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.

kids with father looking at jelly fish swim at aquarium myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: While visiting an aquarium for the first time with my family, we came across this beautiful bright jelly fish tank. I knew right away that I wanted to capture this moment as a silhouette. For a few minutes, the kids were running around and the room was filled with visitors. I waited for a quiet moment where they were all positioned in a way that each of their shapes would be clearly distinguishable but still connected by touch.

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!

children playing in water fountain features outside black and white myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: The water umbrella! On this very hot summer day, we found a great new splash pad near our house. Every 20 seconds, the water would splash and then stop. Once I figured out the water’s rhythm, I waited for a time where the kids were enveloped by the water but where I could still see their faces.

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.

grandfather kissing grandson on forehead black and white myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: Windows and doors are fun ways to frame your subjects and the action taking place at home. While cooking dinner, I noticed this sweet interaction outside between grandson and grandfather. I grabbed my camera and hid behind the wall to make sure not to disrupt them!

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?

reflection of kids running alongside puddle by older motel myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: On our way out of town with friends, we got caught in big rainstorm that made for one unpleasant drive. The kids of course saw it as a great opportunity to jump in puddles. I decided to focus my attention of the beautiful reflection in the water. To capture it, I had to lay flat on the ground to get the right angle (yes…I’m THAT person!). To create mystery, I then flipped the image vertically in post processing.

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.

Related: Why YOU should start a 365 photography project this 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.

child at edge of swimming pool with mothers feet close by myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: While at a hotel pool, I noticed the symmetry of the lines around my son and how the ladder framed him. By shooting from above, it showed him from my perspective. I opted to include my feet in the frame. My peeling nail polish is a nod to the end of the summer and all the adventures in the water we had.

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.

small boy in red shirt walking along dock by water myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: Canon 40mm, ISO 160, f3.2, 1/4000
kids running outside with capes and masks superheroes myriam cobb
BEHIND THE SHOT: Sigma 35mm, ISO 2000, f3.5, 1/640

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.