8 Beginner’s Tip to Kick start Your Documentary Photography

Posted by Fotovalley | July 30, 2020 | Photography

Simply put, documentary photography is all about absorbing the true to life essence and conscience of the subject. It puts the spotlight on a cause or greater social issues within an enriched definition. The compositions capture life as it is, telling powerful stories, universal truth, or global issues without any staging, directing, or professional photography editing.

This domain of photography requires highly minimal or zero post-production effort or the help of professional retouching services as the compositions are made to unfold real life, evocatively. It has the potential to trigger a sense of social change or a deeper perspective among the audience. So it is very important for you as a beginner to seize every bit of its elements with a keen eye, passion, intuition, and skill.


Before we get into detail, make sure you’re familiar with the fundamentals aspects of photography and that you have built yourself a strong foundation. Although the necessity of seeking help from image editing services is minimal in this domain, the learning curve is massive and worthwhile.

So how do you do it?

Let’s check out how to kick start your documentary photography proficiency in detail.

Accurate Planning, and Shot Lists

Record your progress in a journal with proper planning about your shoot schedules and goals with a detailed plan of action. Build your concepts/ideas or thoughts with extensive research and learn new stuff. You should have clarity as to what you want to achieve for the same and in your committed projects. It will drive you excellent focus and build your people skills and communicating.
The other thing to keep in mind is about developing a precise perspective about your shots. It includes various elements such as your shoot locations, specific requirements, happenings/issues, the kind of people you want to involve, and how you want to tell your story through your compositions. Once you’re clear with this storyboard your ideas and put together shot lists, either detailed or with more of a general touch, it’s all up to you. Above all how you improvise during a shoot has serious potential, considering all the minute details and a broad perspective that keep you aware all the time.

People Skills for a More Personal Touch

Your photography expertise or technical foundation only has a supportive role when it comes to making documentary photographs. Your people skills and communication are the prime aspects that will fetch you your moment. The conversations and interactions you have with people will help you learn intensively, research more, and understand the incidents of your chosen subject or location.


Do in-depth research, build knowledge and concept, and set it firmly in your mind and your journal. Then, deeply visualize how you want to represent the documentary subject in the locations you’re planning to visit and do more research from online sources that will give you more ideas. For a more authentic approach visit libraries to build knowledge as the information would be more refined when compared to the internet. Since the post-production effort in this type of photography is close to zero, we wouldn’t suggest getting help by outsourcing image editing services providers.

Collaborate extensively with people of similar interests and try learning from them as well.

During location hunts or visits, try to absorb the happening around, activity patterns, or even repetition. This will help with the characteristic of your chosen documentary photography subject and will help you invest considerable focus and attention to the same.

Refrain from any form of Staging or Direction

The process is spontaneously honest and you should refrain from staging or directing your subjects in any way. It includes not to tell them what to wear, where to position, or what pose to strike, or bring in movements to the frame – no, that’s not how it works.
It’s all about how you can reveal the honesty and truthfulness of the moment that you’re capturing in front of you. Any means of staging or directing will take the soul of your documentary photograph, which is the same when it comes to professional photo editing.

Embrace Life As It Is

Have yourself a more open mind and perspective to what unfolds in front of you. The experience is priceless and unquestionably – life as it is. While being the same, you can see how well your inner vision unfolds and the beauty of the moment in its purest form. This is not something you can accomplish with a staged shoot which definitely can’t be considered documentary photography.

It all lies in the art of anticipating the moment and not by chasing a missed moment which will be pointless. So maintain a good composure and frame your background that fits your composition and patiently wait for the action to happen that gives you better control of the outcome rather than manipulating it with the help of professional retouching services. It’s worth your every effort by learning to wait patiently and learn to anticipate the moment.

Commit the Time

You should be committed to the cause and it requires your due investment of time with your subject. It’s doesn’t mean rushing about and capturing or documenting immediate events. The favourable factor of time is always by your side in documentary photography. Documenting a single project can supposedly span over weeks, months, or even years. In all its glory, you get to know the subject in an in-depth manner, building intimacy yielding your work a beautiful meaning.

Be Your Own Critique and Get Yourself a Mentor

Reprocess and review your photographs frequently and if possible consider the expertise of an experienced photographer or anyone interested in your projects. This way you can communicate your ideas with a deeper evaluation helping you grow. This is especially useful for projects that have a long term schedule. The critique in you should have a keen eye that surfs over every minute detail to draw in every aspect of your photograph. See if your work can deliver the message, with true and honest representation that will help people understand. It is never easy for you to express the exact emotion of your project, but if people do experience it, there’s the beauty of the moment. Evaluate your best photographs as you progress in this venture that will help you figure out how far you’ve developed and grown in visual storytelling.

Preserve Your Work

Make it a habit to keep prompt backups and add metadata for your work that will help you gain the best online visibility, no matter what. Also, organize and manage your work accordingly as you work systematically.

The above tips will surely help you kick start your documentary photography venture to exceptionally exhibit life and deliver your message to the cause.

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