A couple weeks ago my daughter Vale turned one and I completed my 5th personal DAY IN THE LIFE series.

I started doing them nearly 3 years ago, in August of 2014, as a yearly photography project, until I got the wild idea that this HAD to be a birthday tradition for my kids, too.

So now, three days a year, I do a DITL shoot. If we are being totally transparent, my husband doesn’t love these days. I’m kind of a crazy person, the tripod is basically our non-verbal roommate for the day, and it’s some artistic form of organized chaos all over the house.

I don’t have a link to my very first one, but here is my second one. I’ve grown so much, but I still learn a little bit more every time I shoot these. And, thankfully, I fall a little bit more in love with my weird family and the way I have chosen to document us. These photos are truly a treasure to me, even with their flaws.

Without fail, every time I share my most recent DITL series, I always get so many questions and comments and people sharing that they are so inspired to try it. In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

1. Come up with a plan for your day.

First of all, you don’t just wake up one day and say “Today I think I’m going to shoot a full day of photos of my family!” It’s just too involved to go about it like that. You need a plan.

And y’all, I’m the queen of no plan shooting, but when it comes to my DITL photos there’s a plan. It’s on the calendar in bold, and everyone knows in advance that I’m going to be comin’ in hot that day so it’s time to show up wearing a game face. For the sake of your sanity, don’t put this on a calendar for a day where you have 87 other things going on, especially for the first time.

Not to sound like the former teacher that I am, but you need to make a shot list of sorts. What do you want to capture? Breakfast? Wake-up routines? Brushing teeth? Do you want your spouse in the photos or just kids or just details? This doesn’t have to be a full detailed list of every shot you want of your day, but get the highlights down on paper.

Another big one in the planning is deciding if and when you want to make sure you are in the photos. This is where stress turns to level DEFCON 5 in the DITL shooting. Tripods and timers and hoping all the little people cooperate and “OMG, it’s only 8:30 AM… how many more hours of this are there?!” But, as stressful as it is, make sure you put yourself on that list. Do you want to be in photos drinking coffee, playing with the kids or bedtime routines? Write it down!

Also, you need to decide what format you want to shoot in: stills, video clips or a combination of the two? Think about it and write it down. Unique composition ideas? Write them down.

This is also where you decide how long you want to shoot. I usually shoot from wake-up to bedtime, but last August, the baby was only a few months old and my toddler was sucking the life out of me with his toddlerness, so I only shot wake-up to nap-time, which was pre-planned.

Make it your own. There are no rules you have to follow and it can fit your family the way you need it to.

 You don’t have to carry this list around with you all day on the day of your shoot, but have it somewhere that you can reference if needed.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

2. Prep your gear.

This may go without saying, but get your gear ready the night before. I shoot only with one lens for the full day, but I make sure I have at least 2 charged batteries, my tripod is ready, and I have clean memory cards.

If you use a wireless remote for your self-portraits, be sure you have that ready (I always seem to lose that thing!). I put everything in the kitchen so when I roll out of bed to the beautiful cries of my darling littles, I know where to find my camera before I’ve had a chance to chug coffee.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

3. Just start shooting.

In my personal shooting, I overshoot. Mostly because I’m doubling up on being a parent that is supposed to keep my children alive and safe while also trying to be creative, so I really can’t concentrate and most of the time have no idea if they are even in the frame.

When you wake up on the big day and start shooting (pre-coffee) just start shooting. The wake up faces, the coffee cups, the frozen waffles, get it all. You might not know what you are looking for when you are shooting, just shoot through the routines. Light is going to change fast, so be mindful of your settings. Check your list: how are you doing? Have you gotten in the frame? No? Do it now.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

4. Show yourself some grace, sister!

It’s easy to sit and make lists and imagine all these lovely photos you want to take of your family throughout the day, but then life happens. You aren’t just a photographer in this gig, you are a mom and a spouse and whatever other titles you hold.

Show yourself some grace in this endeavor. You might miss a few shots. Your kids might not comply. The light might be awful. The power might go out. You and your husband might get in an argument over the hot water.

In one of my DITL shoots, my son ran by my tripod and pulled on the camera strap, causing a massive crash, shatter, and glass to go everywhere. After crying at the kitchen sink for about 25-minutes, praying to Jesus to keep me from jumping into the Illinois river, I realized it was just the filter.

I missed about an hour of shooting that day because I thought I was having a nervous breakdown over the glass. I was so mad about that, but now I don’t even know which shoot it was and I laugh at the story.

Be happy with the photos you get, even if you miss focus, blow highlights, chop limbs, and even if they aren’t all the photos you hoped for. And remember, getting just one or two photos of a specific time is good enough, you don’t need 87 of breakfast and lunch and dinner and snacks. Food is food, sometimes.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

5.  Get in the frame!

I don’t really need explain this, but I felt like it was worth having it’s own point. Get. In. The. Frame. You don’t have to be doing something life changing, but get in there. Show how you fit in the day, how you fit with these people. Do it.

Related: You were there, too: Include yourself in family photos

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

6.  Put the camera down.

It might sound counterproductive, but know when to put the camera down. If you know your child watches Sesame Street for an hour, you don’t have to shoot the whole thing, get one or two photos and then put the camera down. Same goes with other routines throughout the day.

Remember, you are telling the story of the whole day, not just one time in the day. You have a lot of material to work with, so there’s no sense in bogging down the post-processing with a million photos of each part of the day. Plus, you need a break. This is a big job, give yourself a chance to rest and recharge your creative juices.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

7.  Exhale.

At the end of the day, take a breath. For better or worse, you did it, girl!! And now is not the time to edit. Take a break, drink some wine, pat yourself on the back.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

8.  Do something with those photos!

I’m begging you, don’t let the photos die on your memory card or hard drive. You HAVE to do something with these photos in order to appreciate them for all of their glory. I have a pretty fast turnaround with client work and thankfully I’m the same when it comes to personal work.

I set aside time within 1-4 days after the DITL shoot to edit. It’s a lengthy process, but I know if I don’t do it right away, I’ll lose motivation. I shot nearly 600 photos on the day of my daughter’s birthday DITL and culled it down to 70. In my August series, I usually shoot both still and video clips, so that obviously adds more time.

If you are stuck on what to do with these photos, here are a few ideas:

  • make a slideshow
  • pick a few of your favorites and print them as larger prints
  • print several smaller prints (4×6, etc.) and display them as a collage telling more of a complete story
  • put them in an album (my favorite!)

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

In an effort to save other photographers the struggles of learning DITL lessons the hard way, I compiled a short list of eight tips to totally kick some serious all day documenting buns and come out with a meaningful and authentic collection of personal photos.

Okay, that’s it! You totally have this and I know you are going to rock your DITL shoot.

Remember, the day of shooting you will feel overwhelmed and like you want to give up but push on. You are shooting for more than the photos you will share in the following days, you are shooting for the story your family will have to look back on for years to come.

And that, my friend, is awesome of you.