How to capture more meaningful family photos
Written by Laura Richards, Laura Richards Photography
Every Christmas morning, I would wait at the top of the stairs with my brother and sister until Christmas “started.” This meant that Mom and Dad were downstairs, ready to go with the camcorder (remember those big, bulky things with actual cassette tapes in them?).
“Okay, come down!” Dad would yell. And for the rest of the morning, our Christmas together was documented, even the quiet parts when we were just opening new underwear.
I guess you could say that memory-capturing was a big part of our family, with an antique chest full of photographs to prove it. And I guess you could say that’s why it’s so important in my own family now as well. Documenting my son’s childhood is one of my greatest joys, and knowing that one day he’ll have boxes, albums, frames and videos of all those years gives me a certain kind of peace.
Inspired by these memories of holidays-past and the season ahead, I want to share a few tips on how to more meaningfully document your family. Seek emotion. Real, raw emotion is the secret ingredient to great documentary photography. Try to capture a range of emotion, like the look on your daughter’s face when she takes the first bite of the sugar cookies you made together, or the tears that well in your mom’s eyes when she opens the photo album you made her.
Squat, crawl and climb. Experiencing the holidays from different angles will result in more interesting photos and videos. This is especially fun when photographing children and pets. Get on their level — or way above it.
Let it happen. Think of photography as moment-freezing, not moment-creating. This year, document the holidays exactly as they happen. Don’t force smiles or poses. Our photos speak loudest when we observe quietly.
Embrace the small. Every moment spent with family and friends is a reason to pull out your camera, whether it be the one on your phone or your fancy DSLR. The more photos you take, the more you’ll realize just how many tiny, beautiful moments we let quietly slip by.
Get closer. One of the most important things I’ve learned about photography is that there’s always room to move closer to your subjects. When you see your spouse hugging your son on Christmas morning, move in and capture the way his little head fits perfectly in the nook between neck and shoulder. This intimacy offers such a different and often emotional perspective.
Get in the frame. As moms, we often stand behind the camera. We’re either so focused on our children that our own presence in the image seems trivial, or we don’t feel “perfect” enough to be in the frame. But here’s a secret: You are always worthy enough to be in the photograph. Your children love you more than a bad hair day, more than a holiday-stress blemish, more than the numbers on a scale — and their memories with you will mean the world one day.
Print, print, print. Better photos are tangible photos. Promise yourself you’ll always have more pictures made from ink and paper than pixels. Promise your family they’ll always have albums to hold in their hands and look at on snowy days — or when they long for days gone. Try to print photos very soon after the holidays, so you don’t get overwhelmed or sidetracked. Now why is all this important? Why is documentary photography important to your family? For me, it’s about creating legacy, and the idea that photographs are pieces of that legacy. They’re one of the most precious things we can leave our children. Our traditions and experiences together are so important that we need tangible memories, ones that say, “The life and love we created mattered.”
Laura Richards is a natural-light maternity, newborn and family photographer in Roanoke, who specializes in heirloom-quality albums, wall art, prints and more. When she’s not photographing or editing, she’s chasing after her tod-dler, Tucker.