Photographers are being hired to document family life

When Anzalee and Kristain Rhodes look back at their daughter’s first year of life, they won’t be examining blurry, red-eyed camera phone photos. They’ll have crisp, finely detailed professional shots of a baby growing up before their eyes.

Each month, a team of professional photographers shoots them as they go about their daily lives at home and around New York City.

“As a baby, she changes every month. There’s something new. Her hair changes, everything changes within a month and we wanted to be able to capture all those things,” said Anzalee Rhodes, a 35-year-old statistician who lives on Long Island, New York

The Rhodes are part of a trend of folks hiring professional photographers to document not just big events like weddings and bar mitzvahs, but everyday activities. Sometimes they want a milestone recorded — a child’s birthday party or family get-together. But often they’re hiring pros to photograph things they might otherwise have shot with their own cellphones or point-and-shoot cameras: a weekend outing, a vacation, or a portrait of a beloved pet.

Those photos are then shared, just like their own cell pictures would be, on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“We’re in a digital-media focused world now. I mean, you kind of live your life through Facebook, looking at photos of peoples’ lives. There’s a lot more sharing in general, so that is expanding the footprint of what people will consider to have professionally documented,” said Tim Beckford, a photographer known as Tim Co. with I Heart New York, the New York City-based company that shoots the Rhodes family each month.

“Why have blurry cell phone photos with just one of you actually in the photo?” reads I Heart New York’s website pitch. “Visiting (or living) in New York City is a big deal and we want your Facebook friends to be VERY jealous.” People from as far away as Australia have responded by hiring I Heart New York to document their trips to the Big Apple.

And just like with a selfie that you post from your phone, the company’s work can be seen right away online. I Heart New York will photograph a proposal and provide a near-instantaneous shot so clients can post it to social media sites — and change their relationship status at the same time, Beckford said.

The Rhodes treasure their ongoing photographic record of their daughter’s childhood, and believe it’s an accurate representation of their family in everyday situations.

But is it possible to present a realistic view of ordinary experiences if a photographer is staging and enhancing each shot? Catalina Toma, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor whose research includes examining emotional well-being and social media, says people tend to construct very flattering images of themselves online.

“The importance of self-presentation on social media is really high,” she said. And when people look on Facebook and see their friend’s best self — whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Greece, a new job or a flawless family photograph — they get depressed thinking they are missing out.

“They don’t realize that everybody is doing the same thing, engaging in the same strategy as themselves, which is to sort of ignore the negative or the trivial or the banal, and posting only the best stuff, the exciting stuff.” And that’s true whether they are taking selfies or hiring someone to do it for them.

Liz Bowling, a 33-year-old account executive, first hired a professional photographer to shoot her wedding and then her newborn daughter, Ashlyn. Since then, she’s had the same photographer travel from Boulder, Colorado, to her home in Lake Tahoe to capture her family a handful of times. The photographer, Julie Afflerbaugh, has even stayed with the family in order to capture them in a candid way, Bowling said.

“It’s not just a staged photograph. She captures very authentic moments,” Bowling said. “I really want images that are going to show who I was when, and she does that.”

The photos are framed and displayed on a wall in the family home, Bowling said, as well as used for Christmas cards and shared via social media sites.

“It’s me. That’s who I am and it’s kind of fun to share what I’m doing with really beautiful photos,” Bowling said.

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