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Documentary and Photojournalist Tips and Techniques

Shooting in a documentary or journalistic style is a really good way to produce a strong and coherent body of work on a subject you are passionate about.  Unfortunately it’s not always easy to get the results you want.  We have a few preparation tips for events or assignments which you wish to photograph as a story. This could range from your kids first soccer match to a harder hitting subject.  Whatever the story is, there are some key things that will enable you to be capture-ready when that perfect moment occurs.  To get a head start on telling your story, read on....
The most important thing is to be prepared with batteries fully charged (both primary and spares), testing them in-camera to ensure all necessary gear is in good working order. Triple-check your camera settings before you begin to confirm everything is a-ok. Don’t forget to also obtain permission to shoot the event if required.  

Have a pre-determined idea of the story you wish to tell and think about the type of shots needed to tell that story effectively. An example might be a wide-angle shot of a factory to set the stage, a few portraits of factory workers and some candid photos of their day-to-day experiences.  Remember to be patient as you may not always get the shot on day one. The photographic style you choose can say a lot about the subject and the aim should be to always show the reality of the subject’s situation. The challenge is to capture the humanity in the scene and this only comes from practice, patience and experience.

Keep in mind you may need to do some homework before you start.  Check with the organisers (if applicable) of the event to see if there are any restricted subjects or areas and if you need a permit to shoot in a specific location. If it's a public event held on public property then you should generally be fine to simply show up and shoot.  If you do have a meeting with anyone in the lead up to an event make sure you are punctual and act in a professional manner.  This will give you credibility and shows that you have respect for them as well.

Some factors to consider during your project is – ‘How will you present the finished folio?’ ‘Will it be in colour or black and white (or both)?’ ‘Are you going to print them or will it only be viewable online?’ Also take note of locations, dates, times and names as you shoot because the photos will need to be given context with a few words attached to each image.  People need to know what they are seeing and their significance as it pertains to the overall portfolio.  Documentary photos rarely speak for themselves.

The equipment required is very personal and also dependent on the story type.  For some stories, being unobtrusive and ‘under-the-radar’ is essential so therefore using a compact but high-quality camera is important.  Some suggestions would be the Fujifilm X100s , Sony RX1, Leica X2 or Olympus OM-D-E5These are all compact cameras with serious sensors and high quality optics yet they are hard to notice and whisper quiet when shooting with them.

If there is no need for a low-profile then feel free to equip yourself with what you think will be needed and that you can deal with carrying around all-day.  For me it would be the Canon 16-35, 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f 2.8 (or equivalent lengths in your chosen brand) or a combination of two of these depending on the situation.  Also, two strobes may come in handy with two Gorillapods to hold them in position should an opportunity arise to set up some posed portraits. A small tripod with an adapter can work as a light stand or a tripod when required.

Check out these links to get inspired by some talented photojournalists.

*Please note that the following links are to external sites and may contain photos of a mature nature so reader discretion is advised.

Verve Photo - photos and links to some of the best photographers in this field.

The New York Times Lens blog - excellent photography with each entry telling a story from The New York Times.

Tatiana Cardeal - a mixture of travel and photojournalist work.

Sanjit Das - some great reportage stories and great photography.

Once you're feeling inspired why not give it a go and enter the Sydney Morning Herald Photos1440 Challenge!  Great prizes are on offer for the best of the best including a Canon 5D Mk3 Pro kit (includes a 24-70 f2.8 II Lens), an internship with The Sydney Morning Herald and prizes from Digital Camera Warehouse!  The challenge is 'Capturing the minutes of the day' and the winning entrants will be displayed as part of The Sydney Morning Herald exhibition - Photos1440 capturing the minutes of the day.  The exhibition is proudly presented by Canon Australia.

Good luck and don't forget to share with us your results on our Facebook page or right here on this blog.



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