WEDDING SEASON SALE! 30% Off Training Systems!

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
Tips & Tricks

Documentary Photography: Adding Family Photojournalism Sessions To Your Portrait Business

By Jamie Davis Smith on March 21st 2016

Pretty portraits of families and children are a time-honored way for photographers to earn a living. But, increasingly photographers are searching for ways to allow their clients to capture what their lives are really like. This emerging genre of documentary photography or family photojournalism appeals to many clients who don’t want photos that make them look like they could be any family placed in a the middle of a field with some props. Instead, they want photos that show their unique personalities and the rhythm of their lives ranging from Sunday morning rituals, their favorite playground, to bedtime rituals.Family Photojournalism

For photographers, offering Family Photojournalism sessions can be a challenge. To embrace family photojournalism, a photographer needs to be willing to let go of control over where sessions take place, the lighting, and time-tested poses. But, with some practice, offering Family Photojournalism sessions can help set you apart in your market and can help you learn how to make great photos even under the most challenging of circumstances.

Family Photojournalism

Kirsten Lewis is the godmother of Family Photojournalism and has presented two CreativeLive courses on the topic. Family Photography: Modern Storytelling and Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home.

Kirsten describes Family Photojournalism this way:  “For me, I approach family photojournalism with the same respect for the code of ethics that a news photojournalist follows in the field. My goal is to document my families truthfully, honestly and objectively. I do not judge my subjects or their lifestyle; I simply photograph them without bias.”


Family Photojournalism

Family Photojournalism is still very new, and different photographers may have different approaches. Kirsten shares her approach:

  • Do not direct the subjects in any way. Be patient and believe that a great moment will happen on its own.
  • Identify the clues that suggest that a great moment will happen, prepare for the moment ahead of time, and then wait for it to happen.
  • Never direct clients or disturb the environment, this includes not moving any objects, altering light sources or opening doors or windows.
  • Family photojournalism documents a specific family and should tell the story not just as the family as a whole but the story of their relationships with one another. It should also highlight each family member’s individuality and personality within the family dynamic.
  • While traditional portraiture and lifestyle family photography requires the photographer to take most, if not all, of the control in regards to the moment, the environment, and the technical, family photojournalism frees the photographer of this so they can simply focus of all of their decision-making on technical choices and how they tell the story.
  • When taking photographs, remember that it’s NOT about the activities in which the family is engaging, but rather how each member of the family interacts with one another while participating.
  • Post processing is minimal, never adding or removing anything to images and limiting the amount of digital alteration to the file.
  • Give yourself permission to allow your own personality, experiences and perspective to help you choose which aspects of the family interest you most. This is what forms your own artistic perspective, your personal voice, which all documentary photographers seek to have.

Why might Family Photojournalism be better than other kinds of family photography?  As Kirsten says, “Nothing is better than real life.”  She has based her entire career upon this idea in part because she is simply not creative or imaginative enough to stage the amazing moments that her families give to her completely on their own. As Kirsten says, “All I have to do is be a good observer, learn to anticipate particular moments and be ready with my camera to make great pictures.”

Family Photojournalism

With some practice, any photographer can learn to do the same and give their families incredibly meaningful photos. Seeking out workshops like Kirsten’s CreativeLive classes, SLR Lounge’s How to Capture Candid Moments, getting to know your settings inside and out so you are ready for the moment with SLR Lounge’s Photography 101 COMPLETE course, and practicing with your own friends and family will help you get comfortable adding Family Photojournalism to your offerings to clients or making the switch over to this new type of family photography.

Family Photojournalism

CREDITS: Photographs by Kirsten Lewis are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Jamie Davis Smith is a contributor for the Huffington Post , Shutterfly, and The Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Washington D.C. and loves to explore the greater D.C. area with her four young children and documents everything with her ever-present camera.


Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Lenzy Ruffin

    Thank you for this article, Jamie. I used to just consider this “hanging out with a family and shooting whatever happens.” I didn’t know Family Photojournalism was a thing or that I could get training on how to incorporate it into my business. I just knew I enjoyed doing it because it was a relaxing way to make great images and I would take the most gear-free approach to it…my nifty fifty and whatever ambient light was there.

    I already had one of these sessions scheduled for a friend this weekend. Now I know what to call it. I will definitely check out those CreativeLive courses. I’m really excited about learning more about this from someone who’s built a business on it because I would love to be able to offer this.

    | |