Three little girls sit in the grass, fully immersed at the task of painting their pumpkins. It doesn’t matter if they get paint on their pale yellow tutus or matching Halloween t-shirts. No one is telling them to position their bodies in a certain way, or to hold a smile. Smiles come naturally, along with silly faces and looks of concentration, and Documentary Family Photographer Kelly Nash captures it all.
Though she’s been doing this work professionally for two and a half years, Nash says one of the things she hears the most is that people don’t know what documentary-style photography is.
A big part of Nash’s process involves making a memory for the kids while she takes photos. She likes to pre-arrange an activity, to tag along with a family or a couple and do what they normally like to do; or she will bring props, like she did for the pumpkin shoot. She even does underwater photography for the little swimmers.
“For me, documentary photography is just natural. It’s about being genuine. It’s about the kids having fun and enjoying this chapter of life that they’re in.”
While the family in the pumpkin photoshoot signed up for a petite photo session, which means it only lasts for about an hour, other types of sessions Nash does are full-day or a half-day shoots, doing whatever her clients like to do to. She says that as the hours pass, people let down their guard and the photos better reflect the personalities of the individuals.
“I want families to see that gorgeous pictures come out of them just being them, and how special and unique they are as a family,” said Nash.
The St. Pete native’s passion for documentary-style photography evolved during the two years she spent living in Spain. There she began imagining what working as a photographer would look like, photographing families vacationing in the big city and playing at the beach. Soon after diving into her business she realized that the photos people were most drawn to (and wanted to buy) were the natural, un-posed shots.
While Nash does occasional birth photography and sessions with couples, the majority of her work involves families with children still living in the home. She does almost 100 percent documentary-style photography, versus traditional portraiture, and requires documentary sessions with all families who have any children under four years old.
“There’s too much pressure in one hour to get them to be natural in front of a brand-new person with a big black thing in front of my face,” says Nash. “Normally after about an hour everyone relaxes. Mom and dad don’t have that plastered kind of like half smile on their face because I’m right around the corner, and the kids forget I’m there and they just start being them. And they start acting normal and silly and goofy— these things that you want to blow up and put on your wall and show off to the world, how adorable and perfect they are, as they are.”
Nash says documentary-style photography works great for other reasons, too.
“I get a lot of reactions where, ‘Oh my gosh, my husband would love this.’ Because men hate posing for a camera, so the fact that they just get to watch football, or play football or Frisbee with their kids, means the dads will hop on board.”
Nash also works with many families whose children have a disability, so sitting for portrait sessions would be difficult.
She says these families “need someone who has the patience to be able to document them in all the beauty that they are.”
By the end of Nash’s petite photoshoot, the whole family is barefoot. The one-year-old is exploring messy pumpkin insides, and the older ones start hamming it up for the camera. The five-year-old picks up her three-year-old sister in a sweet cheek-to-cheek hug, and the littlest one sits on the freshly carved jack-o’-lantern while her big sisters kiss her cheeks. The timeless simplicity of this activity and the permission for everyone to just be natural, be themselves, is what Nash loves being able to capture in her photos.
“I do what I do because I want families to be able to open their minds to a different option in portraiture and photography,” says Nash. “Every family is special for their own reasons, and I want them to be able to see that as beautiful.”
To check out Kelly Nash’s work, learn more about documentary-style photography or have a consultation, go to www.knashphotography.com. You can also see some of her photographs right here in Green Bench Monthly!