A Morning in the Life Before School

Our “school” mornings consist of our family being together — groggy and sometimes a little crabby, but together. I revealed these Morning in the Life photos for our 7 Day Storyteller’s Challenge participants, so they could have an example. The funny thing is, I made these pictures on a whim, before the challenge on the fly, without thought.

When I sat down to write the 7 lessons for the challenge and looking at these pictures, I saw how much I missed.

You’ll see me beat up my photos a bit here, because I want you to learn from my mistakes.

Shooting on the Fly

What I’m learning through my own practices is that there’s a big difference in shooting on the fly (like what’s below) vs. shooting with intention – both while documenting a story.

On the other side of this story, there’s other pictures I could have made to more accurately record the living memory from my perspective. I’d have a richer set of photos. Certainly, there’s a finite line of documenting everything vs. the stuff that truly matters, but for the sake of accuracy, details, and exploring photographing a story:

I missed lots of goodness. 

It’s important you also know that even without any sort of pre-meditated thought about the story, you can still achieve strong documentary images…. because you’re documenting moments. That’s not in question here.

After the images, I’ll talk about strengthening your work by putting a little more thought into what you’re about to photograph beforehand, still, without influencing the scene / story. However, the 7 Day Storyteller’s Challenge is definitely the best, next place to go for more 😉

The background of this story:

These pictures ARE of real memories that I’m happy to have recorded.

My husband has a crazy work schedule, so mornings are a personal favorite. We spend more mornings together than we do dinners. “School” is actually daycare, but my children know it as school.

My husband gets home from work about an hour before I wake (a whole series of photos I could have gotten up to shoot, but I didn’t). He empties the dishwasher, makes my coffee (which he thinks is entirely too weak), and gets our daughter up about 7 a.m.

My alarm goes off at precisely 6:39 a.m. (another photo I don’t have) and I hit snooze twice. I drag myself out of bed and across our dining room, as seen from my perspective in the first image below.

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Only the truth is, the photo above is not actually my first-wake perspective… it was about 25 minutes later when I randomly grabbed my camera and thought:

Let’s document today.

The other truth (also not recorded here), is that I’m consistently wishing to re-do our kitchen and paint our walls. That light fixture…. I have no words. I wanted to mention all of this, because my thoughts on the “ugly” rooms in my home have sometimes prevented me from picking up the damn camera and documenting reality.

I tend to shoot in the rooms I love… and need to take my own advice: GET OVER IT.

On most school mornings, I start by pouring coffee with Peppermint Mocha creamer, check the weather via the WeatherBug app, and get the kids’ lunches ready (all photos I didn’t make on this day).

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After lunches are made and a few sips of coffee are in me, I walk into our “front room” – always thinking how I wish for more time to sit with these two before Dave gets the baby up.

Every school morning, I wish I would have gotten Kendall’s clothes out of her room the night before, because I’m feeling too lazy to go upstairs and pick out her clothes (and could be using that time to sit and breathe).

The front room is our living room. I call it our “bachelor pad.” It has bare minimum furniture and no decor, besides the bookshelves. My children have taken it over with clutter and chaos. I rarely shoot in this room, especially wide angles, because I loathe this room like no other.

(My thoughts on that also aren’t recorded in any of these photos, which is merely food for thought in the importance of other ways to document)

Anyway, so at this point, I see Kendall watching cartoons and sipping her 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 white milk… her version of morning coffee here in 2016. And then there’s Dave, who’s been awake about 21 hours and trying desperately to keep his eyes open. It was essential to document the fact that her favorite cup has Elsa on it.

Elsa everything… still… at this point in our world.

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And those little nail-bitten fingers… a trait she picked up from her momma… also a must to #preserve.

Most mornings, I’d be getting Kendall dressed. She and I’d argue about how I’m going to turn off the tv if she didn’t get dressed, do a run to the potty, and brush her teeth (also not photographed since our day was thrown off with my late-start to shooting).

Also, since I can’t be in two places at once, I wanted to document Levi’s part of the morning. Dave is the one who wakes and gets him dressed. As you can see below, Dave is giving me his typical husband, ‘here we go again with that camera,’ face.

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I called Levi “the baby” earlier in this writing.

He’s almost 22 months and will always be my baby. Isn’t he just the sweetest? I’m so happy he was in this position when we walked in his room, because this is how he sleeps 90% of the time and made for the sweetest picture, don’t ya think?!

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Good morning, baby. I want to kiss those pouty lips already, but he usually tells me no.

(Unphotographed truth)

One of his favorite things to do in the morning is spin the balloons. His hot air balloon mobile is from Sunshine and Vodka, in case you’re wondering.

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Time for his diaper change and to get dressed… and I hear the most familiar sound… Levi’s reluctant whine.

Now, it has to be said that he whines whenever Dave changes him. He kicks and screams and wrestles me when I change him too.

What’s up with that?!

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There it is, that “why me?” face.

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And he escaped…

(What you don’t see is something I just didn’t get a clear shot of on this day. Levi loves his job of unplugging his fan. This is not a job we gave him, but one he took upon himself. After many months of, “Levi, don’t touch that!” we gave in. So, he did his job and came right back to his daddy.)

After a little freedom, getting dressed became a lot more fun.

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Once dressed, he had to run back to that same corner and turn off the humidifier / star-projector – another one of his jobs.

You can also almost see a little detail (I didn’t record on this day, though I have another day):

Levi’s outstanding pile of books outside of his crib on the floor. Every night, he puts his 20+ books into his crib and, every night, he skims through each book, tosses it out of his bed, and when finished, falls asleep with ease.

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It’s time to head downstairs… and the first thing Levi does is go for his version of coffee:

white milk.

Oh that little reeeeeeeach for it.

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Levi stumbles into the front room with while drinking from his cup.

On this day, he stole the remote, which I was elated to have photographed, because this quick, spontaneous moment could easily have been missed, yet is such a frequent, predictable part of our day too.

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Then, Dave took the camera reigns, because at this time, I needed to get Kendall dressed. Due to my little photo adventure, we’re officially running a tad late.

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Now it’s teeth-brushing time.

Both kids have their loveys (blankets) in tow.

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(I feel like this part in my shooting is a little broken. You aren’t seeing our transition from room to room. You missed us putting the shoes on, me grabbing their backpacks, and putting Kendall’s hair into a messy bun…. all honest parts of our mornings together.)

It’s time to go now. Levi’s always first out the door, little busy body that he is.

Dave has to tell Levi to give me hugs + kisses most mornings, while Kendall’s always eager and willing to hug + kiss me goodbye.

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Of course, it drives Dave crazy (who’s wanting so badly to crawl into bed at this point) that these kids never go straight to the car.

They always stop and play. I recognize this by the look on his face below.

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Once in the car, it’s time to get buckled in.

Kendall’s in an, “I’ll do it myself,” phase…

I don’t usually walk them out to the car, but wanted to document this part of their day for them. It was fun to see the morning from a new perspective!

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And as they pull away, I go back inside and finish my now room-temp coffee on the couch.

Sometimes, I’ll fold a load of laundry. Sometimes, I’ll watch something on Netflix for a few. But I’m always quietly waiting for Dave to return to me for a few minutes of just us before the poor man goes to sleep and I start working.

Today, I built a tripod and waited for him.

(my tripod is made of my coffee table, a stack of books, and a wadded up shirt to prop my lens up)

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And that’s the end of our morning and our 5 minutes together.

Back to Shooting with Intention

As I was saying, yes, I documented our morning… unposed, undirected and many memories were photographed. Still, by my commentary here, you can see the number things undocumented on this day… some, really great stuff in my living memory bank.

Today, I documented on the fly, which was fine, but my goodness, what we can preserve through Intentional Documentary™.

Front-loading my shooting with, first, thinking through the story would have composed a far richer set of photos here while still honestly, purely documenting what happened.

In business, this is why it’s important to spend more time with our clients up front, prior to picking up the camera. Maybe, you’d end up documenting a totally different story after helping them pause and look at bits of their life through the lens of value.

Take the time to listen to their real thoughts + perspective on their life to help you convey their accurate story in your images. A questionnaire + personality worksheet, like the ones in our store, are an excellent place to start.

Hopefully, seeing where I could improve helps you expand your shooting perspective. Keep me posted. xo

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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  • I love it- love it all. Especially because I can so relate to all of this. Particularly the 20+ books that land on the floor one by one. My baby is 2 next week. My girls, also Elsa fans, are 5 and almost 4. If they knew some little girls had 1/2 chocolate milk in the mornings, I’d be fired as their mom. I have trouble shooting in these situations because I am responsible for all the getting ready. But I adore your make-shift tripod. I reall feel that the last photo is my favorite. I would love a picture like that with my husband. Oh, ha ha, and yeah, I have some serious ugly room stuff going on too- especially my master bath but I tend to post a lot from that room on Instagram- disgusting, peeling 1990 wallpaper and plastic mini-blinds and all. Just because I love shots of my three in the tub together and love the window light in there. Great post, gave me a lot to consider.