Family Documentary Photography: Parenthood, Volume II

The response at our first documentary parenthood collection was overwhelming, so we wanted to publish a follow up collection. 

I asked my group of photographers - what does parenthood look like? What are the quintessential images you've made that capture this incredible role? 14 more incredible photographers wanted to show you how beautiful documenting your real, incredible life can be. 

Let us know in the comments which one is your favorite. <3

1. Eden Photography | 

Letting go of inhibitions and just BEING with your children.  Play. Laugh. Be silly.  Follow their lead - they will take to you magical places. This is where the joy of parenthood lies.


Parenthood is never having a meal to yourself and being perfectly okay with that.

3. Shea Kluender |

Parenthood is elusive. It's overwhelming. It's everything. It's not always as natural as it seems like it should be, and certainly never as pulled-together as it appears from the outside. Parenthood is the ride - it's the exhaustion and the worry and the hand holding and the wrestling and the knowing looks and the miscommunications and the attempts to build routine and rhythm and the spontaneous tickle fights and everything in between. Parenthood brings all of my most honest emotions up to the surface. Every day makes me feel more alive.

4. Katie Hill |

1. parenthood is living in your car 9 months a year

2. coworkers

3. it's like looking in the mirror

5. Lisa R. Howeler |

I love how this mom, who had a newborn and four older children, all under the age of 9 at the time, is still smiling, through exhaustion, at her toddler who keeps popping in to ask questions even as mom tries to find time for a breather.

6. Adriana Silva |

Parenthood is being there for them at all times. And sometimes, just being there is enough.

Parenthood is messy. It's dirty dishes and toys everywhere and never ending laundry piles. It's constantly asking your kids to help clean up. And most of the time they complain or ignore you or do a half-assed job. But sometimes, sometimes you get lucky and they help without being asked. And it's when that happens that you think you are doing something right. Parenthood is being thankful for little miracles and taking what you can get and looking for the light in every day despite the mess.

8. Jessica Strom |

There is an incredibly tangible feeling that comes with photographing motherhood. This photo in particular makes me catch my breath. For mom, this will be a portrait of when they still needed her; those scraped knee and bumped elbow moments that may seem small, even inconvenient at the time. For the girl, this is the safest place in the world. An embrace that can be felt from anywhere.

The tug of a quiet moment cradling your baby to sleep all in the while rejoicing in your toddler's son youthful energy may seem like a paradox, but this is is the wonder of motherhood in a frame.

10. Jessica Hachey | 

Shoe wars…do they ever end? Newborns don’t keep them on, toddler fight putting them on, toddlers then want to do it all by themselves and take FOREVER and then kids and teens leave them all over the house! Time to live barefoot on a deserted island please….

11. Lauren Webster |

This is one of my favorite self-portraits of motherhood because it captures a very accurate depiction of what our morning looks like; toddler searching for food, baby attached to me, and I'm waiting to start our morning routine after we let our dogs inside. 

Sometimes I let my toddler take a shower so I can get other things done like pump, eat, sit in a semi-quiet room. You know, the things you can't do with a toddler around.

12. Emily Henry 

Watching a child create something from nothing is awe inspiring. These are the moments you sit back and soak up who this little being is becoming, breathing in the life you have made.

Bath time has always been a special time to sit back and relax—no matter the day, it is something I always look forward to. 

13. Hannah Terry 

Some of the best conversations with my daughter are over hair washing. There is no alone time in parenthood, and that's okay with me.

14. Briony Walker |

This is my favourite humorous image that sums up 'Parenting' of small kids. You ask your child to do something, you give them the one, two, three countdown (possibly a mention about Santa Claus and/or the Easter Bunny watching), then defer to "NOW!". I am always extra thrilled to get a shot like this from a Day in the Life session because this synchronised moments are so fleeting.

So, which one resonated the most with you in this season of your life? Leave me (and the photographer) a comment below to let us know! <3

Any other collections of images you'd like to see? I want to show you - leave a comment to let me know! 

Panning: A photographic technique to indicate movement

I've pushed myself to try new things in my photography this year, including exploring different shutter speeds to either freeze motion or show motion. 

Freezing Motion

For example, at the end of summer I wanted to capture the movement of water as the boys played with Zoey in the backyard. This requires a fast shutter to ensure the water isn't blurry... and a whole lotta patience. (I took 42 images, and only kept TWO!)

Sigma Art 1.4 35mm, f 4.0, ISO 500, 1/4000

This was the first image that I noticed, what gave me the idea to shoot. Our dopey dog chases rocks when they're thrown into water, so that's what's happening here. I wanted to capture the scene, but ended up not loving this angle - I wish I was even higher (suspended over them??), but I couldn't safely do that from the deck I was standing on, and I don't have a drone. 

Ultimately, my goal was to play with capturing the water as she splashed in, so I decided to change my angle. 

Note: Trying something new, making just the right picture, comes with a lot of discards. Check out all the throwaways! 

Ultimately, the image that I loved the best that captured the water's motion was this one below. The angle is better, the water is captured, and at the end of this exercise, I have much more practice using high shutter speed to capture motion. 

Sigma Art 1.4 35mm, f 3.5, ISO 500, 1/4000


In one of my photography groups, we were challenged to try something new to indicate motion in our images: panning. Panning is the horizontal movement of your camera to match your subject's movement, typically while they're moving parallel to you. 

Imagine turning your head to watch your kiddo as they run past you in the yard. That's the concept of this technique, with the intent that you as the photographer are following the subject's movement and matching their speed/direction as closely as possible. 

The ultimate goal is to show motion - not to have a blurred subject, but to indicate motion around them. This is a challenge, because typically a slow shutter speed means you get a blurry image. 

I decided to try on an evening in our front yard, asking James to run a straight line in front of me while I practiced with some settings. 

Sigma Art 1.4 35mm, f4.0, ISO 100, 1/25

I liked this one, but wished his face was sharper. So as I mentioned before: I stayed stationary and tried to avoid camera shake with such a low shutter speed. As he ran by, I moved my camera as smoothly as possible to track along with him and pressed the shutter as he ran. 

Sigma Art 1.4 35mm, f 4.0, ISO 100, 1/25

This one was getting better - I like that most of him is in focus, but you can see the movement in his legs and feet. The only thing really missing is his face, right? 

Sigma Art 1.4 35mm, f4.0, ISO 100, 1/25

So finally, this is my favorite from the session. You still can't see his face, but I love the effort you can see here with his head down and feet in motion. 

This was a fun attempt at something new - a new technique and way to add vibrancy to my images. Kids are moving all the time, so why not try to capture that in a new way? 

What other elements do you wish that photography would capture of parenthood, childhood, life? I'll give them a try! Drop me a comment below.  

Family Documentary Photography: Parenthood Collection, Volume I

Hands down, the best part of 2017 has been the connection and network I've built with other photographers across the world. I've mentioned before that photography used to be a quiet, often lonely pursuit for me. Something that I loved, but did on the side, quietly. Drifting. 

2017 has blown the doors off my expectation of what could be - and to now be able to call inspirational photographers "friends" sincerely blows my mind. Some of these women I've been honored enough to meet in real life - the others are mere keystrokes away as we interact to lift each other up and pursue our dreams. I now have a community of other creatives who "get" it - who never fail to inspire me and provide the encouragement and guidance I need. 

This week, I asked this group of wildly talented photographers to consider the idea of "parenthood". What images have they made that capture this fulfilling, exhausting, hilarious, consuming role? 18 photographers answered this question with images of their own. 

Let me know in the comments - which image is YOUR favorite? What moments of your own parenthood journey stand out as being absolutely quintessential of this part of your life right now? 

1. Alicia Thwaites |

The Clean Up... As Per Dad

When Time Stops and There's Just Them...

When it comes to parenting, there are a few universal truths:
#1: Whether or not your children have mastered the art of walking has no bearing on whether or not you will be required to carry them around.

#2: Although they may wriggle and scream, they love getting smooches as much as you love giving them.

#3: No matter what, the show must go on.

3. Genevieve Williams | 


I debated sharing this photo. But I wanted to remember how raw and real postpartum feels. Tiny baby, leaky boobs & stretch marks. Sore, exhausted and so in love. This is the third baby I've given birth to. I've had 2 miscarriages along the way and lost one of the twins in my last pregnancy. I sure wish I had gotten to experience these moments with those babies and I'm so grateful to have carried this sweet girl for nearly 41 weeks.

Scurrying to do all the things with an infant and a 4 year old while my 18 month old naps. This beautiful chaos, I wouldn't have it any other way.

4. Amber Getsinger |

Curve Ball

Because as parents sometimes what we WANT to happen and what DOES happen are 2 different things. I was wanting a bird's eye view photo of my older son playing with sidewalk chalk but what I ended up getting was a little visitor trying to climb up the ladder with me and I ended up with a much cooler/interesting shot. And because no matter what I try to do, my kids are ALWAYS under my feet. hahaha!

5. Linsey Brigman Davis |

Beautiful Chaos

I’m a homeschooling mom of 5 kids. Days can go by in a blur & be chaotic. But I would not change it for anything.

6. Hannah Terry |

A self portrait of a morning snuggle session with my family! A favorite part of motherhood for me.


This is what parenthood is all about in our household - bathtimes showcase the full range of emotions for sheer joy to outright fury from the kids (and me!). It can be a wrestle to get them up the stairs and that bit closer to bedtime but plonk them in water and they're happy as Larry. Though the littlest sometimes takes the brunt of his big sister's water experiments, it's always smiles again moments later.

10 years from now, this is going to be the image that will remind me so vividly of the past when our children were little. My husband multitasks better than I could ever hope to.

The first week of chaos and bliss.

10. Megan Coleman |

When I look at this image, I can almost hear the joys of parenthood happening, the playful laughter of an energetic two year old and the delicate cry of her new little brother. Thought, even more than that is what I can see, which is team work and trust, as Dad tries to soothe and comfort the new baby, Mom is happy for the break and a chance to play with her oldest!

11. Jessica Hachey |

The look that mum is giving her son here... I can almost hear the gears turning in her head. Does she tell him to get down because it's not safe? Does she stop and just enjoy that he's having fun and trust him to care for himself? I think especially with his age, it's a hard line to walk!

12. Nikki Gould |

Laughs Brought to You by Daddy

One of the best things about being a parent is knowing exactly what it takes to make your children laugh. In our house, Daddy is usually the best at getting laughs out of his little girl. That daddy daughter bond is undeniable in our household!

This image describes parenthood at its finest because this woman was a day away from receiving a lumbar puncture and was suffering massive migraines but still took time to nurse her sweet girl who is beginning to wean at the age of almost 3. She is selfless and that is a parent 100%.

14. Sara Kesler Wroblewski |

This was our first night in our new house. Sometimes as a mom you make sacrifices so everyone else is "comfortable". As you can see, our toddler is probably the only one who is comfy.

15. Jenn Vargas Pressman |

Snack Time

As mom changes newborn sister's diaper, the boys take over the kitchen in search of something to snack on.

16. Jennifer Tomblin Grima |

It’s a lucky day when one of these carts is available!

17. Cara Bettcher |

This image of Dad and coffee really resonates life with a newborn. They sleep whenever and wherever while we as parents exist on coffee and fumes. It’s the privilege and struggle of new babies.

18. Margaret Albaugh |

Beach Sovereignty

I think this is Parenthood in so many ways. It's cleaning up, it's making sure no one is left behind, and it's reminding your kids they don't get to declare themselves sovereign and stay at the beach themselves.

So... which image was your favorite? Which one resonated with your current season of parenthood? Leave me (and the photographer!) a comment below! 

Featured Documentary Photographer: Erika Kao

I am SO excited for this inaugural post in this series! Since finding my heart in family documentary photography, I've had the great fortune of meeting and connecting with other photographers across the United States - and across the world! These artists have inspired me with their heart, their photography, and their incredible storytelling skills. Come back to see more photographers featured in this series!  - Alex

Meet the amazing Erika Kao! 

1. We know you're a photographer - tell us a little about yourself outside of that. 

Hello! My name is Erika Kao and I live and work in and around Bergen County, New Jersey. (Geographical note: It’s about as far north as you can go in New Jersey without crossing the state line to New York.) I share a home with my husband and two daughters, ages 6 and 3. Before becoming a mom and a photographer, I was a social worker. And I believe in old-fashioned note writing and book reading, in kindness and integrity, and in surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up, no matter where we’re hoping to go.

2. How long have you been shooting? 

I’ve been shooting in one form or another since high school. I took a class in high school and several film photography classes in college, but I had no real interest in the darkroom, so I let all that I learned lapse. I’ve been shooting professionally for four years now. I’ve always enjoyed photography as an art, but it was becoming a mom that really pushed me forward. Today, it’s my daughters that keep me going. I want them to see me making a life out of doing something that I love and of bringing joy to other people. I want to be proof to them, professionally and personally, that we can create our own happiness, and that we can gain happiness by giving to others.

3. In a nutshell, why do you offer documentary photography? 

When I became a mom, I found it very easy to dive back into photography. I don’t have a ton of photos from my own childhood, and so I never wanted my daughters to lack photos of their childhood. But, like most people, I fell victim to the philosophy that everyone was supposed to look at a camera and smile, and so my earliest photos of my daughters were in that vein. But that got very boring very quickly, and I just started photographing them on the sly, capturing them doing what made them happy, whether they were looking at me or not. I absolutely loved the photos that resulted, so you can imagine my delight when I discovered this was actually a real niche! I felt like I’d found my calling, and I started offering a more documentary approach to photographing clients.

4. What do you wish more people knew about documentary photography? 

Documentary photography is a testament to the realities of life. To the sticky and the sweet. To what fills our hearts and what challenges us. It’s like a yin-yang thing. We can’t have sunshine without rain. We wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t embrace all that life brings us, and I believe so strongly that our family photos should reflect that. My goal as a documentary photographer is to photograph your life, your home, and your love, as it exists, however it exists in any given moment.

This is true for people with children of any age, and it’s even true for couples without children. Life is beautiful, no matter what it looks like, and all of it is worthy of saving and savoring.

5. In your opinion, what makes a good documentary picture? 

Documentary photography tells a story. Documentary family photography tells the story of a family. A good documentary photo is one that is not only accurate, but that evokes a feeling, and the photographer can do that in a number of ways. In composition and in editing. In her relationship to the scene and the subjects, as well as in her proximity to them. In how she presents the photo as a part of a larger story. I feel like if a documentary family photo is a representation of what actually occurred and if it evokes an emotion in the viewer, then it’s a good photo.

Documentary photography documents. It tells a story. And what’s brilliant is that even though sessions usually take place at home, every family is so unique so no two stories are alike; no two sessions are alike. It’s really a most amazing genre.

6. How would you describe your style?

My personal style? I feel like my style is very much alive. I have moments where I’m colorful but I have moments where I might take a quieter turn. I love laughter and I love hugs and physical connections, but I also some alone time. And my style, how I shoot and the photos I produce, are very much an extension of who I am.

7. What's in your camera bag - what's your go-to gear?

I shoot with a Canon 6D and my go-to lens is a Canon 24mm f/1.4. I also shoot with a Canon 40mm, a Canon 50mm f/1.4, a Canon 85 f/1.8, and a Canon 24-70 f/2.8. I’m a prime shooter, though, and the lens most often found on my camera is the 24. I also shoot with a mirrorless camera, a Fujifilm x100s.

8. What are your favorite resources to learn more or level-up your photography knowledge? 

I just finished my second class at Illuminate, which was absolutely amazing. I learned so much, not just from the instructor but from the other students in the class. I felt so much like I was part of a community. I’ve also taken a few Creative Live courses. I’m a big believer that in order to grow, we have to challenge ourselves and face what comes out of those challenges. And in order to do that, we have to stretch out of our comfort zone. Whatever opportunities we are able to find that allow us to grow and develop ways are all good.

9. What inspires your photography?

Life. Real life. The fingerprints on the windows, the toys on the floor, the books in a heap at the bedside. Dishes in the sink, laundry in a basket, waiting to be put away. Tears and hugs. Frowns and smiles. All of it. Every lovely, messy, perfect, sticky little detail.

10. What's your absolute favorite photograph you've taken recently and why is it your favorite?

Ah! Probably one of my daughters. I was upstairs, and they were downstairs. One was sharing a lollipop with the other, and as they were trying to unwrap it, I snapped a photo of them from above.

11. What would be your dream session and why?

My dream session is actually the session people most often ask me to shoot: their lives, at home, as they are. It doesn’t get any better than this.

12. Along the same lines - what are your favorite things to capture within your typical sessions? 

I see myself as a vehicle, if you will, to help families document their stories.. Maybe it’s the story of breakfast, or the story of a school project. Maybe it’s the trip to the supermarket or to Target. Maybe it’s the story of lunch at a favorite restaurant, or maybe the story of the bath and bedtime routine. I don’t have any one thing that I like to capture, though I will say I really love shooting into other rooms and through things. As if I really were a voyeur just peeking in.

13. Who is a photographer who inspires you? 

I want to say that everyone inspires me. Sometimes it’a a famous photographer, like Diane Arbus or Vivian Maier or Sally Mann. Their photographs are of real people in real moments. They’re real. They’re raw. They didn’t try to tidy up their subjects or ask them to put on airs of happiness; they captured their lives and their circumstances, because they wanted their stories to be told authentically. That philosophy inspires me daily. To capture what is, whatever it is, without trying to change it. I’m also inspired by the photography community I’ve found on social media. Everyone has a vision; everyone sees the world uniquely because of who we are and how we were raised. All of it is amazing and all of it can be inspirational if we are open to it.

14. What is one thing you wish you knew when you started your photography journey? 

That it’s important to embrace what and who inspires you and release the rest. Surround yourself with people and things that lift you up, love you, and inspire you. Let the rest go.

15. What is one other creative medium you work with beyond your camera? 

I garden! We have a huge garden in our backyard. My husband turns seeds into plants and I keep them growing and producing fruit. It’s wonderfully cathartic to have something that you can get totally lost in, and there’s never a shortage of weeds that need to be mindlessly plucked.

16. Getting to know you – lightning round!

  1. Friday night or Saturday morning?  Saturday morning.
  2. Coffee or tea?   Coffee.
  3. What word describes you best?   Independent. (Probably to a fault.)
  4. Pets or no pets?   No pets.
  5. Test message or call?   Either, but I’m lousy at both.
  6. Being too warm or too cold?   I’d way rather be too warm.
  7. Breakfast or dinner?   Yes.

You can connect with Erika in a variety of places - be sure to follow along on her amazing shoots!