Why Documentary Family Photography is the Absolute Best

Photo taken through a window of a baby looking out and smiling big, his two bottom teeth showing.



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I'm Marjorie


I work with parents who want relaxed and unposed photos, providing them with images that capture the joyful and unscripted moments in life.

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I know I’m making a bold statement in declaring that documentary family photography is the best style there is. But I truly believe it. 

With documentary family photography, a photo is more than a photo. It’s a story. When you capture people as they are, in their natural habitat, those images have the power to bring you right back to this moment in time. Whether you’re looking at your images in a month, a year, or even a decade, they will conjure up all the memories and emotions that would otherwise be forgotten. 

Read more to find out what exactly is documentary photography and if it’s right for you.

Photo collage containing 5 images in the style of documentary family photography. All images are joyful and energetic.

What’s the difference between Portrait, Lifestyle, and Documentary Photography

The three most popular styles for family photography are Portrait, Lifestyle, and Documentary photography. Understanding the difference can be tricky, but it’s important to do so before determining the style that will best suit your family. 

Check out full blog post on Finding the Right Photographer For You


  • The most structured form of photography of these three.
  • Often done in a studio and with the use of lighting equipment.
  • The photographer will give you guidance on where to stand, look, and how to pose.
  • Very consistent look and style.

Best for: Parents who prefer more traditional family photos where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. In the case of Newborn Photos, these are great for parents who want stylized photos of their babies carefully posed, sometimes with props. 


  • A combination of structure and freedom. 
  • The photographer will plan their photos around location and lighting. They’ll tell you where to stand and face, but there is room for your personality to shine in how you interact with your family.
  • Sessions can take plan on location or at home.
  • If the session is on location (beach, mountains, field, etc) it will be scheduled according to the sun rising or setting for the best lighting. At home, photos will be taken right next to, or in front of, a big window. 

Best for: Parents who want photos that are aesthetically beautiful and capture their family looking their best. 


  • Unposed photos, not staged in any way. The loosest form of photography of the three.
  • A form of storytelling that captures life as it is. 
  • Sessions typically take place at home where you’re the most comfortable. 
  • The photographer’s job is to capture your family in the most honest and beautiful way without interrupting the moment. 

Best for: Parents who want photos that reflect their life as it is, in all its messiness and uniqueness. 

Photo collage containing 3 documentary family photos: the first of a little girl, shirtless eating a popsicle and laughing, the second of a newborn baby being kissed by a labrador pup, the third of a toddler munching on some food and making funny faces.

Really, the biggest difference is that documentary photography captures life as it is while the other two styles will make the photos feel like they were taken on a special occasion. 

A portrait or lifestyle photographer will sweep their clients into their world – the subjects in their photos will be part of a bigger look and aesthetic they have developed. Those clients will work within the guidelines the photographer has set. 

With documentary family photography, on the other hand, the photographer is entering your world and working around you so as not to disrupt real moments as they come up. They are trained to capture those moments that are unique to your family, so your photos will look like nobody else’s.

Is documentary family photography right for me?

Here are a few things my clients are looking for when they hire me:

  • Photos you can FEEL
  • Unposed, relaxed images of the family behaving naturally
  • Photos that capture each individual’s personality as well as the group dynamic

Documentary family photos may be right for you if you’re looking to get photos that really feel like you – capturing the most beautiful aspects of your family’s love for each other and the connection you share. 

Read more about Family Sessions on my website!

Photo collage containing 5 photos of documentary family photography - in each parents are connecting with their children in a genuine and joyful way.

5 Best things about documentary family photography

  1. Session takes place in the comfort of your own home
  2. You get to spend quality time with your family
  3. Your photos will capture all the little details that will make you remember this moment in time
  4. No need to worry about posing
  5. No need to worry about your kids “misbehaving” since sessions are structured around their favorite activities
Photo collage of documentary family photography containing 3 photos: the first of a mother looking at the camera while holding her toddler, the second of a young boy showing the camera his gap tooth, and the third of a couple holding each other and smiling.

The secret to looking comfortable during your photoshoot

A big concern parents may have is whether or not they’ll be able to look natural on-camera. 

After over a decade of being behind the camera, I learned the secret to making people relax: focus on someone else. 

There’s no faster way of looking uncomfortable than spending the entire time thinking about the fact that you’re being photographed!

So during your family session, take that time to really be with your children. Watch them, enjoy them, and play with them. Make the session your special time together where they can take the lead and you follow along. 

Next thing you know, you’ll be enthralled in the moment and the camera will be the least of your concerns. 

Photo collage containing three photos: a mother kissing her baby, and grandmother, hugging her granddaughter on the ground, and a father hugging his toddler.

Moments you’d only get during a documentary photography session.

Any good family photographer will be quick on their feet and ready to capture those sweet/intimate/hilarious/loving fleeting moments. 

But a documentary photographer is looking for them. 

NOTICING is as important a skill for a documentary photographer as using our cameras. It’s like a muscle we train, and the more we do it, the more we notice.

Here are a handful of moments you’d only get during a documentary session:

A photo collage with a variety of documentary family photos.

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