I’ve never been particularly fond of posed photographs. They’ve always seemed too stiff, too canned, and too unnatural. When I was learning photography, my favorite pictures were always the pictures I caught by accident (at least back then). They were the pictures full of laughter, a rousing game of cards, images that caught that special look or smirk, the pictures where I just sat back and watched the room unfold.
Okay, so what is documentary photography?
To get right down to it, documentary photography has some overlap with photojournalism in that the resulting images are created with no instruction, interaction or interference from the photographer. (The images in this post were created documentary photography style!) So, this style lends itself to the capture of some truly powerful, moving, and downright hilarious photographs.
With documentary photography, I use my camera more to document than direct. Documentary photography captures people in real-life events or milestones, in their bedrooms and living rooms, cooking dinner, at a party, enjoying the everyday. It’s relaxed, unscripted, and the result is strikingly beautiful.
What is lifestyle photography?
Lifestyle photography is more directed than documentary photography, but is still largely unscripted. When in a lifestyle session, the photographer sets up a scenario for the subject – instructing them where to stand, what they should be doing, or gives them something to laugh or talk about – before watching the action unfold, and capturing it from there.
So, are you a documentary photographer, or a lifestyle photographer?
Now, that’s a question! I like to think my work is a mixture of both documentary and lifestyle photography, which is why I often describe myself as a “Documentary Lifestyle Photographer.” However, my work falls under the umbrella of documentary photography far more often than lifestyle photography, and this is actually something I’ve been working toward for some time.
Day-in-the-Life sessions are where I thrive. These are sessions where I am literally just hanging out with a family or couple chronicling their daily happenings. Even if I’m not spending an entire day with a family – these sessions can be anywhere from 2-hours to 12-hours – I prefer to approach all of my sessions this way. (If you think this type of session might be for you, but are nervous, don’t worry! I’ll walk you through it every step of the way, and you’ll walk away with some incredible heirloom images!)
But, my life isn’t worth documenting. It’s not exciting at all!
You may be surprised how often I hear this, and the frequency with which I do really discourages me. In our day of curated Instagram feeds, stylized posts and the general wall that social media creates between perceived and actual reality, too many have bought into the notion that if it’s not perfect, then it’s not worth sharing.
Let me ask you something – what do you remember about your mom when you were little? If not your mom, your grandma, an aunt, your dad…? Do you remember perfect moments? Do you remember that they never had a hair out of place, or do you remember how they’d lie on the floor to play Monopoly with you? Do you remember them refusing to be in pictures, or do you remember baking a cake with them?
In a sense, documentary photography is one way I push back on this notion of perfection in every area of our lives (Check out the Real Beauty Series – I like to push back on perfection there, too.), ‘cause that’s exactly what this style of photography is – perfectly imperfect. It’s messy hair, it’s tears, it’s raucous laughter, it’s the look from your love, it’s the look on your child’s face that only you know, it’s boring, it’s thrilling, it’s everyday, and that, to me, makes it everything.
Are you ready to push back on perfect? Are you ready for a different type of photography session experience? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, and to get started booking your own documentary session!
Laura is a documentary lifestyle photographer aiming to curate moments, not poses. While based out of Denver, Colorado + Omaha, Nebraska, Laura is available for travel upon request. Her style is relaxed and real. She believes the small moments matter, and the mess that makes up life is truly worth remembering.