How to Create Documentary-Style Portraits of Grandma

I’ve watched my grandmother move homes a few times over the past 10 years or so, but she remains completely and wonderfully herself, bringing pieces of her life and self  to each home she makes and leaving others behind.  My grandmother is one of the most amazing women I know, full of amazing stories, a fabulous sense of humor, theatrical and upbeat at 86 and always in the middle of a craft project…or five. I find a lot of myself in her that way. I spent the weekend with her about a month back and since photographing her briefly at home a short while earlier, I’ve been wanting to do it again so I asked her if I could photograph her morning and she agreed.  For some reason this always makes me feel a bit weird, a bit intrusive.  Should I take that shot? Is she too vulnerable?  But as the morning progressed, I began to immerse myself and relax a bit.


When she began creating this card for my cousin’s baby shower, I knew this was exactly her.


She is incredibly creative, always creating clipart cards on the computer and annoyed they don’t have the graphics she’s looking for in the card-making software.  She assembles a bunch of creative images and adds her own personal flair with glitter, her signature cursive and hilarious notes.  I knew this series captured a piece of her perfectly.


During sessions, let yourself slow down, let the session unfold and see where it takes you. Wait for those moments to come, photograph a little longer to see what comes of it (I am still working on this myself).


When a piece of the story unfolds that moves you, think about the elements that help craft the story. Though I captured lots of her morning, this mini series stood out the strongest to me as a story on its own – it had a logical start, progression and conclusion.  Try different angles even if they don’t work or you may feel weird.  Sometimes those can be your favorites.  And if you have an amazing person in your life, be sure to capture a bit of what makes them tick, pieces of their home, their hobbies and their personality. As I talked to her about trying to capture a bit of her home that told a story she revealed things I might not have even noticed, “Have you noticed I have a thing for clocks?” she asked.  As I looked around, suddenly there they were – on the walls, on the shelves, classic and whimsical and predictably ticking.  If I could go back and photograph her at her home where I played growing up I would in a heartbeat, but she’s still here in her fabulous little apartment, enormously present, her personality and hobbies bursting at the seams and exactly as my memory would have her.


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Guest post writing and images are from photographer, Angela Norlen

You can follow her at the following:

Website // Facebook // G+ // Vimeo



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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