Getting the Most from your Photographer

Professional photography services are not inexpensive. Nevertheless, you’ve set aside a sum and booked a professional session and the date is coming up - you want to do everything you can to get your money’s worth.

In a studio arrangement, this might mean selecting outfits, getting haircuts for the kids, doing your best to create a fun atmosphere so the smiles aren’t strained, and so on. For the documentary session, the advice is often “be yourself” and “look for the authentic” - accurate and descriptive, but not terrible practical advice. 

But there are steps you can take to get the most out of your photographer in a documentary session, and none of them have to do with what you’ll be wearing or having to tidy up for guests. Just ask yourself this question:

Why do you want photographs in the first place? 

With a double or even triple digit megapixel camera on the back of most modern smartphones, it’s easy to take a lot of pictures in our lives, and at it’s most basic, the motivation is that we see something photo-worthy - this comes from the question of WHAT to photograph, and it’s the wrong place to start. It’s backwards, in fact.

The reason for WHY take that photo might be because it’s funny. Or because it’s cute. Or because these are friends we don’t see very often. This is already helpful, because if it’s humor we’re after, we can look for different moments and shoot from vantage points that enhance the humor. If it’s about the people, it might be more important to include faces and expressions in the frame. If it’s about the children, shooting angles will be lower, from their perspective, and adults might even become somewhat anonymous, with only hands appearing in the crop. 

For your documentary session, if you’re concerned about getting the most of our time, I’m suggesting you go even a step further than this.

How will you enjoy the photographs later on? Are you the type to login to an online gallery and browse the photos in a quiet moment after dinner? Maybe you often have guests over, and you delight in showing them photobooks from your bookshelf. Once upon a time, families turned down the lights and noisily churned through a carousel of slides - do you project modern slideshows on the widescreen tv at holidays? It’s also common that most photos live quiet lives in an heirloom box, rarely seeing the light of day but are treasured that much more when they are shown to grandchildren sitting in your lap decades later. Understanding how you will “consume” your photographs gives hints as to the best subjects, the best events or activities to capture - that is, understanding WHY you want photographs will determine WHAT to photograph. 

I have a client family that doesn’t have any use for prints. Their walls are decorated with art, but not with photographs. Instead, they have a family practice similar to the slideshows of the Kodak years - they have photobooks of family events and adventures and periodically they take one out and look through them all together. They put it on the coffee table and crowd close, shoulder to shoulder, or one on top of the other, and laugh and retell the stories of the images. 

For this family to get the most out of a session, it would work best for them to be doing something memorable. They are an adventurous lot, so they go somewhere outside, bring their outdoorsy toys, and throw themselves into the adventure. 

Another client I work with has extended family that enjoys uploading new family photos to each other’s digital frames. They can login to their parent’s digital frame and add new photos each week, replacing old ones. For them, the ideal photos are close, intimate images of the children, so we do Homeday sessions once or twice a year. 

A very specific example is a mother who has very fond core memories of learning to cook from her mother. When this client had children old enough to hold a measuring spoon steady, she wanted to give them the same opportunity for connection and remembrance. She also wanted to pay tribute to her mother by showing her the legacy of family and food being passed down to another generation. She invited Nana over for a weekend morning with the kids, and scheduled with me for a two hour session. Both Nana and Mom got a matching set of 5x5 card prints and a wood block stand. 

These are just a few examples of why we might want photographs. In each case understanding this intention clearly indicates not only what we should be taking photos of together, but also we earn guidance on how to get them - schedule a trip, do something cozy at home, invite friends over, clean up the kitchen so you can mess it up making pancakes with the littles. 

If you're hiring me for your photos, help me with the why and everything else will fall into place.