Did you know family photography is as diverse as English literature? As an English teacher I loved introducing my students to the concept of genres in literature. I created a classroom library and labeled each shelf with a different genre. We delved into the nuances of a novel, acted out plays and deciphered non-fiction. Once my students knew the purpose of a type of literature they could choose which one they enjoyed reading or find the selection that met their needs. When I first started my photography journey I learned much about the technical aspect of photography and focused on making a “good” picture. What I didn’t realize is that just like literature, there are various styles within family photography. I found my true love in documentary family photography yet continue to be blow away by the phenomenal artist photographing families in other styles.
Having a working knowledge of these various styles can be a great asset when it comes to choosing a photographer for your family session. Many of us begin our searches online which often results in a long list of people to consider. With so many photographers out there how do you start to find the right one? Beyond the questions of budget and location, how do you really know who is the best fit for your family? You can let budget and location be the deciding factor or you can dig deeper into what you are really looking for from these images. Do you want traditional posed studio images, fantasy images, lifestyle images or, my personal favorite, storytelling images? In addition, you may want a certain type of photography for your holiday cards, another for wall art and yet another for a life event. The possibilities are varied with amazing photographers in each genre. Knowing what style speaks to your heart, what genre fulfills your purpose, and what type reflects your family, will help ensure you invest in images that bring your family joy for a lifetime.
I hope this guide provides useful to you in your search for a family photographer. I have arranged the various types of photography listed below from most posed and intentional to the most un-posed and observational.
Traditional, Classic, Fine Art Portrait Photography
From the beginning of photography families have posed in front of cameras to create images that will be passed down for generations. Traditional, classic family photo sessions typically take place in a studio, though more photographers are now on location, shooting in clients’ homes or outdoors. Traditional photographers often have specific backdrops and may use props. Families are posed in a very intentional way. Photographers in this genre tend to focus on creating large images or collections of images to be displayed in your home. Many times these images are done in black and white or a very classic editing style.
This is typically the most intentional and controlled form of family photography. Classic portrait photographers will want to control all aspects of the session from light and the backdrop to how everyone is posed, including the tilt of a head or the placement of hands.
Image courtesy of Jax Creations Photography
“I love the posed look – showing their gentle sweet details- and capturing the love between a mom/dad and their new baby”. -Jackie Chazbo, Jax Creations Photography
Whimsical, Fantasy Fine Art Portraiture Photography
There is also a subset of family portraiture that is known for producing fantasy or whimsical portraits. Fantasy images focus on translating daydreams into photographs. From Jedi Knights to fairytale princess, fantasy photographers focus on creating imaginary worlds for families to inhabit. These sessions are detailed, stylized with props and costumes and often highly post-processed to add an element of imagination. Often photographers in this genre focus solely only on children however, some also incorporate the entire family.
Image courtesy of Stephany Stafford Photography
“Jinky Art is a photography experience inspired by childhood wanderings, boundless imagination, far away places, antique treasures and all things family. I love nothing more than the simple pleasure of photographing the children that I meet and creating pieces that depict their boundless imaginations and love that they feel for their families”. – Barb Uil, Jinky Art
Lifestyle Family Photography
Lifestyle photography emerged as a way to infuse traditional portraits with a more candid feel. Lifestyle photography has a more relaxed feel than traditional family portraits and focuses on family relationships, while the photographer gives direction and styling. It is often a good mix of authentic and staged. Lifestyle photographers often set up a scene, pose families and then give them space to interact. These photo sessions typically take place within a family’s home or a photographer’s studio. Lifestyle photos may also include an element of styling, where an entire scene is created, including what the family wears. Photographers are looking for moments that could happen within every day life yet still control the light, location and action as they elicit these emotions and interactions.
Image courtesy of Tina Take My Photo
“I strive to capture natural connections, focusing on finding raw emotion and moments that happen when I set up a scene and then let them be themselves, play, laugh, smile, interact. When you walk by a photo of you and your family looking happy and remembering how much fun you had on your shoot, it reminds you of just how lucky you are and how beautiful life is”. – Tina Thomas, Tina Take My Photo
Documentary, Candid, Storytelling Photography
Documentary family photography draws upon the rich history of photojournalism, applying the same elements of observation and moment seeking to family interactions. Documentary sessions will focus on allowing a family to be completely natural and spontaneous while the photographer works to find the right angles, background, and light. There is no posing, props or manipulation of the setting or events. Sessions take place in and around the family’s home or at places with significance and meaning to the family. The emphasis is on real, meaningful moments that tell the family’s story.
Image courtesy of Captured Grace by Erin
“I can think of so many images I wish I had of me growing up. Images of sibling shenanigans, bath times in the sink, dance classes, my mom rocking me, my dad carrying me on his shoulders; the ones that show the life, the love, the laughter and even the tears I vividly remember but have no recorded history of. These are the images I wish I had to show my children someday and the ones I strive to create for each of the families I work with”. – Erin Sricharoon, Captured Grace by Erin
Image courtesy of Hannah Cross, PointFour Photography
“Documentary photography is my way of encouraging mama’s who are in the midst of raising littles. It is so easy to feel like the monotonous things we do every day are unimportant. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! This style of photography allows them to see the beauty of their everyday; and they are reminded of just how much they love and are loved!” – Hannah Cross, PointFour Photography
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this guide. I truly hope it was useful to you. Now that you have a basic understanding of the genres of photography hopefully, you will be able to narrow down your search for an excellent family photographer. If you still have questions or need additional recommendations please feel to reach out so we can talk more.
Need to see more documentary session examples? View my favorite images below.
If you decided a documentary family photography session is where your heart is also I would love to chat and I am already looking forward to connecting. Contact me through my website here or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I serve the So Cal area but I am always happy to jump on a plane and head to you. Let’s make some beautiful art out of your ordinary moments together!
No matter what style you decide, professional photographs will last lifetimes and will be a treasured item for future generations. Thank you for giving this gift to your family.