Capturing Documentary Style Photos

You’re on a crowded city street, at a political rally or a family reunion. Suddenly there’s a memorable moment and you’re right there to capture it as it happens. That’s documentary photography and it can be very rewarding. Here’s how to get shots like this with your own camera.

Always Be Shooting

Documentary-style photographs are candid; they never look staged or posed. Think about a photo shoot of a family reunion, a kids’ birthday party, or a street fair—situations where asking people to stop what they’re doing and look at your camera would intrude on the event. You don’t need to worry about a tripod or positioning in situations like this, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do some planning.

To shoot documentary-style, put yourself in the mindset of a photojournalist capturing a newsworthy event. Don’t park yourself against a wall with a tripod. Hit the ground running. Stop, snap a series of shots, and move again. Get as close to the subject as you can without spooking them, but never ask your subject to pose for the camera, and never tell them to “Say cheese.”

Capture an event from every angle, and keep shooting until either your legs or your camera’s memory card give out. Shoot from the hip if you can. You won’t have time to manually focus and frame each shot, so let autofocus do the work for you.

After you’re done shooting, there’s time to pore over the photos you’ve taken and discard the ones that don’t work. You’ll probably find some real gems in the mix because your subjects weren’t self-conscious about being photographed.

Prepare Your Camera Accordingly

Because you’re shooting many pictures quickly, documentary-style photography really puts your camera to work, so you’ll want to configure it appropriately well in advance of your shoot.

A wide-angle lens will help you capture a more panoramic view. (If a smaller part of the image ultimately appeals to you, simply crop the photo later.) Once your lens is installed, the F8 aperture setting is famous among documentarians for its versatility in real-world documentary conditions. It should be your first step as you configure your camera. There isn’t a pre-set mode for documentary-style photography, but the Sports Mode setting is a good one to try if you’re in a rush.

If you expect the scene you’re photographing to have lots of motion (or if you’re going to be moving about rapidly) use the fastest shutter speed that will work with your aperture rating. Since you might not be able to stop moving while you’re shooting, a fast shutter will help to minimize blur while letting you capture the kind of crisp image you’d see in a magazine.

Note that you’ll have to counterbalance a very fast shutter with an aperture that’s wider than F8, or your photos will likely come out too dark. Experiment a bit with these two options before you start shooting to make sure you’ve got solid settings to work with. Every environment in which you shoot will be different, but in general, a fast shutter will be your most important setting.

Use Rapid-Fire Modes

One way to hedge your bets when shooting documentary-style is to use the rapid fire mode to grab a number of shots in series. Make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your memory card as rapid-fire shots can quickly fill up your available storage.

Photo Credits: Samsung

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