What is Documentary Style Photography?

What is Documentary Style Photography?

Documentary style photography of Nail salons across the country

Documentary style photography of Nail salons across the country

So, what is Documentary Style Photography? I have always been obsessed with visual story telling through pictures. From early in my career, I have always wanted to fully, beautifully and truthfully tell a tale as I understood it. This type of photography is called documentary-style photography. If you want a job that looks like a copied fast fashion look book for H&M then this isn’t for you. However, if you buck trends, embrace elegance and thrive on timelessness, then this photography style will make you happy.
So, in short, documentary style photography is for anyone who wants a beautified story in pictures. The great thing about this kind of photo journalistic work is that, because it’s less intense than actual journalism, it allows for more creativity. Because I am able to understand what’s in front of my lens, I can interpret it effectively.
This photography blog post comes with some tips and ideas to bring my story telling technique to you.  To enumerate:
  1. Documentary means to document what happens naturally.
  2. We do not change or alter the environment. It is embraced as part of the story.
  3. Consider what the story is all about. The people, the place or both.
  4. Remember to set the scene with details of the place. This could mean a tree, a bookshelf or the hem of a dress.
  5. By the same token, don’t forget to zoom out. Establishing shots are both detailed and wide.
  6. Think about things that are less obvious: people walking, the backs, the body language.

Brides_on_rooftop documentary style photography


Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle significant and historical events. It is typically covered in professional photojournalism, or real life reportage, but it may also be an amateur, artistic, or academic pursuit. The photographer attempts to produce truthful, objective, and usually candid photography of a particular subject, most often pictures of people. – Wikipedia
Immerse your process into the day. When I get sent to another city or country to photograph a family or a business, I am embracing my models in their own environments. I also have an eye on who the client is and what they want. A shot list helps. But it is just a guide. I am aware of, accepting of, and acting upon their life, not my own.
Awareness, acceptance, action. These are the three rules of any assignment. Documentary-style wedding photography is the same thing. Immerse yourself into a parallel universe for a weekend. Become the event. See everything.  Documentary style fashion or lifestyle is the same thing. When I shot ad campaigns for Delta, Citi and Dos Equis, I was brought in because of my ability to explain something clearly with my DSLR or film camera. I nailed every project.


Ah yes. The environment. You can’t control it, you didn’t cause it and you aren’t the cure for it. You are simply the story teller. Embrace everything around you. If you’re in a family apartment on Park avenue shooting a single mom home with her daughter, or a wedding on a roller coaster, the same rules apply. Don’t make the environment something it’s not. It has to be obvious that you are where you are. That’s where the magic is. This is what makes clients happy. Downplay the “inexpensive” looking elements when you can. A low drop ceiling for example, is a way to kill a shoot of a wedding dance. A table filled with paper cups and soda bottles should also be avoided, unless of course, you’re shooting a beach picnic. Casual elements fit into casual service.  This beautifies the story.


I am a professional noticer. I notice everything. That doesnt mean I have to shoot everything. Irrelevant details will slow me down. Furthermore, remember who the job is for. If you get bamboozled by a bunch of drunk weirdos at a wedding that the couple doesn’t even know, then skip it. However, if these are the grooms roommates from boarding school and he is paying then shoot the heck out of it. Moreover, if you love the way it looks then shoot it anyway.

You have to be yourself. But don’t be bullied by guests who think you work for them. You don’t. You work for whoever is paying you. Your job performance is judged by them. Be polite and move on. This especially applies to media outlets. When I was sent to 10 nail salons across the country for a story on nail salon culture, I went without the writer so I had to rely on myself to figure it out.  I was there to supply content to my editor, not the salon owners. My clients’ needs always come first.

documentary style Country Club Wedding Photography Cocktail hour pianist

Cocktail hour pianist

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