5 Reasons You Need Documentary Photographs For Your Family

Guest Post by Jill McNamara


“Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life.” -Wikipedia

As a former photojournalist, documentary photography (photojournalism) is my all-time favorite type of photography. I truly feel that every family should have these types of images in their family photo albums, so they can show future generations how they lived their extraordinarily ordinary lives.


I make an effort to document my boys’ daily life as often as I can. The picture above is of my boys, at our favorite weekend donut spot. It’s a simple picture, but when I look at it I feel real memories and emotions. I treasure all the images I have of them playing, baking cookies, potty training, learning to ride a bike, eating solids for the first time, and yes, crying. I can see how they grow and change over the months and years. Every picture evokes a memory that I may otherwise have forgotten in the rush of life. In them, my house is often messy and the bed unmade, but it doesn’t matter. They’re pictures of my home, my life, my family, just as it was.

Here are five reasons why I think you need this kind of photography in your life:


1. Documentary photography is timeless. You’ve seen the website Awkward Family Photos, right? Most of those are formal portraits from the 70s and 80s. Now, I’m not saying that the portrait session you had last year will some day turn up on that site, but portraits do definitely tend to follow specific trends and may one day look out of date, just like the portrait of my extended family with all of us wearing jeans and white dress shirts. It looked cool when it was taken. In 1995. Documentary photography, or photojournalism, is timeless. Viewing these types of images transports one to the time and place they were created, evoking nostalgia without feeling dated.


2. Real life is where the real memories are. Raising kids is HARD. The late nights, early mornings, the tantrums and tears and diapers and bottles and midnight feedings. But it’s also insanely rewarding. The giggles, the hugs, the smiles and joy. The million little moments that happen each and every day that make up the total of your life as a parent, those are the memories I, as a mother, want to remember. The bed time routine, and how my baby laughs and laughs as he splashes in the sink during his bath. Reading books to my older son before bed, and even the struggle that sometimes is brushing his teeth. These things are all real life, your real life. I find these memories slip away all too easily, which is why I’m so thankful to have photographs to solidify them for me.



3. You hate the stress of formal portraits. Not only have I seen the stress formal portraits cause from behind the camera, but I’ve also been that momma who bribes her child with Skittles and new Hot Wheels and “oooh, look, bubbles! Just stand still for one more shot. Just one more! Please!” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the importance and power of beautiful, styled portraits with dreamy light shot out in the desert as the sun sets. I adore the big canvas we have on our bedroom wall from just such a session. But the stress! What if there were a way to get amazing pictures of your family without any of the worry of finding matching outfits, or making sure all five of your children are going to behave at the same time, late in the day when they’re hungry for dinner? Trust me, it’s possible.


4. Documentary photography shows more personality. Close your eyes and picture your kiddos silliest face, the one he makes when he’s at his goofiest. That face wouldn’t be appropriate for a formal portrait, but within a documentary session, it’s a perfect fit. We’ll capture your family’s unique personality, in all it’s glory. Crazy dance parties? Raucous game night? Intense Lego building session? Yes, yes and yes! They all make for amazing pictures.



5. Childhood is too short. My baby is nine months old this week. He’s our second, and my last. That means that a lot of things he does will be his firsts, but lasts for us. Last first tooth. Last first steps. Last first wave or clap or high five. I’m not good at writing down when my babies did all these things, but I do have pictures to remind me of all of them. A documentary session freezes a slip of time, with the ability to show you years later just what a day in your family’s life was like when your babies were small. Because they really aren’t small for very long.

Jill McNamara is a transplant from Omaha, Neb. She followed her husband, Michael, to the desert 10 years ago. They've made it home, and it's where her two boys, Oliver, 4, and Henry, 9 months, were born. They'll stay here forever, because they live on the most amazing street with the greatest neighbors in all of Arizona. Jill is a former photojournalist, which is why she is obsessed with Documentary Family Photography. She truly feels that every family should have these types of images on their walls. You can see her work at www.jillmcnamara.com.

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