In this guide about documentary photography, I have proposed to describe as clear as possible what is it, how to do it and how to approach the subjects and situations in real life.
Documentary photography is like street photography as they have many common features, but is entirely a distinct discipline as its purpose is to tell a story. It is a genre of photography which offers a straightforward representation of its subject which can be anything including people, objects, places, or events. It is mostly used in reportage.
For most people, it is a type of sharp-focus photography which revolves around capturing raw and candid real-life situations. Through it, the photographer gets the opportunity to show to viewers the complexities of life. Usually, the capturer is narrating a story over a period of time. This differs it from photojournalism which is mostly about covering events in real-time.
The images in documentary photography usually follow a theme. These themes are commonly based on social and political issues like conflict, injustice and inequality. Many renowned photographers became famous because of their effective portrayal of such themes, including horrors of war.
As documentary photography relies on accurate depiction of its subject, it is hard in practice. It relies on the shooting of richer subject which reflect deeper meanings. They have to reflect the world as it exists, without any editing. Even though it is anti-interventionist, it is not a dispassionate form of art, as it is very meaningful.
Exceptional documentary photography doesn’t only accurately represent a subject, but also represents the handiwork of the photographer. The critical eye and the ability to narrate the story is also vital. So in order to capture decisive moments it is necessary that the photographer has a healthy amount of intuition and skill, so that they can discover the perfect scenarios and are able to convey them properly.
Thus, mastering documentary photography requires a lot of practice and effort. You can begin with the fundamentals which are always a good place to start, but exclusive provenance of rules will not help you to excel in documentary photography. In order to become a professional, you will have to grasp this craft from its core. Here are some tips on how you can do this:
Developing personal and social skills so that you can get close-up and delve deeply
Technical photography skills are not the only thing you need here. You need personal and social skills as well to support them. Documentary photography rely on people skills, then it does on camera. Most of their work is done when the camera is in the bag – like conversations, learning and research.
Part of documentary photography is to understand what is happening around you. To do this you have to commit yourself to spend some time with your subject. Do not act quickly or rashly to document, as time can be a great advantage. The greater the time spent, more intimacy will develop which will yield more meaningful works.
Protecting and managing the work
Mostly, documentary photography project last over a long period of time over which things can get messed up. The shoots can take days, weeks and even years, so there should be a system for managing and organizing the work which can get lost easily. In order to survive the ordeal and protecting your work from lost or damage, it is advised to immediately duplicate everything and save your images in few different locations.
It is also recommended adding metadata daily. Remember that a lax approach can sink any project, as documentary photography is unpredictable and you can lose all your work within a blink of an eye, along with all the effort and time spent on it. Avoid making such mistakes and be cautious.
Indulging in curiosity
Documentary photography involves intimate exploration – be it a subject, event or environment. You have to indulge in it for your own gratification, or else you won’t be able to capture its depth. So if you wish to narrate historical stories or share a unique message through images with the greater world, then you have to understand it first.
Quench your curiosity and delve deep into the realities and challenges of life and explore them, before presenting them. Make sure that your images emit something personal. It touches the soul of the viewer and for this to happen you have to put in your soul first.
An important skill in documentary photography is to build your own curiosity into your work. Your personal desire to better understand the subject and its surrounding, will allow you to make moving work which will surely impress and influence others.
Documentary photography is not very difficult. It looks complicated, but all you have to do is harness your powers and take the first step. Once you dive into it, you won’t be able to hold back as it is very intriguing and compelling. Become a part of it now and experience bewilderment in its most raw form!