What if a photographer spends the entire day with a family? With this premier documentary, I’m launching “A Day in the Life” experience, now available to all fun and adventurous families.
Historically, all my all-day sessions were done for highly creative projects like beauty/fine art, fashion/commercial, maternity, and some supercharged engagement shoots. Spending a full day with a subject gives photographer an unmatched connection and depth of emotional exploration. Naturally, we are talking about adult subjects, those who consciously pursue such level of exploration and self-expression; those who are willing to invest time and money into better results. You wouldn’t immediately think of kids in such capacity…
Despite my openness to an idea of a creative all-day photoshoot for children, I could always understand the parents’ reasoning that their child would hardly last for two hours, let alone half a day or longer. Here’s how I make it fun and easy for them. Yet, my wife and I tried an all-day shoot for our own daughter last year and that experience gave me an idea. While it is unrealistic to expect a child to work with camera for an extended time, giving her generous breaks resets the child’s curiosity and energy. Those breaks may be a nap, meal, cartoon, activity, or just a quiet time away from the pesky camera. This way, a photographer can change the setup, wardrobe, location, lighting, etc., thus greatly expanding themes and feels.
That personal shoot was just a precursor to “a day in the life” concept, however. I once did “A Week in the Life of Zorz Studios” video which encompassed several cool shoots between New York, DC, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Its documentary approach, along with the unique lifestyle feel, or “reality show”, if you will, stuck in my head. I then combined two ideas and thought, “What if I try documenting a day in the life of a family?”
I did a pilot with an all-day shoot for a beautiful family in Connecticut but was aching for a more intimate, lifestyle spin on it.
All the concept’s components seem to be in place. You get your deepest level of an artistic development, free to move around and fit as many locations as you feel comfortable, and change the styling. The day still feels close to regular to your kids as they are free to go about own business in a familiar habitat — a good portion of the day would need to be spent at home doing routines or even chores. Yet, little ones may get to experience something special like visiting a museum, farm, zoo, carnival, amusement park, or they can go camping, kayaking, horse riding, skating, skiing, swimming… so many things that parents will be willing to throw in to make the day packed and picture perfect! Parents would use these activities to bribe the kids into an occasional posing here and there!
So the first kicker is: all-day coverage can comfortably and strategically combine both posed and candid approaches—a win-win for families with hyper kids who can’t make it through a traditional session. Alternating these approaches is the key and an acceptable trade-off for a fun day to even less cooperating offsprings. I let them play and just follow them like a spy using a zoom lens if possible. Catch a proper moment to ask for a quick pose by using charm and discreet persuasion, then back to fun time!
A day in the life approach offers another gem that I treasure even more: a way to chronicle the minute details seemingly insignificant today but nostalgically invaluable and so forgettable decades later! What studio or formal portrait session would capture the way your son arranges his superhero toothbrush on a shelf, or how your daughter hands you that bolt and nut, or how you chase kids away from the cake meant for the prime time, or how they scream and throw cereals in the van, or how you read their bedtime story? You experience it every day now but you won’t when you’re 60… at least not with your own kids. And what would you pay now to take a peek at your own childhood’s random day in the life? Not a couple of photos but a start-to-finish timeline filled with now-vanished details? You can do this now, or never.
These were the drive for me when Heather booked a full-day session for her family, uncertain if it was a workable, much less prudent, decision. Securing this long thus expensive experience was easier with a discount during my coronavirus fundraising in the spring of 2020. She wanted to help me out and went with the max package, possibly not looking for an all-day shoot, anyway, but I made greater plans for her.
You may recognize her as an industrial chic bride from 2013. My wedding photos of her big day were picked by a number of outlets like The Knot and Love, Inc. magazine. She also helped me as a friend to paint my Manhattan studio for which I returned the favor by doing her first child’s baby session in 2016.
Brian and she have two kids now. Her main goal was to get some stylish family portraits but I pushed for a bigger agenda, picking hints from her social media posts. I knew that besides being a lawyer, she’s a budding children’s book author and that they had chickens as pets. I also knew that her husband can hardly handle being photographed, making it an addition to the kids camp. Heather appeared to me as the perfect pioneer for my “a day in the life” initiative.
A side note on my choice of photos. I ended the day with over 1,300 images. Many were deleted as duplicates or technically faulty. The family is still getting hundreds of photos but when selecting the images for this story, I was not going by what most people would. See, to a photographer like me, most family photos are either beautiful or interesting. What is commonly deemed as “picture perfect” tends to lack interest (think of polished family portraits) whereas dynamic, intriguing, emotional shots are often shied away by people (“I look awful/silly here!”) Sometimes we struck gold with both qualities but as a dearting creative, I am leaning to the interesting ones, hence less of “normal” beautiful photos here. It is not because I didn’t take them, capisce? Want to see a pure interesting set from a family session? Check out this hilarious project called “Antifam”.
We decided to start at the Vanderbilt Museum where I had a pleasure to shoot another stylish family and a wedding couple. Beginning “a day in the life” with the demanding formal portraits isn’t optimal but such were the circumstances. I just had to apply the same play-and-pose technique.
An hour drive deep into Central Long Island and we’re in their cozy house. We lucked out with a sunny warm day in the end of November but the sun was already low and we rushed outdoors to their backyard for the play time with their dog Beau and a family picnic.
Then came that special segment with the hens. The gentle birds are pets to the family. They bring a daily joy of collecting fresh eggs but are not looked at as food otherwise. Each has a name written on a handmade board. Their puppy once played too hard with one of them and Heather spent over $200 on the vet for recovery.
It was getting dark and cold so we went inside the house. I wandered around looking for random moments.
The golden heart necklace you see Heather giving to her daughter Shay is one she was wearing as a child. Heather has a matching one, too — it used to belong to her mom until she passed away.
Next on the list was cookie baking and gingerbread house decorating. By now you must have noticed that the girl Shay is not only easy with camera but also felt very comfortable with me. She was always cooperating and ready for a shot. I’d say, even too cooperating — as I was after candid moments, she’d catch that sneak and counter-attack with a smile on her face. Had to softly explain not to look at the camera that often. She reminded me of another very collaborative and camera-ready little girl whom I photographed several times already, including her awesome family outing in a gorgeous garden this fall.
Then came dinner time. Inter-faith family traditions often bear a symbolic purpose, aimed at keeping up with the joyful spirit. I always admire and respect such families. Loved the wintery room decor of this Jewish-Christian home. I was cordially invited to join the table after I got my needed shots.
Heather shared that while getting the cake plate for this shoot, she found a tiny USB drive that had all Landon’s baby photos months 0-11. These were the only copies so for the past two years she thought she’d lost them without trace! I have another friend of mine who trusts all her children’s images to a single device, suspicious of cloud storage… Dear all — do… not… do… this. An unlikely hacker stealing your personal photos is nothing compared to you losing your digital memories altogether. I recommend Google Photos despite their plans to switch to paid hosting in June 2021.
The candles wouldn’t stay lit for long. You eat pizza with sushi sticks. Beer is best if mixed with a soy sauce. That champagne bottle is special: it was the first one they bought in the house after they closed on it exactly eight years ago from this photoshoot. Incidentally, a family dinner for closing anniversary!
A touching observation: see how Brian is sweeping the floor? That’s me when guests come, too. I can hardly resist putting things back in place and cleaning around. My courteous wife has mixed feelings about it.
Once everyone was refilled and recharged, we practiced some music (drums… what gift can be more questionable?) and carried on to the playroom for painting and dressing. Shay turned into a train conductor; Landon’s stunt as a fireman didn’t play out. Dora the cat made an appearance.
As the night was nearing, a family quality time saved several options for last. Reading is perhaps everyone’s favorite, right? Well, not too many kids can see their parent’s name on the book cover. What’s more, their own names are there! Yes, as I mentioned, Heather’s determination, unique story, and irresistible personality helped her publish her own children’s books.
Her first book was Angel Grandma. It was a form of therapy to write the poem about her mom while also helping her children understand that their grandmas (they lost both) are there watching over. A feather is hidden on each page of the book as a reminder that they are still with them.
Heather planned to print and sell books on her own first, running a Kickstarter fundraiser. She designed and created 900+ angel dolls to go with the book. Then she got signed by a publisher so there was no longer need for KS but the dolls remained… She now works on an Etsy store to sell them and donate a portion to children’s charities. A few of them are in the kids room and Shay sleeps with them. Parents tell her the angel dolls are like her grandmas, to bring comfort. When she’s sad, she asks for her “grandma angel” doll, making it a comfort doll. Here they are on the shelf, along with the illusive elf.
Heather has written seven other books since then.
I asked her how would she be writing a new book if she felt inspired right that moment. She sat near the fireplace and started jotting while Brian was setting the fire. Shay’s little head quickly found rest on mom’s legs. The dog tried, too, but that little twister that Landon is, swept him away. In the turmoil, the golden retriever had to eat a toy bird.
Once things settled down, everyone cuddled on the couch by the fireplace with the seasonal music softly muffling the five loving souls. It could last and last some other day but I may have instigated crazy jumping for the whole visual enchilada of family fun by a Christmas tree.
The moment was inevitable and awaited in the 9th hour of a day in the life of this Long Island family coverage — bedtime story time. Landon wasn’t quite ready and bid his farewell to the photographer to attend to the remaining parts of his business outside the bedroom. Shay again obliged and enjoyed her mom’s soothing voice.
I had a 3-hr drive back home and arrived closer to midnight, ever so happy from the flow and outcome of this first attempt at such a meaningful and touching project. 150 photos made way to this blog… a record-breaking achievement, giving way to just one other story on my blog — a 4-day wedding coverage in India with about 300 photos. This should tell you how involving and significant I feel in such projects.
If you share my passion about preserving real-life memories this way and wish to document a day in the life of your own family, reach out to me to discuss your personalized experience. And, if you act within a week, by December 25th, I’ll offer a 25% discount as a little holiday gift to you. Secure this experience now and shoot any time later, be it a winter, summer, or anything else!
This countdown has been ended already!