16 Inspiring Family Documentary Photography Sessions of 2016 | Fearless and Framed

16 Inspiring Family Documentary Photography Sessions of 2016

We’re pretty thankful to be involved in a photography community where individual core values are celebrated.  In 2016, we watched some photographers blossom, met new photographers who have become friends, and lifted each other up in taking documentary photography to our clients.

This blog post is to give a shout out to a handful of photographers who inspire us consistently with their work and dedication to the craft – where their own voice and serial moment-seeker hearts shine in their imagery. Here’s to closing 2016 and beginning a new year with new stories and deeper work!

Stay inspired. Pin this image so you can easily reference back to this story:


Justine Curran 


This is one of my favourite sessions for the year. The reason being: there is a bit of a back story to this session. I know the clients personally. These newlyweds are head over heels for each other and have long anticipated for the arrival of their first born child.

The mother, Eliza Spiteri, lost her own mother to cancer when she was only 16 years old. Obviously the whole family was completely devastated. She has had to go through some significant life milestones without her mother being there, such as finishing school, her wedding and now the birth of her first child.

Eliza’s oldest sister, Dannielle, also rocked the family with devastating news 6 years ago. She was diagnosed with terminal melanoma. She was told the family she may have 2 years to live. Thankfully and overwhelmingly fortunate, Danielle battled her way into remission.

Welcoming the arrival of baby Theo was an ecstatic, love filled yet bittersweet moment for Eliza and Danielle. Having Danielle there, a close relationship with her sister now more important than ever, her guidance and mother figure in her life. Danielle felt triumphed and in awe that she survived cancer… that she made it.

The thought that she was told she would not be here to see this day overwhelmed her. The bittersweet moment of staring at this precious baby boy in awe and knowing their mother was not here to share that moment, Eliza wanted photos more than anything. She told me how documenting  her family was so important to her now as she has suffered such a loss.

All she has are photos of her mother.

Eliza wishes to have as many photos of herself and with her son to pass down to him if anything were to happen to her.

These photos fill my heart and soul. If there were anything that I would say that drives me to be a photographer, it’s this: to capture those important moments and deliver them in the best possible way I know how.

View the Blog Post: Welcoming Baby Theodore.

Rachel Greiman | Green Chair Stories


I’ve been photographing the Dawkins family for almost 2 years now. It’s part of a personal project that I wanted to do because they inspire me so much as a family. I was challenged at a workshop to find a family that could act as a sort of muse for my documentary work. People who would allow me into their lives and bring me joy. It’s not about getting paid with them; it’s about creating art and being reminded why I do this work.

And since beginning, they have proven over and over that they are the perfect fit for me. They do everything with joy and love, even the smallest tasks of the day. They adopted their son this year, and what a bright light he already is in their family! They are incredibly patient; if I ever become a parent, I would want to be the exact kind of mom Juliet is.

This session was a full 12 hours, from the time the kiddos got up in the morning until dinnertime. It confirmed so much for me—that I’m meant to photograph this way, that the more time I spend with families, the better. This shoot was the beginning of a lot of changes for my business, not to mention it was one of my favorites of the entire year!

View the Blog Post: The Dawkins Family Best Day Ever.

Elizabeth MacMurray


This was my very first Day In The Life AND my very first travel session. This is one of those sessions where the client give you full creative control and verbally tells you “I trust you. Do what you need to do.” Where they literally just go through their day as normal. Nothing awkward. Nothing fake…It was amazing.

Norma (mom) wanted a session specifically for her kids to look at years down the road. She said that one day, when she isn’t around anymore, she wanted her kids to see how much she loved them…


Aniya Legnaro| Life Photography by Aniya


I put out a model call for families interested in day in the life sessions, and most of my takers were past clients who I had already gained trust with. But there was this one, very shy mom, who put up her hand. She sent me the most touching email saying she’s admired my work, and taking a shot in the dark and  “applying” to be a model family. We had never met (which is strange for an island of 260,000 people) – truth be told, I was nervous as hell.

We chatted and I knew she’d be perfect. She literally opened the door and her heart to me at 6am. She welcomed me in as though we had known each other for years. Despite her insecurities about herself, her home, her family, she completely let me in, and I felt so privileged. After she saw her gallery, she sent me the most touching letter I’ve ever read (seriously, you’ve got to read it). We, as photographers can preach till the cows come home about how damn important true documentary photography is for families – but until you get a letter like this? It REALLY hits home how lucky we are to give this treasure to people.

View the Blog Post: Day in the life: The Gollop Family

And if you have time, have a read of her letter: Dear Aniya


Nicole Cross | 43rd Ave Photography


When I have an upcoming session, I usually ask my client what their family’s favorite things to do together are so I can figure out when to schedule their session. When I asked Emily, she described to me their perfect weekend morning: playing in their sunny back yard and then going out for bagels. As soon as I read her words I knew it would make a great session and would document a memory from this time in their lives. It made me reminisce about my favorite places I would be so excited to visit as a kid with my parents. Knowing that years from now when they think about slow mornings at home and trips to the bagel shop they’ll have pictures to revisit makes me so happy to do this kind of work!

View the Blog post: A Morning With The Rancers

Courtney Holmes


So the backstory for this session is that this is the very first family that I ever photographed with a documentary approach back in early 2015. Their first session with me is at the beginning of my showreel, and their second session with me is featured in my filmmaking workshop. They have always just been so amazing, so on board with my ideas, and completely trusting of me. Their belief in me, and my experience with them is what got me hooked on shooting documentary style for clients in the first place.

In this session the baby was 6 weeks old, and after learning about their normal routine (and finding out they tend to sleep in and stay up late) I just told them that I planned on arriving in the afternoon and hanging out with them for about four hours. It was literally like hanging out with friends, and it felt the most like how I shoot at home than it ever has before. Which just felt amazing for me. This session has been a turning point in my confidence with doing newborn documentary sessions. I used to feel like I had to be shooting constantly, I was almost uncomfortable with the quiet moments, because I was used to the fast pace of family life during documentary sessions. During this session I allowed myself to let go of that expectation, and instead focus on showing how although life goes on as usual after a baby is born, everything has also changed. Family dynamics change. Everyday tasks take a little longer. Life slows down a bit. Late night feeds are exhausting and wonderful all at once.

I personally had a very rough time after my second child was born and suffered from severe postnatal depression. To be able to go into the home of a mother with a baby and a toddler, and show her just how important and loved and appreciated she is through photographs and video is incredibly cathartic for me. It’s something I wish that I had, and it’s something that motivates me to pick up the camera day in and day out. I’ve wanted to feel confident showing clients how a documentary newborn session can look for a long time now, and I finally feel like I’ve gotten to that point now after this session.

View the Blog Post: An Afternoon with the Gonder Family

Katie Jennings


My favorite session of the year was one I just recently shot. The minute my client (Laurie) contacted me I knew this was a session that was going to feed my soul. Laurie’s family has a tradition of tailgating for football games at a very special spot near the UNC campus. The tradition began with the grandfather and now that his grandsons are older it’s enjoyed by the entire family. Driving through the UNC campus and the surrounding old buildings I got goosebumps. There’s a not of new construction where I’m from, so being in an area that had history was even more impactful. You can feel the energy of the place. The tree lined streets and the beautiful old houses are a brake from the ordinary suburbia I’m used to.

After meeting the family and seeing the tree swing I was even more excited. I can’t remember the last time I even saw a tree swing! Maybe as a high school kid jumping into a local lake? Let’s just say it has been a long time.  Being able to capture the kids having fun on the swing made my day. After swinging we walked down to the UNC campus for the family to attend the player walk, where the kids can high five the football players as they make their way to the stadium. Watching all of this go down as I was snapping away actually brought tears to my eyes. I had a feeling of “this is where I belong”  “this is what I’m meant to do.”  I knew the photos I was taking during this session would truly mean something to this family and therefore it meant a great deal for me too.

Capturing special moments like this tailgating session is the reason that I love documentary photography. It’s real life being captured to be enjoyed and relived through the years.

View the Blog Post: http://www.katiejenningsphotography.com/one-familys-special-tradition/

Cheyenne Rose


I am so excited to share this session with you and hope that it is what you are looking for! I was torn between two sessions. The other session is a super cute family session with a baby and a dog and they snuggle in bed. It’s adorable. But this one just speaks to me a bit more. I know you asked for client work, and technically it is, but it is also my sister (my mom hired me!). My sister just graduated and skipped senior pictures because, well…they’re stupid. But my mom was not happy with not having pictures of her in this stage of her life. So I captured her doing exactly what she loves to do! I also crafted a plan to steal my moms house and turn it into a studio, because its gorgeous! haha My mom ended up loving the session and ordered a bunch of prints and an album. Hopefully you love it as much as we do!

View the Blog Post: Dana | Senior Documentary Session


Candice MacDonnell


Mathew’s first day of kindergarten has been my absolute favorite session this year, hands down. I love my birth stories, but seeing the combination of his excitement to be a “big kid” and mom’s apprehension was so sweet.  It’s a wonderful reminder that we continue to love our babies as they grow and reach new milestones and independence. My son will start kindergarten next year, and while I have one already in school, I’m sure I’ll be a hot mess letting him “graduate” to that level! I’m so glad Ruth hired me and opened her home to me, allowing a peek into their morning routines and family life.

View the Blog Post: Mathews First Day of Kindergarten


Khalilah Hall


This session of a mom homeschooling her daughter was so much fun. Mom was nervous in the beginning but quickly relaxed. She is an amazing mom. Very patient and gentle. I saw so much love between her and the girls.

The session meant a lot to me because as moms we often wonder if we’re doing enough. I wanted to highlight the work, love and dedication we have for our children. I also wanted to show how the children felt about her. They were so content and happy and Mom saw that she is enough. I went home smiling and more confident in my own parenting.

View the Blog Post: One Mom Fear Squashed


Mia Paolini |  Mia Lynn Photography

Boca Raton's Family & Lifestyle Photographer | www.mialynnphotography.com |

My favorite session and favorite family 🙂  I have been honored to photograph them through both babies and different documentary sessions. We chose a saturday morning because it is the epitome of their lives right now. Two girls – two ballet classes – two different times. It’s everything they do – switch hit as parents get them ready, out the door and still have family together time. Most families can recognize the challenge with the mornings, but they’ve got it worked out – for them in this moment of their lives.

Both parents are friends of mine so it has been a special honor to photograph them through the years. I love and enjoy hearing stories from them and their parenting woes, challenges, successes and then watching through my lens the very same thing happen and I am able to document a memorable moment for them. This exact scene of mom combing the girl’s hair with them ending up laying all over her and her struggling to get it done without them crying was just one of those stories. These moments come and go so quickly – the honor is all mine to capture them and create “hard copies of our memories” as I like to call them 🙂

View the Blog Post: A Morning with the R. Family


Eboni Rivera | Luxe Art Images, LLC


This year was a rough year for me in business, I’d like to say that it was the only one but then I’d be lying. However, I found that the struggle this year was a bit different in the sense that it was no longer about finding continuous paying clients but rather finding the “right” kind of clients so that I could shoot in the way that felt good for me. Finding a balance between shooting what I wanted and getting clients to be 100% on board with it was definitely something that I feel I have mastered yet. But the images in this post means a lot to me because for the first time in what seems like forever I was able to shoot an entire set of images that were totally intentional.

If I’m honest, most times when I’m shooting families with young children I feel like I’m just trying to keep up with them bopping around from one activity to the next. I’m literally just snapping with no real intention other then trying to contain their cuteness as technically correct as I can. But this time I really slowed down (and fought through a session that was full of energy) and thought about the type of images I wanted to create. I took everything in to account — the light, the mood + energy of the scene, the composition, etc —  and waited until the perfect time to capture these girls fun loving story. I’ve been shooting these girls several times a year since 2012 and this was the last time that I would be shooting them playing in this room because they’re moving to a new house.  Although its not what I was hired for, I really wanted to give an accurate memory to these children (and their parents) of the fun times had in their bedroom.

I’m so very proud that I pushed through and was able to capture some true documentary style images where I had absolutely no influence on what was happening in front of my lens. These could’ve been a very different set of images because they were taken at the end of a lifestyle family portrait session. But instead of packing up and going home a little disappointed with myself as an artist, I decided to stay and hang back for a while to create these. They mean so much to me and my journey. Honestly, it’s a such a freeing feeling and solidifies the fact that I only want to shoot like this moving forward.

View the Blog Post: Let them be Little


Courtney Maltman | Momentologie Photography


I wrote a lot about what this session means to me in the post, but basically it is the culmination of everything I have been working towards for the past 3 years. I absolutely LOVE documentary photography, and birth stories are my heart. This family has been through it all…all for their love and for their desire to grow their family. As if it isn’t hard enough to be a same sex couple, their story just to get pregnant and grow this baby to term is another brave feat altogether. I am proud of this work and of these amazing women who wanted to share their story. I am hoping to document many, many more births over the next year and for many years to come. <3

View the Blog Post: Hawkin Birth Story


Stacey Ilyse 

A defining moment for me as a family documentarian- the first time I was asked to travel across the country to photograph a day in the life session for a family.  It was an honor to be asked in general – but even more so with the A. family since mom is also an amazingly talented photographer herself.  Being a mom of girls – It was fun to spend the day surrounded with 3 active little boys, to not only witness their nerf gun fights, lego building, couch jumping activities but also to see how caring and affectionate they were with each other and with their parents.  The expectations were set high – I wanted to make this day one they would feel looking back truly represented who they were at this moment in their lives…  It was an amazing experience, for both myself and the A. family… Im so grateful for this gift I was able to give them, and all the families who intrust in me their memories.

View the Blog Post: A Day in the Life with the A. Family

And if you have time, have a read about the the flip side to being on the other end of the camera: http://sma-photography.com/blog/3-things-learned



Antonina Mamzenko


I chose this session because the subject is so different from everything else I typically shoot and because I still remember how I smiled ear to ear throughout this session, as this family’s joy and happiness were absolutely infectious. I seriously had sore cheeks at the end of the day from all the smiling and laughing! I’ve never even considered something like graduation as a possible candidate for documentary approach, and when Mireia first got in touch I wasn’t too sure about this whole thing. But she was so enthusiastic about the idea of me just documenting her special day (and I’m pretty sure that getting a PhD in Physics from Oxford University is right up there with getting married and having kids!) and me just following them around the beautiful city of Oxford, no stiff posing in sight, that I had to agree. And I absolutely loved it! I documented her family’s joy, her boyfriend’s pride, the excitement of her friends who were also graduating, and the beautiful streets and buildings of Oxford – what’s not to love!

View the Blog Post: A Different Kind of Graduation Photos


Victoria Hershman | The Storytog


Often times in running our business we tend to let the faces of our clients slide together. One client becomes another client becomes another client. After so long, it’s hard to differentiate and their faces blur together as we are lost in the monotony of business ownership. Then a client comes along, and you know they’re special. There’s something about them that’s just beautiful and soul fulfilling. I photographed Britney’s maternity and baby shower, then her birth, then newborn. She asked me to photograph their milestones as well, and his first birthday will be one of the last sessions I take in the state of Tennessee before we move. Aside from being privileged to watch James grow and discover this whole new world, Britney has become a dear friend of mine. Time spent with them isn’t about the session, it’s about each other. We chat, catch up, swap stories. She and her family have taught me so much about documenting a family, truly documenting them, and becoming a special part of that family. It’s something we as documentary photographers should strive for, but something that always seems to fall short as we can never break that wall between client and photographer, but oh the magic that happens when you become one with the family that you are with, when their pain becomes yours, their joy, their happiness, their laughter becomes a part of yours. It has changed the way I document families.

View the Blog Post: James is Three Months

Honorable Mentions

Katie Jett Walls


When I met Victoria and Baby G. it was for a spring mini-session that I offer every year. Victoria told me she hadn’t had photos with the baby done at all yet, but she was about to reach the end of her maternity leave and wanted to be sure they had some photos together.

I was so touched by that, and by watching them together, that soon after delivering their mini-session photos, I asked Victoria if she might be interested in a documentary session at home, to capture a glimpse of their days together before this brief phase of mama life ended. She was eager to do it, and I spent a morning – from Baby G’s waking from early nap to her going down for afternoon nap – with them.

Watching mother and daughter go through their routines reminded me of the early days home with my son. I think all mothers can recall the connection that exists in that space of time when our babies are so dependent on us, so tuned in, that we’re almost one person.

I still see in these photos the timelessness of the rituals of mothering.

Adriana De La Cruz


It’s hard to find the words. Having seen my mom cry many times after phone calls wishing she could see her mother. It’s been 20 years. From the moment she told me she’d be able to see her mom soon, it was surreal. You get used to the reality that you may never see that person again when you chose to immigrate to the USA. This is the story of my family. One that is the story of many.

This topic is not black and white.

On this day we arrived far too early. 3 hrs to be precise. We kept waiting anxiously for a familiar face. We even brought balloons, ones that my little 2yr. old released onto the ceiling of the airport shy of the meet and greet. We stat there, staring at strangers reuniting with their loved ones, passengers glad to be back home and kids excited to run the halls of the airport.

When we finally saw her, rushing through just as I remember her. It was a quick moment of disbelief. Her features much more pronounced, time showing heavy on her skin. Her eyes much more beautiful than I remembered, just as kind as always. The hugs were deep, and the tears flowed. Only broken by a moment of laughter as my Aunt emerged from the bathroom upset that she had missed her first sighting. We hope to have her visit us much more often. We hope we can also travel out to her as well. I am so happy to have captured these special images for them.

View the Blog Post: Time Is …

Christin Kreml | Oak & Feather Films


This session was for my Husband’s relatives. His Uncle passed away last year (’15) and my husband’s Aunt asked me to come out and document the family on the farm. The session was very organic and unstructured – we basically let the kids play and do what they normally do.

This session really meant a lot to me mainly becuase I finally felt in my element with my work. It’s also one that I really connected with the kids (whom I’ve never met before) and felt like I really captured true personalities. Like one of those moments where you know you’re right where you need to be.

The photo I attached is one of my favorites. The boy is the middle child and took a bit to warm up to me.  I was able to capture this photo and his grandmother made the best comment: “Wow! We haven’t captured that smile of his in such a long time.”

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