Tips for Documentary Photography


Documentary photography is considered to be one of the most gratifying yet difficult forms of photography. This is one of the many genres which allows the photographer to “be your own” boss but at the same time have no control over the subject. A photographer should be able to compose pictures at the spur of the moment and build a series of images that will convey a strong story.

As Henri Cartier Bresson defined it- the decisive moment in documentary photography gives you no second chances.

Here are some tips for learning how to become a master at documentary photography.


Choosing the right subject

The most important characteristic of any documentary photograph is the subject. The subject has to be interesting and needs to make the viewer understand the sentiment behind the photograph in the first go. Above all remember the word “document” implies a certain amount of truth and objectivity. This will need to be your mantra as you go about your work.


Research Your Subject

Whether you decide to document an individual’s everyday life or a large event, you’ll need to study up and get to know your subject matter. Not only will  that help you to anticipate what to expect while shooting, but it will enable you to more accurately understand how to represent the subject matter involved. Make sure you have all the necessary equipment you’ll need.


Relationships with Subjects

In order to achieve a certain shot you may want to interact heavily with your subject. You’ll need to build a rapport with them through conversations to break down any apprehensions they may have about being photographed. This may require spending several weeks observing them without a camera on hand to build trust.

People are always curious when they see someone with a camera. Put not only your subject at ease but also everyone else around them as well with a friendly and relaxed demeanor. Explain to them exactly who you are and your purpose on doing the shoot.


Details and Face

Faces tell the story. Along with your wide-angle shots, it’s pertinent you select the most interesting details about your subject’s face and attire. Textures, colors and patterns can all create an exceptional photo. (Remember the famous cover shot of the girl with the unbelievable blue eyes on the cover of National Geographic?) You’ll also want to capture the essence of people most close to your subject. You’ll need the confidence to approach strangers to ask them to take their picture. In the end, your efforts will be worth it. It’s the expressions of faces that draws a viewer in and helps to tell your story to its fullest.


Attain Layers in every image

It is very necessary that the viewer connects with your image, and that you have an interesting story that comes through with every image. Capture your subject in its surroundings, make sure to add a variety of elements or layers to your image by looking around your place of shooting first. Every brilliant shot is always well thought, but also at the same time needs to be a quick decision, so that you don’t lose your shot.

Although many people thing that documentary photography is one of the easiest genres of photography, it isn’t. Photographers need to become one with the environment, make the person feel comfortable, and only then will they achieve a good documentary shot.



Article By – Ghazala Shaikh

Images By – Sandeep Joshi

No Comments

Leave a Reply