Documentary photography tries to record, through images, a social event that is happening and make it known. Its objective is purely informative and with the aim of showing different aspects of society.
In my opinion, documentary photography, just like photojournalism; its close cousin is the most difficult photographic genres. Due to the very nature of the work, there is little or no control over the subject. You have to think and compose on the fly. Through a visual medium, you have to tell stories that are normally reserved for words. In general, there are no second chances, because the right moments are fleeting. However, we hope that this article will help you get started in this photographic genre.
#1: Investigate what you are going to photograph
The first thing you should do before you even think about taking a camera is to investigate the subject you’re going to photograph. This will not only help you know what to expect while taking the photos, but it will also prepare you to understand how to present the subject in question. You must make sure that you have all the necessary equipment for the session, especially if you need to travel light to mobilize.
Once the research is done, it’s time to start thinking about how to photograph the subject, and I always recommend beginners to take inspiration from some top documentary photographers like Martin Parr, Robert Capa, Don McCullin and James Nachtwey.
Observing the work of these photographers will help you train your photographic eye to be vigilant and see the additional depth embedded in a scene in order to capture the moments that define the story.
#3: Learn to observe
This type of work requires agility and speed unthinkable. Therefore, it is important that you learn to concentrate and know how to see things around you. The way to get it is to practice, practice and practice. Every time you have free time and go out, be aware of everything that happens, you should be able to surprise yourself by noticing that a bird has perched on the source or that a child has been released the strap of his backpack.
#4: Choose the themes of the documentary photography that you are going to portray
After looking for all the inspiration, make a list with the themes of the documentary photography that you want to portray. Putting together this list, you already have a clearer view of what you want to do. Just make sure that the theme is accessible to do and that you do not have to run much danger, etc. Also, make sure it is what you can achieve with your camera settings.
#5: Always try to tell a story through documentary photography
This is a very important piece of advice, because one of the most important characteristics in documentary photography is telling a story through images. Therefore, don’t only shoot for shooting sake, on the contrary, you must always be attentive to capture the key moment that will help you with that little story.
#6: Pay attention to Details and faces
In addition to the wide-angle shots, it is essential to select interesting details that can go unnoticed by a distracted spectator. The textures, colors and patterns serve to create attractive close-ups. Stay tuned and watch for opportunities to complement the story.
It is also important to capture the face of anyone involved. This may require a lot of confidence from the photographer, but getting close to the people and asking if you can take a picture is not really as scary as you think. The public will connect with the faces, therefore, the reactions and expressions of those involved are an excellent way to help tell the story of the subject. And remember to apply the golden ratio rule. It is very important.
#7: Be patient
Documenting a topic can be a thorough process. It is possible that there is a lot of expectation or even that the shots require multiple visits to obtain the photo you want. If this is the case, it is important to be patient and not be frustrated if the deadline is longer than you had imagined. In my experience, waiting a few minutes, hours or additional days can really make a difference.
#8: Respect the rules of the game
It is obvious that the restrictions do not agree with the idea of fun for anyone, but in this context, it is important that you play according to the rules and do not exceed the limits of what you are allowed to photograph.
In some areas there are photographic restrictions, so do not take pictures where it is not allowed and if you are asked to refrain from taking pictures, do it politely. If necessary, be sure to get permission to photograph in certain areas. Likewise, some people do not want a stranger to take pictures of themselves or their children, so you must respect their conditions.