DOC Sessions : Taking the Plunge

February 27, 2017
Kate Pullen

Outer Banks Documentary Portraits:

In the fall of 2012 as we evaluated our Outer Banks summer family portrait work, and we sensed there was something lacking. The images were technically sound. They were good portraits. Our clients loved them, but they “weren’t enough” for us. The images were great records of an hour on the beach. There were laughter and candid moments, but they were’t organic.

That led us to asked questions like, “When, in the natural order of things, would any family run in a long line together hand in hand on the beach, identically dressed? Is that the memory they really want to record, or is it just what they have seen on Pinterest? How do we want to shoot with our clients? What is their story? How can we give our clients photographs that aptly record the meaningful and fleeting moments of vacation?”

We want more for our clients: a complete story, and to do that we needed to find a way to marry the traditional with storytelling. We had to break a mold we had imposed on ourselves. Real life… the good, bad, beautiful, and not-so-pretty needed to be the focus. After all, the annual beach vacation, for all intents and purposes, represents an entire year of a family’s life… from sunburned faces, sticky fingers and ice cream trucks, mid-day meltdowns, sandcastles, pot-luck dinners, and volleyball games at sunset.

We weren’t trailblazing with this idea. It’s been pondered and tackled throughout the history of portraiture. Fortunate for us, right as we were facing these questions, we had documentary portrait photographer Kirsten Lewis, on the Outer Banks. Kirsten’s work not only resonates with her clients, it resonates with us. When we looked through her day in the life documentary family portrait sessions we made connections  with our own family moments. We found ourselves transported into priceless once in a lifetime moments. We knew that is what we wanted to give to our clients.

Kirsten, who is also a highly effective and inspiring teacher, encouraged us to break the mold of the “traditional” portrait, and go where our hearts and lenses were leading us. And so, we took the plunge and launched our DOC family sessions in 2014. We started with only 1/2 day – 6 hour sessions – ending with a 20 minute posed family session. The best of both worlds. And because of demand, we now shoot full day – 12 hour sessions. Our goal: to create a legacy collection of photographs for our clients. Our method: hands off. let the moments unfold. up close. photojournalism.

We approach the DOC sessions like an endurance runner – steady paced. The warm-up is the hardest part: when everyone has to get used to the fact they aren’t supposed to look at the camera or, as I say, “freeze and cheese.” Once we get past that, it’s go time. Whether at the pool, beach, in the water, in the sand… we’re working to creatively document life. By the time our formal portrait session comes we’re in the final stretch. And because we’ve been around each other all day, the formal portraits become reflections of a day well spent … like carefully painted illustrations… completing a narrative.

Now, three years later, DOC Sessions have become the jewel of family sessions. There’s no denying they are also the hardest, most tiring, and most demanding of any session we shoot. But we look forward to them with anticipation and shoot them with unreserved dedication, because they also give the greatest reward, a legacy collection for our clients of real moments preserved in photographs.

Below are some of our favorite photographs from one of our 2016 DOC sessions. 

The McGovern Family

What is most important to you about your session: Having fun, allowing the pictures to look natural yet truly unique.

The family: 2 families// Little Boys. Big Boys.

The Scene: Rodanthe, Hatteras Island

The mood: Fun & Relaxed. Light Hearted Good Times. Lots of Humor.

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