Check Your Pocket: You Already Own an Awesome Street Photography Camera

Mobile devices rule the world. There’s no judgment of any kind built into that statement, it’s just a slightly hyperbolic expression of something I’m sure we’ve all come to realize and accept.

Cell phones are no longer relegated to actually being used as phones; they’re gaming devices, remote controls, maps, books, compasses, movie screens — everything, even cameras. Especially cameras. Making street photography something more mainstream.

Some might complain about tiny sensors and subpar lenses and proclaim these as reasons they’ll never rely on a mobile device for their photography — totally legitimate reasons, depending on one’s particular photographic needs and standards.

Unfortunately, mobile devices are too often dismissed as being useless as serious cameras. But these devices have plenty of “serious” uses, especially if you’re into street photography.

It doesn’t matter what brand or operating system you’re partial to; your mobile phone has the potential to serve as a worthy street shooter. Here are some tips, ideas and reminders to help you get the most from your mobile device/camera for street photography.

Smaller Is Sometimes Better

Shallow depth of field isn’t generally much of a concern to street photographers, who tend to prefer getting a lot of a scene in focus as means of providing context. Mobile phones are perfect for that.

The small sensor and wide angle lens mean you don’t have to worry so much about f-stops and critical focus. You are essentially free to point and shoot and you’ll likely end up with an in-focus shot with the “ideal” amount of depth of field.

This, however, does not give you a license to disregard the fundamentals — you will still need to confirm focus and you are still responsible for creating a meaningful composition. No camera will do that for you.

I Swear

Don’t Touch The Touchscreen

Touchscreens are awesome, except when they aren’t. Using a touchscreen seems to be second nature these days and many people expect every electronic gadget/device to have one; there are even those individuals who express disappointment in otherwise amazing ILC cameras if they don’t have a touchscreen.

I would suggest, though, that there are times when a hard button works better. Instead of tapping the screen to fire off a shot, you can use one of the physical buttons located on the side of your phone (usually the volume buttons).

  • First, and most importantly, using one of the side buttons often provides more stability; this may not be as much of a problem on smaller phones, but if you’ve got smallish hands and a bigger phone you may find trying to reach the onscreen shutter button to be a shaky experience.
    Using a physical button will eliminate much of that shakiness.
  • Second, using a physical button provides a tactile experience; the benefits of this could be entirely illusory, but that doesn’t really matter. Does it? Occasionally, how something feels is the only thing that counts. If clicking a button on your cell phone in some way makes you feel like you’re having a more traditional photographic experience, then why not go for it?

Peace in a Page

Use Apps And Add-Ons

I’ve covered a number of great mobile camera apps in the past. Apps are a great way to expand the functionality of your mobile device’s camera; the stock apps and functions are certainly useable but downloading a couple of third-party apps can really boost the user experience.

There are camera apps that provide manual controls (ProShotCamera+); there are apps to shoot exclusively in black and white (Black and White CameraBlackCam).

Additionally, using an image editing app will allow you to take your mind off trying to get the perfect shot in-camera; now you can just shoot and edit right on the spot if you wish. There is a healthy selection of editing apps to choose, including top entries such as Lightroom Mobile (see Jason Row’s review here), EnlightSnapseedVSCO and the ever popular Instagram.

If you’ve ever felt left out while other photographers talk about what lenses they’re going to buy next for their DSLR/mirrorless bodies, you will be happy to know that there are lenses available for cell phone cameras (Schneider OpticsOlloclip and Photojojo produce some of the more popular mobile device lenses).

Yes, you can get telephoto, wide angle, fisheye and macro lenses for your mobile device. Not all of these will be relevant for street photographers (but then again they might if you’re the creative sort) but it’s good to know you have these options at your disposal.

Spidey Sees You

Final Thoughts

If you always have your phone with you, that automatically means you always have a camera with you. No, it’s not going to outperform a dedicated camera in most technical aspects but you don’t necessarily need it to for street photography.

If street photography is about capturing candid moments in public spaces while remaining inconspicuous, then your camera phone fits the bill perfectly: it’s small, lightweight, easy to handle and blends right in with everyone else and their cell phones.

With thoughtful, refined technique and the right apps/accessories, your camera phone just might become your go-to street photography camera.

(All images taken with an iPhone 6 Plus and edited with Lightroom Mobile and Enlight)


8 Essential Tips for More Interesting City Shots

Shooting in urban environments is both fun and challenging: you are presented with the opportunity to engage in a wide range of photographic styles — street, architecture, documentary, candid — while the hectic pace of city life requires you to be especially nimble and efficient. Shoot and move or risk raising the ire of the locals.

Is it possible to be both creative and technically proficient when shooting under the weight of big city bedlam? Of course it is. Here are a few ideas to help you with that.


Shoot in One of the Semi-Automatic Modes

Aperture priority and shutter priority aren’t methods of “cheating” and using either one doesn’t diminish your worth as a photographer. If your goal is to get the shot, especially in a fast moving environment, shooting in one of these modes is going to make it that much easier. When the lighting is good or when you want to blur out the background or when you’re shooting a static subject, aperture priority works best. But if you’re looking to freeze the motion of the rapidly moving people and vehicles around you, using shutter priority will help you keep things nice and crisp. Shutter priority is also the preferred mode for panning. But if you’re a grandmaster of manual mode photography, by all means keep doing what works for you.

Ready to Rush

Treat Cityscapes the Same Way You Would Landscapes

Cities are perfect for…you guessed it…cityscapes. In principle, photographing cityscapes isn’t much different from photographing traditional landscapes. One of the most commonly cited compositional guidelines is to avoid centering the horizon, which is a great tip to follow. But the close proximity of impressive architecture to bodies of water that characterizes many cities means that you can, in fact, have some fun with symmetry.

The Island 2

Shoot Vertical

Portrait orientation isn’t just for human subjects. Skyscrapers ascribe a vertical nature to cities, so shooting in the corresponding orientation will provide a certain sense of depth and scale to the scenes you capture.


Shoot Wide

On the other hand, shooting wide allows for a more encompassing view in which you are able to include environmental elements that hallmarks of the city in which you’re shooting.


Include the People

The people of any given city are one of those environmental elements that you will definitely want to include in your photos, as they provide character and give a sense of the style and culture of a city.


Get a Bird’s Eye View

Perspective is important. And getting away from shooting everything at eye level can really spice up your images. Observation decks, buildings with rooftop access, and even helicopter rides are plentiful on cities around the world. Take advantage of the views.

Stop & Go

Look for Textures, Shapes, and Patterns

Cities, no matter how much they tout their modernism, are a fascinating mix of old and new, a mishmash of diverse aesthetic stylings. Thus, you are likely to encounter all sorts of interesting textures and patterns to photograph; you’ll find them on the ground, on buildings, on signs — everywhere, really.

A Good Day to Dance

Keep Moving

I mentioned it at the beginning and I’ll mention it again: you need to shoot and move, or at least make sure you’re well out of everyone’s way. Stopping dead in your tracks in the  middle of a sidewalk at 4:00PM in downtown Manhattan is a bad idea.


Above all, enjoy your urban adventures!

How The Importance of “Thrill” in Photography Has Been Forgotten

We all read a good deal of information about the technical components of photography hoping to perfect our photos or, at the very least, make them look as good as the images we’ve seen produced by our favorite photographers. I am quite sure that, when assessing our own work, many of us have a mental checklist of things that need to satisfy us before we’re willing to label our work as being suitable for others to see.

  • Composition: check.
  • Exposure: check.
  • White balance: check.
  • Focus: check.

But have you ever found yourself successfully reaching the end of your checklist, yet still feeling somehow dissatisfied by your photos? I believe something similar happens to us all at some point and may even be an intermittently recurring problem, which is wildly frustrating. You first instinct might be to re-check your checklist; not a bad place to start but the “problem” may not even be an item that appears on your checklist in the first place.

Think back to when you first started out in photography. Were you doing it just for fun? Were you any good at it? If you weren’t very good, how much did that bother you? Not to say that you didn’t have any desire to improve, but what drives so many new photographers is the sheer thrill of photography. You’ve yet to become transfixed on some otherworldly idea of perfection. Despite the technical deficiencies that accompany much of the imagery produced by novice photographers, the thrill and sense of adventure one feels is undeniable.

F-StopNo, “thrill” may not be a quantitative characteristic, but quite often it is the intangible things that matter most. Recall what your very first camera meant to you. While a camera is indeed a tangible, material item, what your first camera represented in relation to your creativity matters so much more than what kind of camera it was. Your first camera was intimately tied to the thrill you experienced each time you clicked the shutter button; your first camera represented freedom and adventure and it stoked your curiosity, compelling you to rediscover the world and all the interesting things and people in it.

Unfortunately, what happens along the way for far too many once bright-eyed enthusiasts is that they gradually morph into “serious” amateurs or jaded professionals who seem to have lost the thrill of photography. They become equipment oriented and spend more time in front of a computer screen reading reviews than they spend behind a camera making photos. They anguish over the bit depth associated with a particular camera and obsess about all the varied aspects of photographic theory, perhaps in an ultimately futile attempt to be the best.

Caring about your gear and understanding the technical aspects of photography aren’t bad things. The problem is an overemphasis on such things can easily poison the purity of photography you experienced when you didn’t have to worry about clients or equipment upgrades or monitor calibration. When photography becomes a hassle or a routine, is it any wonder that you would have a hard time getting excited about it?

BeyondNot a single great photo exists because someone simply read about a great camera and then decided to buy it. Great photos happen because people with cameras go out and make them. There are those who have, for various reasons, grown weary of the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you. But, at the most primal level, this couldn’t be more true. In this sense, your camera should be an afterthought; your primary concern should be experiencing a moment and then using your camera to communicate that experience.

It’s all about the thrill of photography. If you’re finding yourself dissatisfied with your work and can’t seem to find anything lacking on your checklist, ask yourself if you’ve lost the thrill that photography once provided you. Just for a moment, forget about trying to create the perfect photo, forget about trying to make a buck, forget about the potential for recognition. Just do it for the thrill.

3 Ways to Deal with Distracting Backgrounds

I imagine it’s a scenario that plays out quite often: you take inventory of your gear and realize you don’t have two really important pieces — off-camera flash and a backdrop of some kind (muslin, seamless paper, etc.).

So you resort to what you deem to be the next best option — take your portraiture outdoors.

It’s a perfectly logical and feasible option that can really open up creative potential for your portraits, but outdoor portraiture also has the potential to foil some of those lofty ideas you may have originally held, especially when it comes to getting good backgrounds.

If you’ve taken up outdoor portraiture and have found yourself struggling to achieve non-distracting/less distracting backgrounds, you’ll be happy to know that the solutions to your frustration are super simple and won’t cost you a dime.

1. Micromanage the Background

When you decide to shoot in the great outdoors you kind of have to take what you’re given – and sometimes, particularly in urban environments, what you have to work with is less than ideal.

Your job as a portrait photographer is to work the scene, not to let the scene work you. This means paying attention to detail; virtually any scene you encounter will have the potential to work for you. All you need to do is break the environment down to its very best elements.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a building facade, a tree or a graffiti covered wall; there’s always a small area of potential. Locate that area of potential, position your subject accordingly and get your shot.

You Belong to the City (color)

2. Blur Out the Background

Shooting wide open refers to taking a shot with your lens set to its largest (widest) aperture. This, in turn, creates shallow depth of field — you can keep your subject’s face in focus while blurring out the background. There are, however, a couple of points you will want to keep in mind in order to get the best results from this method.

It may not be possible to use your lens wide open in a bright outdoor setting without severely overexposing the shot. If you can’t get your shutter speed high enough to get a proper exposure, you can use a neutral density filter to help decrease the amount of light entering the lens.

Be sure to place your subject a good distance from the background; if there isn’t sufficient space between your subject and the background you won’t really see any blur.

You can further help maximize background blur by using a longer focal length, which will take better advantage of the compression effect. An 85mm focal length will produce more compression than a 50mm focal length; 200mm is even better.

Park & Chill

3. Blow Out the Background

A third practical but creative way to handle a distracting background is to overexpose it a bit. It’s easy to accomplish. Position your subject in front of a well-lit background (something as simple as a white wall can work wonders) and meter for the subject’s face (use spot metering if your camera has it).

The end result will be a blown out background with your subject being the center of attention. A quick reminder: make sure you don’t meter for the background or you’ll end up with a silhouette.

Jackie light

My Final Thoughts

Some photographers prefer to do their portraits outdoors; others resort to working outdoors due to financial or space constraints.

No matter what might compel you to take up outdoor portraiture, you must be aware that you are going to encounter challenging environments; you may save money on traditional studio equipment but you’re going to have to expend some time and effort overcoming cluttered/unsightly backgrounds.

Fortunately, it’s not a terribly difficult thing to do. While the ideas presented above represent specific solutions, the overriding point is to use the environment to your advantage – use light, shadows, angles and even less-than-perfect backgrounds in a creative manner.

And after you’ve captured your shot, apply that same creativity in post-processing; some resourceful cropping can be especially helpful for improving busy backgrounds.

These Steps Will Help You Nail Focus (Almost) Every Time

Is there anything that can’t be fixed in post? Thanks to the brilliance of Lightroom, Photoshop, and other similar applications, one could easily surmise that the answer to that question is a resounding no. Crooked horizons, over/under-exposure, excessive noise — all relatively easy to remedy. You can even remove the people cluttering up your shot of a famous landmark or swap out one sky for another. The list of manipulations than can be made with software is extensive, but there are certain things that simply can’t be compensated for in post-processing. Among those things are blurry images. I don’t mean shots that require a bit of sharping, I mean shots where it’s painfully obvious that you missed focus.

Out of focus shots are frustrating. Even worse, there’s no software out there that can take an unfocused image and put it in focus. When you miss, you miss. So it’s better not to miss. Here are some things you can do to help ensure you get sharp, in-focus shots every time.

Motion vs. No Motion

Is your subject stationary or is it moving? The answer to this will greatly affect how you go about capturing the image.

If your subject is stationary you’re not likely to run into too much trouble. Perhaps the simplest way to deal with things is to set your camera to single AF mode and, if necessary, move the focus point to the place on your subject where sharpness is most important. There are times, however, when your camera’s AF system isn’t up to the task, such as when shooting in very low light conditions or when the subject exhibits a lack of contrast (a cloudless blue sky or a solid color wall, for instance). In such cases, if you were to leave it up to the camera, it would just continue to hunt for focus. Should the camera ever lock on to something, it almost certainly won’t be in focus.

Situations like this call for you to take things into your own hands and switch to manual focus. By focusing manually, you are not at the mercy of the limitations of your camera’s AF system. Just know that if your manually focused shots are out of focus, you can’t blame the camera.

Yankees Rangers-5

If your subject is in motion — a bird in flight, your child running in the park, cars racing along the highway — you will want to set your camera to continuous focus mode (different camera makers may use different terminology: AI Servo for Canon, AF-C for Nikon and Sony, C-AF for Olympus — consult your manual if you need to). This focusing mode keeps a subject in sharp focus as you track it with your camera. Once you depress the shutter button half way, the camera will lock on to the subject and continue to adjust focus as they the subject moves so that once you fully press the shutter button to take the shot, odds are you will have a sharp blur-free image.

Check Your Shutter Speed

One culprit of out of focus/blurry images is camera shake. And the main culprit of camera shake is inadequate shutter speed. By using a fast enough shutter speed, you mitigate the effects of camera shake, thus dramatically increasing the probability of a properly focused shot. So how fast is fast enough? That depends. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the “reciprocal rule.”

For example, if you are using a 100mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/100th of a second. If you’re using a zoom lens set to 250mm, set your shutter speed to 1/250th of second or faster. There is an important caveat to consider, though. This specific implementation of the reciprocal rule applies only to full frame cameras.

In order to adapt the reciprocal rule to crop sensor cameras (APS-C, micro 4/3rds, APS-H, etc.), you have to account for the camera’s crop factor by multiplying the crop factor by the lens focal length. If, for instance, you are using a focal length of 100mm on a camera with a crop factor of 1.5x (commonly used by Nikon, Sony, Samsung, and Fujifilm APS-C cameras) you will need to set a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th of a second (100 x 1.5 = 150, but you won’t find 1/150th on your camera, so go up to 1/160th). The rule isn’t totally fool-proof, and it’s a good idea to err on the side of speed; if, by applying the reciprocal rule, you determine you need a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second, go ahead and shoot at 1/100th of a second unless, of course, that means you will underexpose the shot.

22 Up

Image stabilization, whether in-lens or in-camera, is an increasingly common feature and can work wonders in terms of allowing you to achieve sharp images while hand holding your camera at relatively low shutter speeds. Image stabilization, however, does not freeze moving subjects and should typically be disabled when using a tripod.

Increase ISO

Don’t fear high ISO levels. I can almost guarantee that you will one day find yourself in a situation where the only way to get a substantially fast shutter speed is to bump up ISO. Just do it. Many cameras will perform just fine up to ISO 3200. You will be happy you got the shot and you can always apply noise reduction on the image during post-processing.

Use a Tripod

Some photographers don’t want to even think about having to carry around a tripod (I know because I’m one of them), but the fact remains that a tripod is your most effective source of stabilizing your camera. With a good tripod, you don’t worry about camera shake, which means you can safely shoot at slower shutter speeds, which means you can keep your ISO lower, all the while getting crisp, properly focused shots. And not only are there sturdy, lightweight tripods available, there are numerous tripod “alternatives” out there such as monopods and mini/flexible tripods.


In Appreciation of Prime Lenses

Menu scan

Zoom lenses are everywhere in modern photography — from mobile devices to point and shoot cameras to entry level DSLRs, a zoom lens is pretty much a standard marketing companion. Even many higher end DSLRs typically feature a zoom lens as part of the kit. Sure, you can always buy just a camera body and choose your own lens, but, with a few exceptions, it seems that the days when cameras came with a simple 35mm or 50mm lens are a thing of film photography’s distant past.

This isn’t an effort to denigrate zoom lenses because that would be pointless; zoom lenses play a vital role in photography. But given the dynamics of modern (digital) photography, it is quite possible that many new photographers have never used or even heard of a “prime” lens.

If you happen to be one of those who have never used a prime lens — a single focal length lens — you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. Is it just hype and no substance? Is the awesomeness of prime lenses all in other people’s heads?

Both of those questions can be assuredly answered, “No.”

So let’s go over the reasons why you should give prime lenses a try and why I’m confident that you will absolutely love the results.

Prime Lenses and Image Quality

One of the things you will hear most often when it comes to why photographers adore prime lenses is for their superior image quality. To be sure, there are indeed a handful of zoom lenses that produce images of a quality approaching — if not matching — some prime lenses. But this isn’t the norm and doesn’t apply to the majority of zoom lenses.

The main reason exceptional image quality is associated with fixed focal length lenses is because they contain less glass, a less complicated optics formula, and fewer moving parts than their zoom counterparts. This all translates to better contrast (which most people interpret as sharpness), less distortion, and more pleasing bokeh (out of focus areas).

sunny day

There is probably no zoom lens in existence that can match a prime lens in every aspect of image quality, and if such a zoom did exist, it would likely weigh a ton and be out of the price range of all but the richest 1%. Both Nikon and Canon make highly regarded 70-200mm zoom lenses, yet both companies also produce comparatively cheap 50mm lenses that are held in high esteem for their optical qualities.

Prime Lenses and Maximum Aperture

This could, perhaps, compete with overall image quality as the number one reason photographers love prime lenses. Having a wide maximum aperture (small f-number) gives prime lenses two very important advantages:

1. They can capture more light, meaning you won’t have to sacrifice shutter speed and you can keep ISO levels lower.

2. Their wider apertures allow more control over depth of field and, thereby, subject-background isolation.

It is not uncommon to find a prime lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.0. If you are willing to pay a little more, you can get a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.2. In 2013 Sigma lenses introduced the first zoom lens with a constant maximum aperture of f/1.8; all other zoom lenses on the market max out at f/2.8, with the average maximum aperture being f/3.5 to f/5.6.

Prime lenses simply hold a distinct advantage in the lens speed department. When you want to isolate your subject from the background, shoot indoors under poor lighting, or shoot outdoors at night, a prime lens is the way to go.

Prime Lenses and Your Compositional Skills

If one were to cast an aspersion of some kind on prime lenses, it would probably be that they aren’t as versatile as zoom lenses; they can’t change focal lengths. Whether that is truly a “con” is debatable. No, you can’t twist the barrel of a prime lens and suddenly be closer to your subject; you’ll have to use your feet to do that, which will change the shot’s perspective and framing. All of this means that when using a fixed focal length lens, you need to be ever so conscientious of your composition. Sometimes just taking a step forward or backward is all you need; other times, that’s not going to work at all and you’ll need to reframe/recompose the shot. The bottom line is that you will be forced to think before you shoot. If it sounds like too much work, just remember that most things worth doing aren’t usually easy. But the perceived “inconvenience” of using a prime lens may very well end up making you a better photographer.

Prime Lens Weight, Size, and Price

Prime lenses are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than zoom lenses. There are, of course, exceptions to this, particularly in terms of price, as there are some f/1.2 prime lenses that can put a real dent in your bank account. As a guiding principle, however, if you want a small, lightweight, affordable lens, you are very likely to find all these traits in a prime lens.

What Are Prime Lenses Used For?

Almost anything you want, really. And this is where prime lenses’ supposed lack of versatility becomes more a matter of perception than an objective fact.

  • General purpose/walk-around lens. Sometimes you just want to grab your camera and go; you don’t have any specific themes or subjects in mind, you simply feel the urge to go out and shoot, unencumbered by a heavy lens.

driver's seat

  • Street photography. Size and weight make a prime lens the perfect candidate for street photography. You want to be comfortable, not lugging a weighty lens around your neck; and you want to be discreet, not bringing undue attention to yourself, a feat considerably less attainable if you’ve got a foot-long lens protruding from your face.


  • Close-up photography. While not true macro photography, you can use a prime lens in conjunction with a close-up filter or a set of extension tubes to approximate the look of a macro lens. You can also reverse mount one lens onto another to achieve a similar result. And just so there’s no confusion, true macro lenses are, in fact, also prime lenses.


  • Portraits. Lenses 85mm and longer are often considered traditional portrait lengths. But there’s no right or wrong here; you can also use a 35mm or a 50mm lens for portraits, just be aware of the distortion that may be introduced at shorter focal lengths and compose accordingly.

Jackie light Gaze IMG_9868-Edit


The benefits of using a prime lens are many: image quality, aperture, cost, improved technique. We can’t deny, however, that there is a time and a place for zoom lenses; there are situations that simply demand them. If you shoots sports, you will likely find a zoom lens perfectly suited to what you’re shooting; a similar case can be made for wedding photography. The real drawback of prime lenses might be that you would need to carry two or three primes to cover the same focal length of one zoom.

Yet, for some photographers, the image quality of a prime lens is enough to override concerns about having to carry multiple prime lenses. If you are interested in building a collection of primes, you simply need to know what you shoot so that your collection is a smart collection. And it will almost certainly be a sharp collection.


Through the Eyes of a Documentarian

Discussions of documentary photography often occur within the context of significant historical events; Dorthea Lange’s Depression-era work, Diane Arbus’ offbeat coverage of 1950s and 1960s NYC, Lewis Hine’s impact on American child labor laws. Since the invention of the camera, photographers from every part of the world have played a vital role in the preserving the facts of this planet’s social evolution.

A documentary photographer’s work is never done.

But just because an event doesn’t make a splash on a global scale doesn’t mean it’s not worth documenting. Any event that is important to any one of us can and should be preserved, if for no other reason than being able to revisit a memory whenever the mood strikes.

If you’re interested in getting started in documentary photography, you should know upfront that it is not an inconsequential undertaking; you have little to no control over timing, lighting, or the subject matter itself. You must be quick to recognize and respond to a wide range of situations, as you don’t want to miss any important moments. And, in concert with your camera, you have to translate everything going on around you into a visual story.

Still interested?

The following tips will help get you going.

Choose and Research Your Subject


This could quite possibly be the most challenging phase of the process; who is going to be the center of attention in your documentary project? It could be someone in your own family whose story you want to tell — your grandparents, perhaps. It could be a family other than your own, a neighbor, or a group of individuals employed in an occupation you find particularly intriguing. You can choose someone you know well or someone you’re not especially acquainted with.

Regardless of how well you know the subject, spend some time doing research and asking questions, as this will assist you in determining how you want to present your subject and you will have at least a slight idea of what to expect during shooting.

Get Inspired and Choose a Style


Now that you know what you’re going to shoot, you need to decide how you’re going to shoot it. Will you use natural light or flash to impact mood? What do you need to do to ensure your photos are coherent and thematic? Should you do mostly wide shots? Long shots? Will your finished images be color or black and white? If you need help deciding such things, take a look at great documentarians like those listed at the top of this article, or browse entries from photography contests under the appropriate category. There’s no shortage of inspiring work out there for you take some cues from.

Get Prepared


Decide what gear you will need to pull off what you have in mind; if you need to be mobile and move quickly, a minimalistic approach will serve you best. Also, obtain permission as you need it. If you are shooting at a place of business, for example, you can’t just show up with your camera and do whatever you want. It’s important to not be intrusive, so play nice with others and they will likely return the favor in kind.

Embrace Your Role as a Storyteller


You have the responsibility of objectively telling your subject’s story; regardless of whatever stylistic decisions you make, your number one goal is to represent the truth as it relates specifically to your subject. You are not editorializing, you are documenting.

Interact with Your Subjects


…Assuming your subject matter is people-focused. If so, and your aren’t going for the detached observer approach, then your work will benefit from establishing relationships with your subjects. Introduce yourself, explain a little bit about what you’re doing, ask them about themselves; if your subjects are at ease and comfortable with having you around, it will be strongly reflected in your images.

Play the Waiting Game


Don’t think that the moment you walk onto your location great moments are going to start happening; it doesn’t work that way. You have to wait for things to unfold and develop at their own pace. Remain vigilant, always on the look out for defining moments, but don’t try to rush it. Accept that it could be hours, perhaps days, before you get the shot you’re looking for.

Of course, if you’re working within a limited timeframe, you will need to maximize that time. In such cases, don’t become overly focused on one thing; refocus your attention elsewhere, then come back to your original target.

The Big Picture vs. Details


You can more effectively tell a story by using varied perspectives; don’t rely exclusively on one kind of shot. Use wide angle shots to establish the scene, and use more detailed shots to personalize the story.

Keep Post-Processing Simple


If you rushed through the shoot or didn’t put the deserved amount of care into each shot, going overboard with post-processing cannot save you; it will only call greater attention to your failure to get things right in-camera. So, in keeping with the idea of truth and reality, make sure that your images require little processing. Thoughtful framing and composition will have far more impact than unnecessary processing flourishes.

It’s All About Presentation

Now you get to show off all your hard work. Choose the most meaningful images and round them up into a cohesive unit; organize them in such a way that they form a story that is easy for the viewer to follow. Keep in mind that the images that have the most narrative impact may not always be the “best” shots — don’t include photos just because they look nice. Stick to images that act as vital pieces to a puzzle.

From there, decide how you want to present your final product to your viewers. You might build an online slideshow, compile a book, hang prints in a gallery — it’s up to you. Documentary photography can be a demanding but rewarding task. Give your work the treatment you know it deserves.

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