treasure worth holding on to.

your life isn't boring

a few nights ago, i did another session in my favorite spot in my favorite forest- which brought the count up to 3 out of the last 4 days spent photographing in the woods. i ooo’ed and ahhh’ed over its beauty with my clients like i always do, i gushed over how much i love it there, and i left satisfied that i created images of the family that were enhanced by the gorgeous location we were in.

but then something happened.

i came home, put the kiddos to bed, and while i sat next to my littlest kiddo making sure he was really asleep before i tried to escape, i scrolled through my newsfeed. in my newsfeed, i saw a photo from another photographer out west with a gorgeous, sweeping landscape with huge beautiful mountains in the background. and guys- i was immediately jealous.

my first thought was, “gosh, i wish i had somewhere beautiful like that to shoot”.

and then i thought “it’s just so boring here in pennsylvania”.

i had just left a forest of stunning, towering pines 2 hours prior. but i saw those snow-capped mountains in that photo and they were so beautiful and striking and eye-catching that they shoved my favorite forest right out of my head.

i started to sift through the photos i had taken that night, and i completely failed to appreciate just how lovely the backdrop of our shoot was. i was too distracted by the shot with closed eyes, the perfect shot that of course was out of focus, and the nagging remnants of that other photographer’s mountain photo still lingering in my mind’s eye. but then, God started working on my heart (as He so often does) and i started to see my photos again- to really see them- and something else happened.

something clicked in my mind and it occurred to me that in the last several months, i’ve taken photos in a forest, in a sunflower field, at a lake, on some boulders lining a creek, in a pumpkin patch, in a fruit orchard, on a hillside covered with dandelions, alongside a freshly planted corn field, and in a flower filled garden overlooking rolling hills. and i never had to drive more than an hour to take any of them.

so here’s the reality-

this.

is.

NOT.

boring.

and neither is your life.

hear me out on this one.

the reason a lot of people say they don’t want a documentary session in their home is because they’re afraid their life is too boring and won’t photograph well. but here’s the deal- your life ISN’T boring. it’s no more boring than the forest or the sunflower field or the lake that i frequent with my kiddos for day trips and photo ops. it only feels boring to you because you see it everyday. once something becomes a fixture in our lives, once we become accustomed to something, once our sense of wonder is replaced with a sense of familiarity, a false feeling of boredom starts to settle over us. we like things that are new and fresh and different. it’s why i was so easily distracted by another photographer’s image- they have a backdrop i don’t have access to, one i don’t see in photos often (or in person at all).

sometimes what we need to restore our sense of awe and wonder in the things that have started to feel stale in our lives is a fresh perspective. at the end of each day, ask your kids what their favorite part of the day was, or what they wish they could change about the day (their answers may surprise you). take a few minutes each day to observe the things around your home that serve as evidence that your people live there (example: this morning there were 3 nerf guns scattered across my living room floor). or, maybe, allow someone into your home to document your family as an impartial observer so that they can show you that your home, your family, your life are all every bit as stunning as a forest full of towering pines.

into the forest

in preparation for my first ever forest mini sessions next week in my favorite spot on earth, here’s a handful of the images i took for one of my favorite families on earth. these people right here were meant to be photographed in the forest. their beautiful souls belong outside among nature; you can tell that they feel at home here.

at the lake

most of the time, i’m wildly critical of my own work. i nit pick and get frustrated with what i should have done differently, and often, if i’m not planning on sharing the photos, i’ll do a quick edit, stash them in the proper folder, and permit myself to not look at them any more.

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but sometimes- every once in a great while- i’ll take a set of photos that i just can’t get enough of. that as i edit, i can feel my hands start to get all tingly with excitement because i want to edit faster so i can see the end result.

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this was one of those times- and i’m extra smitten with this particular set of photos because all but a select few were begging to be converted to black and white. and i know some of you color junkies may disagree with me, but i promise you, i tried most of them in color too and believe me- the black and white just makes them sing (i think it’s that lovely cloudy sky that does it).

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and who knows, maybe the reason i love them so much isn’t because there’s anything particularly fabulous about them, but because they perfectly illustrate just how lovely the evening was when i took them. the weather was perfect, the lake was quiet and empty, the children were happy, and the company was good.

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i’d argue that if that is the case- that i love them not because of their artistic quality but because of their emotional and personal quality- that that makes them even more valuable than if they were just beautiful photographs. what good is a visually stunning photo if it makes you feel nothing? i love these because i look at them and remember how the air felt on my skin that afternoon. i can smell the subtle hint of fall in the soft breeze. i can hear the scratch of the boys’ sticks across the sand and the baby’s footsteps as he tried to keep up.

i keep looking at these photos over and over because they are our life, and our life is good, even when things are crazy, or hard, or the world seems to have lost its way. i look at these photos and i am thankful for our quiet afternoon of peace, together, at the lake.

a video for march

we kicked off spring up here in pennsylvania with a massive snowstorm- which meant two days off of work for my hubby, which meant i got some daytime hours to work on some things just for me :)  not only did i (finally) finish february's video project (see the post just before this one) but i also managed to shoot and film march's video for the group i'm working with.  the theme for this month was black and white- a personal favorite!- so i knew i wanted to keep it short, simple, and a little silly.  it may have cost me two lollipops to get what i was going for from my big kids, but it was definitely worth it!

february's second video

so it's march, and while i *should* be posting my first march video right now, instead i'm 3 weeks late in posting my second february video.  kid number 3 has proven to be an even bigger challenge at night than either of his brothers (didn't know that was possible), and because of that, much of my work time (ahem, all of it) has been consumed with rocking, swaying, shushing, and begging a certain 18 pound bundle of precious frustration to just.go.to.sleep.

anyway, the point is, i haven't had nearly as much time as i usually do to shoot or edit, so i've been prioritizing the best i can and unfortunately the videos i promised myself i'd be making twice a month have dropped to the bottom of the list.  still, better late than never.  the theme for february's video was "minimalism and negative space".  a little tricky as far as video is concerned, but i did my best.  enjoy!