I’ve always been fascinated with personal storytelling. For my eighth birthday I received my first diary. From that moment on I would write down all the details of my life. Sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane, I continued to honestly document these memories into adulthood. I have found the process of revisiting one’s journey to be fascinating and helpful.
When I became a mother, a friend reminded of the saying that the days are long and the years are short. That really struck a chord! I wanted to remember all the details of our daily lives so that my kids could revisit their childhoods just like I did with my diary.
However this time, instead of using words I wanted to record history with images. That’s when I decided to capture my family as a photojournalist.
In my years documenting my family, I have learned a lot of lessons about how to do so with authenticity. Here are five of my best tips so that you, too, can record the real story of your family in photographs.
Become an observer
In 1957, photojournalism pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote about “The Decisive Moment.” He defined this as the “creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
As parents, it can seem that we are always on the go. We are preparing meals. The kids need to be carted off to school and extracurricular activities. It feels as though we are on autopilot, perpetually running from one place to another. This leaves little room for waiting for a decisive moment with our cameras!
To be able to capture natural moments, it’s important to slow down and remind ourselves to be present. By observing your surroundings and the way people interact, you learn to anticipate their actions and reactions.
This is a bit of a waiting game! When you see a moment forming, try to find the best angle for your shot, assess the lighting situation, and get your camera settings ready. Think about the story you are trying to tell and how best to tell it.
Get to know your home
Home is where most of your family’s memories are made. I encourage you to get to know your own house again through the lens of a photojournalist.
Walk around every room at different times of the day and notice how the light changes. Look for interesting perspectives by viewing spaces from high above or down low.
Think about where your family likes to spend the most time. If you were to move to another house, what would you like to remember about your current home?
Start a daily shooting project
Photo projects are such a wonderful way to learn. They encourage you to pick up your camera regularly and can help to get the creative juices going.
Choose a project that inspires you and that you can realistically complete. What would you like to document? Where would you like to see yourself improve?
When I first started my photography journey, I committed to a 365 Project. I promised to take at least one picture every day of the year.
Although challenging at times, it formed a few good habits that I still enjoy today. My camera is always charged in a safe spot, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice. I shoot even when I am not feeling “inspired.” And by practicing regularly and often, I saw great technical improvement in my work.
Start your own 365 Project by making a list of “must have” shots you want to capture. Jot down different techniques that you’d like to try to experiment with as well. This list will come in handy on days when you lack inspiration and need a little push.
Now that my kids are in school, I opt to document our summers together through a “12 Weeks of Summer” project. By trying to remember each week with a single photograph, I have time to observe and decide which photo embodies summer best for our family.
Remember to have fun with your photo project! Every day brings you closer to the end result: an amazing compilation of photos you put your heart and soul into. The more you practice picking up your camera, the more quickly it will become second nature.
Pro tip: Team up with a fellow photography enthusiast to do a daily shooting project alongside you. You can encourage each other every step of the way!
Be intentional with your compositions
Every time you take a photograph, you should take time to choose where your subject is placed within the frame, how much environmental context to include, and how best to coordinate these elements to tell your story.
Think about how symmetry and framing can add balance to a scene. Consider how negative space might affect the viewer’s experience of your subject. Take time to choose your lens and camera settings to include or exclude the environment. These little details can make all the difference in the effectiveness of your storytelling.
Use the right equipment
Wide-angle lenses are a great way to capture more detail in the scene and set the stage for your photojournalist photos. My Sigma Art 35 mm f 1.4 almost never leaves my camera! Not only is it super sharp, it’s perfect for tight spaces. With its wide aperture, it also performs very well in low-light situations, making it very versatile.
Combined with my full frame camera this lens can get a bit heavy on longer excursions. Since I love this focal length so much, I also have a Canon 40mm f 2.8 pancake lens. Compact and light, it fits nicely in my bag and is easier to carry for long periods of time.
No matter what gear you have, remember that the best camera is the one that’s with you! When used with intention, even your phone camera can work well to document your family.
Your photos can be a visual diary of your family’s life. By slowing down, observing, and committing to being authentic, you will be able to record the beauty that is what makes your family so wonderful.