11 documentary family photographs from 2019

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” – Harvey McKay

It felt like 2019 went by in just a few blinks of an eye, but the more I looked at everything I’ve done in the past 12 months – every family I met, every photograph I worked on, every blog post I wrote – 2019 suddenly started feeling more and more expansive.

Full disclosure – this post was supposed to include 10 family photographs that have moved me some way in 2019. But then I found another picture I wanted to add. And another one, and another one – which meant that I just had to stop somewhere.

1. James’ family hired me for a Year in the Life package – and we kicked things off this fall with a 6 hour morning session and will follow it up later with 6 hours of the latter half of the day. James’ mom Maki is actually a really good photographer-friend of mine, who I co-work with almost every week.

I picked this photo because it really shows how treasured James is. His parents wanted a baby for so long, and while he’s already two years old now, they still don’t get enough of his not-so-baby-anymore smell.

Man and woman napping on couch

2. This photo is from a newborn session up in San Francisco – the family found me after having already had their baby, but my schedule was flexible and we could fit a session in. Baby Ayo was napping, which meant that her parents got to rest, too.

Kunbi and Paul weren’t afraid to stay connected throughout the session – and now they have photos of their relationship to cherish throughout the years. I keep saying this; newborn sessions aren’t just about the new baby.

Dad holding daughter, pregnant mom walking by

3. I usually have just a couple maternity sessions along the year, often as part of a package with a newborn session as well. Maybe because it can feel a bit intimidating to have a documentary session when you’re not sure how you’ll be feeling, how much energy you’ll have. Nonetheless, this family thought it was very important to get some pictures of them before they became a family of four.

The parents had actually met me at a baby fair while expecting their first – and remembered me as they started thinking about photos of this time in their lives. This was a great reminder for me that I have to keep putting myself out there – and it might be years before I see what comes out of my efforts to get my name out there. A great reminder to practice patience.

4. This photo is from a Day In The Life session I did for a family of four in Los Gatos – while mom was still asleep and dad was busy making breakfast for little brother in the kitchen.

The whole reason how I got into documentary family photography was that I tried to figure out how I could to “street photography” but in family homes. I didn’t know that documentary family photography existed as a genre and I didn’t really think of it as photojournalism – since that is not in my background. But capturing real life in an artistic way within a frame spoke to me, which brings me to my next photo…

Mom and dad watching their newborn baby

5. This picture is from Ethan’s Fresh 48 session at the hospital.

Another reason why documentary family photography appealed to me beyond arranging real life into a frame in an interesting way, was capturing non-prompted, non-directed connections between family members. Ethan’s parents leaning their heads together was such a lovely sign of shared happiness, which made me feel so emotional I almost could’ve forgotten to snap pictures.

Toddler kisses mom in hospital bed

6. This picture is from Skye’s Fresh 48 session – big sister Blair was very concerned about both baby and mom, and showed them both lots of love.

I had photographed Blair’s Fresh 48 session a couple years before, and this photo is such a lovely update of Blair&mom since now it was her kissing her mom instead of the other way around. Mom is a friend of mine, which made witnessing Blair become a big sister that much more special.

Blair's Fresh 48 Session | San Jose natural newborn photographer
Blair on her birth day

7. Cecilia’s family is in a Year In The Life process with me, and this picture is from session three out of four. Washing your hands can be dramatic!

I’ve followed along Cecilia since she was one day new, and I picked this photo because I have loved witnessing her grow from a squishy newborn to this strong little person who knows what she wants.

8. Junie is enjoying feeding her baby sister breakfast before heading out for Christmas shopping.

I’ve photographed Junie’s journey since she was in her mom’s belly, and in just the past few months she has grown into this super-sister that was so excited to help out that she didn’t want to give mom any more turns feeding her sister.

9. Vera’s parents wanted to document this time in her life before she starts walking.

As Vera’s mom was walking me to the car, she asked me if I think I got some good pictures – because they felt like they didn’t do anything too interesting. But what I love about documentary family photos is that it’s not always so much about doing something interesting – but about how extraordinary happens when you give the ordinary some extra attention. The team work between them was one of those things – when you make the extra effort to help each other out with the ordinary, it becomes extraordinary.

10. I’ve photographed this family now for a few years in a row – this time I joined them at Costanoa Lodge where they had rented a little cabin for the weekend.

There are two reasons why this photo speaks to me – firstly, I’ve noticed that this year I’ve been a bit more shy about photographing the “rough stuff”. I’m not exactly sure why, but this moment reminded me to keep at it. Because (secondly) there are things I remember from being a kid that were so uncomfortable – most vividly I remember getting my face wiped after meals. These little sufferings are part of life, part of figuring out our boundaries, part of becoming independent.

11. A family I had photographed a couple times moved to Italy the year before – but they were back visiting in Menlo Park and have grown their family by one since I last met them.

It is a pretty humbling feeling knowing that a family waited to have baby pictures done until they were back here, across the globe. And what a silly one she turned out to be.

Thank you so much for everyone who supported me and my documentary family photography throughout 2019 – sending so much love for 2020! If you start feeling like 2020 is moving way too fast, take a step back and look at everything you’ve done so far – maybe your time will start to feel more expansive, too.

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”Michael Althsuler

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Documentary newborn and family photographer serving San francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas