There are countless Facebook posts asking for photographer recommendations, and there are even MORE recommendations! But there is one thing missing in most of the posts - the kind of photography style the family is looking for! Before you even ask for a referral, make sure you know what kind of photographer you’re looking for! Family photography normally falls into 4 categories: portrait, lifestyle, and storytelling and documentary; and each one is different! Here’s a breakdown:
Portraits or Traditional - Timeless photos
Backdrops, props, artificial lights, best outfits, and everybody is looking at the camera. The editing is classic, and the focus is on the people. It's not my style and I don't like working with artificial lights, but I've definitely been IN these photos and I totally see the value in them.
What does a portrait photographer love? Controlling light, style and posing people; editing images (fine art); people who can follow directions; glamorous shots.
Pros: These are great shots to show HOW everybody looked at a certain time. They are beautiful photographs to have when well executed. There is definitely a timeless feel with a touch of melancholy. No worry about weather conditions.
Cons: This type of photography is very consistent = not much surprise. Your portraits will look similar to the ones in the photographer's portfolio in terms of posing, light... It is not meant for candid moments or tickle fights. You might need to travel to the studio.
Perfect for you if: Traditional photography is for you if you need something classic that will capture a milestone in your family's life. Best enjoyed in a frame on your wall.
Lifestyle - The ideal version of yourself
Lifestyle photography is perfect if you want a better-than-usual self. You will pay attention to the décor and the way the whole family is dressed - normally in neutral, coordinating outfits. The photographer will direct you a lot with prompts, make silly jokes to make the kids laugh and the parents relax. Best enjoyed in a series of frames or in a photo-album. What do lifestyle photographers love? Beautiful light, great styling & makeup, a studio setting or a pretty photo location, client who can follow some directions and be natural in front of the lens. Sessions typically last 45 minutes to an hour.
Pros: The subjects, the environment, and the situation are under control. It is nice if you want the best version of yourself where you feel at your best. The environment is semi-controlled.
Cons: The surroundings are generally meaningless. Even if it is shot at home, you end up in the room with the best available light. Can be weather dependent. Shooting time might not coincide with the family's rhythm (naps, feedings, etc.) to catch the better light.
Perfect for you if: Lifestyle photography is for you if you would like photos where your family looks happy and pretty. It is not your normal self but the ideal version (your pinterest-y version!!). Sometimes we need just that to remember it's not always sound and fury. Best enjoyed framed on the wall.
Storytelling - Things you love to do, in the places your most comfortable
The photographer narrates a family story with a series of photographs. Usually, you will fill in a questionnaire or have a telephone call so the photographer knows about your family and what you like to do together. Then you will agree on an activity like going to the playground, a walk in your neighborhood, baking at home, or building a living-room fort. A storytelling photographer will look for emotions and connections. The photographer won't alter the scene or tell you what to wear. It is a different feeling than lifestyle sessions because it is personal, emotive and meaningful to the family. It doesn't look like your friends' photos: this is YOUR story. The photographer might direct slightly; some photographers might ask you to stay where you are or to do that funny thing again but overall it is relaxed and laid-back. A shoot like this usually lasts for 2 hours. Best enjoyed in a photo book, in prints or in a series of frames.
What do storytelling photographers love? A family who is able to follow little prompts but is mainly doing their own thing with or without a camera, meaningful location, connection, honest emotions.
Pros: True to life. Relaxed and laid-back. No need to smile at the camera or “act” for the camera. Your house doesn't need to be spotless or look like a magazine. The photographer is here for YOU. Easy with small children. And husbands.
Cons: You need to be comfortable with the person you hire. Read bios, check social media, scan her portfolio and see if you could be friends – at least for a few hours.
Perfect for you if: You’re a family who wants a time capsule of their everyday. You want to remember the places, the feelings, hear the laughter and even the kids bickering at the back of the car. You embrace the flaws and spontaneity of life with kids.
Documentary - Be you, fearlessly
Documentary family photography is about capturing authentic moments of a family in their natural environment. The family is completely spontaneous, there are no posing, props or manipulation of the settings. The session takes place in and around the family's home or at places with meaning to them. The photographer will give no directions. The interactions, the way you handle meltdowns, the cooking, the eating, the clothes you wear, the cup you drink from... are what makes you unique. No two families are alike. The goal is to remember a piece of your life as it is, to spark conversations with the kids and, later, show grandkids! Think of it like a normal day spent with your family, doing the things you normally do except there is someone tagging along taking pictures. Taking your daughter to soccer, fixing lunch, putting the baby down for his nap, breastfeeding, swinging at the park, eating hummus, kids running naked in the living room….anything goes.
What do documentary photographers love? Personal stories, tantrums, a family at home, mess, life with kids, an ordinary day, beautiful mundane, pure emotions, the stories behind the image.
Pros: No travel. The surroundings are meaningful. No posing. Don't have to fake anything. No extensive planning needed. Kids don't have to behave. You have time. You will get the whole gamut of emotions from bliss to tears.
Cons: Minimal emphasis on classic posed portraits, finding the “right” photographer and being comfortable, this kind of session takes time.
Perfect for you if: For families who feel awkward when posing and cheese-smiling. It is perfect if you embrace the flaws and want an honest record of this stage in your life. After you have warmed up, you won't be self-conscious anymore. Daily life with kids will kick in anyway.
In a nutshell, the main difference between all of these categories is the number of photographer's directions and control over the photoshoot. The traditional photographer will want to control as much as possible whereas the family documentary photographer will let it all go. However, all the categories are fluid and sometimes boundaries are blurry.
Now that you have a better idea of the different styles of photography you are much better equipped to start researching the photographer who is right for you!