The world we live in is full of stories, from war zones to migrating animals. Every day, newspapers are filled with articles showing the struggles of life or a beached pod of whales somewhere in the world, and all of these stories have photographs and ‘The Story’. Documentary photography, as the words say is documenting the story with photographs. Words and text and can only do so much, but the perfect shot can really show what is going on. One photo that always springs to my mind is the fireman walking away from the twin towers attacks. A single photo, how could one possibly explain all that pain and emotion in text.
One of the big things that have led this area to boom is the fact that photos can be taken, texts written up and then emailed to an office with minutes when completed. A continuing story can be followed almost hourly with photos and text updates. Needless to say, the photography has to be at a high standard and so does the journalistic skills of the photographer.
The Photography Skills
It is not enough to just go out, buy a camera, a notepad and pencil, and a plane ticket to somewhere where there might be a story. There are skills needed. The skills are not the same as photographing your pets in the garden and the whole family says ‘wow they look lovely’ or the fact that you have bought a £2000 camera with a great lens, cameras do not take photographs, people do. It would just mean that you could have very expensive bad photos.
These skills will include:
- Understanding the full functionality of your camera
- Exposure, aperture, Shutter speed, ISO
- The depth of field, focusing, hyperfocal focusing
- practice, practice, practice
It goes without saying that a need for good written and writing skills but add to this, the inquisitive nature. We must ask the key questions:
The photographs we take will answer these questions. A lens with a good wide aperture of f2 or bigger and wide-angle 35mm downwards. The big aperture enables us to work in lower light without having to use a flash and drawing attention to ourselves.
Get a feeling of the place, the characters, the good and the bad if this is appropriate. The relationship between what is going on and the people or animals. The contrast between what was normal and the current.
When you’re on location, photograph everything. What may seem insignificant at that moment might turn out to be something important. The people you involve in the story, make note of who they are and if you make promises about sending prints, keep the promise.
Go out to a local fair or event. Look for a story and try. Then do another, maybe the remains of a fire or car crash. Follow the tips here and give it a go. Practice is key, don’t buy a camera then fly to a war-torn country expecting great results. This area of photography takes time and skill and, people skills.
Look at other people’s work, get an idea of what is being done. Look at your photography skills and sharpen those skills.
Becoming a photographer overnight will not happen, skills take time to develop.