Family Photography

5 reasons that will make you want to hire a documentary photographer (for things)

By May 21, 2019 February 12th, 2020 5 Comments
Boy holding his hands to his face as his mom brings him his birthday cake

With the proliferation of camera phones, there is no shortage of digital photos being taken (see # 5). However, what we do with those photos, how we continue to pile them up in our digital hard drives to be lost in the abyss that is the cloud, that is where the art of documenting our lives and families is beginning to take a deep, frankly depressing, turn…

1). You’re never in the pictures

Let’s face it, unless you ask someone to take a picture, or you attempt a selfie with your not long enough arms, you are hardly ever in the pictures. You look back years later at your photos (generally when they pop up on social media as a memory) and it’s always pictures of other people having fun. You may have been there, but your kids won’t remember that years later once you’re fertilizer in the earth, because – you weren’t in the pictures! Hiring someone allows these memories to be preserved of the whole family, not just the people who weren’t behind the camera that day.

2). Focus on the moment, vs getting the shot

How many times have you been the host at a birthday party or other special event, and your view of the pivotal moment was through the lens of a camera, while your guests were actually the ones experiencing it first hand? While we never want to miss the “money shot”, this also means we are never really in the moment. Enjoying the celebration first hand is left to the other guests. Let someone else take the photos so you can actually be present with those around you (and you’ll also solve problem #1 above).

3). Remember the moment as it was, not as you “faked it” to be

This may sound harsh, but you know what I’m talking about. The stress of getting the children to behave, making sure they don’t get dirty, getting frustrated with the spouse when they don’t want to participate in the “family fun”… I know how you feel, because I’ve been where you are.

Example: My family and I traveled to Australia in August 2017. My children were 10 and 6 at the time, and my son (the 6 year old) is high functioning autistic. I give this detail for context.

Because I was constantly experiencing points #1 and 2, (and worried about point #4 below), I decided I wanted to hire a local photographer for a photoshoot while we were in Sydney. I thought – wouldn’t it be great if we got some nice family photos in front of the Opera House? This was before I was knowledgeable about documentary photography and went with the only thing I knew – “stand and say cheese” photos. So, I booked a photographer through a vacation photography organization, and scheduled a 45-minute photo shoot at the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

To call it a disaster was a bit of an understatement. My son, disheveled from all the travel, had a MASSIVE meltdown that morning as we were trying to leave our hotel and grab breakfast. Like, screaming in the streets, kicking his father and myself as we were trying to carry him to the restaurant. We were over 30 minutes late to the shoot, and frankly, I was a mess at that point.

Thankfully the photographer was very understanding and accommodating, and we had about a 30-minute shoot with her. There is one photo I like out of the bunch, and it is indeed on our wall. But when I look at it, I don’t think of our happy go-lucky-time in Sydney as one might expect from looking at the photo. I think of what a nightmare it was to get to that point, and how we essentially faked our way through the shoot just to get it over with.

Family standing together hugging and smiling at the camera in Sydney, Australia

The only photo from our shoot in Sydney, Australia that was worth keeping. Photo by Flytographer photo services.

After our formal shoot was over, we sat around for a few minutes decompressing. That’s when I got this shot. This was my first taste of true documentary photography (capturing a moment with no direction, all the while ensuring proper composition and light). I knew then that this was the type of photography I wanted to specialize in moving forward. Now, THIS photo is also on our wall at home, and it’s one of my favorites ever. And when I look at this photo I smile, reminded of the story behind it. It’s just a shame I’m not in it… (see what I did there?)

Family in front of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Australia

My family (minus me) taking a minute on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Lisa Winner.

4).We get old and memories fade

Do you remember as a kid going through boxes of old photos with your parents/grandparents and being absolutely fascinated by the people in the photos and the stories they represented? And your grandma would say “Oh, I remember this. This is when Billy took that tumble down the hill and almost broke his ass! It was so funny.” Except Grandma didn’t say ass because she was a lady.

Photos serve as a reminder of the life we have lived because the reality is, as time fades away, so do memories. Photos are the tangible items we’ll have left to jump start our memories as time passes.

5). Photos never get printed anymore

Back to point #2. How many of you actually print all the photos you take of those special occasions? I would dare say probably not many of you. Estimates for 2017 surmised that 1.2 TRILLION digital photos were taken. 1.2 TRILLION. Do you know how many zeros that is? Let me show you: 1,200,000,000,000. And how many photos were actually printed? The average number of photos printed annually is around 37 billion. Do you know how many photos are left then that are never printed and just live on our cloud space forever? 1.16 trillion. Again, for visual sake, that’s 1,160,000,000,000.

Now, do we need to print up all 1.2 trillion photos? Absolutely not. But based on the current world population of 7.35 billion, each person is only printing 5 photos per year. FIVE. I guarantee you there are more than 5 photos taken on an annual basis that you’d like to have a physical reminder of in the “golden years”.

Long and complicated math story short? Hire a photographer to capture the memories, your memories, so you are

1) in the photos

2) so you can focus on the moment instead of the back of your camera


3) get the photographer to print your photos so when your kids are looking through boxes of your junk after you’ve moved in with them and they are taking care of you, they can see that you, parent, were actually on that one beach trip to Florida in 2019, and they weren’t just there by themselves.


I will end with a quote from one of my favorite photographers, Niki Boon.

“…and if I photograph [my children] only when they are dressed just right and clean and happy, they will absorb that message, that this is what I want the world to value most of all in them… I think when we grant our children permission to be whole and wild and life filled as they are, and we celebrate that, we help them to see the world this way too. I think this is the stuff that really takes our breath away…”

Lisa Winner is a documentary family photographer based out of the San Francisco Bay Area (Alameda / Oakland area specifically, if you really want to know). She specializes in visual storytelling and capturing the beauty in your every day. She lives at home with her husband, two fur babies Mr. Rufus and Mrs. Chloe, and her two human children, who tolerate her about 50% of the time. 


  • Nikki Gould says:

    So beautifully said, Lisa! This so resonates with me, and I’m so glad you shared your personal experience.

    • lisawinnerphotography says:

      Thank you Nikki! It’s a story I’ve shared quite a bit, but I feel is at the crux of why I do what I do :-).

  • Myah Patterson says:

    As if you had to convince me to hire a photographer! I’d spend a gazillion dollars on it if I could!

    • lisawinnerphotography says:

      That’s because, you know what’s up my dear! And how I wish you had a gazillion dollars to spend on it… 😉

  • YES. Reasons 1 and 2 are what I always hear especially from parents whose events I shoot. They just want to be able to be a PART of the event they took so much time and money to plan. And, you know, actually BE in the photos.

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