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How To: Document Your Family (in this strange, strange time) 10 Top Tips

Well. I wasn’t expecting to write a post quite like this, and I’m guessing you weren’t expecting to read one. As the lockdown is extended for at least another 3 weeks and any initial energy begins to wane, whilst uncertainty still lingers, we’re all finding our own ways through in our own set of circumstances. And I guess for the most part, that means a lot of us are trying to appreciate the small things and little moments and each other as best we can.

And yes, these are strange times. I’m certainly not planning another 2 months of being locked in again out of my own choice, but I have to say that it’s making me keep my resolution of documenting more of Oscar and family life, so I’m going to talk you through how.

When I come to you for an at home session, we have a really short amount of time to get everyone (including kids) engaged, but also relaxed and feeling themselves. An activity or conversation can really help to bring out natural responses and personalities, which is why I am usually still nattering away with you all whilst I shoot, not interrupting the flow. The luxury of documenting in your own home yourselves is that you already have this connection with each other, and lots of activities to hand, so here are some top tips:

1) Keep your camera ready and to hand - when you see the perfect moment you’ll be ready!

2) Whatever camera you have available is the best camera to have - don’t ruin a moment by launching off to rifle through cupboards to find a bigger or better one. All the images in this post have been taken with my phone (which is not a new model) or with my “handbag camera”, not my pro camera or lenses, no lighting set-ups. Always a fixed focal length so no zoom whatsoever. But limitations can bring out your creativity, promise. (Yes, I have a handbag camera...)

3) DON’T INTERRUPT. Honestly, don’t disturb them. Be a sneak! You can stand outside the doorway and use it to frame the scene, you can hide amongst the pile of toys, you can shoot down into the garden from an upstairs window. Get those honest moments like a ninja.

4) You don’t need happy smiley faces. Like, who smiles all the time? And you don’t need posing. You don’t even need faces in your photos. I KNOW RIGHT???! Think about shots of little feet, or hands at work, or favourite toys hidden in a secret den, or squishy fingerprints in play doh or just the aftermath of baking chaos... It’s all part of the story.

5) Capture the process, not just with the finished product. If your kids or partner are working on something, capture them in the act of it rather than just the achievement at the end. It makes for a more interesting image and particularly with the kids it shows an appreciation of the effort and thought process, not just praise for a job “well done.”

6) Take joy in the mundane. The breakfasts, the laundry, the daily tasks. Concentrating faces, how they hold a pen, all these tiny snippets that build up the bigger picture. As they say, it won’t always be this way - have you seen how quickly their feet seem to grow?!

7) Get on their level. Eye to eye, tooth to tooth. See their world from their perspective. At their eye level it’s more intimate, it’s easier to frame, there’s more interaction and it’s hella fun. This goes for pets too!

8) Let them document too! They'll be more keen to be photographed if you’re more willing to be captured as well.

9) Keep an eye on your composition - where does your eye naturally land? Which part of the image is emphasised and why? Is this what you intended? You can look up things like the rule of thirds and leading lines as some easy starter tips for composing an image.

10) Keep the images together. A single sentence doesn’t make so much impact without the others connecting, a chapter is enhanced with the rest of the story around it - the same goes for images, they weave together to create impact (which is why albums are so nice - it’s not all about the snapshots on the wall).

And finally: Practice, practice, practice. Honestly, your images will get better the more you practice, and lockdown is a great way to do it - you have the same subjects all the time so it’ll force you to get creative! I’ll pop up another post soon with some tips and guides on improving your photos generally, such as how to use the rule of thirds, and how to look for light etc, but these tips here are a good place to start right now.

I started out putting together a little folder just on my phone of photos of Oscar’s home learning, merely as a way to keep it all together, and to evidence that I did at least attempt to teach something of value in this time... but it’s now morphing into more of a folder of the experience of lockdown. But the beauty of you practicing and documenting is that it can morph, it can be whatever you want it to be. You can share it or it can be private, it doesn’t matter.

Where I have sets of photos from a day I have arranged them together to create something of a grid or collage to give a quick sense of the atmosphere from a scene, to tell a story all at once. At the end of this all, I might print off individual images, or perhaps some of these grids (I use the Unfold app, and I like that I can add little notes over them too as little reminders or diary entries) and stick them in a little album or scrapbook to tell our story of the season we were all at home together, and what life was like. And maybe, just maybe we might learn something from appreciating and noticing all these tiny moments so much more.

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