Documentary photography holds the power to capture moments of historical significance, to broaden our exposure to people, places and experiences beyond our reach, to shape (or shatter) our perceptions and to offer an authentic view of humanity. While photography is much about exposing what we see, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface.
There’s a complicated concoction of thoughts and feelings that drive the impulse to lift a camera to our eyes, to compose the raw material of what’s present and to wait patiently for the proper moment of capture, when time and space sync and align. We, as documentary photographers, most often play the role of intense observers, attempting to minimize our influence on the subject in focus, yet I believe we subconsciously infuse a bit of ourselves in each of the images we create.
Whether you’re an avid mobile shooter, an eager amateur photographer or a seasoned professional with a desire to explore documentary photography—or simply document your own life—I created the book Lens on Life: Documenting Your World Through Photography to serve as a companion on your journey. You don’t have to visit faraway lands, witness newsworthy events or carry expensive camera gear to document your world. Try these seven tips to get you started.
1. Focus on the moment by minimizing the complexity and size of your equipment.
Documenting life through a viewfinder in search of interesting moments requires you to be fully present, following your subject and composing the moment rather than fumbling with the settings on your camera.
Choose a camera that feels comfortable in your hands, and shoot with it daily to become familiar with its capabilities and limitations. While a high-end digital SLR does give you the flexibility of fine-tuned control over settings, such as ISO, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and exposure to capture the image in your mind’s eye, it demands more time and thought to control during the shooting process. Consider an unobtrusive, simple-to-use camera (such as an iPhone) that fits in your pocket, backpack or purse, and shift your focus on the moment.
2. Stop shooting what you think you’re supposed to be shooting, and shoot what you love.
The process of uncovering your vision is a lot like learning to color outside the lines of a coloring book when you were a child—to put aside a set of predetermined subjects and defined boundaries, and to get comfortable drawing your own lines and shapes on a blank piece of paper.
Grant yourself the freedom to stop making the photographs you think you’re supposed to be making to please an audience and begin making photographs or curating your work in a way that pleases you. The best way to uncover your vision is to follow your instincts, shoot frequently, experiment often, study your images and look for trends.