Meet Chrystal Cienfuegos

Chrystal is a football-loving mama of 3 and photographer out of San Diego, California. She is associated both with NAPCP and the Tiny Sparrow Foundation.

Where can we find you online (Website, Facebook, Instagram)?

Little kid hands and feet - Family Documentary Photography Interview

What’s your favorite lens for shooting this type of work?  And do you have any accessories you just love (filter, bag, camera strap, etc.)?

MY favorite storytelling lens is the Nikon 28mm 1.8. The 35mm wasn’t wide enough for me and the 24mm was a little too wide so the 28mm fits me well, and it’s cheaper! I always carry my 28mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, and 105mm Micro (I do newborn work also). I’m in love with my brown leather Kelly Moore B-Hobo bag, everything fits perfectly, and it’s really cute (I sound like a commercial).

Little girls playing dress up - Family Documentary Photography Interview

What are you drawn to document? Is there a particular composition, technique, or mood you love?

I tend to shoot in the shadows, partly because I love the moodiness of it and partly because my house is a cave. When I shoot in bright homes, it’s always a bit of a shock at first. As far as techniques, I love a good mix of B&W and color images as well – I’m equally drawn to both. I think clean editing is important too so they remain timeless.

As far as the type of documentary work, I most enjoy creating “birth journeys” where the client has me present for a series of events: a doctor/midwife appt, a documentary/day in the life maternity, the birth itself, and then a documentary style newborn session. I do a few formal portraits and poses while I’m with the client but 90% of my work on these types of bookings is documentary.

child licking plate - Family Documentary Photography Interview

What is the most valuable tip you have learned in pursuit of shooting in a more documentary style?

ALWAYS be ready. Great frames are everywhere but require you to be ready at any moment. Kids do incredible things but once you miss it, it’s probably gone forever. The re-creation never looks the same. And aside from being ready, be patient. It can also take a long time for a story to present itself, but it always does eventually.

Father and new baby - Family Documentary Photography Interview

Why is storytelling photography important to you?  Why do you feel compelled to shoot with this approach?

The most incredible thing about photographs is how they make you feel…how you relive stories and memories when you view them. There is certainly a place and a need for pretty portraits but when our children are grown, happiness will be found in our memories and storytelling photographs will ensure we don’t forget. Also, I find it to be very therapeutic. Being a business owner with three small children, life gets hectic for me. Pausing to see the beauty, and to photograph it, reminds me how lucky I am to be needed and loved as much as I am.

 sleeping child - Family Documentary Photography Interview

Briefly tell us about your journey into family documentary photography.

I started out thinking I wanted to be a wedding photographer because I was attracted to the emotional moments and the documentary nature of the wedding day. However, I found them to be stressful and sometimes too scripted/planned for raw moments. Once I become a mother, it became obvious that working with families was what I wanted to do. At first, I just did what everyone else was doing (pretty portraits in a field) and after about two years of that, I realized something needed to change. I was shooting family documentary in my personal work and just asked myself, “Hello! Why am I not offering this to everyone else?” I’m so glad I do now. My heart is happier and so are my clients. It’s hard communicating the session type since they aren’t used to seeing it but once they “get it”, they love it just as much as I do.