Thursday, 3 May 2018

3 Misconceptions about In-Home Documentary Photography

1) You just show up and shoot

Although it may seem that way or sound that way when I talk about what I do, there's a lot more to it than that. There is a lot of planning even if I am there to capture spontaneous interactions. I like to know who I'll be meeting to get a sense of what is important to the family which helps me to know what I should be trying to capture. I send clients a short questionnaire before we meet so that I can learn more about their family, little details, favourite activities, what their everyday routine looks like. All of this information helps me to prepare and can also be used to help guide a session. For example, this family mentioned their son's love of trucks and cars. I used it as an ice breaker when meeting them to get them to interact together. The fact that it is something the child loves at the moment, makes it important and worth capturing.

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I also need to anticipate what type of gear I will need to bring along. Depending on the type of session and location, I have to decide whether I need a macro lens to capture tiny newborn details or my flash if the lighting may not be ideal.

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2) You just take pictures as they happen

This is partly true. I don't like to manipulate the situation too much. I like to gently give some direction if needed but for the most part, I let things play out and follow along. However, this doesn't mean that I snap away without intent. I move around to figure out the best composition or sometimes I compose the image in my mind first based on light, lines, reflections or whatever I have to work with and I patiently wait until the subject enters the frame where I wanted them to be. I see interactions happening and I move in to capture a detail or I move back to add context to the scene. The goal is to make the strongest image possible while playing off of the surroundings and subjects. In my work, I like to create images that make you feel something and this means watching and waiting for everything to come together in just the right way.

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3) Documentary Photography is so much easier than studio photography 

Just as lighting setups and posing in a studio are not as easy as the pros make it look, documentary photography is challenging in so many ways. It requires a very specific skill set: you have to be flexible, be able to think quick on your feet, be a good observer. You walk into people's personal spaces as a stranger and have to be able to make people feel comfortable within minutes so that they will look natural on camera and enjoy the experience. Walking into people's personal spaces, their homes, can be a very vulnerable thing and you have to approach it as such. Each family is different which is what makes this type of photography so interesting. Each family has its own dynamic that you have to quickly gauge and adjust to. Lighting is never the same from one place to another and it can vary so much even within the same house. You have to be able to figure out how to use it and other elements to your advantage. As most people can attest to, taking photos of your own kids can be a challenge because they move so quickly. Imagine trying to get those moments together with trying to familiarize yourself with the family, the space, the light.

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I love what I do. Working as a photographer challenges me every time. It's different every time. I love meeting new families and also shooting the same families year after year and seeing how they have grown and changed.