The way I see it...a look behind the scenes of a documentary family photography session with me

To help people better understand what a documentary family photography session is like, I joined a group of amazing photographers here in Atlanta who use the same approach. We decided to photograph each other while we work to show what a documentary family photography session looks like behind the scenes.

Barbara (from Barbara Naso Photography) photographed me while I was photographing Kristin’s family (from Kristin Watkins Photography). It was a whole lot of fun and the results have gotten me thinking more about why I am obsessed with both having my family photographed and photographing other people’s families. You can check out Part 1 of this blog series on what it feels like to be seen. For Part 2, I want to show you the way I see it, why I wouldn’t want to photograph families any other way.

Part 2: Seeing you

A mom brushes her daughter's hair as she cuddles a dog who is being pet by her brother who is petting another dog who is also being pet by a different sister

I see you. You as a family, and you as the individuals who make up the family. When you invite me into your home and go about living your life as you would any other day, I get to really see your family in a way that I wouldn’t if we were at a location that I chose or doing activities that I came up with. I want the images from our time together to be as accurate as they can be in depicting your family life. I want you to look at your images and think, “This is us.”

Of course, there’s always a bit of me in there too, as I am bringing my own experiences and ideas to the frames that I photograph, but I work hard to let my curiosity about your family lead me. From our very first conversations before the session I am looking for clues about what makes your family you.

Every family is different. I want your photos to be too.

What makes your family different? What values bring you together? What are your struggles? What brings you joy? How do you spend your days? What are your routines? What is meal time like? I love the nuances of family life that make your people your people.

When Kristin brought out the hair bucket and summoned Lucy to get her hair done, I knew this was a ritual that needed to be captured. The hair bucket, the way the feet are intertwined, and the expressions are all elements in this image that I hope these two will look back on with loads of nostalgia in many years.

A mom brushes her daughter's hair as she sits on her lap
Kaleen photographs family hanging out in the kitchen during documentary family photography session

I’m comfortable observing. I’m comfortable listening. I hate telling people what to do, so this approach makes perfect sense for me. I may be lurking in the shadows at times, and I may not always be taking pictures, but I am paying attention. Waiting. Thinking. Framing. As I am with you, I will most likely respond to your energy.

I laughed pretty much throughout my whole time with Kristin’s family. Their casual, playful, and witty conversation kept us all cracking up. And then I saw it, posted in the dining room, a sign that read, “Laughter is and will always be the best form of therapy.” THAT is what I wanted to capture around that table.

Kaleen laughs with a family during documentary family photography session
A family sits around a table laughing
A girl yells in her sister's face while a mother cuddles her son at the same table

I want to show you what you can’t see. When you are holding someone in your arms, you can’t see the smile on their face. When you are playing with your kids, you get to hear their joy, but you don’t always get to see it.

I want you to have pictures that remind you how it felt to provide comfort, security, and entertainment.

I want your kids to have pictures that leave no question about how they are loved, cared for, and delighted in. Images that will remind them of their place in their family when external circumstances try to shake their confidence.

A mother holds her son who is smiling
A man holds a boy in his arms in a playful wrestle hold as his daughter and dog play nearby
A girl runs with a leash as her mom chases after her

It’s hard. Family life. Parenting. Being in relationship with people for a lifetime. I come with no judgement (well, that’s impossible, but I work hard to be aware of my judgements and suspend them in order to hold space for you and your family and the moment in your story that I get to witness).

I’m always looking for the ways you relate. To your siblings. To your sons and daughters. To your pets. To your spouse. To the space you live in. It’s all very fascinating and inspiring to me.

It is an honor to get to see you. It’s a gift to learn from you.

a daughter stands behind her parents in the kitchen and places a hand on each other their backs
Kaleen photographs boy hugging dog during documentary family photography session
A boy sits on a couch with his arms around a large dog
Kaleen photographs boy lying down petting a dog during documentary family photography session
A boy puts his hand on a dog's head as they both lie on the ground facing each other
A mother looks at her daughter who is smiling at her
a dog watches incredulously as a boy and girl play tug of war with his dog toy
Kaleen stands on the couch to photograph boys wrestling during documentary family photography session
Two brothers wrestle on the couch

There are no excuses. This is the easiest way to have your family photographed. There are no matching clothes to coordinate, no rush out the door to get somewhere on time, no agenda. You don’t have to clean your house or bribe your kids or partners to behave. You get to just be together as a family, and I get to show you what it looks like and feels like to be you. I have yet to photograph a family that I haven’t fallen completely in love with. There hasn’t been one time where I wasn’t excited to show a family their images and say, “You guys are awesome. Look at YOU!” Even when I have photographed families in unfathomably difficult situations, these are my thoughts when I deliver the images. Because family is everything, in the good times, in the bad times, and in all the super ordinary boring in between times. Celebrate it. Print it. Remember it.

A man sits on a chair with his daughter on his lap as his son leans into him and his wife gives him a kiss

Please check out the other posts in this blog circle, starting with Kristin’s photographs of Barbara’s family.

And for goodness sake, get on with booking a session with one of us. It’s an investment that increases in value as time passes.