Bobbi is a wife, momma, and photographer in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. She has found her passion in story-telling documentary photography and took some time to answer a few questions about herself and this style of shooting. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself & your journey in photography?

Thanks so much for having me Jessie! My name is Bobbi Kirchhoefer. I live in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. I have been happily married for 10 years to my husband Scott, I have a beautiful 18 year old daughter named Brianne, and two fur-babies (Siberian Huskies) Shango & Meeka.  I have photographed and built my portfolio for the last 10 years and officially launched my business in 2013, but I’ve had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember.

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2.Why Photography?

When I was little I’d spend a lot of time with my grandma who was our family photographer. She was kind enough to let me play with her Polaroid camera, and I was so fascinated at the magic of those moments coming to life on paper. I realized that I could actually freeze time, and I was hooked! I have boxes upon boxes and albums of photos that I’ve taken throughout the years. I love looking through old memories, and being able to travel back in time to view all of the details that are so fuzzy in my mind. When my daughter was born I was so in love. I wanted to capture every tiny detail. I wanted to capture the emotion of it all, and how I felt about her… I realized then that my photos were crap, and I needed to start learning. The more I learned, the more I loved and I decided I wanted to give other people beautiful memories too.

3.How would you describe your photography style and what have you done to develop it?

I would describe my style as honest, emotional, and natural. Early on I knew I wanted to photograph mostly children and families, so during my first few years as a business I offered family portraits. But I felt uncomfortable directing people and telling them what to do. I’m a go-with-the-flow person, and I’m definitely not one to boss people around, even when it’s expected. One of the things I dislike most in life is when people aren’t genuine & honest, and I felt like I wasn’t being honest shooting these “pretend” moments.

Before each session I would panic, looking for posing inspiration on Pinterest and worry that every photo had to be perfectly posed, yet somehow look natural, and they had to be different from the others I’d already taken. I would write down on a piece of paper all of my posing ideas or draw out what they’d look so I wouldn’t get stuck without something to do, but then when I would get to the session, after the first couple of poses I would ignore my piece of paper, and I would focus on shooting the in-between moments. I’d put my family in the best light I could find and ask them to interact.

I liked those photos much better, but it still just didn’t feel right to my soul that they were forced moments. I knew the family would look at them years from now and say “Oh, this is cute. Remember when the photographer asked us to laugh at each other?”.  What kind of a memory is that?? No! I wanted them to look at a photo of themselves laughing and be reminded of the genuine moment that occurred to make it happen.

I thought, if only I could go into a client’s home, and just watch and photograph all of the love and connection that I see. I didn’t realize then that what I wanted to be was a family documentary photographer. I didn’t realize it was even a thing! Then I stumbled across the amazing Kirsten Lewis, and Marie Masse of Fearless and Framed.

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You specialize in documentary style photography. How do you help your clients feel comfortable and relax in front of the camera?

Before the session I send my clients a link to my questionnaire.  This asks them several questions that help me to get to know them, find out about their daily routines, the details they love about their home, and the unique quirks that make them special. Having an understanding of their normal activities helps me to be on the lookout for what’s important, but there is no set schedule for them or expectations other than to be themselves.

Once I arrive at the client’s home I meet the kids. I get down to their level and make friends with them immediately. I have them give me a tour of the home so I can get a good idea of the light I’ll be working with. Once the kids are warmed up to me, the parents are much more comfortable with me as well and I can step back a bit to allow them to do what they do best. I’m not a “fly on the wall”, I talk and play with the kids almost the entire time and talk to the parents as well. I don’t want to be some creepy stranger that is watching them, I want to be another family member they can be themselves around and ignore when needed. It usually takes a good 45 min to an hour before everyone is really feeling like themselves and are not paying much attention to my camera. I offer a 4 hour and an 8 hour session so that they have plenty of time to get comfy.

You make the sweetest videos of your sessions. Will you tell us a little about how you do this? And how/what you look for during your session that you know will make a good video clip?

Thank you so much! I really love making my Custom Slideshows for clients. I am a huge fan of music, and I love to take an emotional song and put my images and video together with it to create the ultimate memento for my families. I take what I’ve learned from the client’s questionnaire and envision how the day will go down (things never happen quite the way I imagine they will but it helps). I think about the different situations that could happen during the day, and what those moments might look like. Then I think about what would look better as a still image and what would look better on video. If I’m not sure about a moment that I feel would be important, I’ll ask the family if they’d prefer video or an image. That way I have less decisions to make on the spot if they actually happen. It’s really hard to decide between stills and video! I love both so much for different reasons.

With video I especially like to capture anything with lots of movement, conversations, and especially capturing the kid’s sweet little voices! There is nothing more precious to a parent than hearing your kids’ little voices after they have grown. Sometimes if I’m still unsure if I want video or stills I’ll take both (time permitting) and decide what to use later. My video clips are usually never more than 5 seconds, and I end up trimming them down to 1 or 2 seconds in post. I use Final Cut Pro X to put everything together. Creative Live has some awesome classes (of course) that will help you out with this!

Documentary style photography seems to be gaining popularity, but there are still TONS of people who just like the planned/posed type family pictures & don’t really even understand documentary sessions. How do you find clients who want to do documentary style shoots?

That is a great question! It’s hard to explain this style of photography when people aren’t really aware of it, so you really just have to show them. When I made the switch to documentary exclusively, I called a few of my portrait clients and offered them a free session. This gave them the chance to check out the new style and if they decided that they love it to stay on with me. This also gave me the ability to build up my documentary portfolio and show these to potential new clients so they can see how it works. I’ve recently moved to a new & revamped website, and have included a few pages explaining what these sessions are like and what they can expect. In the future I’ll have a video on my website so clients can actually see me working at a session, and then interviewing my clients so that they can explain what a session with me is like. I think this will really help clients to see that it’s so easy, and that it’s really okay to just be themselves and nothing more.

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Who is a photographer you really look up to & admire?

Oh man, there are so many!  Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Sally Mann, Vivian Maier, Diane Arbus, Kirsten Lewis, Marie Masse, Colie James, Jennifer Tonetti Spellman, Stephanie Minior, Meagan Dwyer, Molly Flanagan, Erin Hensley… I could go on!

What is an image you are really proud of and why?

There’s something that I really love about this one.  I have a photo of my mother bathing me in the sink, and I have a photo of me bathing my daughter in the sink, and they both were taken by a non-pro with a flash, and while I’m so grateful to have them both, they are not so pretty. I was so excited to finally have the chance to document the same moment for someone else and make it beautiful!  I’m a sucker for deep black & whites and dramatic lighting. There’s also something I like about the tension in all of the arms (the baby’s, mom’s, the sink faucet, the window handles and bottle pump).  I love that the sink, mom’s arms, and those teeny ribs and hand sticking out, all give a sense of just how tiny this little guy is! I know mom will cherish this one.

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4.What is the best photography advice you’ve ever been given and/or what is advice you would give to a new photographer?

When you find what you love to photograph most, focus on that. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, and don’t be afraid to be yourself! If you love it, put it out there. There are others who will love it too. Oh, and comparison IS the thief of joy! The only photographer you should try to be better than, is the one you were yesterday.

You can see more of Bobbi’s work on her Website, Instagram, and Facebook.