Marisa Martins

Two children, who are lying down on their backs, make hand shadows in the sand on a beach in Portugal. Taken on a Canon EOS R by Marisa Martins.

Children play with shadows in the sand on a beach in Comporta, Lisbon. "Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to be invited on family vacations, which gives me much more time to gain an in-depth understanding of family dynamics and characters within the group," says documentary family and wedding photographer Marisa Martins. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/2500 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © Marisa Martins

Photojournalists and documentary filmmakers embed themselves within the lives of their subjects, observing without influencing, with the aim of presenting an authentic story to the world. Asking a subject to pose for a photo or retake a scene in the middle of a documentary would defeat the point of the work. If a more candid approach leads to more honest results, then what happens if you apply the same rules to other genres of photography?

Marisa Martins describes herself as a 'documentary family photographer'. "I capture real life, rather than not-real-life," she says. Rejecting the well-trodden path of family photographers inviting clients into a well-lit studio to smile on command, Marisa's natural approach has earned her many awards, including being named in the Top 10 Family Photographers of the World by This is Reportage.

Alongside family photoshoots, Marisa also shoots weddings and fashion campaigns for companies including leading children's clothing brands. Documentary family photography is her real passion, though, as well as shoots that keep her closer to her family and home near Santa Cruz in Portugal, which she describes as having "the most beautiful beach in the world".

Marisa's interest in photography began on the other side of the lens. She spent a brief period as a model, before studying to become a civil engineer and working in highway construction management for 10 years. "I was very happy with my job, but when I fell pregnant, I realised I needed to rethink my life," she says.

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Marisa Martins.
Location: Lisbon, Portugal

Specialist areas: Documentary family photography, weddings

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R6 Mark II
Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM
A baby crawls across a beach towards an inquisitive pigeon. While the child is slightly out of focus, the bird is crystal clear. Taken on a Canon EOS R by Marisa Martins.

This photograph was taken as part of one of Marisa's signature 'day-in-the-life' shoots, in which she aims to develop a close connection with the family. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/3.5 and ISO 160. © Marisa Martins

A father with his back turned to the camera holds three small children at once. The children are laughing and attempting to clamber over his shoulder. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Marisa Martins.

Capturing a parent's connection with their children is one of Marisa's primary objectives as a documentary family photographer. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 38mm, 1/640 sec, f/4 and ISO 500. © Marisa Martins

Spurred on by a desire to document her pregnancy and child's first moments, Marisa picked up a compact camera and began to tell her own story. "I never thought I'd become a professional photographer," she recalls. "I just got really interested in documenting family life and it all just developed from there."

Marisa self-taught her way to professional photographer status, but has since sought the advice of mentors around the world. "I'm always learning," she says, and she isn't afraid to experiment with new styles and techniques.

A young cat with dark grey fur pokes its head through the top of a staircase in a dollhouse and stares curiously at a female figurine. Taken on a Canon EOS R by Marisa Martins.

"I shot this picture of my cat during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there was not much else to focus on other than what was happening inside my own house," says Marisa. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 4000. © Marisa Martins

While developing her technical understanding of photography and updating her kit to keep pace with her ambitions, Marisa's primary aim is to develop new ways to connect with and portray her subjects on a deeper level.

"I see my work as a document that families can use to understand themselves better," she says, and hopes that her work is treasured throughout her clients' lifetimes and beyond.

How would you describe your style?

"I describe myself as a documentary family and wedding photographer. During my 'day-in-the-life' shoots, I spend up to 12 hours with a family, getting to know them better so that I can show their true personalities. Unlike traditional posed family photoshoots, my work has lots of layers. I don't show an unrealistic perfect version of my families, but try to reveal their true personalities. I want to show the tired parents who are still able to hug their children at the end of a busy day. I want to understand the dynamic that each child brings to the group, and to ultimately provide an authentic depiction of life as it is at that moment that will endure long after the moment fades."

How does your approach enable you to get closer to your subjects?

"Before the shoot, I interview the parents to ask what a normal day looks like in their family's life. It's often something like, 'On Saturday, we wake up at 9am, have breakfast, go to the supermarket, visit the grandparents then go for a bike ride, before making dinner together.' Some families are surprised that I want to be there to capture everything, but this is how I develop an understanding that I think shows through in my work. When the shoot begins, everyone is often a little on edge. I don't act like a fly on the wall – I talk to everyone and get to know them. I don't take any photographs for the first 30 minutes, until everyone is comfortable with me being there. Throughout the day, we eat together, travel in the same car together and I become an honorary member of the family. After a few hours, they don't even realise I'm taking photos and this is when the magic starts. Sometimes I'll accompany families on vacations, and rather than capturing pictures of the places they go, I'll focus instead on their emotions and how being together in a foreign place makes them feel."

What kit do you use, and what are your favourite settings?

"I call my Canon EOS R6 Mark II my 'go-to-war' camera for documentary family photography. I switched to mirrorless in 2019 and the upgrade really changed my career. I was suddenly able to focus more on the stories I was trying to tell, rather than my settings. I also have a Canon EOS R5, which I use with my EOS R6 Mark II for weddings, alongside the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM, Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lenses. For personal pictures or when I'm on holiday, I take a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens. I always shoot in manual, never go below 1/320 and have recently been exploring narrower apertures such as f/7.1 or f/8 because I like how much more detail they include in the backgrounds. I love Canon colours and narrower apertures mean I can make the whole image pop. Thanks to the capabilities of my mirrorless set up, I'm not afraid to shoot up to 10,000 ISO. The only setting I leave automatic is my white balance, because the scenes I'm shooting always change."

What are some challenges that are unique to documentary family photography?

"The hardest part of my job is getting my subjects to open up. Families book me because they see my work and like my style, but sometimes find it hard to let me in. In order for me to capture authentic emotion, I need people to let their barriers down and allow themselves to be vulnerable around me. More and more people are choosing candid style family photoshoots over posed shoots because they prefer the authenticity that can be achieved when you're comfortable with your photographer, but sometimes it takes longer for my subjects to open up than I'd like."

One thing I know

Marisa Martins

"If you want to succeed as a professional photographer, start with education and never stop learning. I taught myself, and my road to mastering my craft was a lot slower than it would have been if I had sought out a teacher straight away. Now I'm a professional photographer, I still seek advice from mentors all around the world. I want to grow and continue to develop my craft."

Instagram: @marisamartinsfotografia


Marisa Martins' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Marisa Martins' kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Stills or video, action or portrait – the EOS R6 Mark II's blend of performance and image quality lets your creativity thrive. "This is my 'go-to-war' camera," says Marisa. "The autofocus changed the way I work and has really upgraded my photography."

Canon EOS R5

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the EOS R5 will let you be creative in ways you simply couldn't before. "Sometimes I have to shoot indoors in low light, but the ISO performance of the EOS R5 allows me to push up to 10,000 with no fear, meaning that I can work in all conditions even if I don't have my flash," says Marisa.

Canon EOS R8

Give your creativity a full-frame upgrade. Better bokeh, wider angles of view and image quality that will blow you away – even in low light. "I don't need anything more than this camera with the RF 35mm lens for personal photography, when I want to be unencumbered by bulky kit," says Marisa.


Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM

A versatile high-quality 35mm lens that's ideal for street, travel and close-up photography. "This lens is perfect for personal photography," says Marisa. "I use it with my EOS R8 to document my own family's life, when I need something compact and simple to use, particularly on vacations."

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM

For beautiful flattering portraits with razor sharpness and superb low-light performance, the RF 85mm F1.2L USM offers the ultimate in creative potential. "This is my absolute favourite lens to work with, and paired with my EOS R5 it's a very powerful tool," says Marisa.

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

The RF 28-70mm F2L USM offers the kind of image quality you'd expect from a prime lens, and adds an f/2 maximum aperture for more creative control. "This with my EOS R6 Mark II is part of my go-to-war setup," says Marisa. "If I could only choose one combination of body and lens, it would be this one for portability, ease of use and versatility of shots that it allows me to get."

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

A professional grade wide-angle lens with a natural perspective, an f/1.4 aperture and low-light capabilities. "I have the RF 35mm too, but the f/1.4 aperture of this lens means it's faster, and therefore my natural choice when shooting families or weddings," says Marisa.


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

Designed for use with the Canon EOS R system, this adapter allows EF and EF-S lenses to be used with the EOS R camera. "I use the adapter with my EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens and I love it," says Marisa. "All my L-series RF lenses got even better with the EOS R System."

Canon Speedlite EL-1

Absolute reliability and blistering performance, plus advanced wireless communication and a high performance re-chargeable battery, make this the ultimate Speedlite.

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