documenting childhood: day in the life

Back in 2014, when my son Colin was 14 months old (and I was actually pregnant with Jill and didn’t know it yet), I picked up my ‘big camera’ to try a new project. I was feeling guilty that I had this nice camera with which I documented other families, but rarely my own. I decided I’d challenge myself to take photos with the nice camera for an entire day and document all the little, overlooked moments. I called it ‘a day in the life’ and my goal was to do one quarterly.

Over the years, photos from my ‘day in the life’ project have become some of my favorites of my children…I have many of these framed or displayed around my house.

But my favorite part of the ‘day in the life’ project is that these are moments I normally wouldn’t have captured. By deciding to document a full day… even the mundane moments… I was capturing SO much. On THAT day the moments I was photographing felt boring and not particularly noteworthy, but as I reflect back… these snapshots capture parts of our life that no longer exist. Jill in an infant swing or carseat (now she’s almost 5). Colin napping with his pacifier (oh, remember naps?!?!) or picking vegetables from our garden in Seattle (we don’t have one at our new house).

I decided to go back through the years and compile some of my favorites to give you an idea of what was captured:

Another unexpected side effect of this project is it took the pressure OFF me as the documenter + photographer of our family. I knew these quarterly ‘day in the life’ projects would provide a great record and it gave me freedom from my camera. I left it on the shelf between projects and that was finally ok. No more guilt.

Since the ‘day in the life’ project has been so meaningful to me personally, I wanted to include it in my Documenting Childhood month. The age of your kids doesn’t matter- you can start this now. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea, here are my thoughts…

tips for documenting a ‘day in the life’

  1. You don’t need a fancy camera. This project changes the way you SEE your world for that day and a phone is very convenient for capturing moments quickly.
  2. Take a LOT of photos. Review them immediately at the end of the day. Don’t wait. I’ll usually take about 200-250 photos during a ‘day in the life’ and narrow it down to 30-40 keepers.
  3. Pick a ‘regular’ day. Try to avoid one that is super packed with back-to-back commitments. If you really want to document the ‘everyday’ moments, it does slow things down a little bit.
  4. Plan ahead. Put your camera next to your bed before you go to sleep so you’re ready first thing in the morning. Maybe tidy up your house (just a little, don’t go crazy) so that clutter isn’t dominating your photos.
  5. Don’t quit when you get tired. Seeing it through to the end of the day is important in order to tell the full story. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

what to do with your ‘day in the life’ photos

  1. Include them in an annual family yearbook. (I’m working on a course all about this… coming soon!)
  2. Create a small ‘day in the life’ board book. (I love this one from Pinhole Press.)
  3. Print and display them. (I pin them up on Jill’s photo display wall.)
  4. Create a slideshow to watch as a family (you can pull them into iMovie right on your phone.)
  5. Use them to make photo gifts! (These are some of my favorites)

day in the life [september]

I spent four years doing this project quarterly (one year I even did it monthly), but in all honesty… it had been a FULL YEAR since my last ‘day in the life’ project. I thought this blog post was a good enough reason for me to dust off the big camera and do an updated ‘day in the life’ so here are a few I took earlier this week:

A whole year has passed, but honestly life looks almost the same as last September. I’m still glad I took the time to document it again because I know I’ll look back at these photos eventually and hardly recognize these moments!

All photos were taken with my Canon 5DMarkIV & 35mm f/1.4 lens [see more of my camera gear recommendations]!


2 comments
  • Lee

    I love these so much! I love the idea of capturing the everyday moments. I’ve tried a DITL before but forget after a few photos. I also feel like our normal lives are a bit too mundane to capture 4 times a year. Our week days literally consist of waking up + going to school + back home + play time and cook supper + bed and bath routine. We do all extramurals on weekends and weekends are jam packed! ReplyCancel

  • Kim Porter

    Oh these are WONDERFUL!!  I have always intended for this to happen, and now my kid is 15 and wants nothing to do with pictures.  🙁 . I am so happy to hear that you have a course about family yearbooks in the works!! I am really hoping it’s not project life oriented, since I have to say I’m kind of “over it” after many years.  Need some help getting organized to go back into the archives to catch up.  Can’t wait!  ReplyCancel

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