A Morning in the Life Before School: Half of a Photo Story

Our “school day” mornings consist of our family being together… groggy and sometimes a little crabby, but together. I’m revealing these Morning in the Life photos through the 7 Day Storyteller’s Challenge I created so that the students could have a clear view into a story. The funny thing is, I did this session on a whim, before the challenge, without thought. When I sat down to write out the 7 emails for the challenge, I see how much I missed. You are going to see me beat up my photos a bit here (in red), because I want you to learn from my mistakes.

This upcoming weekend, I’m going up north with my family. I wanted to re-shoot on our our school mornings together, but I’m more excited about this trip. I’m going to put some real thought into the story I want to tell about the cabin…. a special place that has been in my world since I was a baby.

Be sure to check the blog in the upcoming weeks as I post a follow up (I will link it here) so you can see the big difference in shooting on the fly and shooting with intention – both while documenting a story.


Shooting on the Fly

To start off on a good note, below you will see some of my memories of one of our Friday mornings before “school.” These ARE real memories that I’m happy to have recorded. It’s important that you know that even without any sort of pre-meditated thought about the story, you can still achieve strong documentary-style images…. because you are documenting moments. After the images, I will talk about packing your shooting with a punch by putting a little more thought into the session beforehand.


Here is the background of this personal shoot:

My husband has a crazy work schedule, so this part of our day is 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.




Only the truth is, the photo above is not 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 is, which is also not recorded here, is that I’m consistent wishing to be able 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 in needing to take my own advice: GET OVER IT.

On most school mornings, I start by pouring coffee with Peppermint Mocha creamer, see what the weather is going to look like for the day via the WeatherBug app, and I get the kids’ lunches ready (all photos I didn’t take on this day). This personal shoot began after lunches were made.

Think about what your mornings look like. What would you photograph?




After lunches are made and a few sips of coffee are in me, I walk into our front room thinking how I wish there was 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 the bare minimum furniture and no decor besides the bookshelves you will see my children have taken over with clutter and chaos. I rarely shoot in this room, especially wide angles, because I loathe this room so much.


My thoughts are not recorded in any of these photos. 


Anyway, so I see Kendall watching cartoons and sipping her 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 white milk… her version of morning coffee. And then there’s Dave, who has been awake about 21 hours and trying to keep his eyes open.


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It was essential to document the fact that her favorite cup has Elsa on it. Elsa everything… still… in our world.


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And documenting those little nail-bitten fingers… a trait she picked up from her momma… was also a must.




Most mornings, I would be getting Kendall dressed. We would argue about how I am 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 even later since our day was thrown off with my late-start to shooting). But on this day, since I can’t be in two places at once, I wanted to document Levi’s part of the morning. Dave is the one that wakes up Levi and gets him dressed.

As you can see below, Dave is giving me his typical husband, ‘oh here we go again with that camera face.’


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I called him “the baby” earlier. He is almost 22 months old 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.


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


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One of his favorite things to do in the morning is spin the balloons…. his hot air balloon mobile is from Sunshine and Vodka.




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. What’s up with that?!


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There it is, that “why me?” face.




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 have given 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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And once he was dressed, he had to run back to that same corner and turn off the humidifier star-projector (unrecorded detail)… another one of his jobs. You can also almost see a little detail I failed to record on this day (though I have on another day) is that Levi has an outstanding pile of books outside of his crib on the floor. Every night, he puts all… and I mean 20+ of the books that are in his bedroom inside of his crib. Every night, he skims through each book, tosses it out of his bed, and when he is finished falls asleep without complaint.


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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.




Levi stumbles into the front room with while drinking from his cup. On this day, he stole the remote… which I was happy to have photographed, because this moment could easily have been missed yet is such a frequent part of our day.




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


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Now it’s teeth-brushing time. Both kids have their loveys (blankets) in tow.




I feel like this part in my shooting is a little broken and 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 real parts of our mornings together. Nonetheless, now it’s time to go. Levi is always first out the door, the little busy body that he is. Dave has to tell Levi to give me hugs and kisses most mornings, while Kendall is always eager and willing to hug and kiss me goodbye.




Of course, it drives my husband crazy… who is wanting to crawl into bed so bad 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.




Once in the car, it’s time to get buckled in. Kendall is 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 also fun to see the morning from a new perspective for myself.




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 in the quiet before he goes to sleep and I start working.

Today, I built a tripod and then silently waited for him.




Note: my tripod is made of my coffee table, a stack of books, and a wadded up shirt to prop my lens up.

And the end of our morning is our 5 minutes together.




Shooting with Intention

As I was saying, yes, I did document our morning… unposed, undirected and many memories were photographed… but looking back I see where I can improve.

You can see the number of thoughts I don’t have documented… the real, juicy stuff in my memory bank. This is why it’s important to spend more time with our clients up front, prior to the shoot. Drawing from photojournalism and documenting moments while intentionally thinking about real details would look like a different shoot… maybe even a different story. You have to take the time to work with clients and get to know them to get these real thoughts out of them in order to convey their accurate story in your images. A questionnaire + personality worksheet like the ones in our store is an excellent place to start.

Hopefully, seeing where I can improve will help you expand your shooting mind. I will be back in the upcoming weeks with my up north photos where I vow to put some real thought and intention into and shoot like you were there too.



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.