a thousand words – documentary storytelling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how and when this passion for documentary storytelling began. I have always loved photos – not necessarily photography, but photos for sure. Some of my favorite times are sitting at my mom and dad’s house looking through the piles of photo albums and laughing, sighing, and sometimes even shedding a few tears as the memories just flood right back. You know the photos – the ones where your brother has you in a headlock, or where you’re sitting on grandpa’s lap, or the surrogate grandma from next door is blowing out her 97th birthday candles. It’s about the memories, yes, but it’s also about the emotion. All the emotions.

Pictures have been my love language for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, my room wasn’t covered in New Kids on the Block posters (ok, I did have the one Tom Cruise picture because he was a HUNK before the whole crazy came out)… my walls were covered (and I mean covered) with pictures of my people. My friends, my family, and some Ed McCaffrey thrown in there because, YES. When I went off to college, you better believe my photos came with me. I had the top bunk, so that ceiling above my bed was wallpapered with photos. The extrovert in me could re-fuel just by looking at all the pictures with all the people I loved.

I met my husband (which is a super cool story for another day) and we dated long distance for the first 10 months of our relationship. I knew I was going to marry this guy the very first night I met him (for real – I told my roommate that night and she promptly told me I was crazy), so pictures with him were a must. I had a picture of him fishing on my dash that got so worn and faded from the sun, that I eventually had to throw it away because you couldn’t even tell what the picture was anymore. One of my favorite pictures (that is framed and on my dresser to this day) is one of us on the couch in his mom’s house just laughing. It’s perfect.

Once we had kids, the picture obsession only grew. I mean, these stinkers change so quickly I just couldn’t help but take pictures of them all the time. Shoot, 48 hours old and they already looked bigger and less squished and I just couldn’t believe how different they were in such a short time. This is around the time I realized I wanted a better camera to capture better pictures of our kids. Little did I know that this would soon turn into a passion for photography and a job that I just adore.

So, back to the documentary storytelling. As I look back at pictures, I started to realize that all the pictures I loved weren’t posed. They weren’t occasions; they were moments. The pictures that would stop me in my tracks were the ones that always brought back a huge flood of feelings for me. I can’t say that there is one picture that started this for me, but this is the picture that made it stick:

maren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the life

It’s not perfect, from a photography standpoint. But it takes me right back. EmJ is singing her heart out (something that she still does on a daily basis) and Luke is staring out the window, listening to his best friend, his big sis. For most, this picture is fine. It’s nothing exciting, really, just a couple of punks sitting on the play kitchen instead of playing with it. But this, for me, tells of a time that is now gone. It reminds me of who they were at these ages, of their friendship, and of their awesome personalities. It’s in the house they were brought home from the hospital in, stained carpet (because kids) and all. This picture is on the wall in our house because it’s not just a picture; it is a story.

Once I realized how much I loved these types of photos, I hoped and prayed (and prayed and prayed) that other people would love them of their family too. That there were people out there who cherished these moments the same way I did. After a shoot I did with a dear friend, she told me (multiple times, actually) that every time she looked at the pictures I took, she got to re-live that day with her family. The laughter, goofing off, embarrassing the kids… all of it. That sentence from her really helped shape my idea of where I wanted my photography to go. I think it was then and there that I decided I wanted to help create for people what made my heart beat faster. I wanted that for them. To tell their stories and give them to them in a tangible way. Thus, this passion was born.

Every time I shoot a Documentary Storytelling session, my heart grows. I think I said this in a blog post before – it’s like the Grinch whose heart grows 3 times its size. The stories these families (be it couples, or families with 8 kids) tell are so rad because they are uniquely them. Each one is different. Each family has their own story, their own interactions, their own love. And they are all pretty freakin incredible.


Here, because I am a lover of all things pictures, are a few more of my favorite favorites of my people. It’s my extraordinary in our ordinary. What’s yours?

maren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the lifemaren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the lifemaren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the lifemaren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the lifemaren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the lifemaren miller photography | documentary storytelling | day in the life

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I tell stories through photos. I dance in the car, I laugh big, and I love fiercely.


Northern Colorado storytelling photographer.