Allow me to set the scene for you.
You’ve just had a chat with a friend and now you’re expecting their visit. You might tidy up a little bit but this is a good friend. You know they’re not there to inspect your home; they’re there to see you, to see what’s new with you and to find out what’s been going on in your life. Maybe you’ve just had a baby, a birthday, or just bought a couch that you love. Whatever it is, they are there to see you.
There is no need to worry over how your clothing looks. If you like it, so be it. Your friend isn’t there to stare at your fashion choices (and I hope you won’t stare at theirs!) There’s no fussing over smiles. Yours is just fine and should you feel the need to show it, even better. If you’re making a special meal or dressing your new baby, whatever is important to you will be just as important to your friend. After all, you are the reason for the visit.
A documentary photo shoot is like opening your door to a friend or lifting the curtains for
someone to come inside your life and press record.
In these sessions, I’m not just the photographer, I’m an observer. I’m not changing your background or removing items. This is your life and I want to show it exactly as it is with its clutter or no clutter, the many emotions, the small moments, everything. Imagine me as that friend coming over for a visit. I’m just there with my camera along for the ride. I’m there for the highs, the lows, everything in between and instead of a moment that can be repeated and posed, it is what it is.
That’s Documentary Photography for me.
So what happens once the door is open?
Don’t be nervous but I’ll likely have my camera ready. I treat my shoots the same way I do my shoots at home. I walk around with my camera, I test the lighting, I take a few photos here and there. I never know what will catch my eye so I like to be ready.
I may chat with you, ask you questions and get to know you even more over the time I’m there so don’t be afraid to talk and laugh and even eat. There is no need for quiet unless you want quiet and there is no reason to change anything about your day for me. I’m just walking in and fitting myself into your time. If it helps you, you can even completely ignore me and I’ll happily continue the shoot.
Depending on the reason for the shoot, I may ask you a few questions
Maybe a few about your home:
Anywhere that’s off limits?
Where do you spend most of your time?
Is there anywhere that is most significant or peaceful to you?
I may ask also ask about your family:
What does a night with your family look like?
What are your bedtime rituals with your children?
Most people are more comfortable when they’re talking. These are also times when you can tell who a person really is or what they value. A parent talking about their child is likely to have a small loving smile on their face or that look in their eyes. A joke will get a real laugh from a person. It’s okay to insert those into the shoot and it tends to loosen every one up.
There may be times when my camera is down.
Sometimes people can get nervous with every click. Their focus goes to the camera and back to “cheese”. If I feel like we’re drifting into poses or if we’re getting too nervous, I’ll pull back. The last thing I would want is for anyone to feel like they’re in a photo shoot. I may even make a few suggestions or ask more questions to get us back on track.
The goal is for it to feel like time well spent with another person, not a setup. I don’t want you to feel like your day has been interrupted by someone snapping away at you so if it begins to feel that, I’ll pause.
If there are any special shots that you’d like to have, I’ll try to accommodate you during my time with you but beyond that, I try to keep it simple and seamless while following your lead.
Once the shoot is over
I follow the same protocol as I do for Lifestyle shoots. You can read a bit more about what comes next like viewing your photos, here.
The length of time for a Documentary shoot varies based on the reason for the shoot. I’ve done mere minutes to long hours with my son. The photo above was when I told him I had finally finished the degree I started when he was younger. This look was pure joy over having his mom’s time all to himself and it was in minutes out on the stairs. Some shoots are for events both large and small and may last a few hours to half a day. Other shoots may be a Day In Our Life- type of shoot and can last all day even into the night. In part 2 of Documentary Style: What to Expect, I’ll walk you through two different shoots so you can get an even better feel for how a Documentary Shoot takes place.