What is a Documentary Family Session Like?

Since documentary family photography tends to be a fairly new genre, there are a few questions I get asked frequently. While I love answering these questions, it’s nice to have these questions answered by someone who has had a session with me.

A couple months ago, I spent some time with Elena and her family. I was able to photograph the welcome home shower their church community was throwing for their newly-adopted daughter. The love in the room was palpable and I am so happy I was there to be able to document such an important day in their lives.

Below is what Elena had to say about her experience:


2019 was a big year for our family. My son Atticus turned 3 and then, a few months later, our daughter, who is adopted from West Africa, came home after over two years of waiting. About a month after she joined our family, our church community threw her a “welcome home” shower. That also happened to be the weekend that Gabi was coming to document our family from behind the lens.

At first, I was a little worried about being photographed on that day. We were still adjusting to being a family of four, which meant we were all a bit stressed and running on little sleep. The house wasn’t as clean as I would have liked it. There were a million reasons I could have rescheduled, or even canceled the shoot altogether. But if there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s that life gets messy. Things don’t go according to our plans; homes get dirty, kids misbehave; real life isn’t neat or tidy or Pinterest-perfect. But that’s where the beauty lies: in the simple act of putting a bow in my daughter’s hair, or a naked toddler brushing his teeth, or a quick kiss shared with my husband in the hallway. Yeah, life gets messy — but those are the moments we’ll remember.

When Gabi arrived, my son took to her immediately. Ever the extrovert, he wanted to perform and make her laugh as much as possible. My daughter, who is more quiet by nature, sat back and observed. Gabi fit so beautifully into the flow of our family that day; it really was totally natural having her there. We never once had to stop what we were doing and pose. Instead, Gabi simply participated in life with us, snapping candid photos right in the thick of it. The hours flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for our session to end. My son was disappointed that “our friend with the camera” had to leave, which just goes to show how naturally she fit into our family and our day. I assured him she’d be back soon, and that seemed to placate him for a while!

The photos that Gabi took that day are ones I will cherish forever. In many ways, it was just a normal Sunday for our family at church — she captured me buckling my son’s car seat, the two kids sitting in the pews. But it was also a special day as our larger community welcomed my daughter, and I love that Gabi was able to document that too, through photos of the cake, the decorations, and the way my daughter’s face lit up as she saw how loved she is.

Documentary photography is a genre that, in my opinion, is so underrated. I wish more people knew about it! Trust me; I’ve been to those photo sessions where everyone is stressed about wearing the right thing or smiling the right way. Gabi’s sessions take all that anxiety away. We just lived our life the best way we know how, and she was able to capture both the mess and the beauty of our family in this season. What a gift! We will absolutely treasure these photos for the rest of our lives.

To view the slideshow from Elena’s family documentary photo session click on the video below 🙂


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