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My Road To Becoming a Documentary Family and Birth Photographer

   I suppose that my road through photography to become a documentary family and birth photographer has started out in a sort of traditional manner. I took photography in highschool, and loved it. If I’m being honest I loved spending time in the darkroom not to develop my images, but to hang out with the cute boy I had a crush on that was in class with me:) After a couple of years of working with real film, I graduated from high school and didn’t pick up a DSLR until I was going to have my 3rd child. I know, it’s hard to believe that I am old enough to have worked with real film! My husband bought me my first DSLR, and I just kept practicing and reading. I probably spent as much time studying and practicing as it would have taken me to get a college degree.

    Over the years I have wanted to find my “specialty”, the one thing that I really want to photograph more than anything. I’ve consistently come up frustrated, mainly because I think I love the technical and creative challenges that I am faced with photography. It’s been a learning process for me. I’ve realized that I don’t like doing posed newborn photos, real estate photos, product photos. I don’t mind doing lifestyle portraits, and will most likely keep shooting them at least for a while. But what I love more than anything are documentary family photos. It doesn’t matter if its a birth, newborn, day in the life, or family session….it’s what I am meant to do. Now, this genre isn’t always appreciated by others. But, I’ve spent so much time worrying about what others want, and now I just want to create my art. I believe that lifestyle or “posed” portraits are pretty, but real life moments are beautiful. When I look at documentary images I feel emotion, and honestly that doesn’t happen for me with any other type of photography.


I challenge you to rethink what you think of when you think family photo. Is it a portrait where everyone is looking perfect in a field of wheat? Or is it the way your little child holds your hand, or the first moment a mom sees her baby, or is it a photo of your kids being silly together. I think in the long run that moment images will be more valuable to you as a parent than the images that make your family look perfect. Nothing is better than real life! Take a look at some of the family documentary images I created below, and send me an email at or visit my website at if you are interested in having a session with me!

photo of kids playing in the sprinker in alaska taken by documentary family and birth photographer christal houghtelling

baby girl with her dog in her house in alaska taken by a documentary family photographer
photos of kids with their dog in alaska taken by documentary family and birth photographer at families home

Documentary Family and Birth photographer covering Alaska, Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, Eagle River, Girdwood, Hawaii

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Alaska Documentary Birth Photographer

I had the pleasure of visiting my brother and his wife in Minnesota a few weeks ago. He asked me to come and take documentary family photos of his daughter being born. We decided to book a flight for around the due date, and thought we would be good to go. She ended up being almost a week overdue, and so I was scheduled to fly back to Anchorage, Alaska without taking any photos. We were all disappointed, and so we decided to call the airline and they were nice enough to help us change the flight for a few days later. I’m so glad that they did, because she came 2 days later. I loved photographing the birth, and getting to see my brother and his wife become parents. I flew home a couple of days later, I was happy to see my family, but so excited to look at the photos. I cannot tell you enough how excited I am about how they turned out! I really feel like the capture the day in true form, showing the ups and the downs, the exhaustion, and love. I cried the first time I watched the slideshow, and I was the one who made it. When they watched the slideshow they cried, and so many people who have watched it have said the same thing. It was truly and honor to be trusted as a documentary birth photographer to photograph the day as it truly is. No fake posing, no telling the clients what to do. Just pure real moments, and as a documentary birth photographer it was a creative challenge. I highly recommend having a documentary birth session. Those little newborns grow so fast, and withing a month or two they are already looking and acting differently. You will never regret having a birth session.


Couple sitting on couch. Husband is painting his wifes toenails taken by documentary birth photographer
newborn baby crying taken by documentary birth photographer
newborn baby sleeping taken by documentary birth photographer
couple exhausted after giving birth image taken by documentary birth photographer
dad comforts baby in the hospital
pregnant couple smiles up at an ultrasound
pregnant mother looks up at her husband for assurance
mom has oxygen mask on while looking at her husband before birth
dad takes a photo of his newborn baby in the hospital
newborn baby looking at dad who is holding her hand
couple watches nurse tend to newborn baby
couple feeding their newborn baby in the hospital taken by alaska birth photographer
newborn baby laying on her moms chest

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Hawaii Documentary Family Photographer

  It gets really dark in the wintertime here in Alaska, and sometimes I long to see the sun. So, I decided that as a family we were going to go to Hawaii this winter. We had so much fun, I’m already planning my next vacation there!  My brother and his family are conveniently living there as well, so getting to see them was an added benefit. They asked me if I would take some portraits of them while I was in Hawaii. I did take some, but as a documentary family photographer candid photos are my favorite images of families. They tell stories, show real moments, and are priceless. These are photos of my children and their cousins. I didn’t grow up really knowing my cousins. I have a few memories of them, but no photos. I’m so glad that I got to take family photos for my brother, and documentary family photos of my kids playing with their cousins. Time flies by so fast, and I was a bit shocked to see how much my nieces and nephews had grown. I would love to visit Hawaii again, so I am available for documentary family sessions in Hawaii. If interested in hiring a documentary family photographer for your vacation session, birth,  or day in the life session send me an email at Also, you can see more of my documentary work over at my website . Having your family or your family vacation photographed is a beautiful thing, it really captures the emotion, moments, and feeling of the day.  So shoot me an email at Check out the images below. Thanks for visiting!

Photos taken by a documentary family photographer of a family on the big island of hawaii and near kona, photos of kids playing, being comforted

Hawaii documentary family photographer, Kona Family photographer, North Shore family photographer, Hawaii family photography, Hawaii birth photographer, Hawaii vacation photographer, documentary family photography, candid moments, unposed

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Jakeman Family Photos – Hawaii Family Photographer Christal Houghtelling

I had the pleasure of photographing my brother and his family on the big Island of Hawaii! They have 7 children, and such beautiful locations to photograph them. I am available to travel to Hawaii for family sessions…so send me an email to if interested! I photograph portrait sessions, vacation sessions, and day in the life sessions. We also had a blast exploring the island, and I hope to do a blog post about what to do with families on that island. We went to some beautiful beaches, lava tubes, the observatory. Stay tuned for that blog post.

big island of hawaii family photo

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Before and After, Why Professional Editing is Important – Alaska Family Photographer

Photo editing is a really important part of photography, that not many people think about. Most of the time professional photographers shoot their photos as a file called RAW. Basically when they come out of the camera they are really flat, and perfect for editing. Once in a while a photographer will shoot in JPG. But if you try to edit JPG’s it can damage the file, and it doesn’t have  the dynamic range that a RAW file has. Some of the things I do to improve an image is to add contrast, warmth, clean up the background, clean up the skin. What most people don’t know is that after shooting the photos, the work has only just begun. It does take quite a while to edit the photos from each session by hand. I consider my work art, and so just shooting and burning a disk is not something I do. I spend quite a bit of time improving the image so it looks great to put up on your wall. Here is a before, it’s not bad, just not what it could be….

Here is the after. This is the work that comes from countless hours of education, and practice.

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Documentary Family Portrait Photographer -Worlds Best Smoked Salmon Chowder Recipe!

I took this documentary family portrait above the evening that we were coming back from dipnetting Salmon in the Kenai river. My kids love to fish, my husband does too, but also ends up having to help the kids with their poles more that he has his pole in the water. But I love this image because it’s my husband and all our boys in the photo. It’s been a couple of months since then, and as Alaskans we start to get tired of eating the Salmon the same way. So now that it’s  fall in Alaska, and all of our freezers are stocked with beautiful Salmon. It’s that time of year where we all pull out our sweaters, and watch the leaves fall from the trees. This is a recipe that is delicious, and there is a reason…..fat. It’s got bacon, butter, and cream. But I am telling you, it’s worth it! Please share this email/page with friends and family. Everyone could use a good soup recipe. First, you need to smoke you up about 2-3 lbs of salmon.

6 Large Potatoes

1 Large Onion

5 Stalks of Celery

6 Strips of Backon

1 Bottle of Clam Juice (it is a real thing)

2-3 lbs Smoked Salmon torn to pieces

1 QT Heavy Cream

1/2 Stick Butter

Cut the potatoes into small cubes, meanwhile chop up the bacon and onion into small bits. Fry the bacon on low so it’s crispy, add the onions at the end and saute them until they are clear. Drain off that fat, because like I said, this recipe has enough to go around. Chop the celery and place bacon, potatoes, onion, and celery in a large stock pot if you have one.

Put that bottle of clam juice in the pot with the potatoes and cover with just enough water to touch the top of the potatoes. Cook on a medium heat until the potatoes are soft but still keeping their form. Add the smoked salmon bits, and cream and then lower the heat. Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour and don’t let the pot boil. Stir occasionally. Right before serving add that delicious half stick of butter!

Serve with crackers or sourdough bread, and enjoy the best bowl of smoked salmon chowder you’ve ever tasted! So go ahead give it a try tonight!

Christal Houghtelling Photography, Alaska Documentary Family Photographer, Anchorage Documentary Family Portrait Photographer, Palmer Family Photographer

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Baby F. – Alaska, Anchorage, Palmer Newborn Photographer

I love natural newborn photos. In my opinion for the most part babies should be photographed in their parents arms. That is naturally where they would be in the first place! All of these photos were taken in my home studio in Palmer. It’s great because you just come for your shoot at the studio,  I want it to be as stress free as possible. I start all of my clients with a consultation where we talk about what to wear, and what to expect. Then we have the shoot, and then you’ll come back when the photos are done for the viewing session. Shoot be an email at if you are interested in finding out more about my sessions.

natural newborn photos taken in palmer, Alaska studio

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