How to Document Family Surprises | Boston Family Photographer


Over Thanksgiving, my husband gifted our niece her very first car. While I wouldn’t have been brave enough to drive in Greater Boston as a teenager, she grew up here and is ready to hit the road! (She’s also sticking to back roads, for now.)

Despite being a family photographer, I often forget to photograph my own family. This time, I was at the ready and I learned a few key things that might help if you want to document big moments in your own family.

Plan for good light

Documenting family surprises step 1: go when the light is good. Boston family photographer.

If getting great photos is one of your aims in documenting a family surprise, aim for a time of day when you’ll get good light. This was Thanksgiving, so that was easy.

The sun was already getting low by 2:30pm, so after lunch was over (and after we were stuffed to the gills), I suggested we take the dogs around the block for a walk.

Our niece thought I was insane because it was breezy and very cold, but she obliged!

Plan an activity to distract your surprisee

Documenting family surprises tip 2: distract your subjects

While my husband and in laws were getting the giant ribbon on the car and pulling it out of the garage, I got our niece out of the house.

“The dogs are SO cooped up and bored,” I said.

Which was partially true.

So even though she wasn’t really dressed for it, she happily trekked around the block with me and even stopped for some selfies with Louie the wonder rescue.

Create a reason for carrying your camera

Documenting family surprises #3: have a reason for carrying your camera. Boston family photographer / Sudbury family photos.

Despite being a family photographer, it would be unusual for me to be carrying my camera on a walk around the neighborhood.

If you plan on documenting your family surprise with anything other than your phone, I suggest manufacturing a reason so you don’t raise suspicions.

I told our niece that I was embarking on a 365 day photo project and needed photos for it. It was the truth! I didn’t actually start the project until New Year’s Eve, but she didn’t need to know that.

And, as you can see, she happily hammed it up for me.

Hang back

Teenager with dog surprised with first car. Documented by Boston family photographer.

It’s hard to capture the scene if you’re too close, so hang back a little and be ready with your camera. I stopped to fix my boot and that put me a few steps behind as we rounded the corner to our driveway.

Our niece was momentarily confused and then so surprised that she almost couldn’t bring herself to approach the car!

First car on Thanksgiving Day. Documenting this big moment. Boston family photographer / Sudbury family photos

Keep Clicking!

Of course, the shock didn’t last for long. She was soon up the driveway and in the seat of her new ride!

Documenting family surprises: keep clicking! Boston family photographer / lifestyle photography / Maynard, Massachusetts
Mom taking a picture of daughter in new car. Sudbury family photographer / lifestyle photography / documentary photography
Off she goes! Teen in new car. Boston documentary photographer / family photography

And, of course, her dog cousin couldn’t help but get in on the action.

Our niece hugs our dog in her new car. Boston family photographer / lifestyle photography

One of my goals this year is to document more of our time with family. The years are flying by and I want to make sure that we’re capturing these memories.

For me, despite being behind the camera, it’s a way of savoring these moments; of being present. I hope you’ll document more of your days, too.

I’d love to know how it goes if you decide to photograph a big surprise in your family!