Almost every family on the planet has a rich and vast culture. This fact opens up the possibilities for capturing unseen but yet powerful family photography. Due to the fact that every family has great stories to tell, just by seeing their habits with foreign eyes, is a tremendous invitation to any photographer in the pursuit of capturing and documenting meaningful stories.
Getting close to them, and even the self, is not easy though; because this require the photographer to get trusted into the intimate circle were the most beautiful and raw stories unravel. I believe that social skills are way more important than the technical aspects of photography in this stage of the discipline, not to say about the gear as well. Remember that Composition will enhance your own voice, so capturing with it should be embedded, and gear is just the tool you’ll be using to record such stories. There is nothing sadder than hearing gear related complaints and excuses while coping with other photographers.
I believe that doing Family Portraits is one thing, but crafting a body of work that shows the intimacy of a family in is most beautiful state, is completely different. Doing commercial family photography is not a bad thing, and many families are willing to cooperate in the process of achieving more natural images, because they are demanding natural looking photographs. Just look at the references they show when contacting photographers if you don’t believe me.
Get to know every member of the family
Every member of the family is an individual with defined interests, defined personality, and defined family roles. These projects are long term, so if you work with patience, you’ll eventually get to know every member of the household pretty well.
Even when discovering each of the different things about each family member that will lead to defining each one of them, you’ll get to understand how they work as a small sample of society.
Get into their interests
Many families share interests such as science, hobbies, sports, artistic desires, and even disciplines. Get to know them, and make them an important subject while working on these essays. People love doing stuff, encourage them to feel free in their own contexts and capture those beautiful environmental portraits you are looking for.
Pets are members of the family, an important member of the family that glue all the parts together even more. Don’t ever underestimate their presence, and do encourage the families to share their own personal relationships with their pets. I could spend hours talking about the significant importance my dog had in my life. She passed away about two years ago, and I still tend to confuse any random bag or clothes left behind in her favorite couch, with her. And speaking of involving pets, watch this essay that I consider to be the ultimate essay of photography that involves a pet.
Get close to your own family
Families are the nuts and bolts of society, and are considered by academics and more, to be the starting point of the way we do things and who we are. The society that builds out of single families helps shaping people, but the primordial definition of who somebody is, begins in the household. They are the oldest form of social institution, and this has no distinctions for religions, cultures or geographies. From love to hierarchy, from competition to close friendship, from fears to hobbies, families are where everything happens, and all families have their particular way of doing such things.
Family Photography Inspiration
The private moments of families happen behind closed doors, and only they know what happens. We as photographers can capture small samples or slices of the reality these small societies endure and live, but at the end, just the family knows what the family is.
There are two works that I always revisit for several reasons, and both are about showcasing their own family. The first one is Alison photographed by Jack Radcliffe, in which has documented her daughter in several moments of her life, from her early childhood, to her most recent years. The other one, is the famous Brown Sisters created by Nicholas Nixon, in which he condensed forty years of the life of his wife and sisters in law, in forty images. One image per year, keeping the consistency of order.
And there is one particular photographer that I just love to watch her work. Her work has been telling me since years ago, what intimate family photography should look like, and of course I’m talking about Sally Mann. And well, if you want a great example of family “reality”, watch Linklater’s movie Boyhood.
One of the earliest known works of Family Documentation, is the work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange commissioned by the US Farm Security Administration, which is in simple words, a record of the struggles families endured in the great depression of the 1930’s in the United States.
Check out our gallery for more free family stock photos.
A widely accepted fact about families, is that they are the previous training for developing in the outside world. Photography changes the connection to Family History, and I’m just borrowing the title from an essay written by Maureen Taylor. We get closer to our past with family photography. It just doesn’t matter if the images were poor in quality, domestic and vernacular, they are the instrument for us to connect with our past; and it’s important that we treasure them as the time traveling instruments they are.