Monday, January 4, 2010

Launching the Family Photojournalist

What is "Family Photojournalism"?

In the interest of full disclosure, we are self taught photographers. We are Chuck Anerino ( and Daniel Shaw (, guys who have primary, 'non photography' jobs, but shoot professionally for additional income. We have learned through practice, studying photography books, studying great photography and photographers, practice, magazines, learning from other photographers whom we consider friends, more practice, and through photography forums. Chuck's impetus for getting into photography was when he took custody of his young nephew. He wanted ‘a good camera’ to document his growth and soon purchased a Canon Rebel 300D and a 50mm f/1.8 lens, using only that gear for about a year and a half. Since then, he has tried virtually every Canon camera and lens. The large majority of his time behind the lens is photographing his family (wife, nephew, and two sons).
Daniel received his first camera about ten years ago (a minolta film body), using a 55 mm f/2 lens for a long time before slowly upgrading to the Canon system. He has also used a majority of cameras and lenses in the Canon line and has a hard time putting the camera down around his family as well. (View our bios to learn more about the gear we choose to use these days).

We will publish a variety of essays/tips/suggestions/bits of advice based on what we have learned in our collective 15 years of photography with SLR cameras. There are certainly many ways to get the results we have been able to get, so this blog won't focus solely on what gear to use or even what settings will work in a certain situation. We want to help others to learn how to use their cameras and to focus on capturing genuine moments as they occur, rather than on less significant bits such as image noise or having the highest end equipment. Since everyone has a camera these days, we want to teach our philosophy on family photojournalism and will share how we approach shooting in this manner.

Family photojournalism is chronicling the daily happenings of one’s family with a camera. Effective documentation should include photos of people, places, events, and emotions as they happen without staging the events. The images should also include a sense of setting (meaning that you should frame your images to include the environment and other participants in which the event is occurring, be it a birthday party or day at the park).

The end result of family photojournalism should be to give one’s family photographic evidence of how it ‘was’...not how you hoped it was, but how it actually 'was'. This approach is very different from portraiture or a ‘children’s session’. The major difference is that during a portrait session or children’s session, the photographers’ primary goal should be to flatter the subject. They should do everything in their power to make their subjects look fantastic…like they would look on their very best day. This approach is often contrived…photographers may bring additional lighting, direct the subject, pose them, etc. Family photojournalism, however, is about the capturing the moment over flattering your subjects. For those of us with families, we know it aint always pretty! But the ugly moments are also part of our lives. Effective FPJ captures it ALL as it happens.Approximately 85% of the shots we take of my family are taken at either 35mm or 24mm. This forces us to get close and become part of the story. We are often engaged in whatever our children are doing (board game, waterballoons, sprinkler, reading books, etc). We are with them as participants. This helps put our children at ease and we can capture things as they happen (and when they are not directly aware of our camera, which often changes how they behave and takes away the naturalness of the moment). It also gives us ‘credibility’ so to speak. The main goal is to show our children being a child; therefore, we often want to shoot wide.

We also attempt to bring our cameras with us to places we go. It used to drive our wives crazy but now
but now it's part of the routine. We bring our cameras virtually everywhere (restaurants, carnivals, family events, etc). People have asked Chuck, ‘Don’t you worry about missing the moment?’. He responds the same way everytime, “'if I get it right with my camera, I get to relive the moment for the rest of my life.' I firmly believe that."

Listed below are several examples of what we consider to be "family photojournalism":

Chuck's examples (with the exception of one, all of the photos were taken between 24mm and 35mm with a full frame camera):


Night Time Routine

Learning to Swim at the Jersey Shore

Hunting for Tadpoles

Jersey Shore in the Sand

Lucky's Diner






Water Balloon

Best Buds


Below are Daniel's examples of family photojournalism:

This shot of my son was taken on Labor Day, 2009. I composed my shot and waited for the right moment. The combination of my wife squirting water from a balloon at him and his hand over his mouth as he laughed were what I was waiting for. I was careful to frame it so that my family in the background could be seen.

This shot is iconic for me. I used to wash dishes with my mother and grandmother when I was little. So when my son stood at the sink on a chair to wash dishes with my mother, it was exactly what I had envisioned that I wanted to shoot.

I love little moments that could easily be forgotten if not captured and cataloged.

I love to shoot photos of my son asleep. Photos of such seemingly simple moments are so pure and beautiful.

Moments are so fleeting. I love this shot for its simplicity. I love my son's expression. That's what makes the shot. I didn't need to shoot at f/1.4 or use a complicated lighting scheme (neither of which are bad things in and of themselves) but I was simply an observer of the moment as I pressed the shutter.

This shot was taken two days after my youngest was son was born as part of a brith documentary I shot of him. My wife was exhausted and worn out. This moment was captured as she was rocking him quietly, trying to calm him. I think that it's very important to take photographs of both good and not so good moments so that they can be remembered accurately. My wife and I both cherish this shot.

Other examples:

“Does this mean I shouldn’t shoot portraits?” Absolutely not! In fact, in order to show the growth of your family, it is very necessary to do portrait sessions! But it's easy to make the mistake of ONLY shooting these types of shots. The results are that you have some lovely portraits but have missed everything else (i.e., day in the life-type-shots). Portraits can be taken virtually anywhere. There was often no sign of where we were or what we were doing. And while we still do this, it comprises a much smaller percentage of what we shoot these days. It's much more interesting and meaningful to tell a story. Portraits will show how the face/body changes over time. It is simply amazing how much a child changes in 1-2 years.

For simplicity, lets look at portraits in two categories: environmental and normal portraits (full body, ¾, ½, and headshots). Environmental portraits are typically taken with a wider focal length (50mm and wider) and at times feature more DOF. “Normal portraits” are typically taken with focal lengths longer than 50mm. Both types of portraits often include eye contact and they are both typically posed.
The first example is what I would consider an environmental portrait. It is of Chuck's son while they were hunting for tadpoles. He looked for an area in the creek that would show his son in his environment and instructed him to stand there.

The following image is what is considered to be a 'normal' portrait that is a head and shoulder shot. Chuck's nephew was instructed to stand and look up at the camera:

While we encourage portraits to be taken, family photojournalism will be the primary focus of this website. We hope that you enjoy the time you spend here! Please don't be afraid to let us know you are out there by posting comments!

Best Regards,

Daniel and Chuck


  1. Really super stuff here gentleman. I follow you both and have taken note from both. Daniel's birth documentary inspired this on my end:

  2. What a great primer! Very excited to read more. Keep it coming!

  3. Absolutely priceless, love the pictures, all of them.