What is a photo but a record of a particular moment? Documentary photography is the most basic form of photography. It preserves a person or place in their context. Photographers have compared documentary photographers to photojournalists. However, one does not need to be a professional to use a camera to tell a story. Documentary photography is characterized by the authenticity with which it describes the subject’s story. These photographs are not staged; they are observed and captured without intervention. With the right tools and simple techniques, anyone can learn how to focus their lens and reveal the world in a single click.
What is documentary photography?
Documentary photography, by definition, is the art of capturing events or experiences that are historically, culturally, and socially significant. These subjects can be either current events or timeless stories of real-life stories from around the globe. Documentary photography was pioneered by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who captured the coronation ceremony of King George VI in 1937. Dorothea Lange documented the devastating effects of the Great Depression in America. And avant-garde American photographer Diane Arbus’s persistent imagery of marginalized people, such as circus folk and transgender people, was taboo during the 1950s & ’60s. They were among the photographers who influenced a more relaxed approach to photography. This included Lewis Hine and Robert Frank, as well as Walker Evans and Robert Capa.
Documentary photography can also be used to show the mundane details of daily life. Choosing to film something ordinary gives the image an added gravitas. This is a great way to tell a story about yourself or your family by highlighting small details that are often overlooked. The same principles and techniques apply whether you are capturing a culture from a distant country or capturing details in your home. These photography tips will help you to get started.
How to Choose the Right Camera
The art of photography has always been multi-media, from the first capture with a camera lens or sensor to the final image developed in a black room or uploaded on the internet. It is essential to consider what you want to do with your photos after you capture them. Then, you can choose the best device for capturing the shots.
You can use any camera for documentaries. You can use any camera, whether an iPhone, a DSLR, or a disposable one. The camera you choose will depend on your research, your familiarity with the subject, and your intended use. For images that will be printed, a DSLR camera in RAW mode is the best option for exporting high-resolution pictures. You can use a DSLR or regular camera to publish digitally. However, you should still shoot RAW because most editors need high-resolution images for publication. When shooting personal documentary photos, consider the story you want to tell. Then find the camera that best matches your vision.
Also, it is essential to remember that documentary photography requires you to immerse yourself in the moment. It is necessary to have a variety of lenses and cameras that can capture any action. A zoom lens and a Wide-angle Lens will help you capture the moment, no matter how close or far it is. You’ll need to adjust your exposure, shutter speed, and ISO settings if you plan on shooting a night event or a protest.
Choosing Your Subject
It can be challenging to gain the trust of strangers at first. However, a little kindness and open communication will go a long way. In the beginning, it can be challenging to gain strangers’ trust. However, a little heart, along with open communication, will go a long way. While documentarians are very present, they can also benefit by minimizing their presence to let the scene unfold naturally. Always be aware of your camera movements and avoid interfering with the action.
What to Consider When Making Your Shot List
Beginner documentary photographers often make the mistake of assuming that every shot must include a subject’s face. There are many other ways to capture a person’s life story. A documentary photographer may choose to show more than just their face. A shot list can be as simple as a list or a fancy shot list template.
Start a shortlist by writing down all possible locations you want to explore. Include other pertinent information such as shot size, scene numbers, shot types, camera angles, and additional notes. In your shot list or a separate storyboard, you can refer to similar shots. Ask the subject if you can shoot in their favorite place, home, or workplace. Accentuate ambient details such as how a person dresses and wears jewelry, a collection on a desk, dresser, or drawer of souvenirs, or subtle interactions between passers-by. The close-up shot is just as important as the wide shot. It establishes your subject as a character and reveals their true story. Try experimenting with different camera angles. Low angles can enhance the scale of your issue, while high grades will diminish it. Before you begin, think about the different types of shots and make notes on your camera shot checklist. You will likely have several specific images in mind, but you should also leave room for spontaneity.
Documentary photography is not just an art form but a way to preserve the past. Jacob Riis, a social photojournalist who documented the poverty of those living in New York City’s tenements at the beginning of the 20th century, inspired a national dialogue and led to social change. Documentary photography does not have to be politically or socially charged. It usually illuminates some aspect of life and helps us understand the human condition one photo at a time.