The Secret to Candid Family Photos

I have always found the idea of family portraits to be a bit daunting.  You know the ones I mean. The whole family perched neatly in a row, coordinated outfits, awkward smiles on faces.

Since becoming a mum, I have looked at these posed photos with a new sense of bewilderment. How on earth did the photographer manage to get everyone poised in position, smiling at the camera? Has that toddler been shot with some kind of tranquiliser dart to keep him still and pliant? And how is it possible that that entire family is wearing white without even the faintest hint of baby spit-up, coffee spills or smears of peanut butter on them?

Personally, I can’t relate to the families in flawless portraits. They are completely foreign to me: a world away from the messy chaos that is my everyday life.

Although my life may not be picture perfect, I still love having photos to remember it by. I want to be able to look back and remember the beautiful chaos that embodies this time in my life. I want family photos that capture the love that lives within the walls of my home.

For me, family photos should be a way of remembering my family as who we really are, in this moment. I want to be able to look back at family photos and reminisce with my son about how we used to cook together at the bench, the books we read countless times and the toy monkey he used to carry around with him everywhere he went.

And while I am endlessly endeavouring to take these types of candid family photos myself, unfortunately this means that I am never actually in the photos!

I think all mums can relate to coveting photos that capture the ordinary moments of motherhood. Photos that will portray who they are as mothers and the day-to-day life they share with their loved ones.

It was the desire for these kind of photos that spurred Sally and I to team up with Brisbane based photographer Kathy Alyward. Kathy specialises in documentary style family photography and she is passionate about taking beautiful photos that evoke emotion and tell a story.

Kathy came and visited Sally and I in our respective homes to each do a ‘Day in the Life’ session. I will admit that I felt a bit anxious leading up to it. But Kathy was so friendly and made me feel relaxed; it wasn’t long before I felt comfortable to go about my normal day.

Here are some of the best things about ‘A Day in the Life’ documentary style photo session.

1. You don’t need to stress about how the house looks

This is part of the beauty of documentary style photography! If there are dishes in the sink and a pile of clean washing on the floor to be folded, that’s ok! This is everyday life and it’s there to be captured.

2. You don’t need to overthink your outfit, hair and makeup

Kathy suggested that I wear something that I would wear everyday. Well, I took that with a pinch of salt. Considering that on an average Thursday morning at 8am you would likely find me wearing a supre’ singlet circa 2003, paired with my husbands boxer shorts, I decided that that was not an outfit I want recorded for posterity.

Instead I chose an outfit that I felt comfortable and confident in. Similarity, I dressed Arthur in nice but comfortable play clothes. I didn’t want our outfits to match, but I did make sure that they didn’t completely clash either!

I put a little bit of makeup on and I strategically booked my regular haircut for the day before the photo-shoot (to get the most out of the hairdresser blow-dry, of course).

3. You don’t need to try force the kids to behave a certain way

The premise behind documentary style photography is to capture the reality of motherhood. This means the good, the bad, and all the cuddles in between.

During our session, Kathy (who is a mother herself) was completely unfazed by tears and tantrums. Before the session she reassured me saying, “if your son has a meltdown that’s okay, if he runs around the house screaming that’s okay. If he falls over and starts crying, you will be there to pick him up, and I’ll be there capturing it all.”

4. You don’t need to know how to pose for photos

The best type of documentary style photos are ones in which everyone is interacting with each other. These are the photographs that you will cherish most because they depict your family’s genuine connection and love.

If you are worried about feeling awkward in front of the camera, I would suggest having some specific activities planned. This gives you something to do with your hands, engages the little ones, and brings an authentic smile to your face. For example, Arthur and I love cooking together, reading books, and play wrestling on the rug; so this is what we did during our ‘Day in the Life’ session.

Overall our ‘’Day in the Life’ photography session was a complete success! I ended up really enjoying myself during the photo-shoot and most importantly, I now have photos that I will cherish for the rest of my life!

Looking at these photos transports me back to the moments they were taken. I can once again feel the weight of my son’s tiny body in my arms and his soft hair tickling my face. I can smell his sweet skin and hear his laughter in my ear. Looking at these photos, I am overwhelmed with the love that has been eternalised.



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2 comments on “The Secret to Candid Family Photos”

  1. What a wonderful way to do a photo session! Do you have any social media links of Kathy’s to share?

    • Hi Amy,
      Thanks for your comment! I have attached a link to Kathy’s website at the bottom of the article. She was so wonderful to work with! I am sure she would be happy to hear from you.
      love Phoebe

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