1. You have so much scope to be experimental, artistic and creative
Once you get rid of the misconception that ‘family photography = cheesy crap’, you realise that you actually have a huge amount of freedom and opportunity to be creative and artistic. As a past wedding photographer, I now really appreciate how super-tight timings and the intense pressure to ‘get it right’ on an unrepeatable occasion can sometimes be restrictive from a creative point of view. That terrifying pressure to deliver can absolutely sometimes fire you up and push you forward artistically, but I found it can just as often stifle creativity and force you into repeating tried & tested ‘old chestnuts’.
On a family shoot, there’s a relaxed pace, you have more control over how long you spend in any particular location, you’re not under distracting pressure, you have the freedom to experiment, to try new things, to not worry too much if some shots don’t ‘work’, to have the time to really maximise whatever light/compositional opportunities there are. The range of different types of location is huge too – family houses and outdoor locations are so varied and different that every shoot offers up so many new chances to have a little photographic adventure and create something new.
2. You get to wear jeans & comfy clothes to work
As a lifelong tomboy this is a massive plus for me. I’m not keen on getting dressed up and love lounging around in my ‘scruffs’ (doesn’t everyone?!) On family shoots I spend most of my time crawling around on the floor on my hands and knees, dragging myself through bushes, wading through muddy puddles, climbing trees, getting splattered with yogurt and pureed veg and occasionally being puked on. Comfort is the key word here, and there really is no point wearing your Sunday Best as it WILL get wrecked. The novelty never wears off for me being able to set off for work in trainers, jeans and a nice baggy jumper.
3. It’s real, everyday beauty
When I photographed weddings, I loved them for how extraordinary they are. An unrepeatable day full of high emotion… clothes that will only be worn that once… words that will only be spoken that once… locations that will only be used that once… traditions and rituals that will only be performed that once…
Oddly I love family photography for the opposite reason. I love it for how ORDINARY it is, how simple and honest it is. It’s the real stuff that lies underneath all the temporary finery of special occasions. It’s not just their day, it’s their life. Parents are so caught up in the day to day chaos of family life that they rarely get chance to stop and see how beautiful it is. Everyone knows they can look beautiful when they’ve spent 3 hours with a hair & makeup artist and they’re wearing thousands of pounds worth of clothes and jewellery. But very few people realise how beautiful they look when they’re cuddling their children, when they’re in their dungarees covered in mud in the garden, when they’re belly-laughing at their kids’ antics… It’s so rewarding to show people that their ordinary is beautiful, that their lives are wonderful exactly as they are, and to show them in the faces of their family members how much they’re loved and how beautiful they are to each other.
4. They’re full of timeless, universal truths – love, family + connection
What I love about documentary family photography is that it’s timeless, it’s full of universal truths that will be as relevant 100 years from now as they are today and as they were 100 years ago. A child’s arms reaching out for a cuddle… the instinctive way mums rock their little ones without even realising they’re doing it… the determination on the face of a toddler taking their first steps… the ‘milk-drunk’ face and milk blister on a baby’s lips after a feed… the pride on the faces of parents watching their kids but not knowing they’re being watched… sibling rivalry… the wobbly bottom lip sticking out when things aren’t quite going as planned… sticky, curious fingers… pudgy feet… belly laughs… Family photography isn’t about fashions, trends, fads and glamour, it’s all about the emotions, characters and connections within a family that have such lasting value and that transcend generations.
5. Children have no guile or judgment – they’re open, honest and fun
As far as I’m concerned kids are head and shoulders the most fun things on the planet to photograph. They have no guile, they couldn’t care less what they look like, they dive headlong into whatever takes their fancy at that moment in time, they’re led by their emotions, they have no ulterior motives, they have no social boundaries, no inhibitions, they say what’s on their mind, they’re open, they devour life, they don’t judge. They’re also ridiculously cute. They’re absolutely bloody hilarious. They churn out moment after moment after moment. For me, there’s literally no better thing to photograph.
If you’d like some more info about shooting family photography, please do check out my ROOST FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP (both in-person and online versions available)…